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The Last Of The Mohicans – Mrinal Sen

It was his passion to continuously experiment with form and content that saw him producing a bevy of ‘reel legends’

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 demise of Mrinal Sen, the last of the Mohicans in the Indian film fraternity, has left some of his close disciples groping for words to express their sense of loss. However, almost all of them have finally taken recourse to cling to the immortal films the maestro has made during his career that spanned for more than five decades, and the memories of the ‘barefoot’ Communist gentleman that he remained throughout.
True, Sen flatly declined to see eye to eye with many of the conventional concepts the modern film making has been associated with – namely the market and RoP (Return on the Product). Unlike some of his contemporaries and a large majority of modern film makers, the market and the return hardly impacted this out-of-the-box director whose non-compromising attitude and stance earned him many a basher at home. Fortunately though, the international acclaim his films had fetched, put those bashers at bay during his lifetime!
It was his passion to continuously experiment with form and content that saw him producing a bevy of ‘reel legends’ like Bhuvan Shome, Ek Din Pratidin, Akash Kusum, Interview, Padatik, Akaler Sandhane, Ek Din Achanak and scores others. IfEk Din Pratidin is an indictment of patriarchy and deals with the middle-class social crisis and Kharij the social milieu, the famine of 1943 gets a different portrayal in Akaler Sandhane, while the political and social unrest finds a voice in Interview , Calcutta 71 and Padatik. It was he who first initiated the new cinema movement in India.
A Different Nuance Everytime
The value of his contribution to the art of cinema is not just artistic but must be assessed in the light of his humanitarianism embracing his warm compassion, especially for the meek, and his profound concern for social justice. He did not seek recourse to any sort of comfort zone (unlike many of his contemporaries) which is why each of his film speaks independently in a different nuance. He has continuously broken his own narrative structure and eked out an independent path for each of his films. Hence, the narrative we find inChorus does not get repeated in Bhuvan Shome; or if Ek Din Pratidin weaves a new structure, Antareen treads an independent path. The endeavour to shed a new light that ‘was never there on earth, sea or land’ on each film (come what may!) has given Sen a signature that is rare in Indian cinema. And obviously, he had eclipsed many an Indian director in his over-riding concern for the humanity.
Cinematic Confection
Through Sen, Indian cinema got actors such as Mithun Chakraborty, Anjan Dutt, Mamata Shankar, Sreela Majumdar and Madhabi Mukherjee to name a few. Also, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri have worked in several of Sen’s films. The living legend made his last film Aamar Bhuvan in 2002.
The first period of his career, up to the three related films Interview (1970), Calcutta 71 (1972) and Padatik (1973), has some memorable political reflections to offer except for the beautiful and exquisitely understated film, Baishey Sravan (1960) and arguably the best comedy film ever to come from the Indian art cinema, Bhuvan Shome (1969). In between, there are some nice pieces of cinematic confection, such as Akash Kusum (1965) , and Neel Akasher Neechey (1958).
Neel Akasher Neechey (1958). (banned by the Indian government for two months) is a commendably original endeavour to portray an unusual character in an unusual historical context. This film demonstrated his courage to handle a theme at a time when the Indo-China relationship suddenly developed an unusual coldness.
However, as well as being fine films in themselves, Baishe Sravan and Bhuvan Shome point to future highlights in Sen’s career. In Baishey Sravan, we meet everyman helplessly entangled in the unalterable course of history or, more simply, the way of things. This way of things finds depiction in various contexts in Sen’s films, while the individuals in conflict with it are also many and varied.
Ever Willing For New
Bhuvan Shome, a near lyric in reel, was a proof that unalloyed comedy in cinema can also draw crowd (and it is interesting to note that Sen never made another comedy). Its timeless humour is very funny, largely due to the superb performance of Utpal Dutt as the almost incorrigible Mr Shome (like ‘Barkis’ in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens).
However, its importance to Indian cinematic history lies at least partially in the technical innovations with which Sen decorated the film and which were used to some extent or another in later works, particularly Calcutta 71. The use of still photography, caricature, animation, quasi-documentary and the like has taken Bhuvan Shome to an unparallel level (Who would ever think of making cinema out of a telephone conversation?). At the same time, there are indications that Sen was ever willing to try something new.
Interview, Calcutta ’71 and Padatik,made and released during the climate of protest, general and intense, of the Naxalite years, reflect the best of what many have described as the political aspect of Mrinal Sen’s films. Protest here is not sloganeering processions punching the air, but a genuine attempt to make the audience think about what might be wrong with ‘the way of things’. Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta triptych (Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranya) made almost contemporaneously, speak in an identical vein. Admittedly, these films subtly raise fingers at society’s leaders, most notably the self-interested and largely anachronistic captains of industry as well as the faceless puppeteers of the Naxalite movement; but of much greater interest is the suggestion that traditionally held values urgently need to be reassessed. The city, in a moral sense, needs to be rebuilt.
Questioning Traditions
The rest of the decade saw the emergence of Mrigayaa (1976), where Mithun Chakraborty made his debut, along with Mamata Shankar; Mithun won a National Best Actor Award for his performance. Actor-danseuse Mamata Shankar, the daughter of legendary dancer Uday Shankar, says she is ‘indebted to Mrinal da’ for introducing her to the world of light, camera and action in Mrigayaa in 1976. If Mrigayaa is a critical examination of the injustice of colonial justice, Oka Oori Katha is a hard-hitting tale of rural poverty that challenges comfortable middle-class mindsets about ‘the poor’.
But Ek Din Pratidin (1979) heralds a new chapter in the cinema of Mrinal Sen, a chapter that brings into focus the lives of the urban middle-class. Even though there is an urge to protest, the context is different as the issue of questioning the traditionally held values is central.
Ek Din Pratidin is equally important in pushing the cause of women’s emancipation. The subject treated here has come a long way since then, with Satyajit Ray giving his own touch in Mahanagar (1963), establishing a woman’s right to work. In Ek Din Pratidin, the woman in question asserts her right to maintain personal control over her own life, something which many adherent to a patriarchal value system might find rather challenging. The focus of Sen’s protest here is really quite revolutionary in a society that is overprotective of women, subjecting them to excessive control and apprehensive of the potential shame that they might invite – by being raped, for example.
The narrative twist in this film is the consistent refusal to have the girl explain why she was out all night, so obliging the audience – at least those members of it sensitive enough to be niggled and nagged – to think further about traditional values that would suppress and stifle women.
A Silent Crusader
In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett left a void at the end, allowing his audience an infinite space to speculate on what finally happened to Godot. When some people from the audience asked him about the fate of Godot, Beckett’s lone sentence to the query was “I would’ve stated this in the drama itself had I known it.” Several critics of Sen had felt that the director had ‘thrown up the underbelly’ of the city (Calcutta) without revealing a solution. A smiling Sen used to quote Beckett and stole a silent laugh. In his death too, he remained a silent crusader – an innocent yet loaded message “Don’t place bouquet or garlands on my body when I finally depart.”

Modi Era's Hikes Are Not Where We Want! India's Debt Up 50%

Compared to the latest data available till September 2018 when the total debt of the Central government stood at Rs 82,03,253 crore, the corresponding amount till June 2014 was Rs 54,90,763 crore


Total liabilities of the government has increased 49 per cent to Rs 82 lakh crore in the last four-and-half years during the Narendra Modi government, as per the 8th Edition of the Status Paper on Government Debt released.
Compared to the latest data available till September 2018 when the total debt of the Central government stood at Rs 82,03,253 crore, the corresponding amount till June 2014 was Rs 54,90,763 crore, the Finance Ministry's data on government borrowings shows.
The huge surge in government's debt has been propelled by 51.7 per cent growth in public debt from Rs 48 lakh crore to Rs 73 lakh crore in the four-and-half year period, which in turn was driven by 54 per cent rise in internal debt to about Rs 68 lakh crore.
Dependence on market loans show a similar rise of 47.5 per cent to more than Rs 52 lakh crore during the period. While debt raised through gold bonds was nil at the end of June 2014, it stood at Rs 9,089 crore including the gold monetisation scheme.
The Central government, in the status paper on government debt, gave a detailed analysis of the overall debt position of the government of India. It has been bringing out an annual status paper on government debt since 2010-11, the Finance Ministry said.
"The overall liabilities of the Central government are on a medium-term declining trajectory and government's debt portfolio is characterised by prudent risk profile," the paper, covering details of fiscal deficit financing operations of the government, however, said.
"Government is primarily resorting to market-linked borrowings for financing its fiscal deficit. Conventional indicators... indicate that debt profile of the government is comfortably placed in terms of debt sustainability parameters and is consistently improving," it added.
While the country's debt has been on the rise, little help is expected from the fiscal deficit side in the current financial year. The fiscal deficit in the first eight months till November stands at Rs 7.17 lakh crore, or 114.8 per cent of the Rs 6.24 lakh crore full year's target.

Chai ‘19 Who’ll Serve, Who’ll Drink

With the sudden turn of fate of a politician – Narendra Modi - whose hubris had flattened even his mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – was rubbished in the trial at the hustings in three crucial Hindi heartland states. And with the step-wise rise of the erstwhile “Pappu” Rahul Gandhi, speculations have begun: Who now? At the political level, poll math professionals take their own way of forecasting results, but on the astral map, India’s top star gazer Dr Ajai Bhambi reads the writings in the heavens…

Dr Ajai Bhambi
Dr Ajai Bhambi

When the cinema industry in India seemed to be sinking after Amitabh Bachchan’s near-fatal crash in a shot in the film ‘Coolie’, no one but Ajai Bhambi had said he would rise lrom the ashes like a Phoenix. He did. Pt Bhambi, one of the most respected names in astrology worlwide, also predicted the assassinations of Indian premier Rajeev Gandhi, Pak premier Benazir Bhutto and the ascendence of Sonia Gandhi in Indian politics. He was the only one to predict that Narednra Modi will register a landlslide victory in the 2014 general elections.

A politician’s life is full of highs and lows but Narendra Modi has been seeing a high from 2001 onwards, when he became chief minister of Gujarat, and the gold run has lasted till now. He faced a lot of opposition during his three terms as CM of Gujarat but that never bothered him, and his charisma started peaking from 2013 onwards.
In 2014, he became the Prime Minister of India with a thumping majority for his party. He is a great orator and made the entire country believe that he is the only leader after Independence who can reshape India and put her on the top in the realm of world politics.
Has this perception changed after his party’s humiliating defeat in the three Hindi belt states? Let us peep through his horoscope:
Narendra Modi was born on 17th September 1950 at 11.17 hrs, at Mehsana (Gujarat). At the time of his birth Scorpio lagna was rising on the eastern horizon and the planetary configuration was such: Mars, Moon–Scorpio, Jupiter (R)–Aquarius, Rahu–Pisces, Saturn, Venus–Leo, Sun, Mercury (R), Ketu in Virgo.
Modi’s chart has many rajayogas. His lagna is Scorpio, Moon and Mars are placed in it. The presence of Mars creates Panch Mahapurush Rajayoga Ruchak and with Moon it creates another Neech Bhanga Rajayoga. Jupiter has occupied the 4th house and Saturn, Venus are placed in the 10th house. Jupiter and Moon form another rajayoga called Gajkesari.

All these rajayogas are of high quality and results are very much in evidence. If we look at the background of Narendra Modi then we won’t find many parallels to it. Whenever Jupiter and Saturn are involved in aspect, it makes a person a great public figure, and Modi has a world audience behind him. The mutual aspect between Jupiter and Venus, or when they are together in a sign then the person concerned is considered highly intelligent among the intellectuals.
The presence of Sun, Mercury, Ketu in the 11th house makes the person politically wise and ready to take bold decisions. Ketu has afflicted both these planets to some extent which denotes some decisions can be taken without proper calculations and these decisions create a nightmare for a long time.
All these rajayogas – or good combinations – have given optimum results in his life. If that is so then when planets are on the descending mode or not aligning well then they should also produce results accordingly. In his chart Mars is a great rajayoga-karaka and created two yogas single handedly which we discussed elsewhere but Mars himself is weak in the navamsha by occupying debilitated one.
Moon’s 10 years mahadasha is in operation from September 1, 2011 onward and after the onset of this dasa Modi has seen a phenomenal rise. Moon is debilitated and has not occupied friendly nakshatra (Moon in Saturn’s nakshatra). There is a situation in planetary hierarchy when a positive planet gives all his energy and goodness to the debilitated but friendly planet and loses his own potential to a great extent. In this rare planetary phenomenon, Mars has become beleaguered but makes the debilitated Moon extremely potent, which is why he has become the Prime Minister of this great country and created his own brand called Modi brand in Moon’s mahadasha.
Sade Sati
Mars has made Moon so effective in his chart that the Sade Sati of Saturn did not bother him for more than six and a half years and he became Prime Minister in the peak of Sade Sati. Generally, people dread Sade Sati and here powerful Moon had warded off all the negativities of Saturn’s sadhe sati for such a long time.
Astrology is a great science and it is very difficult for us mortals to understand the real wisdom of great seers and sages. The Moon might have gained all the powers by default, but the affliction of Moon has not diminished completely. Let us try to understand the current state of affairs by analysing the Moon and sub dasa of this planet.
In his chart Moon–Mercury operated from 2/07/2017 till 1/12/2018. Moon is placed in the lagna and retrograde Mercury is present in the 11th house along with Sun and Ketu. Mercury is not good for Scorpio lagna because of its first lordship of 8th house. Mercury is also the lord of 11thhouse and placed in it.
Subtle Damages
Moon and Mercury don’t enjoy a good relationship between them. If we look back and analyse the period from July 2017 till 1st December 2018, a lot of subtle damage has been done to his image in this period which started surfacing now. The major institutions of the country felt the heat and voices of dissent were heard from Supreme Court judges, CBI, ED and explosion took place when RBI governor resigned.
Moon–Ketu is in operation from 1/12/2018 to 2/07/2019. Moon is in lagna and Ketu in the 11th house, again is not a good combination. Modi’s remark on Congress ki vidhwa came out on 4th December and that was the first negative impact of Moon–Ketu. The results of three states also came after the operation of this period. Lok Sabha elections are also going to be held in this period and that will also decide the fate of PM Modi. Moon–Ketu is not a good period and if impractical promises or harsh language is used then that could be counterproductive. Sadhe Sati is still there and inherently Moon is weak although strengthened by various reasons, which we discussed earlier. Ketu is known for unpredictability and sages have warned astrologers (us) not to make over board predictions when this period is in operation. If a practical and sincere approach is followed genuinely then his chart is still powerful to render good results.

Clairvoyant Sees Turmoil

The coming year will be one of turmoil, says CRAIG HAMILTON-PARKER, the world’s foremost Psychic Prediction maker. Brexit, Theresa May and Angela Merkel resigning… domestic chaos in the US (but Trump will survive)… Narendra Modi to return to power... Here are some his most startling soothsaying

Craig Hamilton Parker
Craig Hamilton Parker

The ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ astrologer and psychic medium is outspoken and has astonished people with the accuracy of his clairvoyance. He had accurately predicted in 2015 of ‘lone wolf’ terror attacks in Berlin, Rome and Paris, and also said Britain will thwart such an attack. The reality is now well established. He has worked with the yogis and astrologers in India. His blog is

I make my psychic predictions for the coming year in September and usually do a review and some new predictions in December. As well as making psychic predictions I also suggest spiritual remedies that we can all do to help make the world a better place. This idea is inspired by my time in India and is explained in detail in my books Messages From the Universe and Mystic Journey to India.
Psychic Predictions for 2019
Here are my psychic predictions for 2019. I got a lot right last year and you can read these on my archived pages or check them on the YouTube videos. I like to make my predictions well in advance. We know things like Brexit are going to happen but I have also included predictions here for unexpected events.
Please treat this all as an experiment. I get a lot right but I also get things wrong too. I am fallible but I do my best to use my clairvoyance to give real insights. We must ask ourselves if fate is fixed. Destiny is determined by karma and free will.
Karma And Free Will
Karma is the result of past actions. It brings fortune and misfortune. The positive and negative things we do as individuals and collectively decide the future. Some of this cannot be changed because it is like an arrow that has already left the bow. Only divine grace can change its course.
We also have free will that can alter future events. Our actions and our thoughts can heal the future. If we do charitable and humanitarian acts, it not only helps people immediately but also sets up a positive karmic energy that will bring other good things. Similarly, loving thoughts have tremendous power and can change the world.
Whatever your religion, these thoughts can take on a powerful energy when sent during meditation or prayer. Thoughts are things. They can change things.
2019 USA Psychic Predictions
Donald Trump will be in all kinds of trouble politically and personally, but he will not only survive, he will go on to get a second term in office. All attempts to impeach him will fail.
Trump will promote one of his current advocates, Rudi Giuliani, to a high post but will be betrayed. Giuliani may one day run for President. Internationally, Trump will challenge Putin over Syria. Trump will also put pressure on Imran Khan to drive out terrorists and extremists in return for a positive trade deal. Extremists are driven into Afghanistan that sees new troubles.
Trump’s illness will not be life-threatening but maybe something like a perforated bowel – serious but not terminal. This is normally a time when the sitting party does badly. I feel Trump will fare quite well despite new scandals and do well in the Primaries. The US will experience a lot of seismic activity in 2018 and 2019. Hurricanes and flooding will hit Florida and the East Coast, plus hurricane winds will hit as far north as New York.
2019 UK Psychic Predictions
It is common knowledge that Brexit is the anvil in Europe today. It is going to be a hard Brexit. I have predicted this since the start. A last minute deal is made with Germany and France but negotiations go to the wire. There is initial chaos at the ports, but trade flow improves quickly. There are no major medicine shortages.
The Irish border is left open. A ruptured border allows free flow of international goods into Europe. Ireland eventually enforces the border.
The City of London sees unprecedented activity and a general improvement after a sharp initial fall. I have spoken about this in the Sun newspaper psychic predictions in 2017. I believe it will happen this year and will draw politicians from all parties.
Two very crucial developments will occur. In a close inner party fight, David Davis defeats Boris Johnson, eventually becomes PM.
On the political front, again, incumbent PM Theresa May does not survive Brexit. She will be there till March 2019, not beyond. Late in 2019, may be in September, there will be another election. Tories win and we see the rise of a new political party.
Business Issues
A top company is accused of fixing an international deal using bribes. There is a Scottish influence connected with this story. Nicola Sturgeon (the fifth and current First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party) is implicated. In science, big money will be invested into space projects. I predict a British partnership with NASA will be announced. A new British telescope will be devised to study the Sun.
So far as natural disasters go, large swathes of the country see record flooding. Hardest hit are the West Country and Lancashire. A large factory will explode. Initially I ‘saw’ in my psychic predictions a Gas Works but I feel that there are chemicals involved.
2019 European Psychic Predictions
There will be turmoil in Europe. Right-wing and Euro-skeptic candidates will dominate European elections.
There will be a re-vamp of the European flag. It will appear in the corner of the European nations’ flags as the stars appear in the corner of the USA Flag. Angela Merkel’s minority position will become untenable and she will resign.
The iconic car industry of Germany will be rocked. Trump will put high tariffs on German cars exported to the USA. China will stop German car imports.
2019 World Psychic Predictions
• China plunges into recession and people take to the streets.
• Exceptionally big bush fires will cause chaos in Australia. Canberra is most affected.
• A large meteorite will hit Russia and make international news. This is not a threat to the world but a wakeup call that we pay more attention to avert future problems.
• Russia will sell battleships and other military hardware to China and so upset the balance of power in the South China Sea. America will increase troops in the area.
• Land taken from white farmers without compensation will cause armed clashes in South Africa.
• Under pressure from Russia Turkey will retreat from Syria but fail to protect their borders from a new flood of refugees.
• Kim Jong-un will strike a deal with Trump but North Korean people will eventually revolt against their leader.
• There will be a devastating earthquake in Nepal.
Psychic Predictions for India 2019
These are my psychic predictions for India 2019. I made these predictions on the 3rd October 2018 and will make further predictions later this year. The Vedas are the holy Hindu scriptures and written in the Sanskrit language. The Puranas contain legends and spiritual teachings as well as narratives about the history of the Universe from its creation to its destruction. I touch on this briefly and quote some of the psychic predictions for India from the Kalagnanam. In the Sanskrit language, Kalagnanam translates as “Knowledge of Times”. This is a book of prophecy. It predicts some strange events in the distant future of humankind.
Narendra Modi Re-Elected
Narendra Modi will be re-elected as PM of India. His majority will be easily sustained and we will see him as the Prime Minister of India for many more years. The Naadi Oracles also have predicted that Modi will do a great deal of good for the Indian Nation.
I predict that the current problems with Chinese influence in the Maldives will escalate. China will also try to extend its influence to other islands such as Mauritius. This growing conflict will result in a trade war with China.
India will restrict the import of Chinese goods. Although Modi will be no fan of Trump, they will nonetheless work together against aggressive Chinese expansion.
India will strongly resist large corporations opening in the towns and cities. India will embark on a policy that emphasizes the fact the democracy is for people, not corporations. It will be protectionist in that it safeguards its small businesses and promotes the idea that many small businesses are more powerful and democratic than a few big ones. India will lead the world in demonstrating a more democratic form of capitalism.
I predict a major earthquake that hits Nepal and Kashmir. It will also affect parts of northern India. India will come to the aid of Nepal and be seen as the humanitarian force for good.
I foresee a government drive to clean up India. This will be on an unprecedented scale and will see the poor paid to collect rubbish for a fee. The campaign will be a badge of national pride and will set an example to China and the world.
I will make some more predictions about India later, however, I will add here that India will continue to see terrible weather conditions during 2019. In 2018, I predicted the floods in Kerala. For 2019 I see droughts becoming a serious problem. The Indian climate will lurch between severe flooding and severe drought. The rice fields of Southern India will be at risk.
China also will see crop failures from drought and will affect the grain prices for India too. India I feel will be one of the first countries to properly manage its water. New water supplies will be discovered beneath the old course of what once was the Sarasvati River.
In my previous predictions, I have stated that ‘India will expand its borders’. I feel that in time India will take on Pakistan and endeavor to take back some of the Punjab. It will also reaffirm its influence in Nepal and Kashmir. A time will come when Tibet will fight to free itself from Chinese occupation. At this time, India will support the Tibetan cause and become a protectorate of Tibet.

Maturing ‘Pappu ’ Vs Fading ‘Chowkidar ’

The Congress president is no more a political Lilliput that he was in 2014, and the prime minister Narendra Modi is no more the invincible warrior that he was then

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 Rahul Gandhi-Narendra Modi battle has taken a sharp turn. In 2014, the media pitted the two against each other, with the sly intent of showing Gandhi, then a greenhorn, as no match to the tested Hindutva warrior Modi, who wore the scars of the 2002 Gujarat riots rather proudly on his sleeve and spoke in a monotonous tone about development and jobs, without ever mentioning Hindutva, or the Ram Temple in Ayodhya for once during his election campaign.
At the same time Modi made the cunning move of contesting from Varanasi, and entrusting the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh to confidante Amit Shah. The moves paid rich dividends, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning 73 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, and Modi winning his Varanasi seat and giving up the Vadodara seat, from where the Gujarat chief minister won the 2002 assembly election on the issue of Gujarati ‘asmita’ or self-respect. By abandoning Gujarat and adopting UP, Modi tied his political fortune and that of his party to the Hindi heartland. When the party won an overwhelming majority in the UP assembly elections in March 2017, it seemed that Modi’s strategy has been vindicated.
But the certitude of the BJP’s stranglehold in the Hindi heartland was shaken with the party’s defeat in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. And after more than a year of BJP’s rule in UP under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the ground from beneath the feet of Modi and BJP is slipping away.
The BJP is worried and it is hard at clawing its way back, but it may not do so in the emphatic manner it had done in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The wheel of fortune has turned.
2014: Congress Slide
Congress was reduced to sub-50 tally of 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014, a steep slide from the 202 strength in the House after the 2009 general elections. Ever since, except Punjab, the Congress lost Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam assembly elections. It is against this background that the Congress’ victories in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh should be seen. The party is finding its feet back again and it is back in the reckoning.
The BJP cannot hope to have a cake-walk in 2019. Gandhi has emerged a doughty fighter who has not only taken on the redoubtable Modi but has also defeated him fair and square in these state elections. Modi is no more invincible and Gandhi no more a political pygmy. Rather, Gandhi has become the David to Modi’s Goliath. These are indeed the glorious uncertainties of the game of politics!
After four-and-a-half years in office at the centre, the BJP looks quite shaken by the electoral reverses in the three Hindi heartland states, and analysts within the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS), which plays the role of coach to Team BJP, and inside BJP as well as in the media, are trying to understand the BJP’s debacle under the stewardship of the Modi-Shah duo.
The halo of invincibility that mainstream media had created around Prime Minister Modi and party president Shah has paled, and there are no ready answers as to how a Congress, forever racked by internal squabbles under an apparently weak like Gandhi, managed to steal victory from Modi’s BJP.
Targetable blitz
The impact of the defeats in these three states is seen in the responses of Modi and Gandhi. The Congress president has realised the secret of sustained aggression, and he continues to target Modi day in and day out, from pronouncements in public rallies and press conferences to bites before television news channel cameras. Gandhi is literally pummeling Modi, and at the moment Modi is a little helpless in hitting back.
While Modi attacks Gandhi and his family, Gandhi targets the prime minister’s failures to deliver on the promises. The evidence in the Rafale jet fighter deal is neither substantive nor clinching, but Gandhi is keeping at it relentlessly, saying Modi ‘chowkidar chor hai’, alluding to Modi’s much vaunted description of himself as the chowkidar (guard) of the country.
The BJP is not in a position to laugh away Gandhi’s verbal sallies. They are forced to rebut him, and that in itself is a big change. Gandhi is not resting on his laurels post-victory in the three states. He has stepped up the attack.
The aggression may or may not pay off in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but Gandhi seems determined to deliver his blows to Modi, whatever may be the outcome next summer. It appears that Rahul unconsciously nurses the hurt and humiliation of the BJP and the rest of the Opposition cornering his father and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on the Bofors kickbacks controversy where no clinching proof was shown that Rajiv took bribes. Gandhi, it seems, is hitting back with the grudge-fuelled passion that his innocent father was politically crucified. There is more than political rivalry when the Congress president speaks about the Rafale deal.

Frayed Chowkidar
Modi continues with his aggressive tone and tenor, but it has become dull and its sharpness is flattened because he had been maintaining the same pitch in the last four-and-a-half years. His attacks on the Nehru-Gandhis remain unabated but people are not any more amused, and even the obsessive-compulsive Nehru-Gandhi-baiters want something new from the prime minister.
But sooner than later, Modi has to take on Gandhi man-to-man, and answer the issues raised by the Congress president. There is also a strategic compulsion for Modi and BJP wanting to single out Gandhi and the Congress from among the Opposition parties.
Modi feels that it is not right for his national stature to stoop to take on Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav or All India Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The only leader he can take on as an equal is Gandhi, the leader of the other national party, however reduced its presence may be across the country.
In this fresh duel with Gandhi, Modi is on a weak wicket. If he scores over the Congress president it does not rebound to his credit because he is considered a tall leader and Gandhi is not tall in comparison. If Gandhi scores points, including brownies, against Modi, it shows the prime minister in a bad light. The prime minister is in an unenviable no-win situation. The mainstream media shares the same dilemma with Gandhi as Modi. They cannot any more ignore him and they feel embarrassed to give him the space that they contemptuously thought he did not deserve all these years. They have to report his speeches, do his interviews, do his profiles, speculate about his future moves and analyse his decisions. Had the BJP and the media not made Modi the larger-than-life icon, then the clash between Gandhi and Modi would have remained a clash between leaders of two big parties, like in any other democracy. Some of the pro-BJP analysts are still harping on the theme of the presidential style of campaign that Modi had introduced, where the contest is not between the parties but between the two main leaders. The underlying argument is that there is no other leader with the national footprint that Modi has, and that Gandhi’s nationwide reach is laughable compared to Modi, and therefore Modi wins this presidential fight hands down.
It is turning out to be a hallucination of sorts, because on the ground it is parties and the candidates, the local caste arithmetic that still rule the roost in Indian politics. The election results in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh do not reflect the clash between Modi and Gandhi. As a matter of fact, they are nowhere on the scene. People had voted out the governments of Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, and they voted Congress in a tenuous manner in Madhya Pradesh (Total number of seats: 230; Congress: 114 seats (40.9 per cent vote share); BJP: 109 seats (41 per cent vote share) and in Rajasthan (Total number of seats: 199; Congress: 99 seats (39.3 per cent vote share); BJP: 73 seats (38.8 per cent vote share) and decisively in Chhattisgarh (Total number of seats: 90; Congress: 68 seats (43 per cent vote share); BJP: 15 seats (33 per cent vote share).
A marginalised senior Congress leader wryly remarked that even victories need to be analysed as defeats are, and pointed that the Congress’ victory margin in the number of seats won and vote percentage garnered in Madhya Pradesh was dangerously narrow, as was the vote percentage in Rajasthan, though the margin of the number of seats won is quite convincing. In these two states, the Congress had failed to reach the halfway mark, 116 in Madhya Pradesh and 100 in Rajasthan.
The Chhattisgarh poll verdict is crystal clear. Congress has a two-thirds majority, which the BJP in its last three terms never got. The BJP won 50 seats in Chhattisgarh in 2003 and in 2008 and 49 in 2013. Congress won 37 seats in 2003, 38 in 2008 and 39 in 2013.
The story in Rajasthan in the previous three elections is quite different. BJP won 120 seats in 2003 and Congress 56 in 2003, Congress won 96 and the BJP 78 in 2008, and the BJP won a two-thirds majority with 163 seats in 2013 to Congress’ 21.
In Madhya Pradesh the Congress had been far behind the BJP. In 2003, BJP won 173 seats and Congress 38, in 2008 BJP won 143 and Congress 71, and in 2013, BJP won 165 and the Congress 58.
The performance of the two major parties in these three states is intriguing as well. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, BJP had won 25 seats in Madhya Pradesh and Congress 4. In Rajasthan, BJP had won 21 and Congress 4. And in Chhattisgarh, BJP won 10 and Congress 1. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, BJP won 16 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Congress 12; in Rajasthan, BJP won 4 and Congress 20; and in Chhattisgarh BJP won 10 and Congress 1. In 2014, BJP won 27 seats in Madhya Pradesh and Congress 2; in Rajasthan, BJP won 25 and Congress none; and in Chhattisgarh, BJP won 10 and Congress 1. The score in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will change, and the BJP will stand to lose more and the Congress could gain more compared to the 2014 figures, and they could be closer to the 2009 figures.

Rural Realities
The presidential-style battle between Modi and Gandhi will happen only in mainstream media. The Indian voter in this vast and diverse country has other criteria in his mind. The local candidate and the strength of the party in each state will count for more than the charisma of Modi or Gandhi. Gandhi has an advantage in this devolutionary political battle because Congress with its fissiparous tendencies stands to gain compared to the nearly homogenous and monolithic BJP under Modi. BJP is brittle because it is under the unified command of Modi.
Gandhi had to struggle in deciding who would be the chief minister in each of these three states, as he had to contend with factional feuds and demands. What might appear to be a weakness of the Congress could turn out to be an advantage, because the old party is responsive to local demands and there is intense internal competition between groups and leaders.
In a paradoxical manner, democracy is at work in the Congress, though the party is unable to shake off the Nehru-Gandhi family shackles. The BJP, which is ostensibly democratic in choosing its leader, seems to be at a loss under Modi because of the absence of inner party diversity. What was an advantage for Modi in 2014 will be a disadvantage in 2019. Gandhi leading a raucous party is strong because he has to contend with diversity inside the party and in the country.

Battle Of Two Stars

The two politicians do not see eye-to-eye, and nor do their stars. But as far as predictions from Vedic Astrology go, both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are all set to have a terrific year ahead

S Ganesh
S Ganesh

S Ganesh is one of the highly respected names in Vedic Astrology. He has been practicing Vedic Astrology for more than 35 years and also taught at Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan from 1994 - 2016. He is also a Vaastu expert. He hails from a traditional Tamil family and his father Sankara Narayanan was secretary of Madrasi Vedic Brahmin Association of Delhi. His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Shankaracharya of Sringeri Mutt is his spiritual guru. His email is

I am here delineating the chart of one of the most charismatic leaders of India. He came into political scene and became the chief minister. He came into the national front and became a prime minister. That’s how charismatic, energetic, vibrant, philosophical, devoted, committed and fatefully blessed is the person whom we all know as Narendra Modi.
Doing a virtual journey of his life, struggle, achievement and services is in itself very exhausting and a learning process for many. So let’s do a real journey into the stars placement and understand his achievement and growth with reference to his birth chart.
I have taken his date of birth as 17th September, 1950, and his place of birth is Vadnagar, as per official documents. The time that I have taken is 11:44 am. In this, the rising sign – the ascendant – is Vrishchik lagna, i.e. Scorpio, and the Navamsha lagna would be Tula, i.e. Libra.
Why I have taken this? There are two reasons. One, normally a person who is born with Vrishchik rashi has excellent fighting ability, perception, an ability to look through the darkness and attain the exact goal and progress required for a person to become successful and famous. The Navamsha is Tula, because the person should also have charismatic personality and extraordinary good persona to attract others. This combination Modi has in ample. He, definitely, would be ranked as one of the most outstandingly good-looking eminent personality in India. Hence, I have taken this time, i.e. 11 hours and 44 minutes, to delineate his chart.
Let’s first see the merits of his chart. Ascendant, i.e. lagna, has Mars and Moon conjunct together. Here, Mars is lagna lord. Hence, this placement is extremely benevolent. It forms a formidable Pancha Mahapurusha Yoga, known as Ruchaka Yoga. And since it is with Moon also, therefore Ruchaka yogam is twice formed – both from lagna as well as Moon. Hence, Mars is potently benevolent, benefic and showering exceptional promises for growth and accomplishments in life.
Mars is also the 6th lord. Placement in lagna makes him a formidable character – a person who will never have an enemy, or even if there are enemies they will compromise and make him a leader. Shastra says such persons will live a life without any enemies or contemporaries.
Here, the conjunction of Mars and Moon forms an extraordinary good yoga, which is ranked #1 amongst 300 yogas, known as Chandra-Mangala Yogam. This promises extraordinary fame and success to a native. But here, ironically, Moon is debilitated. Therefore, it is inherently afflicted. But because it is placed in Anuradha Nakshatra, it is devoid of debilitation, dosham or affliction. Hence it promises Raja Yogam for the native.
Further, for this ascendant Moon is Bhadakadhipati, i.e. he is the 9th lord. Hence, his debilitation also indicates Viparita Raja Yogam. And being in the lagna with lagna lord, it ushers exemplary good success and accomplishments in life for the native.
Secondly, Modi is born on Shashthi Tithi in Vrishchika rashi. This rashi is held by Mars and Shashthi Thithi’s lord is considered to be Lord Subrahmanya, i.e. Kartikeya. The Pratyadhi Devata for Mars is Subrahmanya. Hence, the association of his lagna and tithi indicates good vision and steel-like abilities of a warrior to fight against any kind of adversities in life. This also promises great fame and success for the native.
Thirdly, for Shashthi Tithi the Dagdha rashis are Aries and Leo, i.e. Mesham and Simham. In the chart of Modi, both these lords are inherently afflicted. Since the Dagdha rashi lords are afflicted, it promises Viparita Raja Yogam.
Placement of Mars in the lagna with debilitated Moon and in Navamsha Mars is debilitated. Thus Mars is naturally afflicted. For Simha rashi, the lord is Sun. Here, Sun is placed in the 11th house, i.e. in Kanya rashi, with Mercury and falls in Rahu-Ketu axis. Hence, the Sun is afflicted in the birth chart being in Rahu-Ketu axis. Therefore, both these lords are afflicted and they promise Viparita Raja Yogam for the native.
Saturn is placed in the 10th house with Venus. The latter is the 10th lord from the 10th house, i.e. the 7th lord from lagna. This is very good and it promises name and fame for the native. Saturn itself in the 10th house indicates a leader of the mass who will have exceptional good success and accomplishments in life. With the 10th from the 10th lord Venus, conjunct with Saturn, becoming Vargottama that is placed in the same rashi in Navamsha is an indication of unmeasurable success in near-immortal status for the native. Further, both these planets have mutual aspect with Jupiter placed in the 4th house. This is again indicating Raja Yogam for the native. Although, Jupiter here is retrograded and inherently weak.
In his chart there are five planets placed in the kendras and this assures good growth, progress, achievement, popularity and success for the native. He will be bestowed with national honours in his life and will be an example for others in future.
Finally, in his chart, the lagna is placed in Pushkara Bhaga, i.e. in 11 degrees. The 11 degree of Vrishchika, i.e. Scorpio, is considered to be Pushkara Bhagam and this assures very good success and progress in one’s life.
The Brihat Jatakam says that if Venus is placed in Kendra one will have extraordinary good learning and wealth. Saturn placed in the Kendra also promises one serving many people. Also, Jupiterin Kendra indicates a person who will be involved in religious rites and having vision which will be equal to a seer. All these characters are very true to our prime minister. So this assures his lagna and Navamsha lagna to be what we have taken in this chart. Now, as per this chart our Prime Minister Modi is undergoing the mahadasha of Moon. I have already stated that Moon as a 9th lord is badhakesh and his debilitation promises very good Raja Yogam for the native. Hence, he is experiencing all the success and adulation in his life.
Under the mahadasha of Moon he is running the sub-dasha of Ketu till February 2019. Till this time his position will be clouded because Ketu indicates smoky atmosphere. It will give a bhram, i.e. oblique visions. Therefore, the decisions taken during this period may not fructify as per his expectation. Hence, any major decision should be avoided till the end of Ketu sub-period in order to make good progress and accomplishment.
After this period, Modi will run Moon-Venus dasha. Venus is Vargottama and it is placed in the 10th house in his natal chart. This is an extraordinary good period and he will again rise as a formidable force. He would make good success and progress along with accomplishments. Venus here is placed in own Nakshatra also. This makes him attain the lost grounds, or those doubts which otherwise came into his leadership or other areas of life would be washed away and he will regain the confidence and acceptability of the mass.
Venus antardasha under the mahadasha of Moon will run till October 2020 and this is going to be a good Raja Yogam period for the native. In this year, 2019, there are two major phenomenon occurring in the zodiac. Both Mars and Venus do not have retrogation movement and this is very good and very rare event. This promises excellent result and accomplishments for Modi. He will have good results coming for this entire year as per his expectations and capabilities. From March onwards, till May, it is an excellent period and he would build on his reputations and honor. He will spearhead a good moment and the momentum will bring him success and achievements in coming months.
From the month of July till September he has to take ample care of his health. Since Modi is running Sade-Sati the time is not very good and can produce some dangerous results. This is Modi’s third round of Sade-Sati. There could be some remark and tarnishing factor on his reputation. So he needs to be very vigilant with regard to his contemporaries and others. There could be some treachery or such similar repercussions coming during these months. He has to be very very careful.
Again, in the month of October there could be an important event where he would be taking some major decisions.
November and December again would prove very fruitful and auspicious for Modi. It will bring him auspicious results and he would get extraordinary good overwhelming support and understandings from the mass. For his life also, from November onwards when Jupiter comes into his 2nd house, i.e. into Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) he will have excellent auspicious happening and further growth and popularity coming in his life. Very good chart and a very good year for Modi. I wish him extraordinary success and accomplishments in his life and for the nation also.

Fate Readers Of Power

Almost all politicians flock to astrologers and various practitioners of Tarot etc, not always to win an election, but mostly to skin their rivals and seek a meteoric rise

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 growth of television and new media has given a fresh fillip to astrology. Just about everybody from new age entrepreneurs to venture capitalists are making a bee line to the swanky offices of these peddlers of Jyotish Vidya. Their walk-in clients include people from every class, but politicians have today emerged as some of their biggest clients.
Ministers and parliamentarians from every political class - from Smriti Irani to Vasundhara Raje to Amar Singh - are known to seek the help of these Jyotish Gurus who are using every possible medium from You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platform to promote themselves. The days of astrologers sitting down on pavements or outside temples willing to tell your future for as little as Rs five per palm has vanished. Today, their fees are running into thousands of rupees and it is all being done via video conferencing.
Top Job
Rashmi Miglani, astrologer, Tarot card reader and alternate therapist, believes that in this competitive age, every politician wants to be on top, and it is their job to help them achieve the numero uno position.
“When politicians come to me, they do not ask me whether they will win an election or not. An election comes once in five years or so. Their queries are invariably around their rivals. How can I help them out manoeuvre their rivals, how can I help them get closer to the powers that be, how can I help bring them into the limelight. I have to work towards enhancing their luck factor, and this is done by suggesting simple remediation measures. Supposing, to cite an example, their Saturn is heavy, then how can it be tweaked in such a manner that we lessen its impact. You can do it by distributing some black item on a Saturday or else help a needy person who is blind on that particular day or else they must eat a certain type of food,” said Miglani.
Can she name some of the politicians she has given this advice to and have they followed it ? She refuses to disclose the name of a single politician, saying: “Everyone comes to me, from executives from the Reliance group to models to top notch leaders. Everyone today wants name and fame. I tell them all just one thing: visiting an astrologer is akin to visiting the doctor. I help calm down the planets that are creating obstructions in their lives. I am also a face reader. When a client walks into my office, by simply reading his face I will know what he wants. But if you come to me, you need to have faith. By following my remediation techniques, I give people wings to fly. I provide them with an obstruction free flight.”
96-year-old Nathulal Vyas, who lives in the village of Kario located 20 kilometres from Bhilwara, is no exception. Every politician worth his salt made a bee line in the months of September and October this year determined to ask if they had a chance of winning in the recently concluded state elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Vyas is an expert in Bhrigu Samhita, a Sanskrit astrological treatise.
Vyas had shot to fame after former president Pratibha Patel, along with her husband Dev Singh Patel, went to consult him. Vyas had predicted that she would hold the highest office of the country. Later, after being made the President, Patil invited him to attend the oath taking ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Jaan Mein Jaan
Another extremely popular astrologer is Bejan Daruwalla. This self-acclaimed Ganpati bhakt continues to be in great demand, even though he is now 88 years old and not in the best of health.
Everybody from Narendra Modi downwards, hold their palms out to Bejan when they meet him, hoping for a prediction. Daruwalla is loud speaking and boisterous and claims to have ten million ‘satisfied’ followers.
He has the distinction of having predicted the ascent of three prime ministers: Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. Being Ahmedabad-based, Modi has kept in close touch with him and Daruwalla admits to being an admirer of Modi. But he goes on to elaborate that there is nobody in India who is a who’s who amongst politicians, film stars or tycoons who has not consulted him at some point or the other. He has read the kundalis of Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Deve Gowda and other leaders. But he believes that astrologers can go wrong on occasions. “It depends on the kind of inputs we receive,” says Daruwalla.
Few leaders and states are so closely linked to astrology as is the newly formed state of Uttarakhand, where its leaders will go to any length to follow the advice of soothsayers. To cite an example of how intertwined the two are, the state hosted a National Astrology Conference to which a large number of astrologers were invited. Bejan Daruwalla was amongst the many astrologers who were invited to participate and he came on stage to predict that Harish Rawat, the then chief minister, would win at the state assembly hustings held in 2016. Alas, he lost.
Bunged Look
The length to which Rawat went to remain in power can be gauged from the fact that he did not stay in the chief minister’s 58-room bungalow because it was reputed to be ill-fated and no chief minister who had stayed there was able to complete his tenure in office. In order to do away with malefic influences, the entire look of the bungalow was changed to make it look like a traditional Garhwal bungalow.
Amongst its many occupants who had to move out were Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Major General BC Khanduri and Vijay Bahuguna. Harish Rawat chose to stay in a nearby guest house but despite all the blessings he received from a galaxy of astrologers, he still had to bite the dust at the polls. A large majority of astrologers had to do a Rawat-once-over in the recently held assembly elections, with the majority claiming that Shivraj Singh Chouhan would win a fourth term as chief minister, albeit with a wafer thin majority. That did not happen, and Congress leader Kamal Nath has gone on to become the chief minister.
Bungled Homes
This is not the only bungalow with a jinxed reputation. Delhi’s 33 Sham Nath Marg in the posh Civil Lines has a similar reputation. This posh bungalow was allotted to Sheila Dikshit when she became Delhi’s chief minister, but she refused to move into it. Brahm Prakash could not complete his term in office and had to quit. The same was the case with Madan Lal Khurana in 1996 in the wake of the hawala scandal. Khurana had been told by several astrologers that it was a ‘lucky’ bungalow and moved in there with a lot of expectations, but those were soon belied. But astrology is not all about accommodation problems, nor is it just about winning elections. Sonal Varma, who wears many caps including Tarot card reading, master of Ching, astro numerology, aura reading, crystal and gem therapist and dowsing, believes that today the game for politicians is not all about just winning elections. Elections come once in five years and before an election takes place, they have so many other queries.
Their questions will relate to what is so-and-so person in power thinking and how can we influence their thinking. How can I better position myself in my party? How can I better manoeuvre myself in my party? Who are the people acting against me and how can I counteract and negate them? Their focus all the time is on other people and their ability to out-manipulate them.
Tarot Power
For that, Tarot cards are ideal because they help in all this mind reading. “Tarot cards provide strategic inputs about what moves an individual should play out against others. It provides key inputs and it provides inputs into what moves other people will make and how my client should be ready to provide the counter thrust,” said Varma.
Pandit Arvind Sharma specialises in Maha Mrityunjaya Puja, Kundli Milan, Saraswati Puja for students, Grah Pravesh, monthly puja for office/residence, Laxmi Puja, Navratri Puja, Ramayan Path, Sundar Kand Path, Vastu Puja, Janam Kundali, Navgrah Puja, marriage, gem advice, and vastu consultations.
Fate Globalised
Sharma points out that he no longer expects clients to visit him. Rather, the vibrations set off from the mobile number are sufficient to provide him an indication of the character and personality of the prospective client. “A large amount of jyotish is now being done on the mobile and I have clients from across the world,” boasts Sharma.
Of course, the veterans in this field insist the newer players in the Jyotish business are diluting the Vedic piousness of the ‘science of astrology,’ but young practitioners state the newer proponents are here to stay.
What they are unanimous about is the fillip the age-old world of astrology in India has received with the growth of television and new media. Business volumes are booming. And payments are accepted by Paytm and bank transfers before advice is dished out. The smaller ones are no push-overs. Rajendra Baidik is a street vendor for ‘precious stones’ and he sits on a small carpet laid beside the pavement at the gates of the District Court of Banswara in the western state of Rajasthan.
“Mine is a family business and we used to earlier sit along temples and areas where fairs were held. Now, for some years, I have found that people are coming here for litigation in large numbers and they are stressed out. All of my clients have my WhatsApp number and I suggest a specific stone and ring for them as per the situation and face reading from their photos,’’ states Baidik.
Nandita Pandey is a popular name among Indian politicians and celebrities. She describes herself as ‘AstroTarotloger, Numerologist, Vaastu consultant, Energy Healer, Past Life Regression Therapist, Spiritual Guide, Life Coach’. Said Pandey: “I have prominent VVIPs like political heads from various parties, Bollywood, business houses, socialites, and bureaucrats coming to me for consultations. They feel that I will be able to provide right guidance to them. The trust and faith they have in my readings is immense, as most of them approach me through word of mouth recommendations, looking at my portal or after following my prediction accuracy for a long time.”
“Astrology in India was always there, will always be there until eternity. It will continue to grow stronger as we have already entered into the Aquarian age. This means that now onwards, science and metaphysical sciences like astrology will work parallely and grow leaps and bounds, complementing each other in a more amicable environment. No wonder we have healing sessions that run in NASA. Also in the conference on recent research on Mars, NASA had invited astrologers also to speak on the subject,” says Nandita
Spaced Out
The importance of astrology can be gauged from the fact that the Indian Space Research Organisation continues to seek the divine blessing by getting a special puja performed at the Tirupathi temple before every space mission.
Conventional specialists in astrology in India, however, deny that the art of telling the future is as easy and plentiful as it is made out to be. They say it is a science which has to be perfected with time and dedication. But no one can go to the lengths to which our politicians are willing to go in their attempts to find an auspicious date and place to operate out of. Several politicians insist on getting the drapery and upholstery of their homes changed at the direction of their spiritual gurus. Others will go to great lengths to get the timing of their swearing in changed at the behest of their astrologer.
Baba of Babas
No present day astrologer can match the influence of Chandraswami who had a free access to the likes of VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, Romesh Bhandari, Adnan Khashoggi, the Sultan of Bruenie, and Al Yayed, the owner of Harrod’s, and other high ranking officials in the CIA and Mossad.
He was in a league by himself and in his heyday was known to have easy access to the powerful in both South Block and North Block. He was known to be a conduit to the rich and powerful, but following the demise of prime minister Rao, Chandraswami’s clout began to wane and he soon found himself confined to his ashram in South Delhi. Today, there are a plethora of astrologers and none of them can dream of possessing the clout and cunning of a Chandraswami. The truth of this becomes extremely apparent when we look at who enjoys proximity to the power centres in New Delhi. Today it is Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who are close to Narendra Modi and who are enjoying the many favours granted from this proximity.
This does not perturb the younger generation of astrologers. New age astrologers have a different focus. They specialise in character analysis and are combining astrology with self-improvement, meditation, psychology and yoga. The aim is to make people feel good about themselves. It also means laughing all the way to the bank.
The politician client believes in feeling good but only when his rivals are relegated to the bottom of the ladder. A tad help from these new age gurus should help him, or so he likes to believe.

Avarice And Star Power

Politicians, perhaps from as early as the time of Mahabharata, have been spending huge amounts to either win power or retain it. And as G Ulaganathan says, nowhere is this more brazen than down south

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

The final war in Mahabharata is at hand. Duryodhan is adamant: “not a speck of dust without war”, he says. Even a peace mission by Lord Krishna to the Kaurav clan has been spurned. War it has to be, but what would the date to start it to ensure his victory? Duryodhan falls back on astrology. The late statesman Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, or `Rajaji’ as he was fondly called, says that Shakuni then advised Duryodhan to consult Sahadeva, the last of the Pandava brothers, and fix the auspicious time and day to start the war against the Pandavas.
Sahadeva was expert in the sciences of foretelling of events based on omens called ‘nimitta shastra’ and also astrology, astronomy, etc. Sahadeva is in a dilemma and asks for the advice of his eldest brother Yudhishthir. Now, Yudhishthir, who always upheld Dharma, advised him that if Duryodhan had come to him as his astrology client, he is supposed to help him with the auspicious muhurat.
Sahadeva then advises Duryodhan to start the war on the Amavasya (new moon day).
Had it happened, the course of destiny would have perhaps changed but the clever Lord Krishna saw to it that it would not happen. Sahadev’s calculation never goes wrong. The worried Pandavas approached Krishna for help.
Then, the wily Krishna created an Amavasya a day earlier. On that day, Krishna asked Pandavas to offer tarpana (a ritual done to forefathers) as it was Amavasya that day. Krishna declared that as Moon and Sun are together in one place, that day itself was an Amavasya. Duryodhan, who was unaware of this, started the war on the wrong day, lost it and the rest is history.

Modern Duryodhans
Modern Duryodhans Politics and superstition go hand in hand. More than 90 per cent of Indian politicians, many of them in south India, have almost become slaves of superstition. They look up to astrology, numerology, vaastu and sometimes even bizarre tantric rituals to keep them in power and `serve’ the people.
Many of our modern day rulers are like Duryodhan. They blindly follow these occult sciences and there are very few exceptions. For Telangana leader K Chandrasekhar Rao, astrology and vaastu are like two eyes. He often conducts Chandi Maha Yajna at his farmhouse to propitiate various gods and goddesses.
At the beginning of his chief ministerial tenure, about four years ago, more than 1.5 million people attended one such five-day ritual at the sleepy Erravalli village, some 60 km from Hyderabad in Medak district of Telangana. It was called Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna —for the well-being of India’s newest state and universal peace.
A 40,000 sq. ft Yajnashala was built, using bamboo and paddy thatch for the roof, to accommodate 108 elevated fire pits for 1,500 Vedic pundits to perform the Yajna.
A helipad for five helicopters was prepared near the venue. President Pranab Mukherjee couldn’t make it to the event as planned, due to a fire at the yajnashala on the last day of the yajna. In fact, the President had already got into the helicopter for the short hop from Hyderabad when he was told about the incident and cancelled the trip.

“It was like a jatra (festival),” says Venkat Reddy, a real estate developer who travelled from Hyderabad to Erravalli on the last day. “We wanted to be part of an event that was held for the larger good of society,” Reddy said. He and his family waited for two hours to get a glimpse of the yajna. A firm believer in Vaastu (a traditional system of architecture) and astrology, KCR took the vow during the peak of the Telangana agitation to conduct a Chandi Yajna if the state was successfully carved out of Andhra Pradesh.
“The yajna is for the well-being of the entire state of Telangana so that everybody lives in peace; there is no vested interest in it,” KCR had said in an address to the media. Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna is an ancient ritual performed to invoke the blessings of Chandi or Durga, considered the mother of all creations. Ayutha in Sanskrit means 10,000. The yajna involves reciting the verses of the Durga Saptashati 10,000 times, a 10th of which need to be accompanied by ‘homam’ or offering of oblations of ‘payasam’ to the sacrificial fire.
On the concluding day, KCR felicitated the conductors of the yajna with gold bangles and other gifts, and also gave them a fat remuneration, all from the government exchequer.
Within hours of the Ayutha Chandi Maha Yajna coming to an end, KCR announced that he would perform a Prayutha Chandi Yajna, once all the flagship programmes were implemented successfully.
Astrologer’s Rise
According to senior journalist, GS Radhakrishna, KCR is a firm believer in astrology and had even appointed his personal astrologer Suddala Sudhakar Teja as a ‘vaastu advisor’ to the government. He was given all the perks and privileges befitting a cabinet post.
KCR depended so much on Teja that when he constructed his new bungalow as big as a shopping mall with 150 rooms, three halls and a ‘bullet-proof toilet and bedroom’, this astrologer was consulted for everything that went into the making of this mansion.
When KCR and family performed the ‘gruha pravesham’ (house warming ceremony) of their new residence, built at a cost of Rs 36 crore of public money, he also made his spiritual guru Sri Sri Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar sit for a few minutes on the chief minister’s seat in the official chambers, triggering a political furore.
“KCR’s obsession with the disputed science of Vaastu has been evident in that he inspected bungalow after bungalow before picking his official residence after he was sworn in on 2 June 2014.”
After choosing a group of quarters meant for IAS officers in Kundanbagh and ordering their demolition for making his official home, he had second thoughts, and reluctantly occupied the ‘jinxed’ camp office built nine years ago at Begumpet by late Congress chief minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy. The building, spread over two acres and built at a cost of Rs 10 crore, was branded ‘jinxed and unlucky’ after the chopper crash death of YSR and the unsavoury term of his successor K Rosaiah, who quit as chief minister within a few months of coming to the helm. KCR has also changed the vehicles of his convoy twice. From the Tata Safari fleet he inherited from Kiran Kumar Reddy, the government first bought bullet-proof black Scorpios at a cost of Rs 6 crore. But soon, on vaastu advice, he shifted to another fleet of white Scorpio cars,” adds Radhakrishna.
Unalloyed Devotion
In undivided AP, astrology and vaastu commanded the unalloyed devotion of political bigwigs. From the days of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to Telugu Desam Party supremo NT Rama Rao, Vaastu experts had occupied powerful positions in various regimes.
KCR’s mentor NT Rama Rao was known for his strong belief in superstitions. As an actor, during the making of his magnum opus, ‘Vishwamitra’, in which he played the lead role and also directed the film, he switched over to wearing saffron robes and always sat on a deer skin. He wanted to live the character in real life too.
This continued even after he became chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He called me to his residence at 5 am once to give an interview. And there he was, sitting on a deer skin after his bath and puja! As per his personal astrologer, he had to finish media interviews before the sun rises!

The Showman
NTR had rewarded his personal astrologer, BV Mohan Reddy, with an Assembly seat and also made him a minister. Not far behind was Marri Channa Reddy, whose trusted vaastu architect BN Reddy got a Rajya Sabha seat.
When TDP came to power for the first time under the leadership of NTR, his house in Troop Bazar was renovated and additions made to suit a chief minister’s home. NTR owned a farmhouse at Gandipet on the outskirts of Hyderabad, which was also officially renovated.
A ‘shanti kutir’ (meaning peace hut, a hut with grass roof and air conditioning) was built for NTR’s use during weekends. The same model was replicated during TDP’s Mahanadu events in various cities, as NTR, who had donned the saffron robes of ‘Raja Rishi’ then, would not spend nights in hotels or guest houses.

Chandrababu’s Whims
The new state of Andhra Pradesh may be in the midst of a major financial crunch but this has not stopped Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu from spending a whopping Rs 100 crore of public money on tours, offices, residences and also staff. This includes redecorations of his various offices at Hyderabad and Vijayawada, chartered flights for himself and his staff from Hyderabad to Vijayawada, Delhi and Singapore.
To date, the AP government has redone four to five offices and camp offices (residences) for the chief minister in both Hyderabad and Vijayawada. The government spent over Rs 40 crore on redoing H Block and the 7th and 8th floors in L Block of the Secretariat in Hyderabad.
Naidu has another office coming up at Amaravati and another residence geared up at his farmhouse at Madinaguda on the outskirts of Hyderabad. His personal staff and team of writers and officials working at both residence and in the CMO cost the government nearly Rs 3.5 crore. “He is a chief minister who hardly sleeps and is on the job 18 hours a day even at the age of 65,” defends a CMO spokesperson.
In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties outwardly decry and ridicule practitioners of astrology, etc, but leaders, barring the late chief minister Dr M Karunanidhi, had been secretly following ‘guidance’ from astrologers.
The famous Kerala astrologer Parappanangadi Unnikrishna Panicker was known as the personal astrologer of AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha. Panicker shot to fame after he predicted a massive victory for Jayalalitha in 2001 through a ‘prasnam’. (Prasnam is one of the six important branches of Hindu astrology. In this an astrologer attempts to answer a question by constructing a horoscope for the exact time at which the question was received and understood by the astrologer.)
After coming to power, she paid a visit to Guruvayur and other Kerala temples following his advice.
Jayalalithaa is understood to be a very keen follower of astrology and never even stepped out of her house without checking the auspicious time. The choice of the time is also very much vetted by an astrologer. She was also a strong believer in numerology. She added an extra `a’ to her name after she lost power in 2006 and was also jailed for a brief while. She stated signing as J Jayalalithaa after 2007, till her death. Another strong but strange notion she had is in the choice of colours. She always wore a green or maroon sari, and green almost became the state colour during her regime. All the government buildings, including the water tanks even in remote villages and towns, were painted green, as were the state transport buses.
Incidentally, her party symbol is also two green leaves.
Her political opponent Karunanidhi belonged to another extreme. In a state where EVR Periyar had sown the seeds of rationalism and drove home his message that wisdom lies in thinking and that the spear-head of thinking is rationalism, Karunanidhi was the torch-bearer of the movement against superstitious beliefs. He was an atheist to the core and never visited any temples. Godmen like Satya Saibaba went all the way to his Gopalapuram residence to meet him. It is said Saibaba never visited even the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but went to the then chief minister’s house.
In Karnataka, which has perhaps the largest number of mutts and seers in the country, the Deve Gowda family is known to be strong believers in astrology, godmen, and are great patrons of anything to do with religion. Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy’s frequent temple and mutt visits are much criticised by their opponents as well as the public.
Former chief minister and Congress strongman, Siddaramaiah is like Karunanidhi—an atheist and someone who ridicules superstition. To his credit, during his chief ministership a couple of years ago, he introduced the Anti-Superstition Bill, the first of its kind in the country, which provided for stringent punishment to practitioners of various occult sciences who were misleading gullible people.
The much-delayed and debated Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017, popularly known as the anti-superstition Bill, was finally passed with some minor changes.
The Bill is expected to put an end to various inhuman practices such as black magic, witchcraft, or any act in the name of religion that causes harm to humans and animals. However, acts such as Kesh Lochan (plucking of hair), Vaastu and astrology have not been barred.
Some of the strange practices which were stopped thanks to this legislation are the infamous ritual of babies being thrown from the top of a temple in Bagalkot to make them stronger, the ‘made snana’ or rolling over left-over food eaten by Brahmans at the Kukke Subramanya temple near Mangalore and another dozen bizarre rituals. Shockingly the BJPplayed politics and this bill which seeks to make bizarre rituals punishable was strongly opposed by the BJP and other Hindu groups like the VHP and Bajrang Dal.
The bill also sought to ban common practices like astrology but it hasn’t gone down too well the Hindu groups. “Astrology on TV shows should be banned but people should be allowed to visit astrologers privately,” says Sri Veerabhadra Channamalla Mahaswamigalu, a well-known pontiff in Bangalore. “We should neither accept everything nor completely reject everything,” he added.

Vaāstu’s Vaastav

Is Vaastu a true science? There are many ‘liberals’ who deride it, though since the mid-1980s it has become a rage. Pundit Sanjay Rath, scion of an established family of astrologers, writes about the ancient science, and his background as an engineer gives his logic some compelling force

Sanjay Rath
Sanjay Rath

Sanjay Rath belongs to a traditional family of astrologers from Bira Balabhadrapur Sasan village of Puri, Odisha, which traces their lineage back to Shri Achyuta Das (Shri Achyutananda). His grandfather, the late Pandit Jagannath Rath, was the Jyotish Ratna of Odisha and authored many books on Jyotish. He began his studies at a tender age, and achieved the depth of Jyotish only found among those who have been trained in the ancient. His website is

The word Vaastu refers to a shelter, either for the self or deity. Vaastu Shastra means the science (shastra) of construction of a Vaastu whereas Shilpa refers to the art of making it aesthetic and appealing to the senses of the inhabitants of house/ building. The science of house building is very ancient in India. The knowledge has come down from creator Brahma through an unbroken succession of sages.
According to Vishwakarma, the celestial architect, Lord Brahma was the first recipient of this knowledge from Lord Shiva as a part of the Vedas, just like He received the knowledge of Jyotish.
Vaastu Shastra as is practised presently is based on the 125 verses contained in Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira, the ancient Indian scientist. This very point indicates the vital link between Jyotish and Vaastu. Unfortunately, what the standard Vaastu experts are applying today is the use of temple architecture in homes and offices. There is a need to use the Astakavarga and other charts of Vedic Astrology along with Vaastu principles for every individual home, provided this is to be designed for a particular person to occupy for a long period. If instead flats and apartments are being designed for the general public, then the standard principles can be used.
Vaastu Principles
The following are some of the Vaastu-logically correct principles of house making and design. Please note that like most of the ancient sciences, some of the knowledge that is contained in these principles may not be any more relevant at present times. However, the very basic of Vaastu principles will always continue to be beneficial to the mankind in one form or the other.

The basic principles of vaastu are:
1. If you are in the process of buying a plot or site, please remember that plots/sites in South West, South and West directions are more advantageous than others.
2. According to Vaastu, the most beneficial entrances in the house are those in North East, East or North direction.
3. Living Room or the dining room is best looked in East, North and Northeast directions.
4. The bedroom according to Vaastu should be in southwest/south or west direction.
5. The children’s bedroom should ideally be in Northwest. It could be in Southeast and North as well, but never in southwest or south.
6. If you are fortunate enough in present times to have the luxury of having a separate room for the guests, make the guestroom in Northwest or northeast direction.
7. The kitchen of the house is ideally located in Southeast followed by Northwest and East.
8. Bathrooms and toilets should be in Northwest of the house or in West or South direction.
9. While purchasing a plot or a site, it is advisable to go in for a rectangular or square shape. As far as possible, the site should be slopping towards North and East or Northeast.
10. While making the building or the house, it is advisable to have equal open space on all four sides. The levels of open spaces should be higher in South and West side and lower in North and East side. Outlets of rainwater should be in Northeast or North zones.
11. The living room of the central zone (Brahmasthan) should be free from any kind of obstructions. By obstructions, we mean any kind of beam, pillar, fixture, toilet, staircase or even a wall or lift.
12. The direction in which you sleep is also very important. One should never sleep with head in the north. Sleeping with head towards south ensures long life. While on a journey, it is advisable to sleep with head towards west.
13. In your study room, have your seat so as to face east or north. Do not have a toilet in the study room, though you can have a bathroom.
14. Do not use a dark colour in the study room. Use yellow or white or pink. Put the book shelf in east or north.

