Mani Shankar Aiyar en Thu Dec 09 15:18:48 IST 2021 nagaland-killings-have-raised-disturbing-issues-writes-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In an “ambush” on December 4, a unit of 21 Para Special Forces killed six innocent, unarmed miners in broad daylight in Mon district of Nagaland under the impression that they were armed cadres of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang-Yung Aung) faction. In this context, a retired major general of the Indian Army has published an article (The Indian Express, December 30) regarding the “unusual stridency” of the “public and political discourse” on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. In a well-argued and non-polemical manner, the author has explained the rationale for the legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, however, an unconvincing answer to the horrors of the incident which have shaken the acquiescence in the peace process of the Konyak community that dominates the Mon area. What has shocked them is the blatant failure of this trigger-happy unit to observe the spirit and possibly the letter of the restraining clauses of AFSPA designed precisely to prevent such an outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union home minister’s initial reaction on the floor of Parliament to the killings was, as usual, equivocal, and made no reference to the extenuating circumstances invoked in the law. But the pressure of outraged public opinion in Nagaland was such as to compel Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio (aligned to the BJP) to set up a special investigation team. The Army, for its part, has constituted somewhat tardily a court of inquiry under an officer of the major-general rank. Their reports will doubtless come in due course. Meanwhile, we have the retired major general’s article of December 30 to enable us to ponder the grave and disturbing issues raised by the events of December 4 and 5.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did the unit act with “restraint and responsibility” as they were required to do, according to the retired major general? Did they observe the “stringent rules, guidelines and advisories” that govern the right to fire to kill? The retired major-general argues that “soldiers are human, and aberrations do occur”. He further argues that “when they do, military justice is dispensed swiftly and without bias”. Was any of this in evidence in the home minister’s statement? And does constituting a court of inquiry weeks after the tragedy constitute proof of “swift action without bias”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of the truck attempting to flee, given currency by the home minister’s statement, is hard to credit. First, if experienced guerrillas were in the truck, why would they have taken such a narrow, barely accessible path—swarming with armed personnel, with no outlet to flee—if they were challenged? Is it credible that they would have offered themselves as sitting ducks?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eyewitness accounts by a survivor indicate that the truck was on the upward slope of a culvert when an army vehicle mounted with a machine gun opened fire without warning. This appears to be in clear violation of Section 4(a) of AFSPA which insists that it is only “after giving such due warning” that firing might begin. The first time the passengers in the truck knew of their fate was when the firing started. Second, no attempt seems to have been made to ascertain whether, in fact, the vehicle was “carrying weapons or things capable of being used as weapons or firearms, ammunition or explosive substances,” as required by the law. Surely, if intelligence input indicated that the passengers might be insurgents, the truck could have been checked at its starting point to see if it was carrying any prohibited equipment. Should a democracy, even one under challenge by terrorists, have such a law that grants both immunity and impunity to the soldier trained to kill?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jan 06 14:55:16 IST 2022 indira-established-india-was-not-warmongering-nation-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am spending the week of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh in Dhaka. I was here for the silver jubilee, too. And my association with Sonar Bangla (Golden Bangladesh) began on December 16, 1971, when—at virtually the same time as Pakistan’s General A.A.K. Niazi was handing over the surrender documents to India’s General Jagjit Singh Aurora—I was appointed secretary to the committee established under the chairmanship of Prof Sukhamoy Chakravarty to organise emergency supplies to the new Bangladesh government to enable them to take back the millions of refugees who had fled into India. It was India’s greatest moment. No moment since or, indeed, before December 16, 1971, has had quite the resonance of that moment when we victoriously assisted in the liberation of Bangladesh. Although mine was a very minor part, it felt great then—and still remains unforgettable—to have been part of that greatest moment in our history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What made it so historic a moment? Partly because it destroyed the false basis on which the country had been partitioned, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah endorsing V.D. Savarkar’s view that we were “two nations” in our sub-continent—one, Hindu; the other, Muslim. The partition of Pakistan established that the “two-nation” theory had given way to the “three states’ reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My Pakistani friend, Javed Jabbar, has argued that since Bangladesh did not revert to India but retained its own national identity as a Muslim-majority country, the two-nation theory remains reaffirmed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been posing this point to friends here. They argue back that the object of liberation was never the dissolution of the 1947 partition of East Bengal from West Bengal, but the liberation of Bangladesh from oppressive Pakistan as an independent nation-state. Moreover, the thought simply never occurred to any sensible Indian that the merciless oppression of the Bangladesh liberation movement provided a ready-made opportunity for undoing the partition of 1947.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, perhaps even more important than the surrender of Pakistan on December 16, 1971, was what happened on March 12, 1972—when the Indian armed forces followed up a grand farewell parade in Dhaka by marching every single Indian soldier back to India. That was when we demonstrated that we had no intention of following up military victory with occupation—arguably the only instance in history when the triumph of arms was not translated into seizing territorial gains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third related moment was the Simla Summit in July 1972, at which India (or, more specifically, prime minister Indira Gandhi) demonstrated that 1971 was not designed to destroy Pakistan. It was Pakistan, as initially conceived, that had destroyed itself. We had no intention of overturning Partition in the west. So, we handed back the Shakargarh tehsil that belonged to Pakistan and released, as an act of moral rectitude, the 93,000 prisoners of war, in full accord with the Geneva Conventions. In exchange, all we demanded—and got—was Pakistan’s sworn agreement to handle bilateral issues, such as Kashmir, bilaterally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that having secured Pakistan’s agreement to deal with our issues bilaterally, for much of the 49 years since Simla, we have refused to engage with Pakistan bilaterally. The point is that on the very morrow of war, India (and Indira) established that we are not a war-mongering nation. It was the highest tribute we could pay to the non-violent values taught to us by the Mahatma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why I am here, celebrating with the people of Bangladesh 50 years of a great moral victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joy Bangla!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Dec 23 15:21:25 IST 2021 mamata-Banerjee-making-the-same-mistake-congress-made-in-2004-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One of the more curious episodes in my life occurred at the end of 1997, when I quit the Congress to join Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. She professed great admiration for Rajiv Gandhi and invited me into her party on the argument, “Everyone in Bengal knows you as Rajiv Gandhi’s shadow.” I agreed because I found Mamata determinedly secular, and a great favourite of Kolkata’s Muslim minority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, her only ideological moorings appeared to be in viscerally hating the Communists. To defeat them, she had no compunctions in rising on the shoulders of the BJP. So, I left her within three weeks. Mamata then did what she had assured me she would not do—join a BJP-led coalition government in Delhi. She has since been betrayed by her BJP patrons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has prevailed, but, with both the Congress and the Marxists out of the reckoning, the BJP has replaced the CPI(M) as her favourite hate object. She also believes that the thrashing she gave the BJP in the West Bengal assembly election makes her the fulcrum around which the national opposition should revolve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What stands in the way of her ambitions is the Indian National Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is true that with only 20 per cent of the national vote and a mere 50-plus seats in Parliament, the Congress on its own is no challenger to the BJP, she seems to have forgotten that the TMC makes do with just four per cent of the national vote and a fistful of seats in the Lok Sabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that all the non-Congress opposition parties in the country—most of whom are breakaways from the mother Congress—do not, together, have more seats than the much-diminished Congress on its own. The reason quite simply is that these non-Congress opposition parties are not even regional parties; they are parties confined to a single state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata does not have a seat outside Bengal; nor Navin Patnaik outside Odisha; Nitish Kumar does not have a seat beyond Bihar; the same goes for Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati (with insignificant variations); even Sharad Pawar is locked into Maharashtra; and in the south, Jagan Mohan Reddy is confined to Andhra Pradesh, K. Chandrasekhar Rao to Telangana and the Dravidian parties to Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, while it may be taken for granted that all these state parties, led mostly by former Congressmen, will come together to form a coalition government at the Centre, as they did in 2004, if they form a non-BJP, non-Congress alliance, they will never get the required numbers. That being the existential reality, it would be best to postpone till May 2024 the currently irrelevant question of who will take over the reins from Narendra Modi were he to be worsted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why, through this column and other writings, I have been urging the Congress to “stoop to conquer”, that is, to ignore the question of who will lead the alliance till the votes are in and concentrate instead on patiently building these state parties into a national coalition, as Sonia Gandhi did in 2004. The Congress has not listened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, Mamata feels she must declare her candidacy and lead the national coalition to victory as she has so successfully done in her state. She is thus making the same mistake as the Congress. Let the leadership be decided, as in 2004, after the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let the immediate task be to make seat adjustments that would pit, as far as possible, a single opposition candidate against the BJP in every seat. Then, even if the BJP retains its 37 per cent vote, it would be smashed by the countervailing vote of 63 per cent—and the nation would be saved! Surely that matters more than stroking bruised egos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Dec 19 12:35:18 IST 2021 only-electoral-opportunism-can-explain-modi-u-turn-on-farm-laws-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Elections have a way of “concentrating the mind wonderfully”. With setbacks in Uttar Pradesh in prospect and the certainty of defeat in Punjab looming large, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has withdrawn the very farm laws he was claiming till just the other day as the greatest gift he had bequeathed to the farming community. Now he is apologising for his “gift” saying he should not have bestowed it without consulting the intended beneficiaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, will he, by the same logic, withdraw his legislation on Articles 370/35A? No, there are no elections in the offing in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the former state sends only a handful of members to the Lok Sabha compared with the decisive 80 from UP. Thus, electoral opportunism is the only sustainable explanation for this sudden—if welcome—about-turn. This is why the agitating farmers remain sceptical of the eventual outcome once the votes are in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The enduring lesson to be learned is that if the protest is sufficiently prolonged and sustained, Modi bends at the knees. His “strong man” image is an illusion fostered by a string of successes at the polls. It was not Modi but Covid that closed down Shaheen Bagh. Now that normalcy is returning on the public health front, all the discontented in our society will inevitably discover that courageous and nonviolent persistence is the democratic way of resisting injustice. Satyagraha remains, 75 years after Independence, the most viable tool of securing justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One hopes for a resumption of judicial activism to ensure protection for the constitutional right of dissidents to disagree. In Jammu and Kashmir, the citizens—we must never forget that barring a handful of Pakistani infiltrators, there are only Indian citizens living there—should be guaranteed the rights and privileges to which all Indian citizens are entitled. This has been denied to them since that infamous day of August 5, 2019. The persistence of the Intifada spirit in Palestine, despite brutal Israeli repression, should be the lesson learned to prevent Jammu and Kashmir from falling into that condition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other cautionary tale to be noted is that in our democracy, state assembly elections are an excellent method of keeping in check the excesses of a too-powerful Union government. The first warning came from West Bengal. The second was the threat of the farmers’ agitation acquiring new momentum on November 26, the anniversary of the launch of the agitation. The third was the necessity of pacifying (appeasing?) infuriated opinion in Punjab, another state going to the polls early next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Modi is discovering that the “light” he sought to “shine” has not dispersed the gathering darkness, it is not because any new wisdom has dawned on him but because elections in several states are around the corner. That is why it is essential to resist the Union government’s slogan of “one nation, one election”. That would only strengthen the authoritarian trends that are subverting our constitutional democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only time will tell whether Modi’s ploy will work, but it is already abundantly clear that it is not conviction or change of heart that is responsible for the announcement but sheer fright at what might happen at the hustings if he did not back off now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that explains why the farmers are not calling off their year-long agitation. They are looking for solid proof that Modi means what he says, and to push for the fulfilment of the rest of their agenda—principally the incorporation in the Constitution of minimum support prices for some 23 items of farm produce. Watch this space!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 25 15:32:41 IST 2021 mullaperiyar-work-towards-a-political-solution-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Yes, there is a Tamil Nadu-Kerala dispute over the Mullaperiyar dam. But, perhaps uniquely, it is not an inter-state dispute over the sharing of river waters. Both the Mullayar and Periyar rivers—at whose confluence the dam has stood since it was completed in 1895—are within the state of Kerala. The dam diverted the waters of the naturally westward flowing Periyar river eastwards to fall into the Vaigai basin—which is to southern Tamil Nadu what the Cauvery is to central and coastal Tamil Nadu, a life-giver.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dam, described as “one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering ever performed by man”, has the unusual distinction of both the dam and the reservoir being geographically located in Kerala alone—but the dam/reservoir is managed and kept in good repair by Tamil Nadu in the interest, particularly, of Tamil farmers spread over an area of 2.3 lakh acres, eking out a living in the rain shadow districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga, and Ramanathapuram. The Mullaperiyar dam has turned what was once a barren dustbowl to double- and even triple-cropping land. It is nothing short of a lifeline in every sense of the term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So vital has been the life-giving augmentation of the Vaigai waters as a result of Colonel John Pennycuick’s engineering marvel that his statue stands at the entrance to the Tamil Nadu public works department office campus in Madurai. A proposal is also under process to install a memorial to the miracle engineer at the dam site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pennycuick’s devotion to his cause was such that when the British government decided to stop further expenditure on the scheme, he sold his wife’s jewellery to complete the dam. This has kept the “deep south” in Tamil Nadu fed for the past century and a quarter. That is why Pennycuick’s great-grandson was accorded an enthusiastic public reception when he visited Madurai in 2002.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala’s complaint is not that Tamil Nadu is pre-empting its river waters for irrigating Tamil lands. But it has grave apprehensions that as the dam has been built in a sensitive seismic zone where tremors are frequent, the “structural flaws” inherent in a dam built long ago place at risk the lives of 3.5 million people who live in the area, as pointed out in a technical report from the United Nations. The examples of the human tragedy caused by the Morvi dam burst in Gujarat in 1979, and more recently, the washing away of the Tapovan dam in Uttarakhand in February, have further stoked these fears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, the committee set up by the Supreme Court under the former chief justice of India, A.S. Anand concluded that the Mullaperiyar dam is “structurally [and] hydrologically safe, and Tamil Nadu can raise the water level from 136 to 142 feet after carrying out repairs”. Also, that the “earth tremors in the region did not have any impact” on the dam or the reservoir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, a supervisory committee under the chairmanship of a member of the Central Water Commission, with the other two members nominated respectively by the state governments concerned, has not assuaged public sentiment in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, therefore, all to the good that, having exhausted the scope for a technical or judicial settlement of the problem, the Tamil Nadu chief minister has announced that he will be visiting Thiruvananthapuram next month to work out with his Kerala counterpart a political settlement that will meet public concerns in both states (and perhaps allow the height of the stored waters to go up a further ten feet). Such a political initiative alone, not recourse to the courts or experts, is the way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 11 15:38:17 IST 2021 priyanka-makes-a-mark-with-promise-of-40-tickets-to-women-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>By announcing that 40 per cent of Congress tickets for the Uttar Pradesh polls will be reserved for women, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has brought revolutionary change into the parameters of the electoral game. But where is she going to find so many electable women?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was exactly the question posed to her father, Rajiv Gandhi, when he proposed 30 per cent reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies back in 1989. Where, asked Bhajan Lal, the minister in charge of the project, in some despair, are we going to find so many women to enter public life, speak into microphones and knock on anonymous doors to ask the men to vote for Mira rather than Rita? It was the women themselves who provided the answer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With women’s reservations having been raised to 50 per cent in some 20 states, the number of elected women representatives is now more than 14 lakh. If we take three as the average number of women who contest every reserved seat (which is probably an underestimate), it would appear that in every round of panchayat/municipality elections there are 40 to 50 lakh women contestants. That is why India today has more democratically elected women representatives in just the third tier of governance than have been similarly elected in the rest of the world put together. It is an exercise in gender empowerment without precedent, one which ranks in importance with the proclamation of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yet this signal national achievement is not even known, let alone celebrated, by the drawing room par-katis (women with bobbed hair)—to use Sharad Yadav’s highly derogatory expression for middle-class, educated ladies who are unimpressed with their poorer sisters’ achievement—because it does not cover them. For the fact is, however impressive women’s empowerment might be in the local bodies, the national disgrace is that reservation for women does not apply to our state legislatures or Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That raises the parallel question: Why is it that the same political parties that have accepted 50 per cent women in the third tier are so reluctant to allow women’s reservation in Parliament? I think the answer does not lie in gender discrimination as such, but in the fact that we have almost 90 per cent of male sitting members, nearly a third of whom are going to lose their seats only because they were born male.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer lies in ensuring that whenever the number of Lok Sabha members is expanded (to about 800, according to present reckoning), the additional seats should be reserved for women, thus enabling a large intake of women without asking men to abandon their seats just because they are men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka’s initiative is likely to succeed for two reasons. First, she is writing on tabula rasa, a clean slate. There are only seven Congress MLAs in UP, of whom five are men. Their tickets need not be disturbed for Priyanka to hit her target.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, she has a huge pool of experienced women representatives, past and present, who have proved their electability and their administrative talent at the local level. She only has to give them the opportunity to contest the assembly polls in India’s largest state, the only large state to not have raised women’s reservations in seats and posts above the constitutional minimum of one-third.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka’s women candidates, drawn from every segment of society, might not only succeed where male candidates have so abjectly failed, but could set the precedent for other states as well. Above all, it would be a daughter’s tribute to her martyred father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Oct 31 10:54:58 IST 2021 modi-sold-the-maharajah-for-a-song-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As I settle down to write this column, newspaper headlines are screaming the news of the Tatas having bought Air India for a piffling Rs18,000 crore. Meanwhile, the Narendra Modi government has, in exchange, burdened the people with over Rs60,000 crore of the sold entity’s debt. It is like auctioning a house while retaining the mortgage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My mind goes back to the flurry of private airlines that took off when in the 1990s liberalisation became our mantra. How many survived? East-West? Damania? ModiLuft? Paramount? Sahara? Jet? Over 60 private sector airlines have gone belly-up. Earlier, private airlines like Ambica Airlines, Jupiter Airways and Himalayan Aviation had flopped. Indeed, even once renowned private carriers on international routes like Pan Am and Trans World Airlines have disappeared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ownership does not confer management ability. Private enterprises do sink—and take down their lenders with them. Public enterprises do flourish as witnessed by the oil giants, the Power Finance Corporation and several others. Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya (not to mention Dharma Teja from an earlier era of business buccaneers), hiding out in their tax havens or other centres of five-star refuge for tax-dodgers, are proof enough of not only private sector stupidity, but also private sector cupidity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Cyrus Mistry blew the whistle on many skeletons in the Tata cupboard, for which he was eased out. There is no guarantee that the Tatas will revive Air India—although that is the least one can expect of them for the bargain basement offer they have received from the Modi government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>True, J.R.D. Tata did start a private airline, and true, too, that Air India was nationalised in 1953. But recognising the management abilities of the Tata Group, Nehru invited JRD to become the chairman. Thus, higher public purpose and shrewd business acumen were combined to give Air India pride of place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot think of any precedent for such a sensible arrangement whereby management was left in the hands of the previous owner while the woes of ownership were taken over by the government. It is not just the Maharajah that is being returned to the previous owner for a pittance, but in abundant addition, 1,800 international landing and parking slots at Indian airports, 4,400 domestic slots and 900 slots at airports overseas, plus a fleet of wide-bodied aircraft. Almost all of this was acquired by the government after nationalisation. If Air India was a caterpillar when it was taken over, it is now a priceless butterfly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us not forget that it was not the Congress but that other symbol of Gujarati asmita that Prime Minister Modi is ever invoking—Morarji Desai—who, in February 1978, ended that very satisfactory arrangement. How satisfactory both sides found it is touchingly recalled in an exchange of letters that the indefatigable Jairam Ramesh has unearthed from the archives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a handwritten communication to JRD (whom she fondly calls “Jeh”) Indira pays tribute to him as “not merely the founder and nurturer” of Air India, but also for the “deep personal care” he bestowed on the airline. She adds: “We were proud of you and the airline. No one can take this satisfaction from you nor belittle [the] government’s debt to you in this respect.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, JRD replied: “Dear Indira… I was fortunate in the loyalty and enthusiasm of my colleagues and staff and—what needs all the emphasis at my command—“the support I got from [the] government without either of which I could have achieved little.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government could have easily restored that arrangement without selling the family silver for a song.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Oct 14 16:22:51 IST 2021 why-india-easeofdoingbusiness-rankings-cant-be-trusted-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Readers will recall Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first Independence Day address. With his arms flailing like a windmill, he announced the “Make in India” programme, aimed at raising the share of manufacturing in India’s GDP from 16 per cent to 25 per cent by 2020 and thereby creating 100 million new jobs. In addition, Modi secured an international spokesperson in the person of the former CEO of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, whose ease-of-doing business (EoDB) index showed India soaring while every other international ranking showed the country plummeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the EoDB Index, India was languishing at 142nd position in 2014-2015. Under Georgieva’s watch, India leaped to 130th position in 2015-2016 and then took a quantum jump to 63rd position in 2019-2020. So, Modi pulled out all the stops to get the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India to organise a grand meeting to felicitate Georgieva on November 4, 2017—Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday—with Modi labelling the day “auspicious” for it “inspires us to lead a life of truth”. He apparently did not know, or chose to ignore, that back in Washington, DC, rumblings were growing at the EoDB index not being a paean to “a life full of truth”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As early as 2013, the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group had questioned the “reliability and objectivity” of EoDB. Mary Hallward-Driemeier, a senior economic adviser at the Bank, had opined that the index “does not summarise even modestly the experience of firms”. Two researchers at the Center for Global Development, including Divyanshi Wadhwa, pointed out that “the improvement in India’s ranking was almost entirely due to methodological changes” (i.e., fiddling the facts). In 2018, the chief economist at the Bank, Paul Romer, said that he “did not have confidence in the integrity” of the data being used by Georgieva’s team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, “after conducting a systematic review and assessment of data changes”, the World Bank asked its “internal audit function” to “audit the processes” and “controls to safeguard data integrity.” This was followed by an external review panel casting serious doubt on the index, leading to the appointment of a well-known firm of consultants, WilmerHale, to examine the Bank’s Augean stables. Expressing deep concern over “ethical aspects of the conduct relating to Bank officials”, the consultants cast doubt on Georgieva and the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim. The Bank has now suspended the EoDB index in a bid to retain its credibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Modi and Georgieva believed that unfettered market forces would lead to optimum outcomes and hence found a common platform on the slogan, “minimum government, maximum governance”. Modi made changes in the law. She was content to accept this as changes on the ground and validated her ideological beliefs by basing her indices on what big businesses told her team in Mumbai and Delhi, without delving into the perception of small and medium enterprises that account for the bulk of Indian manufacturing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last word must rest with R. Nagaraj who has demonstrated in The Hindu (September 21) that while Modi’s India zoomed exponentially on the bogus EoDB index, the ground reality is that the growth rate of manufacturing sank from 7.9 per cent in 2014 to 5.3 per cent in 2018 and has now hit rock bottom at -2.4 per cent, while employment plunges, foreign direct investment stagnates and gross capital formation sinks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can Modi continue “fooling all of the people all of the time?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 30 15:05:21 IST 2021 modi-contracted-out-afPak-policy-for-political-gains-in-up-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A gaping hole has opened in the northwest of our subcontinent with India having virtually no diplomatic presence in Islamabad and none at all in Kabul. What is worse is that we have so effectively paralysed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation that the one forum where we might have been able to have high-level contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan is also not available.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We do not know either the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada or Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund. Of course, clandestine efforts have been made to establish connections with the Taliban’s Doha office. But, with the announcement of the new government in Kabul, it seems the Doha faction has been side-lined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We may take what comfort we can from the fact that two senior hands who had contacted our envoy in Doha have been included in the government: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, first deputy to the prime minister, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy foreign minister. But weighed against the full profile of the new government in Kabul, the danger to our national security remains, especially as Baradar’s marginalisation can be traced to Pakistan’s ISI having “scuttled” his hopes of rehabilitation to his full stature owing to his dovish overtures in 2010 to Hamid Karzai, to Donald Trump in 2020 and to India this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presence of as many as four top members of the Pakistan-sponsored Haqqani terrorist network—including Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and his deputy intelligence chief—is a matter of serious concern. We have no one in Kabul to monitor and, if possible, moderate the potential danger from that source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also know nothing of the five Guantanamo returnees holding, among other offices, two portfolios of priority concern to us: minister of information and broadcasting, and intelligence chief. Nor are we acquainted with any of the formerly Quetta-based factions who dominate the new establishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps most distressing is the virtual absence of representatives of the ethnic and religious minorities. I am not forgetting the token presence of the Uzbek second deputy to the prime minister, the Tajik army chief and one other Tajik with the portfolio of minister of economic affairs for an economy with almost no resources to draw upon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With so much at stake and so much lost ground to recover, why are we without proper diplomatic representation in either Kabul or Islamabad? Surely not because of physical danger to our diplomats. We have retained our diplomatic presence in dangerous spots all over the world. I was posted to Hanoi after the 1968 Tet Offensive, when the US was raining bombs on the city every morning and afternoon. Diplomats have to be ready to serve on the frontline. And the IFS has never shirked this duty. So, it is not the officers but government policy that is keeping Kabul empty and Islamabad neglected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The inescapable fact is that the road to Kabul lies through Islamabad. The Pakistani military-intelligence complex is in triumphalist mode, while the political-media-public opinion complex is apprehensive. For a country that could not swallow Zia-ul-Haq’s Nizam-e-Mustafa, the prospect of the Talibanisation of Pakistan is frightening. But we have few on the spot to report these contradictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tragically, the principal reason we are not in either capital has little to do with foreign policy, and everything to do with the coming Uttar Pradesh elections. We have contracted out foreign policy to further the political fortunes of Yogi Adityanath!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 16 15:01:26 IST 2021 partition-what-does-the-prime-minister-want-us-to-remember <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What is the purpose of remembrance? Revenge? Remorse? Restitution? Reconciliation? Rekindling the dying embers of mindless hate? Reapportioning blame? Remembering? Or, reminding oneself, “never again”? Before asking our prime minister to explain what he wants to be remembered, let me, as a displaced Midnight’s Child, briefly recount what I recall as a six-year-old at partition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My father was in Lahore where he had sought refuge and a career 20 years earlier, in 1927, from anti-Brahminism in his home province. Do I recall the glistening blade of the dagger aimed at him as dawn broke on August 17, 1947, or the kindness of the Muslim grocer, who held the knife without plunging it in, after keeping my father well-supplied over the previous awful week? And, what am I to do with the image that haunts me—of my father watching from his brother’s Panchkuian Road flat in New Delhi a Muslim boy begging and pleading, “I will say Ram, I will say Krishna, but please do not kill me”, followed by the mob brutally slitting the throat of this innocent thirteen-year-old, as if he were an Eid ka bakra?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, do I recall the fury of a jatha of Sikhs banging at our door in Simla demanding to know where the Muslims were hiding? Or, the bravery and compassion of my mother, all alone in the house with four little children, telling the jatha that the Muslim family had “gone to Pakistan” when, in fact, they were cowering behind locked doors on the ground floor?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The consequences of the dreadful partition massacres—the hunting down of innocents, the displacement of millions, the rape and rapine, the looting and land-grabbing—are still with us. We see it in the thrashing of a bangle-seller in Indore who sported a Hindu name while holding a Muslim name on his Aadhaar card. We also see it in the nearby ‘Bombay Bazaar’ where a Muslim mob thrashed a Hindu because he had married a Muslim girl. We see it also in the brutal misuse of blasphemy laws against religious minorities in our “distant neighbour”. We see it, above all in the hostility and mistrust fostered at inter-governmental levels to keep the neighbours distanced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Should I use Modi’s Remembrance Day to go back to the Pakistani-origin historian, Ishtiaq Ahmed, who has meticulously documented every atrocity perpetrated by the Muslim majority on the Hindu/Sikh minorities in west Punjab, or the Government of Pakistan report on the atrocities perpetrated by the Hindu/Sikh majority on the Muslim minority in east Punjab? Or, should I take recourse to literature and read the Muslim author, Saadat Hasan Manto, or Khushwant Singh, the Sikh writer of Train to Pakistan, or Bapsi Sidhwa, the Parsi author of The Ice-Candy Man?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, does Modi desire us to remember only the Mahatma’s padayatra in Noakhali to stop the madness afflicting the Muslim community, or also his visiting Bihar immediately thereafter to stop the madness afflicting the Hindu community? Does he want us to recall the Mahatma ordering the restoration to Muslims of mosques in Delhi taken over by Hindu refugees from Pakistan? Or of Modi’s bete noire, Jawaharlal Nehru, plunging into Hindu crowds to stop them from assaulting Muslims? In short, Modiji, should I be selective in remembering Partition—or comprehensive?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, would the Prime Minister also like to declare February 27 to March 3 as Remembrance Week for the 2002 pogrom that took, in vengeance, the lives of at least one thousand blameless Muslims, including Muslim women who had their unborn children gouged out from their wombs?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 02 16:47:12 IST 2021 modi-deserves-gold-medal-for-hyperbole-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>And, the Olympic medals for hyperbole go to: Gold—the prime minister (“stupendous performance”); Silver—the president (“stellar performance”); Bronze—the vice president (“We too can do it!”)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that of the 124 players sent to Tokyo, 117 returned empty-handed. We, the nation with the largest segment of the world population in the sports age bracket (up to 24 years), wallowed at the 48th position, in the same league as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Dominica (whose combined population is about the same as Brihanmumbai’s) and below Jamaica and the Bahamas who are together less populated than Goa. What satisfaction can we draw from having scored more than San Marino (population far below Alappuzha), Gabon (population about 1 per cent of India’s), and Haiti (population about the same as Lakshadweep)?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, we won one gold (hurrah)—out of 340 gold medals awarded at Tokyo 2021; two silver medals—out of 338; and four bronze—out of 402. “Stupendous”? “We too can do it”? Do what? Our Olympics medals over 125 years amount to 35. Of these, we have 10 gold medals (of which eight have been in hockey)—in which all we could secure was a bronze this time. And, Modi’s cheerleaders proclaimed this our chak de moment!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reality check, however, is that our total number of medals in 125 years of the Olympic Games is marginally more than the number of medals won by one US swimmer, Michael Phelps, alone. The other reality check is that in sports in which we have won Olympic medals in the past—lawn tennis, shooting—we have won nothing in Tokyo 2020. Our past victories have been flashes in the pan. Will javelin, in which we won our solitary gold at Tokyo, go the same way?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is we cannot become a medal-winning nation until we first transform into a sporting nation. For that, we need institutional support in every village and every slum. Neither the Sports Authority of India (SAI) nor the score of sports federations has that reach—or seeks it. They fatten themselves on talent that turns up swayambhu [self-made]. They are not into talent-spotting at an early age and talent nurturing through childhood and adolescence. This is the basic reason for our pathetic performance at the world level, despite being endowed with the largest sporting human material in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only institutions with that kind of reach to the grassroots are panchayati raj bodies and the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan. This is why when I was Union sports and youth minister (2006-2008)—and simultaneously minister of panchayati raj (2004-2009)—I started the nation-wide Panchayat Yuva Krida aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA) (in English, the Panchayat Youth Sports and Games Movement). It provided funding and supported every village panchayat to offer facilities for as many sports disciplines as they could. It also envisioned the Nehru Yuva Kendras recruiting the training personnel and organising with the local bodies the necessary competitive sporting events at panchayat, block and district level for talent spotting by SAI and other sports federations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The system has survived many successor ministers and many name changes but, in its present incarnation, is essentially based on schools—without realising that most schools in rural India do not have land to organise games (which panchayats do). If reverting to PYKKA is more than what Modi can swallow, an alternative based on Fidel Castro’s Cuban miracle (14 gold in Barcelona ’92) will have to be devised before we have our chak de moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Aug 19 15:19:17 IST 2021 amit-shah-policy-led-to-mizoram-assam-clash-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah thunders at the Chinese that India will not yield them “an inch” of Indian territory. His acolyte, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the spanking new chief minister of Assam, echoes him: “Not an inch of Assam will be conceded…. People have sacrificed their lives, but boundary has been protected, which we will continue to do at any cost.” No, he is not warning the Chinese. He is threatening his neighbouring state of Mizoram. This is his version of faithfully implementing Amit Shah’s impassioned call on July 25, at a meeting of northeast chief ministers in Shillong, to “amicably” resolve their border issues before the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The border dispute has nothing to do with India’s independence. Under the British rule, the Lushai Hills that now constitute Mizoram, were demarcated five times in the 19th century; but only once, in 1873, in consultation with recognised tribal leaders. Two years later, the Inner-Line Forest Reserve demarcation was gazetted. In 1952, the Lushai Hills were rightfully granted their Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Then, under the wise leadership of Indira Gandhi, the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, reconstituted the Lushai Hills district as the Union territory of Mizoram which, in terms of Section 6 of the Act, provided that “thereupon, the said territories shall cease to form part of the existing areas of the state of Assam”. Clear enough, one would have thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that would be to reckon without Shah’s unique politics of “sowing hatred and distrust”, as Rahul Gandhi has reacted to the ghastly events on the Mizoram-Assam border that broke within 48 hours of the Union home minister fishing in troubled waters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Mizoram Home Secretary Lalbiaksangi’s report to the Union home ministry, the Assam Police arrived with a cavalcade of about 20 cars and ambulances at the Kawngthar Veng autorickshaw stand in Mizoram’s northernmost city of Vairengte, and while the CRPF stood mutely by, fired tear gas shells and smoke bombs at the Mizo police detail, and then brought in further reinforcements leading to the exchange of fire in which several police personnel and civilians were injured and even killed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Assam Police also brought with them tents and building materials to set up a camp in the nearby reserve forest area. Is this an “amicable” manner of settling disputes whether over land or, as Sarma has alleged, over protecting reserve forest land from encroachment? Remember, Sarma is a Shah favourite and, despite being a defector from the Congress, has ardently embraced the BJP doctrine of “divide and rule”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the northeast’s most distinguished journalist, Patricia Mukhim, has put it, “statesmanship of a high order” is needed (The Shillong Times, July 29). It was statesmanship of that order that resulted in Rajiv Gandhi’s Mizo Accord of 1986, which ended the 20-year-old insurgency and brought sustained peace in Mizoram. The chief ministers who have maintained that record include the current second-term chief minister, Zoramthanga. He was once the No.2 in the insurgency and knows a thing or two about sustained armed rebellion that seems to have escaped his Assam counterpart’s attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Informed statesmanship would have required Shah to let sleeping dogs lie. By setting an arbitrary deadline to bring Assam’s border issues with six of its neighbouring states to finality, he was only provoking the kind of armed clash that occurred on the Mizoram-Assam border on July 26. The borders have been where they are for the last half-century. “Statesmanship” would require leaving it at that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former Union minister for the development of the north-eastern region.</b></p> Thu Aug 05 16:17:20 IST 2021 what-amit-shah-plans-to-achieve-with-cooperation-ministry-mani-shankar-aiyar0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cooperatives are listed as a state subject in our Constitution, and till the other day were looked after by an obscure department tucked under the wing of the Union ministry of agriculture. Now a whole new ministry of cooperation has been set up and put under the charge of the second most powerful figure of the political establishment, Home Minister Amit Shah. A new ministry may in itself be welcome. As the A.D. Gorwala committee said in 1954, “Cooperation has failed. Cooperation must succeed”. But why under a home minster who has plenty more on his plate?