Maratha issue has a boomerang effect

Maratha issue has a boomerang effect

written by Bharatkumar Raut FPJ : Even as Ram has started making waves again on the political horizon in India, in Maharashtra the powerful Maratha community has succeeded in being officially recognised as ‘backward’ and, in return, has got a Bill passed that reserves as many as 16 per cent jobs in the State government, semi-government and local self-governments, and 16 per cent reservations in educational institutions.

The Bill to this effect was passed in both houses of the State Legislature on Thursday evening and was promptly dethatched to the Governor’s House for his final consent. The governor C Vidyasagar Rao spared no time and signed the documents within 24 hours to convert the Bill into an Act. By getting the long standing demand converted into an Act, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis not only exhibited his quickness in administration but also came out winner in this powerful game. He silenced all opposition members within a minute and forced each party to stand in a row in support of the government Bill without uttering a word.

Very rarely in the parliamentary history of any state has this happened when all Opposition parties, small and big, have unitedly supported a government action, that meant to provide a huge political mileage to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — BJP and its leader Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Not that the Opposition giants like Ajit Pawar of NCP and Dhananjay Munde of the NCP, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress had any love lost for the BJP move but they found themselves in deep waters and were left with no choice but to allow being towed by the BJP. This is because the all-important Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and no political force is in a position to rub the electorate on a wrong side as any such action is feared to prove fatal in the elections.

Now uncomfortable?

Till then, Fadnavis was riding on a big horse comfortably. He was so confident that within hours after the Bill was passed in both the houses, the CM went on record to state that he had taken enough care to ensure that the Bill would not be challenged in the Court of Law. However, within next 24 hours, a challenge petition has been submitted in the Bombay High Court and the Court has put it for hearing on Monday (today).

Though Maratha organisations have promptly filed Caveat to restrict the Court from ordering any stay for the implementation of the provisions of the newest law, it is for the Court to decide now, on honouring this caveat. If the judiciary takes a view that the implementation of the provisions of the new Act be kept on hold till the arguments and counter arguments on the provisions of the petition are heard, Fadnavis’s decision would be in jeopardy and, in turn, it would not benefit the ruling party in the coming elections. Secondly, it would be difficult to predict the time frame as in the recent example; the judicial process took good 25 years to come to any verdict on the Ayodhya Ram Janmaboomi temple matter.

To bit the earlier view taken by the Supreme Court in connection with the reservation matter, Fadnavis played an intelligent trick. the Court had directed the State and the Central governments not to exceed the reservations beyond 50 per cent. Maharashtra already had 52 per cent seats ear-marked for socially and economically backward class. If the entire Maratha community was allowed to enjoy 16 per cent reservations, the reservation category would have swollen to 68 per cent.

If the State government adhered to the provisions of the new reservation policy, the number of seats under reservation would have crossed 68 per cent, thus invited action under the provisions of the insubordination by the State government. To overcome the threat, Fadnavis Government carved out another category ‘Social and Educational Backward Class’ for Marathas and brought them under reservations without tampering the existing reservations.

Will this trick work this time? If yes, the CM would emerge victorious in this risky game. But he fails at the end of the arguments; Fadnavis would be held responsible singularly and would be forced to face the music at the time of the next Assembly elections. Is the CM ready and prepared to play such a risky game? And if failed, what price he and his close confidents would pay? The answer to this question would decide not only the fate of the reservations for Marathas but also the political career of Fadnavis and his men along with the fate of the BJP.

Uncertainty & frustration

Apart from politics, what else is important in this matter is the hopes and aspirations pinned on the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. If the Maratha Reservations Act remains strangled in judicial wrangle for a longer time than desired, it would bring in an atmosphere of uncertainty and disappointment amidst Maratha youth that has worked overtime for the last three years to sustain state-wide peaceful agitation to press for the demand.