15. If you construct more than a floor, prepare the first floor on Southwest. The height of first floor shall not exceed that of ground floor. Do not build a storeroom on first floor.
16. It is said that a storeroom in the Northwest corner leads to abundant supply of essential commodities. Keep a holy picture on one eastern wall. Light colours should not be used on the storeroom. Use dark colours or blue or green. Never sleep in the storeroom at night. Also, refrain from taking out grains from the storeroom at night. 17. The bathroom/bathrooms can be either inside or outside the house. In case it is inside, it should be located on the eastern or northern side. (If attached to a bedroom, then to eastern or northern side of the bedroom). When located outside, then it should be in Northeast corner, but away from the main building. The lavatories are forbidden in Northeast, Center, Southwest and West directions of the house.
18. Vaastu Shastra also guides us about what type of plants and trees should be planted around a dwelling unit so as to enjoy their positive properties the most.
19. Vaastu does not prescribe having a Mango, Banana or a Jamun tree very near your house. However, Peepal at some distance from the house in West direction is considered auspicious as is Imli in South West of the house.
20. It is also auspicious to have an Anaar, Ashoka, Chandan, Champa, Chameli, Gulaab, Nariyal and Keshar tree around a house.
21. On the size and shape of the door, Vaastu advises that width of the door should be half of the height of the door. Square doors as also automatic doors should be avoided.
22. The Paintings/statues in the house are also important. One should not have pictures depicting war scenes (even if they belong to the Epic Mahabharata or Ramayan battles) in rooms other than the office. Similarly, scenes depicting negativities of life like sorrow, struggle, violence (including that of wild beasts), tragedy and of calamities should not be kept.
Warning: Before you start tearing down your beautiful home, please ensure that you have had a Vaastu reading of your chart and determined what is right for you. One house can bring marriage and children for a couple while the same house can bring death for another. The Vaastu of the house does not change but affects different people differently. Know about this from your chart before venturing into Vaastu homes.

Sati’s Yoni Mystique

Enraged by insult to her husband, Lord Shiva, by her father, Sati killed herself. An incensed Shiva took her body and went into Tandav, the dance that would destroy Creation. Lord Vishnu then sliced Sati’s body to stop him, and the Yoni fell in Kamakshya

Rajeev Bhattacharya
Rajeev Bhattacharya

The author is a senior Guwahati-based journalist. He’s a Chevening scholar and has worked with the Times of India, Indian Express, The Telegraph and Times Now television. He is the author of two books on the northeast dealing with continuous insurgency

Kamakshya Temple, situated atop Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, is one of the fifty-one Shakti Peeths found throughout the Indian subcontinent which are places of worship consecrated to the Mother Goddess, the female principal of Hinduism and the main deity of the Shakta sect. The Peeths are shrines which are found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Kamakshya derives its name from the Hindu God of love, Kamadeva. According to mythology, the god had sought out Shakti’s womb and genitals after having lost virility to a curse. As a tribute to Shakti and her ability to lend back Kamadeva his potency, the deity of Kamakshya Devi was installed and continues to be worshipped until today. Mention of Kamakshya temple is found in various ancient scriptures. In Kalika Purana, Kamakshya is referred to as the goddess who fulfils all desires, the bride of Lord Shiva and the benefactor of salvation. There is no idol of the goddess in the temple; the item of worship is a yoni wrapped with a piece of red cloth over which flows a perennial spring keeping it moist.
The origin of the temple centres around the Hindu gods Shiva and Sati. Sati married Lord Shiva against the wishes of her father, King Daksha. He did not invite them when a yajna was performed. Sati was upset, but decided to go to her father’s palace much against Shiva’s advice. When she reached there, her father insulted her and Shiva. Unable to bear the insult to her husband Shiva, she jumped into the yajna fire and killed herself. Enraged over the incident, Shiva held the dead body of Sati in his arms and began the dance of destruction of the universe, which is called Tandav Nritya.
Lord Vishnu stepped in to save the universe and cut the body of Sati into pieces with his Sudarshan Chakra.. he Sudarshana Chakra is a spinning, disk-like weapon, literally meaning “disk of auspicious vision,” having 108 serrated edges used by the Hindu god Vishnu. Various body parts of Sati fell at different places which came to be known as Shakti Peeths. The yoni of the goddess fell at the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati.
Another story of Kamakshya is associated with a demon called Naraka, who fell in love with the goddess and wanted to marry her. The goddess put a condition that if he would be able to build a staircase from the bottom of the Nilachal Hill to the temple within one night, then she would surely marry him. The incomplete staircase is known as Mekhelauja Path. Naraka took it as a challenge and was almost about to accomplish the task when the Devi decided to play a trick on him. She forced a cock to crow to give the impression of dawn to Naraka. Deceived by the trick, Naraka thought it was futile to continue with building the staircase and left it halfway through. Later, Naraka chased the cock and killed it at a place called Kukurakata, situated at Darrang, about 70 kms north-east of Guwahati.
But of the many legends behind the Shakti Peeths, the one most time-honoured is that of the slicing of Sati’s body by Lord Vishnu to control Shiva’s celestial rage.
According to archaeologists, the origin of Kamakshya temple dates back to the eighth and ninth centuries. Some religious texts are of the view that the temple was demolished in the 15th century by Kalapahad, an Afghan general of the Sultan of Bengal in the mid-16th century. The ruins of Kamakshya temple were discovered by Koch king Viswasingha and he revived the worship of the goddess. His son Naranarayan reconstructed it with the help of his brother and general Chilarai.
Kamakshya is considered one of the most important centres of tantric worship in the world where goats and buffaloes are also sacrificed to propitiate the Goddess. The temples of the Dasamahavidya personifying the ten different forms of Shakti, Anga Devata and other temples dedicated to various deities are located within the Nilachal hills. The tantric sadhak offers puja at each of these temples at specific levels of his attainment. Apart from the daily puja offered at the shrine, a number of special pujas are also held round the year which includes Durga Puja, Pohan Biya, Durgadeul, Vasanti Puja, Madandeul, Ambubachi and Manasa Puja. The event that draws the maximum crowd is the Ambubachi puja when the Goddess is believed to go through the menstrual period. The temple remains closed for three days and then opens with great festivity on the fourth day.
(Ambubachi is central to the fertility cult, as it is believed that Mother Earth goes into menstruation. Scholars say that these few days – June 23 to June 26 – are the time when the earth is attaining maximum fertility, and the rituals warrant abstention from all agricultural activity. After the festivity, agricultural activity restarts.
All the rituals are performed by different category of priests and their retainers as per the norms laid down in the scriptures at different times. Brahmans well versed in the Vedas, Puranas and Samhitas supervise of the rites and rituals; Pujaris performed with the rites and ritualistic practices; Bidhipathaks (Scriptures) are read to guide the pujaris (priests) in the observance of the rules of such pujas and the recitation of the mantras.
Hotas perform the rites associated with the fire altar and Chandipathaks recite the “Chandi” or book of chants related to the invocation of the Goddess. Supakars are entrusted with the task of preparing the daily offering of “Bhog” or food offerings to the deity.
In addition to the Brahmans, different categories of non-brahman families fulfil other roles such that are associated with the smooth functioning of the entire process of worship and are intrinsically related to the ritualistic practices.
The elaborate paraphernalia of the shrine notwithstanding, there are murmurs among some sections that the tantric tradition could be fizzling out from the complex. Decades ago, names of tantrics were heard who would offer remedies to people suffering from various ailments and difficulties. During the festivals like Ambubachi Mela or Deodhani Nritya, it is still not uncommon to see people huddling with sadhaks and attentively listening to them. Rajib Sarmah, researcher and a candipathak priest at the temple, however, feels that tantric practices are not becoming extinct from Kamakshya shrine. “The tradition is highly secretive, strictly based on lineage and not discussed with anybody else. Only those who are initiated into the tradition are allowed access to the knowledge and rituals. The external appearance of the complex has undoubtedly changed and it has somewhat become similar to other temples in the country. But at the same time, the tantric tradition has continued as in the previous times,” he said. Another tantric practitioner who did not wish to be named explained that sadhaks from all over the country come to Kamakshya for initiation into the tantric tradition. He added that different categories of practitioners are found associated with the temple depending upon their levels of attainment on the tantric path.
Visitors to Kamakshya shrine have been increasing since the past several years. Among them are also people who offer pujas at the shrines as an astrological remedy, since the deities are also associated with each of the nine planets. Of late, a growing number of foreigners have been spotted at the festivals, which also include a small number of researchers of the tantric tradition at the complex.
The government has also sanctioned funds with the goal to develop it as a major tourist spot. Certain changes have been brought about in the complex like installation of railings, tiles and a facelift to the different shrines which have also invited criticism that the original flavour of the temple has been transformed to resemble a structure in the northern region of the country.

Judicial Faux Pas and Baseless Jubilation

The Rafale judgment unwittingly rescued BJP in a moment of defeat, but is based on a ‘typing error’

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 was a cheerful December Friday for a party that was crestfallen. The three-judge Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi dismissed three Public Interest Litigation (PILs) accusing the Modi government of breaking rules and favouring a private corporation in the purchase of the French medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCS) Rafale from Dassault Aviation. One of three petitions was filed by Prashant Bhushan and two former BJP ministers, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie.
It came as a relief to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had lost the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the Congress on December 11. The ruling party, which prided itself in ruling large parts of the country, was indeed browbeaten, and the BJP leaders went silent. On Friday, December 14, 2018, within hours after the Supreme Court judgment became public, the combative BJP president Amit Shah called for a press conference at 1 pm at the party headquarters in New Delhi, and he read out parts of the judgment which exonerated the Modi government of any wrong-doing in the controversial defense deal.
Shah advised Congress president Rahul Gandhi not to base his campaign on “white lies” for “temporary advantage” and he said that “lies have no legs”. He went on to pose some key questions to Gandhi. The BJP president wanted to know as to who was the source of Gandhi’s information about the allegations he (Gandhi) made on the deal? He asked Gandhi: “Why did you not finalise the deal from 2007 to 2014?” He said that Gandhi should reveal his source. He advised Gandhi “to avoid childish allegations”.
He clarified that the 36 fighter planes that Prime Minister Modi purchased in April 2015 on his visit to France “will be made in France” and not in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) or by the Ambanis. Shah tied himself up in a knot when he said that the Rafale deal was a government-to-government deal, and asked Gandhi: “Why did you not do government-to-government deal?” He had completely forgotten, or may be his freshly minted bravado had erased that crucial fact, that India was buying the Rafale fighter jets from a private manufacturer and that the French government has nothing to do with it.
And Shah said that he would answer questions to BJP’s poll defeat in the three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh – in a separate press conference, which he promised to call soon. He hoped that the media would carry the message of the Supreme Court verdict clearing the Modi government and the report would be taken to the people.
At 4 pm on the same day, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke for the BJP-led NDA government of Modi on the same issue. Sitharaman quoted from the court judgment - as had Shah - to show that there was no wrong-doing of any kind in the Rafale deal. Jaitley too framed the issue as one between “truth and falsehood”. He too wanted to know “why the deal was stopped if not abandoned” under the UPA, and why time was lost between 2009 and 2014.
He said that the non-weaponised aircraft was nine per cent cheaper and the weaponised aircraft 20 per cent cheaper in terms of 2016 prices. He also said that the off-set policy was decided in 2005 and the Congress “cannot taint the off-set-mechanism” by which a private sector Indian player was to be involved in defense production.
But the court’s faux pas about the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report being submitted to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) when it was not, has indeed created a flutter which the government and the party tried to gloss over. But it raised eyebrows about what has been described as a ‘typing error’. When I asked Shah, and again Sitharaman and Jaitley, whether the Modi government was not clear about meeting the total requirement of the Indian Air Force of 126 fighter jets, and that in its whole term, the government has made a deal only for 36, Shah assured that the IAF’s needs will be met and it takes time.
Sitharaman and Jaitley denied that there was any tardiness in getting the remaining 90 aircrafts, though there was no clarity as to what was being done about it.

From Arab Spring To MeToo

It is necessary to examine whether the revolutions being enacted on the social media are changing the reality in any meaningful way

Prem Prakash
Prem Prakash

Prem Prakash has been a journalist for three decades. He has worked with Navbharat Times, Jansatta, Sahara Samay, Rashtriya Sahara and National Duniya. He is much discussed for his creative interventions in the criticism of Gandhian thought. He is the author of many books.

MeToo campaign is moving forward two steps every day; evidence and criticism are also being put up with conviction and strength. The interesting thing is that from the National Women’s Commission to the common person with discernment is not against it, everyone is supporting it. But if this movement has to reach a radical conclusion apart from the daily revelations and the increasing shaming of men every day, then it is necessary, to entertain great hopes from this movement would be to turn our eyes away from the decade-old history of social media and the many movements that it gave rise to. It is necessary to look at the MeToo movement in the context of similar movements and to look boldly at its past to reach a critical perspective.
Fourteen years ago, sitting in a room with a computer Mark Zuckerberg had brought the idea of Facebook into the Internet world, he was sure of its success because he had with him because along with names and addresses of people he was able to accumulate in digital form likes and dislikes, and responses to different life situations and contexts. He would then say to his friends that he is going to ride the strong and big wave of change because I am not just capable of reaching people but I am able to pry into them.
The claims of Zuckerberg who is able to influence the electoral process from America to India were turning out to be true.
There is another side to the prediction of Zuckerberg. This is connected with the many misperceptions and analyses of the Information Revolution. In reality, ever since digital revolutions had begun to dance in the open arms of market, ever since society, relationships and dealings have turned into a desire for self-expression and also a wish for instant revolution. When in 2010 Arab Spring broke out and people saw the power of social media and the change of social and political change through it, somewhere the idea was glimmering that the vocabulary of protest and leadership was undergoing a change. As the hopes that sprang from the Arab Spring faded before our eyes, in many other uprisings there was nothing more than sensation and buzz for a while. Before we discuss and understand the MeToo movement, it is necessary to grasp the decade-old developments in the social media.

The other thing to grasp in this context is the distinction that Simone de Beauvoir had made for the first time between sex and gender and placed it before the world and she put forward the powerful logical argument that at the end of it all how a woman in the context of her time and place and the situation it implies is reduced to her bodily existence, and how her physicality determines her sensibility and her activity. The logic and criticism initiated seventy years ago by Simone has shaped the women’s movement ever since and aspired for liberation from the body.
No one will deny that from the touch button of the mobile to the computer mouse the expression of the woman’s rich world that has been created in the last decade has exposed men’s thinking about, and behaviour, towards women. It can be said in an almost ritualistic way that the information revolution has helped in women expressing themselves fearlessly as never before and that they are living through the most uninhibited era ever. But it remains to be assessed how much of a difference did this uninhibited mode has made to the real life of women. It is also necessary in this context to underline certain things. The most important among these is that on the highway of markets and needs, the speed at which women began to work alongside men also meant that the working conditions of women outside the homes had become horrid.
The MeToo movement which has gained such momentum that a minister in the Government of India had to quit intends to bring to light the horridness of the position of women and to incorporate the reactions of the country and society to the situation. It is necessary to clarify here that whatever has been said and whatever clarifications and arguments have been offered with regard to the MeToo movement, there is no space in it for the painful and humiliating experience of a common woman. Even if there is space for the pain of the common women, it still remains outside the scope of the criticism that has emerged, and the hopes that have been raised by, the MeToo movement. The women who have spoken in #MeToo were either well-known personalities or the men against whom the complaints were men of established reputation. Why should this not be, because the contradiction was evident from the very beginning that only those could connect with the social empowerment that was the basis for the information revolution who have made a mark because of their education, wealth and fame and who are far ahead of others.
The beginning of the MeToo campaign is not separate from this. It was American civil rights activist Tarana Burke who had started this in 2006. It is 11 years after her speaking out that it had gone viral on the social media in 2017. Until now, from America to India, all the women who spoke out were either part of the television-cinema world or they are connected with big media corporations. Similarly, the men against whom the charges were made were big names and who were well known. It can be said that in a way the MeToo campaign has pulled down masks of people who succeeded in the society’s glamorous fields and who are considered as ideal and who are looked up to as icons, and world has been made familiar with the hidden truth.
Experience shows that it is doubtful this movement can achieve something beyond newspaper sensationalism and trial by media. The voices raised for gender equality are sure to empower society to move forward but it is not possible to achieve something beyond this if the market-information system is not committed to the self-respect of women. In the world of mouse-and-click where the issues of justice for half the world are raising new challenges and new arguments, the uninhibited self-expression of women has become a moot issue, there are tendencies present in the same universe and people who naturally – sipping milk as it were – look upon woman as an object of pleasure, and who want to keep her only to gaze at her.
Earlier too, the force of hash tag causing a social storm and transforming reality remains a mirage and one should not have much expectation this time too. If we want to take this discussion forward towards a conclusion tied to the Gandhian tenet of listening to and understanding what the last woman and the last man have to say does not become evident on the mobile screen and on the computer screen, until then the shadow of the mirage will not allow the reality of truth to emerge.

How To Become The Best - MC Mary Kom

I have been observing the overall performances of our country in sports, and there have been many improvements but changes are very much needed

MC Mary Kom
MC Mary Kom

Mary Kom reigns the world as the six-time world women’s boxing champion and has shown what Indians can do

Let me begin from the scenario in Manipur where I hail from. The border state has been named as the “Power House of Sports for India” for having produced and contributed the maximum number of sportspersons for the country. In contrast, it is rather strange that the sports infrastructure in the state leaves much to be desired and inadequate compared to the rest of the states and cities. It has been sheer hard work and passion that have driven many of us to achieve success and reach this far in sports.
In Northeast India, perhaps because of its social and economic challenges and unemployment issues, more and more youngsters are adopting sports as their careers. The encouraging results are not surprising because many of them are indeed extremely talented. This has impacted society very positively, resulting in a transformation of sorts that has brought laurels to the country. But of course, the country has immense scope to do better.
I have been observing the overall performances of our country in sports and though there have been many developments and improvements in the systems and performance, in some disciplines we are traversing the other direction of going down the ladder. Perhaps the world is going at a faster pace than us in every aspect and we are maintaining the same speed. But this has led to a gradual downfall in our achievement and performance in sports.

Alarm Bells
We need to be alarmed, understand and rectify before we are left behind by every country. We cannot ignore the talents and potential available among the millions of our population. I have always respected and quoted the human resources in our country which is nowhere less from the rest of the world, but somewhere we have failed to nurture and guide those talents efficiently. The government can promote sports and take it to the next level. I believe that with perfect implementation of all policies and plans in sports, we will be able to change the fate of Indian sports in the world.
What the world demands today is the MORE and the BEST in every field. Competitions are tough everywhere today, be it in sports or academic or at the job avenues. We need to prove that we are the best and that’s the only option. This is where the need arises for us to wake up and take a leap from the existing system. Being a sportsperson, my knowledge is limited to my discipline and I might not be able to give an insight that could make Indian sports traverse a better way and reach a higher level. But I would like to share a few thoughts and conclusions based on my journey so far.
Sports Experts & Coaches We are more dependent on our experiences than the new research and techniques being put into trial. Is it not possible to accord a higher status to our coaches and experts in sports and expose them to avenues of learning and updating their skills and knowledge? This can help us in churning the whole learning into a refined and appropriate training methods or manual.
Periodical Refresher Course: Coaches and trainers should be given orientation programmes, training of trainers’ course and exposure to different sports academies and centres in the country and abroad for cross-learning and be updated both technically and practically.
Scientific Methods
We should not ignore our traditional and experience-based training methods but it is high time to also adopt scientific methods as well, which must go along with SPORTS SCIENCE and MEDICINE, which in turn will enable us to track our strength, deficiency and deal it with proper interventions.
Mental Health
We also need psychologists and counselors to assist athletes at all time as we all go through the roller-coaster ride, which will have a profound impact on their performances. We need to be mentally strong to win an opponent under any circumstance. Being confident is as half won.
Spotting The Talent
If we go back to decades from now, we identified talented sportspersons only when they have reached the national level but they could be either someone who is young or at the end of his / her career. We wait for someone to prove himself / herself really good in their specific discipline. I wish we could identify talents at a younger age (even below 10 years), though Khelo India has already started. Then, we need to design the training plan depending upon their age group and capabilities.
Nutrition & Supplement: Proper guidance for sportspersons concerning intake of nutrition and supplements at different age groups is very necessary for the player to grow in their field.
Awareness On Anti-Doping:
Out of ignorance, many sportspersons fall prey to doping. A proper awareness should be imparted on anti-doping with clear specifications of the medicines and compositions they need to avoid.

Athletes’ Support In a state like Manipur, it is difficult to find senior sportspersons and are not given any attention as well. In fact they have no place for training or any facilities that could be of benefit. As most of them hail from poor family background, their priority is diverted to finding a secured job for supporting their family. This way, we have lost quiet a many of them who could have brought us medals at the international levels. Only a handful of them were fortunate enough to train well even after finding a job. We need to monitor and keep a close vigil to identify these talented men and women wherever they are. Equally important is to ensure that they continue rendering service and sharing their expertise and experiences.
Free And Fair Games
A minor mistake made by juries and officials can topple all chances of winning medals and even spoil the career of medal prospects of the country. We should always be alert and careful at all stages of trial selections and competitions. We should not limit ourselves and confine judgments to a district, state, region or caste but expand to cover the entire country at every level.

Involvement Of Corporates
We should not deny the contribution made to sports by the corporate sector of our country. They have done an excellent job and we should encourage them to do better and we should not be entirely dependent upon the Government. My only wish and dream is to take our country to the next level in sports. It will call for a lot of hard labour and efforts but again, WE ARE NO LESS than anybody. We have the potential. Let us support our sportspersons, let us dream and let us win together.
(As told to Rajeev Bhattacharyya, exclusively for Parliamentarian)

Is The Riot In Bulandshahr Accidental? Or Is It A Political Smoke Signal?

Communal polarization is a double-edged sword and it may not always help the BJP

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

While Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was threatening that if the BJP came to power in Telangana, All-India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi will flee the country as the Nizam did (of course, it was not true that the Nizam fled, he remained in Hyderabad until his death in 1967 and contributed 5 tonnes of gold worth Rs 75 lakh then and Rs 1500 crore at current prices to the war fund in 1965 at the request of then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri) and that he would rename Hyderabad Bhagyanagar. History has never been a strong point when the BJP leaders indulge in anti-Muslim rage. But back in the small and sensitive town of Bulandshahr in the home state of Chief Minister Adityanath, a riot broke out on Monday on the pretext of cow slaughter, and a police inspector was killed as also one other person. Those arrested include members of the Bajrang Dal, and it does not a Sherlock Holmes to know who is behind the violence.
The Bulandshahr riot assumes gravity because of the killing of the police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, and another person, 21-year-old Sumit. It was coincidence that Singh had investigated the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri for alleged possession of beef.
The interesting question is whether this was an accidental outbreak of violence which is bound to happen in a backward state like Uttar Pradesh where law and order is fragile and communal tensions are on the boil. But with Rajasthan assembly elections round the corner, it seems that it may not be an accidental eruption and that it is meant as a smoke signal for the election in the neighbouring state. It will be hard to prove the connection but the BJP cadres and local leaders in Rajasthan would not want to let go an opportunity to make cow protection an election issue based on the Bulandshahr incident in the conservative state.
The worst fears of the political rivals of the BJP, including the Congress, who feel helpless in the face of the virulent communal rhetoric of the right-wing Hindu party, seem confirmed that the BJP would not hesitate to engineer a riot or raise the bogey of cow protection or the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya to win an election. If the Congress can be accused of trying to win the Muslim vote by pointing to the Hindu communalists, it is not beyond the BJP to rake up communal frenzy in the majority community to win an election.
When there is breakdown of law and order, and there is fear and tension in the air, it is people at large who are affected by it, and their caste and creed does not matter. It is a point when people lose faith in the government of the day. Whichever party happens to be in power has to bear the responsibility of riots, deaths and injuries. The BJP government of Chief Minister Adityanath cannot duck responsibility for the Bulandshahr eruption.
The BJP and other militant Hindu organizations have every right to campaign for cow protection but they have no right to indulge in arson and rioting as they did in Bulandshahr. And wherever the BJP is in power, its governments have no option but to take strict action against the rioters even when they happen to right-wing Hindu organizations like the Bajrang Dal as in this case of Bulandshahr. People are not likely to vote for the BJP if they feel that BJP governments condone the criminal acts of Hindu organizations. We get back to the famous, cryptic dictum of later Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he murmured the advice to then chief minister of Gujarat, now prime minister, Narendra Modi, that he should follow ‘raj dharma’. Today, Prime Minister Modi has the duty to advice Chief Minister Adityanath to follow ‘raj dharma’ and take strict action against the rioters in Bulandhshahr.
And whatever the temptation for communal polarization in the belief that it would help the BJP, BJP leaders will have to think of the backlash. People do not easily accept governments which allow rioters from their own parties to get away. Communalism and the consequent violence is indeed a double-edged sword. It is quite likely to backfire, something that the BJP’s top brass cannot rule out.

Ripples Of Fear In Arab Circles

Closer ties between India and Israel based on countering ‘Islamic’ terrorism make India’s traditional friends in West Asia and North Africa apprehensive

Dr Waiel SH Awwad
Dr Waiel SH Awwad

Dr Waiel SH Awwad is a senior Syrian ­journalist based in New Delhi

Currently, there are more than 14 million Indians visiting the Arab world annually, and more than 7 million expatriates residing in the Gulf countries resulting in more than US $73 billion remittances to India. The bilateral trade exceeds US $150 billion. India imports 65% of its oil from the region and hence oil security is of prime importance. According to experts, India’s foreign policy underwent a change because of New Delhi’s desire to improve its economy and development, working with the East, using its soft power by strengthening connection with Indian Diaspora, and at the same time to develop close ties with the West. In the Nehru era of the 1950s, the Indian foreign policy was marked by the spirit of anti-colonialism, independence of judgment, support of just causes in adherence to international law and the United Nations charter, in addition to the proximity of the Arab countries to India geopolitically, taking in consideration its national interest. It is worth mentioning that the large Indian Muslim population helped successive Indian governments to be closer to the Arab causes. This policy continued to be supportive toward the Palestinian cause. India supported the right of Palestinians for an independent state alongside Israel, coexisting in peace and harmony. India’s stand has remained constant. India’s commitment to Palestine may appear to have weakened under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who enjoys a close relation with his Israeli counter-part, right-wing nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Modi is the first Indian prime minister to visit Tel Aviv. New Delhi calls it the pragmatic phase of its foreign policy. This phase emerged after the end of cold war, collapse of the Soviet Union and opening of the economy since the early nineties. The Arab world saw India as an emerging power to reckon. It was understood that India is looking for modernization, of enhancing its security and military capability with a high economic growth rate. USA and Israel turned out to be the top technology and military suppliers along with Russia. India normalised ties with Israel after the Madrid Peace conference. This relationship was closely watched by Arab countries, because of the fear that it may be at the cost of the Arab cause since a peace agreement with Israel is yet to materialise. According to reports, New Delhi’s change in attitude towards West Asia was visible as India moved closer to Israel. There is also a strong belief that India wants to fight Pakistan with the support of the Arabs. The foreign policy of India toward the region is now based on ideology and not pragmatism. The position of Muslims in India has become vulnerable under the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-mentored Modi government, with reports of discrimination, attacks on minorities, and destruction of their properties in different parts of India. Many radical groups are taking the law into their hands right under the nose of the Modi government. On the other hand, West Asia has witnessed turbulence and escalation of tension and wars with the onset of what is called the Arab Spring in 2011. With the emergence of new powers in the Middle East, India began to get closer to the Arab region to understand these forces under political Islam. The fear of terror spreading into their own backyard is legitimate. On the other hand, it is getting closer to US and Israel in terms of counter-terrorism measures and fighting Islamic radicals. In the eyes of the Arabs, USA, Israel and the West are responsible for the anarchy in the region by arming, training and funding radicals and extremist groups. They are responsible for the creation Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS in the Levant. It was a policy of regime change that started with the Iraq invasion. As of late, US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has prompted Israel leaders to declare whole of Palestine a homeland for the Jews and denying the Palestinians right of existence. Now they are looking at Jordan as the alternative homeland for the Palestinians .This will lead to more fighting and wars. One of the Arab newspapers said that under Modi the nationalists are charging Mahatma Gandhi with ignorance toward the Jewish because of his support to the Palestinians when he said Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same way that Britain belongs to the British and France to the French. According to website Mahatma Gandhi had regular contacts with the Jews in South Africa who played a major role in his nonviolence movement. The Arab world sees Indian foreign policy changing under Modi and there is growing concern about the agenda of the current government toward the Muslim community, which is the second largest in the world after Indonesia. The main concerns of Modi are to promote Hindutva policy and religious backing to the Hindu community in different parts of the Arab world. This is seen through the focus on Hindu temples and Gurdwara in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries during his visits to UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman, where these countries hurriedly showed their tolerance to the existence of Hindu shrines for the Indian community in their respective countries for long years. The relationship between Israel and India is growing. It is of prime importance to the Arab world, not because of the ties as such but because of the worry from the different agendas of each party. It is conceded that it is India’s sovereign right to foster relations with any country. But the worry is of Israel’s agenda toward Arab countries as a whole. Israel is seen as an occupation force of Palestine, parts of Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. It is denying the Palestinians their right of existence in their own country. No matter what Arab leaders may say, and normalize ties with Israel, it is the Arab mass which is objecting to such a move without a comprehensive peace with Israel which looks more elusive the ever. Hence the closeness of India and Israel will always be the most difficult part since it creates the apprehension in the Arab mind that India is moving away from the Arab countries and falling for the US and Israel hegemony in the region. The more it gets closer, particularly in security and military matters, the more it worries the Arab people. In Arab eyes, India remains a bystander to the Arab – Israel conflict, and that in spite of the fact that it enjoys a close relation with all parties, it does not take a proactive role in peace process between the Arabs and Israel. It is believed that for decision-makers in New Delhi, Arab causes are secondary. When Prime Minister Modi travelled to Tel Aviv, he ignored the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah which was seen as bowing to Israeli pressure. After the 2+2 meeting with US, External Affairs Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj postponed her visit to Lebanon and Syria citing security concerns because of “prevailing situation”, while there were more the 67 Indian companies’ representatives attending Damascus 60th International Trade Fair in September. Ironically the Indian pavilion was the biggest, among the 45 countries which participated in the fair, with about 100 businessmen. The close ties with US and Israel are also meant to deal with challenging issues like terrorism, Islamophobia, “Islamic terrorism”, and checking Pakistan nexus to militant groups active in Jammu and Kashmir. There will be closer ties with both on the issue of Afghanistan and Iran in the future, while Islamabad under Imran Khan will move closer to Saudi Arabia. There is a strong belief in the Arab circles that with Modi in power, a close circle of experts are getting regular briefing about the future ties with Israel with the aim of targeting Arab and Islamic countries, in the place of India’s independent foreign policy with its “strategic autonomy”. It is widely feared that such an axis will be against the interest of Arab and Islamic nations’ ties with India, especially when you glorify colonial forces and equate a great India civilization with a 72-year-old Israel. India`s soft power, now is focusing more on education, trade, investment and military ties. It has to enhance its engagement with the Arab/Islamic world and keep a balance to be able to counter dominant USA’s influence in the region, and be a key player in the new security architecture of the region. Arab people and decision-makers are eager that emerging India should play a greater role in the region stretching from Marrakesh to Kabul. Terrorism has no religion or boundary. It spreads like a plague all over the globe and must be fought collectively by the international community. Being selective in targeting terrorist groups will not help in eliminating terrorism nor will selecting certain countries to fight it.

Where Is The Black Money? - Mark Tully

Mark Tully is the oldest hand among foreign correspondents now living in India. He had headed the BBC bureau in Delhi through tumultuous times stretching from the Emergency in 1975 to Operation Blue Star in 1984, and in 1990 he wrote ‘No Full Stops In India’, giving a ring-side view of politics and politicians, even as he looked at the cultural developments as well.

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

He remains an active observer of Indian scene, though many would consider him now as more an Indian than an outsider. But he remains the quintessential foreign correspondent even after he has ceased to be one because he brings the insider’s insight along with the outsider’s objectivity.
In an exclusive interview with Parliamentarian on a late November evening at his tastefully furnished home in Nizamuddin West, near the centuries-old resting place of Delhi’s most famous and popular Sufi master, Nizamuddin Auliya, Tully talks about his views on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ideological texture and tenor of his government. He told Parliamentarian’ Senior Editor Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr that the Modi government’s Hindutva is more pronounced than that of the previous BJP-led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his second-in-command LK Advani. He also makes the point that unlike right-wing parties like the Republicans in the United States and the Conservatives in the United Kingdom, Modi’s BJP is committed to the free market economy, but that Modi is aware that the poor are a big constituency in the country.

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you look at India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? What is the kind of change that you see?
I don’t know what is really going on. We will have to wait and see in the election. I think the system has awakened the idea of a Hindu India which was dormant. As I said, Vajpayee and Advani did not think it was realistic. I also think there is clear evidence that caste will still play a role. The idea of one great block of Hindu vote has not been achieved and may never be achieved.

Do you think that Modi has maintained a tactical silence on Hindutva and harped on development?
Yes, he does from time to time, he does. His sidekick Shah (BJP President Amit Shah) does not hide it. Modi does not stop Shah. He is obviously conscious of the fact that identifying himself too much with it is risky.

To what extent does a right-wing Hindutva government find acceptance either in the West or West Asia? Are they disturbed by it or do they think that it is an internal affair and they don’t want to talk about it?
It is seen by many people as part of a pattern of right-wing leaders. I think Modi is seen as part of the pattern of right-wing leaders who are coming up everywhere, from Trump to Erdogan. Of course, that part is seen as undemocratic, too much power is concentrated in one person, appealing too much to inflammatory forms of nationalism. And I think to that extent Modi is viewed with concern by a lot of people.
Are you taken in by his exclusive emphasis on technology and technology-oriented solutions to the economic problems?
Obviously he thinks so. The election campaign was about ‘badlao (change)’ and ‘vikas (development)’. I think lots of people voted for him because he was seen as different from other prime ministers. To that extent they will judge him on that record.

What do you think of the Indian opposition and the liberal critics? Have they dented Modi’s image?
I think there are points at which the opposition can attack Modi and will attack Modi. I think for instance his economic record is not bright. The question of demonetisation. If you go down the list of promises, his promise of bringing back black money. Where is the black money? This whole Rafale deal, which could be very damaging to Modi. It is too early.

To what extent as a right-wing prime minister he believes in the market economy?
He does fundamentally believe in market economy, but I think he knows the poor are a huge constituency, or the less fortunate people are a huge constituency. It is widely said, and I believe that he was rattled by Rahul Gandhi’s comment of suit-and-boot government (given his sartorial exclusivity, explanation added). Globally, politicians are realising that one of the reasons for the emergence of right-wing governments is due to leaving the markets too free, too unregulated which has caused imbalance in economic growth. It is felt that there is need for greater control over the economy, greater regulation. Francis Fukutyama has said that we need wealth distribution. He certainly said that problems were created by free market economy and he mentioned the word socialism as well.
Do you think that Modi is being pragmatic in not emphasising Hindutva?
I would not put it like that. I think he wants to be recognised as an international leader and he knows it will hurt his image if he is identified with the extreme right. But he is aware there is a constituency of Hindutva and he wants to win that constituency, and he wants to broaden that constituency and he leaves it to others to do that.

Do you think there are middleclass Indians who were liberal in the earlier decades and who have moved to the right now?
I think there are some in the middleclass who feel ‘hamara mauka aa gaya (our time has come)’.

Do you think that this constituency is large enough to enable Modi win an election?
Who knows? I do not know. Elections are very difficult to forecast. I think certainly there is a national core and it is a Hindu national core.
Is the BJP committed to a market economy as the Republicans in the United States and Conservatives in Britain?
I think the BJP is not economically ideologically rightwing. In a strange way, much of the division is about personality and not about politics. In India, one man leads. Look at all the opposition parties. They are led by single leaders. The BJP, which was relatively democratic, has now become entirely a Modi party. We can see the election as Modi vs Stop Modi. I think Modi wants to play Modi vs Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi has wisely said that he will not be leading the opposition.
Is Modi like Indira Gandhi?
He is authoritarian He is a one-man band, he runs the government. He is authoritarian in the way police and income-tax are used. Modi is like Indira Gandhi . Power is centralised and he has placed his people in key positions. He may live to regret this centralisation.

Viper-God rules

The Modi government has posted a man facing well documented serious criminal charges against him at the head of the country’s premier investigation agency: ‘clean governance’…

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 Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has offered everything that will keep the current soap opera lasting many “Monday-to-Friday” outings on the idiot box.
The duel between CBI Director Alok Verma and a Modi-foisted ‘Special Director’ Rakesh Asthana gripped the soap lovers a few weeks ago and intermittently lights a cracker with the two reaching the Supreme Court, the latest being a warning from Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi about required secrecy not being maintained.
There are WhatsApp jokes doing the rounds on ‘how CBI raided CBI and nabbed the most corrupt officer in the backyard of the CBI’. The virulence of the malaise this time, like a mutated and wrecking form of the dengue, has put India’s premier investigation agency on the ventilator in a political ICCU. The ‘doctor-on-call’ Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi, is busy on other calls, perhaps a few more foreign tours before… Ahem!
Rao’s Rows
However, the man of the moment is M Nageswara Rao, the new interim director of CBI. If an unclean track record was the issue that led to the removal of the earlier director and special director, then the current interim CBI director would expectedly be clean, surely? But he is like a cleverly wrapped up dirty restaurant table just dressed up for the next trusting customer.
Rao, a 1986 batch Indian Police Service officer of the Odisha cadre, is from landholding Telugu community of Hyderabad and the classmate of politically blessed Garikapati Mohan Rao, who studied with him in the same school and belongs to the same village. Garikapati Rao enjoys Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s affection and proximity for long.
Nageswara has a string of controversial chapters behind him.
In 2014, he went to the court for correcting his date of birth. However, the civil services rules say if one needs to correct the date of birth, it has to be done within five years of joining the services. Nageswara was already more than 20 years beyond his allowed time. He ‘managed’ a decision in his favour, but it was clearly against the service rules.
Similarly, there is a matter of land purchase in Guntur where the land was purchased in his wife’s name and there is a court case of money laundering going on. But Rao enjoyed an uninterrupted run of luck, till a local Tamil news blogger and independent investigative online magazine Savukku reported about his illegal ‘landing’.
Speaking to Parliamentarian, the Savukku reporter who filed this report, Savukku Shankar said, “In his annual property returns, Nageswara Rao had declared that during his tenure as IG (Operations), Central Reserve Police Force, his wife Mannem Sandhya had purchased a land at Pedapalakaluru village, in Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, measuring 13,668 sq ft, with a built-up area of 6,563 sq ft, along with her brother Ratna Babu at a cost of Rs 20 lakh. The source of funds for this purchase has been shown as a loan from a firm named Angela Mercantiles Private Limited, Kolkata.”
Shell Shocking
Further, Shankar added, “The firm Angela Mercantiles Private Limited is a shell company functioning from CA 39, Salt Lake City, Sector I, North 24 Parganas, Apart from this Angela Mercantiles, several other shell companies belonging to the same set of accused are reported to be functioning out of two small rooms of Salt Lake and another at 5 Clive Row, Room No. 42P, Sarvamangala Building, Kolkata.
The records of this firm were obtained from Registrar of Companies. Documents revealed that M Sandhya had given a loan of Rs 38,27,141/- to this company, which was outstanding as of 31.03.2013. This M Sandhya is none other than the wife of Nageswara Rao. Mannem Sandhya, w/o Shri Nageswara Rao, has suppressed her husband’s name from RoC records and has instead used her father’s name – Chinnam Vishnu Narayana in all the records”.
Shankar explained that in the details of shareholders filed by Angela Mercantile Private Limited, the address of M Sandhya, who is also a shareholder in the said Angela Mercantile, is shown as “CA 39, Salt Lake City, Sector I, North 24 Parganas, Kolkata,” which is the address of the shell companies and not the address of the shareholder.
Nageswara Rao’s wife had invested money to the extent of more than Rs 60 lakh in Angela Mercantiles and obtained Rs 25 lakhs as a loan which is pure money-laundering. These are the supportive documents to my claim.
Land Bites
During his tenure in his parent cadre, Odisha, Nageswara Rao had in the year 2011 purchased a government land using forged documents at Khurda, Odisha, from a lady. Due to reasons that remain unclear, the deal fell through and litigation in this regard is pending in 14th Additional Civil Court, Khurda in Civil Suit No. 9211/2015. Sources say, an out of court settlement with the seller was worked out.
Nageswara Rao ruled the roost as Joint Director, Chennai Zone of CBI. He was almost unstoppable. No one dared to question him. And those who tried were shown their place and doomed.
In another matter as a Joint Director CBI, he was supposed to conduct searches in the premises of a firm that has paid less amount for a high-value party and caused loss to State Bank of India of about Rs 50 crore, and this was noticed by CBI director Alok Verma.
Hyderabad-based Professor K Nageshwar, a former MLC and renowned political scientist said, “The closeness with top politicians is known about the current interim director. Also, there are other factors like the same community, college and village that works for him. The responsibility is to put everything aside and keep the national interest on top. Sadly, that has taken a back seat”.
Savukku Shankar filed many stories detailing the wrongdoings of people in high positions. CBI’s lack of interest and the reasons were also highlighted by him in his magazine.
Print Lies
Shankar said, “Hindustan Tele Printers Limited, or HTL, was started as a Public- Sector Unit of the Central Government, on 14th December 1960 at Guindy. It was intended to manufacture teleprinters, but at the initial stage, it assembled teleprinters imported from the Italian Company Olivetti. Another PSU, Hindustan Machine Tools Limited (HMT), manufactured many of the machines required for the Hindustan Teleprinters. Hindustan Teleprinters Limited continued as an active supplier to P&T Department. But economic liberalisation turned out to be a bane for this PSU, as it failed to understand the sea change in technology. The introduction of mobile services was the final nail in the coffin of HTL. It turned into a loss-making unit.
When the central government wanted to commence a PSU in Chennai, TN government was liberal in allotting prime land in Chennai keeping in mind the employment it would generate. The land was allotted in 1965 and the condition for allotment was specific. The land so allotted should never be used for anything other than the purpose it has been allotted.
After HTL became a sick unit, its debts started mounting. HTL owed money to banks, employees, the state government by way of sales tax, etc. Banks to which HTL owed money formed a consortium headed by SBI.
This consortium investigated the matter and found out discrepancies. The CBI was supposed to investigate the case and book the culprits. We filed a detailed report. If at all the CBI bothered to conduct any proper investigation, the enormity of the scam and the overwhelming evidence available could have been unearthed. The documents which are in the possession of Savukku were never collected by the agency and instead, the agency was very keen to give a clean chit to VGN, a realty company, and other officials.”
At this juncture, a detailed complaint was sent to the Director CBI, against Nageswara Rao. The relevant portion of the complaint is shared below. And these very documents were part of a complaint filed before the Supreme Court by a Delhi-based NGO, Common Cause, to draw the attention towards the arbitrary functioning of the agency.
Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan is representing Common Cause in the court. The official complaint says, “Though the FIR (VGN) was registered on 28.12.2016, Shri Nageswara Rao failed to instruct the IO to conduct any search operations in connection with the case. Due to this serious lapse, sources say, some serious evidence of bribery by the VGN Developers to various state and central government officials was lost, and the said evidence was published in media last week. Instead of allotting this case for investigation to an IO of police/investigation background, Shri. Rao assigned the investigation of this sensitive case to one Shri Velayutham, who is a deputy from Indian Bank for reasons best known to him.
“Shri Nageswara Rao failed to issue any clear instructions with regard to the investigation of this case or monitor the progress of this investigation. However, he had ensured that he is always kept in the loop with regard to any developments. Though the allegation as per the FIR is that the land in dispute which was purchased by VGN Developers was purchased below market price, there are widespread allegations of the involvement of two senior IAS officers of TN cadre who facilitated the issuance of NOC for the sale. Sources also claim that one Rama Mohana Rao, who was a former Chief Secretary of TN government, had also received sizeable money from VGN promoters.
“However, no investigation whatsoever has been conducted in this regard. Further, as per sources, VGN Developers sent part of the bribe amount of Rs 2 crore intended for the SBI officials through one Ganesh Raj, retired Assistant General Manager of SBI. Rs 80 lakh of the bribe amount was sent by VGN Developers to HTL account. From the HTL account, the above- mentioned Ganesh Raj transferred the amount to his account, later encashed the same and handed over the bribe amounts in cash to A.1 Leon Therattil and A.2 Ramadoss. A simple verification of the bank accounts of Ganesh Raj and HTL would have revealed evidence of bribery. But, Shri Nageswara Rao chose not to touch any crucial area of investigation.”
Now, according to sources, Nageswara Rao had instructed the IO Shri Velayutham to give a closure report in the above RC and accordingly a report stating that the Bank has not suffered any loss, the amount due has been recovered, and no further action is required has been given and the same has been approved and sent to Delhi by Nageswara Rao.
Profitable Connectivity
Sources also reveal that Nageswara Rao is strongly connected with the Telugu officers in Tamil Nadu and is in the habit of passing on several sensitive information to the officers. One such officer who is regularly in touch with Shri Nageswara Rao, is former Chief Secretary of TN, Rama Mohana Rao.
The community connection and the classmate club allegedly gave Nageswara Rao an edge to manage such allegations against him. His much-known closeness with Garikapati Mohan Rao has allegedly helped him to manage such issues.
KV Chowdary, the current Central Vigilance Commissioner, who is the nodal authority for induction and repatriation of officers in CBI, is close to Chandrababu Naidu. Therefore Chowdary keeps Garikapati Mohan Rao happy.
Though the present CBI Director, after making due verification tried to repatriate Rao, Chowdary shot down his proposal, say sources. A detailed source report was sent to CBI Director, Alok Kumar Verma, following which he had ordered a discreet enquiry into allegations on Nageswara Rao. Alarmingly, the discreet enquiry had thrown up enough material not only to remove Nageswara Rao from the CBI but also to launch prosecution against him, add sources. However, due to the backing of Central Vigilance Commissioner Chowdary, who put his foot down and refused to permit the CBI Director to take any sort of action against Nageswara Rao, nothing could be done.
Verma’s Action
A helpless CBI Director decided to save the cases at least from going down the drain. Swiftly, Alok Verma ordered the transfer of the investigation of important cases from Chennai Zone of CBI to Banking and Securities Fraud Cell (BSFC) of Bengaluru. Nageswara Rao’s jurisdiction does not extend to BSFC, which works under the direct supervision of a separate Joint Director, meant exclusively for BSFC.
A former Assistant Director of CBI, while requesting anonymity, said: “Forget about a position, if there is a single allegation on someone that person is not fit to be an officer. And in his case, I think there is enough for consideration”.
Only time will tell whether Nageswara Rao will become a full-fledged director of the CBI. Judiciary is the arm of governance that keeps the faith of the common man afloat. And all that is played out in the past few weeks has certainly eroded the faith of the common man.

String Of Pearls: Episode II

While India and China are keen duelers in controlling the strategic Indian Ocean region, Maldives moved back into New Delhi’s arms, but Sri Lanka remains within The Dragon’s clasp

Seema Guha
Seema Guha

India is quickly moving to woo the new government in the Maldives. The pro-China administration of former president Abdullah Yameen’s defeat in the recent national elections has given New Delhi the space to manouvre and bring back Maldives, a stone’s throw from the Indian heartland to its sphere of influence in the strategically important Indian Ocean region. The downside is Sri Lanka, where former strong man Mahinda Rajapaksa, known to be close to China, is back in the centre stage of the island’s politics. Asian rivals India and China are in a race to spread their influence in the Indian Ocean region. Ever since China has begun spreading its wings across South Asia, India has been scrambling to deal with this new situation in its neighbourhood. China is now buzzing around in what India traditionally regarded as its backyard, where it had excellent ties with the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. But with the rise of China, Delhi has to take into account, the looming presence of the Asian dragon in its bilateral ties with neighbouring countries. This is the new narrative with which India needs to come to grips.
When Deng Xiaoping began his economic reforms in 1979, the Chinese concentrated on getting rich and lifting its millions out of poverty. Deng’s advice to people was to bend their heads and work tirelessly. Three decades later, that stage has passed. China is now the second largest economy in the world, replacing Japan. Side by side with its economic clout, China has also developed and modernised its navy, air force and armed forces and is now ready to exert its influence on the world stage. The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, held last year, was a coming out party. As President Xi Jinping said in his Political Report, China would offer an alternative model of development. Put simply, “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
India’s policy since independence was to keep great powers out of its neighbourhood and make sure that the proxy war between the US and the former Soviet Union was not played out in South Asia. With the rise of China, and its growing economic and military clout, Delhi has to deal with this new factor. China provides an alternative narrative of development and many Asian nations, desperate for infrastructure projects, are turning to China.
This is naturally affecting India’s tactical position in the region. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives have had traditionally good relations with India. But China is now aggressively wooing South Asian powers. In Nepal and Maldives (under Yameen) China was able to spread its wings. The unexpected defeat of Yameen has been a setback for China.
Maldives Matters
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first world leader to call newly elected President Mohamed Solih after he unexpectedly defeated Yameen in the recent elections. Despite his heavy electioneering schedule, Modi took time off to attend Solih’s swearing in. Delhi had been batting for the opposition in Male and has excellent ties with the Maldivian Democratic Party leader Mohammed Nasheed.
In fact, the downturn in relations with Yameen followed Modi dropping out of a visit to Maldives in 2015. This was because Yameen had slapped terror charges against Nasheed and thrown him in jail. The court which passed the order was allegedly influenced by the government.
Yameen was furious at Modi cancelling an announced visit. The Indian Prime Minister went ahead with the rest of his official tour to the Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka. Yameen, who was already inclined towards China, now played the Dragon card. He signed a Free Trade Agreement with China, during his visit to Beijing in December last year.
The procedure that had to be followed for signing a major foreign policy move, which is laid down in the Maldivies Constitution, was flouted. The opposition said that the Majlis (parliament) was hurriedly convened and the vote was hurriedly pushed through, without having the required numbers. India’s GMR, which had been awarded the job for modernising, expanding and running the international airport, was ousted and a Chinese company given the deal. Many Chinese companies were also given land on leases ranging from 50-100 years, prompting the opposition to talk of land grab by China.
The new government has hinted that these deals will be reviewed. The FTA is likely to be cancelled. In a recent interview to the BBC, Nasheed has said: “The trade imbalance between China and the Maldives is so huge that nobody would think of an FTA between such parties.” He added that “China is not buying anything from us. It is a one-way treaty.” Nasheed was prevented from contesting the last elections, due to the false charges slapped on him by the previous government. Solih was chosen as the joint opposition candidate to take on Yameen. But Nasheed wields enormous clout in the government and his statement on China reflects the general mood in the party. India will go out of its way to regain its foothold in the Maldives. Lines of credit, new projects as well as helping to build democratic institutions in the island state will be India’s priority. The attempt will be to show that while India may not be in a position to conduct cheque book diplomacy like China, it excels in institution building. China’s debt repayment is another problem that is haunting many of those who have opened up their countries to Chinese companies. Whether it is Sri Lanka, Maldives or even all weather friend Pakistan, every country is facing the problem of servicing the huge loans. The first foreign visit of President Solih is likely to be to India. Most of the new initiatives will be announced when he is here.
Sri Lanka
While things are proceeding according to script in the Maldives, in Sri Lanka the India-leaning Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been replaced by former President Rajapaksa.
The unlikely protagonist is neither the former strong man Mahinda Rajapaksa nor the sophisticated scion of a political dynasty Ranil Wickremesinghe. He is the nephew of president JRJ Jayawardene, the man who signed the India-Sri Lanka accord with Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 and literally defanged India.
Maithripala Sirisena, the mild mannered President, made the first move by sacking Wickremesinghe on October 28 and plunging the island nation into a political crisis. A quintessential politician, who keeps his cards close to his chest, was frustrated with the workings of the Wickremesinghe government. The two were at loggerheads and were not on talking terms for several months.
Ranil and his United National Party were calling the shots, and Sirisena knew that he was losing grip on the government. If he wished to remain politically relevant for the next elections he had to strike early.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ditched their leader Rajapaksa, and had joined hands with traditional rivals, the United National Party, to keep Rajapaksa and his family out. The move was supported by India, US and other western democracies.
Rajapaksa, charged by the Tamil diaspora of large scale human rights abuse during the last days of the military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was a hate figure for the minority Tamils. The powerful diaspora lobby wanted to have him tried for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court of Justice. The Rajapaksa family, including his two brothers Gotabhaya and Basil, were regarded as both ruthless and corrupt.
Sirisena and Ranil joined hands to form the government amidst general euphoria among the Tamils, who felt they would now be given their political due, the liberals and the democratic world. However from the start, it was a marriage of convenience and there was no real meeting of minds.
Though out of power, Rajapaksa remained popular among large sections of Sinhala Buddhists, who saw him as a hero for wiping out the LTTE.
Rajapaksa swept the local provincial elections in February this year, signalling that his popularity had not dimmed. Sirisena read the writing on the wall.
Days ahead of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India, there were reports in the Colombo press that Sirisena had spoken of a RAW attempt to assassinate him, at a cabinet meeting. An Indian was arrested. His brother in Mumbai said that he was deranged and suffering from depression. The next day, Sirisena was on the phone to Narendra Modi, reassuring him that the press had misquoted him.
On hindsight, Sirisena’s move made complete sense. He wanted to tell his domestic audience that New Delhi, a friend of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, was ready to remove him from the scene. Soon afterwards he sacked the prime minister and swore in Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man he had earlier back-stabbed, as his prime minister. He also decreed that Parliament would meet on November 16, over a fortnight later. This was to allow enough time for him and Rajapaksa to induce lawmakers to switch sides.
But the best laid out plans can sometimes backfire. There were 12 lawsuits filed before the Lankan apex court, challenging the President’s removal of the PM. Ranil Wickremesinghe also dug in his heels. He refused to vacate Temple Trees, the official residence of the PM. The Court ordered a vote to be taken. Parliament was convened and Rajapaksa lost. Sirisena immediately dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections in January. But this has again been challenged by the UNP, who say that the President cannot dissolve the Parliament at will. The 19th amendment of the Constitution, which is being used by Sirisena, has many loop holes and a good lawyer can argue both ways. But the long and the short of this is political instability in India’s neighbourhood. The first ambassador to call on Rajapaksa after he was sworn in was the Chinese envoy.
China’s 1.4 billion Colombo Port City Project, which was initiated during Rajapaksa’s tenure, the opposition UNP and civil rights groups protested vehemently saying it would affect the environment, stays in place.
Everybody expected the project to be scrapped when Sirisena and Wickremesinghe came to power. But it was not. Sri Lanka and China have had excellent relations from the days of Sirimavo Bandarnaike. China cannot be wished away, whoever is in government in Colombo. However, Wickremesinghe did not give permission for Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo port last year. Wickremesinghe had assured India that he would be sensitive to India’s security concerns. When Rajapaksa allowed the Chinese submarines and a warship into Colombo port in 2014, alarm bells went off in Delhi.
At the moment the political situation in Colombo remains fluid. Delhi is keeping a close watch. Rajapaksa too has been trying to reach out to India. He had visited India several times when he was out of power and is said to have called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during one of his visits.
Finally, if and when elections are held in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa is expected to sweep in the south, home to the Sinahala Buddhist majority. The Tamils will certainly not want him back. Ranil Wickremesinghe is also being challenged in his own party by younger elements, including sons of former UNP stalwarts like Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Perhaps Sirisena’s constitutional coup will help Ranil Wickremesinghe to stave off the challenge from the younger elements in the UNP, because of the sympathy generated by his sacking.
Like India, China is also closely monitoring the latest political developments in Sri Lanka. It is perhaps getting a taste of the uncertainties of democratic politics. Earlier China had consistently stayed away from interfering in domestic politics of countries where it aimed at winning over just the people in power. It has done so across Africa, tangoing with dictators. But as its power and influence grows, China is getting into the domestic power play. In Nepal it has succeeded. In the Maldives there is a setback. And Sri Lanka there is uncertainty.
But in the days to come, both India and China will continue to back their chosen leaders. In South Asia, India will look to regaining lost ground, while China would want to dislodge India.

Mystery Of “Ease Of Doing Business”

The World Bank suddenly blessed the Modi government with a high rank on ease of doing business index, despite back-breaking demonetisation and GST that has crippled businesses

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 latest World Bank report on Ease of Doing Business 2019, released last week, must have warmed the cockles of the Indian government. The report put India at a rank of 77, the highest in South Asia and up from 100 last year. “India, with six reforms, is among the top-ten improvers for the second consecutive year,” the report said.
What has made India jump 23 places up in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index? No, it’s not poverty alleviation measures or bringing a significant percentage of people above the poverty line or making a robust growth on the industrial index. On the contrary, India, according to World Bank, has made it easier to undertake a business, deal with construction permits and could now facilitate quick cross-border trade.
The ranking evaluates countries on ten parameters – starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. A higher score on each one adds to improvement in overall rankings. India has shown an improvement in six of the ten parameters, with the most being on ‘construction permits’.
Realty Unreality
India’s ranking in dealing with construction permits—one of the ten benchmarks the World Bank evaluates—jumped to 52 from 181 last year. “India streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster and less expensive to obtain a construction permit,” the World Bank report said. “It also improved building quality control by introducing decennial liability and insurance.” According to the Bank, the Modi government has overhauled the country’s indirect tax structure by introducing the Goods and Services Tax, brought in a new real estate law and consolidated the numerous bankruptcy laws into one.
The other factor which contributed significantly towards improvement in ranking was in trading across border which improved by 66 places to 80, owing to various initiatives taken to reduce the time and cost to export goods.
Finally, the most notable (controversial though in view of what former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had described) improvement has come through the Goods & Services Tax (GST), which did not figure in last year’s ranking, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. The GST made it easier to start businesses as it integrates multiple application forms into a single general incorporation form, World Bank said, adding that this speeds up the registration process. India, the report said, has not only made paying taxes easier, but also made it less costly by reducing the corporate income tax rate and the employees’ provident funds scheme rate paid by the employer. “Secured creditors are now given absolute priority over other claims within insolvency proceedings,” the report maintained.
WB’s Clay Feet
Many would feel or might claim as well that the improved ranking is likely to boost the sentiment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ahead of the general elections slated sometime next year; more so, because the BJP government has been facing flak for rising fuel prices and falling rupee. But a closer look will reveal that World Bank’s perception of doing business might not always provide the real picture.
First, the assessment is based on the feedback from enterprises of only two cities, Delhi and Mumbai. Among the Indian metros, Delhi is just an average performer and Mumbai is little higher on the scale so far as the ease of doing business is concerned. According to an annual ranking done by World Bank itself for the Government of India, the top five states in terms of ease of doing business are: Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Haryana, Jharkhand and Gujarat. And there has been no mention of either Delhi or Maharashtra!
Secondly, questions have been raised over the methodology adopted by the Bank for arriving at the rank. In fact, its former chief economist Justin Sandefur had expressed his reservations over the methodology to rank nations on the Doing Business Index. According to Sandefur, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who made an in depth analysis of the historical rankings, India’s extraordinary jump in rankings was only visible due to a change in methodology.
Thirdly, from its inception, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been critical of this influential publication for promoting one-size-fits-all solutions to development. CSOs argue that the Bank and sometimes, International Monetary Fund(IMF) use the DBR (Doing Business Report) to promote deregulation and neo-liberal reforms, based on the unfounded claim that more ‘business friendly’ regulations play a key role in lowering income inequality; because it does not take into account the social or economic benefits of regulation and costs of de-regulation.
Crucial Contradictions
According to Simeon Djankov, the creator of the Doing Business series, “Reforming in the areas measured by Doing Business can be particularly beneficial to employment creation when those reforms take place in the areas of starting a business and labor market regulation.”
Responding to this claim, Matti Kohonen from Christian Aid, UK stressed that, “This micro-level view is often at odds with a macro-level perspective, where something that may be beneficial at an individual firm owner level (e.g., lesser labour regulation), may hurt macro-economic objectives – such as greater labour productivity through upskilling of committed employees”. He also added: “Recent macro-economic perspectives on women’s labour market participation, and tackling inequality may be at odds with the entire DBR.”
Some of the top economists feel that the DBR’s ranking of nations tends to be based on narrow business interests over those of citizens and countries. For example, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), eight out of the DBR 2017’s “top 10 improvers” had poor or worsening performance on workers’ rights. This is clearly the case in India with the ruling party’s own labour union calling for a major strike on the issue of more jobs being marked “temporary”. “The government’s labour policy has hugely damaged the interests of the working class,” says its labour union leader.
According to UK-based charity CAFOD’s research, the DBR failed to match the priorities needed for small private sector enterprises to grow. These include ensuring adequate funding for small enterprise support programmes and public services, as well as recognising informal workers’ organisations and collective bargaining processes.
Two Demons
Everywhere in India today, traders are ruing the welcome they had offered the GST and demonetisation, which has ruined them totally. The Indore trading community says it sees no reprieve.
“We are all long-term BJP supporters, but this time most of us will vote against Modi,” said a trading community leader. And in south India, Tirupur’s once Rs 42,000 crore textile hub is facing a wipeout. An Indian Express report says: “Before November 8, 2016, K S Ramdas, 48, the small stitching unit he has run next to the Old Bus Stand near Tirupur town for 20 years, employed around 15 women workers and made an average of Rs 20,000-25,000 every week. Now, he and his wife, the only remaining workers at the unit, struggle to make Rs 2,000 in two weeks.” Ramdas is not afraid to tell the authorities he can’t pay the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the raw material he uses, Ramdas says. “There is nothing left after stitching, transportation, buying other materials and paying our loans.”
Peter Bakvis of ITUC commented on that, “giving better scores to low-tax venues is in clear contradiction with the World Bank’s stated objective of giving governments the means to provide essential public services, especially to the poor, and reducing inequality”. Despite a series of methodological changes in 2015 after extensive criticism of the report from the Bank’s own Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), these civil society critiques still stand.
The DBR itself noted, “Economies with poor quality business regulation have higher levels of income inequality on average.” Hence, cautioning against the Bank’s jump from correlation to causation, Bakvis pointed out that the 20 top DBR countries are almost all advanced economies while the bottom 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen, are in severe civil or political conflict.
Poverty Paradigms
It may be true, as the report claims, that “economies with better business regulation have lower levels of poverty, on average”. The fact is that China and Vietnam’s significant progress on poverty reduction was accomplished without DBR promoted policies. And this naturally brings into question the report’s implicit link between deregulation and decreased poverty.
For example, while India has improved significantly in the DBR rankings, according to a 2017 research by Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, income inequality in India is at its highest since 1922. The DBR is overlooking the importance of gender equality. It’s not possible for India to become a global economic power if half of its population is ignored, and not given more economic opportunities. This claim has been supported by data from the World Economic Forum (WEF), which showed that India fell 21 places to 108 in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report index even as its DBR ranking improved.
Cracked Arguments
What is amazing is the DBR gives points to Modi’s India totally falsifying ground reports, like the ‘huge improvement’ in the realty sector. Going by the World Bank report itself, in some areas, India’s rank has worsened. In registering property, the country’s ranking fell to 166 from 92 when Modi took over. It takes over two months in India to register for property and the procedures end up costing almost 8 percent of the property value. India’s rank with regard to protecting minority investors fell from fourth in the world to seventh, with very little improvement in reforms. Similarly, in paying taxes, the ranking slipped by two places to 121 this year. Then, enforcing contracts still remains a huge problem, with the country’s rank at 163. As per the World Bank report, enforcing contracts takes more than three years to mature and it ends up costing a third of the claim value itself.
“Registering property and enforcing contracts have been two major challenges in the last four years,” Ramesh Abhishek, secretary of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, admitted. Conceding that it is one of the more difficult reforms which is being put in place, he claimed that the government `is on track and it is just a matter of time before they show up in the ranking.”
According to him, the government is in the process of drafting an industrial policy which will become a roadmap for sustainable growth of all business enterprises in India.
However, the World Bank has since defended its stand; the practice of calculating the rankings based on the data culled from two cities of each country, stands without a change and for India, these are Delhi and Mumbai. The only change that has taken place is rechristening of the “distance-to-frontier score” into “ease of doing business score” to reflect its “main purpose of measuring the absolute progress”. This, the bank claimed, happened without any change in the actual calculation.
Modi’s Machinations
The Huffington Post in an incisive report says: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unhealthy obsession with the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking hijacked India’s reform agenda over the course of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s four-year tenure, according to hundreds of pages of meeting minutes, interviews with key players and official correspondence reviewed by HuffPost India.
“The documents reveal how the Modi government first sought to lobby the World Bank into changing its methodology to reflect a better rank for India. When that didn’t achieve any significant success, the government prioritised minor institutional and procedural tweaks to game the ranking system, rather than embark on a bold agenda of economic reform as promised.”
India, on its part, has also been pressing for inclusion of more Indian cities for assessment of the ranking in order to make it more representative of business conditions across the country. If cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Ahmedabad were included, it would have improved this year’s rankings by a much higher margin. But the measure, if taken, could spell another trouble for India: the formula of inclusion of more cities will apply to all the other countries ranked and may benefit them too.
And at the end, India might run the risk of slipping to lower ranking in the ease of doing business index.