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spread of the cooperative movement in the country is wide, albeit concentrated in the west (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka). There are more than 95,000 primary agriculture cooperatives, over 350 district-level cooperative banks and 33 state-level cooperative banks, with the state cooperative banks having a total paid-up capital of over Rs6,000 crore and deposits of around Rs1.3 lakh crore, besides paid-up capital of Rs21,000 crore in district cooperatives alongside deposits of Rs3.78 lakh crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, there are over 1,500 urban cooperative banks with a total paid-up capital of nearly Rs15,000 crore. This would be achievement indeed if cooperatives were really run on the three key principles set out in Part IX B of the Constitution: Voluntary, autonomous and democratic. And, not treated as an ATM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alas, cooperatives have been exploited for their money power. In 1915, Edward Maclagan, ICS, observed that the villain of the piece is the “mercenary registrar”. Over this century, many committees have been established to consider the working of the cooperative movement in independent India. These have included the Gorwala committee mentioned above, followed by the K.N. Ardhanareeswaran committee in 1987 and the C. Brahm Prakash committee in 1991, besides numerous conferences of chief ministers, notably the one summoned by Indira Gandhi in 1968.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Summing up the conclusions of these deliberations, the Cooperative Development Foundation of Hyderabad said in 1994: “The usurpation by most state governments through legislation of the power to conduct elections to cooperatives, the subsequent non-conduct of these, the frequent exercise of the legally permissible power of compulsory amalgamation and division of cooperatives, the placement of party workers and/or subservient government officers as management in the cooperatives during the interregnum following non-conduct of elections or reorganisation, the legitimised complete control over audit during the interregnum or at any other point of time, all point to the politician deeply committed to and benefiting from restrictive, unreasonable anti-cooperative legislation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the root cause of politicians involved in the cooperative movement becoming such powerful politicians, especially in western India. Shah is one of these as the long-serving head of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank. Neither he nor his new ministry has said anything, as far as I am aware, about leveraging his new position to implement in letter and spirit the Constitutional provisions on cooperatives that were designed to give constitutional sanction and sanctity to cleaning the Augean stables of the history of cooperatives in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, as Mark Antony said of Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Shah is an “honourable man”. That might indeed be his intention. But until we see how he performs, scepticism is required to assess this extraordinary innovation of upgrading a minor department into a full-fledged ministry under a powerful politician whose roots are entangled with the cooperative movement in his home state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 22 19:30:47 IST 2021 what-amit-shah-plans-to-achieve-with-cooperation-ministry-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cooperatives are listed as a state subject in our Constitution, and till the other day were looked after by an obscure department tucked under the wing of the Union ministry of agriculture. Now a whole new ministry of cooperation has been set up and put under the charge of the second most powerful figure of the political establishment, Home Minister Amit Shah. A new ministry may in itself be welcome. As the A.D. Gorwala committee said in 1954, “Cooperation has failed. Cooperation must succeed”. But why under a home minster who has plenty more on his plate?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spread of the cooperative movement in the country is wide, albeit concentrated in the west (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka). There are more than 95,000 primary agriculture cooperatives, over 350 district-level cooperative banks and 33 state-level cooperative banks, with the state cooperative banks having a total paid-up capital of over Rs6,000 crore and deposits of around Rs1.3 lakh crore, besides paid-up capital of Rs21,000 crore in district cooperatives alongside deposits of Rs3.78 lakh crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, there are over 1,500 urban cooperative banks with a total paid-up capital of nearly Rs15,000 crore. This would be achievement indeed if cooperatives were really run on the three key principles set out in Part IX B of the Constitution: Voluntary, autonomous and democratic. And, not treated as an ATM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alas, cooperatives have been exploited for their money power. In 1915, Edward Maclagan, ICS, observed that the villain of the piece is the “mercenary registrar”. Over this century, many committees have been established to consider the working of the cooperative movement in independent India. These have included the Gorwala committee mentioned above, followed by the K.N. Ardhanareeswaran committee in 1987 and the C. Brahm Prakash committee in 1991, besides numerous conferences of chief ministers, notably the one summoned by Indira Gandhi in 1968.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Summing up the conclusions of these deliberations, the Cooperative Development Foundation of Hyderabad said in 1994: “The usurpation by most state governments through legislation of the power to conduct elections to cooperatives, the subsequent non-conduct of these, the frequent exercise of the legally permissible power of compulsory amalgamation and division of cooperatives, the placement of party workers and/or subservient government officers as management in the cooperatives during the interregnum following non-conduct of elections or reorganisation, the legitimised complete control over audit during the interregnum or at any other point of time, all point to the politician deeply committed to and benefiting from restrictive, unreasonable anti-cooperative legislation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the root cause of politicians involved in the cooperative movement becoming such powerful politicians, especially in western India. Shah is one of these as the long-serving head of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank. Neither he nor his new ministry has said anything, as far as I am aware, about leveraging his new position to implement in letter and spirit the Constitutional provisions on cooperatives that were designed to give constitutional sanction and sanctity to cleaning the Augean stables of the history of cooperatives in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, as Mark Antony said of Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Shah is an “honourable man”. That might indeed be his intention. But until we see how he performs, scepticism is required to assess this extraordinary innovation of upgrading a minor department into a full-fledged ministry under a powerful politician whose roots are entangled with the cooperative movement in his home state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 22 16:53:44 IST 2021 j-k-round-one-has-gone-to-gupkar-alliance-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why did Narendra Modi-Amit Shah invite to Delhi the very Kashmiris they were bent on discrediting? And, why did the Kashmiri leaders attend the high-profile meeting like obedient schoolboys? In other words: Who blinked? Modi-Shah or the “Gupkar gang”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was Modi only burnishing his image before embarking on a US visit? Or was it because the Americans, who are leaving Afghanistan, want a tidied-up South Asia with India concentrating its energies on fighting Washington’s cold war with China? What, in terms of domestic politics, has made Modi-Shah resile from their stated objectives when they undertook their parliamentary coup against autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019? And, in Srinagar, what made the “Gupkar gang” turn up in Delhi for a command performance when none of their demands had been conceded or even put on the agenda?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I venture to suggest that it was because nothing they were subjected to in the last two years has cowed down the Kashmiris. And, Modi-Shah resorted to blandishment on finding that neither coercion nor the threat of coercion had broken the back of Kashmiri resistance. Their hopes of ending the dynastic influence on Kashmiri political preferences have been dashed. The Abdullahs and the Muftis are as much in evidence in the Kashmiri polity as they were on August 4, 2019, when they first gathered at the Gupkar Road residence of Farooq Abdullah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi’s attempts to shore up an alternative leadership by lending their full support to dissidents like Altaf Bukhari and his Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party have come to nought; so also have its attempts to project dissident Sajjad Gani Lone as an alternative. The district development council elections proved, if proof were needed, that the “dynasts” still rule the political roost. Even Ladakh—now threatened with non-Ladakhi encroachments—is getting restive over the abrogation of Article 35A that guaranteed land and jobs to Ladakhis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the positive side, shared adversity has strengthened the Gupkar unity more than anything else could have ensured. Indeed, the continued incarceration of their principal opponents—the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat—has only increased Gupkar’s political space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP leaders can, of course, claim that they have opened their Kashmiri opponents’ eyes to the irrefutable reality that they are in power in Delhi and can do what they wish to make life hell for those who do not fall in line. Of course, they can. But so could British viceroys from Lord Canning to Lord Linlithgow. Yet, who won in the end? Add to this that there is no investment from outside, no infrastructure development, no movement on the Kashmiri pandit front, no “naya Kashmir”, and you get an idea of who blinked first, Modi-Shah or the “Gupkar gang”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nor have the Kashmiris conceded anything to Delhi. They remain resolute on the restoration of Articles 370/35A. They have their reservations over the sequencing of the return to normalcy: Statehood first, delimitation next and elections last, while the Modi-Shah duo wants it the other way round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gupkar Alliance leaders have also shown that they are not resorting to disturbing law and order. They demand only their rights as Indians. They have revealed themselves as patriots able and willing to enter into dialogue with Delhi. With the prime minister himself engaging with them, it stands established that they are not into sedition or communal confrontation but are citizens demanding respect for their constitutional, legal, human rights and fundamental freedoms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No knock-out blows have been delivered, but on points, round one has gone to the Gupkar Alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 08 15:17:36 IST 2021 mani-shankar-aiyar-writes-about-3974-arrests-in-two-years-under-uapa <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Is India awash with terrorism? The US state department found that in 46 years (1970-2016), India suffered only 2 per cent of global terrorist fatalities although we constitute 17.5 per cent of the global population. We may have some 800 terrorist organisations, as claimed by a former national security adviser, but over the 11 years from 2005 to 2016, they were able to kill 707 people—that is, less than one person per organisation in more than a decade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, we have had the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) since 1967, that is for more than half a century. The UAPA was first conceived in the aftermath of the 1962 India-China war, but was not passed until after the India-Pakistan 17-day war of September 1965. Meanwhile, the 16th amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1963 to facilitate the imposition “by law”, of “reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India”. The UAPA, as amended four times, does target “terrorism” now, but was initially limited to acts that threatened national sovereignty and integrity and did not include “terrorism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why another legislation, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act—commonly known as the TADA—was brought on to our statute books in 1985 to deal with terrorism in Punjab. The abuse and misuse of the TADA became notorious, but “unlawful activities” were kept separate from “terrorist acts” for the next 17 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the botched terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001 that led to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) of 2002. That, too, became so notorious for violating rights guaranteed under the Constitution that it was repealed in 2004. Then came the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008, and the distinction between “unlawful activities” and “terrorist activities” was obliterated in our jurisprudence. That has opened the way to the Narendra Modi government filing 3,005 cases and arresting 3,974 persons in just two years (2016-2018)—the latest figures I have been able to access.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As if this was not serious enough cause for concern, the UAPA was amended once again in 2019. Under Section 43D (5) in the UAPA, normal bail rules were rescinded, and an individual could be labelled a “terrorist” even before conviction by trial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what brings us to our present pass. Three student activists were released on bail by the Delhi High Court on June 15 after more than a year in incarceration. Subsequent commentary has drawn attention to Mohammed Ilyas and Mohammed Irfan being acquitted of any UAPA offence, but only after spending seven years in jail. This was not the worst case. Others had been declared innocent, but only after spending a staggering 14 and 23 years in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bearing all this and more in mind, Delhi High Court judges Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani—noting that the Supreme Court had held that bail may be granted if, as the UAPA itself prescribed, a “speedy trial” is not held—described the repeated refusal of bail in long-pending cases as “inconsistent with democracy, redolent of authoritarian or tyrannical states”. They decried the UAPA “being casually used by the government when charges under conventional penal laws would very well do”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supreme Court justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian, while not cancelling the bail orders of the Delhi High Court, have found the high court’s bail order running to a hundred pages as “troubling” and probably requiring “examination by the Supreme Court”. It also needs examination at the bar of public opinion and in Parliament to stop our slide into a banana republic.</p> Fri Jun 25 14:48:48 IST 2021 it-is-high-time-we-scrapped-the-sedition-law-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the 1990s, a favourite term of abuse of the sangh parivar for people like me whose first language was English and had been exposed to western education was to dismiss us as “Macaulay ki aulad (Thomas Babington Macaulay’s bastard children)”. What is underplayed is that Macaulay also predicted that British rule would not last much beyond a hundred years (he was right) and, so, by that time, Indians should be groomed to rule themselves. To this end, Macaulay devised the Indian Penal Code, which, in modified form, continues to this day. Relevant to this recall is that Macaulay’s penal code did not contain any provision for “sedition”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That unfortunate addition was made several decades later when Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, the law member in 1870, faced with a Wahhabi insurrection, introduced into Indian jurisprudence a new “crime”—that of “sedition”—and prescribed punishment extending to life imprisonment for inciting “disaffection” against the empress and her government in India. But for over a quarter century, the “sedition” provision lay dormant. It was invoked for the first time in 1897 against Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Narendra Modi cohort has invoked this charge 96 times in 2019 alone! Fortunately, the conviction rate is only 2 per cent. Yet, those charged have to endure frightful conditions in police or judicial custody, so that plenty of punishment is inflicted before any court conclusion is reached. Ask Stan Swamy, incarcerated in his eighties despite serious illness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gandhian phase of the freedom struggle began in reaction to the Rowlatt Act of 1919, which reinforced the criminalisation of “sedition”. Gandhiji’s vow of satyagraha described the Rowlatt Bills as “unjust, subversive of the principle of liberty and justice, destructive of the elementary rights of individuals”. At his trial in 1922, Gandhiji called Section 124A “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. That is even more true of the sedition law in 2021 than it was in 1919.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was most unfortunate that 124A was not thrown out with the British. That was, of course, because in the chaos of partition and the recalcitrance of some of the princes, especially Hyderabad, to integrate their states into the Indian Union, and Pakistani mischief in Kashmir, sedition was very much in the air. It was, however, explicitly decided not to use “sedition” to derogate from the fundamental rights set out in the Constitution, even if it continued in criminal jurisprudence. The Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court played a key role in reining in the executive from misusing sedition charges to settle political scores, as in the Tara Singh Gopi Chand case (1950), Kedar Nath case (1962) and Balwant Singh case (1995).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the last seven years of “Moditva”, the country has seen a rise of some 160 per cent in “sedition cases”, with no action being taken against those like the Union minister who incited “violence and disturbing public order” by demanding to shoot down anyone they choose to label a “traitor”. Not to worry. We have been saved. Justices U.U. Lalit and Vineet Saran, in the Vinod Dua case (2021), have reiterated that a citizen is within his rights to say or write whatever he likes about the government, provided he does not incite violence or public disorder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is high time Section 124A was repealed. For, as Gandhiji said, “affection cannot be manufactured” and “fullest expression” should be given to spreading “disaffection” against the government of the day in any well-ordered democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jun 10 15:50:08 IST 2021 mani-shankar-aiyar-compares-palestine-and-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On August 5, 2019, I wrote that the Modi government had just created a Palestine on our northern border. I have been revisiting that thought through the latest intensely violent flare up between Hamas in Gaza and Benyamin Netanyahu’s Israel. Does the parallel hold? Sadly, it does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Israel declared itself an independent state on Palestinian territory on May 14, 1948, the Arab states, in a joint military exercise, went to war to strangle the new state at birth. The Zionist settlers won, confirming on the battlefield their right to existence that they had earlier won by an almost unanimous vote at the UN, India opposing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Arab states tried twice again, in 1967 and 1973, to wrest back Palestine from Israel’s vice-like grip. Both times, they failed. And Israel, twice over, gained more Palestinian land and rid itself of more Palestinians. Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat decided to pause the violence while the international community sought a two-state solution through a 1967 UN resolution to secure Israel’s right to existence and simultaneously the Palestinian right to a state of their own in their homeland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1993, through the Oslo Accords, Arafat won the right for himself and his people to return home. Thus, did the Palestinian National Authority come into being. What the PNA did not get was either sovereignty or even suzerainty. They only got panchayati raj in the Gaza Strip. That is why the 1967 UN resolution that everyone swears by even today is a shredded piece of paper consumed in the fire of Israeli air attacks killing hundreds of defenceless people and Hamas rockets proving Palestinian grit, but being no more than mosquito bites on Israel’s civil population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It took 39 years, from 1948 to 1987, for the Palestinian people to give up their abject dependence on fellow-Arabs and start an authentic, indigenous intifada themselves with nothing more, at least to begin with, than sticks and stones. The Israelis, who won within days every war launched against them by the Arab states, have not succeeded in the last 44 years in overcoming the intifada launched by the Palestinians themselves. That is where the parallel with Kashmir begins. Even as the Palestinians remained muted spectators when others came to their side, so also have the Kashmiris remained uncooperative when Pakistanis have tried to do their work for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By their very nature, intifadas are unpredictable. Yet, no show of state strength has extinguished the flame of equality and justice burning in every Palestinian heart. Intifada is nurtured for years in every individual soul before it self-ignites, like the combustion engine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, we must not be misled that for two short years violence in the valley has been kept under a lid by putting a jawan with a machine gun at every street corner. Hundreds have been arrested without cause or complaint. Those not under arrest are under constant threat of being held without explanation. The fundamental principle of habeas corpus has been kept at bay by a complaisant Supreme Court with not a single petition for “producing the body” even taken up for hearing. The lieutenant governor rules autocratically and indefinitely. Civic and constitutional rights are trampled upon. The right to communicate, held fundamental by the Supreme Court for every Indian, is systematically downgraded and arbitrarily shut off for the Indian citizens of the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the simmering anger being deliberately ignored, an intifada is being nurtured in seven million hearts. I stand by what I said two years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 27 15:34:16 IST 2021 tamil-nadu-has-shown-the-way-to-national-redemption-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A Lokniti-CSDS poll survey published in The Hindu (May 5) contains the astonishing information that when it comes to “anti-BJP sentiment”, the caste composition of support to hindutva is the polar opposite of the way it pans out in “Aryavarta”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “upper castes”, particularly the Brahmins, have traditionally been the sheet anchor of BJP support in north and central India, whereas in Tamil Nadu 41 per cent of “upper castes”, in answer to the question, “Is the BJP good or bad for Tamil Nadu’s social fabric?” replied, “bad”. True, the “upper caste” in Tamil Nadu is small and confined to the likes of me and P. Chidambaram, but it is still significant that, in sharp contrast to happenings north of the Vindhyas, four out of ten of our ilk do not want hindutva sneaking in, as against 18 per cent who thought otherwise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The largest segment of Tamil Nadu’s population comprises the other backward classes. Fascinatingly, the percentage of Thevar who also answered “bad” is higher even than the upper castes: 44 per cent. This gets reduced to 33 per cent among the Mudaliar and 30 per cent among the Edayar, but perhaps the most intriguing finding is that the Vanniyar—a most backward community (MBC) whom a BJP ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, claims to represent—were next only to the “upper castes” and the Thevar in rejecting the OBC claims on which Narendra Modi has based his rise in politics. The Vanniyar at 38 per cent were the third-highest community in regarding the impact of the BJP on Tamil Nadu’s social fabric as “bad”. The same percentage held for the category “Other OBCs”. Clearly, Modi’s boast to have widened the BJP ambit from “upper castes” to OBCs has found little resonance in Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, by far, the highest percentage of those who look askance at the inroads that hindutva is attempting to make into Tamil Nadu are the scheduled castes (SC). A gasp-inducing 48 per cent—higher even than the “upper castes”, the OBC and the MBC—are persuaded that the impact of hindutva on the state’s social fabric is “bad”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the other end of the spectrum, a staggering 45 per cent of the Muslim community, who have always been well integrated into society at large in Tamil Nadu and, therefore, do not feel their identity and safety threatened as in the north, regard the hindutva impact as “Doesn’t make a difference either way”, with 10 per cent fewer— a mere 35 per cent—thinking the impact might be ‘bad’. This shows that the demonisation of the minority community on which the RSS/BJP thrives has had such little influence on the Tamil mind, as to leave the Muslims of Tamil Nadu the only segment of Muslims in the whole country feeling quite sanguine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This conclusion is, however, offset by the Christian community, concentrated in the deep, deep south in and around Kanyakumari district, clearly registering an unambiguous “bad” verdict against the sangh parivar and hindutva, particularly since the Meenakshipuram riots—instigated by the RSS in 1981, opposing SC mass conversions to Christianity—that convulsed the region. Second only to the SC apprehension of prospective BJP inroads is 47 per cent of the Christian community regarding the BJP impact on the social fabric negatively, as “bad”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey establishes the sound reasons for which the BJP cyclone has not been able to make any landfall in Tamil Nadu. This must give heart to all those who despair of reversing the BJP’s rise. Tamil Nadu has demonstrated across all strata of society that the Modi-Shah duo is an aberration who can and must be worsted for India to survive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 13 15:12:23 IST 2021 india-should-reassess-dependency-on-quad-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While Indian and Chinese army commanders circle around each other, like Sumo wrestlers, waiting for the right moment to clinch, our political leaders have not spelt out what their overarching objectives are in the pursuit of India-China relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is it our strategic aim to rival and overtake the Chinese? And is it, therefore, our tactical aim to not cede “an inch” of what we believe is an integral and inalienable part of Mother India, sanctified by the Vedas, the Puranas, the Mahabharat, the Upanishads and our ancient sanskriti? Or, a territorial quarrel over what Aurangzeb seized for us when he captured Ladakh and built a mosque in Leh to prove it? Or, as a precious heritage that left to us when the British evolved their policy of “flexible frontiers” on our northern borders and convened meetings in Simla of Chinese and Tibetan plenipotentiaries in that golden summer on the eve of World War I? Or Amit Shah’s cartographic conquest that renders Ladakh the biggest Union territory, perhaps the biggest state, of the Indian Union?