The Inspiration For The Book Came From My Travels Across India’s Hinterland

The author explains how he was driven to write the impressive tome on rural India and the woes of Indian agriculture


You have authored a book on rural India - so what is the book all about?
The book titled “A Rural Manifesto” explores the feasibility of an Indian village as an independent socio-economic entity, capable of sustaining itself independent of external linkages. It delves into the lives of a rural Indian citizen by analyzing various aspects of their lives – be it agrarian conditions, provision for healthcare and education, non-farm incomes and labour conditions. It seeks to explore what it means to be a marginal farmer these days, and the role non-farm income plays in supplementing oneself below the poverty line.

What is the inspiration behind the book? What made you write this rather difficult book?
The idea or inspiration for the book came from my travels across India’s hinterland. Be it campaigning and conducting field visits across India, including my constituencies Sultanpur & Pilibhit, or more simply, meeting students of universities in states often forgotten by national media, the cause of marginal farmers and their current dismal condition struck in a chord for me. This issue, once proudly espoused by all up and coming politicians, was at once an intellectual and emotional problem, and one with no easy solutions.

What have been the main learnings while you wrote the book?
One of the main learnings when we explore the socio-economic feasibility of an Indian village is that small and marginal farming is largely unrewarding – rising input prices, unsustainable water usage, inadequate energy access and failure to take any advantage of economies of scale makes farming a difficult proposition each day as landholdings continue to diminish. To compound matters, quality healthcare and education continue to be out of bounds for most citizens. With farm incomes proving insufficient, we need to improve non-farm incomes for a village to sustain. Besides, we need policy interventions to retailor and revive Indian agriculture.
How are our water policies unsustainable?
Our tubewell subsidy culture, entrenched through political patronage, has contributed to unsustainable extraction and misuse of our groundwater resources. Subsidies have hurt our groundwater levels – the interplay between farmer crop choices (cultivating improper crops i.e. water intensive crops in water scarce and water sensitive regions) and our energy subsidies for irrigation needs makes for difficult choices.
Such subsidies have placed a massive burden on state exchequers – the associated fiscal deficit between 2008 & 2009 was $6 Billion in the energy sector. Most State Electricity Boards operate at a loss, leaving nothing for investments in new infrastructure for generation and transmission purposes. Energy subsidies, such as these, are increasingly crowding out investments on higher education or health care, while farmers still wait for quality power supply.
What is your view on farmer suicides?
This is primarily because of rural distress. With the average land holding size decreasing and average input prices rising, the cost of cultivation has increased and with it, margins associated with farming have reduced. A farmer now typically earns Rs 2,400 per month per hectare of paddy and about Rs 2,600 per month per hectare of wheat, while farm labourers earn less than Rs 5,000 per month. Nearly 31.4% of all rural households remain indebted, with average debt of Rs. 1.03 lakhs. When we consider poorer rural households, their debt levels even exceed the amount of assets owned. As much as 44% of rural households still prefer informal sources of credit (among poorer households, 72% of credit is informal) which may highly likely be usurious in nature. This condition results from an interlocking of the credit market with imperfect markets (land, input, output, labour and land-lease markets), which is a pathway to peasantry pauperisation. With almost 60% of loans in rural areas being utilized for non-productive purposes (not directly contributing to raising household income), household debt becomes permanent in nature. Amidst such indebtness, even a sickness in the family can have disastrous consequences – an estimated 39 million people are pushed back into poverty annually in trying to avail healthcare.
Agri-distress has persisted for far too long. Even colonial officers have observed that the “The Indian peasant is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt.” (Malcolm Darling, 1925)
The situation is getting increasingly desperate with most farmers wishing that their sons do not take up farming. Effectively, about 30.5 million peasants quit farming between 2004-05 and 2010-11, seeking employment in the secondary and tertiary sectors. Furthermore, the size of this agricultural workforce is expected to shrink to ~200 million by 2020. Meanwhile, the average growth in minimum support prices of kharif crops has been ~4%, compared to the ~13-15% growth seen between 2010 and 2013. The consequence is farmers committing suicides.
Does the book offer any remedy to correct rural indebtness?
Aside from farm loan waivers, which remain necessary, there are other ways to mitigate their plight. Greater subsidies could be extended on the purchase of agricultural equipment, fertilisers and pesticides, while medical insurance coverage could be expanded through the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana. In addition, the scope of MNREGA could be increased, allowing marginal farmers to be paid for tilling their own fields could reduce their input costs – they can’t afford other agricultural labourers and find it socially awkward to till someone else’s field. Such measures could increase their net income, reducing the scope of rural distress. Small steps like these can make a meaningful contribution to their lot. Even more so, we need a national conversation on rural distress. Unlike the Champaran Satyagraha, national attention has been curiously lacking. With empathy for India’s marginal farmers, we must make the right choice to support them.

In this era of social media, do you think rural distress remains ignored?
One cannot say that rural or agrarian distress remains ignored – but inadequately represented for sure. While few movements have highlighted the plight of our farmers, the issue warrants critical attention. Few measures have been taken to aggravate the situation, but much remains to be achieved. With small and marginal farming proving increasingly uneconomic (at a time when ~72% of our farmers are small and marginal), agrarian distress can cause large scale social unrest and needs to be addressed on a priority basis.

Do you think agricultural income should be taxed as well? Many policymakers increasingly seek to target the rich farmer?
Wealth and Income (the Raj Committee) (1972) sought to institute a progressive agriculture tax on agricultural income in a norm based manner, with regional average crop yields defining levy rates in a universal manner. The recommendations were not accepted, given limited political and grassroots support.
However, there remain significant pitfalls with this demand. Given the level of informal occupation prevalent in agriculture, implementing an agricultural tax will not be easy. Any agricultural tax system would have to evolve crop specific norms of return to the land, while accommodating external shocks like droughts, floods or pests. Furthermore, for imposing tax on value of goods produced, the mechanism would fail to take individual farm economics into account, thereby presenting a case wherein a farmer would be taxed even if he makes a loss on sale. It shall require administration to ensure exact estimate of crop productivity and realized sale price per crop harvested – a seemingly humongous task for all farmers.
Further complications arise if farmers suffer from multiple crop failures followed by one successful crop, for the income in that period may be subjected for tax payment. In addition, any crop specific taxation would have to be traded-off against input subsidies, which are nationally uniform for fertilisers and vary on a state wise basis for water and electricity. Instead of raising agricultural income, we would trend back to age-old farmer pauperisation. Amidst all this, it is hard to determine if there would be net benefit to taxing agricultural revenues, even for rich farmers (defined on local thresholds), compared to cost of monitoring and rolling out such a system.
What solutions does the book provide to rural distress?
Let’s take the case for farmer income. One would expect that ideally the market, and if not the market, the government, would ensure that the farmer receives good value for all his work. The price spread, between what the farmer earns and what the end user is charged remains stark. A study in 1972 in Kolkata found that just 2% of the end user price of an orange reached the farmer – such marketing channels have taken to consuming the majority of the value. The regulated marketing system, despite its optimistic intentions, has also induced significant downsides. Consider postharvest losses – about 15%-50% of India’s fruits are lost during marketing. Roads inside such regulated markets are usually unpaved, with auctions conducted in open spaces, while being prone to congestion.
What are your thoughts on basic income? Can India pursue such a radical policy idea?
India has tried basic income, in pilot studies. A pilot in eight villages in Madhya Pradesh provided over 6000 individuals a monthly payment (Rs 100 for a child, Rs 200 for an adult; later raised to Rs 150 and Rs 300 respectively; Guy Standing, 2014). The money was initially paid out as cash, while transitioning to bank accounts three months later. The transfer was unconditional, save the prevention of substitution of food subsidies for cash grants. The results were intriguing.
Most villagers used the money on household improvements (latrines, walls, roofs) while taking precautions against malaria – 24.3% of the households changed their main source of energy for cooking or lighting; 16% of households had made changes to their toilet. Before moving ahead, we would need more data to prove its applicability in the Indian context.
A regular unconditional basic income, scaled up through pilots, and rolled out slowly and carefully, seems ideal for India. It can help improve living conditions including sanitation in our villages, providing them with access to better drinking water, while improving children’s nutrition. It could cut inequality; grow the economy; all while offering the pursuit of happiness.
Is rising non-farm income truly a panacea for rural India?
Typically, agriculture forms the basis of any non-industrialised economy. When industrialisation does occur, the higher productivity of the non-agricultural sector leads to the share of agriculture declining in the economy. Labour typically moves away from agriculture towards industry and services, while a boost in machine led agricultural productivity helps narrow the wage gap. When countries develop, their agricultural sector approaches a “tipping point”, one where agricultural income rises but most of the agricultural labour heads out of the fields and into towns and cities.
Non-farm diversification is typically an important pathway for empowering landless labourers and marginal farmers. While agriculture remains the dominant source of income for rural households, non-farm sources are increasingly contributing a larger share of the pie. While this share does decline with landholding size, diversification towards it can serve as a mechanism to making the village economy resilient and stemming urban migration. Our policies should help create sustainable long term rural non-farm employment options which can aid the rural poor in overcoming barriers to economic prosperity. India’s rural development policies should increasingly focus on developing markets, infrastructure and institutions that can help sectors like livestock and construction grow. While India’s post-independence rural policy has primarily been about flushing people away from agriculture and towards cities, we now need to incentivise job creation at their doorstep.

Shadow Boxing?

The real issues were how much reserves the RBI can have, and the growing non-performing assets of the mammoth public sector banks, for the excess reserves are largely accounting entries


SA Raghu 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

The limping curtains on the tussle between the RBI and the government should hopefully put an end to the hype around the issues, because the overtones of turf supremacy and autonomy have obscured and even exaggerated the issues at stake. There are several, but it is useful to consider two which got the most attention the reserves of the RBI and the issue of dealing with non-performing banks.
On the RBI’s reserves, the simplistic view can be that of shareholders demanding higher dividends from the company they own, except that in this case the reserves did not represent accumulated profits and payouts have greater significance than for a private shareholder. But now it is clear that the so-called excess reserves are largely accounting entries (unrealised gains), which makes it all the more mysterious as to why a bid was made in the first place.
A difficult fiscal situation in an election year is reason enough, but it would have also been obvious that encashing the RBI’s foreign currency assets or printing money through its Issue Department – the two ways it could have generated cash – would have been counterproductive, with the latter course akin to financing the fiscal deficit.
Apparently the current revaluation reserves (which form over 75 per cent of the total) are not in contention now and the issue has moved on to determining the mechanics of how future reserves can be shared, which in turn will depend on what is considered an appropriate level of reserve for the RBI.
Unclear Levels
The government thinks this should be in the range of 12-18 per cent of assets, against the present level of 28 per cent, which gives out the magic number of about Rs 3.6 lakh crore that is being bandied about. But the mechanics of sharing – whether assets will be sold off or new money printed – will continue to be problematic.
Thus, without appearing to yield, the government seems to have reserved its right to a portion of the future reserves by getting the RBI to agree to refer the issue to an expert committee, the surest way to postpone a decision on the problem. The problem relating to the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework is on a different footing and needs more explaining. Briefly, eleven distressed public sector banks were put under a regime of PCA by the RBI, based on capital erosion levels, asset quality and profitability, with the objective of “preventing further deterioration” in their position.
The measures included, amongst a host of measures, restrictions on lending and business expansion, which is what came to bite. The debate now seems framed as a tradeoff between financial stability (the health of banks) and economic growth, which makes it difficult to find a middle ground, although the government seems to think that it is too high a price to pay for sacrificing economic growth. Again, the political compulsions of an election year cannot be ignored.
The RBI’s defence that it was not as harsh as, say the US PCA norms, appears to be a response to the government’s contention that the restrictions exceeded international norms.
If viewed purely as a ratio management exercise, the programme could succeed, simply because lower business growth is seen as translating into lower NPA ratios as well as better capital ratios.
But that would be like claiming air safety record had improved after restricting flying! The merits in the opposite argument arise only from the fact that the financial position of these banks has not improved while restrictions had cramped both credit and liquidity, at a time (read election year), when government was hoping to revive the economy.
Credit Growth
But the RBI disputes this argument too, stating that overall credit growth has risen with healthier non-PCA banks more than making up for the PCA banks, as should rightly be the case. Further, the credit problems that NBFCs and small and medium units faced came more from a reluctance of banks to lend to these sectors than from any shortage of funds.
The government wants the RBI to bring at least a few banks out of the PCA, based on criteria other than profits (which was the RBI’s criterion), but this issue has also been referred to the RBI’s Board For Financial Supervision which is reviewing the performance of the PCA programme. But the latest financial results of these banks do not hold much hope as all the banks continue to incur losses and the aggregate losses of the eleven banks in fact have doubled (from around Rs 9,500 crore in September 2017 to over Rs 20,000 crore in September 2018), bad loans have jumped by over 15 per cent in spite of a decline in lending by 8 per cent.
Clearly, drop in lending did not reduce NPAs. The problems with bank profitability run deep, which the RBI seems to acknowledge but pleads a lack of power to administer harsher medicine, such as selling or merging banks or even replacing their management. But this does not also mean that these banks could be set free to lend as in the past. The causes behind NPAs, losses and poor return on assets of public sector banks are not all addressed by the PCA framework.
It is also ironic that while at one level, the RBI stuck to its guns on the PCA, citing banks’ capital ratios, it yielded to the pressure on another capital issue, by agreeing to postpone the increased capital requirement mandated to kick in by March 2019, only because the government would not be able to find the money to fund the banks’ capital (estimated by some at Rs 1.2 trillion).
Deficit Quagmire
The problem of capital for banks becomes a problem of the government’s fiscal deficit, because banks simply will not be able to raise capital from the markets on their current strength. Herein is the rub - the problems of the banking sector are really those of the public sector.
Consider this: The government owns, on an average, over 70 per cent of the equity of public sector banks, which constitute over 70 per cent of the total financial system. But public sector banks account for over 90 per cent of the NPAs in the system (Rs.10 lakh crore at last count) not to speak of the loan scams and frauds, and also clocked an aggregated loss of over Rs 85,000 crore last year.
The fragile health of our banks, especially public sector banks, has been a recurring theme in every discussion of the state of the economy. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that any government will be keen to privatise banks not just because its borrowing programme has traditionally depended on public sector banks who hold a 45 per cent share of the G-sec market, but also because it will be a near impossible task. Public sector banks employ over half a million workforce, hold over half of the 140,000 bank branches in the country and most importantly, are the only banks willing to finance large industry, medium and small units, infrastructure and agriculture, since private banks traditionally have shunned these sectors, preferring retail and consumer credit.
Even in the case of the mandated priority sector lending, many private banks have gotten over the hurdle by the soft option of investing in priority sector lending certificates rather than lend directly to these sectors.
It is this aspect that is at the crux of the forbearance sought for public sector banks from the PCA norms, because while overall credit may have grown, as the RBI states, it was more of consumer and retail financing, while the key segments of the economy such as industry or NBFCs, which were dependent on public sector banks, were starved of credit.
Unconcerned Owner
It thus looks like the public sector cannot be wished away in a hurry, even if it also happens to be the source of the problems. But ownership need not matter if it can be reformed and that’s the larger issue by being blasé about its inability to run banks efficiently, the government creates the perception of being an unconcerned owner, which in turn fosters a lack of accountability that seems all pervasive in the system. Clearly, larger reforms are required and Basel norms or PCA norms only scratch the surface.
There were a few other decisions that raised eyebrows, simply because it marked a departure from the past. One relates to the management style, with RBI appearing to have agreed to being more board-led with separate board committees looking after different aspects such as banking regulation, risk management, supervision and so on; this is viewed by many as the government getting a toe hold into RBI’s decision-making process.
The other decision on the proposed MSME debt restructuring scheme to help distressed small and medium units is also somewhat surprising, coming as it does at a time when the RBI had itself wound up all forms of debt restructuring for large borrowers, virtually pointing out the insolvency route to them.
The mechanics of the scheme will be watched with interest but this seems more a token relief measure than anything substantial.

Sabre-rattling peaks in Ayodhya

The temple question would be a test case for the BJP, whether it is a political party like any other, or it is like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt

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

Does the BJP have the strength to resist the pressure from the RSS, VHP and the ochre-robed folks?
The Ayodhya dispute has been on the boil from 1989 onwards, when the ‘shilanyas’ took place in the final days of Rajiv Gandhi’s term in office. In 1990, there was LK Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ from Somnath to Ayodhya, with Hindu-Muslim riots in its trail. In 1992, the ostensible ‘kar seva’ turned into a criminal act of demolition of Barbri Masjid, followed by Hindu-Muslim riots. Even as riots broke out in Gujarat in the wake of the burning of the coach in Sabarmati Express carrying VHP volunteers from Ayodhya on February 28, 2002, the VHP and the rest of the ochre-folk were agitating for another ‘shilanyas’ and they were allowed to do so.
In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with the BJP under Narendra Modi seeking a second term, the RSS, the VHP and the ochre-folk are raising their voice, and indirectly their fists, threatening an agitation to force the government to bring a law to build the temple, and showing a clear unwillingness to wait for the Supreme Court verdict.
It is quite evident that the trouble-mongers of the temple are not willing to accept the Supreme Court verdict if it were to go against the building of the temple. What the RSS and the rest expect the BJP government of Modi to do is to enact a law overruling the Supreme Court if the need arises for that. It also means that the RSS, VHP and the rest are not willing to persuade the Muslim community and win their consent for the temple to be built at the site of the illegally demolished mosque. They want to assert the brute strength of numbers. They want to intimidate the Muslims, disregard Muslim opinion and build the temple.
The old animal instinct of might is right governs the Hindutva crowd. They scream about ‘dharma’ in the so-called Dharma Sabha and the Dharma Sansad but they don’t care two hoots for dharma or righteousness. The man for whom they want to build a temple, Rama, was described by astronomer-poet Valmiki in his kavya (a literary creation) Ramayanam as “ramo vigrahavan dharma’ (Rama the embodiment of righteousness)’, and here we have the lawless and irreligious mob baying for blood over a temple for Rama.
There is a feeling that the BJP and the Modi government are quite complicit in the noises that the RSS and the VHP and the rest are making, and that the BJP is not averse to using the temple plank to win the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Modi wants to fall back on the temple plank because he has failed to fulfill the development agenda about which he boasted for the last four-and-a-half-years. He is nervous and anxious that he may lose the election, that he may not get the majority.
Perhaps, he need not fear, need not tremble. Perhaps he will win and he will get more numbers in 2019 than he got in 2014. But he is not sure. He does not want to take the risk of putting aside the temple issue. He is not sure, however, when to jump on to the temple bandwagon.
He is now referring to it as a way of criticising the Congress’ attempts to stall the temple construction, but he has not so far made any commitment of his own that his government will build the temple if it is returned to power. Perhaps he will assess the situation and make that fatal – it would be fatal because it would show India as a country of brute majority with no respect for law – commitment when he stares defeat in the face, and the temple would be his weapon of last resort. The temple question would be a test case for the BJP, whether it is a political party like any other, or it is a politico-religious party like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and it would force the Hindu agenda on a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like India.
India will survive the Hindutva nightmare because she will continue to live on for centuries and millennia after the BJP is buried in the debris of history. It is indeed a difficult time for the BJP. It cannot pretend to be a nationalist party if it become a party for temple construction on a disputed site, and it would not abide by the rule of law.

BJP’s Faustian Pact – Ayodhya Temple

The right-wing party caught in the cleft of religion and nationalism

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 real question is whether the BJP is in the hands of its own genie, the Ayodhya temple issue, or whether it can make use of it for a rich political dividend. In 1990, then BJP president L K Advani saw it as an opportunity to ride on an emotive issue for electoral gain. He later rationalised his tactic to say that whereas then prime minister V P Singh had divided the Hindu society through his announcement about implementing governments jobs – when there were only about 45,000 – for Other Backward Classes/castes (OBCs) based on Mandal Commission recommendations, his temple movement had helped in uniting the Hindu society. Of course, like all rationalisations it was false and self-serving. When the Sangh Parivar mob destroyed the more than 400-year-old mosque on December 6, 1992, Advani was not too sure whether it did any good to Hindu society. His comment that it was the saddest day of his life, which his critics dismissed as sheer hypocrisy, was a moment of introspection for him. The BJP wanted to direct the agitation for a temple, but it did not like the mob taking over. Advani knew that a political party just cannot take credit for the mob’s vandalism. The committed followers of the Sangh among the Hindus, and they were insignificant as a proportion of the Hindu society, had hailed it, but Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and others knew that it was political hara-kiri for the party to accept it as fait accompli. The political sensitivity displayed by the party brass did not arise from morality or idealism but from a sense of realpolitik.
The construction of the temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya has been listed as part of its core agenda, along with Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Article 370 of the Constitution giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir. But the BJP has been quite guarded about pressing its core issues. It has not ever made them election issues. The party has worked with pro-BJP Muslim women groups to move the Supreme Court and getting a favourable verdict but it cannot really claim direct credit for it. The ordinance making triple talaq a cognisable offense is a sorry attempt to show that the BJP has been pro-active in the matter. The party’s stated position of wanting to abrogate Article 370 remains a dead word. It is not due to a change of heart but more political tactic.

The temple question is a little more complicated, and no one is more acutely aware of it than the BJP itself. Whatever the consanguineous links of the party with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the saffron-clad members of the group called Dharma Sansad, the BJP just cannot afford to be a front-organisation of the Sangh Parivar. The political costs appear to be dubious. That is why, after the Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra of Advani in 1990 and the demolition of the mosque in 1992, the party has always ducked the temple question. It did not make it a poll promise in any of the national elections it has fought ever since, including the 2014 contest under Narendra Modi. It is interesting that Modi maintained silence over the temple issue and stuck to the monotonous note of development in 2014 and after. Amit Shah has spoken about how a grand temple in Ayodhya is to be built but with the caveats of a legal verdict or mutual agreement between the contesting parties.
The secular opponents of the BJP want to push the party into the temple corner, and argue with some amount of credibility, that there is not much of a difference between the BJP on the one hand and the RSS, VHP on the other. The zealots among the BJP’s rank and file would also want the party to bite the temple bullet because they think that it would enable the BJP to remain in office for ever. But the BJP knows better than to be carried away by irrational exuberance of the religious kind. It might appear a case of splitting hairs but the BJP wants to use religion to serve its nationalist agenda but it is not willing to subordinate nationalism to religion, even if that religion happens to be Hinduism. For the BJP, Patel’s statue is more important than a Ram temple because of the political imperatives of the party’s nationalist discourse. Poet Mohammed Iqbal could cast Rama as a national and cultural hero in his poem, ‘Ram’, by saying ‘ahl-e-nazar samajhte hain ise imam-e-hind (The wise consider him the virtuous leader of India)’. But the Sangh Parivar does not have the intellectual wherewithal to make the ‘Maryada Purushottam Ram’ into a national icon. The saffron-clad mendicants have imprisoned Rama in the iron-clasp of religion. The BJP finds itself in an unenviable situation over the issue.

The general speculation on the part of the unrelenting ideological opponents of Modi and his BJP has been that he would indulge in subterfuge to get the temple built in Ayodhya or trigger a war with Pakistan to shore up his sinking political fortune before going into the 2019 election. The zealots in the Sangh Parivar too want Modi to do exactly that. But Modi cannot oblige either his critics or his supporters. Politics is a different ball game and Modi and the others in the BJP know it only too well. The noisy chorus of the RSS, VHP and the mendicants will continue. Modi would like to derive as much political mileage from it as he can without committing himself to more than what is the stated position of the party. The BJP would have made political strides without the crutch of the Ayodhya issue. Now it is struck with it.

March of the Apples

Kinnaur’s famous apples are not growing well below 10,000 feet any more due to growing heat

Dr. Archita Bhatta
Dr. Archita Bhatta

The author is a senior science journalist and working as Chief Editor of the Department of Biotechnology’s communication cell. She has worked with Down To Earth and has an M Res degree from Leeds University, UK

For those who visited the high altitude villages of Tokto and Asrang about a decade ago, the sight is pleasant: there are now terraces full or apple trees which, when the bear fruit, brings in a kind of colour and aroma the villagers had never experienced before. And they are told that this change has been ushered in by climate change.
That bane of 20th and 21st century is known to have melted glaciers, shifted vegetation and displaced people from the coast due to sea level rise. But for some villagers high in the hills in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district, it has brought smiles, at least temporarily.
People in these areas, at a height of more than 10,000 feet which was earlier covered with snow in winter, are smiling all the way to the bank with their growing apple production.
Paradigm Shift
“Even Chilgoza (pine nuts) would not ripen here earlier, may be a decade ago, so we had never thought that apples would ripen here,” said Kedar Singh a young shopkeeper in the village called Tokto.
Even in this remote area, a few villagers had heard of the word ‘global warming’ but most were unaware of it. Yet all of them have felt the temperatures rising and noticed the subsequent changes. “In the winters, the snow is not that thick, an in summers the snow does not come down to the level it used to,” said Balwinder Negi a retired postmaster from the village of Asrang.
He added that earlier, oil applied on the hair used to freeze in winter. But now that rarely happens.
India Meteorological Department has recorded a rise in the maximum temperature in the hills, and this according to horticulturists has pushed apple cultivation into higher areas.
Ripening of apples need a warmer temperature, but also more than six weeks of cold weather. This combination is becoming increasingly rare in the lower-lying valleys of the state which is known for apples and other fruits. Earlier, what sellers called Kinnaur apples came from a height of about 6,000 feet. But now those orchards are not producing quality apples. Instead, the good apples have marched uphill to Asrang and Tokto. This has resulted in the shift.
Factors of Change
How did the villagers of Asrang and Tokto, hidden in the folds of the mountains, where the mobile network does not reach, change from their lifestyle of subsistence farming to a thrust on fruit farming?
Traditional cereals like *** and sweet peas were their main crops. In contrast, their relatives living in the lower hills grew apples and earned substantially from it. The village authorities saw an opportunity in the rising temperatures and tried to encourage them into more revenue generating livelihoods.
“The gram sevak used to come to our village very often. He encouraged us to grow apples. He even gave us some saplings,” Negi told Parliamentarian. He was one of the first three villagers to plant apple trees.
Negi used to work in the post office in Lippa village 10 Km from Asrang. He along with his colleague from the post office started planting some of the saplings the gram sevak had given them. Later, however, his colleague got more saplings from lower altitude villages. All the first three planters said that since they had seen people in lower altitudes grow and sell the fruit and they wanted to take a chance. They thought that even if they could not get a good income from apples, at least, they could eat the fruit. When the apple trees of the first three planters started growing, a few more joined the trend.
“We planted our saplings when we heard that a road joining our villages to town would be constructed. This gave us the confidence that we would be able to take the apples to town and sell them as and when the trees started bearing the fruit,” said KK Rana, a farmer in Tokto.
Road Benefit
“When there was no road we used to carry the boxes of apples on our mules and take them to Lippa at a lower altitude, from where there was a road connection. But we got very low prices for our apples there,” Negi recalled.
Once the road was built, they began taking their fruits to sell in the town and started getting good prices. After this more and more people started planting apple trees as a future source of income.
The construction of the road led to two trends. Traditional sweet peas earlier grown by the villagers began to be replaced by hybrid sweet peas and this became a major source of income too. The newly constructed road helped in sending the sweet peas to the market. So people started replacing their traditional crops with hybrid sweet peas, while they planted apple saplings in parts of the same fields.
This was an interesting change. People started concentrating on sweet peas because it brought immediate income. But they soon found that continuous production of sweet peas brought about a decrease in productivity of the land after five to six years. Soon the trend to switch to apples became the better option for them. More and more of the villagers saw that the money they got from apples helped them buy goods available from the market and they were no longer restricted to their traditional consumption patterns which offered them very few choices. “Our traditional cereals which were subsistence crops did not bring any income. I used to take the apples of one farmer to town and saw the price he was getting. This helped him buy food and clothes from the market. He could buy oil, spices and other things that could not be grown here. It was then that I decided to plant saplings,” Rana pointed out.
Future Fears
However, the excitement of this decision may be all but short lived. Climate change is affecting the water resources of the villages. The streams are drying up because not sufficient snow is melting upstream in the glaciers. Besides, the streaks of snow that come down from the glaciers are retreating. As compared to the traditional cereals grown in the village, apple is a water intensive crop. To provide for the water, the villagers have to get up early and walk two to three hours up to the hills for sources of water or snow, which they can direct to their fields. They have an arrangement in which each part of the village gets water once a week.
“The arrangement was decided at the Panchayat and has worked well till now,” says Rana. But climate change opportunities are a funny game. The earlier system of growing sweet peas saw a more equitous distribution of wealth in this peaceful villages Now, the switch over to apples has been a higher advantage for the rich farmers and left the poor farmers with less resources and land behind, increasing income disparity in the village. “We have to tend to apple saplings like children for 10 to 12 years before they give any income. In contrast, sweet peas would give us immediate returns,” said Kedar Singh, a farmer from Tokto village. He added that while this can be afforded by the rich farmer, the poor with limited land cannot wait that long for his income. Besides, to supply markets in towns and cities, apples must be transported promptly. This is something difficult in the mountainous terrain. Landslides, which are not uncommon, can cause delays that make the fruit rot.
Costly Affair
An additional challenge is that while pea shrubs grow well enough on slopes, apple trees need flat plots of land. “In this hilly area, we have had to construct terraces to plant apples trees, and this costs us about 250,000 rupees per bigha of land,” Rana, pointed out. Terracing requires new skills and is much harder work than cultivating subsistence crops like peas, farmers said.
According to Tejwant Negi, a local politician, rich farmers plant a variety of annual crops while waiting for their apple trees to mature, while some others depend on goats and sheep. Making the transition is easiest for those who have substantial wealth and money, he added. Apples may have paved an easy road to the bank for the wealthy farmers of these villages, but for how long is the million dollar question.

Ease Of Doing Business: Has India Really Made It?

A closer look at the World Bank report and you may learn that the perception of doing business might not always provide the real picture

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 latest World Bank report on Ease of Doing Business 2019, released last week, must have warmed the cockles of the Indian government. The report put India at a rank of 77, the highest in South Asia and up from 100 last year. “India, with six reforms, is among the top-ten improvers for the second consecutive year,” the report said.
What has made India jump 23 places up in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index? No, it’s not poverty alleviation measures or bringing a significant percentage of people above the poverty line or making a robust growth on the industrial index. On the contrary, India, according to World Bank, has made it easier to undertake a business, deal with construction permits and could now facilitate quick cross-border trade.
The ranking evaluates countries on ten parameters (like ease of paying taxes, resolving insolvency, getting credit, enforcing contracts), and a higher score on each one adds to improvement in overall rankings. India has shown an improvement in six of the ten parameters with the most being on ‘construction permits’. India’s ranking in dealing with construction permits – one of the ten benchmarks the World Bank evaluates – jumped to 52 from 181 last year. “India streamlined the process of obtaining a building permit and made it faster and less expensive to obtain a construction permit,” the World Bank report said. “It also improved building quality control by introducing decennial liability and insurance.” According to the Bank, the Modi government has overhauled the country’s indirect tax structure by introducing the goods and services tax, brought in a new real estate law and consolidated the numerous bankruptcy laws into one. The other factor which contributed significantly towards improvement in ranking was in trading across border which improved by 66 places to 80 owing to various initiatives taken to reduce the time and cost to export goods.
Finally, the most notable (controversial though in view of what former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan had described) improvement has come through the Goods & Services Tax (GST), which did not figure in last year’s ranking, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. The GST made it easier to start businesses as it integrates multiple application forms into a single general incorporation form, World Bank said adding that this speeds up the registration process. India, the report said, has not only made paying taxes easier, but also made it less costly by reducing the corporate income tax rate and the employees’ provident funds scheme rate paid by the employer. “Secured creditors are now given absolute priority over other claims within insolvency proceedings,” the report maintained.
Many would feel or might claim as well that the improved ranking is likely to boost the sentiment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ahead of the general elections slated sometime next year; more so, because the BJP government has been facing flak for rising fuel prices and falling rupee. But a closer look will reveal that World Bank’s perception of doing business might not always provide the real picture.
First, the assessment is based on the feedback from enterprises of only two cities, Delhi and Mumbai. Among the Indian metros, Delhi is just an average performer and Mumbai is little higher on the scale as far as the ease of doing business is concerned. According to an annual ranking done by World Bank itself for the government of India, the top five states in terms of ease of doing business are: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Jharkhand and Gujarat. And there has been no mention of either Delhi or Maharashtra!
Secondly, questions have been raised over the methodology adopted by the Bank for arriving at the rank. In fact, its former chief economist Justin Sandefur had expressed his reservations over the methodology to rank nations on the Doing Business Index. According to Sandefur, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who made an in-depth analysis of the historical rankings, India’s extraordinary jump in rankings was only visible due to a change in methodology. Thirdly, going by the World Bank report, in some areas, India’s rank has worsened. In registering property, the country’s ranking fell to 166 from 92 when Modi took over. It takes over two months in India to register for property and the procedures end up costing almost eight per cent of the property value. India’s rank with regard to protecting minority investors fell from fourth in the world to seventh, with very little improvement in reforms. Similarly, in paying taxes, the ranking slipped by two places to 121 this year.
Enforcing contracts still remains a huge problem, with the country’s rank at 163. As per the World Bank report, enforcing contracts takes more than three years to mature and it ends up costing a third of the claim value itself.
“Registering property and enforcing contracts have been two major challenges in the last four years,” Ramesh Abhishek, secretary of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, said. Conceding that it is one of the more difficult reforms which is being put in place, he claimed that the government “is on track and it is just a matter of time before they show up in the ranking”. According to him, the government is in the process of drafting an industrial policy which will become a roadmap for sustainable growth of all business enterprises in India.
However, the World Bank which has since defended its stand, maintained that it hardly affected any change whatsoever in the way it calculates the score. The practice of calculating the rankings based on the data culled from two cities of each country, stands without a change and for India, these are Delhi and Mumbai. The only change that has taken place is rechristening of the “distance-to-frontier score” into “ease of doing business score” to reflect its “main purpose of measuring the absolute progress”. This, the bank claimed, happened without any change in the actual calculation.
India, on its part, has also been pressing for inclusion of more Indian cities for assessment for the ranking in order to make it more representative of business conditions across the country. If cities like Bengaluru, Chennai and Ahmedabad were included, it would have improved this year’s rankings by a much higher margin. But the measure, if taken, could spell another trouble for India; the formula of inclusion of more cities will apply to all the other countries ranked and may benefit them too. And at the end, India might run the risk of slipping to lower ranking in the ease of doing business index.

Power Sector NPAs

A story of all-round mismanagement, miscalculation and inefficiencies

S.A. Raghu
S.A. Raghu

S.A. Raghu 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 news papers on banking, economics and finance .

One of the more important issues on which the RBI is shadow boxing with the Government is that of the power sector NPAs, which turns out to be more a story of all-round mismanagement, miscalculation and inefficiencies rather than one deserving forbearance. Irrespective of which side wins, the economy stands to lose – the NCLT route (which the RBI prefers) will find few takers for these assets, while keeping them in suspended animation will only hurt the banks without adding to power capacity.
In fact the stances of both sides indicate pessimism on any meaningful revival. The RBI feels that liquidation is the cleanest solution while the Government is toying with acronyms such as SAMADHAN (through the SBI) and PARIWARTAN (through REC) both variations of past restructuring schemes which the RBI had abolished in February.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report on the stressed power sector offers enough evidence of the all-round failures. The data, first- 34 power plants are classified as stressed, involving a capacity of 40,000 MW and bank debt exposure of over Rs 1.74 lakh crore. Of this, about 60 per cent of capacity (24,000 MW) has already been commissioned which may sound like good news, until we discover that over a third of this capacity had no power purchase agreements (PPAs) or coal linkages in place, while another 16 per cent had disputed coal block allocations. As for the remaining capacity under construction (15,725 MW), the story is almost the same – about 60 per cent had no PPAs while about 30 per cent had no coal linkages.
Effectively, this meant that about 44 per cent of the capacity (which included fully commissioned plants) had neither fuel supply nor selling arrangements in place, but banks had fully disbursed their loans! A sure fire prescription for non-performance from the word go! As for the remaining 56 per cent, the causes of stress were not linked to absence of coal or PPAs, but to other factors such as the non-honouring of PPAs by distribution companies (discoms), aggressively bid projects, time over-runs and the inability of promoters to bring in additional funds.
At the heart of the problem was an overestimation of power demand and a reckless asset chase wherein, between FY2010 and FY2017, thermal generation capacity expanded at an annual average rate of 11.4 per cent while annual power demand grew by less than 5 per cent. Saddled with excess capacity and muted offtake, discoms preferred to buy power through short-term contracts or from the open market rather than contracted PPAs. But then it was never clear whether the discoms were dishonouring PPAs because of poor financials or because demand was low, although the net effect was to squeeze the power plants.
While externalities like the Court intervention in coal auctions or regulatory hurdles were beyond banks’ control, basic credit appraisal hygiene was lacking – disbursal of loans in full when raw material and selling arrangements were not firmed up, the overestimation of demand for power, amongst others. But to give them credit, perhaps banks were only been trying to fill the space vacated by the specialised development financing institutions such as the IDBI, ICICI and IFCI, which, coincidentally, began disappearing around the same period.
In any case, the unsuitability of bank loans and the lack of project appraisal skills are nowhere better brought out than in power sector funding. The Government also cannot escape blame for the mess. Its policy of favouring state-owned utilities by protecting them from the bidding process led to a pre-emption of PPAs in favour of utilities like NTPC, leaving private power producers stranded when it came to PPAs, a fact that RBI itself had pointed out in the past.
The Government’s tariff policy is another case in point – in the case of a central/state PSU, the tariff could simply be determined by the regulator, but for all other projects, the price of power had to be discovered through bids, which probably explains the ‘aggressive’ bidding of power suppliers, one of the factors blamed for the crisis.
Finally, the issue of forbearance also seems to ride on another perception, that the RBI’s asset classification rules were excessively harsh and needed moderation for specific sectors. In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee seemed to suggest the NPA guidelines were an “exercise in sophistry” when viewed against the constraint of “sectoral issues”.
There is a general misunderstanding of the purport of asset classification norms – their real purpose is twofold – one, to prevent banks from overstating the value of their loan assets (and thereby overstating their net worth) and two, to prevent them from booking fictitious income from non-performing assets and overstating their profits. In a financial system, where share prices and executive compensation are market valuation driven, there is even more reason to ensure that accounting rules are not diluted.

The Post-Modern Politician

He is what in chemistry called ‘free radicals’... unconventional, honest, witty and dedicated to his constituency

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

India is not an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.”
That is from Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram. A man of great wit, wisdom and words — probably three things that do not suit a modern-day politician.
Is he an anachronism in the world of Indian politics? Many think so and he is also a favourite child of controversies, both on personal and professional fronts.
But the city of Thiruvananthapuram is proud of its representative in the Lok Sabha. Talking to a cross-section of the voters gives us the feeling that he is the best man for the job. They have elected him two times — in 2009 and in 2014, and if one senses their mood, they may elect him again in 2019. As an MP, his performance has been quite impressive. He has been a regular to the house when it is in session with an attendance percentage of over 70 and a regular contributor to the proceedings – be it concerning his state, Kerala, or the country.

Ease of Access
There is no doubt that he is a brilliant speaker, both in English and Malayalam besides a couple foreign languages. But the one significant factor that endears him to the people of Thiruvananthapuram is easy accessibility to him. He meets everyone either at his office in Pulimodu or at his residence whenever he is in town.
The staff at his office is courteous and give a patient hearing to anyone who approaches them with a problem or an issue. And, Tharoor is in constant touch with his office staff, almost on a daily basis.
Tharoor is also a pioneer in using social media as an instrument of political interaction. He was India’s most-followed politician on Twitter until recently Tharoor once said that when he began his political career soon after coming back from the United Nations, he was approached by the Congress, the Communists, and the BJP. He chose Congress because he felt ideologically comfortable with it.
In March 2009, Tharoor contested the elections as a candidate for the Congress in Thiruvananthapuram. His opponents included P Ramachandran Nair of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Neelalohitadasan Nadar of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), MP Gangadharan of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and PK Krishna Das of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), all of them well-known figures in Kerala politics. Despite criticism that he was an “elite outsider”, Tharoor won the elections by a margin of about one lakh votes. He was then inducted as a minister of state by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On 28 May 2009, he was sworn in as Minister of State for External Affairs, in charge of Africa, Latin America, and the Gulf, including the Haj pilgrimage, and the Consular, Passports and Visas services of the Ministry.
IPL Rumours
He re-established long-dormant diplomatic relationships with African nations, where his fluency in French came in handy. He initiated new policy-planning activities on the Indian Ocean and represented India at various global events during his 11-month tenure as minister. In April 2010, he resigned from the position, following allegations that he had misused his office to get shares in the IPL cricket franchise. Tharoor, of course, denied the charges and, during his resignation speech in Parliament, called for a full inquiry.
Between 2010 and 2012 Tharoor remained active in Parliament and was member-convenor of the Parliamentary Forum on Disaster Management, a member of the Standing Committee on External Affairs, of the Consultative Committee of Defence, the Public Accounts Committee, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Telecoms.
In the special debate on the 60th anniversary of the Indian Parliament, Tharoor was one of four members of the Congress, including party President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee, to be invited to address the Lok Sabha. In 2012 Tharoor was re-inducted into the Union Council of Ministers by Manmohan Singh with the portfolio of minister of state for HRD. In this role, he took a special interest in the problems and challenges of adult education, distance education and enhancing high-quality research by academic institutions.
Unique Reports
As Member of Parliament, he is probably the first elected representative in India to issue annual reports on his work as MP, including furnishing accounts of his MPLADS expenditure. In 2012, he published a half-term report followed in 2014 by a full-term report. All the details are in the public domain. And one can access them from, both in English and Malayalam. Through FB and Twitter, he has been in constant touch and his photographs and videos are instantly uploaded to, In the highly literate state of Kerala, he is the most tech-savvy politician and instantly appeals to the youth and common man. In May 2014, Tharoor was re-elected from Thiruvananthapuram, defeating the BJP strongman O Rajagopal, but by a reduced margin, 15,700 votes, and that at the height of Modi mania.
But this time, unlike in his earlier stint, he had to sit in the opposition benches, both in the state and centre. While Left Front government took charge in Kerala, at the centre Congress lost power.
But Shashi Tharoor has friends in all parties and says his work as an MP is not affected. He was named Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. But he has dropped from the post of Congress spokesperson on October 13, 2014, after he praised some statements of Narendra Modi.
Surprise Politician
Says N Muraleedharan, the former regional bureau chief of wire service PTI: “Tharoor stands out in the rough and tumble of Kerala politics as he was the only person to quickly move to the centre stage without being a career politician before he entered the electoral arena in 2009. When he was nominated by the Congress as the candidate, many an eyebrow was raised in the party in Kerala, known for perennial factionalism and intense lobbying for spoils of power.
“In the initial phase of the campaign, he did not receive the total support from the local leadership. But he outwitted his adversaries and doubting Toms by meticulously organising the electioneering, largely by himself. He easily adapted himself to the new role and carried out a well-crafted campaign, touring every nook and corner of the sprawling, predominantly rural constituency. He also proved wrong those who thought that he would not be able to communicate with his voters in Malayalam since he had spent much of his life outside the state and abroad.
“Tharoor soon enough evolved a lingo of his own, unpretentious and understandable, and told the people what he could do for them if elected. On the other hand, the rival camps (The LDF and the BJP) mostly harped on his ‘outsider’ tag, which only boomeranged on them.” Analysts have attributed the outcome to Tharoor’s success in steadily expanding his appeal beyond the traditional Congress support base, especially among the less privileged, says Murali.
Despite his penchant for controversies, Tharoor has in 10 years, as an MP and as Union minister under the UPA regime, has grown into an astute politician even as he retains his distinct persona. Over the years, he has also integrated himself with the state party set-up, and, his inclusion as a member in the central manifesto drafting panel shows his standing with the high command.
Eloquence Personified
Tharoor is notable for his eloquence while speaking, as demonstrated by the popularity of his speeches on online platforms such as YouTube. For instance, his speech decrying British Colonialism, delivered at the Oxford Union in 2015, got over 3.9 million views on one site alone, while simultaneously being praised as ground-breaking in various educational institutions in India.
Says Talitha Mathew, a senior journalist in Thiruvananthapuram: “Tharoor seems to be a person of integrity. He elevates the level of discourse whenever he takes part, both in terms of sense and style. Tharoor is seen as more of a theoretician than a doer, but then again, being in opposition, he has not had much of a chance to show his mettle. On a lighter note, when Shashi Tharoor speaks in public, there is a dilemma, whether to concentrate on looking at him or on listening to him! Both actions call for equal focus and attention!” In the last eight or nine years, he has taken care of the constituency well, learnt his mother tongue better and performed as one of the best parliamentarians from the state. He also spent his constituency fund well and even had lined up Barcelona for a twinning arrangement, which apparently fell through because of the non-cooperation of the CPM-ruled civic body.
Surviving Kerala
Shankar Menon, a retired Navy officer and long-time resident of the city, says: “Surviving Kerala was not easy. First of all, he came with the huge baggage of an elite UN under-secretary general who contested for the secretary general’s post with no knowledge of grassroots politics or social work; and second, there were local politicians who were threatened by his presence. But, he overcame both the weaknesses and almost became a seasoned politician.
“However, his wife’s untimely death four years ago became a huge blow to Tharoor both personally and politically. Many even wondered how a grief-stricken Tharoor will be able to survive the gruelling campaign and if he will be fielded by the Congress at all. “Besides the bad publicity of his wife’s death, this time he had two more factors playing against him the “Nadar” caste card played by his left rival, and the candidature of BJP’s O Rajagopal, who apparently was the favourite of the “Nairs”. All the media reported that undercurrents favouring Rajagopal were strong and in the end, he might romp home.
On the counting day it was Rajagopal who kept a healthy lead almost throughout the day, but in the end, Tharoor won in a photo finish. With the result, Tharoor has yet again proved that he is a tough survivor.”
Home Page
Born in London in 1956, Dr Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a PhD in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. While there, he received the Robert B Stewart Prize for Best Student and also helped found and served as the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 39th year. Tharoor was also awarded an honorary D.Litt by the University of Puget Sound and a Doctorate Honoris Causa in History by the University of Bucharest. In 1998, the World Economic Forum in Davos named him a Global Leader of Tomorrow.
Interestingly Tharoor has been a strong proponent of the Presidential form of Government for India. Why? In one of the interviews, he had said “I believe our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of the legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only to wield (or influence) executive power. It has produced governments obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance.
“It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. In a Presidential system, on the other hand, you have an executive that is not victim to the shifting sands of the legislative support and thus, you would have a government focused on governance rather than on extending their tenure in power. And India, as you will agree, is in urgent need of steady governance more than anything else.”
Fierce Independence
Tharoor has also been fiercely independent in his views. On praising Modi, he says “Merely because I am an Opposition MP does not mean I should not praise the Prime Minister. When Mr Modi says something that sounds right, I acknowledge it. When he says something wrong, I criticise it. Like the day I signed up for Swachh Bharat, I had written a piece... my position is the same. Cleaning up India is a national objective. I don’t see this as a political objective. When the PM reaches out and says let’s do this together, it seems to me that it is entirely appropriate for us to do it. When it comes to political convictions, I don’t agree with many of the things Mr Modi stands for.”
Kerala Works
During the recently unprecedented floods, though Thiruvananthapuram was not affected, he volunteered to be the goodwill ambassador for his state and mobilise aid from abroad.
But there are charges that he did not do enough for the affected people and instead stayed away, travelling abroad. But it must be said though as an MP representing an opposition party his hands were tied and the ruling Left Front cold-shouldered him and did not make use of his international contacts and goodwill.
Apart from this, over the years his performance has been quite impressive.
“The Kazhakkoottam-Karode NH bypass road has been my most satisfying achievement as an MP. This project had been lying dormant for over 40 years and had been constantly written off. This 4 lane connectivity to the state capital offers tremendous development possibilities to this region,” he says
Detractors Say...
This has been a dream project but mired in controversies. “My involvement began in 2011 when the UDF government in the state nominated me as a director in the board of VISL and entrusted me with the task of finding the right development model.
After much dilly-dallying, the project took off on December 5, 2015, but the BJP had come to power in the Centre and the project execution was handed over to the Adanis. Though Tharoor says a lot of work has been completed and he is “eagerly looking forward to the see the first ship would dock at Vizhinjam in 2019”, not many are impressed.
M Vijayakumar, who is presently the chairman of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) also criticises Tharoor for not doing anything to Thiruvananthapuram city or to promote tourism in the state. “There have been two main demands still lying unfulfilled—one is to set up a bench of the Kerala High Court here. It is at present in Kochi unlike in other states where High Courts are in the capital cities. And, secondly, we need a separate railway zone for Kerala. At present, it is in Southern Railway zone with its headquarters in Chennai. This has been pending for the last 20 years. A separate zone here would help to create employment potential. Tharoor could have easily made it possible when he was an MP of the ruling party and also a minister but he has not done anything.
“And, when he was a minister in charge of Human Resources Development he did precious little to establish an IIT or AIIMS here, which are long pending,” charges Vijayakumar.
MPLAD Transparency
There are details, to the minutest level on his website, and it runs to several pages, on how Tharoor has spent his MP Lad funds. Besides his responsibilities as an MP, privately also Tharoor has been contributing to the society through The Chandran Tharoor Foundation (CTF), set up in the memory of his late father, Chandran Tharoor, “a noble and selfless individual whose generosity was legendary among friends, family and strangers”
CTF aims to help the weaker sections of society through modest grants in the areas of relief for persons in distress, educational and health care assistance, and miscellaneous services to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups. Based in Thiruvananthapuram, its activities are mainly centred in south Kerala.
It has also given free Onam and Ramzan ration kits to poor families, cooking utensils to flood-affected families, so on.
“CTF intends to initiate a campaign to provide good quality toilet facilities for girls in government schools to ensure that no child has to abandon her education merely because of the want of a basic amenity at school. The CTF has accordingly identified “e-toilets” as the way forward. These toilets operate electronically using solar power and flush economically, gauging the quantity of water required by the amount of time the user spends in the facility.
With such an impressive record, Shashi Tharoor is confident of getting renominated in 2019 and making it a hat-trick. But the BJP is trying to desperately unseat him and is looking for a strong candidate against him.
The recent meeting between superstar Mohanlal and Modi gave rise to the speculation that Mohanlal could be a possible BJP candidate against Tharoor. But the latter has strongly denied that he is contesting for or joining the BJP.
Even if he contests, he can only give a close fight but the Keralites may not be swayed by cine glamour, says a political analyst. As of now, Shashi Tharoor seems to be going strong.


Atul Pandita: Lifeographer
Atul Pandita: Lifeographer

A Realtor by profession, I call myself “Lifeographer”. Ever since my first encounter with a Kodak DC 215 Zoom camera, almost 20 years ago...I have thoroughly engaged myself in drawing life portraits with the help of my ever so faithful shutterbug. Portraits full of life...full of positivity... portraits teeming with infinite energy. Portraits that are like a beautiful poem...that, which transcend the space-time continuum. It is these very portraits that I intend to present before you all on a beautiful spotless canvas...thus, sharing my vision with you all... “These faces...these lives...that I paint, They’re so very faint. And yet, they leave an indelible mark on my soul, Those seething eyes...tend to burn me from within...they create an infinite hole. These are attributes that I can never ever forget, Freezing them in what I what I never regret. I have the ability to find this world that, which is filled with sadness, That beautiful quantum of solace...that hides away in all of that ruckus...all of that madness. For, I am a Lifeographer...portraits of life is what I paint, My existence...well, it is exciting, positive and definitely very quaint!!! Power to this beautiful world...power to every human being...Live your your dreams...and stop never ever!!”

RBI Vs The Government

The problems between North Block and RBI cannot afford to get out of hand for the sake of the India growth story

Chandra Mohan
Chandra Mohan

The writer is an economics and business commentator based in New Delhi. He is an economist by training and has worked in most of the leading newspapers of the country for the last 34 years. He also teaches economics and international business in MBA programmes for the last seven years and has been involved with various think-tanks in the capital.

There is an uneasy truce between North Block and Mint Steet. The union finance ministry has mulled invoking a rare Section 7 of the RBI Act – whereby “public interest and the requirements of the India economy” have to be kept in mind – in its ongoing consultations with the Reserve Bank of India. Although its statement issued on October 31 underlined that “the autonomy of the RBI is essential”, whether this mollifies RBI’s top officials is a different matter altogether.
All eyes will now be on the central bank’s board meeting on November 19 as how the government’s directions will be met. North Block’s differences with RBI stem in good part from the latter’s firm and unyielding response to dealing with debt-ridden public sector banks that account for 70 per cent of the country’s banking assets and 87 per cent of its losses. Out of the 21 PSBs, 11.are now part of the RBI’s Prompt Corrective Action regime that imposes operational and lending restrictions to nurse them back to banking health. The finance ministry has been exerting tremendous pressure on the RBI to dilute these norms that so that atleast 3 out of the 11 PSBs can resume lending. The central bank, for its part, has resisted doing so. The seeds of the PSU bad loans problem date to the mid-2000s when the India economy boomed in line with global trends. The bullish mood of the those times triggered what the Economic Survey termed “over-exuberant investments” by India Inc especially in infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships. India’s banks, led by those state-owned, financed this investment boom. The ratio of credit to GDP rose sharply from 25 per cent in 2001-02 to 52 per cent in 2016-17. Yet by 2010, many such investments stalled for various reasons including slower growth. PSBs were left holding the can.
The enormity of this problem surfaced in 2015 when the RBI asked banks to recognize bad loans and clean up their balance sheets. The provisioning for deteriorating asset quality sent these banks’ operating earnings into negative territory. Contrary to popular perception, the central bank consulted with North Block every step of the way when it announced revised PCA norms on April 13, 2017. The government was in “broad agreement” with its proposals. But in July this year, North Block has been pushing the RBI to relax this framework for weak PSBs so that they can resume lending. The government is worried that the ongoing travails of PSBs casts a troubling shadow over the India growth story. Although it registered a robust GDP expansion of 8.2 per cent in April-June 2018-19, sustaining it critically depends on more credit flows to revive investments. PSBs, for their part, cannot lend as they are burdened with a mountain of non-performing loans that were advanced in the go-go years, especially 2006 to 2008. Ahead of national elections in early 2019, it is keen to ensure that more PSB bank lending kickstarts investments by India Inc and small and medium businesses.
In contrast to the government’s electoral–driven short-termism, the RBI has taken a longer term view on dealing with crisis-ridden PSBs. Hitting out against the former’s relentless pressure to relax PCA lending norms, a deputy RBI governor, Viral Acharya, in his AD Shroff Memorial Lecture forcefully said: “Sweeping bank losses under the rug by compromising supervisory and regulatory standards can create a façade of financial stability, but inevitably causes the fragile deck of cards to fall in a heap at some point in future, likely with a greater tax payer bill and loss of potential output.”
Besides PCA norms, there have been other flashpoints between North Block and RBI this year. In April, the RBI governor sought more powers to regulate PSBs. In the current dispensation, the RBI cannot change the board of PSBs while it can do so for private sector banks. The finance ministry responded that the central bank has adequate powers to do so. In August-September, the government appointed part-time, non-official members to RBI’s board like S Gurumurthy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The RBI was upset that Nachiket More was removed 2 years before his term ended. At the board meeting, Gurumuthy made a forceful pitch for relaxing PCA lending norms and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises ‘forbearance’ that would ease the criterion for banks in recognizing loans to this segment as non-performing and accordingly step up credit flows. According to the Indian Express, it was this sort of unrelenting and persistent demand that triggered Acharya’s outburst in his AD Shroff lecture. Then there was a dissent note submitted by the RBI in October over North Block’s proposal to have a separate payments regulator bypassing the central bank.
Looking back in time, the government of the day – UPA and NDA for instance – sparred with the RBI over interest rates. While finance ministers preferred lower to higher rates to reduce costs of capital and boost economic growth, RBI governors were more hawkish on raising them to bring down inflation once and for all. This is a classic instance of “public interest and the requirements of the India economy” being perceived differently by the government and the central bank. The question of growth versus inflation is related to the differing time horizons for decision-making in North Bloc and Mint Street.
However, a big difference then and now was that such frictions were rarely aired in the public domain. This is not so today. A finance minister in the UPA regime famously declared that if the government had to walk alone to face the challenge of growth, then it would walk alone! Why is the RBI obsessed with inflation? Does it have the mandate to target only a particular rate of inflation? Not at all, as central banks have the flexibility to respond to various problems of the economy. So, if India’s growth remains uncertain, the RBI does have the mandate to boost economic expansion without worsening inflation. The big question is how will RBI respond to the threat of Section 7? Will Governor Urjit Patel put in his papers after the November 19 board meeting? It bears mention that the central bank’s autonomy is constrained unlike, say, the more independent US Federal Reserve. The finance ministry has the upper hand as it is the one that appoints the RBI governor. More consultations between RBI and North Block to arrive at a middle ground are certainly par for the course. If Governor Patel had no problem in implementing demonetisation, there is no reason why the RBI cannot respond to ensure more lending.
However, if the rift continues to widen, as is probable, there will be serious costs for the Indian economy and its international image as a favourable destination to do business. When rumours of Governor Patel putting in his papers roiled markets, the rupee was hammered down. The more dismal prospect indeed is that “governments that do not respect central bank independence will sooner or later incur the wrath of financial markets, ignite economic fire and come to rue the day they undermined an important regulatory institution” as Acharya warned in his speech. The problems between North Block and RBI thus cannot afford to get out of hand for the sake of the India growth story.

Silver Screen, Saffron Hue

The past glory of Bollywood, when films spoke of issues of the common man, is fast fading in the lust for lucre by a comfortable slip into political opportunism by signing up the RSS register

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

Namaste Sadaa Vatsale Matribhume” prayer of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) became public recently on YouTube as a trailer of a mega-budget saffron film – “Bhagwa”. This is a major break with the past 93 years when the RSS’ Prayer became visible publicly via social media.
The RSS will celebrate its centenary in 2025 and showcase its history, ideology and achievements. The saffron organisation is making a feature film on RSS with a whopping budget of Rs180 crore. A year back at Raheja Galaxy Club in Mumbai, the work on the film started and its banner and director were introduced. However, at that time no big name associated with the project met the media. The film is produced under SSAN Films banner and directed by AR Sarkar. But after that, many cine celebrities have shown interest in it. It is believed that Akshay Kumar will play the role of the protagonist. Media baron Subhash Chandra, who is also Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha, and Motion Pictures head Raj Singh will promote and distribute the ambitious film of the Sangh.
Noted writer Koduri Viswa Vijayendra Prasad, the father of SS Rajamouli, the celebrated director of the “Baahubali” series, who wrote that story, and also Bollywood’s superstar Salman Khan’s film “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, has penned the script. As per sources, the vital inputs in the script have been given by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat himself along with S Gurumurthy.
The film “Bhagwa” will showcase the history of RSS and its achievements through the struggles of its leaders, including Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar. It is believed that to finance the film, Kannada Cine audio tycoon Lahari Velu Thulasi Naidu, who came up with the idea of the film, and his younger brother Manohar Naidu will produce it. Naidu is also a member of the saffron wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, the producers are trying their best to release the film before the upcoming general elections in 2019.
This is not the only example where BJP and RSS will put forward their beliefs and thoughts through the strong medium of the silver screen. Cinema is a mirror of society and it emerges as an inevitable and vital medium to showcase the artist’s ideology through his films and individual opinions. And intellectual change can be brought about by it. At the same time, the film is a powerful medium, which can be developed through better social values, and it can transfuse values in today’s younger generation. Therefore, the saffron ideology is slowly moving forward in this direction.

Rushed Agenda
The Sangh wants to push its political beliefs to percolate speedily in Indian society. So fiery dialogues and a strong script are the best platforms to take that forward. Earlier, the Sangh used to give its comments on contemporary cinema but now it is foraying into it. Not only Bollywood, but RSS is also spreading its wings to the theatre, regional cinema and film festivals.
Earlier in Kerala, BJP was protesting against the regional certification office for not providing a certificate to documentary film – “21 Months of Hell”. Made in Malayalam, the documentary deals with RSS workers who fought against Emergency. To showcase the achievements BJP, Suresh Jha produced the feature film “Modi Kaka Ka Gaon”. In the film, Vikas Mahante played the role of the protagonist who transforms India through his policy decisions, including demonetisation.
Bharatiya Chitra Sadhna is a film festival that the Sangh has started to showcase Bhartiyata (Indianness). With this festival, the Sangh wants to spread its cultural values. As an experiment, two such festivals have been held in Indore and Delhi. The festival had four categories comprised of short films, campus films, animation and documentaries. And the themes were nationalism, women, folk art, environment, Indian family system, Indian cultural values, and so forth.
Many Bollywood bigwigs such as Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Kangana Ranaut, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Subhash Ghai, Jackie Shroff, Sonu Nigam, Abhijeet, folk singer Malini Awasthi and others have aligned themselves with saffronisation of their previously neutral turf.
Last year, the RSS supported and promoted the biopic “Ek Thi Rani Aisi Bhi”, directed by Gul Bahar Singh starring Hema Malini, who portrays Vijaya Raje Scindia, from the erstwhile royal family of Scindias. The film was made on the Rajmata on the basis of the BJP leader and now the governor of Goa Mridula Sinha’s biography ‘Rajpath se Lokpath Par’, which traces Vijaya Raje’s journey from the palace to the public, but it did not get much success.
The successful film of Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma, “Sui Dhaaga”, is a recent example. Released just before Gandhi Jayanti, it became the model of the Modi government’s aspiring project Make in India. Prior to the promotion of “Sui Dhaaga” at first glance, it was a bolt from the blue for everyone about its name.
Neither the name has created any curiosity nor has it any glamour quotient to pull the urban audience. Therefore, why did a pure professional banner like Yash Raj need to make a film with such a name and a social message? From when did this production house start doing such risky jobs? Is the situation commercially ripe?
Indeed, yes, as this movie is based on Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ slogan, in which issues like skill development are raised. Hence, it was released just before Gandhi Jayanti, because the true inspiration behind the Make in India is the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This is not a documentary, but a pure feature film, which was released like other films.
Like Yash Raj Films, now, many production houses like Dharma and Excel want to sail their boats on the saffron waves and make films that will depict rightist ideology.
Gold Rush
Before “Sui Dhaaga”, Akshay Kumar’s “Gold”, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s “Raag Desh”, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s “Mere Pyare Prime Minister” and John Abraham’s “Parmanu The Story of Pokhran” are other ideal examples that suit the present government’s taste. Actor John Abraham produced “Parmanu” in Rs 44 crores to acclaim the achievements of former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. During the promotion of film, John gave a statement: “I have never been in a hurry to produce films, I have been reading and searching for subjects that are disruptive yet engaging, stories that must resonate with current social, political and economic mood of the country, and finding stories that reflect this takes time. This film fits perfectly with my pursuit.”
“Parmanu” was directed by Abhishek Sharma who had directed “Tere Bin Laden”. But the story and facts of the film were intermingled with Parmanu-1 tested during the Indira Gandhi regime. Which is quite in keeping with Modi government’s unabashed usurping of all Subhash Chandra’s Zee Studio was also associated with John as one of the prime producers. After “Parmanu” John is coming up with “Batla House”, the controversial slaying of some Muslim students as ‘terrorists’ in Jamia Millia University.
The 45-year-old actor took to social media to unveil the poster, writing, “95 mins that took 8 yrs to be resolved and changed his life forever.” The story of India’s most Decorated/Controversial Cop. #BatlaHouse.” In the film, John is portraying the role of the cop inspired by DCP Sanjeev Yadav who led the controversial encounter of Batla House decade back in Delhi.
Tamed Tigers
Farhan Akhtar, who used to put out rebellious thoughts through his twitter handle earlier, has changed tack for business. He came together with Akshay Kumar and produced the Rs 100 crore mega-budget film “Gold”. Produced by Excel Entertainment and directed by Reema Kagti, in the film, actor Akshay Kumar portrays the flag-waving Bengali team manager of a novice hockey team. Although the story of “Gold” is fictional, it took snippets from the inspirational life of pre-independence sports star Kishan Lal from Madhya Pradesh.