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, are we trying to get back to the harmony that prevailed between two neighbouring civilisations from the dawn of history till 1962? Or, that vision of “peace and tranquillity” that informed Rajiv Gandhi’s breakthrough visit to China in December 1988 that gave us, till the other day, 30 years of galloping economic, trade and technological relations while patiently undertaking round after round of “border talks” at special envoy level?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If our goal is to best the Chinese at their own game, that objective could best be described as utopian. We perhaps had that possibility till the 1970s, but since then, the Chinese have so far overtaken us in economic strength, military power and international political influence. Only vainglory makes many of us believe that outdoing the Chinese is a rational or even desirable goal. A worthier aim would be to accept that China is far ahead of us on these parameters. But on the parameters of democracy and human rights, any sensible human being would rather be an Indian than a Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of basing the strategic goals of our foreign policy on a needless inferiority complex, would it not make more sense to accept that in some dimensions the Chinese are ahead of us and in some other spheres we are ahead, and move self-confidently towards better times?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is in this context that I think we should reassess our increasing dependence on the Quad. Where traditionally we had sought to make the Indian Ocean a zone of peace, we are now making the so-called Indo-Pacific a zone of war. Why is it that countries in the immediate neighbourhood of the South China Sea that China is probing are not party to Quad? Why are the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, even land-locked Laos, keeping their distance? Is it because they do not think military confrontation with China will work, and believe quiet negotiations to be the way forward?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former Bangladesh high commissioner to India, Tariq Karim, has made a persuasive case for a Bay of Bengal community. Would that not be a far more constructive way of linking up with Southeast Asia than following the far-away west in preparing for war in a fanciful geographic construct called the “Indo-Pacific” by a country that, till the other day, did not even accept that India was part of what they called “Asia”? Why are we following the Pakistani example of 1954, when Pakistan outsourced its national security to the Americans, and came a cropper?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Apr 29 15:07:43 IST 2021 panchayats-in-tribal-areas-can-help-solve-maoist-problem-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ambushing and killing of 22 members of the Central Reserve Police Force’s CoBRA unit in Chhattisgarh—following 76 deaths of security personnel in April 2010 and about 150 since—underlines the need for an immediate rethink of our strategy for dealing with armed “Maoists”. Mao Zedong had described the guerrilla as “fish that swim among the people”. If Naxalism has had such a long life in the heart of India, where no malign “foreign hand” can operate, we must look to other instruments than the gun to find a more humane and lasting solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That instrument has been in our armoury since at least 1996, when Parliament passed the Provisions of The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA). As the D. Bandyopadhyay committee appointed by the Planning Commission in 2004, and the Aiyar Expert Group under my chairmanship underlined in 2013, the conscientious implementation of PESA will release the people from the trap of having to choose between predatory government officials and a vicious guerrilla movement, by offering the alternative of genuine self-government. Once the people are offered that alternative, the swamp will be drained for want of the sustenance that the people’s support offers them, and the Naxal alligators captured. If not, the ambushes and massacres will be repeated ad nauseam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Successive home ministers of all hues have consistently preferred larger budgets, bigger forces, more arms to governance changes that would put real power in the hands of the tribal people to draw them away from the solutions offered by Maoist guerrillas. The guerrilla prevails because he lives among them, serves their elementary needs and, in return, receives their protection and assistance. If the tribal people could be enabled to govern themselves—instead of being thrown to the mercies of the forest guard and the thanadar (policeman), the thekedar (contractor) and the local patwari (village registrar)—as is their right by Constitutional law and the PESA legislation, they would much rather be self-reliant than beholden to the armed outlaw in their midst. All that is needed is state action to devolve functions, finances and functionaries to the duly constituted tribal panchayats, as they are obliged to do by Article 243G of the Constitution and the PESA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Proponents of armed action offer two justifications that need to be put in perspective. The first is that through Operation Greyhound in the northern districts of Telangana and operations of C60 commandos in Gadchiroli district of Vidarbha, Maharashtra, the security forces ended the Naxal menace in those areas. They did not. They merely pushed the Naxals from well-policed areas in those states to less effectively policed areas in the Abhujmad areas of Bastar district in Chhattisgarh and Malkangiri in Odisha. If they are now pushed out of these tribal redoubts, the danger is that they could resurface in urban areas. Armed action on its own is only an expedient, not a final solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second argument is that under UPA-II a special action plan was devised to ensure government delivery of welfare and development measures that, along with armed action, has reduced the worst concentration of Naxals from nearly 200 districts 15 years ago to about 90 districts now. In my view and those of my expert colleagues, government delivery is no substitute for ownership of the programmes to give the tribal communities a sense of genuine participation in their affairs through their democratically-elected institutions of self-government—the PESA panchayats. That is the humane, Gandhian way and, eventually, the most sustainable forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Apr 15 15:31:35 IST 2021 modi-shah-duo-is-stoking-fire-in-mizoram-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Having singed their fingers with the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Assam—that would probably cost them the coming election in that state—the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo is now engaged in stoking the fires in Mizoram. Mizoram might today be among the most peaceful states in the Union, but that is entirely owing to the Mizoram Peace Accord that Rajiv Gandhi negotiated in August 1985 which ended the insurgency from 1966 to 1986. The accord has proved so durable that one of the chief insurgents, Zoramthanga, is today the democratically elected chief minister of the state with the most outstanding record on the law-and-order front in the entire country. Modi and Shah are busy returning the state to turmoil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The proximate cause is the Myanmar refugees fleeing the army in Myanmar to take refuge with their kith and kin in Mizoram. For the Indo-Chin people who populate either side of the River Tiau have always been “one people” whose hearts have not been divided by boundaries drawn by imperial Britain. They have, since time immemorial, regarded themselves as the Zo people, a word so locally resonant as to be included in the name of the state, Mizoram (meaning “the land of the people of the hills”) and in the name of the chief minister, Zoramthanga. The Zo include several “tribes, sub-tribes and clans such as Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi, Paite, Hmar, Lushei, Ralte, Pawi, Lai, Mara, Gangte, Thadou” among others. (Esha Roy, The Indian Express, March 23, 2021).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Zo people are predominantly Christians. They inter-marry, share family ties, celebrate the same rituals and festivals, speak the same tongue and are heirs to the same traditions and culture despite lines on maps drawn by others. Since the military coup and crackdown in Myanmar, the Zo residing on the other side of the border have fled from military oppression and ethnic persecution into the waiting arms of their own people in our country. Yet, Modi-Shah has ordered the state government (indeed, all states of the northeast) to “identify” and resort to Assam Rifles to “deport” them back to Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such action is called “refoulement” in the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, and is outlawed. But, say apologists for Modi-Shah, we are not signatories to this convention, or the protocol added in 1967 to make the convention less “Euro-centric”. To these pettifogging and irrelevant objections, Chief Minister Zoramthanga replies—as he did in his letter dated March 18 to the uncaring Modi—that “a humanitarian crisis [is] unfolding… in our own backyard” involving “the Chin communities who are ethnically our Mizo brethren”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi-Shah remains unmoved because the Chins are not Hindus. When Tibetans in their tens of thousands entered India, did Nehru check whether they were Buddhist or Hindu? Or, did we check whether ten million Bangladeshis fleeing East Pakistan in 1971 were Muslim or Hindu? Or, whether those fleeing Afghanistan into India were Sikh or Muslim? Or, Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka were Hindu or Christian? It was not any UN convention, but the inherent humanitarianism written into our Constitution that gave these persecuted people refuge and protection from “refoulement”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what makes it imperative that Modi-Shah find a humanitarian, non-sectarian approach to desperate refugees from Myanmar, extending to both the Christian Chin and the Muslim Rohingya. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a recent assessment has noted that “a rise in racism and xenophobia have undermined the tradition of tolerance in India”. Could anything be more shameful?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar was the Union minister for the development of northeastern region from 2006 to 2009</b></p> Thu Apr 01 18:58:34 IST 2021 mani-shankar-aiyar-sasikala-will-make-an-announcement-after-may-2 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When V.K. Sasikala was released from jail in Bengaluru, she feistily decided to travel by road to Chennai. The journey was a political triumph. All along the route were cheering crowds on both sides, enthusiastically welcoming back their prodigal aunt—“Chinamma” or younger amma. They greatly delayed her progress, as she herself had so often witnessed their delaying her beloved friend. She reached Chennai hours late, even as Amma [J. Jayalalithaa] herself had so often arrived late, exhausted but her spirits buoyed by the prospect of victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were, however, no smiles, only scowls on the faces of the chief minister (EPS) and his deputy (OPS). They poured scorn and cold water on their erstwhile patron, complaining that she had no right to display the two leaves symbol and the name of their party on her car as she had been expelled from even the primary membership of the AIADMK. She airily dismissed the charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was, however, no groundswell of support for her among MLAs or other high echelons of the party, despite the cadres having so clearly demonstrated their continuing commitment to their Amma’s favourite companion. The MLAs were preoccupied with proving their loyalty to current leaders to not risk losing tickets to fight their seats once more. As for EPS and OPS, they did not want to face a challenge to their hard-won leadership with assembly elections around the corner. Their relief must have known no bounds when Sasikala abruptly, and unexpectedly, announced her withdrawal from active politics. Why did she do so?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let it be noted that she took her time making this startling announcement. She needed the time to assess her prospects within the AIADMK; within her nephew, T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s wobbling outfit; and within her family. Clearly, it was because she judged the moment to be unsuitable that she decided not to strike for the top slot right now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not believe for a moment that there is any finality to her decision. I think she has correctly assessed that the coming elections will herald the defeat of the EPS-OPS led party, probably resoundingly and hence definitively. She realises that the right moment to make her bid to come in would be when the party is looking in defeat for an alternative leadership and alternative allies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the DMK alliance is all set to carry away the trophy, her nephew’s party has failed to get kick-started despite Dhinakaran having won Jayalalithaa’s seat of R.K. Nagar in a sympathy wave. Why go down separately when she does not wish to go down collectively with EPS-OPS? Much better to wait a while, have no responsibility for the coming reverses to the AIADMK-BJP, then rouse the cadres, who are and will remain with her and then take a shot at leading her party to victory five or ten years from now?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, her brother, V.K. Dhivakaran, appears to have advised her not to align with the sinking ship that Dhinakaran has floated. By a moment’s patience, she could reunite her party, reunite her family and decide herself, and not by political inheritance, whether to accept dominance over her Dravidian party of the looming shadow from Aryavarta. She has age on her side; charisma on her side; Amma’s blessings on her side; and she is not burdened by anti-incumbency. Moreover, her opponents in the party can no more than hint at her being a jailbird because she is one only to the extent that their revered Amma was almost one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think we will be hearing from Sasikala soon after the assembly election results are announced on May 2. Watch this space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Mar 19 13:48:34 IST 2021 put-out-the-petrol-fire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In May 2004, to my astonishment, I was asked to take over the petroleum portfolio. It was not till I signed up that I realised what a can of worms I had stepped into. For world crude prices had topped $28 per barrel, and we would be obliged to raise retail prices across the board for everything from kerosene to LPG, and petrol to diesel. My colleagues and I set about trying to answer the aching question by trying to be fair to all concerned: the consumer; the upstream oil exploration companies; the downstream refining and marketing companies; the Central and state governments, both of whom were heavily dependent on their revenue stream from duties and cess on petroleum products; and only then turn to retail prices. We were conscious that in a system of administered prices, the government has to be answerable to the public for any significant rise in retail prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We came up with the doctrine of “equitable burden-sharing”. Within a fortnight of taking over, I addressed a televised press conference to explain the administered price rise. I took full responsibility for the rise, which I justified in terms of how the burden had been distributed among different stakeholders. The Central government had taken a major hit by sensibly reducing Central excise duties. The upstream exploration companies, principally ONGC and OIL India, had taken a hit by deepening the deductions they offered to downstream refining and marketing companies. The refining and marketing companies, principally Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum, had taken a hit by being denied much of the increase that the market would have granted them. Of course, there was little the Centre could do to rein in state excise duties beyond appealing to chief ministers. And, only then, had we raised administered retail prices while continuing our commitment to increased subsidies on the two petroleum products that the poorest consumer most required—kerosene and cooking gas. The people of India, by and large, saw the justice of the move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current establishment has sought to escape its responsibility for social justice by abandoning administered prices in favour of market prices. But as the base price of petrol is only Rs29.30 per litre and for diesel Rs30.55 per litre, it is taxes, duties and cess—all of which are “administered” by the government—that make up about two-thirds of the final price. So, about two-thirds for the price the consumer pays is not to the market but is what the government mulcts him of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scandal has been put in perspective by my successor in the ministry, Veerappa Moily who, in an article in The Indian Express (February 23, 2021), has pointed out that when world crude prices ruled at $108 per barrel in 2012-2013, petrol in India sold at about Rs66 per litre and diesel at around Rs49 per litre. Now that crude has plummeted to $64 per barrel compared with 2012-2013 when Moily was in office, petrol is running at Rs91 in Mumbai and diesel is only a whisker behind. Why is the consumer being so unfairly burdened? Only because of the Central government’s greed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amit Shah may hold Mamata Banerjee responsible, but remember that Central excise duties on petrol, at over Rs29 per litre, are about 60 per cent higher than state excise duties, at less than Rs20 per litre. And the Central excise on diesel at a fraction below Rs32 per litre is nearly three times higher than the state excise at Rs11.22 per litre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only way forward is by returning to the doctrine of equitable burden-sharing enunciated nearly two decades ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Mar 04 14:11:03 IST 2021 andolanjeevis-uphold-peoples-rights <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>That famous phrase-maker, the prime minister of India, has done it again. He coined the expression “andolanjeevi”—those who thrive on protests—in the context of the farmers’ three-month-old siege of Delhi that has captured the attention and admiration of all of India. Alarmed at the adverse reaction to his jibe, he attempted to clarify the next day that he was not referring to the farmers at all, but to the “professional demonstrators” who are to be found attending every rally whatever the cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This sounded rich coming as it did from the mouth of one of the most successful andolanjeevis ever, who has clambered to the top rung by rung on every agitational ladder since he launched himself as a young adult in the Navnirman movement in Gujarat. Public demonstrations of dissent are the essence of people’s participation in any democracy. But agitators can gather the populace only by taking up issues that are agitating the public mind. What the prime minister does not seem to have realised is that if he and his home minister continue to spread outrage by misunderstanding their parliamentary majority to mean that they have acquired the right to do whatever they will without listening to the people, the people affected will give expression to their dissent by taking to the streets and squares. And the andolanjeevis will rush to their support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is true not only of India but of every democracy from the US and the UK to Nepal and Pakistan. It is also true of authoritarian regimes, as we are currently witnessing in Russia and Myanmar. And, all over the world, the worse the violation of human and political rights, the more is it likely that groups will form to protest against justice being denied. Hence, the Medha Patkars and Shabnam Hashmis that Modi seems to have had in mind. And hence also the Rihannas and Gretas who have succeeded in getting the goat of the professional diplomat who has placed his many talents at the disposal of hyper-nationalism. Why, when a mob invaded Capitol Hill at the behest of the former president of the United States, even our self-righteous prime minister condemned this attempt at thwarting democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, what are concrete barricades on the roads that lead to the nation’s capital, and spikes and nails to forestall free movement, but attempts to thwart democracy? And, denouncing the men, women and children gathered as Khalistanis, Pakistani agents, anti-national subversives and worse?