Excel Entertainment co-producer and director Reema Kagti stated in an interview that it is a fictional take on what happened. “Also, it is not just the golden victory in 1948 we will be looking at, but it encompasses 12 crucial years in India’s history”.
“Gold” that narrates Akshay’s hockey love, is actually inspired by Kishan Lal who used to play hockey. He was regarded as the greatest right winger in the history of Indian hockey who played with another great player Dhyan Chand. Kishan Lal was considered as an influential contributor in developing powerful Indian Railways hockey team. But the place and circumstances are changed in the film from central India to Eastern India i.e. Kolkata.
Akshay Kumar, the poster boy of saffron ideology has come into a new avatar of Bharat Kumar. He has done “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” earlier, which promotes PM Modi’s cleanliness drama, Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, along with other films that promote nationalism in a jingoistic way. Under the present government, Akshay Kumar also received the national award last year for his film “Rustom”. In the coming two years movie buffs will see maximum films of Akshay Kumar, approximately 12 films out of which most are based on either biographical or period genre.
Changing Times
Akshay’s entry after a decade in Yash Raj camp, has been possible because of changing times. Known for making romantic and youth-oriented films Yash Raj Films and Aditya Chopra has collaborated with a blue-eyed boy of BJP, Akshay Kumar and making for a mega-budget film on Prithviraj Chauhan. Scuttlebutt is that Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, who is in the good book of RSS may direct this film. Akshay Kumar will play the role of Prithviraj Chauhan.
The story will chronicle the life of Prithviraj along with his love story with Sanyukta. The pre-production and research of the story have started and the shooting may start from mid-July next year. Akshay Kumar will be seen again as a historical character Havaldar Ishar Singh of 36 Sikh Regiment, who fought against Afghans in Saragarhi in the movie “Kesari”. Karan Johar and his production house Dharma Production also join up for this period film. Parineeti Chopra will be seen in the female lead. The shooting of the film is in its last phase in Jodhpur and it is expected to release in Holi next year.

On the same subject, Raj Kumar Santoshi is also making film Battle of Saragarhi in which Randeep Hooda is playing the character of Havaldar Ishar Singh. This historic battle will take you 120 years back. Both films tell the story of the war fought on September 12, 1897, where 21 Sikh soldiers fought until death to 10,000 soldiers Afghan army.
Muddying Indira
These days creativity is also overpowered by the politics in Bollywood. To please the Modi government, many filmmakers have made films on the Emergency and put a critical eye on Congress rule under Indira Gandhi in the last two years. Movies like KK Menon’s “San Pachattar”, Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Indu Sarkar”, Rajkumar Gupta’s “Raid” and Ajay Devgn’s film “Badshaho” are some of the examples.
In the coming year, viewers will witness the same trend in full swing. To promote the saffron ideology and its choices, big banners and known faces are coming up with historical stories. “Rashtraputra” is a film based on Chandrasekhar Azad. The film will narrate the important events of Azad’s life. But as per sources, in the movie, Azad may be portrayed as a staunch opponent of Mahatma Gandhi.
Kangana Ranaut will be seen as Rani Laxmibai in “Manikarnika”. Ajay Devgn will play the role of Chanakya in the period film “Chanakaya”, directed by Neeraj Pandey, who has noted films like A Wednesday and Baby in his kitty as a director. As the name suggests the film is based on the teachings of a great political thinker and philosopher Chankaya during the Maurya dynasty. Ajay Devgn will be seen as another historical legendary Maratha warrior Taanaji Malusare, who was the commander of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s army, in the period film “Taanaji: The Unsung Warrior”.
Another superstar, Salman Khan will bring “Bharat Kumar”, the Indian adaptation of a Korean film, “Ode to My Father”. Ashutosh Gowariker, who made the historical mess “Mohenjo Daro”, is also coming up with another historic battle movie “Panipat”, with Sanjay Dutt and Arjun Kapoor. In the film, Arjun plays the role of Maratha army’s leader Sadashivrao Bhau, whereas Sanjay essays the main antagonist, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who led the Afghans to victory.
Over time, Bollywood producers who abandon the ideological movement and moved forward to commercialisation with romantic and action stories, are now changing their attitude with the BJP in power. Big producers and directors of Bollywood like Yash Chopra, Karan Johar, Farhan Akhtar and Subhash Ghai made films more about romance and less about social justice. But now these bigwigs want to butter up the Modi government.

They perceive that this is a beneficial time for patriotic and historical themed cinema. Many feel it is a good phase for those stories that incline towards a saffron ideology that normally went unnoticed. Hence, in the present period, movies will attract your attention not only because of their name, but also the story, the themes, the atmosphere and the message.

New-Fangled Fascism

Hindu Fascism is not the typical Euro-centric Fascism, unlike what moribund Leftists in India think. It is “aestheticisation of symbols of power in fascist regimes” – such as the exquisitely choreographed columns of the faithful hailing Hitler in the Nazi propaganda film, ‘Triumph of the Will’

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

India at the present historical juncture has been inebriated by an increasingly toxic chauvinism, a populist drug, aptly identified by the Pakistani journalist and political commentator Zarrar Khuhro as an activity ‘increasingly and actively being radicalised by a right-wing ruling elite, which has its divisive messages amplified by a shrill right-wing media owned by corporations that are close to the ruling party” - Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) . Each arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), including the BJP, is unmistakably Fascist, notwithstanding the stupidly obstinate (if not intellectually naïve) assertions by ideologues of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and his predecessor Prakash Karat that it’s ‘fascistic’ and not Fascism.
The problem with hoary-headed ‘Marxist’ ideologues is their parrot-like understanding of Fascism. They blindly adhere to the definition of Euro-centric Fascism, defined by Georgi Mikhailovich Dimitrov, secretary-general of the Communist International in the late 1930s, as the “open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” Let’s not get into the labyrinthine lemma or an etymological eerie in the nightmarish crisis facing us. But India is yet to witness an open terroristic dictatorship of finance capital, although we are constantly encircled by a semi-dictatorial ruling combine which is extremely reactionary and Hindu chauvinist, and instead of finance capital, a few crony capitalist groups are committed to demolish the self-reliant economic endeavour that kept Indian economy alive and inching ahead.
The tragedy is that India’s largest Leftist (official Marxist, rather Stalinist) political Party, the CPI(M) fails to realise the aesthetic dimension of Fascist – or, more generally, authoritarian – regime and becomes irrelevant to get lost in a plethora of absurdities. Its cerebra fail to see that the clog in the wheel for all who confront Fascism, or whatever, is a sanguinary reality. For the increasingly decimated comity of armchair revolutionaries, it is futile to suggest to them to widen the barricade by maximised mobilisation, as felt by those in Europe and America.
Fraught Analogies
Daniel Bessner and Udi Greenberg’s essay, “The Weimar Analogy” in Jacobin magazine is an eye-opener. They draw a parallel between the US President Donald Trump and the Third Reich. Permit me to quote from it.
“Trump’s support, after all, comes in large part from postindustrial dislocation, a socioeconomic condition completely alien to the industrial, class-based, and war-traumatised Germany of the 1920s and 1930s. More substantially, Trump’s ideology — if one can call a smattering of contradictory claims a coherent ideology — excludes some of Fascism’s classic features. Trump, after all, rarely invokes the language of blood and soil, the transcendental and rejuvenating experience of war, or explicit opposition to electoral institutions and politics. The debate over whether Trump counts as a fascist may seem pedantic, but its consequences for progressive thought are anything but. When we see America as Weimar and Trump as Hitler, we risk repeating past mistakes.”
Eric D Weitz, distinguished Professor of History and the former Dean of Humanities and Arts at The City College of New York appropriately noted: “Historical analogies are always fraught.” It will be suicidal to be oblivious of the Nazi horror. The new feature is “the process by which traditional and radical conservatives came together through a common language”, plus “numerous warning signals “ that bucks up “ the surge of right-wing populism from Poland across the continent, on to the United Kingdom, and across the ocean to the United States,” quipped Weitz, adding a cautionary note: “free nations must view all dictatorial movements as existential threats. Democracy, they argued, cannot coexist with the enemy; extremist radicals have to be actively destroyed. According to Weitz’s logic, “our generation must embrace these sentiments to resist Trump’s fascist takeover”.
Indian Fascism
The dress rehearsal of Fascism, neo-Fascism and far-right extremism, being witnessed today in the largest segment of the South Asian subcontinent is ‘non-Eurocentric’, formidably argued Benjamin Zachariah, faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and formerly with the Presidency University, Kolkata, in a paper, ‘A Voluntary Gleichschaltung? A non-Eurocentric Understanding of Fascism’. This is mutated further from what Jawaharlal Nehru described as ‘majoritarian communalism’, the vehicle of Indian variant of Fascism. In his Autobiography written when he was imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Jail in 1936, he slammed organised religion:
“The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere has filled me with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seems to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation, and the preservation of vested interests.”
But Nehru did not spare minority communalism either. He found in communalism “a striking resemblance to the various forms of Fascism in other countries’ while in the Indian version of Fascism he spotted “evils and disasters that have resulted from the communal conflict. A combination of these two is thus something that can only bring grave perils and disasters in its train”.
May be, the humanimalistic nature of State and its increasingly aggressive pose is beyond the Nehruvian imagination, amply reflected in the menacing cow-vigilantism in the social life and academic barbarism which is virulently exhibited at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, but all this happens under the juggernaut of majoritarian communalism.
Gleichschaltung, (bringing all political, economic, and social institutions under a single command under an authoritarian state to stamp out dissent or freedom in all areas of life alike the Nazi ideology.) appropriately elaborated by Zachariah, carries “very specific normative overtones that are associated with the Nazi state in particular; it is a process of appropriation from above by means of special legislation and through the use of state power”.
A ‘voluntary Gleichschaltung’, Zachariah added,”might seem like a contradiction in terms; but the use of the oxymoron indicates that an international recognition of the affinities and possibilities of working together predated the existence of Fascist states”. He suggests alternatives like ‘fascist Zeitgeist” that disseminate conspiracy theories and promote right-wing libertarian political ideology and diverts people’s energies and attention away from solving real problems in the real world. Together they develop the ‘fascist syncretism’ as discrete strands and movements to one another.
Christopher Bollus, British psychoanalyst and author of “Meaning and Melancholia: Life in the Age of Bewilderment”, has provoked a debate on the new features of Fascism in the frame of the world order of neo-liberal finance capital that has been engulfing India, Myanmar and many other countries.
Assam Trauma
The treatment meted out to at least four million inhabitants in Assam, rendered worse-than-persona non grata in the name of updating of the National Register of Citizens under the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, tabled in Parliament on July 2016, is a direct assault on the libertarian basics of our democracy. Pitiably enough, the entire invasion against the universal human rights is patronised and supervised by the Supreme Court of India. The social fabric of the sensitive and strategic northeastern state of India is torn apart as these hapless people, whose patriotic commitment was proved repeatedly, are pushed to a penumbra of insecurity, uncertainty and trauma, and most of them belong to Franz Fanon’s definition of the ‘wretched of the earth’. A parallel barbarism has been the protracted traumatising of the Rohingyas in neighbouring Myanmar.

The ferocious rightism is an international phenomenon, the neo-liberal totalitarian power, escalates the world over, with a mammoth strategy to rake up colonialism hybridising with barbarism to create a regime of enslavement. Like Fascism, the ascendant rightism aims at confusion and simplification of the ideological, theological, and cultural perceptions as a sequel to the failure of the Enlightenment view of man to comprehend human existence.
State Supreme
While the Enlightenment had partly emphasised the integrity of individual man, twentieth-century Fascism extolled the virtue of the state, an organic creation driven by the militant will of the masses in contrast to ‘the federal republic encumbered by checks and balances dividing power so that the people remained individually free to speak their minds in a pluralistic society’.
Which is why in the Middle-East, Africa, South and Central America and elsewhere the principal aim is to exploit vast populations, turning a blind eye to continued colonial activities. Bollus states with a sense of self-abnegation: “I liken us to the Nazi occupation of Europe. The US and Western governments are hated by most of the rest of the world population and hated for good reason. My point is that we have destroyed people. The destroyed, driven mad by us — and their own leaders who are our puppets — are now the return of the oppressed. We are now to pay a huge price for more than 50 years of such oppression.”
Torture is outsourced – a glaring instance being Guantanamo— along with a wide variance of criminal activities. Islamophobia is unquestionably blameworthy in no uncertain terms but in practice, it is an alibi for unleashing torture without bounds.
Islamophobia is not just a Western phenomenon. It has been whipped up to unimaginable levels in India by the RSS-BJP combine. “When the cartoons stirred up Islam, they did indeed rouse the insane. If we are not responsible for the entire history of their descent into madness, we discovered them in this condition and we have exploited them, which is a very grave crime against tens of millions of people,” the social psychoanalyst puts it ingenuously.

Hindutva Psychophobia
The ‘teeming millions’ are compressed in psychophobia; a fear of the mind and a rejection of depth psychologies even in the West, the reflex of which are the victory of Trump in America and Brexit in the United Kingdom. Literary giants such as Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Franz Fanon had envisioned this as they felt deeply disturbed by this traumatisation.
Rohit Chopra, associate professor of communication at Santa Clara University, University, USA, and author of “Technology and Nationalism in India: Cultural Negotiations from Colonialism to Cyberspace” in a commentary in the Hong Kong-based morninger South China Morning Post, strongly indicted the World Hindu Congress in Chicago, ostensibly held as a homage to Swami Vivekananda for his historic speech 125 years ago, a speech that set the space for a civilisational dialogue between Hinduism and the West.
Professor Chopra cautioned that the intention of the global Hindutva jamboree was “aestheticisation of symbols of power in fascist regimes – such as the exquisitely choreographed columns of the faithful hailing Hitler in the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will – is to make violence palatable, comprehensible, and even attractive of such regimes. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Robert Mugabe all fit this bill, so did a gathering of Hindus from around the globe at the World Hindu Congress”.
Ever since the hukumat of BJP-led federal government came to power with Narendra Modi as the premier in 2014 “an unofficial government scheme of targeting minorities has been well under way in India. Lynching of Muslims by vigilante Hindu groups on the pretext of possessing beef, a crime in numerous Indian states given the sacred status of the cow for many Hindus; assaults on Dalits, in the lower rung of the caste hierarchy of Hinduism, and a strident jingoism stoked by openly partisan state officials and media persons, have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissenting voices in the academic, artistic, and activist communities”, Chopra asserted.
Shankar Gopalakrishnan in an essay in Monthly Review, published a decade ago, identified the rise of the aggressive right alongside the “simultaneous rise of two reactionary political projects, Hindutva and neoliberalism, to a position of dominance in India”, an allotropic manifestation of hyper-nationalism of the ‘bureaucratic-authoritarian’ dictatorships in Latin America, the implicit racism and jingoism of Thatcher and Reagan, etc. ”The distinctive feature of Hindutva,” he rightly spotted, is “a predominantly cultural-ideological phenomenon” in order to “to divert attention from class conflict, to divide and weaken the working class struggles and to deflect class-driven anxieties on to minority communities”.

Hindutva Eugenics
Four decades ago, the then RSS sarsanghchalak, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, penned, “We may have to use sanctions of force also in our endeavour.” For ‘outsiders’ (meaning the minorities) he dictated an option: “They can swear allegiance to Hindutva and join the society, or they can retain their beliefs, thereby confirming their foreignness, as if fit for self-destruction.”
Mind you, Hindutva is not mainly an elite offensive but an antidote to the subaltern mobilisations of Dalits or regional parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party. It has considerably delegitimised class and caste struggle and instead promoted notions of’ ‘harmony’.
If the BJP returns to power in the parliamentary elections in 2019, Hindu Fascism will be far more devastative. Remember the patronisation of eugenics during the Nazi era in Germany and various antisemitic programmes of euthanasia and death camps, having resorted to the reduction of non-Aryan children, through injection with genetic diseases and disorders.
‘Eugenics’ was coined by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and an accomplished scientist in his own right, with the motto of improving the human race by getting rid of the “undesirables” and multiplying the “desirables.”

Blue-Eyed In Saffron Den

The RSS is not a monolithic organisation. There are differences. There are internal dissensions, promotions and demotions. It is a fascinating matrix within which bloom a handful of blue-eyed boys

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

Invisible in the public discourse for the better part of its existence, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is now an important force in shaping public attitudes and policy. The impact of sarsanghchalak ‘PP’ (param pujniya) Mohan Rao Bhagwat’s landmark lecture series at Vigyan Bhawan in October, 2018, is a testimony to its growing influence.
With wry humour and blunt speaking, Bhagwat dispelled the hoary construct of a maleficent organisation, pulling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strings from a shadowy den in Nagpur. He projected the RSS as open, flexible and accommodative, thereby leaving its detractors stumped, at least for the nonce.

As always, when the BJP is in power, there are dire prophecies – invariably by outsiders with little knowledge of its internal dynamic – that it will subsume the RSS. The fact is that the RSS is the mother ship and the BJP a member of the fleet, captained and navigated by RSS-trained personnel. That Narendra Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, considerably diminished the clout of other RSS organisations in the state is true. But it doesn’t alter the fact that he is himself an RSS pracharak, on deputation to the BJP.
The top rungs of the party are packed with pracharaks and functionaries drawn from the RSS and its other frontal organisations. To say that the RSS has put its ‘stamp’ on the BJP is facile. The BJP, like all the other members of the sangh parivar, is organically linked to the RSS in the person of the pracharak. The pracharak, literally a disseminator or propagator, is thus an influential figure in our current political landscape! The RSS organisation has expanded to keep pace with its growing influence and reach. Obviously, the sarsanghchalak is the pivot. A word from him can make or break an election, or shape the broad contours of public policy. He is not an elected head and does not dabble in the day-to-day affairs of the sangh parivar, but enjoys a moral authority rarely matched in any organisation, social or political.

The Operators
Executive power vests with the sarkaryavaha or general secretary. Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi has emerged as a hands-on number two, in close touch with the party and government. His appointment, or ‘election’, as sarkaryavaha in 2008 came as surprise to journalists, who had fully expected Suresh Soni to get the post. Nor was he expected to last more than a couple of three-year terms, largely because he was hampered by dodgy knees.
Certainly, the 2014 election campaign – the first in which the RSS pro-actively threw its full weight behind the BJP – was physically and mentally taxing. It was widely rumoured that Bhaiyyaji would retire and hand over the reins to Dattatreya Hosabale or V Bhaigaih. Rejuvenated by surgery and considerable weight-loss, however, he is now in his fourth term and at 70, is more active than ever.

Bhaiyyaji administers the RSS and supervises the activities of the 4,000-odd pracharaks across the country, some of whom are deputed to the main frontal organisations. Transfers and postings fall under his purview and by all accounts, he takes an interest in appointments right down to the level of tehsil pracharak. His primary concern, and one he shares with Bhagwat, is a robust shakha network. As of 2018, the number of shakhas stands at a shade below 60,000.
In addition, he is a great believer in social outreach. Sewa Bharti, which is actually a ‘sewa samooh’ comprising over one lakh organisations of varying sizes, has always been a hobby horse of his. Through this network, the sangh reaches out simultaneously to contributors and beneficiaries. Last heard, the ‘Sevadisha’ App had been developed to facilitate regular updates on their activities and workshops held to disseminate it.
Bhaiyyaji is also held to have popularised the sangh prarthna, which is now recited at all meetings and not just in shakhas! His pro-active approach extends to interactions with the BJP and government. He has reportedly presided over meetings featuring senior (kshetra and prant) pracharaks and party president Amit Shah, in the context of the 2018 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Interventions in public policy are limited to big-picture issues, but the concerns of organisations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union are forcefully conveyed. As for appointments which are within the purview of the government, particularly in the education sector, the RSS naturally draws from its own pool.
The Interface
Technically, the interface between the RSS and government is Dr Krishna Gopal Sharma, one of the six sah-sarkaryavahas. In the Vajpayee regime, Madan Das Devi handled the job with great aplomb, but persistent health problems rendered him less active thereafter. During the UPA years, the RSS-BJP interaction was handled by Suresh Soni. For a pracharak, Soni displayed exceptional political acumen, but effaced himself after some of his hangers-on fell foul of the law.

The tricky assignment then passed to Krishna Gopal, who was earlier stationed in the North-East and played a role in the BJP’s success in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. He is respected for his intellectual depth and grasp of complex issues. However, realpolitik is not his forte, which might explain why Bhaiyyaji exercises oversight. The most charismatic face of the RSS is unarguably Dattatreya Hosabale. Long regarded as the number three, it was believed that he was being groomed as a future sarsanghchalak and would, therefore, take over as number two. This expectation was belied at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur earlier this year. It is now widely rumoured that if Bhaiyyaji bows out, it is V Bhaigaih who will succeed him.
Hosabale has a committed following in the RSS, particularly in the ABVP, but insiders are mystified by media efforts to portray him as being ‘close’ to PM Modi. Of late, he has confined himself strictly to affairs of the sangh and displays no interest in politics. He is believed to have been the motive force behind the highly successful three-day lecture series by Bhagwat, titled “Future of Bharat: An RSS Perspective”.
The Executive
The third tier of the RSS now has six members, up from two just a decade ago. Apart from Hosabale, Soni, Bhaigaih and Krishna Gopal, there are Manmohan Vaidya and Mukunda CR, who were elevated earlier this year. Vaidya’s inclusion is interesting, given that he has never seen eye-to-eye with Modi. Mukunda’s is even more so, because he is from the same state as Hosabale (Karnataka). It would have made sense to elevate him if Hosabale was taking over from Bhaiyyaji, but that has not proved to be the case.
Another senior pracharak worthy of mention is the venerable Suhas Rao Hiremath, former Sewa Pramukh, who enjoys Bhaiyyaji’s confidence. Also noteworthy is Madhubhai Kulkarni, who is not important in the hierarchy but has the ear of the sarsanghchalak. Like Vaidya, his equation with Modi has not always been comfortable.
Then there’s Arun Kumar, who was recently designated spokesperson and is expected to be as discreet, but more communicative, than his predecessor. Not too long ago, Bajrang Lal Gupta, sanghchalak of Delhi, exercised considerable influence but his star has waned of late.
More than 30 RSS pracharaks and functionaries have been deputed to the BJP, a measure of the importance the sangh now attaches to its political wing. Ram Lal has been a general secretary (organisation) for nearly a decade, but has kept a low profile. In the past, general secretaries from the RSS, such as Khushabhau Thakre and KN Govindacharya, were more vocal and influential.
Ram Madhav, the face of the RSS on TV channels for over a decade, was deputed to the BJP as general secretary in 2014. His domain expertise in foreign affairs and the diplomatic network has come in handy for the government. He has also enjoyed success as election in-charge of Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East.
However, the buzz in the party is that he is no longer a blue-eyed boy, although he continues to have Bhagwat’s confidence.
The third RSS general secretary is P Muralidhar Rao, who is not a pracharak but was something of a wunderkind in the sangh parivar, handpicked by Swadeshi Jagran Manch founder Dattopant Thengadi to helm the organisation. He became political attache to BJP president Rajnath Singh after joining the party. Rao supervised the Karnataka assembly elections and has recently been asked to look after Rajasthan. The word in party circles is that the two general secretaries from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh do not get on. Among the more prominent of the joint general secretaries from the RSS are V Satish, who is believed to be close to Hosabale, and Shiv Prakash who was a kshetra pracharak before the RSS loaned him to the BJP. Along with Sunil Bansal, another of the joint general secretaries, he is credited with the party’s success in UP and Uttarakhand. Saudan Singh, who was once very close to Soni, is not as influential as of yore.

Fractious Opinions
The RSS is not quite the monolith it appears to be. There are many shades of opinion, and heckling the government and its policies at meetings is par for the course. Members of strong frontal organisations have no compunction in taking the government and party severely to task, albeit behind closed doors. Friction between top functionaries is also not uncommon, but rarely gets out of hand. Whatever the internal differences, after the core committee of the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal takes a decision, everyone falls in line.
Occasionally, there’s disaffection in the ranks, as in the case of Praveen Togadia, who was recently ousted as VHP working president. Breaking discipline is uncommon but by no means unprecedented. Earlier casualties were Govindacharya and Suresh Joshi, both former pracharaks. The notable fact here is that although they are no longer part of the hierarchy, they continue to command a large following among swayamsevaks across the country and are treated as members of the RSS family. The former in particular is frequently invited to deliver talks and lectures at various RSS events, shares the stage with senior functionaries and is called upon for advice.
A swayamsevak, once and for all
The RSS today is more active and interactive than it has ever been. The approach to its stated goal of social transformation is now both bottom up (through the shakhas) and top down (through state power). Whatever ‘control’ the RSS exercises in the public sphere is through the individuals it has trained. The trouble is, humans are notoriously imperfect and this holds true for pracharaks.


The arrogance and self-promotion of Narendra Modi – anathema to the Sangh credo – has cut him off from those very frontal organisations through which the RSS had created the Modi Wave of 2014

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

When the ground rumbles, everything above it trembles. And the bigger the statues, the sooner they collapse. This is no idle philosophising, for this could be the emerging reality of the Modi-Shah duo, and they are alarmed.
Are the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) backed frontal organisations dissatisfied with the current ruling party, which they brought to power five years ago? Is the rising NaMo phenomenon of arrogance and ruling without consulting also a cause of concern? Amidst all speculations, RSS says sharing feedback with the top leadership is a part of a routine process and there is no dissatisfaction. Political pundits, however, disagree.

The RSS backed frontal organisations Bharatiya Kisan Union, Akhil Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, etc., have apparently placed on record their opinion about the top BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is learnt that the feedbacks were mostly negative and the party was alarmed about its disgruntled constituents.
This has left two major questions unanswered:
• How are the frontal organisations viewing the upcoming 2019 general elections and its ramifications on the ruling party? After all, these organisations had actually created the ‘Modi wave’.
• Is there a simmering dissent among these frontal organisations about the ruling party? Do they disapprove of the ways and means of the functioning of the Narendra Modi government?
Speaking to Parliamentarian, Manmohan Vaidya, appointed as one of the Sah Sarakaryavahs, among the top echelon of RSS, said: “This is incorrect. Sangh is different from the party. We have nothing to do with them. The party will decide if they are unhappy with the functioning, we have nothing to say.”
Buzz: Dissatisfaction
There may not be official word on the dissatisfaction from RSS, which is expected. But the buzz is doing the rounds since the Samanvaya Baithak (a very critical coordination meet) in 2017. It is believed that the RSS at length discussed the feedbacks on the working of the government.
During the meet, the RSS warned the government about the negative opinion building up among the people. The RSS pointed out to the top leadership, which was present at the meeting, that the common man is in distress over economic policies. The BJP bosses have also been told that the heightened expectations of the common man have not been met.

“See, people will never admit that something like this was discussed in the Samanvaya Baithak. But those who were there are aware that all the issues that are plaguing the government had been raised and discussed,” said an RSS leader on condition of anonymity. Samanvaya Baithaks are annual meetings of all top RSS and BJP leaders. The meetings are meant to discuss strategies and devise plans for the future. In the last Samanvaya meeting, the top leadership were briefed and alerted about the upcoming 2019 elections.
The RSS leadership keeps talking to various frontal organisations and keeps an eye on the feedback on the governance and party functioning. Uncomfortable questions, failures and criticism are usually discussed in the Samanvaya meetings.
“The dissection of issues is a part of the Samanvaya Baithaks. So there were uncomfortable questions. They (grassroots organisations) pointed out that despite Vajpayee’s popularity, BJP lost the elections in 2004, and so one should not be complacent about the popularity of Narendra Modi. That is just one factor or part of the whole process, the entire process of winning elections cannot be defined by that”, said Yojna Gusian, covering Sangh over a decade now for The Asian Age, while speaking to the Parliamentarian.
Uneasy Feedbacks
Frontal organisations have been preparing the ground report for quite some time. The uneasy feedbacks show how the government’s failed economic policies have created dissatisfaction among voters. Dissenting views and general feedback about the party and policies have always been gathered through the grassroots-level RSS functionaries, and even from well-known sympathisers.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh’s (BMS) constant call for nationwide agitation against the Modi government’s reforms last year, which it says have led to “extreme exploitation and harassment” of the labour sector and led to increasing unemployment in the country, had raised eyebrows. So, the speculation about the dissatisfaction grows among the political fraternity. CK Saji Narayanan, National President, BMS, one of the largest trade unions in the country, says: “We were absolutely unhappy and that has led to several protests last year. However, now the situation is different. There is an assurance that there will be consultation with the trade unions before introducing any reforms in labour laws. There are many issues that we were agitating for, which have been addressed. The only issue left unattended is ‘fixed-term-employment’. We are working towards it.”
FTE Thorn
The BMS has planned several programmes regarding ‘fixed-term employment’, demanding scrapping of the system. BMS earlier decided to stage protests in all the districts demanding scrapping of fixed-term employment, which the organisation thought was destroying the labour sector. “Currently, 67 per cent of the organised sector workers belong to this category. The trend of contract labour has increased with the elimination of permanent posts in private and public entities as well as government departments,” Narayanan added.
He stressed the fact that ‘contract labour system’ in every sector has taken away the scope of permanent employment. It is just benefitting the public sector and leaving the labour high and dry. “We have a string of events planned on fixed-term employment. We believe that this is an important issue to be considered by the government. A large section of the working class belongs to this category and they are vulnerable. Everyone looks for security and this is basic.”

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government had first allowed hiring fixed-term workers in 2003. This was scrapped by the Congress-led UPA in 2007 following intense protests by trade unions.
After coming to power, the Modi government in April 2015 again mooted the concept by issuing draft rules for amending the Industrial Establishment (Standing Order). But the move was deferred following opposition from trade unions.

Extending All Across
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech this year announced extending the facility of fixed-term employment, applicable so far only in the apparel manufacturing sector, to all sectors.
Under the rules, a “fixed-term employment” workman is one who has been engaged on a written contract of employment for a fixed period. The new rules, which provide that a temporary workman can be terminated without being given any notice has been widely condemned by all trade unions and they have been demanding its rollback. The BMS has been loudly deriding the government’s labour and economic policies and stridently opposing many of the labour reforms, which it says has led to continuous unrest in the labour class.
Narayan sited the examples of Maruti Udyog at Manesar, Hyundai and Honda industries. He said that there were intense labour unrests. Highlighting the plight of contract labour, the BMS said these workers were denied any social security, pension, medical benefits, gratuity and leave. “Social security and wage code are two issues still to be considered. I hope that will be addressed.”

labour Unrest
RSS backed frontal organisation Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh’s (BMS)constant call for nationwide agitation against the Modi government’s reforms that it says have led to “extreme exploitation and harassment” of the labour sector and led to increasing unemployment in the country last year raises eyebrows. So, the speculation about the dissatisfaction grows among the political fraternity.
Outsized Namo
Meanwhile, it is also rumoured that there is serious concern about the rising status of Narendra Modi. It is believed that the RSS cadres have been told not to chant NaMo slogan to project Modi as PM candidate.
Speaking about all the differences former ABVP president of Jawaharlal Nehru University and an RSS follower Sandeep Mahapatra said: “The media speaks from the information they have. I am not saying that they have false information but that could not be claimed hundred per cent truth. RSS has always shared inputs. And we have a way to function and that is there till date. There is nothing wrong in sharing information. Also, it should not be viewed as differences. Party functions as they would want to, and RSS works in its own way to contribute positively towards the growth of the party and members”.
Within RSS, Modi has not enjoyed very cordial relationship with Sanjay Joshi former RSS pracharak in Gujarat and Praveen Togadia, formerly of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Modi may have forced Joshi to resign, but the Sangh is fighting hard for its own larger-than-life image.

Big Boss Is Here To Dictate

Under Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS has started asserting that it will not just write the script, but also direct, and even chose who the actors will be, upstaging the upstart duo: Modi-Shah

Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv Visvanathan

Shiv Visvanathan is an academic best known for his contributions to developing the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). He is currently Professor at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat

The BJP narratives now sound like a long drawn out novel, predictable in its ¬plot and the stereotypical nature of its characters. At the individual level, the novel found in Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, two individuals who become central to the story. One was once an oppressor who could play party boss; the other was a shakha pracharak who could think of India as a mosaic of shakhas. Between two sets of petty tyranny, BJP’s idea of electoralism found the model for majoritarian dominance. The BJP’s juggernaut is in place by chapter four. The North East has been captured and the South is open. By this time, the reader tires of the obsession with the BJP and looks for subplots and side characters with cameo possibilities.

He will be disappointed because the opposition has failed. The Left as an imagination was too diffused or too Stalinist to be relevant. When it aligned with the Congress, it seemed lost. One did not know whether it was Rotarian or Leninist. Liberalism was too weak, too individualised to have a sense of institution building. A centrist consensus was no longer available, as the BJP appropriated the very discourse of democracy. By playing up the adolescent nature of Rahul Gandhi, the media made Modi appear a potential giant, masculine, managerial and decisive.
No Centrist Consensus
The opposition, if it existed, belonged to regional groups who were too parochial to think of the nation. Whether it was Stalin, Naidu, Chandrashekhar Rao or Mamata, they preferred to play to regional audiences.
The prospect of a centrist consensus swinging neither to right nor to left eluded the Indian imagination. It did not work even as a patchwork of coalitions. The electorate believed that only a pendulum swing from left to right would restore harmony to history. As a result, 2019 seems inevitable, a fait accompli with little excitement and politics was at an impasse. Media made Modi-Shah and company seem almost glacier-like in their inevitability. Journalists and social scientists sense disquiet on the ground, a sense of unease but doubt and critique had little place in the media.

The attention now shifts to the conglomerate called the BJP, to a sense of its internal dynamics.
When the BJP first emerged victorious in 2014, the party found its double, its vertebra in the RSS. Everyone felt that it was the RSS working at the grassroots level that created the possibility of electoral victory. No nukkad was too small for the RSS. It focused on the lower levels of the bureaucracy, working away like a termite through the interstices of the middle-class mind.
BJP-RSS Dichotomy
The BJP’s ambition was to stay in power. The RSS ambition was to use power to change India in its own image. The strength and weakness of the RSS centered around the image of its self. As a shakha, it ran splendidly. The RSS, in fact, was brilliant at disaster management. It made Communist Party cells look weak, even dubious. Such was the hold of its ideology.
The RSS could put a Kumbh Mela of campaigners on the ground. Superbly indoctrinated, they were at home at the ground level.
While efficient as organisations, both BJP and the RSS suffered from historical envy. As deeply nationalist parties, they discovered they were not part of the national movement. The RSS-BJP duo felt like Rip Van Winkles who had arrived too late in history. They were brilliant in domesticating India, but oddly, they were never at peace with the image of themselves.
It was their image of themselves that was to prove problematic, along with the sense of hierarchy. The RSS felt it was the nursery from which the seedling called the BJP emerged. It claimed a tacit sense of policy and ideological priority. Delhi might seem the centre of the party, but Nagpur was the source of origin of ideas, ideologies and the codes which determined politics.
As an argument for the sixties, it was adequate, but the RSS did not realise that time was crippling them. Nagpur felt like an old age home rather than a safe retreat. The RSS ideology, like its (now abandoned) Khaki shorts, seemed medieval before the modernising thrust of Shah and Modi. The RSS spouted a Victorian dialect. It appeared a period piece. Its leaders like Mohan Bhagwat were revered but seemed outside the mainstream to the new generation. Shah and Modi were more muscular, more immediate, the RSS tended to move from backstage to backdrop. Nagpur seemed to lose out to Delhi as a Centre both for power and ideas. Modi and Shah conveyed a sense of here and now.
Beating the Retreat
The RSS leadership often found themselves as critics and spectators in the show. Suddenly the political tension was no longer with the opposition which was passive. The jugalbandi between RSS-BJP had lost its rhythm. Once the taken for granted rhythm, the much-advertised discipline, the ideological blending breaks, Bhagwat looked like a symphony conductor waving a wand which had lost its magic. His musicians had found a new beat in the Modi-Shah show. It had immediacy, it was topical, the media loved it. Suddenly BJP-RSS politics looked like a long lasting serial that had taken a new turn. It was almost as if an all-powerful mother-in-law had lost out to a new generation. It is only within such a background that recent reports of rites and alignments make sense. Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speeches have to be read in this context. What Bhagwat indicated was that the RSS was not just a huge organisational network or even an ideological frame. He wanted to show that RSS shaped the India out of which BJP emerged. Bhagwat in his speeches wanted to show that RSS was the prime force.
Saffron Glasnost
He decided to announce a Glasnost of ideas to proclaim RSS was as dynamic as the BJP. This surge of speeches has to be read both for their understanding of ideology and power. At one level, the RSS is responding to the cockiness of Shah. At a deeper level, it is showing that new rules of the game are emerging and that BJP-RSS, instead of celebrating the present, must plan for the changes of emerging India.
The combination of knee-jerk responses and the vision of a long run, revealed a psychodrama that was fascinating to watch. In this essay we will consider two sets of presentations; the first the outreach speech by Bhagwat to the nation and second his performance at the International Hindu Congress.
At Bhagwat move like a tactic in a chess game itself has drama. The ideologues of RSS rarely step into the limelight. Their pearls of wisdom are ritualistic and occasional. The gurus of RSS always worked indirectly. They corrected course, checked deviance. This time they stepped into the limelight to say they not only write the script but that they direct the play and determine who the actors are or can be. One has to look at the text, context and the nature of performance.
Bhagwat is saying the RSS can speak directly to the nation, set the trend and then step back to watch their scenario. But there are differences here. It is like Nestor or Bhishma playing Hector or Yudhisthir. It is an attempt to redefine the world the RSS shaped.
Discarding Modi
The RSS is creating a new definition of itself. It is a unique creation, and Bhagwat as head of the biggest NGO in the world is now both civil society and regime. His speech is also a reflection of his vision of a changing India and RSS’s changing role in it. Suddenly a petty power struggle fades, and what one sees is a more imperious notion of power. It is a prelude, a ritual cleansing and a ritual distancing from old habits. Bhagwat dissociates himself from Modi’s personal dream of a Congress-Mukt Bharat. Modi’s hangover about the Congress seems as irrelevant as the RSS’s Khaki shorts.
Bhagwat wants a new vision of unity which goes beyond the identity of Golwalkar era. M S Golwalkar believed in a secondary citizenship for minorities and offered them at best a second-rate sense of citizenship. RSS is not admitting fallibility but is coming close to saying that by admitting a need for modernisation. This goes beyond the faintest dreams of Modi and Shah.
It is a Glasnost movement and one wonders whether RSS is ready for it. One wonders whether RSS would cry Glasnost and then return like Russia to the days of Putin. Bhagwat, like Boris Yeltsin, would be a forgotten figure or is a miracle happening which is difficult to believe that the organisation is moving into the age of transparency.
Modi must be kicking himself for not thinking of such ideas and Amit Shah sounds like a head of a dreary tutorial college. Bhagwat has stuck his neck out. The question is having announced the possibility will he move to denial and play the ostrich? As a vote gathering strategy, going beyond the Hindutva catchment area, the idea has immense possibilities.

There is a pragmatic side to the RSS. After all, it did this when it helped Jayaprakash Narayan oust Indira Gandhi. Is it now planning to oust its old self, and Modi and Shah along with it as a side benefit? Sadly, 2019 might be too early to tell the everyday implications of a society where Muslims are no longer forced to sing Vande Mataram or Akhlaq and Shopian murders look improbable has a touch of utopia to it.
Changing Mentor
Bhagwat has been a gentle mentor to the BJP. People, in fact, think he is too soft. Maybe the alchemy of these new ideas will change both the imagination and the power dynamics which recognises India’s diversity and the dreams of constitutionalism.
Pragmatically, one senses a possibility and a cynical joke on the nation.
Bhagwat’s outreach speech had as its dramatic counterpart his speech to the International Hindu Congress. The Congress was convened to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, where Vivekananda created history. Bhagwat’s speech is more dog-eared. One senses he is not quite a Vivekananda, and his attempt to match that role looks pretty futile. Sadly, he gets texts wrong. He becomes defensive about Hinduism, while Vivekananda makes Hinduism sound like a philosophical invitation, an awakening for all humanity.
Hindutva seems defensive before Vivekananda Hinduism. The parochialism of Hindutva becomes apologetic before the Hinduism of Vivekananda’s imagination. The BJP has a chance to redeem itself if it withdraws its stand on Babri Masjid. Then, what Bhagwat said at the two sites acquires new authenticity. India becomes a civilization of Hinduism and Islam. One cannot see such an electoral plank for 2019.
But the doubt has been planted and suddenly Shah and Modi look like petty peddlers of politics before Bhagwat. As an act of philosophical one-upmanship, the two speeches upstaged anything Modi and Shah could produce. The tragedy is tha they may become parallel worlds to each other. An ethical opportunity will then be lost.

Philosophy and Politics
The essay so far talks about Bhagwat’s speech. Philosophical power cannot do much without petty politics. The downside of Bhagwat’s trip was that Nitin Gadkari was not allowed to accompany him. The presence of the twosome was upsetting, and the Modi government cancelled his visit.
Beyond philosophy, there is the making of the political battle. Gadkari is seen as RSS’ ideal choice to replace Modi. The battles that have preceded have been many. There is a sense that if politics is to be changed, Modi has to be replaced by Gadkari. Yet, Modi is shrewd enough to realise this. He has waged a quiet battle to upstage this move and make RSS buy peace, remain the consultant to the politician in power.
There is a gossip of unease here and rumour shows that the tension between RSS and BJP might be the real dynamic of the 2019 election. India’s politics has a way of picking unthinkable ambushes.

Jet Airways Caught In Financial Turbulence

Once bitten, twice shy; the Indian banks that already have an exposure to Jet, have developed cold feet, having suffered severe setbacks after heavily lending to failed Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines

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

Is Jet Airways, India’s premier private airlines, wobbling midair, looking desperately for an urgent fuel (cash) injection? Reports trickling out of a thick veil of corporate cloud reveal a grim tale that could very much trigger apparition of now bust Kingfisher Airlines. On the one hand, Jet Airways has sought a moratorium on loans from the banking consortium, it has even asked for fresh funds on the other, to urgently tide over a cash crunch, people familiar with the inside developments say.
The urgency for a cash infusion is fraught with trouble because, already, the airline has grounded a dozen aircraft as part of a thorough review of its existing network; the measure is obviously aimed at reducing unprofitable domestic routes. The Mumbai-headquartered carrier, part-owned by Etihad Airways PJSC, is understood to have undertaken an exercise to identify and lay off people from non-core areas to prevent itself from sliding deeper into trouble.
Once bitten, twice shy; the Indian banks that already have an exposure to Jet, have developed cold feet, having suffered severe setbacks after heavily lending to failed Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines. The banks have become extremely cautious now as the country’s first and the biggest full-service carrier has reported no profit for nine out of its past eleven years of service.
Secondly, the depreciating value of Indian Rupee coupled with a diehard competition from the domestic budget carriers have put the Naresh Goyal-led Jet Airways on a warpath, where it has to raise fund at any cost, for survival. The Rupee has been extremely volatile and the Reserve Bank of India has already issued strong guidelines to the major banks on trimming their NPA (non performing asset) levels. Plus, a general election is close on the horizon, putting tremendous pressure on banks to either perform or perish. The lenders, loathe to inject cash, have asked for a detail action plan from the airlines board for a turnaround even as the shares of the airlines tanked 75 per cent this year, shrinking the market value of the company to around Rs 2,384 crore.
Shares of Jet Airways fell as much as 2.3 per cent. They have tumbled about two-thirds this year, headed for their biggest decline since 2011, and are trading at their lowest level since June 2015. The airline has been making desperate moves to bolster its finances after reporting a loss in the year ended March 31, 2018. Jet’s struggle for survival stems from the introduction of two-cent fares where the rising price of jet fuel is perfectly negating the gains despite a surge in number of domestic passengers. Rising jet fuel prices have eroded cash and inflated its total debt to 55.4 times of its earnings before interest and tax as of March.
According to a statement issued by the carrier in August last, the audit committee did not recommend financial results for the board’s approval, “pending closure of certain matters.” The National Stock Exchange of India sought clarification from the company on why the results had been delayed and advised Jet Airways to disclose the fresh date for its earnings.
State Bank of India, HSBC Holdings Plc and Axis Bank Ltd. are among the lenders to the Mumbai-based carrier, which owes a total about Rs 9,400 crores ($1.4 billion). It had cash and equivalents of Rs 320 crores at the end of March this year. Querries seeking details of loan exposures in HSBC, SBI and Axis Bank have so far elicited little response on the plea from lenders that client-sensitive issues are not disclosed. Jet Airways has Rs 3,120 crore worth of loan repayments due in the year through March 2019, ICRA Ltd. said in May last.

The local unit of Moody’s Investors Service also lowered the airline’s rating a notch to BB+ with a negative outlook, a score that signals moderate risk of default regarding timely servicing of obligations. Moddy’s had cited Jet’s inability to pass on increasing fuel costs to its consumers in view of cut-throat competition.
According to aviation insiders, the Jet Airways board unveiled some sketchy details of a turnaround plan sometime in August after the banks have begun prodding it with proposals to sell shares. The bankers prefer that the company raises money from a share sale before they could commit to any fresh credit.
“The board approved turnaround strategy is under implementation. The strategy encompasses various cost-reduction and revenue enhancement initiatives including working on restructuring of our balance sheet via debt-reduction, streamlining cash flows, payroll optimization, exploring funding options such as capital infusion, monetization of company’s stake in its loyalty program, and several other measures, to realize higher productivity and operational efficiencies,” Jet Airways said in a statement. That the carrier is continuously evaluating commercial viability of its operations, is obvious from its statement. Following this, shares of the company jumped as much as 4 percent on the stock market in Mumbai in October based on optimism that any successful arrangement with bankers could help the carrier get its finances back in order. But it was just a flicker and Jet stocks have continued to tumble in the stock market.
Incidentally, Jet Airways has the highest portion of short-term debt to total debt, compared to its Asian peers, at 46 per cent. The carrier was one of the first to take off in the early 1990s after India opened up aviation to non-state carriers.
Among other proposed measures it had announced were the sale of the carrier’s stake in its frequent-flier programme, capital infusion, paring of debt and trimming costs by as much as Rs 2,000 crores ($271 million) over the next two years. While Blackstone Group LP and TPG Capital were reportedly in talks for an undisclosed stake in the loyalty program, JetPrivilege, the carrier is yet to make any announcement or provide any indication which confirms that it is anywhere close to a deal.
Jet Airways owns 49.9 percent of JetPrivilege, with the rest held by Etihad Airways PJSC, which separately owns 24 percent of the Indian carrier.
Cash and equivalents at Jet Airways crashed to Rs 320 crores as of March, from as high as Rs 2,080 crores three years earlier. Net debt was at Rs 7,360 crores as of June 30, 2018, 65 per cent of which would require to be denominated in dollars, Chief Financial Officer Amit Agarwal said in August. The rupee’s 13 per cent slide against dollar is making matters worse by threatening to drive up plane financing costs, signalling the urgency to raise capital and tide over any squeeze.
According to SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar, Jet Airways is among the companies which together owe Rs 24,600 crore in debt and might be finding it tough to repay. But he declined to reveal further details citing client confidentiality agreement. The SBI chairman’s disclosure promptly triggered a reaction from Jet Airways which claimed that there had been no delay in meeting any of its loan obligations and no loan amount was overdue.

Globally, the picture is not quite encouraging either. A sharp spike in crude oil prices leading to a rise in jet fuel costs, have hurt other carriers in the region as well. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., which is in the midst of a three-year overhauling program, reported a surprise loss for the first half of the year, while Singapore Airlines Ltd. said profit dropped 59 percent in the quarter to June.
While rising fuel costs are pushing some airlines like JetBlue to look for cheaper and potentially more environmentally friendly fuel options, Wall Street analysts have said higher fuel costs could actually be a benefit for airlines.
“There has been a level of debate amongst investors around the implications of higher oil on Airline shares, and in our opinion, higher is a good thing,” analyst Rajeev Lalwani of Morgan Stanley observed earlier this year when oil prices began to increase. “This is because it instills: 1) Pricing and capacity discipline; 2) Financial constraints on costs and capex; and 3) Margin and multiple expansion.” For every 10 dollar hike per barrel, airline margins can contract 1-2 percentage points, according to an estimate by the bank. Because fares tend to move in step with fuel prices, airlines will have reason to raise fares again and recapture the 5-10 points of lost pricing from recent years.
India, which is one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets, is also one of the toughest to operate in; because, carriers are being compelled to sell tickets below cost to attract a fast-growing middle class. Kingfisher Airlines, started by Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya in 2005, was one of the nation’s leading carriers until it folded its operations in 2012 amidst mounting debt. Air India Ltd. is surviving though on repeated bailouts of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money by successive governments in New Delhi.

Indian Railways: Moolah Derail

There is a popular perception that the merger of the Rail Budget with the Union Budget since last fiscal has led to worsening of its finances, since the oversight due to an independent budget has lessened

Sindhu Bhattacharya
Sindhu Bhattacharya

As passengers continue to choose other modes of transport over the Indian Railways and haulage of most commodities except coal decline or remain flat, the state of India’s largest transporter and its finances continue to be precarious. The IR has been falling short of its own revenue targets for many years now as it spends nearly all that it earns and continues to depend on extra-budgetary resources to meet its financing requirements. In the second year after the Rail Budget was merged with the Union Budget, rising expenses and not enough increase in revenues continues to define the IR. The operating ratio – which measures how much of a rupee is spent to earn that rupee – has crossed the 100 per cent mark some moths back and is expected to be the highest ever by the end of the fiscal.
So IR’s finances continue to cause worry. Between April 1 and October 20 this fiscal, the only bright spots were passengers who travel on reserved tickets and increased loading of coal – both these factors helped the IR increase total gross earnings by almost 9 per cent year-on-year. In this 203-day period of 2018-19, gross earnings jumped by almost Rs 39 crore each day, on an average.
But a closer look at the traffic patterns and earnings shows why there is a lot to worry despite the increased earnings. First, the increase still did not fulfill the earnings’ target the IR had set itself at the beginning of 2018-19. In the first six months of the fiscal (April 1 to September 30), gross earnings fell short by almost Rs 24 crore daily, on an average. The IR has not provided the difference between the target and the gross earnings for the first 20 days of October. And the daily shortfall of Rs 24 crore is correct if we take the IR’s gross earnings while also including coal haulage due to NTPC. But if the NTPC haulage is excluded, the gap between actual gross earnings and the target widens considerably, by almost Rs 47 crore daily.
Here’s the other worrying bit. Although there was surge in total number of passengers travelling by trains between April 1 and October 20, by almost 9 crore, this was almost entirely due to an increase in suburban passengers and those who travel on a reserved ticket. The unreserved, non-suburban segment – which accounts for the largest share of train travelers – declined year-on-year.
The IR has been falling short of its earnings target for some years, year-on-year, as it witnessed an exodus of passengers to other modes of transport and lost its considerable share in the country’s freight market due to skewed tariff policies in the past. This skew was corrected to some extent in the last two years with a host of incentives being offered to freight customers, which is why haulage and earnings from freight are showing an upswing. But this improvement has obviously not been able to bring the IR anywhere near its annual earnings target. Besides, even though there has been an increase in passengers in some categories of travel, the overall passenger earnings continue to show moderate growth and this too is largely on account of reserved category of passengers. Remember, almost 66 paise of every rupee earned by the IR comes from freight and is used to subsidise passengers, where the national transporter continues to bear a loss on each seat. So not only is the IR unable to harness its massive potential to haul freight (outside of coal), it has been losing money on each passenger it transports. How will it then be able to meet any annual revenue generation target?
There is a popular perception that the merger of the Rail Budget with the Union Budget since last fiscal has led to worsening of its finances, since the oversight due to an independent budget has lessened. Remember, now that the IR no separate Budget, it is exempt from paying dividends to the government, which could be to the tune of Rs 9000 crore. The very purpose of being free of dividend liabilities is being defeated, however, since the IR continues to cross subsidise passengers through freight earnings.
A look back at the 2016-17 Rail Budget shows why being merged with the Union Budget may not have changed the IR’s fortunes either way. The shortfall between the revised estimates of total receipts in 2016-17 and actual total receipts was a staggering Rs 6,922.52 crore. That means a shortfall of almost Rs 19 crore each day of the fiscal, in an year when the IR presented its independent Budget. In the next fiscal, when the merger of the budget happened, the target for total receipts was increased by a little over Rs 24,000 crore to Rs 189,498.37 crore. But in the revised estimates for 2017-18, this was brought down to Rs 187,425 crore, or by a little over Rs 2,000 crore. What is the actual total receipt figure is yet to be known.
So despite falling massively short of targeted receipts for at least two years in a row, the IR again set itself an ambitious target of Rs 20,1090 crore gross receipts for the current fiscal. It is anyone’s guess whether this over optimism will be realised.
It is obvious that there is a crying need to raise passenger fares for the IR’s overall finances to improve. Besides, the need to eliminate cross subsidization of passenger fares through freight earnings has also been highlighted by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways, chaired by TMC’s Sudip Bandopadhyay, which tabled its report in March last year. Some subsequent Parliamentary panel reports have also exhorted the IR to raise passenger fares, but all such exhortations have fallen on deaf ears. If anything, passenger fares are being rationalised. Take for example the flexi fare scheme, which was started in 2016 on a minuscule number of premium trains. This fare policy earned the IR incremental revenue as seats filled up – it was demand based. But persistent criticism and teh perception that occupancy on certain routes was getting affected since passengers were falling off the IR map due to steep fares, led to the IR scrapping/diluting this policy.
Anyway, in an election year, there is little chance of the government approving any move to raise fares. So consequently any chance of a dramatic improvement in the finances of the IR remains remote. Here’s another institutional exhortation to raise fares: The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) said in its audit report for FY16 that “Ministry of Railways needs to revisit the passenger and other coaching tariffs so as to recover the cost of operations in phased manner and reduce losses in core activities. Operational losses on running suburban train services and on account of facility of free/concessional/complimentary passed to various classes of passengers need to be curtailed.” The CAG found that the IR earned a profit of Rs 38, 312.59 crore from freight services in FY16 and used 88.28 per cent of the profit from freight traffic to underwrite the loss on passenger services and addition of coaches. This practice has continued since.
Meanwhile, the Standing committee had noted that for 2016-17 the extent of cross subsidization was thus: The cost of transporting freight only 99 paise per 10 km but the charges the IR levied were Rs 1.60 per 10 km. On the passenger side, charges were 50 per cent of the cost of service – 36 paise per 10 km against the actual cost of 70 paise per 10 km.
According to IR’s own data, the transporter earned Rs 2,541.21 crore (Rs 2,511.82 crore) from passengers between April and October 20 this year, a growth of 1.17 per cent. And from freight, gross earnings were higher by 10.42 per cent to Rs 65,139.73 crore (Rs 58,994.34 crore). It is interesting to see that almost the entire earnings boost in the freight segment could be coming in from coal, as haulage and therefore earnings from almost all other commodities are either flat or declining during the first half of this fiscal. Coal accounts for nearly half the total freight basket of IR and it earned incremental revenue of over Rs 5000 crore between April and September this year vis-a-vis the same six-month period of 2017-18. Iron ore declined, cement was flat.
As for the passengers, the IR suffered a significant loss in passenger numbers during the first quarter (April-June) as it undertook massive maintenance works – which had been pending from earlier years and were seen causing more deadly accidents if left unattended. This had led to significant train delays as sections of the network remained closed to traffic for many hours at a stretch. At one point, almost three in four passenger mail/express trains were facing a delay. This situation has improved dramatically now, with the network reporting at least 70 per cent trains on time and this, in turn, has boosted passenger numbers on the second quarter. But despite trains adhering to better timings, there has been no dramatic surge in either the passenger numbers or earnings.
So it is clear from the earnings so far that IR’s finances for 2018-19 may need a further boost. The total earnings target in the Budget for this fiscal is a little over Rs 2 lakh crore which means IR will have to generate an incremental revenue of almost Rs 22,000 crore by the end of this fiscal. It is eyeing about Rs 10,000 crore additional earnings from freight but that still leaves a gap of Rs 12,000 crore in the earnings target. Stats:

Total passengers booked (million)

April 1 and October 20, 2018: 4696.95

April 1 and October 20, 2017: 4608.70

Total freight loaded (in million tonnes)

April 1 to October 20, 2018: 650.73 million tonnes

April 1 to October 20, 2017: 616.55 million tonnes

Gross passenger earnings (Rs crore)

April 1 and October 20, 2018: Rs 2,541.21 crore

April 1 and October 20, 2017: Rs 2,511.82 crore

Gross freight earnings (Rs crore)

April 1 to October 20, 2018: Rs 65,139.73 crore

April 1 to October 20, 2017: Rs 58,994.34 crore

Total gross earnings (includes passenger, freight, sundry and other coaching in Rs cr)

April 1 to October 20, 2018: Rs 97,816.98 crore

April 1 to October 20, 2017: Rs 89,917.65 crore

The Middle Men

The media complains of ‘curtailing freedom of press,’ but it has also done itself in by indulging in power broking and profiteering, as the two worst examples of recent times show

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 news came as a bolt from the blue. Director (News) of one of the leading Hindi News television channels, Hemant Sharma, resigned in August first week. Sharma was a very high profile journalist, whose daughter’s wedding a couple of months earlier was attended by who’s who of the country from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely, BJP president Amit Shah, a spectrum of opposition leaders to a bevy of jurists, bureaucrats and law enforcement officers besides, of course, fellow journalists.
The celebrations had continued for over a fortnight, with friends like India TV promoter Rajat Sharma and Director, Aster Group of Educational Institutions, VK Sharma, throwing parties at five star hotels. A day after Sharma resigned came the news that CBI had arrested four persons on charges of ‘trying to influence government recognition to medical colleges by bribing unnamed people’.
Among the four arrested was VK Sharma, and the arrests had been made from his residence itself. The arrested confessed to the CBI that the money was to be sent to unnamed government officials through a senior journalist. While media circles were speculating on the identity of the journalist, Rajat Sharma dropped a bomb by claiming that Hemant Sharma had been asked to resign because “I have zero tolerance towards allegations of corruption.” The fog had been cleared and the dots had been joined.
Though the name of Hemant Sharma was not mentioned in the FIR, his name figured in the questioning of the accused persons. That is why India TV asked him to make an honourable exit for the sake of the channel, with which he had been associated for a long time, Rajat Sharma told the media.

Comet Cometh
Hemant’s ascent had been spectacular especially during past four-five years. His proximity to Amit Shah was an open secret. He claims that he not only influenced Modi to contest for Lok Sabha from Varanasi Sharma’s hometown but swung BJP tickets for at least a dozen persons in Uttar Pradesh.
He was reportedly instrumental in the appointment of a retired bureaucrat, Nripendra Mishra, as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister one of the most powerful posts in the country, along with those of the National Security Advisor and Cabinet Secretary.
His story exemplifies how media persons use their access to the corridors of power in gaining proximity and swinging deals. Politicians want to be showcased positively in the media. A favourable media avoids their warts and presents them as clean as the Ganga. The politicians use their power and influence to pay back the ‘favourable media’ through favours, subsidised accommodations, government posts, advertisements or other such means. There are a large number of journalists staying in subsidised government accommodations for 25 to 30 years, even long after their retirement.
The mutual coexistence of these journalists and the politicos also explains how some scribes survive after being rendered unemployed for whatever reason. Politicians and bureaucrats too want trusted conduits, and having known journalists over the years, use them as middlemen mostly in transfers, postings, awards of contracts and distribution of tickets.
The practice often starts at the grassroots district or block level where politicians and bureaucrats start their careers, and journalists too work part-time, doubling up often as advocates or teachers. They swing deals for people with money, often taking a cut. The magnitude grows with the rise of the journalist to bag bigger deals at state headquarters; and mega-deals in metropolises. With their modest salaries, those wanting to push their ways up the socio-political ladder often take recourse to dangerous shortcuts. No wonder, it is said that Delhi has more power brokers than in the rest of the country put together.
A journalist was once offered a fortune by an upcoming businessman for arranging a meeting with a Union Minister. Cutting an assured deal with a Minister or Secretary obviously gets the journalist an assured commission as well. No wonder names of some journalists have been cropping up from time to time in various mega deals, especially in petroleum, construction and defence sectors. Couple of them have also been named and detained by law enforcement agencies.
There are many journalists who own swanky farmhouses, luxury cars and a lifestyle far bigger than their salary would allow. But, like tainted bureaucrats and politicians, tainted journalists also manage to avoid the long arm of the law, precisely because of this unholy nexus with the politicians.
Jindal & Zee
Two incidents in particular highlighted how journalists work, network and then use their ‘contacts’ for personal gains. One was the ‘Nira Radia Tapes’ case, and the second one was allegations of blackmailing Jindal Steel owner and Member of Parliament Navin Jindal.
“Jindal plays CD, claims Zee editors demanded Rs 100 crore” was the boldly displayed four-column headline at the top right hand of the first page of The Hindu of October 20, 2012. The amount was said to have been demanded by Zee TV editors Sudhir Chaudhury and Sameer Ahluwalia in the form of advertisements worth Rs 25 crores per year for four years for not airing incriminating stories of involvement in coal block allocations of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. (JSPL).
Zee denied the allegation, counter-charging JSPL with attempting to muzzle it first with a bribe of Rs 25 crore to one of its editors, and, when that failed, coming up with the advertising deal on its own to stop the TV coverage of JSPL’s role in the ‘coalgate’ scam. JSPL purported to show the Zee editors pointing out in the course of negotiating the deal that it was not unusual for media outlets to strike similar deals.
India, during the days of the freedom movement and the early years of Independence, the field of journalism, in general, and the media, in particular, comprised editors and publishers who were nearly equal in stature and professional and personal integrity to the heroes of the freedom struggle. Some of freedom struggle heroes were themselves editors of newspapers as well. There was mutual respect between them. The tale of National Herald editor M Chalapathi Rao often standing up to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also chief trustee of Associate Journal Limited owning the newspaper is a legend young journalists used to be fed almost compulsorily.
But, there has been a precipitous fall in the quality and calibre of both individuals and institutions in all spheres of activity. It is unrealistic to expect in this situation that the media will be an exception and somehow will live up to the exalted standards that it stood for once.
There is, however, one factor which distinguishes the media from the other institutions even today. It appropriates for itself the lofty role of a conscience-keeper, custodian of norms, and guardian of the rights and entitlements of the citizenry, insisting on propriety and integrity in public life, upbraiding in harsh language those who do not shape up in these respects. It is only right for people to expect that such self-appointed mentors keeping a critical eye on the conduct of everybody else should themselves excel in their sense of accountability and trustworthiness and be exemplars to the other sections of society.
Unfortunately, the black sheep in India’s media are leading people to believe that its scruples and principles are inversely proportional to its pretensions and claims. Even a lay reader’s eye is often able to spot where its product — whether in the form of a newspaper, journal or TV programme — does not meet the strictest tests of accuracy, fairness and responsibility.
Radia Radar
The point about the Nira Radia tapes is not just that they provided stunning evidence of some iconic anchors and columnists being ready and willing to act as political power-brokers and go-betweens; they also laid bare the tendency of the black sheep to emulate the worst types of politicians in aggressively seeking to extricate themselves with specious pleas. In similar circumstances, if some others outside the media were involved, it would have bayed for their blood.
“The complete blackout of the Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country,” wrote G Sampath, then deputy editor of the Daily News & Analysis (DNA). The then telecom minister, A Raja sold mobile telephone licenses at incredibly cheap prices, costing the Indian government a whopping Rs 2,58,812 crore while pocketing huge commissions. As part of the investigation, Income Tax department tapped the phone of a corporate lobbyist Nira Radia whose clients were global business tycoons like the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani.
In October 2010, recording of the phone conversations was published by Open magazine. The transcript depicted India’s prominent journalists, Prabhu Chawla, Barkha Dutt, MK Venu, V Shankkar Aiyyar, Vir Sanghvi besides others, lobbying to get Raja the job of the telecom minister after the 2009 general elections.Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent journalist, believes that the notion of such a power was merely an apparition. He said, “Journalists suffer from what psychologists call, ‘Delusion of Grandeur’. They meet the rich, powerful and strong. Just because they meet influential people, they tend to think that they are as influential as them.”
The public-spirited elements in the media know who the black sheep among them are and what they are up to. They should remember that by not exposing and condemning the black sheep, they are only making willing accomplices and abettors of themselves.