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If, as the prime minister stressed in Parliament, the government is indeed so confident of its stand that the farm laws only add to sales choices for the kisan without diminishing any current option, what stands in the way of reaching out to dissenting farmers who have such serious apprehensions about what the government is up to? Or, allowing the normal processes of legislation that begin by referring all but routine, non-controversial bills to standing committees empowered to call in witnesses such as those now stranded for a hundred days in makeshift tents on the borders of Delhi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why not allow a free discussion in Parliament before passing bills, instead of only after the bills are faits accomplis? Why rush through such key structural reforms amid a pandemonium? Why deny the right of members to demand a division even when they know the numbers are stacked against them?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the government tramples on democracy, democracy will avenge itself through andolanjeevis. They are the vigilantes of the people’s constitutional rights.</p> Fri Feb 19 14:40:32 IST 2021 trapped-in-their-own-trap <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With state assembly elections looming on the horizon in Assam, the Assam National Register of Citizens final list—tabled on August 31, 2019, but not yet notified by the Government of India—is revealing the cleft between the state’s perception of the problem of Bengali “illegal immigrants” as an issue of Assamese identity and the saffron perception of it in New Delhi in religious terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How flawed Amit Shah’s idea was of identifying the “termites” who have infested the woodwork of Assam on the basis of equating “foreigner” with “Muslim”, has been cruelly revealed by the outcome of the Assam NRC. Till then, there was general agreement in Assam that the influx of Bengali-speakers was altering the linguistic and cultural demography of the state, but the agitation on this account, led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), never before had any communal angle to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new religion-tinged approach to the century-old question of Bengali-speaking immigration into the state arose after the BJP came to power at the Centre and soon after in Assam. They made two significant announcements: one, that in keeping with a 2013 Supreme Court directive, they would “update” the NRC for Assam; two, the high-level elaboration of a doctrine of citizenship which privileged Hindus anywhere over even Muslims residing in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the event, at the end of the first phase of the Assam NRC exercise, some 40 lakh Assam residents were put in the doubtful category. This number was then reduced to 19 lakh in the second revision declared on August 31, 2019. It is generally believed that a majority of those whose future in India is thus cast in uncertainty are not Muslims at all, but Hindus! On the one hand, the low numbers of allegedly illegal immigrants disillusioned Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his AGP partners; on the other, the large share of Hindus among those identified as not having proved their right to citizenship undercut the BJP’s purpose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caught on the horns of this dilemma, the Union government has simply failed to notify the Assam NRC, thus coming in the way of the affected 19 lakh receiving the certified copies of their rejection required to begin the legal process of appealing first to the foreigners’ tribunals in the state and from there to higher courts in Guwahati and New Delhi. Two scholars at O.P. Jindal Global University, Mohsin Alam Bhat and Aashish Yadav, have recently published a paper saying that these 18 months of intense uncertainty could constitute a violation of their rights under Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as also a 1955 judgment of the International Court of Justice that persons with “genuine links” to their place of residence cannot be denied nationality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, 834 of these unfortunates (including 559 Muslims and 275 Hindus) have been placed in six detention centres attached to jails even when several of them seem to have one or more parent, sibling or spouse cleared for registration as citizens. A place for 3,000 more such victims is being constructed at Goalpara. As such action is manifestly “discriminatory”, this could be violative of their constitutional rights. It is also instructive to note that, according to a 2012 Assam government white paper, of over 1.26 lakh immigrants declared as “illegal immigrants” by the foreigners’ tribunals since 1964, only 2,442 have been deported or pushed back. The rest seem to have simply disappeared. What then is being achieved by pre-emptively punishing some without them being convicted, while others are left wondering what is to become of them? Is this the way forward?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Feb 04 15:55:35 IST 2021 presidential-largesse <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Splashed across our media are photographs and videos of President Ram Nath Kovind presenting a Vishva Hindu Parishad delegation with a cheque for the munificent sum of Rs5,00,100 from his “personal funds” towards the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Rashtrapati Bhavan has not vouchsafed to the general public whether a similar or even larger donation will be made to the mosque complex in Dhannipur village, about 5km from Ayodhya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Readers will recall that after deploring the “egregious violence” and “barbarism” that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the Supreme Court had rewarded the vandals by granting them the right to build a temple at the site of the Ram Janmabhoomi while ordering the Uttar Pradesh government to find five acres for the Muslim community to build their mosque complex elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a failed challenge in the Supreme Court from two non-Muslim busybodies to secure government nominees to the mosque trust. A Supreme Court bench happily ruled that “the petition does not hold water”, leaving the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) free to move ahead unimpeded. Accordingly, the mosque complex will house a place of worship but also include a 200-bed multispeciality hospital equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, a pharmacy for dispensing free medicines to the poor, a school, a museum, an Indo-Islamic research centre and a library, besides a community kitchen, nominally priced for the poor, that will serve 365 varieties of the finest Awadhi cuisine, both non-vegetarian and vegetarian. The complex will embody “the true spirit of India in its multicultural fabric that we call the ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’.” These facilities will be open to all communities. The temple will, of course, be open only to avowed Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The architect chosen for designing the mosque—S.M. Akhtar, founder faculty of the School of Architecture at Jamia Millia Islamia—says the “design will be contemporary” even as it serves the Islamic tradition of “khidmat-e-khalq (serving the society)”, adding “I do not live in the past”. This is in striking contrast to the rigidly orthodox conception of the temple grounded in tradition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A non-Muslim, Pushpesh Pant, has been appointed the consultant curator for the complex. No Muslim is part of the project for the temple. Pant has been quoted as saying, “There has been an injustice. No punishment for those involved in the demolition.” Yet, he conceives the archives/museum as a “holistic experience of Awadh”. “Islam’s influence on Indians, irrespective of them being Muslims or non-Muslims, our intertwined food, culture, architecture, customs, everything that speaks to our collective heritage, will be showcased at the museum,” he says. The temple will exclude all traces of anything that does not derive from the sanatana dharma and the epics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, therefore, the first contribution to the building of the mosque complex came from a Hindu staffer at Lucknow University, Rohit Srivastava, who said, “I come from a generation which is rooted in syncretism, where religious barriers blur…. This is not just about me. This is the story of crores of Hindus and Muslims in India.” Athar Hussain, secretary-general of the IICF that is undertaking the conception, design and building of the mosque complex, exults that 60 per cent of the donations so far received are from Hindus. Hussain has informed anyone who cares to listen that, “We have opened accounts in ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank in Lucknow for this purpose.” So, no one, from the respected rashtrapatiji down to anyone humbler, needs to wait for the foundation to solicit funds from them. Will they rise to the occasion?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jan 21 15:01:52 IST 2021 the-confederal-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The following are extracts from an interview given by the Congress president after the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections:</p> <p><i>Q: Do you feel let down by your friends and close advisers?</i></p> <p><i>A: By some of them, yes. But by most of them, no.</i></p> <p><i>I take full responsibility for my decisions. I have tried to consult as many people as possible. But the decisions have been my own. It may be that the consultations should have been more wide-ranging and more in-depth. I shall be looking into the modalities of improving our methods and range of consulting senior colleagues and grass-root workers. That is where things may have gone wrong.</i></p> <p><i>It is certainly important that we remain sensitive and alert to opinion within the party and among the people at large. Equally, it is important not to be deflected from one’s purposes by motivated allegations. There is no significant dissidence in the party. There is only a process of introspection going on.</i></p> <p><i>I expect an AICC session will be called shortly. We are also committed to party elections. Maybe once these are over, we will sit down together and see where we went wrong and why. Collectively, we will put ourselves back on track.</i></p> <p>No, this is not Rahul Gandhi speaking in 2019, but Rajiv Gandhi thirty years earlier—in an interview with <i>The Illustrated Weekly of India</i> (March 1, 1990). As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.</p> <p>What most commentators fail to adequately realise is that the Indian National Congress was initially the vanguard of a national movement fighting for liberation from colonial rule, not a political party functioning in a vibrant democracy. It, therefore, acted as the magnet drawing the iron shavings of several political formations to itself, a kind of confederation.</p> <p>It was only during the first general elections in 1952 that the INC transformed itself from a movement into a political party. Owing principally to the emotional overhang of the freedom movement, the Congress was the overwhelming victor in the first three parliamentary elections. But this pre-eminence started getting lost in the aftermath of the Chinese invasion of 1962. While the Congress continued to maintain its majority in Parliament in the elections of 1967, in the state assembly elections held simultaneously, Congress defeats in the north and east made it possible, as one wit remarked, to go from Wagah on the West Pakistan border to Jessore on the East Pakistan border without crossing any Congress territory.</p> <p>The current problem of rejuvenation of the Congress is, therefore, not the result of contemporaneously placing the Congress in the “wrong hands”. It stretches back over half a century, much aggravated in the last three decades of the fading of the ethos of the freedom movement in the pursuit of other priorities of nation-building related to ethnicity, language, culture, regionalism, caste, religious community, and other markers of sub-national identity.</p> <p>In consequence, the national appeal of the Congress has had to yield political space to other forces. Yet, the Congress remains the only multi-state party in the opposition and with more seats than any other “regional” party. Together, the opposition constitutes a virtual two-thirds majority in electoral preferences. So, instead of wasting time listening to non-party voices attempting to influence party preferences for personalities, the Congress would be best advised to consider reimagining itself, as in the freedom movement, as part of a nation-wide confederal electoral alliance, that would show up the Narendra Modi dispensation for what it is: a narrow-minded, non-inclusive, authoritarian and communal majoritarianism that is not in the national interest.</p> Thu Jan 07 17:27:56 IST 2021 not-personal-vendetta-guha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For a historian of some repute, Ramachandra Guha abandons academic restraint for vicious polemics when it comes to the Gandhis. He claims that his is not “a personal vendetta”, yet revels in recalling that immediately after Rahul Gandhi was finally persuaded to take office in the party, he divined that Rahul was a “well-intentioned dilettante”, “completely mediocre” and with “no original ideas”.</p> <p>If this is the conclusion he had arrived at even before Rahul could prove himself or fall flat on his face, surely that shows that Guha started out totally prejudiced against Rahul (and the rest of the Gandhi family). And perhaps that is why he makes a mistake, unforgivable in a “distinguished historian”, of saying RG “lost in Raebareli, a family borough” when a little diligence would have shown him that RG actually lost in Amethi (while Sonia won in the “family borough”).</p> <p>So, he goes on laying it with a trowel: the “common ideological thread uniting the political careers of Gandhi, Gandhi and Gandhi” is “their shared belief that they have a divine right to run the Congress (and India)” despite their “incompetence and nepotism”. The solution recommended is for Sonia “to retreat from politics and take her children with her”. Is this language reeking of objectivity and the national interest? Or, is it a “personal vendetta” for Guha not having been made director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library on which he had set his heart?</p> <p>No, no, this is not “vendetta” at all, and “is not out of any issue with the Gandhis per se”, but out of Guha’s aching patriotic “concern for the country”. For he has no doubt that Narendra Modi-Amit Shah must be outed to save the soul of our nation. But first and foremost, must come the outing of the Gandhis. For “so long as the Gandhis are there, they are impeding other leaders within the party…. The path to political advancement is blocked by Rahul Gandhi.” Really?</p> <p>I seem to remember the little factoid that Rahul, having quit the presidency of the party of his own volition, and ruling out any Gandhi succeeding him, invited these “other leaders” to choose from among themselves whom they would like to see leading the party. And, it was only months after they failed to do so that Sonia stepped in—as an “interim president”. No “other leader”, not even anyone from the G-23 “dissenters” pressing for party elections, is prepared to put down his name for president. At the time of going to press, Rahul maintains he is not in the running. No other Gandhi has inquired, “Why not me?” Yet, says Guha, “Sonia Gandhi thinks that they are like the Mughals”. It would be nice to know which Mughal refused the throne and which Mughal said he would be only an “interim emperor” and which Mughal refrained from slaying his brothers to reach the ‘takht’?</p> <p>Guha’s main point is that “the Gandhis not going anywhere” enables the “consolidation” and “perpetuation” of the present regime. So, will the Gandhis going result in Modi-Shah’s fall? Umm, no, says our historian, “removing the Gandhis will not lead to a revival of the Congress automatically” and “is not a one-stop solution”, but does not consider the possibility of their departure leading to the fragmentation and eventual ruin of the party. Removing the Gandhis from the top echelons of the party is easy enough, for Rahul, on behalf of his family, has offered to do so themselves. The problem is in replacing them, for there is no one who enjoys a tithe of the support they do—in the party and the country. So, we prefer to swim with them. Otherwise, we sink.</p> Thu Dec 24 18:58:47 IST 2020 will-rajini-make-a-difference <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One has heard of adolescents plucking the petals of a daisy muttering, “she/he loves me… she/he loves me not”, but the spectacle of an ageing cine star of yore doing the same as he puts his toes into political waters only to pull them out has gone on for so long as to have lost all credibility. For the nth time, Rajinikanth has indicated that he is going to take the plunge as the new year begins. It has not stirred the excitement that followed his first announcement of throwing his hat into the political ring. Is this another feint? Is this for real? Does it really matter? The latter, I think, is the real question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My north Indian friends are generally bewildered at Tamil Nadu politics. What, they wonder, has the cinema to do with politics? That is the question most germane to Rajini’s latest intimation of entering the political fray, the launch pad being the Tamil Nadu assembly polls due in May 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Counter-intuitively, the fact is that being a film star has little to do with success in politics, whether north or south. North Indian stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Sunil Dutt are evidence for this; strangely, it is Tami Nadu that provides the most telling proof. For some of the greatest stars of the silver screen in Tamil Nadu have come a cropper in politics even if their initial entry generated a measure of frisson—Sivaji Ganesan, Vijayakanth, Kamal Haasan. Contrariwise, C.N. Annadurai (“Anna”) and M. Karunanidhi and, later, MGR were radical social reformers who used cinema as a medium for the propagation of their social and political views.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three started their careers in repertory theatre on the stage and only slowly turned to cinema. They complemented each other. Anna was the scriptwriter; Karunanidhi, the dialogue master; MGR, the brilliant actor. They used cinema as an innovative new medium for political messaging, just as social media is now being used for political purposes. And, just as social media arrived at the time an alternative idea of India was to be propagated, the Dravidian movement used cinema to demand a new social order to challenge Brahmin dominance, and the religious superstitions, rites and rituals on which this pre-eminence was based. They added “self-respect” weddings, widow remarriage, opposition to untouchability and abolition of zamindari system to their platform and highlighted the ancient Tamil language and Tamil culture, with Anna, in particular promoting a Tamil that was “close to the formal language and void of Sanskrit influence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus Nalla Thambi (Good Brother) and Velaikari (Servant Maid), plays scripted by Anna, were turned into box-office hits in 1948 and 1949, sharply attacking oppression by the rich of the poor and denigrating idol worship. Parashakti in 1952 built on this with its pungent critique of Brahmins and Hindu religious customs. Around this time, the Dravidian message started breaking its urban confines and spreading to rural Tamil Nadu largely because the supply of electricity to rural areas facilitated the spread of cinema theatres to rural towns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other hit films followed, with MGR lending his rich thespian talents to taking the rebellious, revolutionary message to the masses through such films as Nadodi Mannan (Vagabond King, 1958) and Adimai Penn (Slave Girl, 1969) to, in MGR’s words, “fight against evil and support the good”. J. Jayalalithaa, with over 140 films, many opposite MGR, was in the political anteroom absorbing and subtly altering this messaging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a very abbreviated account of how the Dravidian movement forged a nexus between their politics and the cinema. Compared with them, Rajini has only twiddled a cigarette in his fingers to establish a cult fan following.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Dec 10 15:03:10 IST 2020 the-owaisi-syndrome <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Was India divided in 1947 or twenty years earlier? Back in 1927, the Congress stalwart Motilal Nehru, the liberal leader Tej Bahadur Sapru and the (still) nationalist Muslim Muhammad Ali Jinnah met together and decided that in return for Jinnah yielding on his biggest achievement to date—securing the Congress acceptance of separate electorates that he brought about through the 1916 Lucknow Pact—and acknowledging that separate electorates had poisoned the communal atmosphere, he would urge his supporters to join the national mainstream in fighting for Swaraj, provided the Muslims were assured adequate representation in the central assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They eventually negotiated an agreement (called the Delhi Pact) that acknowledged the Muslim share of undivided India’s population to be 26 per cent and provided reservation of one-third of the seats in the central assembly for the Muslims. It was a sensible compromise that could have forestalled partition of India but failed to muster the required consensus in either the Congress or the Muslim League even though the Congress Working Committee approved it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another lesson from the global history of the anti-colonial movement that we need to remember: The American Revolution against the British Empire was sparked by the slogan, “no taxation without representation”. That, in effect, is All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi’s contention. He is raising his voice against a 15 per cent minority continuously losing its representation in the Indian Parliament ever since independence—it has now sunk to under 5 per cent—despite Indian Muslims having long rejected the siren call of Pakistan and demonstrating repeatedly and consistently that they are loyal, patriotic Indians. Indeed, I have been on the same TV platform as Owaisi in Pakistan when in riveting Urdu he lashed out at the Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami representative for shedding crocodile tears over the condition of Muslims in India. It was unforgettable to hear Owaisi blasting the partition for having divided the subcontinent’s 600 million Muslim community more than territorially dividing India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For decades after the partition, the Muslim community had relied on the secular parties to ensure adequate legislative representation for their community. Now, they are confronted with not only an openly hostile party in governance but the opportunistic abandonment of their interests by most other parties. Owaisi wants his community to stop outsourcing Muslim interests, particularly political representation, to others. He wants Muslims to take the responsibility for preserving their identity, security and progress into their own hands, but strictly eschewing the kind of anti-majority sentiments that animated the Pakistan movement. He has shown through his actions that there is a place in his party for non-Muslims sympathetic to minority aspirations. His stand is a reaction to the blatant majoritarianism of the party in power and the cowardly retreat of other parties from secular activism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The short-term consequence is, of course, the division of the secular Muslim votes. But the secular parties have brought this upon themselves by imitating the BJP and being less than enthusiastic in asserting their secular principles above the political imperative of fighting the BJP on its turf. Other minorities—tribal, caste, linguistic, ethnic—are also going their way. To secure opposition unity we have to follow the example of the United Democratic Front in Kerala which is containing identity issues through ensuring representative democratic space for the Indian Union Muslim League. We need to continually assert that India is not a Hindu country, but one for everyone who lives here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 26 16:42:19 IST 2020 lost-sheen-of-the-ifs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On October 9, the Indian Foreign Service entered the 75th year of its existence. A wit in <i>Seminar</i> magazine years ago said it was constituted of “dispossessed princelings, illiterate cavalrymen and well-connected nit-wits”. Entering the service 17 years after it was formed, it was easy to spot which of our joint secretaries and ambassadors fitted each of these categories!