The Chameleon’s Back

Like the rules of grammar change only marginally, but the language remains largely the same, corruption stays on, with new rules creating newer players

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”

Corruption, especially, in politics and governance comes in different hues. For example, some politicians make money for themselves, others for party funds. There are those, who only earn it for the party. Then they are the rare and rarified ones, those who are against corruption, but wield power and control everything through a system of patronage. In the past 70 years, the readers will recognise leaders who fit the various bills, though they may sometime seem like the proverbial round pegs in square holes. Although the patronage kind is similar in many ways to the benefaction of the kings and emperors, the new institutions have distinct flavours. Apart from being modern and strategic, the aims are to retain, perpetrate and expand the zones of power.
Although all kinds of corruption is black, the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key or Black) compositions are different. In that sense, there are as many contours of corruption as they are corrupt people.
There is another interesting facet about political corruption. This is true of every country, and not just India. Each time a leader arose, and came to power on the plank of anti-corruption, he or she never eliminated it. Such leaders merely, and deliberately, changed the rules of the corrupt game. They only ensured that the old system collapsed, and a new one was born, one that they controlled and managed. This is especially true of patronage.
Corruption Chameleon
Most critics and reformers wonder why corruption in India hasn’t come down. The same is asked in developed nations like the US, Britain, Italy and Japan. The reason is that corruption is like a chameleon, which is attached to the biggest supercomputer – the mind of a newly-corrupt person. The latter can manage it, twist it, and massage it. Corruption itself can undergo changes depending on the situation. It’s a politico-ecosystem that’s a changing constantly.
This is the reason why the scandals in the US are far larger than in India. In the latter, the figures were exaggerated in recent times by a new term, notional loss or purely theoretical loss, which had little connection to the actual loss and little relation to the present value of a future loss (10 years from now) that’s much lower because of inflation and other reasons. The developed countries merely ensure that petty corruption, like the payments to the public authorities by the households, are restricted, even eliminated.
As we all know, corruption has existed since the emergence of human beings and civilizations. The foundation of modern political corruption in India was laid down by Robert Clive. He also laid down the groundwork for the British Raj. He came to India, when he was 18, as a clerk in the East India Company. When he left, in 1767, he had amassed a wealth of Pounds 400,000. He was the master of the ‘Loot & Scoot’ scams, as he stole from the princes and kings.
Clive Model
Looting was common in wars, before and after Clive. His achievement was to institutionalize it; everyone got a share, which depended on the rank and military hierarchy. He introduced a system so that everyone involved could make money. Does this remind you of how money is shared from the top to bottom in the Indian political and bureaucratic system? For over 250 years, Indians have assiduously followed Clive’s model of corruption. In 2004, we got a hint of Clive’s wealth, when his descendants sold some of his looted items. There was a 17th century jewelled jade flask which sold for Pounds 2.9 million. According to media reports, “a flywhisk of blended agate and studded with rubies fetched Pounds 901,000; a unique dagger adorned with jewelled floral sprays was sold for Pounds 733,000. After active bidding, a ‘hookah’ with blue enamel and sapphires brought Pounds 94,000 and a pale green nephrite jade bowl went to a bidder for Pounds 53,000.”
After Clive returned to England, he gave a speech in the House of Commons in 1772. In it, he beautifully explained the patronage system. He said that it was a common practice for every inferior to approach a superior with presents. Every Englishman, whatever his status, was inundated with them. Parents sent their sons to India with examples of how so-and-so and so-and-so had amassed a fortune in the East. Youngsters, who left England at the age of 16, had a specific timeframe to make specific sums and return.
Corruption Coil
“At its height, the house of Fateh Chand Jagat Sheth acted as the (Bengal) nawab’s treasury and considering the geographic extent of the Nawab of Murshidabad’s influence, operated much like a central bank. It loaned money to zamindars, collected interest, dealt in bullion, had seignior age rights and minted coins for both the state as well as foreign traders, financed trade, exchanged money, controlled exchange rates, collected and retained two-thirds of the revenue from the Bengal-Bihar-Orissa province on behalf of the nawab, made remittances to the emperor, etc…. Because of the monopoly he enjoyed and the political influence he wielded, Fateh Chand was among the most illustrious, powerful and influential of the Jagat Sheths.”
However, once Mahatma Gandhi came back from South Africa, the interlinkages between political and business corruption strengthened. Over the years, a large section of the Indian businessmen supported the independence movement, largely due to the enlarged and enigmatic role of the Mahatma. The barons financed the various movements, and openly sided with the Congress’ economic policies. Although they were scared of the rise of Communism or Communist ideals, they had faith in Gandhi.
Parsis and Marwaris
The rise of the Indian wealthy was rooted in several factors such as crony-capitalism, speculation, illegal trade, and luck linked with pluck. The Parsis, who built Mumbai, made their fortunes in the illegal opium trade to China. Experts claim that this was because of the community’s “adaptability, willingness to travel the seas, and friendship with the British”. However, Amar Farooqui, the author of Opium City: The Making of Early Victorian Bombay, denies this.
According to him, “The Parsis succeeded because they operated from Bombay, where the East India Company had less control. In Calcutta, where it was omnipresent, Indian businessmen like Dwarkanath Tagore made investments in opium, but failed.” There was another advantage of operating from Bombay. The British controlled the opium trade, and ruled with an iron hand in the eastern part of India. They couldn’t do the same in the west, which allowed businessmen to simultaneously pursue illicit exports. In the early 1800s, the Parsis entered the textile business. This was fortuitous, and driven by business pressures. Suddenly, it became difficult for the Parsis to repatriate their profits from China. The system of British bills of exchange broke down. So, they were forced to invest their money in another business. As Farooqui put it, “The move into manufacturing wasn’t a natural progression….” As luck would have it, “The American Civil War of the 1860s saw demand for cotton zoom and those in the business made fortunes.”
The Marwaris, who were based in the east, were speculators. Their forte was commodities, bullion and metals. As they became traders, especially the masters of supply logistics, they understood the benefits of cornering markets, to make legal and largely illegal profits. Their skills were best witnessed in eras of shortages, like the two World Wars. Families like those of Dalmia, Jhunjhunwala and Birla controlled trading in silver, jute, linseed, opium and grain. They understood commodities, and money market. As a media article said, “Ramakrishna Dalmia and his maternal uncle Motilal Jhunjhunwala… formed a syndicate in early 1918 (World War I) that cornered silver worth well over a crore, which they stocked in Calcutta and Bombay. This bullion they supplied to the Government, whose silver rupee coin reserves had depleted to below 11% of its outstanding paper note issuance as against 58% at the outbreak of the war.” The Marwaris were experts in stock market speculation and manipulation, and they used similar cornering tactics.
Third Element
The speculative mania pervaded their operations, even when they became established entrepreneurs. As writer Harish Damodaran has argued, “The third element (of the Marwari mindset) was the extent to which (Ramakrishna) Dalmia’s business operations remained grounded in the bazaar. The ‘speculative’ phase did not end with putting up factories. Rather, the proclivity for playing the market – including diverting public issue proceeds from one company to finance the activities of others, or booking fictitious losses on share transactions between group entities – only rose with time.”
As we have witnessed politics was inextricably intertwined with business in this evolutionary era of modern corruption. Nothing exemplifies this better than the operations of the House of Jagat Sheth (Banker to the World). It reached its peak in the 18th century.
Money Talks
During the decades prior to 1947, the lines between business and politics blurred. No one dubbed it as corruption as it was aimed to gain Independence. But it sowed the seeds of post-Independence corruption and crony capitalism. These events led to the maturity of corruption. Even today, the planks of the today’s black economy date back to this period. It became normal for business and politics to talk to each other, sometime in a manner of give-and-take. It was okay for politicians and businessmen to cozy up to each other.
A look at the myriad of historical and economic literature on the subject merely hints at contradictory conclusions. “As far as the relationship with Congress is concerned, one view point is that the Congress was deeply influenced by Capitalists serving their interests and decisively influencing decisions of Congress…. The other view is that the Congress was not at all influenced by Capitalists because the programme of economic nationalism was beneficial to everyone.”
The next strategic shift in Indian corruption came in the late 1960s. According to a study, “In 1968, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi banned corporate donations for political parties. The ostensible reason for the ban was to prevent large business groups from exercising undue influence on politics. However, there has also been speculation that she may have introduced this measure partly because she feared that corporate interests would fund right-wing opposition parties. A particular target was the free market-oriented Swatantra Party….”
Indira Phase
Most experts glossed over the fact that Indira’s decision changed the rules of political corruption, especially in her own party. The Congress’ purse strings were in the hands of the ‘Syndicate’, which was close to the business class. Without access to the money, Indira would actually remain a ‘Goongi Gudiya’, as she was dubbed by the Congress’ moneybags and power center. Once, the legit money was gone, the only option was to collect it illegitimately.
Such a move enabled Indira to form her own business caucus; she encouraged new entrepreneurs with her policies and doles, who happily gave her the funding required to win the elections. As Nikhil Chakravarty wrote in Mainstream:
“During Indira Gandhi’s time Dhirubhai Ambani was known to be close to her establishment, and this was a long-standing affair. Even during her days of exile from power after her defeat in the 1977 general elections, Dhirubhai remained close to her in India, as was Swaraj Paul abroad. It is no secret that Ambani went out of his way to help Indira in her 1979-80 election campaign…. So when she returned to power in 1980, Dhirubhai Ambani was known to be conspicuous in Indira’s circle, and Pranab Mukherjee and (RK) Dhawan were known to be his friends in the establishment….”
Indira’s decisions to nationalise banks and insurance firms were aimed to inculcate transparency. They converted the cash-rich institutions into centers of political patronage. After the license and bureaucratic raj, the economic reforms of 1991 were aimed to achieve the same objectives. Instead, they led to the politico-business capture of the country’s natural resources. As more sectors, especially those that dealt with scarce resources, were opened for privatisation, new waves of corruption ensued.
Present Continuous
It culminated in the 2G, coal, and oil and gas scams. It led to a complete decline of a political party, although one cannot say it with certainty. It allowed a leader to come to power on an anti-corruption plank. Narendra Modi claimed that his policies such as demonetisation and GST (Goods and Services Tax) will root out corruption in several areas. As he said would be the case with new laws on benami transactions and real estate.
Don’t be surprised if corruption continues. However, rest assured that the rules of the corruption game will change dramatically.
Demonetisation has ensured two things. One that the political parties and their funders, which depended on cash to finance their election campaigns lost out, at least in the short run. This will inevitably give rise to a new set of corruptors – who will depend less on cash, and more on assets, or in different cash denominations.
The latter is clear with the introduction of the Rs 2,000 note. If corruption was the reason for the withdrawal of Rs 1,000, why introduce one with a higher denomination that makes it easier to store higher amounts of cash in lesser space? The former will imply that it will become more difficult to trace the black money. Assets are difficult to trace, and require sophisticated investigation skills. More important, they are technically difficult to prove in a court of law.
As we said earlier, the rules of the game will change, and it will allow new corrupt players to emerge.

Utmost Overlooked Cinema

The children’s genre has not clicked in Bollywood, the multiplexes do not want the flimsy content and funding is very scarceThe children’s genre has not clicked in Bollywood, the multiplexes do not want the flimsy content and funding is very scarce

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 journey of Insia, a 14-year-old girl from Baroda, whose dream of becoming a singer changes her life and the lives of everyone around her was a central theme of Secret Superstar. With this movie ‘Mr Perfectionist’ Aamir Khan tried to create the same magic which he did with Dangal but this time he got a lukewarm response from the box office. The film earned just 31 crores in the opening four day weekend. Before its release, Secret Superstar was expected to cross the 60 crore mark in the opening. Because trade pundits found all the ingredients of a blockbuster in it – one of the most successful production teams – Aamir Khan Production was, Dangal’s famed Zaira Wasim was in the lead role, this was the second time Aamir was reprising the character of a teacher, the first time was in Taare Zameen Par, and most vital point – there were more than 18 million views of its trailer which sealed the surety for success. But nothing worked in the box office. Since it was Aamir Khan’s film, so trade pundits forecast its overall gross of around 150 crores, including overseas earnings.
Strangely, films focusing on children are not sealable in the Hindi film market. Apart from Secret Superstar, only four films based on children were released in 2017 – Poorna, Sniff, Hanuman: Da’ Damdaar and Bachche Kachche Sachche. None of these films attracted viewers and flopped badly. Poorna, directed by Rahul Bose, was the real story Malavath Poorna, the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest. Sniff was Amole Gupte’s third attempt in the children’s film genre. Earlier he gave us the delightful Stanley Ka Dabba and Hawa Hawai and wrote the heart-warming drama Taare Zameen Par. But there are rarely directors who want to make films for children in India. In fact, there are no good subjects and content in Bollywood for the future generation of the country.
If we go by the numbers, less than 0.1 per cent films are made for children. Bollywood releases more than 1,000 films per year. That is more than double the number of films released by its American counterpart, Hollywood. But in Hollywood, they have mastered this genre, and it is known as the family genre. There are so many beautiful films like Despicable Me, Baby’s Day Out, Home Alone, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where kids portray the lead role and the movies were super hits. Whether it is animated or fictional lot of strong content is being produced every year in Hollywood. On the other hand, we rarely make films for children. As per KPMG FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, 2015 Bollywood produces around 1,400 films a year, and around 0.1 per cent of them are children’s films.
There have been no foreign collaborations in television or cinema. Annette Brejner, creative director of the Sweden-based Financing Forum For Kids Content, which collaborates with filmmakers from across the world to develop and produce films for children, says: “There are no political agreements made in India that specifically is aimed at supporting a children’s film culture. In my part of the world, it has taken several different initiatives to make it happen over the years. Some countries have ruled that 25 per cent of the government’s yearly film subsidies must be given to children’s films.”
Children’s cinema is a totally neglected sector in our country. Lack of creativity and content is another huge issue with the children’s films. In India, for kids, we have only some mythological stories, where Ganesha, Hanuman and Krishna that are the favourites, along with some fictional cartoon characters like Chhota Bheem. My Friend Ganesha, Bal Ganesh, Krishna Aur Kansa, Hanuman, Hanuman Returns are some of the examples of such films. Even in animation though Indian animation industry is expanding but it still has a long way to go.
Ruchi Narain, director of Hanuman Da’ Damdaar experimented with the age-old theme in a shallow way. She wanted to tell Hanuman’s story but without the baggage of mythology and morals. It was an attempt at humanising mythology. Salman Khan is the voice for the adult Hanuman in an expository opening sequence, in which the dialogue is from his own movies. And she put it, journalists, a token gay character, raucous north Indians and thickly accented south Indians in the film and made it a nonsense balderdash with hinglish dialogues.
With such stuff, multiplex owners are also distancing themselves from kids’ movies. Last year, director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari tried to break this ice with her brilliant film Nil Battey Sannata, but unfortunately, the film went largely unnoticed. Filmmakers need to realise that children embodied a very important part of our society. Nevertheless, producers and directors do not consider a children’s film a commercial film. For this, they give reasons that their financiers are not willing to shell out money for such films. So it lies totally on the willingness of big stars like Salman Khan or Aamir Khan or a production studio to come forward and make films for kids. Salman Khan’s production house debuted with Chillar Party, which was a hit, and also I am Kalam, Masoom, Makdee, The Blue Umbrella, Halo and Taare Zameen Par are the only films worth mentioning. Trade pundits see it differently. They say films are not made for charity. It is all hardcore business.
Children comprise a very minimal section of the audience and most of the cinema halls schedule children’s films for morning and afternoon shows. And to watch movie kids need to accompany their parents. Due to lack of time in today’s fast lifestyle, parents can accompany their kids on weekends so footfall is very low for such shows.
Sai Paranjape, noted filmmaker and former chairperson of Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), said that lack of budgetary support is one of the major factors hampering the growth of children’s films. She said: “Children’s films are very demanding - they need trick scenes, fun, animation, music, popular actors and all that.” Amole Gupte stresses on the clarity of subject. He says that Indian filmmakers also lack clarity when it comes to categorising children’s films. Whereas international cinema provides some wonderful films like Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Kung Fu Panda and many others.”
Children’s Film Society India (CFSI) was founded soon after India’s independence by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, whose affection for children was legendary. Its first production, Jaldeep won the first prize for best Children’s Film at the 1957 Venice Film Festival. But since then there are rarely any such achievements.
Since the change in the government at the centre, CFSI has become active and organising different sizes of film festivals in different cities. PM Narendra Modi’s different visions like Swachh Bharat Mission, Make In India and New India are now key topics for films.
In 2017, a record 1,402 entries from 109 countries have been received so far, include short films, documentaries and animated films, based on the festival theme of ‘New India’, in tune with Narendra Modi’s vision of creating a New India for the weeklong 20th International Children’s Film Festival of India which is going to be held in Hyderabad from November 8. Priyanka Chopra’s production house Purple Pebble Pictures made Pahuna- The Little Visitors is being promoted by CFSI.
Pakhi Tyrewala, the wife of director Abbas Tyrewala, who had failed in Bollywood as a heroine, is debuting as a director with this film. Pahuna, the story of three northeastern children going through extraordinary circumstances, was applauded at Toronto Film Festival.
Desi super hero Shaktimaan aka Mukesh Khanna is the chairman of the Children’s Film Society of India, feels the country lacks good entertainment content for children. He hopes the scenario changes. So he funded director Manish Tiwary for the film Chidiakhana. It is a story of a young Bihari boy with a passion for football.
“It is an important film for CFSI. There was a story waiting to be told and we are happy that director Manish Tiwary is helming the project. The film’s backdrop is football. I believe kids are more inclined towards games. So this time, I selected films which have sports like tennis, football, rugby, basketball and hockey as its backdrop,” Mukesh Khanna said.
Earlier, the CFSI produced many films like Gopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiyaa, Yeh Hai Chakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo, Dweep Ka Rahasya and Kima’s Lode, but which were never released in the cinema halls.

They (Fernandes & Modi) Were Both Very Relieved To See Me

Lieutenant General Zameeruddin Shah speaks at length with Rashme Sehgal

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 autobiography of Lieutenant General Zameeruddin Shah who completed a five-year tenure as vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), ‘The Sarkari Mussalman’, in which he speaks at length about his years in the army as also about his tenure as AMU chief has been launched in Delhi recently. Shah believes his tenure at AMU was much more difficult than fighting the enemy in the army because of the large number of vested interests that created roadblocks during his period there. In his book he speaks at length about how he helped restore normalcy when Gujarat was engulfed by riots in 2002 when Narendra Modi was the chief minister. Genial and candid, Lt Gen Shah in an exclusive interview to Parliamentarian speaks out. Excerpts from the interview:

When did you land in Ahmedabad?
I was given the marching orders by chief of army command General Padmanabhan on February 28, 2002. He asked me to proceed at the earliest to Ahmedabad. I was then in a village near Jodhpur. We had been mobilised for a repost after the Pakistani-sponsored attack on Parliament in December 2001. I headed straight for Jodhpur from where I took off on the first aircraft to Ahmedabad. While approaching Ahmedabad, I saw the whole city was burning. We landed on a dark and deserted airfield. Before moving, I was assured key logistical support of vehicles, maps, mobile phones and magistrates to accompany the battalions once they fanned out. But the only person to receive me at the airfield was Brigadier Mehra of the Lodger formation. This is a defence formation whereas ours was a strike formation that is why we were in reserve. Ahmedabad had been denuded of all troops. There were no troops. All the defence troops had been moved to Rajasthan to man the border. On my arrival, I asked to speak to the chief secretary. I was told the chief secretary was abroad. Despite all my efforts to connect by phone for the next fifteen minutes to the lady who was officiating in the place of the chief secretary, I received no response. I thought the only way out to resolve the problem was to head for the chief secretary’s residence in Gandhinagar. I landed in Gandhinagar at the chief secretary’s residence at around two in the morning. To my great relief, George Fernandes, the then defence minister, and then chief minister Narender Modi were there. They were both very relieved to see me. I told them again of my requirements which were maps, magistrates to accompany the columns, police guides and communication mobile sets. I was assured I would be provided with all this tomorrow morning. They also had no maps with them there and on a tourist map we marked out the trouble spots. I came back and supervised the arrival of my troops. George Fernandes came and visited the troops. He arrived at 10 o clock in the morning in Ahmedabad and addressed the troops. He told us to ensure fair play and make sure the flames are doused. I again told him we had not been provided any material. That morning the police liaison officer DIG Yoginder Singh arrived but nothing happened. I had to wait one whole day and it was only on March 2, 2002, that the transport started rolling in. One entire day was lost. Had the army had been deployed on March 1, we could have saved around 300 lives. I then deputed three battalions in Ahmedabad, one batallion in Saurashtra, one in Godhra and one in Pachmahal. These were the trouble spots given to me by Chief Minister Modi. We saw horrific scenes of violence in these places. Saurashtra did not witness so much violence and I withdrew the battalion from there. The police were passive bystanders everywhere. In a few places they were actively participating in the riots, especially in the Muslim localities. The less said the better about the home guards. It took me 48 hours to control the rioting. I had given orders that the arsonists be shot at sight. We killed two arsonists and wounded 18 or 19. I stayed in Ahmedabad for two-and-a-half months. I used to meet Modi every ten days or so. I must have met him three to four times. He was always very cordial. He has always maintained a cordial relationship with the armed forces unlike some of his ministers.
How would you explain the behaviour of the police?
I cannot explain the behaviour of the police force, its parochial behaviour. But it is not just the Gujarat police which are parochial. I found this in UP (Uttar Pradesh). I found it in Meerut when riots took place in 1985-86. In Malyana, the police picked up a group of 30-35 boys, shot them and threw their bodies into the canal.
Were you posted in Meerut at that time?
I was in Delhi then. I knew what was happening. Meerut is my hometown. That is why people are always relieved to see the army. There is a flip side to this. I believe there should not be a prolonged deployment of the army in such operations.
As has happened in J&K (Jammu Kashmir)?
Well, in J&K, we have overcome this problem. We have raised Rashtriya Rifle batallions. Earlier an entire battalion would get transferred. Now these battalions do not change en masse, 90 per cent stay on while ten per cent are periodically turned over. This allows the troops to go back to their parent regiment. This way they do not lose their local contacts and their local intelligence. We had unpleasant duties also in Gujarat. In Ahmedabad, Godhra and other places, we had to remove dead bodies from the wells and give them burial. We tried to form peace committees but no one was willing to participate, or to be more accurate, no one from the majority community was willing to participate. You have been quoted as saying getting dead bodies of victims of Godhra carnage to Ahmedabad was a mistake? It was a gigantic administrative folly by the government. They were brought to Ahmedabad in a procession and that whipped up communal passions. You spoke about the communalisation of the police force. I am not a member of the police force but I believe special care has to be taken to ensure that people who are members of communal organizations should not be recruited. In the army, we carry out a check. If a person so much as smells of being part of a communal organisation he is not recruited. The extent of the communalisation of the police force in Gujarat can be understood from the fact that homes of police personnel of the minority community were also burnt. You can imagine the extent of the rift.
Was this deliberate?
I have seen the communal slant in the police for many years. The police are local, they live there, they get infected by local conditions unlike the army. That is why, I had recommended that in order to ensure that police officers do not get polarised, there should be a central organisation controlling the postings of IPS officers. This should not be in the hands of local politicians. When you were vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, you were fighting the case for the minority status of this university. What is the status of the case now? The Allahabad High Court judgment endangered the minority character of AMU. The stay order of the Supreme Court exists. In lieu of the stay order, the AMU continues with its minority status. That is the legal position. It was over this that I had my first disagreement with the then HRD minister Smriti Irani. When I showed her this stay order, she refuted it and said, ‘I don’t agree with it.’ All organisations have some parasites and AMU also has its share. They spoke against me before the then HRD (Human Resources Development) Minister Smriti Irani and she was totally convinced that I was both inept and corrupt. The charge of corruption came about when one of the auditors, unfortunately a Muslim, wanted a job at AMU. When it was turned down, he dug out Rs 120 crores worth of audit objections. The Times of India lapped it up and accused me of swindling AMU off Rs 120 crores. But let me tell you every paisa was accounted for. I ended up getting a bad press. Everyone believed something must have gone into my pocket. Minister Smriti Irani must have been fed with this information. I found her very hostile. This is not the case with only her. The last HRD minister Jadvekar also followed a discriminatory policy. AMU has always faced discrimination in terms of allocation of funds. Although we have the same strength as BHU, we get half the funds. AMU is running centres in Bengal, Kerala and Bihar. The government had to cut off aid to both these centres. I was invited by the chief minister of Kerala to attend this meeting. The meeting was to be at the I&B minister’s office. I landed at the I&B minister’s office fifteen minutes before time. There I was informed the venue had been changed and it was being held at the minister’s house. Obviously, I was late for the meeting. When I entered the meeting room, the minister asked me, “Who are you. Who invited you here?” I replied that I had been invited for it by the Kerala CM (chief minister). The minister asked me who pays you, Kerala or the HRD ministry. I got up and said, ‘Right Ma’am’. I saluted her and left the room. Subsequently, the Kerala CM apologised to me. I asked for time from the prime minister and apprised him of what had happened. When I met HRD minister Smriti Irani and told her I would like to tell you what I told the prime minister. She asked me to visit her office the next day. Several bureaucrats were present for the meeting. After the meeting was over, I told her I would like to have five minutes with her separately. She replied she was a public person. So, in front of her bureaucrats, I told her what I had told Modi about her and how as an army man, I had expected more courtesy.
You met Modi twice regarding the AMU minority case? What did he tell you?
He said the issue was sub judice. He gave no commitment. I gave him a memorandum and stressed how important the AMU was for the minority community. We were disappointed at how the attorney general had taken a U-turn and gone back on the affidavit submitted before the Supreme Court. I had been telling the earlier Congress regime, the then law minister, the chief justice to bring the case for early hearing. But they did not listen to me and put it on the back burner.
What exactly was discussed when you met the prime minister?
I sought the government’s support on restoring the varsity’s minority status because this would have a salutary effect on the minorities who are agitated and apprehensive that their rights are being trampled upon. I also brought to his notice that the BJP when it was part of Janata Party under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani, had in its manifesto promised to restore the minority character of the university. I also mentioned that HRD Minister Smriti Irani had said that the varsity’s three off-campus centres in Bihar, Kerala and West Bengal were illegal, but these are very much legal. Subsequent to this meeting, the HRD minister’s position has changed. From saying these centres are illegal she now stated these centres were not doing the work for which they were created. She informed me that no worthwhile research was being carried out in these centres. I informed her it was very difficult to carry out any research from these temporary buildings. Give us necessary funds and research will be done. There was a change of attitude with the HRD minister. The fact that she acknowledged that research should be done meant that she accepted that the centres were established legally. You are reported to have told Modi that you had not been able to meet the HRD minister. I told him that I had been asking for a meeting with the HRD minister for the last one year. I told him that I was able to meet you twice, but have not been able to meet the HRD minister so far. I also told the prime minister that in all the key subjects including engineering, medicine and commerce, the number of Hindu students in our university were at par with the Muslim students. It was in subjects such as study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic studies that the numbers of Muslim students were higher.

Of Magic And Mystery

RJ Ginnie Mahajan on the personal, anonymous connect between a radio jockey and the wide world and, yes, the inescapable trolls

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

In a world dominated by television anchors and online trolls, the radio jockey is very nearly a media cipher, not just unsung but largely unknown as well. But this is the proverbially deceptive façade, where nothing great seems to be happening apart from the film songs that get played and the quite frivolous banter that marks the exchange between the radio announcer and the caller. And you would not want to spare much on the phenomenon. Until you go to speak with Ginnie Mahajan, the radio jockey with Radio City, in her studio at her Okhla office. The studio with the consoles, and now the computer screens, with the de rigueur headphones, makes it an antiquated work station. It is not merely that she is quite passionate and excited about her work, though even that is unusual because she has been 10 years into radio and she speaks about it as though she has just discovered her America, her Columbus moment as it were. A wide new world full of people experiences anecdotes and heart-warming gestures. A world that pulsates every day and comes alive in the air waves in a way it does not on television screens or in newspaper pages. And as an ardent advocate of the second oldest media medium – the first being the newspaper – she explains with much conviction the difference between the different platforms. She says that the newspaper is a passive medium because the reader can only write a letter to the editor and it may not even see the light of day. Television, Mahajan says, talks at you and not to you. It is only the radio which provides the live connect between the listener and the host. “Radio is the only medium which is a two-way communication. This is the only point where people are allowed to say what they feel like. Whether it is about civic issues, whether it is about social problems, the fact that they like to have an opinion on what the prime minister is saying literally to that extent, about cricket, about anything. If you have an opinion this is the only place where you can voice it and make people hear it. In India everybody wants to have an opinion. Therefore radio really scores.”
Daily Rhythm
And the radio show follows the rhythms of a day in the city. She hosts a break-fast show Monday through Friday and with a demographer’s certitude tells you straightaway that the age-profile of the listeners is between 25-44. In the afternoons, the shows caters to women at home, and again in the evening it is the office-goers on their way back home who re-appear in the invisible space of megahertz. In the night, it is the time for shows like Loveguru, where secrets, feelings, desires and dreams are shared along with problems. Mahajan says that people share things on this programme which they would not admit to themselves. “There is also a personalised angle to radio. For example, Television is driven by TV personalities. Say, Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami, Barkha Dutt, Nidhi Razdan. If the anchor coughs, or if the anchor is not seen for two days, you don’t think much about it. There is no personalised interaction. On radio, we can cough, or we can say we are hungry because radio allows you that kind of informality. I cannot imagine a television anchor say ‘now I want to eat some aloo ka paratha’. I have heard a lot of radio jockeys say that on birthdays they get sent cakes; if we cough people ring up and say ‘You do not sound right. Are you all right? Can we send something?’ I have had million concoctions of tea to treat the cough. If I say I have a problem with my mobile, I get calls from various mobile companies.” “Personalisation of radio is insane. Somebody on radio said I want doughnuts and a doughnut company sent them. I said I want to eat aloo ka paratha. There were different tiffins with aloo ka paratha. One day I said I have a craving for dark chocolate from a place outside India. A homemaker sent freshly-made chocolate. Recently, it is fresh in my memory, I played an old song and talked of memories. A woman, who had lost her husband recently, rang up and howled and cried, and she said that I listen to you and I feel you will understand. I cannot cry at home because I need to be strong in front of them.”
Anonymous Angle
And there is the anonymous angle in this personal connect tangle, however oxymoronic it may sound. Mahajan talks about the callers to the late night show, Loveguru, one of the oldest running programmes, and she says that people talk about emotions which they would not express to themselves. People have talked about coming out of the closet, people have talked about relationships, people have talked about issues they have with their partners which they cannot discuss with their problems. They talk about their problems because they understand they are the problem in a relationship. It is liberating. You are speaking to a person who does not know you, who cannot see you, and whose ability to judge you is limited. And not being judgmental.” Gini says that there is another side to this anonymity, and it is the flip side. Over the last few years, and more specifically the last three years, she says people ring up “raging, saying nasty things, whether it is about religion, or a political leader. Because it is an anonymous medium, they actually have strong emotions and they are not afraid to say it. If you are upset with Arnab or Faye D’Souza, you rarely get to speak to them. You write on the Twitter, which is impersonal. Radio jockeys get lambasted. He has chances of speaking to me because the phone lines are open. So we get a lot of trolling. We get a lot negative feedback. It is very disturbing.”
Balanced and Fair
Is a liberal radio jockey vulnerable in these times? Mahajan thinks that on radio “jockeys are not defined as liberals or conservatives. It is still keeping open to a large extent. But even if your opinion differs, for example, should women be allowed into temples, now people who have strong opinions about this, people will call up and abuse you. And that is what happens whether you put it on air or not, you are still going through that entire process. Talking about Section 377, about homosexuality, the kind of things you hear, the amount of times I heard, ‘Go to Pakistan’. If you take a stance, ‘Tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai?’ has been replaced by ‘Pakistan chale jaa’. “Radio is constantly reinventing itself. Radio has reinvented so many times. I have to say mobile phones have given a new lease of life to radio. FM listenership is because mobiles have come, wherever they are commuting, I have seen people putting on headphones, listening to their own music or to radio, a lot of time they are listening to radio. It has seen resurgence. It is not going to die.” “It is the most emphatic medium. It changes every day. It is a very dynamic medium. When you are watching a news channel, when you are watching a television soap, you know what to expect. Radio does not have that predictability. If you are listening to a morning show, you will hear a variety at one singular place, at one point in time. You listen to music, you listen to traffic, you listen to opinion, you listen to a joke, you listen to a lot things coming together, all these are very fresh, it does not become monotonous.”
Tough Calling
“Radio is one of the toughest mediums. You never stop thinking. Even if you go to buy vegetables, and the vegetable vendor has said something, you are thinking in your head I have to use this. If there is a person driving and he is making a gesture, you say I need to use this, if you see a baby on the street, you think you can connect this. So there is no stopping. There is no point where you are resting. Because it is a slice of life, and the damned slice of life happens 24x7.” “There is a mind block that if you want to enter radio, you need a melodious voice. That is not important. What you need for radio is a very open mind, a very questioning mind, somebody who is interested in knowing people generally, somebody who likes talking, and you need to know what you are saying. Radio is not about learnt scripts and repeatition. You should have the ability really to have a conversation. It is not about ex tempore. Radio is not limited to questions and answers. If you ring me up and want me to talk about something I have not talked about, you should have the ability to carry on the conversation. Radio is not just about talking. It is about listening.”
Cabbies Drive
“Radio is literally driven by cab-drivers. Every time I sit in a cab, I ask which radio station you are listening to. Because they are the ones who are taking people from one point to another. Cab-drivers form an important part of conversation for the radio. Their opinions are fantastic. In the middle of a conversation, a cab-driver told me how he really liked the Kejriwal government a little before and how he is a little upset with them now. What he thinks about Modi and his government. They give very key points. A cab-driver rang up and said that he was taking a girl from one point to another. She was crying and he asked her what happened. She told that the person whom she came to meet has ditched her. The cab-driver said, ‘I am very upset that Delhi has such people.’ “One of the nicest things I have heard about radio is that you need to be relevant to the guy driving the cab and the guy sitting at the back. If you can make them smile at the same thing, you can get both to react to something, because they come from absolutely different social strata. Then you know a topic is relevant.” “I have had grandmothers calling, grandfathers calling. The amount of older people who called, they gave out the saddest stories. ‘Radio creates a sense of huge community.” Ginnie Mahajan remains an articulate voice and she has spoken her heart and mind. We are not going to add anything more about her. As a radio jockey her voice is what has been put forth here. A slice of new India if you like. As she says, “A slice of life, 24x7.”

Bengal Has A Future, But...

Hemant Kanoria, chairman and managing director of Srei Infrastructure Finance Limited, engaged with Parliamentarian in an exclusive interview

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

How difficult is it to do business in West Bengal?
Every state has its advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, a lot depends on how you react to situations and deal with people. We believe that human resource is the most important resource for any business enterprise. Bengal’s biggest advantage is its talent pool; people here have a strong inclination to pursue higher education. This is relevant for companies like us, which are in the financial services business. We need knowledge employees. Hence, professionals want to work here. There is probably a problem of perception about Bengal. Critics often say that people in Bengal are not forward looking. But I strongly disagree. We have been operating in this state for many decades and we have not encountered any hurdle. Have you seen a difference in the industrial scenario in West Bengal during the Left and present regime? It is probably not fair to do a comparison. Anywhere in the world, there is a gradual change in mindset and expectations of people over a period of time. Depending upon those dynamics, governments change their policies. This is also true for businesses. If you see, 30-40 years ago, in businesses there used to be employers and employees. But now it is all about one team. The mindset has changed. Employees realise that if they are in constant conflict with the management then they will not benefit. Likewise, employers have realised that employees are critical for the success of their businesses. Hence, now every successful business works as one team towards achieving a common goal.
Why are big ticket investments staying away from West Bengal?
All the large industrial and corporate houses still have presence in Bengal. Businesses decide to set up new units in a particular region after evaluating a number of things: availability of raw material, skilled and knowledgeable manpower, state of infrastructure, cost of operations, etc. For instance, manufacturing companies tend to set up operations in areas where raw materials are in abundant supply.
How do you then explain the flight of capital from West Bengal to other states?
i don’t see any flight of capital because there are no companies that are moving away from Bengal at this juncture. Companies are expanding operations across the country and setting up operations in new geographies after evaluating a number of factors which we discussed; but there is certainly no flight of capital. Even today, Bengal is a big market. Almost every company which has operations in India has a presence in Bengal in some way or the other. But many plants have been shut; no new investments have been made in the state. How do you explain this situation? As mentioned, businesses will continue to evaluate a number of factors before setting up operations in a particular region. Bengal continues to remain a strong consumption centre. For example, a car manufacturer may not be manufacturing cars from Bengal. But the company will still have its service centres, spare parts and warehousing facilities here. India’s annual import from China, for instance, is around $60 billion to $70 billion. So, one may raise a question that why can’t we manufacture these products in India. But will that be feasible? Massive investments will be required to build capacity if we have to shift production units here. Otherwise it will not be feasible. Automobile companies have been moving towards Pune, Bengaluru or Chennai because these regions have become hubs for automobile manufacturing. Power plants usually prefer those states where there is availability of coal. Every state has its set of advantages and disadvantages. Businesses will evaluate the pros and cons and decide accordingly.
Despite these advantages, why is the state failing to attract investments?
I think like every state, Bengal has also been trying to attract investments. Every state needs to do a SWOT analysis and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. There is no state which will just have strengths or will only have weaknesses. Then the strengths need to be marketed in a structured manner to investors. Bengal can surely improve in marketing itself better. Industrial parks can be developed in places like Bankura, Purulia and parts of Asansol and Durgapur. Ultimately, businesses are not based on emotions but hard-core logic.
Srei has been in West Bengal for almost three decades. Srei has been growing from strength to strength while doing business in West Bengal. What is your secret and why is it others have failed to take a leaf out of your book?
There is no secret, really. Just like many other successful companies, here we have always tried to leverage on the strengths of Bengal. There is a good talent pool in the state; people are dedicated but emotional, so we have to deal with them with care. As a financial institution, we need employees who are knowledgeable. Our human resource is our biggest strength and we ensure that the happiness index in our organisation is very high.
Does Bengal still have a chance of reviving its lost glory?
Yes, of course. Bengal needs to leverage on its key strengths, market those strengths in a structured manner and invite businesses and industries. Some of the key strengths of Bengal are its talent pool and quality infrastructure. Also, industries must start seeing Bengal as a huge market. Bengal is a gateway to almost 14 states – apart from North Eastern states; Bengal is almost like the capital for Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In a way Bengal is a gateway to almost 40 per cent of India’s population. Bengal also provides market and access to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

Reality Check: Where Is The ‘56-Inch’ Chest?

India fending off the US on oil imports from Iran and on buying arms from Russia

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.

Now that the Modi government has done more than four years and we still do not know as yet whether Modi will succeed in his plan to succeed himself as Prime Minister following the 2019 general election, it is time to draw a balance sheet of India’s ‘Modified’ foreign policy with its emphasis on a “56-inch chest”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) heads of state/government for his inauguration, a gesture that was almost universally praised by the media and the academia with none pointing out that it was an attempt to project himself as the 'new emperor' of South Asia. If the intention was, as advertised assiduously, was to improve relations with the neighbours, the current state of disrepair in relations with Pakistan and Nepal shows that Modi has been floundering. As to do full justice to the theme would require a series of essays, or better still, a book, this article will confine itself to two topics about how India under Modi has dealt with the US. Dealing with the US is, for most countries, the most important part of foreign policy despite the fashionable talk of our living in a multi-polar world. That we live in a financially unipolar world dominated by the US dollar with US imposing sanctions on other states, either through an obedient UN Security Council, or otherwise, is often ignored. The first topic for us is US’ sanctions on Iran, and the second is US sanctions on states entering into ‘significant’ defense deals with Russia in the context of the deal with Russia on S-400 anti-missile system.
India, Iran, and US
The three countries form a geopolitical triangle where contrary to Euclid's theorem one side is longer than the sum of the other two. On 8th May, 2018, President Donald Trump announced that US was walking out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, technically known as JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Trump gave no valid reason for his decision for the good reason that there is none. He has a visceral urge to undo Obama's legacy and to side with Israel whether what it does is right or wrong. Let us look at India’s reaction. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “India has always maintained that the Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and diplomacy by respecting Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy as also the international community’s strong interest in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.” India noted that “all parties should engage constructively to address and resolve issues that have arisen with respect to the JCPOA.” This was wishful thinking and there was no hint as to how India would deal with the sanctions in the context of its import of oil, engagement with Chabahar, and associated plans for infrastructural projects for enhanced connectivity with Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia. On 27th June, 2018, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called had on Modi and as per media reports urged India “to cut its dependence” on Iran oil. The same reports implied that Modi had agreed. MEA did not share with the media what transpired and did not bother to correct the implication. Two days later, Minister of Petroleum Dharmendra Pradhan had said that there was no problem in stopping import of oil from Iran. India's basket of crude imports has become “multi-country” and India can buy from Latin America, Brunei, and USA. The same minister said on 9th October that India would continue to buy oil from Iran and that orders for delivery in November have been sent though the US sanctions will take effect on 4th of November. Obviously, there was a course correction. Since the Modi government cannot be faulted for excessive transparency, one has to guess at what might have caused the course correction. A thought experiment might help us to guess intelligently: Imagine MEA’s Policy Planning Division undertaking a study of India's options in this regard on 8th November 2016 when Trump was elected; after all, the candidate Trump had made no secret of his intention to break the deal. MEA after consulting with all concerned, including Ministry of Petroleum, would have concluded that the national interest required deft handling of relations with Iran without spoiling relations with US; since it was not just a question of oil only, MEA alone will speak on behalf of Government of India (GOI); India needed to import oil from Iran and make progress with the Chabahar project. When Trump walked out of the deal on 8th May 2018, India should have offered a deal to Iran to continue buying oil against deep discounts and delivery – Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF); once Iran accepts the deal, India should make it clear that India alone will decide when and how to communicate its decision to import oil from Iran to US. Washington should be told of this with due diplomatic secrecy at a chosen time; India has real clout as a big arms buyer from US, and India can agree with US on how to put it to the world and even if go through the charade of waivers… India gets oil from Iran at a discount and we all buy cheaper petrol at the pump. Obviously, MEA did not do any policy planning. Hence, the course correction we have seen.
The S-400 system
In this matter, India showed some imagination. Defence Minister Nirmala Seetaraman said publicly (13th July, 2018) that India was going ahead despite the threat of US sanctions. Obviously, the intention was to sign the $5 billion deal during the visit of President Putin. US spokespersons repeatedly told India that it might come under CATSAA (Countering Adversaries Through Sanctions Act). But, Delhi did not bother to respond. It is to be noted that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said days before Putin was due in Delhi that it was for India to decide what arms to buy and when. But it seems that Moscow had some fear that India might cave in to US pressure. To forestall any such eventuality, a senior official in Moscow announced the day before Putin left that the S-400 deal would be signed during the visit. In short, India has dealt with the S-400 more adroitly than with the import of oil from Iran.
The Waiver
However, there is another matter of importance. Reports indicate that India is seeking ‘waivers’ from Washington for oil import and for S-400 purchase. The National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had recently gone to Washington for this purpose. Scholars and the media have unanimously advised New Delhi to seek waivers. None of them asked the obvious question: Why not stop begging for waivers? Having signed the military-to-military agreements at the 2 plus 2 and wanting to sell more arms to India, Washington cannot afford to impose sanctions on India. Any sanctions on arms purchase will be sanctions punishing General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, and Trump, the most enthusiastic salesman for the military-industrial-Congressional complex, will never do that. Is not diplomacy the art of punching slightly above one’s weight? Why is India so keen on punching below its weight vis-a-vis US? Where is the 56-inch?

BJP’s Cyber Sena On The Move

Nation-building or brainwashing, the saffron brigade has a big plan to target the first-time-voters through their own addiction

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

Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to tap the social media users with followers 10,000 or above for the coming elections in 2019. The party believes that if it can work with the avid social media users, the reach would be higher and connect will be direct. Speaking to Parliamentarian, Media In-charge of BJP, Pratyush Kant, said, “The social media is something that is now everyone is addicted. People who have followers will certainly be followed for a reason. We will utilise the followers to make them aware of our work through them. If they agree to work with us and identify with the ideology, they would love to be part of the campaign. We are trying to identify such people and we have already identified some.”
Bharatiya Janata Party has a huge social media team. They constantly check and update the party handles. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and all social media platforms, have a huge presence of different political parties. The parties utilise these platforms to propagate the ideology of the party and to reach to people on every issue. There is a battery of young professionals of every party that looks and maintains it on regular basis.
BJP has launched a massive ‘Cyber Sena’ drive in Uttar Pradesh. There was recently a training of social media by a Union Ministry, stressing on using the social media as the biggest tool for the upcoming elections. A similar strategy has been adopted for the national level elections.
“We have identified about 1000 such users on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to get them involved in the election process. The plan is to invite them over and utilise their time for our use. They are active on social media platforms and that activity is our gain. We have been planning to organise a meet soon. And the process of identification is constantly going on. And we are hoping to get a good number of army that will help us to reach to every person,” added Kant.
School and college students are constantly active on social media. Office-goers also use social media quite frequently. The reach would be expected to cover a big number.
Speaking about the psychological part, Dr Aroona Bruta said, “Social media is a part of life for everyone now. There is a very little number that is not on social media. So, the response could work wonders for them if utilised properly. The tool is to be used sincerely for political purposes because the reach is higher. And I am sure those planning will keep that in mind.”
While randomly talking to some students, the response was positive for the project. Adira Srinivasan, a Delhi University student, said, “I am not being followed by 10,000 people but now that I am aware of this proposal, I would certainly try to reach the desired number for my profile. I just hope that they select my profile. I would love to associate myself with the upcoming elections.” BJP has decided to exploit the social media and is quietly working on many strategies to string along the youth in the election process. The identification process has had started about three months ago.
BJP is eyeing to cater to the 18-year-old new voters who are hooked to social media all the time. The party is trying to influence the first-time voters with the welfare programs and achievements to convince the first timers that this is the party which will change the future of the country.
“There is no doubt that social media is the most effective tool of the day. The welfare measures that have been taken by the party will be conveyed through this handle to the voters. How they can join to build the nation would be the aim. We would tell them the future-plans and our expectations from them. So, the stringing along is not just for the party but for the nation-building.”
However, this ‘Catch Them Young’ policy is not liked by many. Those who understand the politics well say that this is absolutely brainwashing and not good for the electorate in the long run.
“The age group that they are aiming is very young. They just step into adulthood and encounter many of the new things in life. The excitement is huge and so are the chances of committing mistakes. I would say this is not ‘nation-building’ but brainwashing the young minds. The campaigns should be done online, there is no harm; but not using the young voters to propagate online. Currently, they speak their mind, whether wrong or right, but after this stringing along they will speak a tutored language. Would that be good for any nation? The free young minds should always be free to speak on their own. This is my view,” said Harish Wankhade, Assistant Professor of Political Science in Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU).

Flouting Norms

We don’t need countless small rules, but we need one strict rule which can never be compromised come what may

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

Carrying excess baggage has been a punishable offence for the past 150 years but no one cares. So are jumping traffic signals. These are some of the rules that are probably be broken on a regular basis. Reason: the enforcement of the law is weak in India.
Experts believe that our collective consciousness as a citizen has been low and we think limited. The larger good for the welfare of our country is low on priority. And so, the callous attitude.
Speaking to Parliamentarian, Dr Aruna Broota, a Clinical Psychologist and a retired Professor of Department of Psychology, Delhi University says, “Our collective consciousness is very low. I feel sorry to point this out but this is the truth of the whole issue. The younger people are more concerned about their latest earplug than the fact that excessive usage of these earplugs can destroy their eardrums. The vision is here and now and the expansion has been restricted due to distractions.”
“Let me explain it – The generation next wants their music to be with them 24*7 so they need the earplug. So, the focus is music but how the excessive use is not contributing anyway positively is not bothering anyone. The constant phone companionship has decreased the real talking, sharing or noticing the world around them. The small little needs. And that is the reason of low consciousness.”
Recently Indian Railways tried to re-implement its 150-year-old rule of penalising passengers with excess baggage but could not enforce it. The ministry rolled it back within 15 days. Similarly throwing garbage on the road is prohibited for ages but no one cares.
A recent case in point is the Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma’s pointing out to a man who was throwing garbage on the road while travelling in a luxury car lacking basic etiquette.
Despite feeling sorry about it the man replied on Twitter rubbishing her for not being polite. The real issue of flouting a norm has taken a back seat and some irrelevant debate surfaced.
The most common rules that are broken every-day are the traffic rules. People are slapped with challans sometime and while on other occasions they manage to get away.
Pointing about the law enforcement, former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, Vikram Singh said, “I have done policing all my life. We don’t need countless small rules but we need one strict rule which can never be compromised come what may. I would certainly blame the attitude. These very people tell them to do the same thing when they are abroad. And They know the consequences, so they would not.
The courts are the second step after policing those witnesses the cases of not following the rules. While speaking about the weak enforcement, Supreme Court Lawyer Abani Sahu said, “It is fascinating to consider that whether we join voluntarily or out of peer pressure, anyone who stands in a queue automatically adopts the politeness to others that are inculcated in them. And such behaviour makes public interaction pleasant. But unlike West, India is not egalitarian by nature. Traditionally, India has one of the most vertical and stratified societies in the world.
So, when it comes to collective rule-following, India faces challenges related to hierarchy and conformity. It seems that these two cultural forces are competing for prominence and then comes the struggle to prove the superiority. So, the breaking of the law. Enforcement is there but we need to volunteer to follow. We need to change as a society.”

The S-400 Triumf Missile Deal A Message To Trump

India back to the old non-alignment pole position of dealing with both Russia and America

Seema Guha
Seema Guha

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to close the over $5 billion S-400 Triumf missile defence deal with Russia came as a surprise to many who believed that the government is bending over backwards to please the Trump administration. Indeed, US President Donald Trump said as much, when he told reporters in Washington that India wanted a bilateral trade pact with the US primarily “to keep me happy”. But at the October 5-6 annual summit between Prime Minister Modi and Russian President Vladmir Putin in New Delhi, Modi made it clear India was not an American poodle. By going ahead with the missile purchase, ignoring US warnings, Modi was certainly not pleasing the US President. Washington wants to punish nations wanting to buy weapons from Russia. India has been warned not to do so, but Modi had promised Putin during the informal summit at Sochi on May 18, 2018 that the deal was on. He kept his word to Putin and now it is up to the US to decide what it wants to do with India. Should it brand Delhi for its strategic purchase of arms from Moscow and waste the new-found warmth in ties at a time when the US is looking to India to counter China’s growing military power in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean? President Trump and his advisers would now have to take the call. In short the ball is in the US court.
India has always bought weapons from Russia. In recent years though it has also sourced military hardware from the US, Israel and other countries, yet the main supplier continues to be Russia. Why has it become a problem now?
It is mainly because of the new legislation passed in the US Congress last year, called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Sanctions automatically kick in when nations buy arms from countries designated as enemies of the US. Russia, North Korea and Iran topped the list when the legislation was signed by the President. North Korea is now no longer deemed an enemy state. The aim of the Act is to dissuade countries from buying arms or doing business with targeted enemies of the US. All countries going ahead with the purchases would have to bear the brunt of US sanctions. This is to make sure that the economy of Russia and Iran are hit.
India has been warned several times by senior US officials not to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia. Almaz Antey, the Russian company which manufactures the S-400, is on America’s sanction list. In September, China was punished with punitive sanctions for buying the same missile shield from Russia. It is now up to America to decide whether it wants to punish Delhi and risk losing a key defence partner in Asia and push India into the Russia-China camp. Beijing and Moscow have buried their past animosity and are collaborating to meet the US challenge in Asia. After its annexation of Crimea and its role in the Syrian conflict, and the alleged interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections, Russia has reignited the Cold War era animosity with America. China is the target of Trump’s trade war and now there is noise coming from Washington of Beijing’s attempt to influence the upcoming Congressional elections in the US.
India has repaired its tense ties with China post-Doklam in the ‘informal summit’ in Wuhan earlier this year. It is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organistaion (SCO), the Brazil Russia India China, South Africa (BRICS) and the Russia-India-China forums. India and China, despite the long-standing border problem and concerns about President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiatives, and China’s close friendship with arch-rival Pakistan, cooperates on several issues that affect developing countries on the international stage. Improved ties with China will give India option for manoeuvre if the US decides to act tough.
India’s arms purchases from Russia are not confined to the controversial S 400 Triumf missiles. There are others in the pipeline. The 200 series Kamov 226T helicopters worth $ 1 billion, four Krivak class frigates costing roughly around $ 2.2 billion, as well as AK 103 assault rifles. Preliminary talks are also on for producing Future Ready Combat Vehicles in India. The deal if it materializes would be a cool $ 4.6 billion. A Joint Statement at the end of the talks on October 5 reiterated the commitment to continue defence co operation between the India and Russia. A subtle message has been sent out to the US that the two countries were in no mood to abandon their traditional strong bond which had stood the test of time. However, as India was getting closer to the US and Russia was making overtures to Pakistan, there was a lull in ties. But the informal meeting in the Russian seaside town of Sochi in May this year helped to smooth out much of the misunderstanding. Putin and Modi seem to have also struck a personal rapport, which makes a major difference in relations between nations.
India and Russia have had close cooperation in the nuclear field, right through the Cold War period, at a time when the US and its western allies had slapped sanctions for its 1974 and 1989 nuclear tests. Though it was the former President George Bush who by signing the India-US civil nuclear agreement in 2005 brought India out of its nuclear-pariah status, not a single US-built power station is in operation in the country. The Kudankulam nuclear power station in Tamil Nadu built with Russian collaboration plant has six units. The first two units are in operation. The third and fourth units are under construction, and plans for the fifth and sixth are already finalised. India and Russia are jointly manufacturing equipment and building a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. The idea is to build small nuclear power plants in third countries.
Prime Minister Modi is conscious of the fact that in the past Russia had stood like a rock behind India at the UN and other international forums. At a time when Pakistan was heavily backed by the US and was a near NATO ally, Washington and its allies turned a deaf ear to all Delhi’s complaints about Pakistan’s hand in Kashmir and Khalistan. In fact, it was only after 2001, when the US and NATO forces were in Afghanistan that the situation changed. The CIA and Pakistan’s military worked closely together when the Russian forces were in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The fact that Afghanistan and border areas of Pakistan are flushed with arms was basically a result of the massive supplies made by the US for the Afghan Mujahideen groups to fight the Russian troops. Now the tables have turned. Today US complains of terror hideouts in Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban being sheltered by the ISI. Washington understands India’s problems with Pakistan, which it had earlier rejected.
India under Modi seemed to be veering closer to the US. The defence partnership with the US, which had been at a standstill came to life after Modi took office. India has already signed two of the three foundation agreements, which makes cooperation between India and US defence forces easier. During September’s 2 plus 2 dialogue in Delhi, the two sides signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which lays the ground for obtaining high-tech military hardware from the US. The agreement allows Indian military to access to top-of-the-line secured and encrypted communication equipment. India had signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The third agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), will be discussed now. Besides these three, an end-user agreement will also have to be signed to ensure that the technology passed on to India is not given to any other country. Some in the US establishment worry about Russians getting their hands on American technology from India. India and the US navy have been holding the Malabar exercises regularly since 1992. Japan makes up the third country to join India and the US since 2015. The Malabar exercises are held in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and certainly add to China’s concerns about the three countries ganging up to contain China.
One of the principle reasons for America wanting India on board in the Indo-Pacific is to balance China’s growing assertiveness in not just the South China Sea but also across the Indian Ocean as well. India is large enough Asian power to offer a counter-weight to China. Delhi is well aware of that and is hoping that the US will therefore give India an exemption from sanctions for going ahead with the Russian missile defence deal. Delhi has pointed out to the Americans that the negotiations for the defence missile system had started much before CAATSA was passed. India needs the missile defence to guard against a sudden Chinese or even Pakistani air attack. The message to the Trump administration is that New Delhi cannot compromise on its strategic interests and needs it urgently. Last month National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was in Washington meeting with his counterpart John Bolton and defence secretary Jim Mattis. Doval‘s message was clear. The US can waive the sanctions if it wants to. But Delhi was in no position to scrap the negotiations. Officials are hoping that the Trump Administration officials would understand India’s compulsion. Till the time of writing, Washington has given no indication that it had made up its mind on the issue. With a mercurial President like Trump in the White House, nobody is sure what to expect. Delhi however remains optimistic.
The deed has already been done, and it is now up to the White House to deal with the consequence. Though Delhi is in a better position now to deal with the US, it is also a fact that Delhi needs both US and Russia. Good relations with the only super power opens doors for India. The US did some heavy lifting at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when an exception had to be made for India during the Bush presidency. China and several other countries were opposed but the US ensured that the vote went through. India has big power ambitions and wants a place at the high table of international affairs, that can be facilitated by US. More importantly, good relations with the US has a salutary effect on China. Though America is unlikely to come to India’s help in case of a full-scale war with China, the fact that US backs India will make Beijing circumspect. India has long wanted US technology, but because of sanctions on Indian entities imposed by the US, for its two nuclear tests, that was impossible. Now however the groundwork has been laid through the foundation agreements for access to superior technology from the US.
While India needs the US, it cannot turn its back on Russia, a trusted ally. Whether in the fields nuclear or defence equipment, India is dependent on Moscow. Having relied on Russia for decades for its defence needs, India’s defence production units are geared to work with former Soviet equipment. It is a legacy issue which will take years to overcome. So as a developing power, India must have excellent ties not just with the US and Russia but all major powers. The Modi government had done well in relations to big powers, though its neigbourhood policy has been a disappointment.
Perhaps President Trump’s mercurial temperament has been a wake-up call for the Modi government. It is understood that going too far into the American camp could have pitfalls. So, maintaining its traditional ties with Russia remains vital. Modi has done just that. Ironically an independent foreign policy maintaining a balance between Russia and US was at the core of the Nehruvian legacy. Modi seems to have done some course correction and given some space for adjustments in a fast-changing international order.

Towards The Crest Of Anti-Immigrant Populism

The emerging Populist Right wants a new map and dissociates from open Fascism and Nazism in Europe

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

The spectre of General Gabriele D’Annunzio, Prince of Montenevoso, Duke of Gallese, father of ‘proto-fascism’, awaits the proscenium of new European theatre where a new strain of rightist politics emerges through a maze of a new variant of populism which is no replica of Benito Mussolini brand of Fascism or that of Nazism of Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich. This rise of right races towards the crest of a turbulent anti-immigrant and populist sentiment, is sweeping aside or weakening mainstream party politics across the continent. A Bloomberg scan of several decades of electoral data across 22 European countries infers that the swing is in favour of populist radical-right parties, never seen in the last three decades or so. These parties have built a vote bank of 16 per cent from 11, while a decade ago it was together 5 per cent in 1997.
The victory of centrist French President Emmanuel Macron and the reelection of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is its reflex. The hoary-headed official Marxist (read Leninist following) party leaders smell the return of Fascism, forgetting Karl Marx’s unequivocal conviction that history does not merely repeat itself as a fascimile. It does, Marx banteringly said, in the ‘Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”
The Bloomberg analysis states realistically, some parties that hog the show are in their appearance “anti-elite, nativist, and having a strong law and order focus, as defined by academics that helped shape this analysis. They manoeuvered from the margins, or even from the centre in some cases, to disrupt the European political landscape”.
That’s precisely the new cultivar of populism.
But nowhere to date is there manifestation of ascendancy of fascistically rightist party or coalition.

Take the case of Austria. Although the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs FPÖ) rose to power through the prevailing constitutional route, it teamed up with the centre-right People’s Party (Österreichische Volkspartei OeVP) whose nominee Sebastian Kurz (31) is the Chancellor, the youngest head of state the world over, while the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Heinz Christian Strache (48) is from the FPÖ.
When the new coalition came to power in mid-December 2017, a large number of agitators, including women’s groups and left-wing parties, came on the street, bearing placards such as ‘Don’t Let Nazis Govern’. The apprehension was not off-the-reality as the government seeks ban on girls from wearing headscarves in elementary schools and kindergartens. The VC defended it, saying “we don’t want parallel societies”. The target is the Muslim society on the plea of putting the foot down against ‘Radical Islam’.
Gabriele D’Annunzio, who is also called the ‘John the Baptist of Italian Fascism’, was deeply involved in the decadent movement, and his literary work had the impress of French Symbolism and British Aesthetism, as also thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche. He was irritated by Mussolini’s culture of dictatorship which was not even manifest during the Italian Regency of Carnaro, led by D’Annunzio, who was instrumental in the self-proclamation of a state in the city of Flume (now Croatia) between 1919 and 1920.
This anger caused his hyphenation from Mussolini, who suppressed his mentor. The emerging right, that aims at drawing a new map according to its desire, dissociates from Fascism and Nazism.
Deutsche Right
Take German national elections in 2017. The far right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) which got 12.6 per cent of votes cashed in on the slogan “Dare it, Germany”. Its founder Dr Alexander Gauland, formerly with the Christian Democratic Union party of Chancellor, raked up aggressive nationalism in a xenophobic tone: “We have the right not only to take back our country, but also our past.” For the xenophobic party, German identity is not characterised by the horrors of Nazi Germany but myths like Nibelungs of Wagner’s operas and the legend of Faust of Goethe. But political theorists brand both FPÖ and AfD as ideologically committed to make history of Nazi era repeat albeit sans ‘terrorist dictatorship’ which was the main operational feature of Fascism and Nazism. If 2017 saw the return of moderate politicians in Europe, look again: the election of centrist French President Emmanuel Macron and the reelection of German Chancellor Angela Merkel connote a rising tide of anti-immigrant and populist sentiment that is sweeping aside or weakening mainstream party politics across the continent. A Bloomberg analysis of decades of election results across 22 European countries reveals that support for populist radical-right parties is higher than it’s been at any time over the past 30 years. These parties won 16 per cent of the overall vote on average in the most recent parliamentary election in each country, up from 11 per cent a decade earlier and 5 per cent in 1997.
Pale Mainstream
Among the Right-wing populist parties to be watched especially in Europe include, apart from FPÖ and AfD, the Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang) of Belgium, Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) and Progress Party (Fremskridtspartiet) of Denmark, Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset, PS), Swiss People’s Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei, SvP), Swiss Nationalist Party (Partei National Orientierter Schweizer in German; Parti nationaliste suisse in French PNS).
All these parties are professedly anti-migration and anti-Islam. The strength of Right-wing and national populist parties today is based on their ‘core themes’ of xenophobia and critique of the elites, with a bluntly worded message that insinuates innocents to gravitate to racist thinking often unwittingly: ‘no to this Europe’.
These Right-wing and national populist parties drive a wedge among the rank and file of established parties in Europe and their toughened demands of them influence national and European policy in a host of states. None of the strategies adopted by the mainstream parties in their dealings to date with Right-wing and national populists, namely — strict demarcation, partial approximation, toleration for minority governments and cooperation within coalitions — prove to be a panacea.
Genesis: 21st C
Right-wing populist swing (not yet a wave, though) began taking from the dawn of this millennium. In 2000, the FPÖ registered its prominent presence in the Austrian federal parliament. It was followed by the securing of the second seat in the Federal Council, Switzerland, the largest by SvP in 2003. A distinctive push forward was felt.
Things took a bigger shape in and around 2013. First, FPÖ performed almost decisively in the National Council elections in late September 2013, while Finns Party quadrupled its score to very close to 20 per cent, thriving on the Eurosceptic line. In Norway, at the heart of Europe, the Right-wing populist Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) entered the government in the late summer of 2013. However, Euroscepticism, which is built on xenophobia, is not a new phenomenon that flourishes along striking a scale and success of the opponents of the EU, paving the way for the Right-wing and nationalistic populism.
An extensive study conducted by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, in conjunction with the Centre for European Studies (CES), into Right-wing and national populism in Europe (under Karstem Grabow and Florian Hartleb ), four years ago looked into its genesis. It criticised the decision-making processes of the political elites, that were ‘light years away’ from the lives of ‘ordinary people’.
The bailouts accorded to the beleaguered national economies of southern Europe provided welcome fodder for the arguments of Right-wing populists. As long as this problem persists and as long as the EU is perceived as a ‘spaceship of elites’, afloat either way as a ‘bureaucratic monster’, the emerging brand of populism will forge ahead. Hence, the Right-wing populists have, since the middle of the current decade, a favourable ground and sufficient ammunition for Euroscepticism and even anti-EU propaganda.
Liberal Resistance
But the rise of the Right is no one-way traffic. The retaliation fast moves towards a dialectical exactitude. The massive strike of railway workers in France against the right-of-the centre President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to liberalise the sector and modernise the state-owned railway firm SNCF of rolling strike action of two days, followed by three-day breaks until June 28, has been termed by Le Figaro as a “war of attrition.” It has dealt a severe blow to traffic within France, where only one in eight high-speed trains, and only one in five suburban trains are running.
Macron is thrown into the horns of a dangerous dilemma: facing a crucial political choice, because citizens felt irritated as they can’t travel during the spring break period, and this risks turning into anger at his policies. He has the choice to compromise with the unions even by a climb-down on the essence of the reform. If the two-days-a-week strike goes on, unions might feel emboldened by their success and be tempted to play hardball. Alternatively, if Macron sticks to his guns, it would burnish his image as an adamant reformer, but would risk him to be ridiculed in the not-so-remote future as a tone-deaf president unable to understand the confusion of French voters disoriented by the quantity and rhythm of his reforms.
The Right-wing populism is too xenophobic to look at the growth of ‘modern-day slavery’ in Europe. People working in agriculture, hospitality and fisheries are most at risk of exploitation, according to human rights body. The 7th General Report on GRETA — Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings — of 2017 in a country-by-country reports “shows that in many States Parties, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is the predominant form of trafficking as far as identified victims are concerned.
At the same time, trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation has been on the rise and was the predominant form of exploitation in some countries (e.g. Belgium, Cyprus, Georgia, Portugal, Serbia and United Kingdom). While there are considerable variations in the number and proportion of labour trafficking victims amongst the evaluated countries, all countries indicated an upward trend of labour exploitation over the years.” The number of identified victims of labour trafficking has increased in every European country monitored twice by the GRETA, based in Strasbourg. “In some countries — including Belgium, Cyprus, Georgia, Portugal, Serbia and the U.K. — labour exploitation has overtaken sex trafficking as the primary form of human trafficking”, it added. “Our monitoring shows that more and more people are being trafficked to work in awful conditions in Europe, both within and across national borders,” said GRETA president Siobhán Mullally.
Latin America
But the rightward swing is not confined to Europe. In Latin America, where triumphant pro-socialist governments had once swept the region, a fresh wave of populism is rearing its head. Carlos Menem of Argentina, Fernando Collor in Brazil, and Alberto Fujimori of Peru have taken up the new flag of economic populism. They are untainted by corruption and are proponents of market reform. The killing of Rio city council member and human rights activist Marielle Franco in mid-March this year is an omen for the progressives. She tweeted, “How many more must die for this war to end?” In January alone, police killed 154 people in Rio state. But will Right-wing populism achieve stability? Is it against democratic-minded persons the world over – those who love life, love freedom, and all of those who struggle for human rights? Do the xenophobic political groups have a hidden penchant for fascism of a new variant? The verdict is for history to deliver.

Mass Conversion To Buddhism Coming

Kamal Wallia, the Second-in-Command of Bhim Army, spoke to Parliamentarian in an exclusive interview

Srawan Shukla
Srawan Shukla

The author is a Lucknow-based independent journalist with over 25 years experience in media - print, television and digital. He started his career with The Pioneer, working later with The Times of India, Newstime, Hyderabad and Tehelka. He also worked with Zee News and ETV (UP). He later founded, and is Bureau Chief of Parliamentarian, Uttar Pradesh

Kamal Wallia is a Graduate in English and a polytechnic diploma holder. He was working as Canteen Clerk at ITC Saharanpur. Recently, he was sacked from there after his name figured in the FIR on the Saharanpur riots. His father Beer Singh expired in 1984. He draws inspiration from his mother KantiWallia and graduate wife Kajal to continue as a second-in-command in Bhim Army even after losing his job.
What is the ideology of the Bhim Army? Why was it launched when BSP is already fighting for Dalit rights?
Even after Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambdekar and Kanshi Ramji fighting for so many years for the rights of Dalits, there was no change in the condition of the community members. Our plight continued. We are still being treated as ‘untouchables’. Social discrimination at all level and increasing attacks on Dalits in Uttar Pradesh forced us to launch a new social movement and awakening in the form of Bhim Army. We are using education and confrontation as combined tools to combat caste oppression and improve the socio-economic conditions of our brethren.
WDoes your outfit too have political ambitions or is this just another Dalit uprising?
No. We are strictly a social organisation engaged in awakening our community members to fight against caste discrimination and restore their pride. Going by the recent developments in the aftermath of the Saharanpur riots, a final decision on the issue willbe taken by our Chief Chandrsekahar Azad ‘Ravan’, once he is out of jail. We don’t call it another Dalit uprising either. The Bhim Army is only fighting for the Constitutional rights of Dalits. You may say that our approach to this fight is a bit revolutionary, as we no longer take things lying down.
The Bhim Army is often accused of adopting violent means and is squarely blamed for triggering the Saharanpur riots?
Baba Saheb Dr Ambdekar and Manyavar Kanshi Ram struggled for decades but failed to get Dalits their dues even after jumping into the political fray through Republican Party of India and Bahujan Samaj Party. After Kanshi Ram left, the BahujanSamaj Mission went into wrong hands. We the activists of Bhim Army have taken up the work left by Dr Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. If attacks and atrocities against Dalits are justified then how can our retaliation be unjustified?
What is Bhim Army’s equation with the BSP and Mayawati?
We are staunch Ambedka rites and followers of Kanshi Ramji. We have been supporting the BSP all through. But after Kanshi Ram, Mayawati sold their mission to ‘Manuwadis’ to grab power. If she were working for the welfare and uplift of Dalits then where was the need for launching Bhim Army? We do not have any political ambitions like her. She grabbed power for four times but she did nothing for the community members except filling her own coffers. We are poles apart.
Dalits are also part of Hindu society and follow the same religion. Then why you call your selves Chamars? Isn’t the Bhim itself Army promoting casteism?
Let me make this very clear that we are not part of Hindu society. We don’t worship Hindu Gods. The Bhim Army propagates atheism. At best, we are close to Buddhism. We solemniseour marriages by Buddhist rituals. We have also planned mass conversion to Buddhism if attacks and atrocities against Dalits do not stop immediately. Conversions have already taken place at many places across Uttar Pradesh silently, beyond media glare.
Who are your tormentors – the upper castes?
No. We have no fight with upper castes only. Our fight is not against a particular caste but against all those who have falsely imposed the centuries-old caste system. Why scavenging should be done only by lower castes? Why can’t a Dalit become a priest? The world is changing, and so is the social system. We have to adopt those changes or this confrontation will continue.

Is Bennett A Dissenter? Only History Will Tell

Sharply critical of the PM’s alleged gift-taking, Bennett claims to run and win as a better “leader by example”

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

Naftali Bennett, a brash 45-year-old former military officer and high-tech entrepreneur, who is now the education minister and once a protégé of the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, stated ostensibly in an innocent way: “After the era of Netanyahu, I intend to be the prime minister of Israel.” Sharply critical of the PM’s alleged gift-taking, he claims, he will run and win as a better “leader by example”. His conservative, essentially a religious party, named Jewish Home, currently a member of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, prodded and pushed the PM quite often to the right. “Bennett has Bibi hostage,” a veteran Israel observer quipped. Is Bennett a dissenter? Only history will tell us. A dissenter is one who dissents from an established church, political party, or majority opinion. Early dissenters were English Separatists who were Protestant Christians who dissociated themselves from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The etymological root of dissenter is Latin dissentire, means one who disagrees in opinion and belief. That was when tolerance was held high. Incidentally, this year was the 50th anniversary of a great dissent. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ‘Danny the Red’, was a hero of rebellious France. On 6 May, 1968, ahead of appearing before the disciplinary commission of Paris-Sorbonne University he sang “L’Internationale”. It was when French students and workers, revolting against consumerism, monopoly capitalism, and US involvement in Vietnam, made the largest general strike in the history of France to happen. The national economy screeched to a halt and that continued for two months. President Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle had fled to the then West Germany, albeit briefly. The strike finally ended when de Gaulle, the founder of Fifth Republic, dissolved the National Assembly and held new parliamentary elections on 23 June.
The Gall!
He had dissenters, namely French socialist Jean Jaurès, moderate Left André Léon Blum and bourgeois liberal political personality Pierre Isaac Isidore Mendès-France, known as PMF, although but none of them could edge out de Gaulle. Four years later, on 21February 1972, during Nixon’s trip to China, Premier Zhou Enlai declared that it was “too early” to assess the impact of the “French Revolution.” However, Zhou’s reference to 1968, instead of 1789 was confusing to many. But that’s not congruent in this discussion. But Cohn-Bandit, then an anarcho-libertarian fighting for sexual freedom, believed elections would mean a ‘fool’s trap, ’ but now as a Member of the European Parliament, representing both the German and French Green parties, hosts a whimsical radio programme called L’humeur de Dany, or Danny’s Mood. He had long ceased to be a dissident. Prior to the French revolt, another dissent exploded in January in Czechoslovakia when libertarian Alexander Dubček defeated hardcore Stalinist Antonin Novotny, first secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia on 5 January 1968. But he had turned into a dissenter when the then general secretary of the now defunct CP of Soviet Union sent the Soviet army to oust Dubček.
Bolshevik Dichotomy
But dissenters are today an extremely endangered species. On how to accommodate a dissenter, I look up to the giant of French Enlightenment, author, historian and philosopher François-Marie Arouet, known by his pseudonym Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” If and only if dissent is honoured, dissenters can dwell freely, but when state reigns trampling liberty and freedom, dissent and dissenters are insecure. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, father of the Bolshevik Revolution and Bolshevism, stated in his major tome, ‘State and Revolution’, “When there is State there can be no freedom, but when there is freedom there will be no state.” Yet, Lenin’s precept and practice were mutually dissimilar. Thus, the power of the state and freedom for dissenters are mutually exclusive. This reality is reflected in ultra-authoritarian regimes of the US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Suppression of dissenters by the two enemies of liberty turns democracy a gigantic farce. A US citizen of Bengali origin, named Sankar Ray (obviously not me) fiercely defended all who dissent in a letter to the editor, in the Auburn Reporter on 7 October 2017, where he stated, “The U.S. Constitution, above everything – above US prosperity, above US politics, above US military might, above US economic power, even above all the sacrosanct proverbial “apple pies” – is the real America. The inherent power of this unique document is that it not only allows, but actually empowers, every expression of peaceful dissent. Through the free expression of peaceful dissent, much more than salutes, our Constitution truly shines. Through dissent we revere our constitution by freely exercising our unique rights enshrined in it, to fearlessly challenge the status quo. “We respect and honour our military personnel as we respect and honour our teachers, doctors, first responders, scientists, farmers, students, factory workers and many others that make up our country. We all contribute in our unique ways to the vitality of this nation and we are all equal under our Constitution. “So, let no individual, or group, claim special rights to dictate to others what actions constitute dishonour of our constitution (or its symbols), especially when such actions involve peaceful – and I might add decent – expressions of dissent like taking a knee for couple of minutes before a game. By their action the knee-takers revere our unique Constitution no less than those who stand. “One is free to disagree with the intent behind the dissent, but it is un-American to demean its free expression under our Constitution.”
Cyril Ramaphosa
Dissent in contemporary history witnessed a victory in South Africa when a dissenter Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of SA) moved into the shoes of Jacob Zuma who had to put in his papers as the President of the Republic of South Africa, a position that he had held since 2009. The once powerful leader of the African National Congress, Zuma has left behind a legacy marred by graft on a grand scale, economic malaise and intensive racial tensions. But may be, Zuma is now turned a dissenter although he was embroiled in a dizzying number of scandals. The African National Congress (ANC) brass rose from the slumber when the party saw its worst electoral performance since the end of apartheid in 1994. The party’s reputation fell along with Zuma’s approval ratings, due to events such as the 2012 Marikana Massacre, Nkandlagate (a massacre of striking workers, for which no one has been held accountable) and allegations of state capture by the influential Gupta brothers. But in a developing economy, where crony capitalism rules, dissent hardly survives alike India.
Djilas’ Class
One of the classic cases of dissent in the 20th Century was the schism between the Yugoslav dictator President Josif Broz Tito and once his closest confidante, Milovan Djilas, a Stalin Prize laureate who fell from the grace of Tito for his book, ‘New Class’, considered a masterpiece of dissident literature during the Cold War, although more than spelled trouble for its author. It was published abroad in 1957 and became an instant hit. It was published in Yugoslavia 31 years thereafter in 1988. Djilas, one of the leading figures in the Partisan resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II was thrown into prison by Tito in 1956. He was the first and most prominent dissenter of communist regime. His son Aleksa was a three -year old boy. Stupefied, when he was nine, he asked if his father did steal a book, although in disbelief. In an interview to Belgrade-based NIN weekly, Aleksa about his father several decades after his death said: “I believed that he was innocent and that he was right. I saw him more as a hero than a victim. So, I did understand what was going on quite well. Kids can think clearly if they are not confounded by adults.”
Ahmed Ben Bella
Was Ahmed Ben Bella, who led successfully led the struggle of Algerians to achieve independence from France, a sequel to a coup d’etat on 19 June, 1965 by the minister of defence in the newly independent Algeria, General Houari Boumediene, who forced Ben Bella to be in exile Switzerland, a dissenter in the other way? For, Ben Bella and Boumediene were progressives, as they had dreamt of socialism via non-capitalist path. A combat veteran of the French army in World War II, Ben Bella returned home. But by then he was greatly radicalised, as he was morally converted to a rebel, seeing the humiliations faced by Algerian Muslims under French colonialism. He gravitated towards militant nationalism comprising guerilla warfare and socialist politics by the 1950s. Having escaped from prison for his role in a robbery, he fled to Cairo and founded the National Liberation Front (FLN) that set up independent republic of Algeria. As even after the ouster of Ben Bella, General Boumediene carried forward the same path. Whether Ben Bella should be treated a dissenter remains a political lemma.
Beyond Politics
Dissenters are not limited to politics. Insulated of pelf and power, academia is the breeding ground for dissent and dissenter. Herbert Butterfield, for instance was called an historian as dissenter, remembered for his The Whig Interpretation of History (1931),a polemic against the self-congratulatory presentism, forsaking the historiography of Victorian historians who upheld the liberal values and institutions of their day as the end-point of historical progress. His devastating critique became commonplace within the profession, and the “Whig Interpretation” came to be stigmatised as the hallmark of an unprofessional style of history practiced only by politicians and popular historians. Son of a West Yorkshire mill worker, he hogged the limelight for his brilliant scholarship that ranked him among the intellectual celebrities of the twentieth century. A scholar, credited with groundbreaking contributions in a number of major fields, including historiography and the histories of science, religion, and international relations, he published 22 books and left behind a highly influential school of political history.
Adrien Rich, a dissenter (or call her a dissident) in the realm of literature, wrote,
“The eyes I met
Accused as they implored me to forget,
As if my shape had risen to destroy
Salvation’s rampart with a hope of joy”.
Or, let’s read together, her Diamond Cutters:
“Be proud, when you have set
The final spoke of flame
In that prismatic wheel,
And nothing’s left this day
Except to see the sun
Shine on the false and the true,
And know that Africa
Will yield you more to do”.

By the mid-1950s, she felt the urge for something new. In the 1970s, she had “embarked on a process that was tentative and exploratory.” Rich’s imagery is therefore frequently abrasive, sudden, full of surprising flashes, sometimes threatening in its simplicity: a woman’s mind “smoldering like wedding-cake”. She was inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”, “her fine blades making the air wince”.
A dissenter in a creative node, the poetess gives the principle ‘I agree to disagree’ an ecstatic tenor and tune. The US President of the 1950s Dwight D. Eisenhower was worried about dissent and dissenters, “May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” His moral disciple is the 45th US President Donald John Trump.
Nonetheless, dissenters resurface – maybe outside the arena of politics which is constantly contaminated by money, muscle power and mafia – to snap fingers at destroyers of democracy and liberty.

Brain Drain

What ails the Indian education system? Why do many students – and their numbers keep increasing every year — go abroad for higher studies?

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

GT Deve Gowda was not a name known all over the country till recently. But the Karnataka Assembly elections made him a hero. He defeated the incumbent chief minister Siddaramaiah by a massive 2 lakh-odd vote difference.
He was the JD(S) candidate and Siddaramaiah thought it would be a cake walk for him in Chamundeshwari constituency, from where he had won comfortably in the past. But that was so much day dreaming, and Gowda swept him out!
And his reward? HD Deve Gowda, the man who once ruled India as Prime Minister, has made him Minister for Higher Education in his son Kumaraswamy’s cabinet. This came as a shock not only to the people of Karnataka, but to the man himself.
GT Deve Gowda could not believe his eyes and ears. He was after all just an eighth standard pass and that is his highest educational qualification! To be fair to him, he initially refused to accept the portfolio but the senior Gowda would not have a `no’ for an answer. He `ordered’ the former to assume charge immediately. And the faithful
junior obliged.
Today, as Minister for Higher Education for a state that boasts of 55 universities and over a thousand colleges offering graduate and post graduate courses, he is all set to decide the destiny of millions of students over the next five years!
This is the pitiable plight of higher education in most of the states in India Today. But then, what ails the Indian education system? Why do many students – and their numbers keep increasing every year — go abroad for higher studies? There was a time, about three to four decades ago, when Indian college campuses used to have many foreign students, especially from third world countries like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, African and southeast Asian countries.
But today, their numbers have declined and on the contrary, the number of Indian students going abroad increases by nearly two lakh every year. As per the data available now, there are an estimated 5.53 lakh Indian students studying in 86 different countries. USA, Canada and Australia account for two-thirds of this number. While the data on number of Indian students who go to countries like the USA, Canada etc., is released by respective countries, the data on the number of students who go to certain other countries is not clearly known.
More than 50 per cent of the Indian students study in North America while about 90,000 students study in Asian countries as well as in Australia. As per government data, 2,06,708 Indian students are studying in the USA. Canada is second in the list with an estimated 1,00,000 students, while Australia is third with 63,283 students. (Data up to 2016.)
Despite the Trump hiccups, the number of students going abroad to study is growing at a faster pace than ever before. Now there are new destinations like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and Germany. Ireland holds education fetes every year in New Delhi.
Poor Institutes
According to rough estimates, with total enrolled students of 34.6 million in the higher education system, India has one of the largest student populations in the world. There are a total 850 universities, compared to 799 in 2016. Fourteen universities are exclusively for women: four in Rajasthan, two in Tamil Nadu and one each in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.
The total number of central universities now stands at 43, while the total number of government deemed universities is 32. There are 75 higher education institutes falling under Institution of National Importance category.
The figures are no doubt impressive but at the global level, where does India fit in? Only three Indian institutes are in the top 200 universities in the world. As per the annual Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2018, US universities dominate the overall rankings. While the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) leads the global rankings, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, only find their place at the bottom of the heap.
IIT-Delhi is at 172nd position, IIT-Bombay is at 179 and IISc Bangalore is at 190. It is almost like the Olympic Games, where India sends huge contingents but is always found at the bottom of the table with single digit medals.
Raison D’être
With so many institutions of higher learning, why do students prefer to go abroad? Is it a loss to the Indian universities? Says Dr SY Kulkarni, a senior educationist and presently Vice Chancellor of the Reva University in Bengaluru: “There are mainly two reasons: first, the rupee conversion gap is widening. If students spend Rs 15 to 20 lakh studying in a foreign university and get a nice job immediately after completing the course, he or she will earn back that amount within a year or two. And later, the earnings in foreign currency mean substantial savings in Indian rupees. Almost 90 per cent of the students who study abroad are offered jobs there, and after initial problems, settle down to a comfortable life in those countries.
Kulkarni adds: “Second, it is unfortunate that our curricula are still not in tune with the industry needs. In most of the foreign universities, especially for professional courses, there is perfect sync between the education system and industries there. Syllabuses are framed in such a way that the student, within a short span of time, almost gets a feeling that he is working while studying. University-industry-corporate collaboration is a major advantage for our students.”
Newer Pastures
Nearly 85 per cent of internationally mobile Indian students head for five countries: the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but China and Germany are both emerging destinations for Indian students heading abroad, though the numbers heading for Germany are still relatively small. Earlier, if one had to go to universities in France or Germany, one had to learn their languages. But now in most of the leading universities, the courses are taught in English. Or ready software is available to translate the text from any language to English. So the US and UK are not the only options now. Australia is back as the second favourite choice for Indian students after a downturn for several years after 2009, when a number of racial attacks led to a drop. In a new trend, Germany is emerging strongly as a favoured destination and could soon overtake the UK as the most popular study destination in Europe for international students. UK has seen a major downturn as immigration policies have made it more difficult for overseas students to secure visas, with Indian students the most affected. And Theresa May’s right wing government seems to do her country more damage.
“The number of Indian students studying in Germany grew by 24.3 per cent to 11,655 last year due to lower cost of higher education there. It is one of the favourite options for Indians,” says Madhu, who is in the business of helping Indian students getting admissions as well as placements abroad. After five years of virtually no growth in international students to Germany, the country attracted a lot of attention globally when it announced an initiative to waive off tuition fees for international students.
“Germany is also a leader in Europe and a technologically advanced country. It is seen as a place where cutting edge high-tech happens,” Madhu says. China is a surprise. According to University World News, Indian students’ flow to China is almost all for medical studies, given a severe shortage of seats in medical colleges at home. “Unlike Indian students to other destinations, the vast majority who study in China return to practise medicine.”
Denied At Home
Overall, Indian student growth overseas is still powered by a lack of places in good Indian institutions, even for the best students. Even those with 90 per cent marks cannot be sure they will get into an institution of their choice.
The rising purchasing power among India’s growing middle class has increased the affordability of overseas study. Banks and some private trusts these days fund almost 100 per cent of the education expenses. Though not all, some like the Cedilla of HDFC bank have been vigorously pushing their loan offers. “Students will not be loan defaulters. Instead, they may become our bank’s long-time customers, once they establish their business abroad or return to India,” says one senior bank official who did not want to be named.
“The risk element here is very low. And giving funds for education is also one kind of CSR (corporate social responsibility) for us,” he says. According to a study called “Indian student mobility to selected European countries: An overview” by researchers at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, the number of Indian students going overseas to study rose by a stunning 256 per cent – from 53,266 to 189,629 – in the last decade. The study reveals fascinating details about where Indian students are choosing to study when they go abroad, and why.
Countries like Sweden, Denmark, Italy, and Ireland are now in Indian students’ radars. The study observes that Indian students are looking at countries where “education is considerably cheaper and part-time jobs are easier to secure”.
A different study, done by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) estimated that the hundreds of thousands of Indian students now studying abroad cost India as much as US $17 billion a year in lost revenue.
ASSOCHAM wants “more and more quality educational institutions to be set up in India on the lines of IIT and IIM in order to restrict the outgo of students”. They also say “good quality foreign universities should be encouraged to set up shop in India”. But they seem to be stuck due to a variety of strict government controls.
STEM Subjects
Most of the Indians studying abroad are doing so at the graduate level, with the most popular fields being business or STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. Most of them rely on scholarships and/or other financial assistance to fund their education, but the study notes that many Indian students pursuing degrees abroad are taking on heavy financial burdens and debt to do so. The study also reveals an interesting fact: the profile of the internationally mobile Indian students is changing. Traditionally, north Indians flocked to Europe for higher education, but increasingly, students from Gujarat as well as the southern states are making a beeline for institutes in those countries. And when it comes to scholarships and grants, most of them are bagged by students from southern India in recent trends. According to Chanda and Mukherjee, who did the study, most students go abroad along with (a) a perception that foreign degrees translate into better employability and (b) India’s educational capacity remains limited, with excessively high costs of education. For instance, medical education in the country can cost up to Rs one crore for the duration, so Indian parents prefer to send their children to China and Russia.
Reserved Out
Moreover, the reservation policy reduces the availability of seats to ‘general’ category students, thereby weakening the prospects of a majority of students. Such stringent and often unrealistic requirements put students through extreme levels of pressure and lower their chances of attaining quality education.
According to Prof Manjunath, Head of the Department of Journalism and Communication, many middle and lower middle class families want to send their children abroad. “Initially they go for a short internship, and then they get paid for doing odd jobs outside the campuses. Though they have to spend about Rs 10 lakh, the parents don’t mind, as their children get the much coveted `foreign educated ‘tag. Almost every student gets `on-job training’ while still being a student. Back home, parents also feel they have gained in social standing, as they have been able to send the son or daughter for studies abroad,” says the professor. There are many opportunities and a variety of courses, especially in Humanities stream, says Manjunath. “Also, a student, while studying print or television journalism, can also simultaneously enrol for related courses like script writing, cinematography or direction, advertisement planning, etc. Sky is the limit there,” he adds.
India currently ranks as the second largest market that sends its students to study abroad in spite of being home to world famous universities. According to QS World University Ranking, currently India is only second to China in terms of international student enrolment in schools across the globe. Some of the key factors that drive this process are ease of admission, more options, quality of the courses, easy emigration, etc.
Admission in India’s top ranked institutes is highly competitive, given that lakhs of students pass out of high school every year and seats available for admission are quite limited. IIMs (Indian Institute of Management), IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), and AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) are amongst India’s dream institutes that lakhs of students compate to get admission in. The race to secure admission gets much more intense depending on the level of study and discipline.
On top of it, students have to deal with the stress of acing entrance exams for certain disciplines for e.g. Joint Entrance Exams (JEE mains) for engineering colleges and National Eligibility and Entrance Test(NEET) for medical colleges. A study reveals that on an average, a student has lower than one in a 50 per cent chance at securing admission in a highly reputed Indian Institute of Technology.
Pathetically Yours!
Indian academic institutes focus only on delivering popular STEM courses. It is evident from the lack of professional institutes, so a niche segment of students who wish to take the road less-travelled still look to advance their higher studies abroad, just because their desired programme is not widely available in the country! Even if the course is available, they fall short of expertise and accreditation to shape talented students for a better career path.
On the other hand, there is a rich variety of courses available to international students in countries like the US, UK, and Canada. Schools in these countries offer courses in some of the most contemporary and unconventional fields like entertainment, sports, psychology and many more in greater scope and structure.
Even though the standard of courses available across colleges in India is developing, there still seems to be a yawning gap in practical application of skills learnt from conceptual understanding. And because of this, lakhs of students in India struggle to get job placements after graduation. The root cause of this problem goes back to the education system’s emphasis on learning to remember concepts rather than understanding them.
In contrast, schools abroad engage students in active learning through class participation, dialogue exchange, case studies, and practical off and on campus experiences that makes learning fun and meaningful. In addition, flexibility to tailor course as per student’s interest and freedom to work on part-time basis while studying adds to the overall appeal of earning a degree abroad. Greener Pastures
Pathetically Yours!
Emigration is one of the main reasons why Indian students, especially at the graduate level, look to pursue a degree abroad. Countries like the US and Canada offer attractive job prospects after graduation and their flexible immigration policies allow students to seek employment on completion of studies. One does not really know how rabid Trumpism on immigration issues will shape up, but as of now this is the picture. The US National Science Foundation’s survey reveals that about 80 per cent of students from India and other Asian countries choose to remain in America after completing their graduate and doctoral studies.
In Canada obtaining permanent residence becomes easier once job is secured, and it serves as a gateway to higher salaries leading to better lifestyle and facilities. Students pursuing subjects in research-centric areas like biology or pharmacy do not receive enough support from Indian colleges in terms of infrastructure and resources. But colleges in US, Canada and Britain are abundant with resources to provide students with sophisticated technologies, equipment, and infrastructure to conduct in-depth research. Indian students also particularly choose to do research courses abroad because of favourable climatic conditions, habitat, and in some cases flora and fauna exclusively found in those specific locations.
Finally, studying abroad is often seen as the first step toward emigration. Of course, few students will admit this, but statistics show that a very large proportion of students from India — and also from China, South Korea and other Asian countries — choose to stay in the US following the completion of doctoral degrees. Data from the US National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates show that 80 per cent or more of students who complete their PhDs in the US from India and some other Asian countries remain in the US. The reasons for deciding not to return to India are varied. Better salaries and facilities abroad, easier access to research funds, working on cutting-edge topics, etc.While some come back to India later in their careers, the numbers are small. Once established overseas, either in a university or in the research or corporate sectors, it is difficult to return.
Stemming the Tide
There is no short-term solution to this problem for India. The only remedy is to build up high-quality capacity in key disciplines at national institutions so that a greater number of Indian students can obtain excellent training at home. This means significant investment over time, and careful choices about where to invest since all universities cannot be top research universities. It also means significant changes in India’s academic culture to ensure that meritocracy operates at all levels.
Says Dr Vasant Kiran, an eminent classical dancer who is heading the Department of Performing Arts in one of the universities in Bengaluru: “The quality of faculty is also very important. Unfortunately in India not much care is taken while recruiting lecturers. The staff, most of them, have no industry experience at all and have no idea how a corporate system works. Most of the time, the teachers merely take out some points from a text book and make a power point presentation and students merely copy and reproduce in the exams.” Kiran, who has also taught MBA students (he is a qualified management professor as well), says the management institutes are the worst of the lot. “We have professors who have not worked with any of the companies, teaching MBA students subjects such as marketing, digital marketing, etc. Leave alone work experience, they have not even entered any major corporate set up to understand its working.” It is quite true as in many institutions where journalism is taught both at graduate and post graduate levels, many of the staff members have never entered a newspaper office or a television studio to understand how media works.
Same is the case with many professional institutions across the country. Practical hands-on courses with work experience at various levels are what the student is craving for. And when he or she does not get it, they set their sights abroad.
Indian students are considered to be some of the brightest brains internationally and they are welcome with open arms everywhere. May be Mr Donald Trump is an exception.

In-Thing: Try Spiritual Break

Health-Spiritualism packages are the exciting in-thing for travel and tourism companies

Nilima Pathak
Nilima Pathak

Nilima Pathak is a senior journalist currently working with Dubai-based international daily Gulf News. With over 25 years of experience in the print media, she specialises in human-interest stories and interviews

The Indian wellness industry is in for a sea change with the line between conventional and complementary approach now blurring. Even as travel companies and hotels are popularising spas, yoga, meditation and Ayurveda as part of a spiritual package in specific destinations, the move has got a fillip with the government making efforts to promote religious tourism. The government is paving the way for Buddhists across the world to visit India’s Buddhist Circuit, although for strange reasons, it has left out Sikkim, which Guru Padmasambhava, known as the Second Buddha, had described as the last abode of Buddhism. Despite being home to important Buddhist pilgrimage destinations for the 450 million practicing Buddhists across the globe, India has been able to attract only a miniscule percentage of tourists to Bodhgaya in Bihar and Sarnath and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from enhancing infrastructure and improving road and air connectivity, the tourism ministry is considering opening up new entry points into India through Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Additionally, following talks with Vietnam, the civil aviation ministry has agreed to have direct flights between New Delhi and Hanoi from October this year. This is being done so that a large number of Buddhist tourists from Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, who are keen to visit India, can do so. Until now, it was not possible either due to restrictive entry processes or because of poor connectivity. In a bid to spur domestic travel, early this year, the government approved two projects - Swadesh Darshan and Prasad Scheme. The former comprised themes such as Buddhist Circuit, Krishna Circuit and Heritage Circuit, while the latter included Pilgrimage and Spiritual Augmentation Drive and focused on development and beautification of identified pilgrimage destinations. About Rs 70 billion have been allocated for 90 projects under the two schemes, which are likely to be inaugurated by end of the year.
According to Minister of State for Tourism KJ Alphons, “Close to 60 per cent of domestic tourism in India is religious-based.” Repositioning the government’s tourism strategy, the minister said the focus was now to sell yoga and Ayurveda (packages) to attract both domestic and foreign tourists. “Earlier it was thought that yoga is just for people over 40 and Ayurveda too is for older people. Now we are addressing the millennials,” he emphasised. Interestingly, while India has woken up to the realities and benefits of complementary health packages in the last few years, the effectiveness of the therapies were already being practiced in many parts of the world for over two decades. In London, the Integrated Medical Centre (IMC) organised periodic health holiday retreats to India. The 15-day schedule was held at various venues, including the Taragarh Fort in the Himalaya, wherein members of the royal families, celebrities and people from all walks of life participated. The therapeutic yoga sessions were followed by walks, natural-spring baths and various types of evidence-based deep tissue physical therapies and counseling facilities. Naturopath and osteopath Dr Imran Ali of Harley Street Hospital, London, is one of the top specialists in the field of integrated medicine in the UK. He divulged that his maternal grandfather practiced the complementary form of healing in India, way back in the 1920s, when the country was under the British rule.“It remained unacknowledged for decades, only to be picked up by western nations in the 1990s, when they realised the limitations of conventional medicines,” Ali remarked. Having particular interest in neuro-oncology and orthopedic rehabilitation through natural means, Ali pointed, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Hence, the foremost requirement is to address the cause of the problem and enhance the positive aspects of healing and rebut any kind of negativity. By way of my treatment, I have been able to get such people on their feet, who had given up on life after an accident or due to chronic disease.”
Corporate Stress
Blaming it on the over-stressed environment of corporate culture, Swami Nand Kishore Bharti, senior teacher at the Art of Living, felt that after having veered into different directions, a lot of people were realising the real dimensions of spirituality and its numerous benefits. “The move has triggered in the past few years. Initially, everything seemed tempting, glamorous and lucrative to people. But at the end of the day, they comprehended the futility of it all. Except tension and stress, they had not attained much. In order to create an equilibrium, they saw the need to look inwardly and wave off the outwardly pleasures.” The Bangalore-based teacher remarked that the major reason for this change was the interest of people, especially the youth, towards spiritual teachings, practices and peace rather than the religious dogma. They are adapting to lifestyle changes and grasping that running at a fast pace will not help attain peace. With time, wellness as a concept has taken up a multi-dimensional definition that encompasses the individual’s desire for one’s own well being. Yoga practitioner Rekha Kamboj opined: “The feeling of well-being is a sense of wholesomeness. While relating happiness to material comfort, we forget that it’s only one aspect of it. We are healthy only when we have taken care of other facets – physical fitness, mental peace and emotional and spiritual quotients. “We find that modern medications have revolutionised the way we treat and cure illnesses and diseases, but increased reliance on the use of medicines have negative implications. And that is where yoga helps by connecting us to the Ultimate. The philosophy and practice of yoga can help free us from sufferings.” Recognising such philosophies, practitioners are integrating yoga with other systems to treat lifestyle diseases. Paired with Ayurveda and allopathy, it has been given a modern twist. From helping to battle depression and sleep disorder to enhancing mental and emotional well-being, yoga has received tremendous acclaim. For its new converts, yoga is as much a therapeutic solution as a fitness option. Acclaimed yoga gurus claim that yoga is not just about the physical regime, it is an overall package that helps detox the system.
Curated Itineraries
While practices like Ayurveda and naturopathy were a part of Indian life in olden times, it has been given the modern name ‘wellness’ only recently. Encashing on this, travel companies and hotels are offering special packages for holistic destinations and hotels are setting up properties in these places. As a result, wellness centres have mushroomed in every big and small city. SOTC, a leading travel and tourism company, active across various travel segments, is offering curated itineraries covering numerous spiritual destinations in India. In a press report Vishal Suri, Managing Director of SOTC Travel, mentioned that Indians were keen on pre-planned, organised and comfortable spiritual travel experiences. And that pricing of SOTC’s products had been worked around to suit every budget. Places like Varanasi, Puri, Tirupati and Shirdi top the list with more and more Indians travelling to connect with their religious roots. According to a recent study conducted by travel marketplace Ixigo, “With a rise in spiritual tourism, popular pilgrimage centres such as Puri and Varanasi are witnessing higher hotel bookings.” The study revealed a month-on-month growth of 60 per cent for Puri and 48 per cent for Varanasi. Commenting on the findings, Aloke Bajpai, CEO, of Ixigo said, “Looking at the spike in bookings, it is safe to say that spiritual travel is now being considered as one of the offbeat travel trends in India.” He added that it was fascinating to find millennials showing inclination towards exploring indigenous cultural experiences in the country. With even international hotel chains taking note of the growth in religious and spiritual tourism in the country, Hyatt Hotel Resorts launched Hyatt Place Rameswaram, close to the Ramanathaswamy temple and other religious spots. The hotel chain’s next destination is Hyatt Regency in McLeodganj, a town popular for its Buddhist presence, the Namgyal monastery and the Dalai Lama’s temple. Similarly, the Hilton signed up with Trillion Real Estate and Properties to launch Double Tree by Hilton in Shirdi, a town in Maharashtra, famous for the Sai Baba’s temple. Taking advantage of the double bonanza of a vacation coupled with health benefits, many organizations are offering corporate professionals health retreat vacation options with an aim to boost their overall productivity. The spa and wellness vacation can be termed as enticement, but meetings held at outdoor locations certainly help in improving camaraderie and team bonding.
Spa Boom
Niraamaya Resort in Kovalam, Kerala, is a perfect place to optimise well-being. Niraamaya’s Surya Samudra located on a cliff-top, overlooking the Arabian Sea, is most conducive for rejuvenation and healing. The retreat is dotted with traditional teak cottages that celebrate Kerala’s heritage and culture. Its Ayurveda Wellness Destination Programmes are multi-day packages that combine Ayurveda therapies, yoga sessions, healthy cuisine, detox treatments, meditation, use of herbal remedies along with massage treatments and other holistic practices. At the multi-award winning Niraamaya Spa, guests are guided on a personalised path to rejuvenation. Providing personalised services, Niraamaya encourages guests to engage with their wellness experts to enable them to determine their retreat objectives and assist them in designing their healing holiday. Even as travel companies maintain that Kerala is the preferred destination for spas and yoga sessions, the name that comes foremost to mind is Ananda in the Himalayas. Located in Uttarakhand, Ananda is a pioneer in the Indian wellness industry. A flagship property of IHHR Hospitality that owns and manages destination spas and leisure and business hotels throughout the country, Ananda’s premise has always been holistic health. Aashica Khanna, Vice President, Operations, IHHR Hospitality, informed, “Ananda encompasses healing related to mind, body and spirit, based on the traditional science of Ayurveda, yoga, meditation and Vedanta.” Located near the mystic Ganga valley and spiritual town of Rishikesh, this palatial estate offers a cocoon of therapeutic silence that restores balance and harmony. “The surrounding Sal forests provide a perfect ambience of bird song and fresh air that helps in nourishing the mind and body,” she added. The results are award-winning programmes, which work to create a sustainable journey towards a healthier and enriched lifestyle. The spa is also an intrinsic part of Devi Garh heritage hotel and resort housed in the 18th century Devi Garh Palace in village Delwara, Udaipur, Rajasthan. Raas Devi Garh offers the age-old holistic art of Ayurveda to ease the stress of tired minds and weary bodies. Various therapies, massage, yoga and meditation classes are conducted in the serene and tranquil environs.
Spiritual Fix
Sanaya Jijina, Senior Associate Strategy Advisor, Hotelivate, an innovative hospitality consulting firm, said, “Spirituality is entrenched into the very core of Indian culture, but it came to the fore when the Beatles ventured into Rishikesh in Uttarakhand to learn Transcendental Meditation at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram way back in 1968. However, spirituality is often wrongly confused with religion, with the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘religion’ used interchangeably. Spiritual tourism involves people travelling to places to find the meaning of life and attain inner peace through self-realisation and personal transformation. They may or may not follow a particular religion or faith. “Rishikesh, McLeodganj, Auroville, Shirdi and Bodhgaya are some places people travel to for this purpose. Of late, the International Yoga Day Festival, held annually in Rishikesh, receives almost 2,000 participants from over a hundred countries. Whereas, religious tourism involves devotees travelling to undertake pilgrimages and rituals to places such as: Amritsar, Ajmer, Tirupati, Varanasi and Puri.” The official, however, felt that with people’s ever-increasing interest towards spirituality and the renewed focus of the central government on tourism in general and spiritual tourism in particular, there is an urgent need to address the issue of adequate and quality accommodation for tourists. “Hotel chains and organised travel companies have just recently begun targeting this massive untapped segment in smaller towns and cities. It’s time for companies to enter the virgin markets and capitalize on one of the most popular forms of tourism in the country, especially in the budget and economy space,” she advised.

Economy Of Permanence In ‘New India’

In an age which is dazzled by sex, success and Sensex, a discussion on Gandhian criterion is sure to sound like a sermon

Prem Prakash
Prem Prakash

Prem Prakash has been a journalist for three decades. He has worked with Navbharat Times, Jansatta, Sahara Samay, Rashtriya Sahara and National Duniya. He is much discussed for his creative interventions in the criticism of Gandhian thought. He is the author of many books.

A time which has been described by veteran journalist Prabhash Joshi as the “Golden Age of Grand Consumption” is witness to movements at the national and international levels for the protection of human rights and struggles are taking place, dark narratives about the prevalence of human dignity and self-respect are also being written in the same period.
The global society is cursed to carrying the burdens of deafening gunfire to destructive chemical warfare. If you are to speak of Gandhi, he spoke of human dignity in every context, from swaraj to individual to society. And for him, the touchstone of human dignity was always the same – non-violence and the last man. Therefore, it would be interesting to note what light Gandhi’s economic view can shed on the race for development.
Before we go further on this track, it has to be made clear that Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence cannot be separated from his economic ideas. His is a balanced view, where on the one hand he tests the question of human dignity on a rigorous basis, and on the other he broaches on self-restraint, self-discipline and co-existence.
Success, Sex, Sensex
In an age which is dazzled by sex, success and Sensex, a discussion on Gandhian criterion is sure to sound like a sermon, and there is no inclination to consider its practicality either at the mental or intellectual levels. It is for this reason that Gandhi’s vision of national construction has been described by his critics even in his lifetime as impractical and idealistic.
Gandhi’s economic ideas were generally not taken seriously. But this was not the real case. As a matter of fact, those who disregarded the Father of the Nation’s ideas were the people who found it important to be walking in the corridors of power. The power of the rulers does not strengthen democracy nor does it help achieve anything beneficial to the people. It is for this reason that immediately after Independence, Gandhi spoke of disbanding Congress and he suggested that members of Congress should turn towards villages and they should devote their energy to building ‘gram swaraj’.
Well known Gandhian economist JC Kumarappa’s “The Economy of Permanence” is considered as the bible of those economists who believe in the life-principles of non-violence. In the very first chapter of the book, Kumarappa explodes the myth that the economy and development can never be stable. Our experience from industrial revolution to liberalisation shows that the scope of development and its criteria keep changing.
On the same basis, government and society too keep shuffling the priorities regarding economy and development. But no serious thought has emerged with regard to the ultimate goal of this constant change. The only idea that has emerged time and again is that only the powerful will succeed and survive. The ideological maxim in the economic vocabulary for this thinking is “survival of the fittest”. It can be seen what place there is for human compassion and dignity in this worldview. This is the violent vision of prosperity and development. It is a view which tramples others under its boot and moves ahead by lashing out at others.
‘Development’ Critiqued
It is not the case that there has not been any criticism of this violence-ridden development. Non-political groups, thinkers and awareness groups from America to India joined hands to point out that the logic of globalisation that gathered force at the end of the Cold War and became official policy of governments should not be at the cost of human dignity and the disregard of the environment.
The welfare-oriented development advocated by economists like Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze can be traced back to the thinking of Kumarappa. This takes us near to Gandhi but not to Gandhi directly. This is not a strategy to keep Gandhi away from the economic polemics. Sudhir Chandra, who comments on Gandhi and his values for our times, sees this abstinence as an “Impossible Possibility”, which is also the name of the book Sudhir Chandra wrote on Gandhi.
It is not possible to go to Gandhi half-heartedly because here is a man who invites people by lighting the lamps of truth, love and kindness because we will be tied down by all the touchstones, because in Gandhi’s eyes these are the supreme criteria for testing human dignity. To understand this contradiction and to talk about development, self-discipline and livelihood in the light of Gandhian economic principles, there is no better way of doing than to get back to Kumarappa.
Kumarappa in his work, “The Economy of Permanence” clearly states that unless at the devolutionary level possible self-restraint is not translated into a solid structure, it will not be possible to attain economic empowerment in the country. In India’s village traditions, co-existence and self-restraint go hand in hand. Unfortunately, those who see development in the light of urbanisation do not see this natural complementariness of the village economy or refuse to appreciate its critical importance.
Rural Luxuries
The village life that has seen its manner of language and its manner of use of water change in a few miles radius for centuries is keenly aware that its basic needs and goals have to be realistic. Shunning greed and frugality is part of the nature of village life. Unfortunately, instead of expressing happiness over this, frugality is considered as something that is not part of the mainstream. As a consequence, the desire for lavishness has spread in villages, which once considered self-restraint as the art of living.
Gandhi in ‘Hind Swaraj’ had staunchly opposed big costs, bulk production and mechanisation. In Kumarappa’s words, it is necessary that life, culture and basic goals should remain interlinked so that risks of an uncertain state of affairs are contained. It is for this reason that Kumarappa talks of the economy of permanence.
Kumarappa’s economics is based on the principle of giving every individual of independent India economic self-reliance and all-round development. Kumarappa is one of the rare economists who was an advocate of the natural village economy and who believed that protection of the environment was of far greater importance than industrial-commercial progress. It is seen from historical evidence that even in his own time, Gandhi’s colleagues did not fully agree with his economic vision. This is why that later there could never be an agreement between independent India’s economic policies and that of Gandhi’s. The situation was such that due to blind imitation of Western economic models, economic theorists like Kumarappa were soon forgotten.
Gandhi, on the contrary, had felt deeply during the freedom struggle that British subjugation and exploitation has blown to pieces the Indian way of reconciling its many ways of living. Under the pressure of the colonial economic system, Indian farmers and the land were being used to satisfy the greed of foreign consumers. The same greed has today assumed the post-modern frenzy.
Gram Swaraj
The backbone of the gram swaraj that Gandhi spoke of was agriculture and cottage industries. This was given the name of a devolved economy. Gandhi had seen in the agriculture system the seeds of eternal self-restraint. Why would this not be, because Gandhi, when he returned from South Africa, went to villages and stood with the farmers. Champaran Satyagraha is an example of the fact that what Gandhi saw in the farmer was the heroic soldier of nonviolence of the India of his dreams, and not just a mere herdsman and producer of a fistful of food grains.
Kumarappa came to Gandhi after completing his economic studies abroad. It is worth noting that while studying general economics at Columbia University, he wrote a research paper under the guidance of well-known economist Edwin Seligman, titled “India’s general economy and poverty”. In this, he studied the reasons for India’s economic distress and discovered that British colonial policies harmed Indian economic interests.
It is in the course of this study that Kumarappa found that the main reason for India’s pitiable economic state was British colonialism and its unethical and oppressive policies. When he met Gandhi on his return to India, the latter explained to him the necessity of self-discipline for agriculture and cottage industries.
What Gandhi had to say was already close to the thinking of Kumarappa, but it also answered many of the questions that had earlier puzzled him. It is evident that he was influenced deeply by Gandhi. Later, he established the necessity of agriculture and cottage industry in Gandhi’s non-violent economic principles, in which exploitation was replaced by cooperation, and he recognised minimum needs rather than consumerism as the right criterion.
It was not only possible to attain a stable economy of self-restraint through cooperation and satisfaction of minimum needs, but it also serves as a protection from the dangers of natural disturbances.
Not Competition
The Gandhian view of looking at cooperation instead of competition where development and life-values are not viewed separately but together. It is for this that when urban consumption rose and imports became necessary, there was a demand for farmers, who were offered the lure of exports and increased earnings. Kumarappa not only opposed this but he was prepared to launch a protest against it.
He felt that this would clearly make the devolved economy into a dependent system and farmers and workers would become victims of exploitation. It is not necessary to reiterate how Kumarappa’s apprehension of that time has become a frightening reality of today.
People who prepare the stage for the concentrated capital of the private sector have little concern for the need to extend the helping hand to reach the people, the confidence and the right to fulfil their responsibilities on their own strength.
The reason behind the slogan of inclusive growth is because in the age of vertical growth, the quilt of development did not only become costlier but it also shrunk in size, leaving out a large section of the population of the country outside its spread.
The frightening picture is of the farmers committing suicide and poor people raising an accusing finger at the liberalised economy. People who see the dignity of the citizen in terms of a consumer should be asked the question as to why the rupee and the dollar were more or less of the same value at the time of independence, and why was the path of welfare economics given up for the sake of wayward private capital’s path? Is it not an expression of ‘no confidence’ in a country of large workforce and its prowess that progress cannot be achieved through them?
Illusive New India
Today the meaning of “New India” means that India is the biggest market in the world. Today an Indian’s identity is that of a consumer and a worker who can be hired for a cheap wage. Surprisingly, even those revolutionary individuals and groups who file petitions against the government in the name of human dignity and human rights have no realisation as to the reason of this pathetic state of affairs.
If today anyone has an answer to this mind-boggling question it is only Gandhi, and his non-violent worldview. A view which throws an amulet around our necks that if we have any doubt, any apprehension then we have to remember the last man and decide whether our policies will help improve his life, whether it will bring any happiness to him. If the answer is yes, then there is no need to hesitate to follow the policy. But if the answer is no, then it should be realised that what we want to see is not just harmful to us but to everyone else.
Though wealth and sensitivity are two different things today, it is not possible to reach one with the other. But in Gandhi’s view, it is to determine the path from ‘swaraj’ to ‘swadeshi’ to self-restraint. It is this determination that Gandhi’s favourite economic thinker Kumarappa has given the logic of making permanence a credible underpinning. In a country where 54 per cent of resources are under the control of the billionaires (New World Wealth Report 2016) and where 7.30 crore people (Brookings Report 2018) are not only poor but are forced to live in dire conditions, it is Gandhi’s economics that provides honest and humane way out.

377 Decriminalised, But Where From Here?

If I want to marry my lover, under which section will I do it?” & many such questions yet remain unanswered

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

I am what I am, so take me as I am.” These ringing words of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra have seen the gay community breathe a collective sigh of relief. Gay activist Gautam Bhan said in a tone of celebration: “At last queer people have won the right to breathe and to dream.” It was 24 years ago that the first AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan petition against Section 377 was placed before the courts. That was way back in 1977. Today India is the 126th nation in the world to decriminalise homosexuality. The sense of relief can be gauged from the heartfelt article written by writer Gurcharan Das in the Times of India. He started with the evocative words: “My son is gay and I no longer feel reluctant to admit it. He has been in a loyal, happy relationship with his partner for 20 years and my family and close friends have accepted it gracefully. I didn’t dare speak about it in public, however, for fear of bringing him any harm that is until 12.35pm on Thursday (September 5) when the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality. My wife and I suddenly feel as if a great burden has lifted.”
It seems strange that India chose to live with a tyrannical colonial law for the last 157 years that was contrary to our country’s ancient spirit. Indian classical texts are full of stories about men turning into women and women turning into men. The Khajuraho temples are an ode to erotic sculpture, depicting sex between men and women, women with women, group sex and much more, all being done under the benign smile of the deities. Likewise, the Konarak Sun Temple.
The Puranas had accepted sixteen different kinds of genders. Today, genders are down to four or five. Hinduism recognises people showing signs of both sexes. The terminology for such persons is tritya prakriti, literally meaning third nature.
First Baby Step
On hearing the Supreme Court verdict, 29-year old drag performer Alex Mathew started weeping out of sheer relief. But at the same time, he believes that decriminalisation is but a first step in a long journey.
Mathew admitted that while earlier he had been scared of holding ‘a guy’s hand in public, now at least he could do that’. “I don’t know if we are that progressive to indulge in PDA (public display of affection) like that, but slowly, we’re taking baby steps,” he claimed. Mathew has been performing drag since 2014 and uses his art to educate people about the LGBTQ community, especially since the public by and large continue to subscribe to certain stereotypes about men who are gay.
Mathew confides that in the past, he has lost out on jobs and performances because of his sexual orientation. There were times when he went into depression and yet, he never stopped performing. That has kept him going all these years.
Mumbai-based Ankit Bhuptani, the head of the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association in India, felt he was finally a free human being. Speaking about his own experience as a gay person, Bhuptani believes that he had been treated as a criminal from the day he was born because of his sexual orientation. For the first time in his life, he believes he can behave in a normal manner But the biggest apprehension amongst the gay community is how society is going to accept this verdict. Activists believe their real work has started now.
Work Ahead
“We are now going to have to start working in the areas of marriage, inheritance, sex education, mental and sexual health of the LGBT community,” says Ashok Row Kavi, co-founder of the NGO Humsafar Trust and one of the petitioners in the case.
Kavi sees this as an uphill struggle in the years to come. “If I want to marry my lover, under which section will I do it? Religion plays a crucial role in marriages in India, as they are governed under personal laws by religious communities, which recognise matrimony only between a man and a woman. Gay marriages are seen as a sin by, both, the Church and in the Quran. So a same sex marriage cannot be consecrated in a church, nor under Islam. Now, will a Special Marriage Act for same sex marriage be recognised?” asks Kavi. The Hanafi law does not accept adoption. If a Muslim man has ‘adopted’ his lover and shows this in his will, his relatives can challenge the will. Suppose a same sex couple adopts a child and they are Muslims, the child has no recognition in the state, at least under Islamic Sharia laws,” Kavi asserts.
“In the same way, according to the Bombay tenancy laws, a family member can continue to live in the flat following the death of the tenant. But since union with a same-sex lover is not accepted, his family members can ensure he is thrown out so that they can occupy the place,” says Kavi.
“Same sex couples face the same problem when it comes to getting Mediclaim or pensions. The Indian government does not accept us as donors because we fall under the high risk category. But as I keep saying, we have started peering through the door, and we are going to have it to push it wide open,” he adds.
Miseries Galore
Kavi pointed out how he has been fighting this battle for the last 18 years. “A lot of water has flown down the rivers from that time. None of us had anticipated we would end up facing these problems. Let me cite you but another example. Single men are not allowed to adopt girls. I can understand that there is the fear of paedophiles. But now, the government has clamped down and said we cannot adopt even a boy. All these issues that are coming up had not been envisaged earlier,” he adds. Another problem that activists plan to focus on is to provide proper sex education in schools. “There is no sex education in schools. Effeminate children are often bullied. Those in rural areas run away to cities like Mumbai. There is also a lot of alcoholism in the LGBT community, especially among transgenders,” Kavi reveals. Activists believe that only when the slew of laws ending discrimination based on gender and sexuality, equal civil partnership rights and giving equal adoption rights to gay people that discrimination on the ground will end.
When the fight against Section 377 began, all the community’s energy and resources were spent on fighting the law, said Kavi. “Now that Section 377 is out, we need to meet and strategise again.”
The kind of uphill battle being fought in India is similar to the struggle that the gay community has fought in the West and especially in the US. Kavi says: “It was the same in the US and UK. Both the right wing communities and the liberals were intolerant in their own ways.” The RSS issued a statement after the SC verdict that though homosexuality is not considered a crime, they do not support same sex marriages or relationships which remain ‘unnatural for them’. Kavi scoffs at their comments because he believes that homosexuality is known to be rampant in the Roman Catholic Church, the Ulema and the RSS... none of them is different.
Nor does Kavi e agree with the gay community being described as a minuscule minority. “What is a minuscule minority? No minority is minuscule. They are a minority because they are smaller in number,” he asserts.
Bollywood has also begun taking tentative steps to depict homosexuality. The film fraternity has also breathed a collective sigh of relief. Filmmakers and actors say that decriminalisation of same sex relationships has opened the doors to show nuanced stories with different kinds of narratives.
Bollywood Horizon
Onir, who has directed films like “My Brother… Nikhil and I”, says he has been waiting for the last 12 years for the industry to embrace LGBTQ rights more freely but the change has been slow.
Using gayness for comic relief in films like “Kal Ho Na Ho” and “Dostana” has been common and its only been in the last three-four years that films like “Aligarh” have changed the conversation, maintains Onir.
Onir believes the three main stumbling blocks for films with the same sex narrative have been lack of financers, distribution and roadblocks from the Censor Board. Apurva, the writer and editor of the movie “Aligarh” which showed the life of a gay professor in the Aligarh Muslim University, believes the change in attitude in the film industry (however miniscule) happened because of the 2013 judgement when homosexuality was recriminalised by the SC. “It angered us. It was an ‘enough is enough’ moment. It was then that the need was felt to tell these stories,” says Faraz Arif Ansari who directed the film “Sisak”.
For Manoj Bajpayee, who played the character of Siras in “Aligarh”, what was important was to ensure that he was not going to give a stereotype to the character. Similarly, actor Saqib Saleem recalls how when director-producer Karan Johar offered him a role in Bombay Talkies he learnt that it had been rejected by seven actors before him. Saleem admits having been a little hesitant in accepting the role because of the way his parents and the people in his hometown (Delhi) would react to it. “When Karan narrated the story, I found it brilliant. I felt it needed to be told and I went ahead with Karan’s conviction. When the film was released and my mother saw it, it brought tears to her eyes. She told me it was my best performance ever,” said Saleem.
Islamic Issues
Faraz Arif Ansari who directed the film Sisak while admitting the SC verdict deserves celebration but also expresses his apprehensions at how the situation may unfold in the future.
“It is important to remember that we still inhabit a society where individuals are killed for belonging to a minority (religious, sexual, caste-based or otherwise) community and imprisoned for the slighted dissent,” Ansari wrote recently in the Indian Express.
He goes on in his thought provoking article to write about how during his teenage years, he had distanced himself from Islam because he had been made to feel that his sexual identity could not coexist with his religious beliefs. He admits to having become a target of many ‘Islamophobic jokes’.
Says Ansari: “I was extremely fortunate and privileged to have family and friends who supported me through these trying times. Being a practising Muslim who also happens to be admitting of his same-sex attraction doesn’t make me a conservative radical. Neither does being gay mean I am a degenerate.
However, while I may have been fortunate to escape such binaries, there are many queer folks who do not have the same safety net to fully embrace their true identity. They are unable to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, to celebrate and to be proud of both, So it’s important to remember that winning this legal battle is only the stepping stone to a fight that will take a lot of life and love from all of us, collectively.”
Anjali Gopalan, heading the NGO Naz Foundation which petitioned the law courts to strike down homosexuality way back in 1991, believes that in recent years, more and more people have come forward and are willing to take a stand on this issue. “The gates have opened, as it were, and you can’t close them now,” Gopalan says.