</p> <p>The IFS was conceived when the centre of India’s world lay in London. Today, London is only a save-your-face posting for superannuated diplomats who did not quite make the grade and politicians whom the government of the day wants to put away. Now, it is Washington and Beijing that constitute the twin foci. On the European continent, Brussels, once an obscure provincial capital, alone really matters as a key element in foreign economic policy. Moscow has lost out ever since the Soviet Union stabbed itself in the back. Islamabad has ceased to matter with the paralysis introduced into India’s Pakistan policy ever since Narendra Modi took over. The needless quarrel with Nepal has only compounded the sidelining of south Asia, which is where, in my eccentric opinion, we should concentrate our foreign policy effort.</p> <p>The collapse of the Non-Aligned Movement means that African and Latin American posts, as well as our permanent representations to the United Nations in New York, Geneva and even Vienna, that gave us our leadership position among the newly-liberated countries, have lost the sting they used to have. Nonalignment as the fulcrum of our foreign policy has been overtaken by military alignment through the ‘Quad’. Where we were the strongest link in the NAM chain, we are now the weakest in the Quad chain. Our withdrawal from championing the Palestine cause, in tandem with the Arab monarchies, has also meant that where Cairo and Baghdad were prize postings once, they now matter little. We have been reduced to small fish swimming in a very big pond—and are led into thinking we are sharks. The only work left to most ambassadors is organising International Yoga Day!</p> <p>All this, of course, means an alteration in the orientation of the foreign service. Where six (out of 16) of my 1963 batch were instructed to learn French as our compulsory foreign language, now it is, unsurprisingly, Chinese that commands the top slot. Perhaps English should be introduced as a compulsory foreign language. Moreover, the coveted IFS is no longer the goal of the student intellectual elite. How coveted the IFS was is, I think, well illustrated by my own case: I stood seventh in the All-India exam but only fifth in the foreign service because, of the six who were ahead of me, four picked the IFS over the IAS! Now, the UPSC has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill the IFS quota.</p> <p>I met one IFS probationer a few years ago and asked him, in passing, what his position was. He said, “600”. I thought I had misheard. I asked him to repeat his answer and when he again answered 600, he added that he hated being in the IFS. He joined only because he was threatened that if he did not, he would be demoted to a class II service. I understand (although this might be a wicked rumour) that the favoured service now is the Indian Revenue Service (as being the most “lucrative”!).</p> <p>To cope with the humongous numbers, the UPSC exam has been reduced to a lottery. In consequence, a remarkable candidate of my acquaintance, who won over a dozen gold medals in her finals, has repeatedly been tripped at the prelims. The UPSC seems to believe, like Napoleon, that they do not want able generals but lucky ones.</p> Thu Oct 15 21:09:38 IST 2020 whither-parliamentary-democracy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After 13 months of incarceration, Dr Farooq Abdullah, MP and several times chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, awaited his opportunity to speak in Parliament. The speaker had promised to give him time. In the event, he was allowed a minute at the start of the session and another minute at the end of it. This is what has happened to our parliamentary democracy.</p> <p>Compelled, therefore, to tell Karan Thapar in an interview what he had wanted to tell the nation on the floor of the house, Farooq said the “trust” on which the “unity of the Muslim-majority state with India” was based has been broken, the “emotional bond” has “completely gone”, and “they [Kashmiris] do not feel Indian” anymore because “they are sick of what they are having to put up with. Every street has a soldier with an AK-47, a policeman; every street, every village”, their “dreams are gone, their children do not know their future” and “if I speak of India anywhere, they do not want to listen”. Kashmir had joined “Gandhi’s India, not Modi’s India”. “What is this? Is this democratic India? Is it Gandhi’s India?”</p> <p>Asked why then there have been no protests, Farooq replied, “How can you have protests when every street is full of soldiers?” And, he then added ominously, “The minute you remove those soldiers, lakhs will be on the streets… You can keep the entire Indian Army there, but one day the volcano will blow.” India, he said, still holds “the land, with force, but they have lost the people.” The fight would not end until the abrogated articles, decreed “‘permanent’ by the Supreme Court”, are reinstituted; the division of the state rescinded; the “honour” and “dignity” of the people restored.</p> <p>Thapar reminded Farooq that when all this happened in August last year, Kashmiris had taunted Farooq with cries of “<i>Ab bolo</i> ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’”. Farooq admitted this was true “because we stood with India”, adding, “many of them felt, ‘Well good! They deserve it’”. But now, the Gupkar Declarations of August 2019 and 2020 have “brought all the parties together”. They realise, “divided we cannot win our battle…. Every party is putting their personal differences aside for the greater cause of the dignity of the people.” While no one wants to be a Pakistani, the present thralldom is driving all the regions—Jammu, the Kashmir valley and Ladakh—into the embrace of the Chinese, notwithstanding their treatment of Chinese Uighur Muslims.</p> <p>There could have been a reasoned rebuttal because Parliament is all about the cut and thrust of argument. I remember my first visit to Parliament in 1960 as an 18-year old college student to watch Comrade S.A. Dange light into Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for over an hour for dismissing one of the first democratically elected communist governments in world history—the E.M.S. Namboodiripad government in Kerala—while an impassive Nehru sat alert throughout the denunciation and there was no interruption from the Congress benches. Then, in the middle of the Chinese invasion of October-November 1962, Nehru arranged for both houses to reconvene to debate and denounce the failures of his foreign policy. That was democracy then.</p> <p>Now, we have a prime minister running scared of listening to the truth about what he and his home minister have wreaked in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, he ducks Parliament and treats himself to unchallenged monologues on our state media. That might have worked in Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan but is incompatible with the norms and practices of our 70-year old democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Oct 03 12:45:55 IST 2020 shooting-from-the-lip <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (The Indian Express, September 10) has availed of the death of Kesavananda Bharati, seer of the Edneer Mutt in Kasaragod, to serve up the usual hindutva cocktail of distortions, misreading and blatant lies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blameless seer was only challenging the Kerala High Court judgment which threatened to deprive his mutt of several acres of highly remunerative land. But it left the swami, the hero of a landmark 1973 judgment by the Supreme Court, which said that the “basic structure of the Constitution” could not be altered by Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is true that prime minister Indira Gandhi had tried to get that doctrine reversed by engineering the appointment of a junior judge as chief justice of India over those who had served longer. That did her no good at all because, as Prasad admits, the ruse was “unsuccessful”, and the doctrine holds as good today as when it was pronounced nearly 50 years ago. This despite the Congress having enjoyed “brute majorities” for 31 of these 47 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why flog this very dead horse when Ravi Shankar and the object of his adoration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are misusing their current “brute majority” to undermine—as closely as they dare—the basic structure which enjoins them to uphold secularism and ensure fraternity in a multi-religious India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi Shankar has a fleet of experts to advise him on matters of jurisprudence. Perhaps he should have consulted them before flying in the face of a 2001 Supreme Court judgment in vilifying Rajiv Gandhi for having the 1985 Y.V. Chandrachud judgment on Shah Bano case “nullified by a questionable law passed by exercising a brute majority, purely for a vote bank”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That law, which lay people call the Shah Bano Act, was challenged in the Supreme Court in 1986 by a member of the selfsame “vote bank”, a Muslim, Danial Latifi—a far more distinguished lawyer than Ravi Shankar is or can hope to be. Latifi was one of the most eminent jurists that independent India has seen. His arguments were not the piffle of Ravi Shankar’s polemic but the sober and considered thoughts of a well-versed expert in constitutional law. His petition was so compelling and so complex as to require a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court to deliberate on his arguments for a good 15 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 28, 2001, that is nearly two decades ago, the Supreme Court pronounced its final verdict. It held that far from being a “questionable law”, as Ravi Shankar labels it, Rajiv’s Gandhi’s initiative had—I quote from the judgment—”actually, and in reality, codified what was narrated in the Shah Bano case”. The Constitution bench further held that “the provisions of the Act do not offend Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court particularly commended section 3 of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. That extremely cleverly-worded section, drafted by Ashoke Kumar Sen, a law minister far more learned than Ravi Shankar, provided for “reasonable and fair” provision to be made and paid within the period of “iddat” (The 90-day period of separation from the husband to ensure that the woman neither has sexual relations with her husband nor is pregnant). This meant the financial provision was not for sustenance during the 90 days of iddat but had to be “reasonable and fair” for all of her life, and payable within that 90-day period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The law minister hardly needs reminding that this final pronouncement was made during a BJP regime. Is his rant in keeping with his empty boast, “We are proud of the extraordinary legacy of the Supreme Court”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 17 15:14:46 IST 2020 the-congress-unique-adhesive <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I suspect that if someone were to take a poll of editors, TV anchors, columnists and BJP activists, as well as armchair critics and NGO jholawallahs, 95 to 100 per cent of the respondents in each category would say the only answer to the revival of the Congress lies in removing the Gandhi family from the stewardship of the party. If the same question were put to Congress workers in a similar poll, I suspect 95 to 100 per cent of the Congress would reply that only under the leadership of one of the three available Gandhis—mother, son or daughter—would the party be able to revive itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What accounts for this wide difference in perception? I think it is that Congresspersons believe instinctively that if they want to remain in the Congress, there has to be one Congress to which they can belong. The Gandhis provide the crucial ingredient for the party to stay in play—unity. This is not because they are exceptionally intelligent or exceptionally educated or exceptionally articulate or exceptionally immersed in Congress history and ideology or exceptionally well-versed in realpolitik; it is only because they are the only ones with the charisma to hold the party together. They are the glue, the bonding adhesive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think the sangh parivar recognises that the Gandhi family are the principal obstacle to a “Congress-mukt Bharat”. They recognise, too, that their ultimate goal can be achieved only by first fostering a “Gandhi-mukt Congress”. Hence, the training of their sights on not just the three surviving Gandhis but relentlessly on all five generations of the family. The only Gandhi in five generations to have not held the post of Congress president is Priyanka. At just about 50 years, she has at least 30 to 35 years ahead of her to show her mettle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In bringing into perspective this fundamental difference between the bulk of public opinion and the view from within the Congress, my aim is not to make excessive claims in favour of the three remaining Gandhis. It is to point out that the shortcomings identified in the family—including the five to which Ramachandra Guha has drawn attention—are all valid to at least some extent. But these are assets, such as speaking Hindi fluently or speech-writing skills, that can easily be hired by the leadership from within its eager following. There is no lack of Jairam Rameshes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The one indispensable qualification that cannot be outsourced is the charisma required to keep the flock together. That is a possession unique to the Gandhi family. That was again in evidence at the last meeting of the Congress Working Committee. A consensus was reached with no blood on the floor. So long as vengeance is kept at bay, the consensus will last. Unity, the prerequisite for revival, will be maintained. Revival itself will depend on constructive accommodation of constructive suggestions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For we have seen that when the Gandhis are not there, as in the eight years of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri, the party splinters. And, if it splits when they are there, as under Indira Gandhi, the bulk of the party remains with the still centre while those who exit go straight into the dustbin of political irrelevance or, at best, find themselves confined to their regions. Thus, Sharad Pawar, who could arguably have been prime minister of India, is confined to Maharashtra and Mamata Banerjee, who might also have had an all-India profile, is caged in West Bengal. No more can a fish survive out of water, or a bird outside a cage, than can a Congressperson survive out of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 03 15:54:40 IST 2020 can-violence-be-sacred-democratic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Swapan Dasgupta’s claim in a newspaper column that the Ram Mandir “links antiquity to present” does so by the neat trick of bypassing all that has happened in between. Dasgupta’s verbal legerdemain is best revealed by his gentle expression “removal of the disputed structure” to draw a veil over what the Supreme Court in its judgment had described as an “egregious” act of barbaric violence. The Babri Masjid was not “removed”; it was destroyed, desecrated, dismantled brick-by-brick by a gang of thugs claiming allegiance to hindutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that explains too why Dasgupta had to hurriedly correct his assertion of the event having resulted in a “national reawakening” to this having done so “among Hindus at least”. More accurately, he could have argued “among my kind of Hindus at least”. For on this occasion, more than ever before, it is important to distinguish between “Hindu bhakts” and “hindutva bhakts”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have two marvellous works, published at the same time as Swapan’s article (early August) to underline the distinction between the two. Both are by highly regarded historians, one who teaches abroad and the other in India: Prof Vinayak Chaturvedi’s Violence as Civility: V.D. Savarkar and the Mahatma’s assassination, published in the learned journal, South Asian History and Culture; and Dr Aparna Vaidik’s My Son’s Inheritance: A Secret History of Lynching and Blood Justice in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citing Savarkar’s final work in Marathi, Saha Soneri Pane, published in English as ‘Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History’, Chaturvedi says Savarkar saw these “epochs” as “inspired by a code of conduct called ‘Hindu civility’”. For Savarkar, “violence, in the form of assassination, was not only ethical, but also a foundational aspect of Hindu civility… any understanding of civility must also take into account the virtuous, ethical and necessary uses of violence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Savarkar hated Gandhi and held that Asoka was “anti-national” because he embraced the central Buddhist doctrine of “non-violence”. It is this cult of violence that was on display when pious practitioners of hindutva, inspired by Savarkar’s doctrine, “removed” a symbol that links antiquity to the present but only through the Buddha, Mahavir, St Thomas, Prophet Mohammad, Adi Sankara, and the Bhakti movement, which gave us the Sikh religion as its finest flower. We are the inheritors of all that, not just of “antiquity”. It explains why Hindus were in a three-quarters majority after Muslim rulers had sat on the throne of Delhi for 666 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaidik analyses through her study of mythology and history how the story of the lynchings since the BJP came to power of “Zahid Ahmad, Noman, Mohammed Akhlaq, Mazloom Ansari, Imtiaz Khan, Mustain Abbas, Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers, Mokati Elisa and Pehlu Khan” is linked to hindutva. “Each act of lynching,” she says, “entrenches the Hindu supremacist’s sense of being a historical victim and in turn criminalises the dalit, the Muslim or the Christian… Nothing removes the paranoia of the majority community… violence has been externalised, othered, and justified in the name of enacting social justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was because Nehru, as prime minster, did not share that paranoia and revanchism that he refused to attend the inauguration of the Somnath Temple. It is because Modi is inspired by Savarkar’s view, that, “both bloodshed and violence are necessary for Hindus” that we saw the prime minister perform a sashtanga namaskaram at Ayodhya without one word of compassion or sympathy for our Muslims or any offer to attend the inauguration of their alternative mosque, if invited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Aug 20 14:51:57 IST 2020 the-perils-of-presidentialism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shashi Tharoor in a newspaper article has attempted to revive an old argument about whether a presidential rather than a parliamentary system would give better results in India. His long argument is best summed up in a single sentence of his own crafting: A president “would have stability of tenure free from legislative whim, be able to appoint a cabinet of talent and, above all, to devote his or her energies to governance”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since his inspiration comes from the US, let me cite American examples to show that he is wrong on all three counts. First, the US president does indeed have enviable “security of tenure”. But because the elections to the House of Representatives and a third of Senate seats are held in the middle of the president’s four-year term, every president is constantly looking over his shoulder to keep both houses of Congress in his favour for fear of falling foul of “legislative whim”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shashi, I am sure, has read more memoirs of US presidents and their closest aides than I have. So he is certainly aware of how preoccupied the White House is with keeping relations with the legislature on even keel. The expression “pork barrel politics” comes from American experience. It refers to the well-honed practice of finding out what each legislator wants either for himself or for his constituency, and holding that in reserve till the president’s army of illegitimate hatchet men have found ways of buying that Congressman’s vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, surely, he knows that every president maintains—through the FBI, the CIA and the Internal Revenue Service—tabs on all the moral misdemeanours of Congressmen and women to turn the screws when needed. Can I send him the link to House of Cards, or would he prefer the non-fiction accounts of Seymour Hersh, Steve Bannon and John Bolton?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the president’s right to “appoint a cabinet of talent”, the difference in our age—I think Shashi is nearly 20 years younger than I am—perhaps accounts for his not recalling a book that transformed my generation, which was in its twenties during the Vietnam war: The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. The charismatic John F. Kennedy had indeed appointed perhaps the most outstanding “cabinet of talent”—the Best and the Brightest—ever assembled by any US president. Halberstam showed how, precisely because they were so mesmerised by their own talent, they led the United States into the quagmire of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from which it took decades for the US to extricate itself. I was posted in Hanoi at the time and had a ringside view.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearer to home, who can forget that the most intellectually brilliant US secretary of state ever, Henry Kissinger, was the one who spurned Indira Gandhi, opposed Indian intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh and tried to rope in the Chinese to open a second front in 1971. Not to forget that the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise sailed into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India into calling off its support to the Mukti Bahini. Kissinger failed, and that is the point of my story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for his final argument that the presidential system frees the president to “devote his energies to governance”, is Shashi unaware of President Donald Trump, who has brought more death and destruction on the US than Ho Chi Minh ever did, by focusing on his reelection instead of governance in a time of Covid?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Aug 06 18:09:20 IST 2020 fix-with-flexibility <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If Pakistan had not been torn out of Mother India, our most difficult neighbour would have been Afghanistan for we would have stoutly defended the Durand Line, arguing that we will not surrender to the Afghans “an inch” of our holy territory. Instead, we watch with considerable schadenfreude, the Pakistanis wrecking their relationship with their immediate neighbour to their north and west by clinging to a frontier conceived by an imperial power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mughal Empire itself could be seen as the extension into the Indo-Gangetic plains of Babar’s Afghan empire. He was re-buried, as he had desired, in Kabul. Indeed, it was an Afghan marauder, Ahmad Shah Abdali, who laid waste the Mughal empire. History is no respecter of mythology nor even of historical precedent. Assam and the seven (now eight) sisters of the northeast became part of India only because the East India Company overthrew the Burmese monarchy and compensated itself with territories that it prised out of the defeated Burmese. We became the proud possessors of much of Uttarakhand only because the Company Bahadur, having gorged itself on all of the Gangetic plains from Bengal to Bihar, turned its attention to Nepal, defeated it in battle, and through the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli decreed that henceforth Kumaon and Garhwal belonged not to the Gorkhas but to the John Company.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ladakh became part of India when Aurangzeb conquered it in the 1670s and compelled the local Buddhists to build a grand mosque in Leh in token of their humiliation at Mughal hands. Then Zorawar Singh Kahluria reconquered Ladakh, at the behest of Raja Gulab Singh. East of Ladakh, all of Aksai Chin remained a colour-washed unoccupied territory on British-Indian maps till Jawaharlal Nehru, claiming that “Aksai Chin was part of the Ladakh region for centuries”, ordered in 1954 that Aksai Chin be shown as indubitably Indian on Survey of India maps. No Indian (other than pastoral nomads) had ventured into the barren mountain desert that was Aksai Chin, nor even any Chinese despite the Brits begging them to do so to be available if the Russians advanced beyond central Asia. The Russians did not, and the Brits then lost interest for they believed in “flexible frontiers” in their northern reaches. It was only when the communist Chinese undertook the engineering miracle of linking their two most troublesome provinces, Xinjiang and Tibet, through Aksai Chin that this barren mountain desert was put to its first-ever strategic use.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv Gandhi rescued Indian national interest when he broke with the 1962 syndrome, and, after careful preparation of the ground, visited China in December 1988 to start (or, more accurately, restart) a process of reconciliation based on opening up the immense potential for India-China cooperation while placing the settlement of the border dispute on the basis of “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation (MUMA)”. This cut through the thicket of argument and counter argument that had grown over Aksai Chin, especially as MUMA would safeguard our security requirements better than keeping the dispute unresolved and thereby risking military confrontation that might snatch away what remains of our strategic control of the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over three long decades, neither we nor the Chinese have carried to its logical conclusion the mutual adjustment, on the “MUMA” formula, of the alignment of the Line of Actual Control, let alone the border. If, since Shimla 1972, we have wanted to convert the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir into an international border, why cannot the sensible, practical, time-tested policy prescription of “flexible frontiers” in our northern reaches apply to Aksai Chin?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 23 14:35:15 IST 2020 pax-sinica-did-china-watchers-caution-modi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The elite corps of our foreign service are the Mandarin-speaking China experts. It is only the “best and the brightest” who head the China division or are sent to Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong to represent India. Surrounding China, we have set up a number of diplomatic sounding posts. These too are often manned (and “women-ed”) by Sinologists. In Delhi, too, there is no want of high expertise and experience, both in the foreign office and ministries like defence, finance and commerce, besides some top-class think tanks like the Institute of Chinese Studies (headed by former ambassador Ashok Kantha—envoy to Beijing from 2014 to 2016), the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses which brings together senior retired diplomats and military men (and serving intellectuals) and the Centre for Policy Research.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why then in the last three decades, and particularly in the last six years, were Indian prime ministers not warned off the perfidious Chinese? Why have they all so assiduously cultivated the Chinese, none more passionately than Modi, making China just about our most important trade partner, a major source of investment and techno-innovation in crucial sectors, a growing tourist attraction, and even an expatriate employment destination? And, all this against a background of peace and tranquility on our borders, guaranteed by treaty, mechanisms for localised conflict-resolution at the military level, and 22 rounds of discussion at special envoy level. Yet, none of this has yielded any significant outcome on even the alignment of the Line of Actual Control, which remains to this day undefined, undelinieated and un-demarcated. We are arguing, and now fighting, over a legacy left to us by the British who had cynically followed a policy of “flexible frontiers” in the remote and virtually inaccessible northern reaches of British India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question arises because a whole host of former ambassadors to China, and foreign secretaries and other Indian Foreign Service China-watchers have abandoned their professional omerta to thunder in the media about the pernicious Chinese. Where were these ambassadorial hawks when Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping were cooing like turtledoves as they shared a “lovers’ swing” on the Sabarmati waterfront? Why were they not hooting at the hype generated over Xi being at Xian Airport to receive Modi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are now told that Xi is out to establish a Pax Sinica—an addition to our vocabulary for which we need to thank Gautam Bambawale, our most recent former envoy to Beijing (2017-2018): “The Chinese dream is nothing else than to dominate the world, become the sole superpower in international politics and create a Pax Sinica”. Did he whisper this in Modi’s ears when, during his tenure, Xi and Modi were proclaiming the much-touted “Wuhan Spirit”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before Bambawale, we had Ambassador Vijay Keshav Gokhale in Beijing (2016-2017), who so impressed Modi that he replaced S. Jaishankar as foreign secretary. Gokhale now tells us that Xi is “tightening his grip on power everywhere” and even has the “chutzpah to equate himself to Marx” in propagating his “New Type of Great Power Relations theory”. Did he mention this to the prime minister when Modi-Xi were sharing a masala dosa in Mamallapuram? And, did Modi embrace Xi in spite of that—or, because he thought, “What a great example to follow!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaishankar and Modi became buddies when the rest of the world was refusing to let in Modi after he presided over the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. He, therefore, made four trips to China, some of which ambassador Jaishankar (2009-2013) helped organise. That is when Modi’s romance with China began. Was Modi cautioned? Did he brush off those warnings like flies? And, is it not thus that it has now come to this?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jul 17 12:24:29 IST 2020 strive-for-a-settlement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The India-China border in the western sector is neither defined, delimited or demarcated. This is principally because—as underlined by Nirupama Rao, former ambassador to China and former foreign secretary—in territorial disputes with its 15 neighbours, “China intentionally left its claims ambiguous”. She does not add, although I am sure she would agree, that this did not come in the way of China coming to a settlement with all of them, except India (and Bhutan).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have put ourselves in a bind because ever since defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon flew to Geneva, in July 1962, to settle matters directly with Chinese foreign affairs minister, Chen Yi, Menon insisted that before talks begin “again”, China should “first demarcate several areas” to be given to India, and “commit” itself “in advance to letting India have these areas.” (Amit Baruah, The Hindu, June 16, quoting Marshall Chen Yi). This has dogged any settlement for the past six decades since China refuses to disclose its goals in advance of negotiations. It has done this with all other countries with whom it has had, but no longer has, border disputes. Can India not live with this asymmetry, provided it lights up the prospects of arriving at a settlement?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minster Narendra Modi confessed at the Tsinghua University: “Neither side knows where the LAC [Line of Actual Control] is in that area.” (Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, June 16). Indeed, it was not till 1993, 41 years after the India-China war of 1962, that the 1993 India-China Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility became “the first legal agreement that recognised the LAC”. Yet, because the agreement did not define the LAC, it had “the unintended side effect of further incentivising the forward creep to the line by ‘both’ militaries” (Shivshankar Menon, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1996 agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) also did not include the exact location of LAC, although its general alignment was known to both sides, including the 13 hotspots (in all three sectors) which could lead to “face-offs”. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the continued Chinese refusal to provide maps in advance of their “perceptions” of where the LAC lay, both sides took the wise step of agreeing at their special representatives talks in 2005 on the “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Border Question”. Readers are invited to underline for themselves the word “settlement”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That should be the key objective. Nirupama Rao does not believe a mutual settlement is possible for “a generation or two.” But that pessimistic (if realistic) perspective could be sensibly shortened if we were to settle down to working out a “settlement of the border question”, instead of remaining fixated on non-settlement, despite having come to a mutual agreement, 15 years ago, on “political parameters” and “guiding principles” to “settle” the border question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why not get on with that instead of letting things lie until the Chinese provide us with maps that would reveal their hand in advance? We will get to know, in any case, as the talks move from stage to stage. And, we will have all the time in the world to make our claims known to them with no ambiguity, and then negotiate our way through the thicket. The alternative is to stick to Modi’s position that “India will protect every inch of its territory”—without even knowing where that last inch lies. Does it lie at the farthest reaches of Aksai Chin, as claimed by Home Minster Amit Shah, or at Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso in Ladakh?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jun 25 16:54:01 IST 2020 reassert-our-nonalignment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, in an article in the highly reputed American journal Foreign Affairs (June 4), and Steve Bannon, Trump’s ideological foghorn, in an interview to the island’s most important English-language daily journal, The Straits Times (also June 4), have set out the parameters within which India, more than any other country in Asia and perhaps the world, needs to determine how it is to react to the cold war between the United States and China now being brought to a boil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bannon may have been relieved of his key office in August 2017, but no one else is as frank, brutal and faithful an exponent of Trump’s ideology. Bannon argues—no holds barred—that China and the US are not in a cold war but a hot war: “It is a hot war right now and it is going to get a lot hotter.” Underlining that the US is “in full-scale economic war with the Chinese Communist Party”, he predicts with grim satisfaction that the two countries will be in “a kinetic war in a couple of years”. And, he adds that, apart from the South China Sea, this war is going to happen “on the border of China, Pakistan and India”. We cannot complain that we have not been warned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Loong, more soberly but with deep conviction, draws attention to the geopolitical reality that Asia “live(s) at the intersection of various major powers”, and, therefore, “must avoid being caught in the middle or forced to make ‘invidious choices’”. This, from a Singapore that, in sharp contrast to India in the 1960s and 1970s and way into the 1980s, did make the “invidious choice” of lining up with America in the thick of the Vietnam War and its Cambodian aftermath. Singapore was the most avid supporter of the horrendous Pol Pot regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singapore prime minister now recognises that if either China or the US attempts to force a choice between them on other Asian countries, it will lead to a “course of confrontation” that “will last decades” and put the “long heralded Asian century in jeopardy”. Recognising that the US in Asia is a “resident power” while China is “a reality at our doorstep”, Loong also notes that “the strategic basis of Pax Americana has shifted fundamentally” making this “a painful adjustment” for the US. He warns that “if the US seeks to contain China’s rise” (as Bannon, on Trump’s behalf, so strongly advocates), “it will risk provoking a reaction that could set the two countries on a path of decades of confrontation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were able to sit out the US-Soviet Union Cold War on the side lines because had armed confrontation broken out, it would have been on the battlefields of west and east Europe. Now, the reassertion of nonalignment as a fundamental creed of our foreign policy is urgent. Because Bannon has made explicit what has been an unstated or, at any rate, an understated goal of US foreign policy for the past two decades—co-opting India as a military partner of the US in a war to be fought on Indian soil to rein in the Chinese rise to global power status, even as the ability of the US to maintain its unipolar hegemony declines precipitately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bannon, emphasising that he is the chairman of something called the “Hindu Republican Coalition”, concludes his interview proclaiming that as “Modi was Trump before Trump”, it is India that is “the key that picks the lock”. Only thieves “pick locks”. Do we really want to be the American cat’s paw in this looming “kinetic war”, by becoming the field of battle of the Third World War?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jun 12 14:23:10 IST 2020 insensitive-diplomacy-at-its-peak <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The current stand-off between India and Nepal is over an isosceles triangle-shaped area covering a mere 32sqkm—its base line running eastwards from the town of Kalapani on the main Kali River to the Lipulekh Pass. At the apex of the triangle lies another pass, Limpiyadhura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The India-Nepal border was demarcated not by any domestic Indian ruler but by the colonial East India Company which concluded its aggression on Nepal in 1815 with the Treaty of Sugauli. Under this treaty, the Company filched Kumaon and Garhwal from Nepal. Article 5 of the treaty compelled “the Rajah of Nepal” to “renounce for himself, his heirs, and successors, all claims to or connection with all countries lying to the west of the Kali River”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since this was an Anglo-Nepal Treaty, its presiding deity was not Mother India but Mother Victoria; it should be dealt in such a way that Nepali sovereignty is respected even as India’s security interests are safeguarded. This is the way in which previous governments have dealt with this tiny wedge of territory since the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Thus, 78 joint posts were created after China entered Tibet in 1951, and 18 Indian military posts, including Kalapani, were established after the India-China war of 1962. All except Kalapani were withdrawn by 1969 under an India-Nepal agreement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, a 1997 India-China accord on pilgrimage to Lake Manasarovar stipulated the Lipulekh Pass as a principal entry point into Tibet. Nepal objected that it had not been consulted by either India or China, although the pass fell in Nepalese territory. There were huge demonstrations. The crisis was defused when prime minister I.K. Gujral accepted in 1998 that all boundary disputes with Nepal, including Kalapani, would be settled through bilateral talks. To this end, a joint technical-level working group was constituted and later, under A.B. Vajpayee, a Joint Boundary Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in two decades, it has not proved possible to resolve the key issue of whether the headwaters of the Kali River lie in the rivulet called the Pankha Gad, that descends from the Lipulekh Pass and joins the main Kali River at Kalapani (as India contends), or the Kuti Yangti, that descends from the Limpiyadhura Pass and takes the name of Kali from Kalapani onwards (as Nepal contends).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2019, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Kathmandu, and it was agreed that a “joint mechanism” would be established at foreign secretary level to resolve matters. But the issue was aggravated by the publication of Narendra Modi’s “new map” of India in November 2019, which showed the disputed triangle in India, as our government has been dragging its feet about talks with Nepal. So, Nepal retaliated with a map of its own in January 2020 that showed the triangle in Nepal. When India still prevaricated, Nepal threatened to incorporate their “new map” in their constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, we thundered through our spokesman that Nepal’s new map, was “not based on historical facts and evidence”, and asked Nepal to “refrain from such cartographic aggression”. The chief of army staff was then unleashed. He began by claiming that he did not know “what exactly they were agitating about”. In the face of 22 years of intense disputation on this issue, he said: “There has never been a problem in the past.” Moving to his punch line, he claimed there were “reasons to believe that they might have raised these problems, issues at the behest of someone else”. Hint, hint, China!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is this any way to conduct sensitive diplomatic relations with a small neighbour? Even if it is Covid time, why cannot the two foreign secretaries take to Skype or Zoom?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 28 18:02:40 IST 2020 gujarat-model-of-failure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 9, The Indian Express carried two apparently unrelated Covid-19 stories on its front page. One reports the first information report filed by the Delhi Police against Maulana Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi, head of the Tablighi Jamaat, under section 304 IPC—“culpable homicide not amounting to murder”—for “allegedly going ahead with a gathering of around 2,000 people at the mosque”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other, under the headline ‘Tracking India’s Covid Curve’, says Gujarat has recorded 7,013 cases of Covid-19 infections, the second highest in India after Maharashtra, higher even than Delhi and Tamil Nadu, the other badly affected states. As the same chart gives the “doubling rate” in Gujarat as 12.38 days, by the time you get to read this column, the number of Covid-19 cases in Gujarat would have topped 10,000 and be inching its way towards 14,000. The same newspaper had reported on May 6 that “Ahmedabad has approximately 70 per cent” of the state’s Covid-19 cases. Add its sister-city of Gandhinagar, and one finds that the twin cities account for some three-quarters of Gujarat’s extraordinarily high rate of infection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cut to Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar, February 24, 2020. Does anyone need reminding that on that day US President Donald Trump and his first lady landed at Ahmedabad expecting to be received by seven million cheering Modi-bhakts? That was a hallucination. Newspaper and TV reports of the welcome place the number of those lining the streets, pushing against each other, and cheek by jowl at around one lakh. When the Trumps eventually reached the Sardar Patel Stadium, the “world’s largest cricket stadium” at Motera, Ahmedabad, estimates of the crowd packing the overflowing stadium (damn social distancing) ranged from one lakh to 1.25 lakh plus uncounted tens of thousands milling around outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this point, it would be useful to sit back and paraphrase the Delhi Police’s indictment of Maulana Saad, charged with “gathering around 2,000 people in a mosque” compared with gathering around 2,00,000 people in a stadium. Judge for yourself after looking to the timeline of the commencement and spread of the pandemic:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>December 30, 2019: Dr Li Wenliang sounds earliest warning of something seriously amiss in Wuhan, China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 20, 2020: First confirmed case in the US</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 22, 2020: The World Health Organization delegation visits Wuhan and concludes that “human-to-human transmission” of virus is taking place in the city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 26, 2020: President Xi Jinping, at the highest level in China, publicly confirms the world is now in the grip of a global horror not seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 30, 2020: The WHO proclaims the outbreak as a public health emergency of global concern; first confirmed case in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were still 25 days to go for Namaste Trump. Would not the prudent thing have been to set an example to the whole world by calling off, or at least postponing, the proposed Motera tamasha?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Narendra Modi and Trump went ahead without heed to what would be the inevitable outcome of such a huge gathering in the midst of a “global health emergency”. Indeed, Trump was so aware that the US was in the thick of the danger zone that within 24 hours of his return to the White House, on February 25, he sent a request to the US Congress for “emergency funds for coronavirus response”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, is this “Gujarat model” the explanation for Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar becoming one of the reddest of red spots?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 14 17:48:33 IST 2020 corona-communalism-and-class-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As in a time of war, the Covid-19 pandemic should have united our country. Instead, the one-month lockdown has only aggravated communalism and class conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The media’s premier godiwallah (lapdog) seized on the tragic midnight killing of two sadhus in Palghar, Maharashtra, to thunder, as if it were “breaking news”, that this country was 80 per cent Hindu and how it could tolerate the murder of two Hindu sants. This was despite the state government’s announcement that over a hundred suspected assailants—all Hindus—had been arrested. This viciously irresponsible anchor went on to scream that the Congress president would be scribbling a message to reassure the Pope that his work was being done in India. Why, he demanded to know, had she said nothing about this matter? Why had she not condemned this outrage on the Hindu religion?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why, one must ask, has this incarnation of communalism not been outraged in similar incendiary terms at the numerous lynchings of Muslims in the last six years? Why, indeed, has his hero—the prime minister—done next to nothing about reining in the sangh parivar’s motormouths and youth gangs who terrify the minorities?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To move from this devout Modi-bhakt to the media in general, how many channels have placed in a non-communal perspective about the Tablighi Jamaat gathering that caused a nation-wide spread of the virus—but, at the end of the day, a thin spread that has resulted in few fatalities? Why have they underplayed the question of how so many delegates from Covid-19-affected countries were allowed to foregather at the Nizamuddin Markaz for so many days, and how could this have happened when a police station actually shares a wall with the Tablighi centre? Moreover, what of the numerous written communications and face-to-face encounters between the Tablighi authorities and the Nizamuddin police, mostly related to requests from the former to be provided with transport to evacuate those who had come from far and near to attend the annual convocation? And what, in any case, had any Islamic injunction to do with the gathering not having vacated the premises before or after the declaration? And, how is it that the thickly populated basti (slum)—with majority Muslims—that surrounds the Markaz not turned into a particularly affected “hot spot”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Compared with the gathering of thousands at the Markaz, there were swarming masses of lakhs of migrants at bus stands and railway stations. Why were those who allowed such gatherings not held accountable? And, strangely, why did those mammoth crowds not become coronavirus-spreaders?