Media Under Control

The media played an important role in facilitating the shift to the right and is now more closely aligned with right-wing opinion in the country

Zoya Hasan
Zoya Hasan

Zoya Hasan is a noted political scientist and public intellectual. She is Professor Emerita, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Distinguished Professor, Council for Social Development, New Delhi. She is the author and editor of fifteen books on Indian politics. Her book, “Agitation to Legislation: Negotiating Equity and Justice in India” and a co-edited book, “Empire of Disgust: Prejudice, Discrimination and Policy in India and the US will be published soon

The media revolution has swept the country. With thousands of newspapers and hundreds of news channels in several languages, Indians are spoilt for choice in a diverse universe of communication. More significant than the numbers is the change in the nature of the media from government control to overwhelming private control.
Just over two decades ago, television news was a government monopoly. Today it is almost completely privately owned. But even as the number of news sources has grown exponentially, the information given by these countless sources is quite similar. What we see is a contradictory situation marked by unprecedented expansion of the media and unprecedented narrowing of the communication space. The very profusion of news and its easy accessibility from various platforms and devices raise questions with regard to news content, media bias and political control of the so-called independent media.
Before we take a closer look at political control of the media, it’s important to understand the enabling environment for the emergence of a pro-market media which has tilted to the right. We can discern four important strands which provide the context for understanding the shifts in media practice and politics.
First, more than two decades of liberalisation have led to a huge advertising-supported media and this has shaped the economic philosophy of media. Economic reforms have been so influential that it is difficult to distinguish between business and mainstream newspapers and the same is true of television news and business channels. Economic reform is the template through which the media generally views India’s development and politics since economic liberalization. It was widely claimed in the pre-liberalisation era that a privatized media free to grow and compete in the marketplace would deliver choice and freedom of opinion, but the opposite has happened, ‘as the exponential growth of media outlets has narrowed the channels for political dissent.’ Earlier government controlled media served as the voice of the state, privately owned television channels now claim that they speak for the nation and national interest.
Second, the strategy of relying on advertisement revenue rather than subscription has created a sympathetic climate for corporate driven political opinion to flourish in the mainstream media, which invariably favours market driven solutions to poverty alleviation or economic development more generally. The contemporary media frames stories through the lens of economic growth and national security. In 2014, this framing helped to paint the Congress as ‘corrupt, dynastic, and a reckless benefactor of the poor’ which stalled growth. This discourse reflected middle class anger at the economic slowdown and the rights-based welfare programmes which were blamed for the policy impasse. Media joined in a vehement attack on the right to food under United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as an example of irresponsible populism that will destroy the growth story forever. The private media has clearly emerged in the neo-liberal context as a powerful political weapon symbolising the convergence of state and business elites.
Third, the structure of prime time television news has also contributed enormously to the high visibility of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when it was in opposition and to political control when it is in power. The low cost news manufacturing model gives priority to studio debates during prime time, which invariably ends up as a verbal slanging match between BJP and Congress spokesmen, dutifully at 9 pm. This news manufacturing model has facilitated the BJP’s domination of the airwaves, as its leaders and party spokesmen easily outnumber, outtalk and outshout the opposition on every television channel, and their refusal to participate in the nightly debates in order to punish an anchor or television channel they disapprove of can ruin the show and its ratings.
Fourth, the growing influence of the vernacular media, especially Hindi media further reinforces right-wing opinion in the mass media.
Right Turn
The media in India does not merely report, it is a political player, especially during elections when political parties spend a lot on the media. It played a significant role in projecting Narendra Modi in the 2014 general election. Reporting for the 2014 election almost completely focused on him, hardly ever on the issues at the ground level. He had assumed a larger than life dimension, dwarfing all other elements of the political discourse and public agenda. His ascent was undoubtedly powered by a compliant media which was deftly used by the BJP to create a ‘Modi wave’.
For weeks, any speech by Modi in any remote district ran live on several channels. A study by the Centre for Media Studies found that he dominated over a third of the prime-time news telecast on five major channels. From 1 to 11 May 2014, Modi’s time crossed the 50 per cent mark. Over six times what Rahul Gandhi got. And ten times the share of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. Shorn of sufficient staff on the pretext of an economic slowdown, television news channels relied heavily on the live feeds from the two leading parties, most conspicuously from the BJP camp. This new trend allowed channels to hook up to BJP’s live feeds and relay it to unsuspecting viewers, giving rise to media hype. It is only when some editors raised uncomfortable questions in internal meetings that some channels started identifying it as ‘BJP feed’ on-screen in an under-sized font.
The 2014 general elections marked a tectonic shift in Indian politics. For the first time since independence, India elected a right-wing party to power. The media played an important role in facilitating the shift to the right. With this shift, the media is more closely aligned with right-wing opinion in the country.
Post 2014
After the formation of the BJP government in 2014, politics rivals economics as a source of news for the non-business media. While the media as a whole judged the UPA government primarily on its performance on economic reforms and how economic reforms were getting stalled by the policy paralysis, and the unequal division of power between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, under the BJP government they are more concerned about highlighting the political priorities of the ruling party rather than lack of progress on economic reforms, job growth etc.
It is hardly a coincidence that the issues most hotly debated are the ones that the government is interested in, which relate to beef, love jihad, 800 years of Muslim rule, the singing of Vande Mataram and chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai. There are other more critical issues such as joblessness, agrarian distress and hate crimes and the damage to the social fabric but they don’t get the attention they deserve largely because the media is preoccupied with provocative speeches and political controversies that become breaking news and topics of hyperbolic television debates. Corporate-political control and nexus is a major reason why this is happening, but that alone cannot explain the shrill pro-government tone of many television channels and some newspapers.
The same corporate sector controlled the same media five years ago. Then they were freely going after the government, whereas now the media readily accept the government line. What is new is that private capital has signed up to a project of aligning the media with the ideological purposes of the state. The mobilisation of private media to capture public discourse is undoubtedly a new dimension of media-politics relations. This government has shown that the private media is more pliable and more ‘effectively manipulated, cajoled and coerced than even the state media.
Opposition Inquisition
In this situation, it is hardly surprising that the media is unwilling to ask uncomfortable questions of the government; instead, the media has trained its guns on the Opposition. This is particularly true of television which night after night is putting the spotlight on the Opposition. This is extraordinary because in most democracies the media is a watchdog of the government, but in India today the media is the watchdog of the Opposition. Indeed, when the UPA was in power, the media was playing its adversarial role to the hilt; it was fearless in taking on the establishment. It supported and helmed the anti-corruption movement. Five years later, there is no Lokpal in sight, and the media has all but forgotten it.
Influential sections of the media tend to be soft on the government partly because of the ‘nation’ and the ‘nation under threat’ argument, which seems to have become popular across media platforms. Consequently, the whole language of public discourse has become nationalist, actually, Hindu nationalist. In the event, sections of the so-called independent media are becoming like ‘a shadow state, defining agendas and acting as judge and jury on issues of national importance.’
The national media when covering stories that involve political dissent quickly turn to interrogations and witch hunt of ‘anti-nationals’. As self-appointed guardians of the national interest, the media sees itself as the conscience keeper of the state, waging a battle against ‘enemies’ of the nation, principally those who disagree with the government. It has become complicit in the manufacturing of the nationalist narrative, the media is signalling to political supporters and dissidents alike who was national and who was anti-national. Hashtags ‘FightForIndia’, ‘LoveMyFlag’, ‘ProudIndian’, ‘TerrorStatePak’ and ‘AntiNationJNU’ are attempts to play with emotions and polarise the nation.
Media Gagged
The present government swears by the freedom of the press, yet, there is increasing evidence that the long arm of the government is finding ways to compel media houses that question or expose its wrong-doings to fall in line. There is little doubt now that through encouraging friendly corporations to take control of the media, and by way of some arm-twisting, the ruling dispensation is determined to ensure that the media is completely in sync with the dominant narrative and that this will resonate across media houses. Hence, the new trend is the use of media not to communicate news but to propagate the ruling ideology.
Currently, most media houses lean politically to the right and most of them support the BJP. But there’s a section of the media which has become more activist and critical and is willing to question politicians, bureaucrats and the corporate sector. This is also the time when the RTI (Right to Information) Act has come to be used more frequently. These two things may appear paradoxical to some but they were happening simultaneously. For these reasons the government wants to keep the media on a tight leash. Media is fearful of criticising the government and this fear has been aggravated by the government’s open distaste for dissent. This is clear from the way the NDTV, which is disliked by the present regime, was raided by the income tax authorities earlier this year and a slew of cases filed by all the investigative agencies that the government commands. The BJP has officially carried out a boycott of the channel. The process of political control is vividly illustrated by the recent resignation of three top executives and anchors from the Hindi news channel ABP News. In July, ABP News ran a report claiming that a woman in Chhattisgarh had been coached to make false statements about the growth of her income during a video interaction with Modi. Within a month of the programme being aired, the host of the popular show Masterstroke, as well as the channel’s Managing Editor resigned.
But these are not the only resignations that have happened; in fact, resignation of editors is a regular feature of the media landscape since 2014. At least four senior editors have left their jobs after publishing reports that angered the government or its supporters.
Shackling Thoughts
Ever since the BJP assumed power, the space for free press is shrinking. What is also apparent, though less recognisable, is the denial of access to information and to people holding public office as a form of limiting of the freedom of press. The constraints on media freedom are directly related to the closure of legitimate sources of information, such as press conferences and press briefings.
This happens when a government refuses to accept that the job of the media is to ask questions and expose shortcomings of policy and its implementation. As the Economic and Political Weekly noted, ‘rarely has there been such tight control of information from the central government to the point that bureaucrats are afraid to speak or mingle openly with journalists. People in power publicly endorse what is deemed to be the Prime Minister’s view. There is no open debate within the government and independent voices within it are afraid to speak. This leaves little or no space for independent journalists to investigate issues of importance. When they do, they are accused of being allied with an opposition party.’
The BJP’s ascension of power posed a problem for the media, which had assumed that a neutral authority would always control state power. Since that is clearly not the case as far as the BJP is concerned, media had to pretend that they were neutral, or rationalise that they were not really communal or pro-Hindu but principally interested in promoting development.
In these circumstances, the Indian media’s idea of fairness and objectivity is to systematically question all politicians and attack all sides. The media, ever fearful of criticising the government, balance any criticism by apportioning blame on the government and opposition in equal measure. Very often the discussion ends up focusing more on what happened under previous governments than what’s happening now.
Trends in the media-government relationship in India are quite different from those in most other democracies. Comparatively speaking, the tension between the Trump presidency and the American media is a prominent example of the contrarian position in this regard. In the US, many newspapers, television networks and websites have kept up the pressure on the Trump administration. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN continue to take an adversarial stance, despite Trump calling them crooked or fake or failing.
In the US, where Donald Trump is routinely called out by the media, the media is fighting back hard, whereas in India most television channels and newspapers, with some notable exceptions, are reluctant to challenge and expose the government. Indian media is often on the back foot because it succumbs to political pressure even when it doesn’t have to. True, this government regards questioning as hostile and even anti-national. Worse still, a giant but pliant media is going along with this and with the glorification of the leader.

Queer Films And Us

Bollywood has dealt with the issue of gay with ridiculous or homophobic ways, but the winds of change are there Up until recently, Bollywood has been dealing with the issue of gay in films that are insensitive, often crude, but the winds of change are there

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

On September, 6, 2018, when the Apex court of India gave a historic verdict related to homosexuality and 377, where it abolished the colonial-era law and decriminalised part of Section 377 of the IPC that criminalises consensual gay sex, saying it was irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary then, the immediate question was, will our reasoning towards queer cinema change too? Will these films escape from the cynical and narrow-mindedness of the film certification board? Still, the fate of all the movies showing different aspects of LGBT community lies into the shears of censor board because censor board has an extensive history of over censoring or banning LGBT films. Recently, the Hollywood film “Love, Simon” was banned on the day it was due to release in India. This was the first major Hollywood release to tackle a gay teenage storyline. Before that, films like ‘Moonlight’, ‘Unfreedom’ and ‘Ka Bodyscapes’ had exhausting fights with CBFC for their release.
In Hindi films, homosexuality is usually shown in either ridiculous or homophobic ways. The gays are depicted either as a stereotyped comic role like that of dancer Natrajan’s character in a movie ‘Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke’ (1993) or Gulab Singh in ‘Raja Hindustani’ (1996) or through cross-dressing of a hero for immoderate antics like to enter the heroine’s hostel. Remember films like ‘Lawaris’ (1981) where Amitabh Bachchan dressed as a woman and sang the song Mere Angane Main, or Aamir Khan in the film ‘Baazi’ (1995).
Ruinous Depictions
Crossdressing came in a big way in ‘Rafoo Chakkar’ (1975) where hero Rishi Kapoor along with Paintal dressed as girls to enter the heroine’s hostel. More interestingly, ‘Rafoo Chakkar’ can be considered as the first Bollywood film where the concept of homosexuality was shown in a ludicrous way. In the film Paintal as a cross-dresser portrayed same-sex love with Rajender Nath, but in a comic way. For depicting homosexuality in a funny way in films somehow challenges the narrow understanding of the censor board. Rajesh Srinivas, Kannada director and an LGBT activist, who heads a social group called Sangma said, “It is ridiculous that films that make fun of gay people and are stereotypical routinely get cleared at CBFC, while hurdles are being created for a movie that has dealt with the subject in a sensitive manner.”
Except ‘Bombay Talkies’ (2013), an anthology of four films in which ‘Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh’, a story on homosexuality, directed by Karan Johar, Bollywood’s most powerful producer, director and anchor who has been grappling with his sexuality, showed queerness in a slapstick way and engineers homophobia towards these gay characters in his films ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ (2003) ‘Dostana’ (2008) and ‘Student of the Year’ (2012).
The gay community has been criticising Karan Johar for not formally “coming out”. Notwithstanding, last year at the release of his autobiography ‘An Unsuitable Boy’ Karan finally opened up. He talked about the homophobia and the daily abuse he faces on social media. “Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out. If I need to spell it out, I won’t only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this. The reason I don’t say it out loud is simply that I don’t want to be dealing with the FIRs. I’m very sorry. I have a job, I have a commitment to my company, to my people who work for me; there are over a hundred people that I’m answerable to. I’m not going to sit in the courts because of ridiculous, completely bigoted individuals who have no education, no intelligence.” After the SC judgement, Karan Johar responded on Twitter to express his joy: “the country gets its oxygen back”.
Gutsy Rituparno
However, though Karan Johar is the most prominent face of Bollywood, he did not dare to disclose his sexuality but on the other hand, noted Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh had been credited as a first filmmaker who came out and revealed his homosexuality.
Moreover, it is also true that when he revealed his sexuality and started wearing woman attire along with undergoing surgeries in the later few years, Rituparno suffered isolation from his family and friends. He interpreted sexuality, gender politics and its freedom very well through his films. His films – ‘Arekti Premer Golpo’ (2010), ‘Memories in March’ (2010), ‘Dosar’ (2006) and ‘Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish’ (2012) portrayed the insights of sexuality sensibly. But he also faced homophobic bashings in Bollywood. Subhash K Jha, film critic and close friend of Rituparno, remembers some incidents that used to hurt Rituparno in his memoir. He writes: “Once Rituparno went to meet this iconic superstar at his iconic residence where his bratty son came right up to Ritu, and within superstar dad’s hearing, smirked: ‘Should I call you Ritu uncle or Ritu aunty?’ Such incidents used to hurt Ritu not because he was embarrassed by his sexuality but because he was afraid that his acceptance of his own sexuality had not got a similar acceptance from the industry.
Like Rituparno Ghosh many other filmmakers in the regional cinema: Buddhadeb Dasgupta in Bengali film ‘Uttara’ (2000) and Malayalam film ‘Sancharram’ (2004) directed by Ligy J Pullappally, also essayed to display the same-sex relationships on celluloid in a serious way, but could not find support, either from industry or from the audience.
Public Support
Director Onir portrayed the sensitive aspect of the community through his film ‘My Brother… Nikhil’ (2005), that bagged him two national awards. It was the first queer film in India that was made with people’s money. Onir, who himself belongs to the LGBT community, took the help of crowdfunding where money was collected directly from 400 people from 35 cities using social media and by word of mouth. The idea of crowdfunding came from actor Sanjay Suri who acted in ‘My Brother… Nikhil’. As Sanjay recalls: “We started a group on Facebook asking people to contribute in any way they could. Some volunteered as production assistants while others contributed financially to the film.” Onir collected around Rs 1 crore and the film was made with Rs 3 crores, rest of the amount was by Sanjay Suri and his production house Anticlock Films.
Brave New World
Another gay activist, Sridhar Rangayan’s illustration of the gay community in his films like ‘The Pink Mirror’ (2003) and ‘Yours Emotionally’ (2006) is mould-breaking. He has directed films with a distinct plot on homosexuality. ‘The Pink Mirror’ has been banned by the censor board. Besides this in Hindi, ‘Adhura’ (1995) and ‘Bomgay’ (1996) could be considered as two films of the 90s that brought out the topic seriously.
Had ‘Adhura’ been released in 1995, it would have been the first Hindi film that has shown homosexuality in an insightful manner. ‘Adhura’ revolves around an industrialist and a journalist involved in a gay relationship. Famous actor Irrfan Khan played the role of gay along with Ashish Nagpal, who also directed the film. But the censor board refused and did not give the certificate to ‘Adhura’ due to its bold topic, as a consequence the film remains in the cans forever. ‘Bomgay’ acted by Rahul Bose, was a first hardcore short gay film. Art cinema and theatre also tried to explore the theme. ‘Mango Souffle’ (2002) is an example.
Author Mahesh Dattani adopted his own successful play ‘On a Muggy Night in Mumbai’, and ‘Mango Souffle’ was also directed by him as well. The film stars Atul Kulkarni and Rinke Khanna (daughter of Rajesh Khanna) in lead roles. It worked well with the audiences because of its comic feel and didn’t face any opposition. Directors of new wave cinema have shown the LGBT community mostly through transgenders or eunuchs, whereas mainstream films explored the topic but in a horrific way. Characters like Lajja Shankar of ‘Sangharsh’ (1999); the cruel pimp of film ‘Sadak’ (1991) and villain of ‘Murder 2’ (2011) depicted the transgenders in a demonic way.
In 1996, noted actor and filmmaker Amol Palekar boldly put forward the topic of natural bisexuality through his film ‘Daayraa’ (1996) starring Nirmal Pandey and Sonali Kulkarni. But the film provoked outrage. After ‘Daayraa’, Kalpana Lajmi directed ‘Darmiyaan: in Between’ (1997) that presented the issue of a eunuch son. It is believed Kalpana wanted to cast Shahrukh Khan in the film but he denied. Probably he did not want to put a break in his jet-setting career. Afterwards, actor Arif Zakaria played the role. In later years, films like ‘Tamanna’, ‘Shabnam Mausi’, ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’ and ‘Jogwa’ in Marathi were some of the few movies which put the third gender in a better light.
The film ‘Aligarh’ (2015), directed by Hansal Mehta, tells a real story of professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who faced violence and was thrown out of the Aligarh Muslim University for being gay. In the film, Manoj Bajpayee played the role of the professor. ‘Aligarh’ was not a homosexual film like ‘Ka Bodyscape’, but it deals with the homophobic culture of Indian society. It throws light on the loneliness and mysterious death of Siras, but the censor board was suitably unkind. The board awarded the film as well as its teasers A certificate and restricted its shows.
The cynical and much derided former chairman of the board Pahlaj Nihalani said, “It is not a family film. It deals with a subject for which the country is not yet ready.” ‘Aligarh’ was not the only such film that was a victim of conservativeness.
Mute Stories
‘Sisak’ (2017), directed by Faraz Arif Ansari, became the first silent queer short film of India that narrates the story of two people who used to commute in Mumbai local trains and fall in love with each other, but they do not talk. Nowadays gay films and web series like ‘Drawing the Line’ and ‘Sacred Games’ are somehow coming up with a different perspective on the LGBT community and yet one aspect of LGBT lesbianism is still in the closet. To a greater extent, lesbianism is that facet of LGBT most neglected in Indian films. Although we see a few examples in Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam films but in Bollywood filmmakers shy away from dealing with it.
‘3 Kanya’ (2012) is a Bengali psychological thriller film directed by Agnidev Chatterjee. The film tells a story of the lives of three women. The characters are played by Rituparna Sengupta, Ananya Chatterjee and Unnati Davara. It shows a lesbian flirtation between two of its three female protagonists. On the other hand, Bollywood is known for exaggerating the theme. Except for Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ (1996), filmmakers put a female same-sex love story in a cheesy way.
Saffron Brigade
Interestingly, the censor board certified it A without any cut, but the right wing fascists expressed their anger on roads. For the moral police, lesbian relations have been considered as a sin. Before its release ‘Fire’ triggered controversy. The film faced the ire of the moral police led by the saffron brigade. They protested against the theme of the film, which they felt was alien to Indian culture. Though the film was not exhibited in many theatres, yet it is still a favourite in international film festivals. Ironically, two years ago, ‘Fire’ was included as one of the top 10 feminist films lists of British Film Institute. On Indians’ homophobic attitude actor and director Nandita Das, who acted in ‘Fire’, said, “People hadn’t seen such a film — sadly, in these 20 years, hardly any films have been made on same-sex relationships. For India, it is definitely a landmark film.”
In the last 20 years nothing much has changed. However, queer film festivals like the Kashish Mumbai International are somehow promoting their issues since 2010, but the moral policing, protests, bans and censoring still exist. For the acceptance of the ‘rainbow’ in our diversified society, we need to open up through our cinema too.

Modi’s ‘Gandhism’ Gamble

BJP’s envy has made it rewrite history and even appropriate names and projects which belonged to the Congress

Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv Visvanathan

Shiv Visvanathan is an academic best known for his contributions to developing the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). He is currently Professor at OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat

The BJP government is an aspirational regime in a hurry to achieve and to be recognised for its achievements as a result. It easily invites itself to a ritual of psychoanalysis. As a regime, despite its majoritarian successes, it suffers from envy, in fact, a large variety of envies. It suffers from being out of power, out of history for decades. Its envy extends to the fact that its own leadership, despite the recent inflation, cannot quite match the stature of a Gandhi, Patel, Nehru or Azad. This envy has made it rewrite history and even appropriate names and projects which belonged to the Congress. One particularly acute example of this is the attitude to Gandhi. For a party associated with the assassination of Gandhi, the BJP, in its search for legitimacy seeks Gandhian approval. It treats Gandhi as a brand name that it is desperate to buy into. Only its media dons do not realise that Gandhi is not a brand but a way of life.
No Short Cut
The Gandhian way of life cannot be mimicked or appropriated. Any effort to do so becomes a slapstick exercise, an act of mimicry which is not quite convincing. One has to realise that Modi’s Gandhism is not authentic. It is Machiavellian. It seeks to manipulate, but Modi’s cunning with all its media effects is not convincing. This is caught in Modi’s attempt to enter history by becoming a part of the KVIC calendar, playing a double to Gandhi. The effort was not only farcical and petty but a disaster. It shows that Modi’s cunning is not even a trickster’s cunning. It lacks mythical power. Worse, it fails to understand the moral aura of Gandhi. If Modi’s policy programmes are to experiment with truth, then Modi must understand the demands of an experiment and the power of truth. Any project he undertakes should seek to understand the bridge between the self and the world. One is not merely tinkering with lifestyles in a cosmetic sense but linking lifestyles, livelihoods, lifeworlds in a creative way. An experiment in the Gandhian sense is an ethical act of intellectual risk which is simultaneously an act of political reconstruction. A change in one’s self becomes a trigger for a deeper change in society. Such a reform cannot be cosmetic but demands transformation, both of self and society. One cannot rip off pages from a World Bank handbook and pretend to be a Gandhian. One gets caught in the tokenism of indicators.
Gandhi Vs Skits
The Gandhian project of truth has no notion of cunning, of either the cunning of history or that of Machiavellian politics. It seeks openness, transparency and morality beyond the topical. RSS’ envy seeks to imitate Gandhi and produces a disastrous act of mimicry. It brings neither the change in mentality nor a change of the heart. Sadly, one sees this most deeply in a project which is deeply associated with Modi- The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. This essay is not a drainage inspector’s report on the Abhiyan. One is aware of Gandhi’s caution about the likes of Katherine Mayo. It is more an attempt to understand mentalities and mindsets beyond the current notions of change. Change to be change in modern times has to begin as a spectacle. A spectacle is an act performed for public consumption. It is a performance, and many acts of governance today are more symbolic performances than substantive cases of reform. In fact, reading the reports, one senses the skit-like nature of Modi’s governmentality. Modi enacts changes before a phalanx of cameras, attempting to sweep the courtyard of a police station in a Dalit colony. The lines that follow the act are almost exhibitionist, claiming a clean India is a Gandhian India. Modi empties out the social imagination of the Gandhian act. Yet one cannot see this as tokenism. The scale of the project is immense. It is as if gigantism, whether in building a statue of Patel or inaugurating a cleanliness project, is a compulsive need. It is almost as if one aims not for change but a place in the Guinness book of records. It is this transformation of Gandhi into Guinness that marks the irony of social change in India. Every anniversary becomes an invitation to turn a great moment of history from a great mnemonic to a forgettable farce. Using a Gandhian model of change and evaluating change, one divides the grid of evaluation into four overlapping assessments. Firstly, accounting, then accountability, to be followed by responsibility and finally trusteeship. Accounting deals with finance, with the integrity of money invested. Accountability asks whether the money was invested in the right direction. Responsibility adds a moral, ecological, a holistic dimension to reform. Trusteeship personalises responsibility. One goes beyond a utilitarian calculus and even seeks to protect the marginal and the defeated. One must ask how the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan project survives the Gandhian grid.
Selling Utopia
Let us face it: cleanliness seems an almost utopian project, and the dream of a toilet in every home seems almost millennial and miraculous. The 2011 census is almost blatant about the fact that 53 per cent of the 246.7 million households lack a toilet in the premises. Open defecation is almost a national exercise, a public spectacle in its sheer everydayness. Modi has to be congratulated for recognising the importance and the challenge of the problem. As a policy priority, such a domestic issue is strategic, more strategic than any space mission. While the strategic choice of the project illustrates his sense of priority, the tactical infolding of the project, despite media publicity, is abysmal. The project is projected as a combination of a religious revival and a rocket launch. It smells more of a public policy project. The moral sheen loses out to the idea becoming part of the dismal science of public policy. One misses a sense of holism, of complexity in the tactical nature of the project, where numbers attempt to capture the magic of social change. An engineering project degenerates to a clerical recording of numbers and a sense of social behaviour is treated as an act of plumbing. The voraciousness of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan publicity cannot hide the desiccated nature of social change.
Dalits Dictated
Bezwada Wilson, the Magsaysay awardee, put it pithily and pragmatically. “Swachh Bharat could start anywhere, but it ends with a septic tank.” As long as it says nothing about manual scavenging, it says little about change and even less about justice and inequality. As he added in an interview with Vidya Subrahmanyam: “Just picking up the broom and making a show of cleaning will not alter the fact that it will be our lot to clean the toilets. It will be our people who will choke to death in septic tanks.” One creates an aura of change while the Dalit remains transfixed in his old position. The new cleanliness mission does not alter the position of the Dalits. Wilson’s critique is not a knee jerk reaction. What he is suggesting is that Swachh Bharat Abhiyan needs a hearing aid, that Modi in his ham-handed dictation is telling Dalits what is good for them. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan lacks the dialogicity of a Gandhian project. The Dalit is the object of analysis. A side play, not the agent or subject of change. Modi missed a double opportunity of reaching into the Gandhian and Ambedkarite imaginations, of creating change through the power of dialogicity. The scale of Swachh budget dwarfs any human concern for the Safai Karamcharis (manual scavengers). The project remains an irony as eventually Dalits become the butt of the exercise. In fact, in a very obvious way, the Swachh project is an act of social embezzlement. It attempts to appropriate two great social imaginations, the Gandhian and the Ambedkarite, and makes a hash of both. Imagine for a second that Modi, instead of listening to the World Bank or his crony bureaucrats, had appointed Bezwada Wilson as administrator of the project instead of enticing him with a token Padma award. Here is a man who understands the sociology of manual scavengers and can link suffering and protest to change. Wilson would have tried to break the mentality of the upper caste, middle class India that Dalits are doomed to collecting garbage and cleaning toilets. Two, he would make the project challenge the inequality embedded in society and emphasise that even in Swachh Andolan, the state has distanced itself from its constitutional role. When a Dalit revolts against cleaning carcasses, the government makes the ‘gaurakshak’ (cow vigilantes responsible for scores of lynching) an iconic figure. Thirdly, Wilson would have linked Swachh Abhiyan to the smart city project, another giant cosmetic exercise which has no sense of the city as a sensorium of the inequality of smells and excreta. Instead of discovering Dalit imaginations which can revolutionise urban thinking, the BJP’s catechism is fixated on the old dictum that Dalits are created to clean excreta. Swachh Abhiya n excludes the Dalit from its reformist imagination. In a tactical sense, Modi in attempting to borrow from the Dalit and Gandhian imaginations borrows superficially the symbols and histories while being illiterate about sociology. The construction of toilets becomes an act of conspicuous consumption, where people still defecate around it or break it because it is not functional. Sadly, critiques of the Modi era focus too much on his sense of nation-state and religion. While valid, they blind us to Modi’s sense of technology and social change. This regime all too often sees change as a spectacle. In fact, if one were to see the regime’s proclaimed achievements as a Republic Day parade of artefacts where the rocket launch follows the nuclear reactor which yields to the septic tank, one realises Modi’s sense of social change moves between the ideological and the technocratic.
Limited Willy
There is little sense of everyday injustice. In Gandhian terms, Modi’s tactic is a limited one and embraces neither Swadesi nor Swaraj. It has no sense of the locality and local inequality and it has no feeling for the planetary in terms of climate change and its impact on the margins and their livelihoods. The ironies and the paradoxes of the social change are lost on this regime. One now needs a dream of alternatives which burrows into the future, which caters to the tribal and Dalit imaginations and is sufficiently pluralistic to go beyond the arid majoritarianism. The septic tank becomes a metaphor for a regime which is flushed with pride. One desperately needs Dalit sensibilities to humanise the imagination of the regime.

Gandhian Economics

An ethical and values-based balance between big and small can be more beautiful than pure-play capitalism and naked socialism

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”

Poverty among plenty! That’s the modern paradox, visible even in the affluent societies, which bamboozled and befuddled global policy-makers, economists, social activists, social scientists, and intellectuals. For over two centuries, they discovered, finessed, and used tools to find long-lasting solutions to their frustrations. For over 200 years, they blindly wavered between fears and hopes, optimism and pessimism. The science and maths of political economy seemed the way out for these well-meaning individuals. Thomas Robert Malthus blamed population (sex and procreation). When people did well, they had larger families and, hence, were doomed as their living standards came down. Other economists took this forward to contend that the income of a worker is destined towards a minimum, merely-sustainable, level in the long run. The confidence came from Adam Smith, who believed that individual greed, always guided by the “invisible hand” (of God and/or market), will invariably triumph. A few fervently believed in interventions, either peaceful or violent. Alfred Marshall felt that every person could break out of the poverty chains through impetuses like education, since skilled workers were paid more than the unskilled ones. Karl Marx advocated a revolution in which the workers (proletariat) came out as the winner. Although the nations are now divided between capitalists, socialists, and communists, they realise that the role of the state or government, in varying kind, is necessary, even inevitable.
Humane Growth
Everyone now talks of ‘growth with a human face’, and ‘inclusive growth’. However, most fail to recognise that almost a hundred years ago, Mahatma Gandhi, and his economic theorist, JC Kumarappa, talked in the same language. Theirs was a model of Social Economy, or Moral Economy, as opposed to political economy. The Gandhian ideology sought to improve the social values to better the economic environment, not economic growth to help the individuals to move up the social ladder. Gandhi’s politics was planked on the twin concepts of Satya (Truth) and Ahimsa (Non-violence). He used both as the foundations of social values which, in turn, drove his economic thought. As Kumarappa espoused, economic truth was possible only if the national economies were aligned with the Natural Order of the universe. He wrote, “Everything in nature seems to follow a cyclic movement... A nation that forgets or ignores this fundamental process in forming its institutions will disintegrate.” According to an article by Venu Madhav Govindu and Deepak Malghan, this imposed “deeply moral” and “ethical obligations” on the societies and individuals. They wrote that since humans “can comprehend the ideology underlying the Natural Order”, they have “a special moral obligation”, which “enjoins them to exercise their free will towards the betterment of societies”. Clearly, national economics stemmed from social values. In strictly economic terms, this meant a change in mindset. For Kumarappa, and Gandhi an ideal Natural Order Public Finance, for instance, implied that “taxes should rise as the vapour from the sea, from the section of the populace who could best pay, and should be precipitated like rain on the needy”. Later, the rain of money should find its way back into the sea of public finance through investments, consumption and savings.
State Benevolence
Thus, the State has to be benevolent. First, it has to tax the rich more than those lower in the hierarchy. This corresponds well with the demand for a ‘super-tax’ on the wealthy. Second, it needs to spend more on the poor. This aligns perfectly with welfare economics, as explained by social activists like Beatrice Webb, politicians like Herbert Hoover (former US president), and economists like John Maynard Keynes, who fleshed out the theory of stimulus spending by the government during downturns and depressions. In the Gandhian scheme of things, such policies, decisions and actions had to remain within the realm of non-violence. In the 1930s, when imperialism and mercantilism clashed with capitalism and socialism, Kumarrapa envisaged five kinds of socio-economic configurations. There were obviously the predators, who colonized and exploited other countries. Britain’s occupation of India was a prime example. Then there were the parasites, which wholly and solely depended on others. Both were inherently violent. Under other economies, like enterprise and gregation (from the Latin word ‘gregare’, which means a flock or herd), the violence was both evident and hidden. The lack of altruism, and the sharp focus on self-interest in enterprise economies, leads to exploitation. A revolution is required to change the order of things, which leads to more violence as is evident in Communist and state-controlled regimes. When people within a community cooperate, like bees, they clash with the other flocks and herds. As Govindu and Malghan pointed out, Kumarappa believed that the only non-violent option was an economy of service. Under this ideology, duties and obligations of the individuals were more important than their rights, which still existed. This was the way to base a society on “higher cultural values”, and the means for the moral and ethical to drive economics. This was an economy of permanence, as opposed to one of transience. Such values had to be embedded within societies, either by governments, institutions, or societal ideologies. Aren’t these thoughts nearer to what Irving Fisher, an economist who emphasised interdependence of various elements in economics, meant when he said, “Not only is it false that men, when left alone, will always follow their best interests, but it is false that when they do, they will always thereby best serve society.” More importantly, Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister, spoke the language of Gandhi and Kumarappa, when he said that “the State must increasingly and earnestly concern itself with the care of the sick and the aged, and above all, of the children. I look forward to the universal establishment of minimum standards of life and labour, and their progressive elevation as the increasing energies of production may permit”. Economic Non-violence A key facet of a non-violent, natural order economy was the tussle between the use of renewable and non-renewable resources. Way back in the 1930s, both Gandhi and Kumarappa advocated a focus on the former and, hence, talked about green economy and green-led growth. He wanted economies to use more of cotton, timber, and water, or renewable resources, and which could grow due to the contribution of the societies. A corollary: limited use of non-renewable ones, such as coal, petroleum and minerals. The emphasis of Gandhi-Kumarappa duo on village-based industries led to misconceptions that it was against technology and large-scale production. This wasn’t true. What it wanted was a complete decentralisation of the means of production at the local levels. This ensured that they were neither in hands of select companies, which led to monopolistic tendencies given the inherent ‘imperfect competition’ in market-led economies, or the State, and thus the few who ruled a nation, as in socialist and Communist ones. What the duo wished for was more like a concept of a mixed economy, where certain sectors like railways and electricity were seen as “naturally centralised”, but the State retained control over them on behalf, and for the welfare, of the people. This ran hand-in-hand with the “support of village industries”, which led to a “necessary balance to maintain dependence of one on the other in society”. The crux lay not in abandoning “cottage units but to bring the light of science (technology) to cottage workers”.
Prescient Concept
Village-based production was a prescient concept. Over the past nine decades, it echoed well with Donald Trump’s ‘Made in America’, Britain’s Brexit, or exit from the European Union, Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s ‘Made in India’, and Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’. It was a continuation of the theme of protectionism, which was furiously debated during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in various countries. For example, Khadi entailed the urge to use local produce, as opposed to foreign goods. This leads to several additional economic benefits. The first is that it addresses the issue of employment, and that too skilled one. Modern theories have concluded that large-scale production, and huge factories, results in growth without employment for various reasons. Technology makes labour redundant, and the trend is likely to enhance with the use of robotics and artificial intelligence. It requires specialised skills, which depend on higher education and elite social backgrounds deprived to the poor. Local industries force workers, especially the youth, to acquire specialised skills easily and in a non-expensive manner. This is evident from India’s accent on skill development for several decades. It is also emphasised virulently by policymakers. In fact, in the recent past, the country’s Economic Survey said that the one option to create employment was to aid labour-intensive sectors like garments and leather, which ironically are geographically-based, or at least localised, industries. Additional and easier employment leads to higher incomes in the villages, or pockets of lesser economic activities. For decades, Indian policymakers have tried to enhance farm incomes, either through Green Revolution in the 1960s, use of genetically-modified seeds in the 1990s and 2000s, or merely by doubling the minimum reserve price, or the price at which governments assure to buy the crop produce, announced by the Modi regime.
Remaking Social Order
It also results in the remaking of the old social order, at least in the villages. MNREGA, which isn’t quite what the Gandhi-Kumarappa duo proposed, but more akin to their village-based ideology, changed the rural societies. Apart from tackling problems of starvation, it reduced the rural migration of both the adult males and females, and encouraged families to allow girls to spend more time and years in schools. This is clear from the huge rise in the cost of migratory labour, as well as the increase in girls’ enrolment. What was more crucial about the duo’s ideology was its natural tendency to achieve an inclusive society and inclusive economy. Nations have tried this by creating artificial barriers on cross-border movements of goods, services, and people. The existing political mindset in nations such as the US, Britain, and Germany is geared towards the imposition of such restrictions, especially to create local employment, and demand for locally-made goods. Gandhi and Kumarappa gave a natural theory to achieve these objectives. Despite its seemingly limited economic scope, it left a nation’s gate open for the flow of goods, services, and manpower that were unavailable locally. Hence, skills and technologies could be imported, but their violent and destructive tendencies on societies and economies would be marginal because there was an immense expanse to create local, yet skilled, jobs to increase the incomes of poor and marginalised households. Clearly, Gandhian Economics, or Mahatma’s Social Economy, isn’t outmoded. Some of the concepts can play a huge role to alleviate poverty and achieve growth with a human face. In fact, many of the theories are still being used by nations, although they are couched in political economy jargon. The main difference: Gandhi’s emphasis that social values of truth and non-violence can lead to a better and more-inclusive economy, rather than putting the economic value cart before the societal horse. The ideas of Gandhi and Kumarappa haven’t lost relevance in this century. They need to be rediscovered, finessed, and implanted in this century. An ethical and values-based balance between big and small can be more beautiful than pure-play capitalism (the US) and naked socialism (former USSR). This is the decentralised message that they gave to the world.

Singing Bogus Facts

Ummeed to thee ki kuch badlega kyonki vo toh gaon ki haalat bhi jaante hai… hamari hi bhasha bolte hai phir bhi kuch khas nahin hua” – Purvanchali woman

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

Manoj Tiwari as a singer is a raging fire among the Purvanchali community, but his role as a Member of Parliament looks like doused embers. The flamboyant MP from North East Delhi constituency seat made waves when he won the seat by 1,44,084 votes. Tiwari got 5,96,125 votes, while his nearest competitor, Aam Admi Party’s candidate Prof Anand Kumar secured 4,52,041 votes and lost. But having done so, most often the star remains so far away from the people that he merely twinkles from up there! Born on February 1, 1973, in Atarwalia, a small village in Kaimur district of Bihar, Tiwari is one of the six children of his parents. Prior to entering Bhojpuri cinema, he had spent ten years as a singer. His journey as an actor began in 2003, with a role in the film ‘Sasura Bada Paise Wala,’ followed by successful films like ‘Daroga Babu I Love You’, ‘Bandhan Toote Na’, etc. In 2009, Tiwari contested the 15th Lok Sabha elections as a candidate for the Samajwadi Party from the Gorakhpur constituency, but lost to Yogi Adityanath of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Five years later, Tiwari ditched his party and thought it wiser to join the same BJP that had defeated him. Tiwari throws fitness challenge on social media to Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan , which earns him applause among the youth of his constituency. But how fitting has he been as an MP? Tiwari’s claim is that he had worked to build three Kendriya Vidyalayas in North East Delhi, which no one had thought of initiating despite being in power for decades. His claim also includes two flyovers, easing troubles for 60 lakh commuters for a hassle-free travel. On his initiative to keep the electorate fit, he points out to the open air gym in his constituency another major contribution for the voters, he claims.
Bad Boasts
He boasts of his contribution as an MP and shares the document of his expenditure from the MPLAD funds and other funds received. On the face of it, the claims appear true. But his rival, Congress leader and former MP from the same North East Delhi, Jai Prakash Agarwal, pooh-poohs these: “What? He says that he initiated the Kendriya Vidyalayas for North-East Delhi? I am not going to say anything but documents and dates would explain where the gap between the claim and reality is.” The supporting documents that the former MP has shared show clearly that there is indeed a gap. The clearance for the Kendriya Vidyalayas had been done in March 2014, while Agarwal was the sitting MP. Manoj Tiwari was elected only in May 2014. The sanctions for the flyovers have also just been done in 2018. Talking to Parliamentarian, Tiwari says: “Let my work speak for me. I don’t think I need to project anything falsely. The work that I have done will benefit lakhs of commuters and they will remember me and that is what is required. I don’t want to reply to what everyone assumes but I think the work will put them in place”. The document supporting his claims shared by Tiwari with Parliamentarian shows that he has spent Rs 500 crore so far from his MPLAD funds and other funds received. A random visit to North-East Delhi, though, will clarify the picture that it is not easy to access the local MP. It is believed that only after BJP Party President Amit Shah expressed his unhappiness about the absence of many top BJP leaders in their constituencies (read Manoj Tiwari) and ordered them to work in their areas or face the consequences that he is now a bit more accessible and public queries are getting heard. The core issue of security for women still is a big one. And his claims to getting the two flyovers done at Shastri Park and Khajuri are debunked by Agarwal, who says the works had been initiated by him in his time as MP. Clearly, Tiwari has learnt his Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cheap trick of claiming all of the previous regime’s projects as his by renaming them. Agarwal laughingly says, “As Member of Parliament he claims he has fought battles to improve the area. Where did he take up the issue that highways need to be linked? Parliament is the only place where politicians fight the battle to improve their constituencies. I challenge that looking at the debates, there is no evidence he has once taken up issues for North East Delhi.” Agarwal says: “Bring out the Lok Sabha debates to know the whole truth. The debates tell a different story.” And Agarwal is right. (See Box: In Parliament)
Stoking Fire
Unsavoury controversies have also dogged Tiwari from the beginning. In March 2018, the BJP MP received a lot of flak on Twitter for speaking rudely with a woman during a function. A video has emerged where Manoj Tiwari is seen admonishing a woman, who requested him to sing a couple of lines. Tiwari is seen in the video blasting her, asking her how she dare ask him to sing. “Is this the way to speak to an MP?” he thunders. Tiwari then continues his rant and asks the lady, who is reportedly a teacher, to get off the stage. He also asks officers sitting on the dais to take action against the woman. This is strange, because Manoj Tiwari, even after becoming an MP, has continued to sing in different functions. In fact, he charges hefty fees for singing and was admonished for doing so even for a programme of his own party. So it looked a tad hypocritical and unfair that the MP attacked the teacher for asking him to sing. Twitter followers were critical of him and expressed it. (See Box: Tweeted Out.) The controversy continued, as Tiwari in a film promotional event at Varanasi went down on his knees to sing a Bhojpuri song for the heroine of the film. The Twitterati promptly reminded him of his rude denial to a respected teacher who had politely requested him to sing two lines of a Bhojpuri song. In January this year there was another controversy when the sealing drive was going on. Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari and other party leaders stormed out of a meeting with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal over the issue of sealing, alleging “misbehaviour” by AAP MLAs and “anti-social elements” present there, a charge denied by the AAP. Tiwari alleged that woman mayors of the BJP-ruled North and East MCD Preety Agarwal and Neema Bhagat were also “attacked” at the Chief Minister’s residence and accused the AAP government of acting like “urban naxalites”. Delhi BJP general secretary Ravinder Gupta even filed a police complaint against some AAP MLAs, accusing them of attacking his party leaders. In fact, Tiwari seemed to have landed in controversies almost immediately after becoming an MP. On the second day of assuming office as an MP, on May 20, 2014, Tiwari’s tweet cautioned men from Bihar to be wary of Delhi women. Tiwari, however, claimed that he joined the micro-blogging site only in 2015. He also claimed that there are many fake accounts opened in his name and this one is not his. But AAP trolled Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari over his “anti-women” tweet, which the latter has denied having posted. A day after the Northeast Delhi MP assumed office, the AAP’s Delhi unit reposted an over two-and-a-half-year-old tweet from an unverified Twitter handle and demanded an apology from the BJP national president Amit Shah for appointing Tiwari as the new Delhi BJP chief. “BJP President @AmitShah must apologise for appointing Manoj Tiwari (who has insulted the women of Delhi in the past) as Delhi BJP president,” the AAP said on Twitter. Parliamentarian learns from reliable sources that Shah and Modi are now actually finding him too much of a bother, creating factional feuds within the party, and will possibly shift him out to a Bihar constituency in 2019.
Area Data
North East Delhi comprises of Burari, Timarpur, Seemapuri, Rohtas Nagar, Seelampur Ghonda, Babarpur, Gokulpur, Mustafabad, and Karawal Nagar. Tiwari, a popular Purvanchali, represents Northeast Delhi constituency, was seen as a bait to woo Purvanchali voters in Delhi by the BJP. These people from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar jointly comprise 35 per cent of the electorate in the Capital and have influence in over 20-25 assembly seats. They had traditionally been Congress voters but later favoured the BJP. But in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the Purvanchalis voted en masse for the AAP. Tiwari has been particularly regular in the Parliament, as statistics show. The constituency residents, however, have a different story to tell for themselves. Talking to Parliamentarian, Kamlesh Bharti, who works for women’s welfare in the area since 1997, says: “I have only received assurances from Mr Tiwari. I met him twice and he assured the situation will change. But nothing has changed so far. The biggest problem in North East Delhi is security of women. We have taken this up with him several times, but nothing much could be achieved. Child labour was also rampant in this area and nothing has changed. There are too many problems, so how could we name a few? And the MP only assured so far that situation would change and the elections are already due. So, we are merely expecting some more assurances.” Sadhna Kumari, who works as an assistant in a boutique, and is herself from Bihar, says: “Ummeed to thee ki kuch badlega kyonki vo toh gaon ki haalat bhi jaante hai… hamari hi bhasha bolte hai phir bhi kuch khas nahin hua” (I thought things would change since he knows the reality and the state of affairs back home. But there is nothing much that has changed so far.) Parliamentarian tried to access Tiwari to get his version of things. However, it was all in vain. Tiwari hardly picks up a call. He responds to messages rarely. Although he responded to the request of the reporter for an interview, but he never actually gave one. To be honest, residents have similar views about the AAP representative in the area. People, however, express a bit of satisfaction with the responses of the Congress representative in the area.

Flavours A La Calcutta!

Bengalis rarely make businessmen... possibly because most of what they earn, they eat, so no capital accumulation… but it is truly irresistible, especially the street food, which is a mixture of Bengali, British and Mughal influences

Sujit Chakraborty
Sujit Chakraborty

Sujit Chakraborty is a senior journalist and author of three books. He has worked with various publications and was the first Indian to manage Bhutan’s first independent daily, Bhutan Times. He has also specialised on environmental issues

Saurabh Kumar, a diplomatic correspondent, reached Calcutta on a pleasant November afternoon after completing his assignment in Dhaka. From his small hotel room in the Sealdah area, he leaned out the window to catch a glimpse of one of his favourite cities. Saurabh’s plan was simple: stay put here for a couple of days and gorge on the mind boggling street food. And as he leaned out, wafted in the delicious aroma of alur chop (potato chops, Bihar style) and fulkopir shingara. Of course, there were the big sweet shops across the street, but Saurabh’s hunt was for all the junk food Calcutta had on offer. He made a quick calculation about how many days he would need to taste every single such item, but came up with naught. It is impossible to calculate! It was late afternoon when he started his food foray. First, of course was the alur chop. Slightly oily stuff, but what taste. The lady frying them was from Bihar. And the chop was typical. Well mashed potato with red chilly powder, jeera (cumin) powder, a smattering of bitnoon – the kind of black salt available only in this city – and the rest he couldn’t tell, and the lady would not reveal. Fried in slightly liquid besan, or gram powder, the stuff was given another level of taste by a bit of bitnoon again sprinkled over it before being served in the paper packets. Saurabh had four of them, then stopped… the shingara was beckoning him. He moved to the makeshift glass box where the vendor was frying the shingara. This is what people call samosa in northern India, but it is totally different. Pieces of potato are cut into small cubes, along with similar sized cauliflowers and broken pieces of peanuts. This is then carefully fried and later stuffed into the samosa. But wait, the casing here is not made of attah, the normal wheat flour, but of maida, the finely milled and polished wheat flour which has a highly refined taste. The stuff just melted in his mouth. Saurabh wondered how these people manage to retain the same taste year after year. Feeling rather fullish, Saurabh started walking down what was originally Harrison Road, now called Mahatma Gandhi Road. Rickshaw, autorickshaw, cycles, private buses with their rowdy conductors, and the tram, with its same old snail-pace and the ting-ting as a warning to people walking along the tram line. The tram has been retained as a Calcutta heritage, possibly from Jurassic Age, but it is a delight. If you have time take it. It rolls on at an easy pace, and you have a view of the entire area.
Rolling Along
But Saurabh went walking. Not that he was in a hurry. But walking is the best way of discovery, and he was out to discover the food on the streets. A few hundred meters down the road, he found what he was looking for as his supper: the roll stall. Few know that roll, or kati roll as it was called, is an original culinary invention of Calcutta. Barely put, it originally had some kebabs wrapped in maida-made flatbread. It was invented by one of Bengal’s oldest eateries, Nizam’s which still rules to roost in Hogg Street, New Market. Some say the origin lies in a keen demand from office- goers to grab a bite on the move. Some even say that the British loved their kebabs but were too fastidious to touch them bare hands, so a wrap was invented. Whatever it is, kati roll became an instant rage. The word kati comes from the fact that originally Nizam’s used the traditional iron skewers to make the kebabs, but with rising demand they needed faster delivery and a lighter skewer, so they started using sliced bamboo sticks, or katis, as skewers. Putting history behind, now the street rolls are neither just kebabs, nor are they skewered, so there is no kati, barring in Nizam’s. Now the roll can be of anything: egg roll, mutton roll, chicken roll, vegetable roll. There can be mixes too: egg-mutton roll or egg-chicken roll, etc. And depending on how much you can fit it, there is the double egg-mutton roll, and even the double-egg-double-mutton roll, and likewise for chicken. Saurabh is a proselytising non-vegetarian, so there would be no question for the vegetable roll for him. The rolls on Calcutta-streets are made of ready to eat mutton or chicken filling, some cauliflower shavings, raw, and then the sauces. The problem lies with the sauces. Most of the smaller shops, which are lined up side by side in many areas of the city, use cheap sauces, ‘tomato’ sauce made from pumpkin paste. The chilly sauce of course is genuine chilly stuff. Saurabh stopped at what seemed to him a shop that is better of the lot. The man was busy making three rolls on the huge tava. Saurabh waited and watched his skills. The man had the maida flatbreads. He first light fried the roll bread. Then he broke two eggs and put them on the oil in the tava. Then he put the roll bread over the omelette, deftly swirled the whole thing. The aroma was killing Saurabh, as if he was returning from a famished country. The seller then took up the bread and put a double helping of mutton on it, some sauces, then quickly wrapped it in a fine paper wrapper and handed it over to our hungry man. Rs 60, and that was full dinner, that too, most people would not be able to have that much. Saurabh took a bite and smiled to himself. His day was made!
The next morning he woke up leisurely, then having done the loo bit, he went down to the road and started strolling. He wasn’t really looking for food, which could wait till afternoon or evening. But then a few steps from his hotel gate he stumbled upon an emaciated old lady selling just three items: luchi, alurdum and ghugni. Apparently she had just arrived and the stuff was still hot. Saurav first started with four luchis (which is the same shape as north Indian puri, but is made of maida) and a plate of ghugni. Ghugni is also a typical Calcutta food. It’s basic is dried green peas. This is boiled, then fried with onion and garlic paste and tiny pieces of fried coconut, spiced with garam masala (which has no English, but is a paste of clove, cinnamon and green cardamom). It is either dry or loosely wet. But the trick lies in an additional spice which is sprinkled over it, which is a powder of various herbs dry fried. Saurabh found the taste amazing, and was contemplating having a second plate when he decided to try the aludum. So four more luchis and aludum, four pieces of alu, or potato boiled, then fried in a paste of ginger, garlic, onion. This was hot, but delectable. Eight luchis downed, Saurabh felt it was good enough for breakfast. Calcutta has an amazing variety of snacks sold on the streets, which include comparatively recent entrants such as momo, chow mien, idli, dosa, dhokla, etc., but these are not the blue-blooded Calcutta street food.
Dacre’s Lane
For lunch it had to be Dacre’s Lane in the heart of the business centre, BBD Bagh, named after a British collector called Phillip Milner Dacre. This place as a food joint is more than 200 years old. The shops are non-descript, small, often dingy, and often too, it is just a long wooden bench to sit on, with the food served in steel plates. Saurabh started moving around… the famous shops: Chittoda’s, Apanjan, shops now being run by the third generation of the original owners. Amazingly inexpensive, the place is packed in the afternoons with office-goers gorging on the absolutely delectable stuff. The whole lane is an experience of mixed aroma. Saurabh chose Chittoda’s and had a Dimer Devil and Kobiraji. Dimer Devil is another Calcutta invention. It is a boiled egg, wrapped with very spicy mashed potato and minced meat. The egg is given a covering of crunchy bread crumbs and then deep fried. Saurabh did not use the chutney they served, desiring to taste the original stuff, and chewed on it slowly, gradually taking the juice in. Then he attacked the kobiraji cutlet. Cutlets in Dacres Lane is a British legacy. But the Kobiraji of today is starkly different from its British progenitor. This can be fish or mutton. Saurabh settled for mutton. It is minced meat mixed with garlic, onion and ginger paste. After marinating, it is dipped into beaten egg, given a covering of bread crumbs and deep fried. It is usually served with kashundi, a very Bengali mustard paste, and Saurabh found the taste divine. All for less than Rs 100. But for his kind of appetite, these two were starters, really. He contemplated going to Anadi Cabin, one of the oldest restaurants of Calcutta. But then decided against it. He wanted a Mughlai Paratha and Kosha Mangsho, which latter is known as Mutton Kassa in the rest of the country but is vastly different. He strolled around BBD Bagh. It was an amazing range of food being sold there, just in the penumbra of the LIC Building. There the foodie stumbled upon a small makeshift shop with no name, but selling Mughlai Paratha and Kosha Mangsho. Although together they make heavy dish, but usually foodies go for the ‘joint venture’, as did Saurabh. Mughlai Paratha, a Mughal-time recipe, came to Calcutta via Dhaka during the Mughal rule. It is paratha made of maida, with a stuffing of egg yolk and minced meat as a stuffing. And this is one paratha that is square in shape. Kosha Mangsho is mutton cooked in a sauce of garlic, ginger, onion, green chili paste and stir fried for a long time. It is just amazing, and the price came for nothing, really. By then it was just 2.00 pm. The bustling office area just ahead of Bara Bazzar, was still teeming with eaters. Afternoon is also the time when the jhaal-muri sellers begin their operations… the phuchkawallahs would come a little later. The Calcutta phuchkas are unlike the golgappas of north India. They are made purely from atta, and never suji, or semolina flour. The stuffing is of black chickpeas, potato mashed, the spices, chilly powder, coriander leaves, and they are dipped never in mint water but in tamarind water, which also has a lot of spices in it. But may be that can wait for another day. Saurabh marched towards College Street. The legendary old book shops were his target, for he knew that if you search well, you can really get anything you want second hand. He walked along the footpath, checking out one shop after another. He picked up a few books he needed, and then went to Paramount, the fabled sherbets and syrups shop. All the eating and walking had made him thirsty, so he ordered a rose-pineapple juice. Paramount has been around for ages and serves amazing mocktails, though here the prices are a bit stiff.
Kalika Magic
Back at the hotel, Saurabh called the room boy and gave him Rs 200. “Take an auto with this money and reach Kalika Telebhaja shop by 4.30. I will write down what to buy, so bring all that.” Kalika sells only ‘telebhaja’ or fried food… chops, cutlets, beguni (brinjal fried), piyaji (onion fried in besan) and so forth. It is amazing that the shop opens at around five and sells out everything by six or seven. Shutters down. It is a tiny shop but has become a fable. Mutton cutlet, chicken cutlet, fish fry (the stupendous Calcutta variety), fish roll, all just Rs 20 a piece, and the rest of the fries at just Rs 5 each. Which means for 80 rupees, you could have a sumptuous meal and that is it. That was for dinner. But as he lay down in bed planning the next day, the handset rang. It was office calling. There will be a major meeting the next day, so Saurabh would have to leave the food paradise!

Bashing Big Media

Unique to Bengal, little magazines are people’s political power that dare all. They bring fresh subaltern literature, a concept that now sees 20 Little Magazine fairs in various districts

Anindya Bhattacharya

Anindya Bhattacharya is an avid reader and essayist. His main focus is on political economy but he has also dwelt on media, alternate political commentary and other emerging socio-economic trends. He is deeply involved with the Little Magazine Movement in West Bengal

In Encyclopaedia Britannica, little magazines have been defined as ‘any of various small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings, usually avant-garde and noncommercial.’ What is its objective then? Britannica further clarifies, ‘A little magazine usually begins with the object of publishing literary work of some artistic merit that is unacceptable to commercial magazines for any one or all of three reasons—the writer is unknown and therefore not a good risk; the work itself is unconventional or experimental in form; or it violates one of several popular notions of moral, social, or aesthetic behaviour.’ In fact, after the boom of the print industry and its accessibility to the common people, along with surfacing of ‘Right to Expression’ in Europe, countries like UK, Germany and France witnessed a phenomenon called ‘little magazine’ flourishing widely since late 19th century. The prevailing morals of the society were then crumbling down, political upheavals were changing the DNA of the political spectrum and new ideas were capturing the imagination of the people. Precisely, that was the breeding ground of little magazine movement. But that’s only an ephemeral and partial depiction of the entire movement in the present day context.
Early Phase
Though this had its impact in India too, Bengal being at the centre-stage of British aggression by then had already produced a breed of ‘modern’ intellectuals during the 19th century who were capable of expressing their ideas through writings and speeches. Though most of them were British stooges, a few could indeed carve out an independent domain of seeing and bestowing ideas. One of them was Harinath Kangal from Kusthia in the then Bengal Province in the late 19th century, who founded and edited the Bengali weekly ‘Grambarta Prakashika’ which became a pioneer voice of the oppressed peasants during that epoch.
It was here the legendary Lalon Shah and his songs were introduced to the people. I would consider this weekly as one of the earliest and truest little magazines in Bengal. It was Kangal Harinath who set the trend of going beyond the prevailing norms. Nevertheless, during that time capital investment by businessmen in periodicals on a commercial basis was still not thought to be a worthy idea, so the printed magazines which came out were all artifacts of passionate individual zeal of keen literary acumen, of whom some were vocal against social injustice.
Big Moolah
It was only during the 20th century that big investment crept into the domain of print media, and the individual passion and efforts were pushed into sidelines by elements of big marketing and campaigning strategy. By the mid-20th century, with the advent of radio and daily newspapers, the mainstream media in Bengal got a reasonable shape and mounted a robust commercial campaign dominating over the imagination of the commoners. The independent and solicitous mind felt the necessity of a demarcation as well as space. Thus, the significance of alternate publications gradually got an explicit prominence. The war-torn 40s, with famine, disaster and partition created strong voices across all the fields of media in Bengal and created an enlarged domain for the unheard and unsung. The emerging alternate media, a section of which was later termed as ‘Little Magazine’ (coined by Buddhadeb Basu, editor of a little magazine ‘Kobita’) eventually became an effective tool of expression against all odds and dominance.
The mid-sixties and the seventies changed the literary scenario in Bengal in a major way. The political upheaval and the upsurge of the peasants, students and youth under the far-reaching influence of Naxalbari movement heralded a break in contemporary thoughts and conventions. Rebel ideas with newer elements surged into the thought-spectrum of the then Bengal and ushered a new era of content and form in writing.
The little magazines took the lead and steered the change. To name a few – Frontier, Aneek, Manifesto, Anrinyo, Prostutiporbo, Onyo Ortho, Barricade, Ekkshon, Utso Manush, Bortika and a lot many. Although, except a few, the little magazines had their limitations and most of them were irregular and short-lived. Besides, the mainstream media and their periodicals with its money-power and a cluster of powerful writers too had its influence. It was an uneven battle between the little magazines and the big media, where the impact of the latter was far more. Many of the enthusiasts and writers of little magazines were also eager to fall in the gaze of the big media. Eventually, some of the writers found solace in the lap of the big houses. But there were exceptions as well.
Present Context
But this dominating feature of the big media waned in the first decade of this century. Finally, the little magazines could become a major literary force, thwarting the attempts of the big media to keep it under the carpet. It was vividly felt during this period that the big media was falling behind the pace and vigour of the little magazines in all aspects. How it could be possible?
Foremostly, it was the upsurge of the peasants in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh, which brought to fore the question of basic perception in reading ‘development’ and ‘progress’. The varied interpretation of these two terms created a wide chasm between the big and the little magazines. The impact was felt more due to rise of power of social media. The little magazines could now acquire a wider platform through social media to interact with a vast section of the readers that were so long beyond their reach. A quick metamorphosis was about to happen and did occur.
The little magazines soon swept the audiences by their reach and arguments. It was seen when the big media tried to mobilise the masses in favour of so-called ‘development’ by TATA in Singur, the little magazines steadfastly stood by the peasants and exposed the hollowness of such myths. Moreover, that was the first time the little magazines came forward to form a platform of their own to air their views in a cohesive voice. On 18 December 2006, 18 little magazines assembled together in Kolkata to form the ‘Little Magazine Somonnoy Mancha’. Soon it became a force to reckon with. The subsequent gatherings of the little magazines after 18 December swelled like a wildfire and converted into a parallel little magazine fair in the then Presidency College (now Presidency University) ground in January 2008, by the Mancha throwing a challenge to the official little magazine fair by the West Bengal government in Rabindra Sadan-Nandan complex.
Government Vengeance
Nearly 150 little magazines participated in the alternate fair and created a history in the annals of little magazine movement. Later on in 2011, out of revenge and fear, the then government pushed out the fair from Presidency College ground. The organisers’ desperate effort, however, could find a place at College Square. And the fair continued up till now with more enthusiasm and vigour.
For long, the little magazines were confined to writers expressing their views in its pages. Now it became a practical movement on the streets as well, mobilising a vast section of the readers around its literary endeavour. In brief, it became an independent and unified exertion on an enormous scale on its own. This activism grew wide and became a point of mobilisation; the little magazines were on the streets for the first time and forever. The entire phase of Singur-Nandigram movement witnessed a series of battles waged by the little magazines on streets as well as in their pages. This new upsurge elevated the little magazine movement to a new height. To name a few such little magazines who took a pro-active role – Ekak Matra, Aneek, Banglar Mukh, Bhasabondhon, Bhumodhyosagar, Sohorot, Nirontor, Manthan, Kalodhwoni et al. Besides, the blogs and social media posts and comments too emerged as a strong tool of expression of the commoners along with the little magazines, which made the contents of the big media irrelevant. The readers, especially the younger ones, did waste no more time to pick up a commercial magazine from the newsstand, and instead preferred to go through the texts of social media and little magazines.
Raison D’etre
One of the major reasons for this choice was the relevance and rich substance of little magazines that actually met the hunger for knowledge, and their keeping away from biasness. We entered into an era of little magazine boom. Innumerable little magazines emerged, may be of short life and irregular, but the literary fabric of entire Bengal got tuned to it. Over the last five years, it was vividly observed that the mainline book fairs in the districts withering away to make space for little magazine fairs. During the last fair season from November 2017 to April 2018, Bengal witnessed more or less 20 little magazine fairs all over the state. That was a colossal phenomenon. The enormous footfalls in most of such fairs indicate that the future readership belongs to little magazines. There were no sponsors, no government support but were held mostly under the initiative of local youth by raising fund from the public. In a way, the little magazine movement garnered a massive social support which inspired them to construct newer texts with no fear and obligation.
The intertwining of little magazine movement with social media campaign evolved a new literary phase of social and political literature where the big media lost its entire relevance. In forming of opinion and consent, the little magazines came up with the lead on major occasions in the recent past which helped some of the social movements to reach its goal. To mention from recent past, the support by the little magazines to the Bhangar peasant movement and the Calcutta Medical College students’ movement added an impetus to the entire scenario. Both the blogs and printed forms played an effective role in disseminating information and carrying the alternative analyses to the broader masses. The aftermath being, the big media followed suit.

The Content
Now, coming at this textual juncture, the readers of this article would obviously wonder about the present day content of little magazines. Is it really worrisome for the ruling elite? Is it a guide to the thinking masses? To delve deeper, one needs to understand that the content of little magazines lies in the very nature of livelihood of the commoners. These are published by persons who mainly emerge from the middle and lower middle class acquainted with textual and literary practices, and are convenient in expressing themselves in different literary forms. The editors and associates, on the one hand, are caught up in the daily struggles of life and on the other, relate their crises to the broader socio-economic perspectives. This dual existence builds up the vast domain of little magazine activities, which in brief is an expression of the trauma, reality and dialectics of everyday existence. This is reflected in their poems, short stories, anecdotes and analytical essays. There are other experimental practices too. But the point to harp on, this upsurge of alternate ideas and thought is the core of the little magazine movement. Who will deny the character of ‘Herbert’ and the crew of ‘Fyatarus’ who are the so-called outsiders of this society but can surreptitiously incapacitate the supremacy of the dominant, as created by Nabarun Bhattacharya (an activist of little magazine movement) in his best-selling books? The little magazines, sometimes, are like Fyatarus, who can dethrone different forms of authority at varied levels by the power of words. The voices of the subaltern through little magazines become louder and critical, so that it is deemed to be heard. Over the last 10-15 years, in many instances, they were heard indeed. Evidently, the ruling authorities don’t find the little magazines very expedient for themselves. They keep an intense gaze on it and its activists. The Little Magazine Fair that was initiated in 1998 in Kolkata by the then Government of West Bengal was shifted this year to an obscure place, the participation and the footfalls decline. But the little magazines are never dependent on doles and relief. So in a major way, a large section of them were able to boycott the event and continued with their own fair in College Square ground where a surging crowd thronged the place with exact spirit. The little magazines are the mainstay of the subaltern. The days of ‘manufacturing consent’ are gone. The unheard now has a media to air its dissent. The time is difficult but the battle continues in a more meaningful fashion.