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And what kind of “social distancing” can be practiced where the most deprived live ten to a room? The strangest fact is that the coronavirus is not at its most virulent form among the poorest Indians. Apart from Dharavi, none of our urban slums (and almost nothing of rural India) has hit the headlines. When malaria, diphtheria, tuberculosis, flu, malnutrition and intestinal diseases routinely take most of the eight million Indians who die every year, the middle class and wealthy are indifferent, because most victims are the poor. It is because Covid-19 is no respecter of class distinctions, and because it has devastated the richest countries in the world, that draconian measures being taken are receiving wild applause from our elite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The migrant labourer is responding: “We are not coming back to your cities. It is you who have brought upon us this calamity by flying to luxurious foreign destinations, and it is we the poor who are suffering the consequences”. Khabardaar (Be warned).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Apr 30 20:17:11 IST 2020 pots-pans-and-the-pandemic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If Narendra Modi had ever been really poor, his first thoughts on Covid-19 would have turned to the poorest and the weakest. But, as he has never really been poor, he plumped for drama and theatre instead of preparation.</p> <p>He had plenty of notice of the global disaster in the offing. By early January, the Chinese had notified the world that Wuhan was no longer associated with Modi and Xi Jinping taking photogenic walks together, but was the infamous breeding point of a viral disease that would overwhelm everybody, everywhere.</p> <p>But the BJP government’s attention was focused elsewhere, wondering what had hit them with youth and students in a hundred campuses venting their disapproval of the Citizenship Amendment Act. And the unprecedented spectacle, replicated country-wide, of thousands upon thousands of Muslim women emerging from the seclusion of their homes, to conduct for a hundred days and more a 24x7 relay protest, flouting all the stereotypes in the hindutva mind.</p> <p>At the same time, Modi and his cohort were unleashing the likes of Anurag (“goli maro”) Thakur to wrest back Delhi. When that flopped, revenge followed with Kapil Mishra provoking a riot against Muslims in northeast Delhi, even as Modi’s energies were being absorbed in treating Donald Trump to a lavish mega-welcome.</p> <p>Then, just as the saffron brotherhood were recovering from their licking at the Delhi polls arose the golden opportunity of engineering defections in Madhya Pradesh. Blissfully unaware of the shenanigans in process in Bhopal, the director general of the World Health Organization raised the flag to full red on March 11, declaring Covid–19 a “global pandemic”. Kejriwal took cognisance on March 15. But Modi was otherwise occupied. He kept Parliament going on inane business only to facilitate the vote of no-confidence that would topple the Kamal Nath government.</p> <p>When at last the prime minister was ready to face the facts, he had nothing to declare but a Janata Curfew and a meaningless clanging of pots and pans to show the nation meant business. Two days later, he was on television, again ordering a national lockdown in four hours flat with no preparations having been made to deal with the horrendous consequences. The army of migrant labour—some 45 crore strong—that runs Indian industry and on whose muscle and brawn Indian agriculture survives, were left to sink or swim.</p> <p>They were not even noticed until they came swarming out to find their own answers to the tragedy that had befallen them.</p> <p>The prime minister, in his harangue, gave no assurances of food and shelter. They were peremptorily instructed to “Stay at Home”, but when they tried going home, there was no transport to take them home. “Isolate yourselves”, they were ordered, and then forced into densely crowded bus stands and railway stations to wait for buses and trains that never came. And, then offloaded on to the highways where it was impossible to maintain “social distancing” norms as they walked hundreds of kilometres to the comfort of their families. So, brutal police force was unleashed to drive them back or away. And, if they went back to their overcrowded slums, or to the concentration camps organised by state governments, where could they find the space to keep a metre or more from each other? None of this was foreseen, nothing planned for.</p> <p>And as for hospitals and beds and ventilators, all was ‘Ram bharosa’. For doctors and nurses on the frontline, no prior arrangements had been made for their safety in terms of kits, masks or personal protective equipment. They were just thrown, like migrant labour, to the wolves.</p> <p>Hey Ram.</p> Sat Apr 18 10:15:42 IST 2020 eight-takeaways-from-shaheen-bagh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 100-day protest at Shaheen Bagh is over, worsted not by the Narendra Modi government but by a force no one had anticipated—the coronavirus. What is the legacy it leaves behind?</p> <p>First, it destroys the stereotype of Muslim women as a submissive breed, hooded and veiled, non-political, tied up with the kitchen and nurturing their children—unseen, unheard and unsung. Second, Muslim women have shown that they are capable of organising themselves, persistent, insistent, and demanding, ready to bear up to the rigours of the coldest winter Delhi has experienced in 117 years.</p> <p>Third, Muslim men, in defiance of the stereotypes, were ready to accept the leadership of women and be content with a secondary role, serving food and water, guarding the periphery and letting the shrill voice of women drown out traditional male domination.</p> <p>Fourth, the myth that Muslims know only their holy Koran has been shredded. For three long and wearing months, the pandal reverberated not with religious instruction and Islamic injunctions but with the full-throated ease of Muslim women declaring themselves and their kin to be Indian, and demanding their constitutional rights as Indians. Their slogans, shouted out with vigour, were irreproachably patriotic, and their hands were not waving the holy book but the holy tricolour. The heroes they invoked ranged from Mahatma Gandhi to Shaheed Bhagat Singh, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Subhas Chandra Bose, from Sardar Patel to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The texts they read and recited were not those prescribed by the ulema but the Preamble to the Constitution. The speeches were woven around their assertion of their Indian identity and their commitment to the Indian nation. There was no call for jihad, no appeal to violence, no attempt to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments and no provocation.</p> <p>Fifth, not even the violence unleashed on their co-religionists in North East Delhi deterred them. As news came in of the massacre of over 50 persons and hundreds of casualties, even as the police looked away and politicians of a saffron hue were screaming, “goli maro saalon ko (shoot the scoundrels)”, the women of Shaheen Bagh remained unfazed. It was the establishment that blinked, failing over a hundred days to take up the challenge of meeting and talking to these women.</p> <p>Sixth, Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi inspired mini-Shaheen Baghs in thousands of mohallas and at least a hundred campuses, attended by men and women of all faiths, ranging from adolescents to senior citizens, cutting across all classes, economic and social, stretching to every state and Union territory of the country.</p> <p>Seventh, it was truly a people’s movement, sidelining political parties and standard political leaderships. Politicians generally kept away or were warned off. Civil society was taught that they do not have to wait upon the formal institutions of democracy—parliament, the judiciary or the executive—to raise their voices, and they can bend the establishment’s opinion to their will by taking and persisting with their initiative.</p> <p>Eighth, Shaheen Bagh scored a great political and legislative victory when the prime minster backed off, claiming his government had not even discussed the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), whereas his home minister had at least nine times on the floor of the house insisted that the Citizenship Amendment Act, the NPR and the NRC were inextricably linked. The government has been warned that if the initiative is renewed it would have to contend with the wrath of the people it is trying to divide.</p> Sat Apr 04 14:24:09 IST 2020 breaking-point-not-yet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Does JEXIT—the rather witty term for Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit—really matter? The Scindia family were among the most avid loyalists of the British Raj and most of them—J’s grandmother and two aunts—have been with the BJP since its very founding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In any case, the electorate of his constituency had defeated him last year, ending a long run of the family’s unbeaten record at the polls. Moreover, his influence had never extended beyond the Gwalior-Chambal area—which is why he had not been able to cobble together the majority in the Congress legislature party that would have got him the chief ministership of Madhya Pradesh. Indeed, beyond endeavouring to topple Chief Minister Kamal Nath by wooing away just about enough MLAs to give the BJP in the state assembly an edge, his departure changes few equations within the Congress; and, sadly for him, none within the party to which he has defected. He departs to join the long list of ex-Congressmen whose descent from Congress to obscurity was swift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More to the point, however, is the question of whether JEXIT represents the incurable, irreversible, inexorable descent of the Indian National Congress to obscurity—a hundred years after Motilal Nehru became the Congress president and bequeathed a line of succession with virtually no parallel in modern world history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are those who would say that with the party having won only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014 and a mere 52 in 2019, the end is in any case nigh. So, is J being treacherous or prescient? Has he found that the Congress has tested positive for political coronavirus and, since it is 135 years old, is vulnerable to sudden choking death?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost anyone in the Congress will tell you—of course, after looking over his shoulder to see whether anyone is listening—that most of the evidence points to a party in terminal decline. There is a huge disconnect between the party and its workers, between the party and the people. It is not possible for the party to have gone from 414 seats in Rajiv Gandhi’s time to just about half of a hundred in his son’s without something gumming up the party’s works. Nor could the party’s slim majorities in many of the states it still rules(d) be so vulnerable to defection and downfall, if the high command’s hold over its satraps had not slipped so badly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, at 50 seats in the Lok Sabha, it is well ahead of any other party for the claim to be leader of the opposition. While there are many regional outfits that can, and have, outperformed both the BJP and the Congress, even on its worst day—today—there can be no conceivable challenge to the Congress as the only credible nationwide opponent of the BJP. All the seats in the Lok Sabha of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Biju Janata Dal, Farooq Abdullah, H.D. Deve Gowda, K. Chandrashekar Rao, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Akhilesh Yadav, Hemant Soren, Mamata Banerjee or even Sharad Pawar are from one single state. Mayawati and Asaduddin Owaisi can claim representation from more than one state but the total can be counted on the fingers of one’s hands. The two communist parties cannot even claim that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress can still attract the iron shavings of our myriad parties, to together translate their over 60 per cent majority in the country into a coalition government in 2024, to end this nightmare of saffron dominance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why the many voices—Abhishek Singhvi, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Sandeep Dikshit, Ashwani Kumar et al. (even mine)—being raised within the party need to be listened to, not only to save the Congress but, more importantly, to save the idea of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 21 17:25:38 IST 2020 keeping-hindutva-at-bay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Now that so many Congress luminaries have stirred the pot of our sorrows, may I throw my two ingredients into the witches’ brew? Their views may be summarised into two broad categories: the camp led by Shashi Tharoor that regards elections to all party posts as the prerequisite for the revival of the party; and the other school, led by Manish Tewari, who think more than an organisational revamp it is clarity in ideology through a series of Pachmarhi-style inclusive vichar manthans (think camps) that is the prerequisite for revival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems to me that the two approaches are actually complementary. But I am more inclined to Tewari’s view. Otherwise, the old war horses with their superior hold on the party machine will triumph and the party will soon be back to the tired clichés and behind-the-curtain decision-making that have brought us to our present pass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But more pressing even than organisational elections and Pachmarhi-type camps, it seems to me, is the necessity to set the compass for the party’s future trajectory by facing up to the key question: whether to aim for the restoration of the Congress as the “natural party of governance” by eschewing alliances, as was decided by consensus at Pachmarhi 21 years ago, or rationalising our actual post-Pachmarhi practice of seeking out allies (if we can find them—and we often cannot, at least not on our terms).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, negotiations are more often than not initiated until very late because of the tussle between the leadership and aspirants at the grassroots over what number of seats (and where) to accept as a minimum, and when that minimum is not conceded to please the grassroots by petulantly fighting all the seats, even when it means losing virtually every seat contested, as in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, or, as in Delhi NCR, losing our deposit in 63 of 66 seats contested and failing to win a single one!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If, instead, the tactical goal were set clearly and long in advance as defeating the BJP, whatever the short-term cost to the party’s aspirants, the chances of securing the strategic goal of reviving the party to become a real presence in the future would be more credibly realisable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This the party has achieved in Kerala with the United Democratic Front, where fixed constituencies for the alliance partners and long-determined portfolios in the event of victory, have ensured not only a steady stream of victories over the rival Left Democratic Front in every alternate election, but it leaves the alliance partners completely free to nurture their separate identities and cultivate a larger section of the electorate between elections. Most important, the system marginalises hindutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, abstracting from immediate election imperatives and going back into its own history, I believe the only way the party can again become the formidable force it was in the freedom movement is to reinvent itself as a movement instead of remaining just another party. Such radical transformation requires the Congress to revert to its pre-Independence role as the principal motivator of a broad alliance of similarly motivated political entities. That broad alliance excluded only two forces—one, the forces of hindutva and, two, the agents of international communism. The latter have been domesticated and can quite easily be accommodated in a broad 21st century secular alliance. The former are as unacceptable today as they and their counterparts, the All-India Muslim League, were in the run-up to Independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is only one way of keeping the hindutva forces at bay and that is to forge a long-term alliance platform that would stop the present alarming slide into the same kind of divisive communal hatred that led to the partition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Mar 06 14:19:43 IST 2020 postcard-from-srinagar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Time was when a postcard from Srinagar meant a pretty picture of colourful shikaras on the Dal Lake or of tulips blooming in the spring and the leaves of the chinar turning golden in the autumn. The shikaras are still colourful but lie forlorn, parked along the quays while the sullen boatmen wait for the tourists who never come. The hotels are empty; the one we stayed in had only two customers, me and my colleague, O.P. Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The smart shops along the boulevard were almost all shuttered. The one in front of our hotel—M.A. Ramazan &amp; Co., “Carpets and Curios”—was open, but we never saw anyone enter or leave it. Only a few modest eateries and street vendors were in business, along with two or three Bihari boys eking out a bare living offering pedestrians channa and popcorn for a handful of coins. The loss of tourist income is estimated at Rs250 crore a day in Srinagar alone. And, yet, the Kashmiris have been told that Article 370 was removed to accelerate their income.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was pleasantly surprised at not being turned back at the airport itself. Perhaps, I said to myself, the prime minister really meant it when he invited the opposition to see for themselves the restoration of “normalcy” in the erstwhile state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, almost immediately after checking in, we went to meet Begum Khalida Shah, the 85-year-old daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, who carries memories of hosting Mahatma Gandhi. She gave us a copy of her open letter to the prime minister which contains a point-by-point rebuttal of the 23 claims made by the home minister justifying the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, without consulting the people or their elected representatives, as provided for in the Constitution. Unsurprisingly, she has not received a reply. We also learned of a novel form of detention invented to prove that “normalcy” reigns—prominent nationalist politicians and others are not formally served detention orders but are not permitted to leave their homes, and are not permitted to receive visitors without hindrance. The entire Sheikh Abdullah family is now holed up for the sin of having upheld the Indian flag for seven decades despite hundreds, perhaps thousands, of their workers falling to terrorists’ bullets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The irony is that in order to make the Kashmiri “a full Indian”, the Kashmiri has been deprived of the rights and liberties to which he or she, as an Indian, is fully entitled. One only has to see the massive security deployment, with armed soldiers stationed on both sides of the road at distances of just 10m from each other, to see how the Kashmiri is being intimidated into loyalty to the Indian state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next day, we learned the true meaning of Home Minister Amit Shah’s declaration that anyone was free to visit Kashmir. The police reached our hotel to say the meeting we had convened could not be held as Section 144 was in force. In that case, we asked, how were groups of Kashmiris press-ganged into meeting the foreign envoys the day before? Moreover, our meeting was not in the open but “closed door”. So how could Section 144 apply there? No answer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were confined to our hotel. (I have heard of “house arrest”, but does the Code of Criminal Procedure provide for “hotel arrest”?). At the gates of the hotel, a police posse was posted with orders to not let anyone in or out. The following morning, we were permitted to drive to the airport—but under police escort to ensure that we did not stray. If this is “normalcy”, what, pray, is “abnormalcy”? As a former diplomat myself, I say any ambassador who claims to have found “normalcy” in Srinagar should never have been promoted beyond third secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 22 19:36:19 IST 2020 the-school-of-protests <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I went to Paris in May 1968 to be part of the student uprising that startled the world. It fizzled out within a few months but so shook the prestige of president Charles de Gaulle that the man generally regarded as the most firmly ensconced in office in all of Europe found himself out of the Elysee Palace within 18 months of his dismissing the demonstrators as “chiens-lit” (dog faeces).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So also do I belong to the Vietnam generation that saw massive protests in US campuses. On the face of it, these student protests, which even reached the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, only consolidated president Richard Nixon’s hold on power, giving him in 1972 the largest plurality in the history of presidential elections, but so badly had the students dented his reputation that within a few months of his election victory Watergate began undermining him and he was driven from office in 1974, his name in tatters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I hear our older generation muttering about university students taking to the streets and Shaheen Bagh helping consolidation of the Hindu vote behind the BJP in the ongoing Delhi elections. But it seems to me that even if the BJP wins Delhi (unlikely as that looks at the moment), the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jawaharlal Nehru University have so damaged the image of an irremovable prime minister that Modi’s reputation as an unbeatable leader has been irretrievably stained. Within six months of his massive (and wholly unexpected) victory in the Lok Sabha polls, it seems he is going the way of all flesh. Fear of his 56-inch chest is being replaced by the mocking of his 74-inch waistline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it is not the opposition parties that either started these nationwide protests or have kept them going. It is “We, the People of India” who have taken to the streets, wrapped in the national flag, reverentially holding up the Constitution (not the Gita, the Quran Sharif, the Guru Granth Sahib or the Bible), and singing national songs from the freedom movement. They include infants and children, women whose only covering against the biting cold is the veil and the hijab and, above all, students and youth who keep a 24-hour vigil around the women who have emerged from their kitchens and courtyards as never before to demonstrate that they, too, have an opinion, a voice and the right and duty to protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot think of a better education for the young men and women who have taken time off from dry learning in their classrooms to experience the living reality of the Constitution. The daily recital of the Preamble gives more substance to the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar and the other founding fathers than any amount of pedagogy can provide. It is a daily experience of “fraternity”, without which there can be no “liberty” or “equality”, the other key cornerstones of the building of our Republic. This is true “Democracy” as felt and experienced in living reality, not learnt by rote as mere oratorical flourishes. This is true education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It does not destroy book-learning; it only enhances it. The proof of this comes to me from the theatres and parks and roundabouts of Paris 1968. One of the student leaders, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ended up as a leading member of the European Parliament; the Mauritian student hero Paul Berenger went on to become the prime minister of his country. The Vietnam protesters survived to become solid members of the most respectable echelons of American society; it was the poor GIs who suffered the traumas of war, so brilliantly captured by the novelist Philip Roth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is time enough to return to their classrooms. Our kids are learning from real life in the demonstrations. Their academic achievements will only be enhanced by being interwoven into existential reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Feb 07 12:23:45 IST 2020