Saffron Draws Greenbacks

Apparently, protecting cow vigilante groups is not the only thing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is doing. He has turned everyone’s head by streamlining policies, ensuring transparency and bringing lakhs of crores in investments to the state

Srawan Shukla
Srawan Shukla

The author is a Lucknow-based independent journalist with over 25 years experience in media - print, television and digital. He started his career with The Pioneer, working later with The Times of India, Newstime, Hyderabad and Tehelka. He also worked with Zee News and ETV (UP). He later founded, and is Bureau Chief of Parliamentarian, Uttar Pradesh

On August 23, 2007, then Chief Minister Mayawati caused a major blow to investment flow in Uttar Pradesh when she shut the retail business of the country’s top business tycoon Mukesh Ambani. Reliance Retail’s ambitious Rs 10,000 crore investment plans in retail and agri sectors came to a standstill.
The company suffered losses to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore and vowed never to return to Uttar Pradesh to make any investment. In fact, there has been a sharp decline in industrialists making investments in the state ever since coalition politics came to stay there 1993 onwards. Political instability, coalition compulsions, poor infrastructure, deteriorating law and order, red-tapism, nepotism, corruption, non-availability of uninterrupted power, labour problems due to political interference and delay in clearances and approvals for setting up industries forced major industrial houses to stay away from the state.
What caused more concern among investors was heads of government showering favours to particular industrialists and making tailor-made policies to promote their business interests instead of creating investor-friendly environment to boost industrialisation. In 2003, then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav sanctioned 2,500 acres of farmers’ land for setting up the 8,000 MW gas-based Dadri power plant to Anil Ambani’s power company. The land was acquired in 2004 and Mulayam government provided huge subsidy for acquisition of prized land in Dadri area of Noida.
As per the MoU, the production was to start in 2004. But due to RIL’s refusal to provide gas supply on subsidised rates, the project went into a limbo. But not many know that the registry of the acquired land was done in favour of Anil Ambani’s power company, whereas it should have been done jointly in the name of the UPPCL.
The land acquired by Anil Ambani’s power company with subsidy from the government with an estimated cost of Rs 350 crore is now worth over Rs 20,000 crore. Despite the Allahabad High Court order to return the land to farmers in 2009, the case continued to drag on. The acquisition escalated land prices in the area and politicians and bureaucrats made huge profits. Similarly, then Mayawati Chief Minister Mayawati allotted huge chunks of prized lands to its favourite JP Group of industries in Noida. The fate of power plants in Bara and Karchana in Allahabad under Mayawati is known to all. While a few of Mayawati, Mulayam and Akhikesh Yadav’s favourite industrialists pocketed prized lands and projects to make huge profits, development of the state took a backseat. With its sheer size and population and growth of 44 lakh MSMEs the backbone of the state economy and highest in the country, economists do not fight shy in saying that India’s economic growth is wedded to UP’s growth as the state contributes 8.1 per cent to its GDP. The state provides one of the biggest consumer markets in the world which no businessman can overlook. Industrialists and investors were waiting for a government to take over in the state which formulates investor-friendly policies and provides a conducive atmosphere for them to stage a comeback to the state with loads of investment. Many were surprised when saffron monk-turned politician Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who had little administrative experience, turned the table in a record year’s time. In one of his interviews, Yogi Adityanath admitted that no bank was willing to give loans to the state when he was raising funds for farmers’ loan waiver scheme. “We generated Rs 36,000 crore from our own resources by curtailing unnecessary expenditures, dropping schemes and trimming whopping budgets of projects not benefitting people of the state,” he claimed.
Buoyed by the success, Yogi Adityanath held a marathon meeting with his ministers and top bureaucrats of the industries and other departments to draw up a plan for wooing investors back into the state.
“We were surprised the way he unfolded his plan and vision with minutest details for the speeding up development to create job opportunities for youth in the state by rolling out red carpets for investors,” said Dr Anoop Chandra Pandey, then Industrial Development Commissioner, who was instrumental in raising funds for the loan waiver scheme. He later became the Chief Secretary of the state.
During the middle of the meeting, then DGP was also called in. All industry and infrastructure related departments, including labour, transport, civil aviation, tourism, power, etc., were asked to prepare a blue-print of a transparent, corruption-free system and a draft for policy changes and support they require to achieve the target of bringing no less than Rs six lakh crore investment in the next four years. The DGP was given a free hand to launch an offensive against listed criminals and Mafiosi to control law and order and instill confidence among industrialists. The IT and Electronics department was directed to develop an online single-window transparent system for clearances and approvals.
Within 15 days, all government departments were ready with blue-prints and about 21 new policies or changes into the existing one to create an investor-friendly atmosphere in a state which was marred by political anarchy, instability, deteriorating law and order, corruption, red-tapism, etc., over the last 15 years. The Chief Minister’s one district one product (ODOP) plan was an instant hit among investors who were ready to tap on the vast potential and growth of the MSMEs in the state. The ODOP scheme plans to promote traditional industries synonymous with the districts to spur local development and create jobs
Delegations of ministers and top bureaucrats were sent to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and other states to study their development models and align it with state’s investor-friendly policies and plan of extending concessions to those willing to make investments into Uttar Pradesh. NRIs and their organisations all over the world were approached and invited to visit the state to witness the change. A special monitoring cell was created at the CM’s Office to keep a watch on the progress being made by different departments in this direction. “It was all done in record time and we were ready to showcase our policies and plan to investors and industrialists. Before the first UP Investors’ Summit, we showcased a new investor-friendly Uttar Pradesh in all major cities of the country and invited industrialists to the state in the summit,” said Satish Mahana, the Industry Minister.
Prior to the summit, a business delegation with 26 top firms, including Boeing, Facebook, Adobe, Pratt and Whiteny, Merch, Azure Power, Cargill, etc., from the US visited the state in October 2017 and showed their willingness to invest in the state.
Top bureaucrats claimed that it created a buzzword in the corporate world. Within the next three months, about 8,000 top Fortune 500 and medium sized companies registered themselves to participate in the UP Investors’ Summit. The Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath personally requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate the two-day summit, beginning February 22. Top 50 industrialists of the country, including Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, Aditya Birla, Sanjiv Puri, Dr Subhash Chandra were personally present to support the historic economic changes taking place in the state. As many as 1,045 MoUs worth Rs 4.28 lakh crores were signed during the summit. Buoyed by the presence of top industrialists, the Prime Minister Naredra Modi said that now Uttar Pradesh will become a trillion dollar economy to compete with a state like Maharashtra. He had also asked Yogi Adityanath to ensure that the MoUs are taken to fruitions.
MoUs worth several lakhs of rupees were signed in the past also during the Ram Prakash Gupta, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav governments but investments which came to the state were almost negligible.
“We divided the MoUs signed into sectors and created dedicated teams of officials to hold interactions with industrialists and investors to resolve their queries and address their problems with regard to availability of land, power, infrastructure, clearances then and there, and close their files for investments into the state,” said Industry Minister Satish Mahana. Within five months, the state machinery matured MoUs worth a whopping Rs 60,000 crore and another Rs 50,000 crore over the next three months. A Ground Breaking Ceremony was organised on July 29 with the Prime Minister launching as many as 80 projects worth Rs 60,000 crore in investment-starved Uttar Pradesh. It was a big leap and a major achievement if one compares with past regimes. In her five-year rule, Mayawati could bring only an investment of Rs 54,000 crores while Akhilesh Yadav took it to Rs 57,000 crores. But here is Yogi Adityanath government which brought an investment of Rs 60,000 crores in less than a year.
“Uttar Pradesh will soon emerge as the growth engine of India. Another investment of Rs 50,000 crore is in the pipeline. We aim to mature 90 per cent of the total MoUs signed during the Investor Summit,” stated Yogi Adityanath. On the occasion, Modi said that it was the result of the leadership’s success. “It should be called Record Breaking Ceremony instead of Ground Breaking Ceremony. Investment was a challenge in Uttar Pradesh but Yogi and his team has turned into an opportunity for investors,” lauded Modi.
After the ground breaking ceremony the Chief Minister held a marathon meeting with top officials and personally called industrialists to thank them for reposing faith in Uttar Pradesh. The state is now planning to organise separate MSME and Global Summits within the next six months to woo investors into small and medium industry sectors and world players to market and take quality products from Uttar Pradesh across globe.

Uncertainties Of 40 lakh!

The Supreme Court- directed National Register of Citizens has created huge uncertainties in Assam, with no political party willing to walk the talk, and the government has no clear plan of action

Rajeev Bhattacharya
Rajeev Bhattacharya

The author is a senior Guwahati-based journalist. He’s a Chevening scholar and has worked with the Times of India, Indian Express, The Telegraph and Times Now television. He is the author of two books on the northeast dealing with continuous insurgency

The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam which was released on 30 July excluded nearly 4 million people out of a total of 3.29 crore applicants in a long drawn and cumbersome exercise that began three years ago. The process was initiated after the Supreme Court responded to a PIL filed by Assam Public Works on the non-implementation of a tripartite pact inked in 2005 between the Centre, state government and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) that promised an update of citizens’ list in the state called the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Therefore, despite the claims made and credit taken by political parties, it may be safely concluded that the update of the citizens’ list would not have started without the apex court’s intervention and its subsequent scrutiny at regular intervals. Identifying citizens in Assam by the NRC is an intricate process where 24 March 1971 was fixed as the cut-off date that was accepted in the Assam Accord. This means that any foreign national who settled in the state after that date would not find mention in the register. The NRC Secretariat had allowed the submission of 14 documents from applicants for establishing proof of citizenship which were scanned and their authenticity verified by as many as fifty softwares developed by Wipro Limited and Bohniman Systems Pvt Ltd. Besides the legacy data to be submitted with links to data till 1951, the applicant will also have to scrape through what is called the Family Tree Verification. Hazy Picture Details about the people who have been excluded from the list have not yet been released. However, cases that are being highlighted by the media reveal that the rejected category cuts across various communities including the indigenous groups. A retired army officer, government servants, two legislators belonging to the BJP and the opposition AIUDF are some instances whose names are missing from the final draft. One report also says that a large number of Hindu Bengalis have also been left out which further proves that the excluded category is not confined only to Bengali Muslims. There are also reports of declared foreigners who were able to manipulate the system to get their names included. The NRC Secretariat has however assured that the anomalies would be rectified ahead of the final list to be declared some months later through a process that will accept ‘claims and objections’ till August 30. The NRC came into being in 1951 in Assam as a method to check the influx of a huge number of refugees of East Pakistan. They added to the lakhs of migrants who were already settled in the state during the British Raj deliberately either for enhancing the agricultural output or for manning the clerical posts in government departments. In 1971, the influx increased following the genocide by the Pakistan army but the refugees were never asked to return after the war ended. The border was porous with extremely low surveillance which also offered an incentive to economic migrants to cross over and settle in reserve forests, village grazing grounds and along suitable spots along the banks of the Brahmaputra. Close to six lakhs of foreign nationals were identified in 80 assembly constituencies following an operation by Assam Police in the late 1970s but there was no effort either to evict them or delete their names from the electoral rolls. Escapist Politicians The issue of illegal migrants has fuelled agitations and accords but no political party was willing to take the plunge to adopt a stringent policy to identify the aliens or check their movement from across the border. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), formed after the historic Assam Accord (1985) with the specific mandate to detect and deport the migrants also failed to fulfill the commitment even after winning the assembly polls and having its own government twice between 1985 – 2001. . Meanwhile, the numbers of the foreigners kept on increasing which also triggered occasional riots with the locals. Thousands were uprooted from their homes in the disturbances of 2008 and 2012 in some districts of central and western Assam. The alarming situation compelled former Assam governor Lt Gen (Retd) SK Sinha to despatch an exhaustive 42 page report to the President with some recommendations that were to be implemented immediately. But they were also put on the backburner by the home ministry for unknown reasons. Keeping the issue of illegal migrants alive in Assam has served the purpose of all political parties. The Congress is apprehensive that its traditional vote base among the migrant Muslims would be shaken if a large number is deleted from the electoral rolls. The BJP is equally concerned since a sizeable chunk of Bangladeshi Hindus are also expected to be excluded from the final list. Not unnaturally, Parliament was rocked over NRC and there were allegations that genuine citizens have been excluded and harassed in the name of detecting the migrants. Biased Campaigns Some of these allegations are true but the international campaign carried out by organisations like Avaaz against the NRC or the biased media reports are undoubtedly efforts at shielding all migrants. In all likelihood, the NRC would come up with the final list ahead of the general elections next year. The Election Commission has not yet spelt out if the names of the declared foreigners would be deleted from the electoral rolls. However, it is certain that there would be hue and cry if declared foreigners are allowed to vote in the general elections next year. In such a scenario, the Election Commission could be left with no option but to bar this category from exercising their franchise but that could also fuel violence and arson in the sensitive areas of the state. According to intelligence reports, fundamentalist outfits and cadres from different parts of the country have been putting in efforts to expand base in several pockets of the state. These developments are indications of a flare-up in the post-NRC situation. Laggard Planning What is most disturbing is the lack of a long term plan by the government to deal with the issue in Assam. Although declared foreigners had been deported to Bangladesh in small batches in the past, it is unlikely that the neighbouring country would accept such a large number and New Delhi is also unlikely to put pressure since maintaining cordial ties with Dhaka is also equally important. So, where will the declared foreigners be sent after they are identified? There is still no answer but demands from the locals to expel them could get shriller after the final list is declared. If media reports are to be believed, the home ministry is toying with the idea to issue long term work permits and visas to the migrants. This clearly means that a distinction could be made on the basis of religion which again would be unacceptable to large chunks of the indigenous sections in Assam. It may be mentioned that the state had been rocked by agitations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 which sought to provide citizenship to some sections of non-Muslim citizens from the neighbouring countries. The intensity of the agitation forced the RSS and BJP to redraw their plans and shelve plans to immediately table the bill in Parliament during the monsoon session of Parliament. prognosis So what is the prognosis? It is too early to venture any firm prediction. Nobody knows precisely when the NRC will come to an end. Nobody knows what will happen to these people because the government doesn’t have any plan. There was apprehension about trouble after the final draft but nothing has happened so far. Authorities are expecting some trouble after the final list is out. It is important to bear in mind that about 7-8 lakhs of migrants have got into the list through fraudulent means, though nobody will come on record to say this. An absolutely false narrative has been created as if there are no illegal migrants in Assam. Had there been no NRC, the Northeast would have been cut off from the rest of the country after a couple of decades. Regarding what is happening on the ground... now the immediate focus would be upon filing claims and objections which, will begin from August 30 and will take two more months.

Bengal Needs To Draw On Its Strengths - Hemant Kanoria

Businesses will continue to evaluate a number of factors before setting up operations in a particular region. Bengal continues to remain a strong consumption centre


How difficult is it to do business in West Bengal? Every state has its advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, a lot depends on how you react to situations and deal with people. We believe that human resource is the most important resource for any business enterprise. Bengal’s biggest advantage is its talent pool; people here have a strong inclination to pursue higher education. This is relevant for companies like us, which are in the financial services business. We need knowledge employees. Hence, professionals want to work here. There is probably a problem of perception about Bengal. Critics often say that people in Bengal are not forward looking. But I strongly disagree. We have been operating in this state for many decades and we have not encountered any hurdle. Have you seen a difference in the industrial scenario in West Bengal during the Left and present regime? It is probably not fair to do a comparison. Anywhere in the world, there is a gradual change in mindset and expectations of people over a period of time. Depending upon those dynamics, governments change their policies. This is also true for businesses. If you see, 30-40 years ago, in businesses there used to be employers and employees. But now it is all about one team. The mindset has changed. Employees realise that if they are in constant conflict with the management then they will not benefit. Likewise, employers have realised that employees are critical for the success of their businesses. Hence, now every successful business works as one team towards achieving a common goal.
Why are big ticket investments staying away from West Bengal?
All the large industrial and corporate houses still have presence in Bengal. Businesses decide to set up new units in a particular region after evaluating a number of things: availability of raw material, skilled and knowledgeable manpower, state of infrastructure, cost of operations, etc. For instance, manufacturing companies tend to set up operations in areas where raw materials are in abundant supply.
How do you then explain the flight of capital from West Bengal to other states?
I don’t see any flight of capital because there are no companies that are moving away from Bengal at this juncture. Companies are expanding operations across the country and setting up operations in new geographies after evaluating a number of factors which we discussed; but there is certainly no flight of capital. Even today, Bengal is a big market. Almost every company which has operations in India has a presence in Bengal in some way or the other.
But many plants have been shut; no new investments have been made in the state. How do you explain this situation?
As mentioned, businesses will continue to evaluate a number of factors before setting up operations in a particular region. Bengal continues to remain a strong consumption centre. For example, a car manufacturer may not be manufacturing cars from Bengal. But the company will still have its service centres, spare parts and warehousing facilities here. India’s annual import from China, for instance, is around $60 billion to $70 billion. So, one may raise a question that why can’t we manufacture these products in India. But will that be feasible? Massive investments will be required to build capacity if we have to shift production units here. Otherwise it will not be feasible. Automobile companies have been moving towards Pune, Bengaluru or Chennai because these regions have become hubs for automobile manufacturing. Power plants usually prefer those states where there is availability of coal. Every state has its set of advantages and disadvantages. Businesses will evaluate the pros and cons and decide accordingly.
Despite these advantages, why is the state failing to attract investments?
I think like every state, Bengal has also been trying to attract investments. Every state needs to do a SWOT analysis and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. There is no state which will just have strengths or will only have weaknesses. Then the strengths need to be marketed in a structured manner to investors. Bengal can surely improve in marketing itself better. Industrial parks can be developed in places like Bankura, Purulia and parts of Asansol and Durgapur. Ultimately, businesses are not based on emotions but hard-core logic.
Srei has been in West Bengal for almost three decades. Srei has been growing from strength to strength while doing business in West Bengal. What is your secret and why is it others have failed to take a leaf out of your book?
There is no secret, really. Just like many other successful companies, here we have always tried to leverage on the strengths of Bengal. There is a good talent pool in the state; people are dedicated but emotional, so we have to deal with them with care. As a financial institution, we need employees who are knowledgeable. Our human resource is our biggest strength and we ensure that the happiness index in our organisation is very high.
Does Bengal still have a chance of reviving its lost glory?
Yes, of course. Bengal needs to leverage on its key strengths, market those strengths in a structured manner and invite businesses and industries. Some of the key strengths of Bengal are its talent pool and quality infrastructure. Also, industries must start seeing Bengal as a huge market. Bengal is a gateway to almost 14 states – apart from North Eastern states; Bengal is almost like the capital for Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and eastern Uttar Pradesh. In a way Bengal is a gateway to almost 40 per cent of India’s population. Bengal also provides market and access to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

The Fall Of The Left

The rot in the Left became starkly visible when it decided to support Pranab Mukherjee, a representative of the big bourgeois, as the presidential candidate, and surrendered its original mandate of anti-monopoly, pro-labour politics

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

Almost four decades ago, a respected journalist, the late Umapada Majumdar, then a commodity stringer with the Financial Express, used to tell a few of us, “In India, once a newspaper declined it never came back.” It was when Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd. (Times Group), commissioned Pritish Nandy to revamp and edit the once-famous Illustrated Weekly of India (aka Weekly) whose circulation was falling at more than at a geometric progression. The top management of India’s most financially powerful newspaper house made substantial investment in the hope of jacking up the Weekly circulation. Nandy’s strategy initially clicked, as the gradient of sales curve turned positive. But soon the illusion turned into an utter disillusionment. The increase in sales reached a plateau and the difference between expenditure which increased vertically and revenue widened, belying expectations. The Times management was left with no option other than shutting down the Weekly. The words above suggest a simile. Going by the contemporary Indian history, Left parties, once having begun plummeting, never saw regeneration. Mazumdar-da, then in his seventies, made me construct this hypothesis. First it was the Socialist Party led by the maverick but very erudite Ram Manohar Lohia (and blessed by Jay Prakash Narain), then Praja Socialist Party, followed by the Samyukta Socialist Party, Communist Party of India, and various groups of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) walked towards a phenomenal decimation. The late-joiner is India’s still-the-largest leftist political party, Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPI(M) is likely to face the same fate. But why pick up the CPI(M). Official Marxist (or Leninist) parties are fading out never to be back into the reckoning. But the validity of Marxian ideas remains, with steadily rising demand for Das Kapital at book shops, particularly in the West. Very affectionate to us, in those days, Mazumdar-da, I have a feel that had he been alive even until the end of the first decade of this millennium, he would have said very firmly no Left party, once adrift along a falling path, would romp home energetically afresh. In the late 1930s, he was among the front-ranking organisers of the CPI student front, All India Student Federation in the 1940s, hand in hand with legendary Biswanath Mukherjee. Later on, he differed with the CPI ideologically and joined the Radical Humanists, led by the legendary Manabendra Nath Roy. Rot in CPI(M) The decline of CPI(M), which used to occupy the lion’s share of the Left space in Bengal even a decade ago, needs to be scanned not only politically, but also sociologically. The task of historians is apart as it takes time to derive conclusions, judging by the historiographic imperative. Once, the party had over 35 MPs from the state. Aside from 160-plus MLAs and over 80 per cent of zilla parishad chairpersons and over 170 ZP members. Now there is not a single MP and ZP chief and less than 30 MLA, not a single ZP member, elected as CPI(M) nominees. The hitherto world’s largest Stalinist party is washed away by the rise of Trinamool Congress to a very, very great extent. Unthinkable as it may seem, today the Bharatiya Janata Party is the second largest party in the state, edging out the CPI(M). Let us listen first to how and what the Left functionaries think about the phenomenal collapse of the Left. A saddened and shocked Gurudas Dasgupta, formerly general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, the erstwhile deputy general secretary of CPI and very specially, the most anti-establishmentarian MP from the Left for nearly three decades takes a taciturn but crisp position. Speaking to this writer, the firebrand octogenarian communist leader said, “This is too grave a matter to be discussed over phone. I need a long conversation even to briefly state my own perception about this tragic retreat.” One who virtually led the opposition attack on the shameless surrender to India’s leading crony capitalist group, with the Reliance Industries at the head, inside and outside the Parliament, is genuinely concerned about the collapse of ‘official communism’ in West Bengal, the most powerful citadel of the Indian Left. Reply to just two questions, put before Dr Prasenjit Bose, an economist and the first and last convener of the research cell, attached to the central committee, CPI(M), is thoughtful. He quit his post and the party by issuing an open letter to the then CPI(M) general secretary, Prakash Karat, in protest against the decision of the Central Committee to support the candidacy of the then Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as a nominee of the Indian National Congress in the presidential election in 2012. He reminded all of the clear direction to the party leadership to strictly adhere to the ‘Political Resolution’ adopted at the 20th Congress (Kozhikode, 4-9 April, 2012) of CPI(M). The para 2.137 of the ‘political line’ stated, “The CPI(M) has to politically fight the Congress and the BJP. Both are parties which represent the big bourgeois-landlord order, which perpetuates class exploitation and is responsible for the social oppression of various sections of the people. They pursue neo-liberal policies and advocate a pro-US foreign policy. Defeating the Congress and the UPA government is imperative given the crushing burden of price rise, unemployment, suffering of the farmers and workers on the one hand and the brazen corruption and big sops to big business and the wealthy sections. Isolating the BJP and countering its communal and rightwing agenda is necessary and important for the advance of the Left, democratic and secular forces”. Bose was promptly expelled from the party, but the mandarins of AK Gopalan Bhawan, party’s national headquarters, stood for surrendering the ‘independent class role’ of party Congress to Congress, which did ‘pursue neo-liberal policies and advocate a pro-US foreign policy’. Pranab-da Support Significantly enough, the decision to support Mukherjee, who as a Union minister has for several decades been promoting the Ambanis of Reliance group, was mainly a sequel to the initiative of the brass of the West Bengal CPI(M). Bose, who is a top leader of Young Bengal, an independent left and democratic initiative, was asked a question which, along with respective replies, are as follows: Has the decline of the Left historical roots? “Let me elaborate the point from my own modest understanding. From the very beginning, signs of shift from the Leftist or anti-monopoly capitalism were manifest. First, fostering of joint sector(with RP Goenka group on Haldia petrochemicals, and with GP Goenka in the mid-1980s, new industrial investment policy in the early 1990s in sync with the Fund-Bank reform at the Centre etc. Bose: ‘The orthodox socialist model itself had turned out to be a failure, which the collapse of the USSR embodied. The Left should have devised new trajectories of politics and economic development. The advent of globalisation posed a challenge and the Left lost its way. I personally think that the industrialisation strategy adopted in the 2000s by the Left Front Government (LFG) marked a neoliberal shift, which met its nemesis in Singur-Nandigram. Of course, it had its roots in an earlier period, but to emphasise them over and above what happened since 2006 would be to miss the wood for the trees. That way one can trace the roots of the USSR collapse in the Bolshevik revolution itself or the NEP (VI Lenin’s New Economic Policy). The CC resolution in support of Mukherjee to ensure the victory as the 13th President of India was a success in hitching the wagon (neo-liberal swing in the economic and industrial policy of LFG , especially since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee became the chief minister of West Bengal to the path of embourgeoisment. When did the distancing from the Leftism begin? By Leftism, I mean the 36-point programme of Left Front in 1977 that “laid stress on restoration of democratic norms, preservation of basic individual liberties and protection of the rights of students, teachers, employees in public and private sectors and of peasants to form associations and bargain with and protest against their respective authorities. Labour Lost Bishu Dasgupta, once a frontliner as a trade unionist associated with the CPI(M) labour front, Centre of Indian Trade Unions(CITU) and a party member until the mid-1980s, thinks differently than Bose. Dasgupta severed relations with both the CITU and CPI(M) when he had smelt a rat. Dasgupta who had a short stint as the private secretary (picked up from amongst senior members of the party by party bosses) joined the dissidents, later Nagarik Mancha, a voluntary social action forum that took up cudgels for workers, hit by industrial sickness and occupational hazards. When CITU in West Bengal was shying away from its commitment to working class, Nagarik Mancha took up the mantle by undertaking studies and investigation into the ‘plight of workers’ and publishing a series of reports and analyses. Dasgupta told this writer, “The drift began pronouncedly since 1987 and now it’s irreversible, at least in West Bengal. I mean the ‘sarkari’ Left under the hegemony of the CP(M). The leadership , both at the party level and trade union field, gradually developed a culture to ignore the workers and woo the big business, expecting the latter to invest in West Bengal, although in vain. More disappointing was the spread of corruption and nepotism. I am of the view that chances of comeback of ‘official Left’ are almost zero in West Bengal. Things would have been different had the leadership voluntarily or even symbolically stepped down, owning the responsibility for electoral disaster in 2011 state assembly elections. But the leaders are too aligned to vested interests to do so. That’s why I feel that even if the Left reasserts outside West Bengal, no such possibility is there in here in the foreseeable future. The danger lies in the visible expansion of RSS and BJP in this state but here the responsibility does not lie wholly with the CPI(M), but TMC and its policy of gagging dissent and intolerance to democratic protest. One cannot rule out the possibility of victory of more BJP candidates in the next Lok Sabha elections.” Worries of the former CITU functionary are realistic. After the 2014 LS polls, despite seat-sharing with Congress, the number of seats won by the LF reduced to two (both bagged by the CPI(M), from 15 in 2011. A state secretariat member of CPI(M) told a few reporters after the 2014 polls: “The tally of votes in as many as 60 to 70 seats indicates that many voters who supported the BJP in 2014 voted for the Trinamool or Congress this time, instead of voting for us. Also, we didn’t get votes from Muslims in many areas.” Llike many of his fellow comrades, the secretariat member is not willing to buy Mamata Banerjee’s argument that the Left-Congress alliance lost because it did not enjoy the trust of people. The Stink The stink of collapse of the Left was felt by the dominant section of top leadership of CPI(M). In the mid-1990s, a prominent Delhi state committee member of the party and a leading functionary of CPI(M) -promoted Delhi Science Forum told the late Subrata Sinha, ex-deputy general of Geological Survey of India, then president, All India People’s Science Congress, “ Subratada, the Left Front of West Bengal is now mainly responsible for backward trend in the Left movement outside India.” The former has been politically close to Prakash Karat, then party’s chief ideologue. However, this writer thinks that the poisonous seeds were sown in the CPI(M) and the LF in the wee hours of LF government, when Promode Dasgupta as the state party secretary and a polit bureau member of the CPI(M) used to call the shots. During the Emergency, Jyoti Basu, as a CITU vice-president, wrote to the then CM Siddhartha Sankar Ray, demanding that the license to the British-owned Calcutta Electricity Corporation Limited (then incorporated in the UK) to sell electricity not be renewed. In 1977-78, this same Basu as the new CM of the state post-Emergency, helped the very same company set up two power-generation plants at Titagarh (near Calcutta), followed by 20-year extension of license. The rest is history.

Pace Setting Parliamentarian

He would only play by the rules and even the decadent leadership of his party – CPI(M) – could not take away his pride as Speaker of the Lok Sabha

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

It was 20 or 21 February, 2001. A man wearing a milk-white kurta and dhoti was weeping almost like a child before the lifeless body of Indrajit Gupta, an ace parliamentarian, a world class trade unionist, a rare-breed orator and former general secretary of Communist Party of India. The man weeping was Somnath Chatterjee, then leader of the Lok Sabha group of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and member of the central committee of the party. When a young reporter approached him, the sobbing Chatterjee uttered a few words in a choked voice, reluctantly too. “I am not in a state of mind to say anything except that the world today will not be the same again with such a pathfinder with a rare intellect.” Wasn’t this Somnathbabu who pulled up the Supreme Court of India when he was the Speaker of Lok Sabha in 2005 pertaining to the apex court’s decision? As Speaker, he was very particular about preserving Parliamentary supremacy in the domain reserved to it by the Constitution, and loathed any sort of interference, even from the judiciary. When the Supreme Court ordered the advance floor test of Jharkhand Legislative Assembly (Anil Kumar Jha v Union of India AIR 2005 SC 425, criticising the lack of political considerations, he stated pointblank: “It was a wrong decision. With due respect for the judiciary, which I fully respect, I say the Supreme Court should not have given this decision. It was not the judiciary’s work. Whatever happened in Jharkhand assembly on the day decided by Supreme Court for vote of confidence was there for all to see. What would have the Court done after that? Could it have jailed the pro-tem speaker and the MLAs? Could it have sent police inside the assembly?” In the same vein the office of the Speaker shot back on 9 July 2008 when the honchos at the AKG Bhawan, headquarters of CPI(M) chucked him out: “The attention of Shri Somnath Chatterjee, the hon’ble Speaker of Lok Sabha, has been drawn to the various media reports which have been published or telecast about his continuance in office. The hon’ble Speaker does not represent any political party in the discharge of his duties and functions. It is well known that the present Speaker’s election to his high office was not only uncontested but was unanimous, as all political parties proposed his name. He was not elected as the nominee of any party. In the discharge of his duties and functions he does not owe allegiance to any political party.” The media was politely urged not to “drag the highest legislative office of the country into controversies by speculative reports and undeserved innuendos”. He made revealing details on the Stalinist-Beriaite stance of the then CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat in his memoirs ‘Keeping The Faith: Memoirs Of A Parliamentarian’. On 18 July Chatterjee wrote, “I got a telephone call from him (Karat) that I need not cast my vote on the confidence motion but that I must resign from the office of the Speaker. I told him clearly that I could not accept his suggestion.” On 23 July 2008 , after the two-day debate on the motion of confidence moved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the CPI(M) brass comprising five local members of the politburo out of 17 issued a statement that the PB unanimously decided to expel Chatterjee. His stand was supported by the former CPI chief AB Bardhan, who was criticised by CPI insiders for appeasing AKG Bhavan mandarins. Chatterjee noted in his memoirs, Bardhan stated “the Left ally should not have included the name of Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, in the list of party MPs withdrawing support to the UPA government. He is a veteran leader and Parliamentarian and he should decide on this matter on his own. Dragging Chatterjee into the resignation controversy was an attack on the dignity of the high post held by him. I agree the Speaker was elected on a CPM ticket. But he was elected Speaker to the Lok Sabha with the support of all parties.” The world again became a different one on 13 August 2018 when the mundane innings of arguably the most conscientious custodian of the temple of Indian parliamentary democracy, ended. Born in Tezpur , Assam, on 29 July, 1929 to Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, a lawyer, jurist, and member of the first Lok Sabha (1952-57), representing the rightwing All India Hindu Mahasabha, pro-Hindu ideological forerunner of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the younger Chatterjee was educated at the Presidency College, University of Calcutta, and University of Cambridge, followed by Bar-at-Law from Middle Temple. On his return to India, he joined the bar and earned repute in no time. Chatterjee was a late-joiner in politics, having been officially indoctrinated as an active communist as a member of CPI(M) in 1968, when he was thirty-nine. In 1971, he was elected to the LS from the Burdwan constituency as a CPI(M) candidate when the party increased its strength in the LS from West Bengal to 17 from five in 1967, braving the ‘Garibi Hatao’ that ensured a sweeping victory to Indira Gandhi and her split-away new party from the Congress from the clutches of ‘Syndicate’ headed by S Nijalingappa teaming up with K Kamaraj, SK Patil, Morarji Desai and Atulya Ghosh. Chatterjee’s father was defeated in 1957 (AIHM candidate) and 1962 (independent candidate) but won in 1963 in by-election from Burdwan with the CPI support. After 1957, he became disillusioned with the Mahasabha (of which he was elected all India president in 1947). From the same seat, he won in 1967 with communist support. After his death in 1971, CPI(M) nominated Somnath as a candidate. Somnath received ‘special treatment’ from the CPI(M) top leadership, thanks to its subtle embourgeoisment and subsequent imbibing of elitism. He was chosen as the LS group leader without being a PB and central committee member (later inducted into the CC at the party’s 16th Congress , Calcutta, 1998), but paid back with his performance both inside and outside the parliament. There he – although wasn’t on record – was opposed to totalitarianism that Marx never endorsed unlike Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao. Armchair revolutionaries dump Chatterjee as anti-Marxist for his faith in parliamentary democracy, being blissfully unaware of Marx’s words in The Charterists (9 October 1852).He equated universal suffrage with “political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population. Somnath Chatterjee will be remembered as a committed libertarian, despite some of his errors and pitfalls of a human being.

Mu Ka: The Politician-Poet...

Or is it the poet-politician? Making a distinction for the legendary heart of Tamil pride is difficult, as he seemed more gleeful in the company of intellectuals than in the Assembly

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

April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land
So goes the opening lines of the famous literary masterpiece `The Waste Land’ by TS Eliot. Had he been living today, perhaps he would have started his work by saying “August is the cruellest month…. August has been a month of disasters—be it the death of eminent men like VS Naipaul, Kofi Annan, Somnath Chatterjee, Ajit Wadekar, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Muthuvel Karunanidhi, so on—or the unprecedented natural calamity that has paralysed life in Kerala and Kodagu in Karnataka.
The passing away of three Titans in Indian politics, Atal Behari Vajpayee in the North and Karunanidhi in the south and Somnath Chatterjee in the East, has had the whole of India mourning during the entire month. Both Vajpayee and Karunanidhi had many things in common. They were the fulcrum around which their parties, Jan Sangh /BJP and DMK revolved for over half a century. And both were poets, apart from being able administrators. Men of letters in their own languages, Hindi and Tamil.
Born Dakshinamoorthy on 3 June 1924 in the remote village of Thirukuvalai in Nagapattinam District, Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi had a chequered life and career. He became Chief Minister of Madras state for the first time in 1969. And on 13 May 2006, he became the Chief Minister for the fifth time, this time for the state of Tamil Nadu (Madras state was renamed Tamil Nadu during his chief ministership). Karunanidhi was more interested in drama, poetry, and literature during his school days and was completely engaged in social movements by the time he was 14. The Kallakudi agitation (1953) was his stepping stone to a long political life. The original name of this industrial city near Tiruchirapalli was Kallakudi. Dalmiyas, who set up a cement plant here, is from North India and with the concurrence of the then Congress government in Tamil Nadu, changed the original name Kallakkudi to Dalmiyapuram. The DMK opposed the name change as it was seen as North Indian oppression of Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi and his comrades put up posters against the name “Dalmiyapuram” in the railway station name board and blocked the passage of trains. The tension that built up led to two people dying in police firing and Karunanidhi was arrested. The original name was restored and there was no looking back for this young man, who was also given the title `Kallakudivendran’ (one who won Kallakudi). As his political graph started rising, with support and encouragement from two other giants of the Dravidian movement, EVR Periyar and CN Annadorai, Karunanidhi started riding on two horses, politics and literature and arts. Karunanidhi began his career as a screenwriter in the Tamil film industry. He was famous for writing historical and social (reformist) stories which propagated the socialist and rationalist ideals of the Dravidian movement to which he belonged. The Tamil film `Parasakthi’ was a turning point in Tamil cinema, as it espoused the ideologies of the Dravidian movement and also introduced two prominent actors of Tamil filmdom, Sivaji Ganesan and SS Rajendran. The movie was initially banned but was eventually released in 1952. It was a huge box office hit, but opposed by orthodox Hindus since it contained elements that criticised Brahmanism. Karunanidhi is known for his contributions to Tamil literature. They cover a wide range: poems, letters, screenplays, novels, biographies, historical novels, stage-plays, dialogues and movie songs. He went on to write over 100 books and thousands of essays in his party organ, the Murasoli daily. His popular editorial in which he fondly addressed his partymen as ‘udanpirappe’ (dear brothers) kept lakhs of his partymen eagerly waiting for the copy of Murasoli every morning for nearly 76 years. (Last year the paper celebrated the 75th year of its publication). The Litterateur Some of the well-known books written by Karunanidhi include Sanga Thamizh, Thirukkural Urai, Ponnar Sankar, Romapuri Pandian, Thenpandi Singam, Nenjukku Needhi, IniyavaiIrubathu and Kuraloviam. Karunanidhi’s stage plays include: Manimagudam, Ore Ratham, Palaniappan, Thooku Medai, Kagithapoo, Naane Arivali, Vellikizhamai, Udhayasooriyan and Silappathikaram, many of them later made into movies. Interestingly, though he was known as an atheist, in his last years, he had written the story and screenplay on Sri Ramanujacharya and is presently being telecast in his Tamil TV channel, Kalaigner TV. Slightly Red! He was also greatly influenced by Communist philosophy. “If I had not met EVR and Anna, I would have become a hard-core Communist,” he would often say. He had strong bond with the Communist leaders like Jyoti Basu, Mohan Kumaramangalam, Kalyanasundaram and so on. Says Prof Suba Veerapandian, a DK leader (he is now the general secretary of the DravidaIyakha Tamizhar Peravai) and a close friend of the late leader: “One of his earliest protests were in support of famers in Tamil Nadu, which was started by the Communists in Tamil Nadu. It was called `Nangavaram Uzhavar Porattam (farmers protest in a place called Nangavaram) seeking higher wages for farmers ploughing the fields. “He continued to fight for the downtrodden along with the comrades belonging to both the communist parties. In fact, he was the one who first declared May Day as a public holiday and also changed the name of a famous park in Chennai, Simpson Park to May Day Park,” adds Suba Veerapandian, who is himself a well-known Tamil scholar and is a much sought after leader for Tamil TV debates. He had great regard for Communist leaders from across the country and maintained close contacts with leaders like Sitaram Yechuri and Prakash Karat. Suba Veerapandian also gives us interesting information; “Karunanidhi strongly supported the late West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu for prime ministership in 1996, when the Third Front was all set to form the government. Unfortunately, Basu could not become PM as the party did not back him. So, Karunanidhi proposed Deve Gowda’s name and he became the PM”. The only time he felt upset with the Communists in Tamil Nadu was when they supported MGR, who had broken away from DMK and formed his own party. He felt betrayed by leaders like Mohan Kumaramangalam and Kalyanasundaram, both of whom won the elections with DMK support. Lifelong Legislator At the age of 33, Karunanidhi entered the Tamil Nadu assembly, winning the Kulithalai seat in the 1957 elections. And he remained undefeated until the time of his death. He was regular at the Assembly whenever it was in session and his ready wit and wisecracks inside the House are plenty. Only in the last two terms, during Jayalalitha’s government he avoided going to the Assembly. Confined to a wheel chair, his party wanted some special seating arrangement for him inside the house but the Speaker, after taking instructions from Jaya, bluntly refused. So, he stayed away with a lot of regret.. He has been elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly 13 times (from 1957 to 2016 elections) and once to the now abolished Tamil Nadu Legislative Council. Ram Setu He was a close ally of the Congress and took potshots at BJP often, though he had a liking for Modi and interacted with him often when both were CMs. In response to the Sethusamudram controversy, Karunanidhi questioned the existence of the Hindu God Rama. He said: ‘It is said there was a God thousands of years ago called Ram. Do not touch the bridge built by him. I ask who this Ram is. Which engineering college did he graduate from?” His remarks caused a firestorm of controversy. Says Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal and a respected scholar himself: “Mu Ka has dominated the Dravidian movement as unrivalled, as unsurpassed. He has seen it through a national emergency, President’s Rule, the obloquy of financial scandals, the fluctuating fortunes of elections. He has seen it all. Superstition, discrimination, north-centrism and the undermining of the federal structure have been challenged by him as by no one else.” Far Passage It is a strange coincidence that he passed away on the 77th death anniversary of Poet Rabindranath Tagore who was one of his favourite writers whom he often quoted in his works.August 7, in 1941 and in 2018, saw the beginning of a long-winded funeral and mourning of two legends’ death. Karunanidhi used to say in private that he enjoyed being amidst poets and literary personalities rather than the mundane cabinet meetings. One can see a very cheerful, laughing Karunanidhi when he was with the poets or the personalities from the film industry. No wonder that his death has created a big void not only in Tamil Nadu politics but in Tamil language and its literature as well.

A Hero Forever

Over the years, Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained a pendulum between his innate liberalism and bowing to the pressures of rabid Hindu fundamentalism

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

India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister to have completed full five-year term in office, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was a true statesman who always had grand vision of the country as well as life. He visualised schemes like highway connectivity, telecom connectivity, river-linking as well as Indo-Pak peace talks and resolution of vexed Kashmir issue. However, he always used a vast canvas but never had an eye for the detail. He didn’t bother about the nitty-gritties of such grand schemes, leaving them for his colleagues to sort things out. But, was this image correct, or was there more to it than meets the eye? He started as a Sangh pracharak, a staunch pro-Hindutva organisation known for its discipline and rabid views but was a liberal at heart. These two streaks often reflected in Vajpayee’s personality throughout his 93-year life. He was an excellent orator and a poet. He was the only crowd-puller in his party Bhartiya Jana Sangh and later Bhartiya Janta Party. He was the face of the party, a mask which could conceal all its warts. But sometimes the mask slipped.
Moderate RSS
The party and its ideological ally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were known for their rabid nationalism and Hindutva views. But Vajpayee was always considered a moderate – the right person in the wrong party. Soon after Vajpayee became Prime Minister in 1998, the country was gripped by a spate of communal violence directed against Christians. Couple of nuns were raped in Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh); Graham Staines was burnt to death in Odisha and churches were torched at various places in the country. Vajpayee was under pressure from both sides. Christians wanted firm action against RSS hawks and their foot soldiers. At the same time, his ideological allies wanted him to look the other way while they ‘taught missionaries a lesson’. Both RSS and missionaries compete in fields of education and tribal welfare. Missionaries, with liberal funding from the West, have proliferated and grown exponentially. The RSS accused them of proselytising the tribals and poor lower class Hindus, whom RSS considers its own people. In the last week of December 1998, Vajpayee with his family and staff went on a holiday to the Andamans. On the way in Bhubneshwar and during return journey at Bengaluru, delegations of Christians called upon the Prime Minister. Vajpayee could have given an excuse that law and order is a state subject and hence the Prime Minister of a federal republic had his limitations. But, he stood firm in his commitment to secularism, or so it seemed. He assured the community of ensuring peace and prevent their recurrence. The mask remained intact.
“Levelling the Ground”
ut, on December 5, 1992 a day before Babri Mosque was razed to the ground by Hindu zealots, Vajpayee addressed a rally at Lucknow’s Begum Hazrat Mahal Park. Standing barely 120 kms from the epicentre of the coming communal flashpoint, Vajpayee told the massive crowd of karsevaks (Hindu volunteers): “There is no question of stopping kar seva at Ayodhya even as situation had turned tense and a mishap is not ruled out. Sharp and pointed stones have come out at the place where kar seva has to be performed and a grand Ram Temple built. No one can sit there. The ground has to be levelled. It has to be made fit for sitting. Arrangements for a yagya will be done, so there will be some construction.” The mask had slipped a little. But, back in Delhi after demolition of the mosque, Vajpayee claimed: “It is the saddest day of my life!” The mask returned to its place. Later, on 12 April 2002, Vajpayee, addressing BJP’s national council meeting said: “We should not forget how the tragedy of Gujarat started. The subsequent developments were no doubt condemnable but who lit the fire? How did the fire spread? Wherever Muslims live, they don’t like to live in coexistence with others, they don’t like to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats. The world has become alert to this danger.” Obviously the constituency had changed. The audience comprised of BJP leaders, mostly Swayamsevaks. So, Vajpayee decided to do away with the garb of a secular democratic leader. He spoke like a true swayamsevak. The mask was not required here.
Mask Returns
But Vajpayee speaking in Lok Sabha a month later said: “I accept the Hindutva of Swami Vivekananda but the type of Hindutva being propagated now is wrong and one should be wary of it.” So, which Vajpayee should one believe the one at BJP national executive or the one speaking in the Parliament? Ten years later, in the wake of one of the worst communal riots in Gujarat, Vajpayee as a Prime Minister advised then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi to follow ‘Rajdharma’ (rules set for a king - of treating everybody equal and protecting each one of his subjects). It was seen as a major rebuke to the person who 12 years later would become Prime Minister of India. The mask remained intact. But, when Modi sitting by Vajpayee’s side intervened by saying, “I am trying to do that only”, Vajpayee acquiesced: “Yes, yes. I believe the chief minister is doing the same.” The Swayamsevak within Vajpayee apparently surfaced and the mask reappeared.
Igniting Assam
An encore was done by Atal Bihari Vajpayee at an election rally in Assam, where he hit out at illegal migrants from Bangladesh. “Foreigners have come here and the government does nothing. What if they had come into Punjab instead? People would have chopped them into pieces and thrown them away,” he said. Was it the moderate Vajpayee we have known all along? Or the Sawyamsevak? Obviously, the mask kept slipping and coming back as per convenience. Soon after his speech violence erupted in Nellie in which over 2,000 suspected Bangladeshi immigrants were hacked, chopped and brutally murdered. Vajpayee had by then returned to New Delhi. Next day, in a hard hitting statement, Vajpayee condemned the Nellie massacre. The mask had returned. There were many more instances when people had a hard time in fathoming who is the real Vajpayee. After the 1996 Lok Sabha polls, Vajpayee announced that the BJP has decided not to stake a claim to form the government, as they did not get the required number of seats. Next day, he along with senior party colleagues, went to meet President Shankar Dayal Sharma to convey their decision. Coming out of Rashtrapati Bhawan, Vajpayee sprang a surprise by claiming that they had accepted President’s offer to form the government. What changed during those crucial 13-14 hours? Vajpayee was apparently prevailed upon by the hawks within the party who wanted to have a go at government formation and then try to woo other parties. Or may be he too decided to be part of the herd. Else, he could have put his foot down.
Volt Face
Of course, no other party crossed over to support the BJP and within the next 13 days Vajpayee had to resign without facing a trust vote. And Vajpayee covered up ably for the folly during his speech in the parliament. In his inimitable style he told the parliament, “What should have I done at the President’s offer? Should I have left the field? Should I have deserted my responsibility? Instead, I decided to forge an alliance of parties on a common minimum programme. The President had asked me to prove the majority by 31st May. Today is only 28th. We could not muster support. So I won’t wait even till 31st. I don’t hanker for power. Don’t doubt my intentions. I haven’t played games. I won’t play them today either. I am going to Rashtrapati Bhawan from here to submit my resignation.” That is how Vajpayee salvaged the situation for the BJP by showcasing his credibility and integrity.
Non-Sanghi Lifestyle
Yet, there were shades of his personality which were completely unpalatable to the straight jacket organisation like RSS. His eating (non-vegetarian) and drinking (alcohol) were anathema to the saffron organisation. On the one hand, RSS talked about protecting cows and on the other Vajpayee relished beef. They were never happy about Vajpayee living with the family of another man (Prof Kaul of Delhi University), adopting the entire family after Dr Kaul’s death. But they had to accept him in totality because of his immense popularity. Vajpayee had a hard time in the Prime Minister’s office because of the antics of RSS and its affiliates. They started calling for policy changes to suit their ideology. Vajpayee was in a quandary. He tried to reason out with them that it was not the BJP government but a coalition of parties of various hues from Dravidian to Kashmiri, from Dalit to Brahmanical, but, when the interference became unbearable, Vajpayee had to publicly rebuke them at a party conclave in Bengaluru in January 1999. In a written statement he directed, “Free exchange of ideas between party organisation and the government on all issues is fine and desirable as well, but in matters of governance, Prime Minister’s word will be final.” But the RSS didn’t get the message. It kept on needling him by opposing the disinvestment policy, foreign policy, labour policy, besides scores of other decisions. Twice they tried to unseat him first in 2002 by offering him to become President of India, to which he countered by proclaiming - “(I am) neither tired, nor retired. (You are free to) conquer polls under Lal Krishna Advani.” Then again RSS did it in 2003 by requesting him to let Advani lead the election campaign.
Unfailing Sense
By then he had really tired. Alzheimer’s had started affecting his senses. Waiting for the results of 2014 elections, Vajpayee asked a visiting journalist, “How do you fancy our chances?” The scribe replied, “I feel BJP will win around 230-240 seats. You would need support to form the government”. Vajpayee shot back, “You are being too optimistic. We won’t get so many seats.” And the results proved that despite the opposition from outside and inside, besides Alzheimer’s, his political sense was absolutely intact.

A Flood Of PILs

An overload of PILs has resulted in ever increasing pendency and arrears which in turn resulted in depriving justice to the people whose cases had to wait for longer periods

KTS Tulsi
KTS Tulsi

KTS Tulsi is an politician and a senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India. He has represented many notable people in various significant cases

Chief Justice Earl Warren of the US Supreme Court at the end of his career (1969) was asked, “What was the most important case of your tenure?” He did not say it was the case that dealt with segregation in schools; he did not say it was the right of the attorney to remain silent. He said Baker v. Carr. Why was this case so important? It is perhaps so because it created a boiling feud between the judges. One judge suffered a nervous breakdown and another landed up in hospital but this case changed the course of US Supreme Court forever. The reason why we dwell upon this from the US Supreme Court is the political import of the case in the Indian context, where political overlaps by the apex court has created issues which have finally boiled over in the recent temblor where four SC judges practically rebelled against their head, the Chief Justice of India. Baker was a simple enough case with regard to redrawing of boundaries of electoral districts every 10 years. This, it was claimed, was necessary on account of vast disparities between the value of votes of rural and urban voters. A Republican voter, Charles Baker, claimed that he was denied equal protection of laws because his vote was devalued. Relying on the doctrine of political question, the defendant, Tennessee Secretary of State, argued that the court cannot provide remedy to this issue. Three judges of the Middle District of Tennessee Court dismissed the suit but the US Supreme Court overruled the judgement and held that citizen’s right to vote, free from arbitrary impairment, was judicially recognised and that denial of equal protection presented a justified constitutional cause of action, although Justices John Harlan and Felix Frankfurter dissented. The above judgement of the US Supreme Court resulted in streamlining the doctrine of political question. It held that the Court would withhold its opinion on the following six issues –
• When the matter pertains to another branch of government such as the power of the President in foreign affairs;
• A lack of judicially manageable standard for resolving the issue;
• Need for initial policy determination which cannot be done by the court;
• A situation which would violate the separation of powers framework;
• The need to strictly adhere to previous political decision; or
• The possibility of clash between branches of government resulting in embarrassment.

Indian Denial
As against the US Supreme Court adhering to the position that courts could not provide a remedy on these issues in view of the political questions doctrine, the Supreme Court of India has chosen to chart its own course. In a recent case dealing with the promulgation of ordinance and satisfaction of the President, a 7-Judges Bench of the Supreme Court of India in Krishna Kumar Singh & Anr. v. State of Bihar & Ors. (2017) 3 SCC 1 considered the development regarding constitutional mechanism with respect to the doctrine of political question. It referred to the earlier cases where it has been laid down that political questions were also liable to be tested as the Constitution does not contemplate their exclusion. In fact in A K Roy Vs. Union of India (1982) 1 SCC 271 the Supreme Court has held that there is nothing like a political power under our Constitution. It also held that the doctrine of political question that was evolved in the US was on the basis of the system of “rigid separation of power, unlike ours”. It also held that the express bar created in way of judicial review of dissolution of Assemblies has been consciously and deliberately removed by the Parliament. The Supreme Court went to the extent of holding in the landmark Bommai case that “…the refusal to interfere…would amount to abdication…” It justified interference in cases “involving fraud on power or an abuse of power”. It further elaborated that if the exercise of power is based on extraneous grounds, interference of the court may be warranted. Thus gradually, all executive functions including the grant or refusal of mercy petitions have been brought within the mandate of judicial review and the doctrine of political question has been thrown overboard.
PIL Paradigm
While it is not known whether there was a deliberate link between the apex court insisting on dwelling on the political question and its inherent psyche to expand its powers, eventually that is what happened in the form of the PIL, or Public Interest Litigation. This expansion of the jurisdiction of the constitutional courts (Supreme Court of India and High Courts has been in three phases. The first phase began in 1970 and lasted till 1980, in which it concerned itself mainly with the “subject matter” as the focus of the PIL. At that time, journalists, social activists, academicians and lawyers filed most of the PILs and most of these petitions related to the rights of the disadvantaged sections of society. These were child labourers, bonded labourers, prisoners, mentally challenged, pavement dwellers, women, etc. In the first phase, the relief was mainly sought against the Executive on the ground that the action or non-action amounted to breach of fundamental rights. In this phase, the PIL sought to bring about social transformation/revolution. In the second phase, PIL expanded dramatically and involved issues of environment, corruption, sexual harassment, relocation of industries, rule of law and good governance. By now, the courts had become more assertive and unconventional. They lay down guidelines in areas of legislative gaps, began monitoring criminal investigation but at the same time, in the second phase, the misuse of vast proportions was also noticed. In this phase, the courts also took to judicial legislation. In the next century, came the third phase. It came to be believed that anyone can file any petition. A PIL was filed to prevent the marriage of Aishwarya Rai to a tree. The Supreme Court ventured into disinvestment plan of the government, and in one case of State of Punjab Vs. Devans Modern Breweries opined that “socialism might have been a catch word from history…this view that the Indian society is essentially wedded to socialism is definitely withering away.” The rise of PIL and growing activism has made Supreme Court of India the most powerful court in the world. The court has interpreted the “due process” to be a part of Article 21 of the Constitution in the Maneka Gandhi case. While this case was a turning point in the human rights jurisprudence, the fact is that the Constituent Assembly had expressly rejected the due process doctrine. The courts also created new fundamental rights taking a cue from the Directive Principles and established “basic feature doctrine” creating implied limit on power of the Parliament to amend the Constitution.
PIL Plague
There has been positive as well as a dark side to the PIL. On the positive side, it lent constitutional protection to the disadvantaged sections like prisoners, destitute children, bonded labourers, women, SC/STs amongst others. In that sense, it heralded a social revolution, but on the dark side, it increased the work load on the Supreme Court and High Courts tremendously. This resulted in ever increasing pendency and arrears which in turn resulted in depriving justice to the people whose cases had to wait for longer periods. Prisoners remained stuck in prison, landlords had to wait longer, officials aggrieved by executive action became worst victims as their causes lapsed. Besides, it created friction and confrontation with other organs of the government when the courts entered upon policy issues like privatisation, disinvestment, advertisements on rocks, pollution of rivers, relocation of industries or even regulation of traffic and out of turn allotments of government houses. The courts took up cases of smoking in public places, employment of children, right to strike, right to health, right to education, externment of wild monkeys, nude pictures in newspapers, kissing of Indian actress by Richard Gere and a PIL against a stage show on the New Year Eve. This brought into focus the nuisance of PIL and inefficient use of limited judicial resources. According to a critical review of Surya Deva publication on Public Interest Litigation in India, there has also been criticism of PIL being used for judicial populism. Justice Dwivedi in Keshavananda Bharti case sounded a note of caution saying that the Court is not chosen by the people and is not responsible to them in the sense in which the House of the People is. It is also perceived as a mere symbolic justice because a number of government issues dealt with by the judiciary have not resolved the problems. Issues like sexual harassment, procedure of arrest, right to life, right to food, right to education, right to health & shelter and a horde of social rights had not changed the ground reality. On the other side of the spectrum is the view that the PIL has disturbed the constitutional balance of power. Even if the Constitution does not follow strict separation of powers, it still embodies the doctrine of checks and balances which should be respected by the judiciary. Thus, the judiciary needs to exercise self-restraint when it goes on to legislate, settle political questions, take over governance and monitor executive agencies. In a critical appraisal in his work, Fifty Years of Supreme Court of India, Jain says that, “PIL…should not encroach upon the sphere reserved by the Constitution to the executive and legislature.” Academicians have also noted lack of consistency in the application of PIL. In some cases, the court wades into the policy issues whereas in others, “it hid behind the shield of political question”. The author gives the example of sexual harassment, custodial torture and adoption of children, where it intervened and the cases of uniform civil code, ragging, height of Narmada Dam, where it refused to intervene. Whether the expansion of the PIL jurisprudence has led to greater accountability of the legislature and executive is also debatable. Also, in many situations, the activist role of the court has led to the Executive and the Legislature taking a back seat and preferring to wait for judicial intervention. Thus, it is believed, that the overuse of PIL may have diluted the original commitment where it was meant to be confined to enforcing human rights of the victimised disadvantaged groups. In spite of the court’s endeavour to prevent misuse of PIL jurisdiction, a large number of PILs continue to be filed daily. In fact, the Supreme Court has itself on a number of occasion expressed their frustration over the misuse of PIL and has noted that 95% of PILs are frivolous.
Overstepping & Arrears
All the problems with judiciary today arise out of overuse of PIL on one hand and delay in the disposal of cases on the other. The appointment procedure has also brought the court in conflict with the Executive. The issue of appointment of judges has been reduced to a tug of war by both the sides. The Supreme Court believes that the power of selection must exclusively vest with the Court as any outside influence will adversely affect the independence of judiciary. At the same time, no other country follows a procedure of judges appointing judges. The Supreme Court itself is dissatisfied with the manner in which the collegium has functioned. This difference of opinion has led to an unprecedented delay in appointment of judges and the government continues to arm-twist the judges by refusing to tow their line. The root cause of the problem behind the press conference of the four senior most Judges of the Supreme Court of India last month seems to be lack of any institutional mechanism in dealing with the complaint against judges. In the UK, there is a clear cut judicial complaint procedure which provides that the Chief Executive will deal with the complaint within a period of three months. It provides that if the complaint relates to the President of the Supreme Court, then the Deputy President or the senior most member of the Court deals with the same after consulting the next senior member. Notice of complaint is given to the subject and formal action begins with the report to the Lord Chancellor. The Tribunal which deals with the complaint is established by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. There are two independent persons of high standing also who are nominated by the Chancellor. The member is informed of full details, the Tribunal investigates and makes a report, summarising the facts as found, and deliver the report to the Lord Chancellor. Whether the report is to be published or not is decided by the Chancellor. A similar procedure was envisaged by the earlier government at the Centre in 2013 through the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, which provided for a comprehensive mechanism for handling complaints made by citizens on grounds of alleged misbehaviour and incapacity against judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. However, the bill lapsed after 2014 General Elections. In December 2016, responding to a question in the Lok Sabha, the then Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda stated that “…the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has lapsed…we are working on it…decision will be taken after taking suggestions from stakeholders...”
Feet Dragging NDA
Until now, no step seems to have been taken by the government in this regard. On the contrary, in a reply to another question asked by me in this respect in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of State for Law & Justice, PP Chaudhary, stated on 09.02.2018 that “…as per two resolutions adopted by the Supreme Court of India, in its full Court meeting on 7th May, 1997…any complaint against the Judges of Supreme Court and High Courts are handled as per the ‘in-house procedure’...” From the above reply it is apparent, that the government seems to have jettisoned any such exercise which can provide a comprehensive mechanism to look into the judicial complaints and replace the NJAC Act with a better law to lay down a transparent procedure for appointment of judges to the constitutional courts. A legislation in this regard, which passes constitutional muster, should have at least been introduced in three years after NJAC Act was struck down by the Supreme Court, but the aforesaid answer of the Minister seems to suggest that the government is against any such proposal. After all, sky is the limit for Parliament to evolve a different legislation with wider consultations. The dream of true democracy can be realised only when we have efficient judges free from fear and prejudices of power centres, for which transparency in their appointments through an independent commission & their accountability thereafter through a proper & efficient grievance redressal forum is an urgent need of the hour.

Rogue American

Is judiciary the US President’s protracted nightmare? Or does the spectre of Obama haunt Trump at the Rose Garden?

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

The US President Donald Trump created a systemic stir when he said that the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was “in chaos” and made no secret that he was upset with the circuit. The Ninth Circuit comprises the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals along with district and bankruptcy courts in the 15 federal judicial districts that comprise the circuit, and associated administrative units that provide various court services. His ire was because of the court upholding of a temporary halt on his travel ban issued against people from seven Muslim countries. Previously, he sent spanners at the US judiciary calling it a “broken legal system”. Trump confronts the ghost of the US tradition and history, whose last gate keeper was President Obama, albeit with a fractured conscience. Is judiciary the US President’s protracted nightmare? Or does the spectre of Obama haunt Trump at the Rose Garden? Seeds of quasi-antagonistic hiatus between Trump and judiciary were in the DNA of the hyper-aggressive monarch of White House and the poisonous sapling was to grow awkwardly one or another day. And it happened when Trump clamped a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority nations. Pat came a backhand smash from the federal court in its verdict on an appeal petition. It was the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the only federal court at any level empowered to examine all three of the Trump immigration orders that asserted itself in a firm manner. It declared all the three legally flawed.
Political Sweep
The mandate was a sweeping one, if not humiliating for the President, as the court smashed all the three executive orders that Trump signed since January. Imposing a permanent ban on entry into the US by some 150 million foreign nationals from seven countries, with entry possible only on a person-by-person basis when individuals are found eligible for visas… the court’s rejection was a colossal affirmation of the American Ideal that successive Presidents have been espousing, damning the White Supremacist politics of Mr D Trump. The most devastating was the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court’s 71-page ruling 16 days after holding a hearing on the third version. It specified that the order should not be allowed to operate. It was also stated that it could not put that conclusion into actual effect immediately because of the Supreme Court’s temporary order on December 4 saying that full enforcement of the restrictions could begin. The mandate was a unanimous one, from end to end, strongly worded critiquing the executive order the President signed on September 24. (Notably, this has reversed the historic stand take