The spell of disappointment and, thus, frustration has the unfortunate potential of leading the Maratha community anywhere; from another rounds of agitations to street violence and finally an unbridgeable wide gap between the militant Marathas and the rest of the population.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

Maratha quota is vote bank politics

Maratha quota is vote bank politics

The unanimous passage in both Houses of the Maharashtra Legislature of the Bill providing for 16 per cent reservation to Marathas in Government jobs and educational institutions is a reminder that vote bank politics today permeates the entire body politic in the country. With the passage of the bill, the total reservations in the State would rise to 68 per cent, way beyond the ceiling of 50 per cent laid down by the Supreme Court in a nine-judge ruling in a 1992 case.

Barring Tamil Nadu where the ceiling was circumvented by the Centre putting specific reservations there under the Ninth Schedule which is non-justiciable, the ceiling has been zealously guarded by the judiciary in all instances of attempts to pass it over. This time it was the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by a retired judge, Justice (retired) N G Gaikwad that suggested a way to get over the ceiling by carving out a new, independent category called Socially and Educationally Backward Class under which the Marathas were classified. It now remains to be seen whether this passes muster.

The Marathas who constitute 31 per cent of Maharashtra’s population have been identified as upper castes for the last seven decades. Now, under the proposed law, they are sought to be identified as backward. The final hurdle would be conferment of status as a backward class by both Houses of Parliament after which the Bill will go for presidential assent. The Justice Gaikwad commission report favouring separate quota for the Marathas followed three previous rejections by different bodies.

The Mandal Commission report placed Marathas in the category of Forward Hindu Castes and Communities. The National Commission for Backward Classes Report in 2000 rejected Marathas claim of being backward. Again in 2008, the MSBCC “categorically rejected the demand for inclusion of Marathas as OBCs for benefits of reservation policy.” Indeed, Maharashtra is not alone in this attempt of forward castes to be included in the backward category. I

n Rajasthan and Haryana, the Jats, another forward caste is agitating for reservations and has got some assurances while in Gujarat the whole edifice of Hardik Patel’s campaign against the State government is on reservation for Patidars or Patels. The Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra has taken the populist route which will be tested in court.


Congress need not be sorry about soft Hindutva

Congress need not be sorry about soft Hindutva

written by Kay Bendict FPJ : After Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s temple hopping in Gujarat and Karnataka and his recent Amarnath yatra, party’s Madhya Pradesh manifesto promised cow sanctuaries, commercial production of “gaumutra” and cow dung, develop Ram Van Gaman Path and laws for conserving sacred rivers etc. Senior party leader C P Joshi went a step further to claim that only a Congress prime minister can build the Ayodhya temple.

Understandably, the Congress has come under attack from a section of Left, liberal and intellectual class for pandering to “Hindutva” and trying to become a BJP clone. Is the criticism justified? Has Congress discarded secularism? Why is it that even as the left-liberal commentators attack the Congress for “betraying” the secular cause, the BJP and even some regional parties are growing nervous over the Congress’ bid to reclaim its lost Hindu support base?

If the Congress has to remain relevant as a political party it ought to tweak its century-old tactics and strategy without fundamentally altering its social-liberal-secular ideology and the Left-of-Centre position. It can remain inclusive and secular even while embracing Hinduism to defang BJP’s militant and corrupted Hindutva. Politics is not as usual since 2014 and the Congress can no longer win elections playing conventional politics.

The BJP had run a successful, but pseudo campaign against Congress’s “Muslim appeasement” that the latter failed to counter. Now, as though a course correction, the Congress is attempting Hindu appeasement. The party need not be apologetic about it as long as it upholds inclusivity, human rights and secular ideals and deal with divisive forces with an iron hand if elected to power.

Some Congressmen are of the view that anti-Congressism of Muslims in the heartland played a role in getting BJP absolute majority in 2014. In 2013 the Congress strategists had identified 180 Lok Sabha seats having 20 to 50 percent Muslim votes across UP, Bihar, WB, Jharkhand, Assam and Maharashtra and miscalculated that after a “divisive” leader like Modi was projected as BJP’s PM candidate, the minority community voters would consolidate behind the Grand Old Party but that did not happen and they rooted for regional parties in many states.

In bi-polar, Hindu majority states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh the Congress got decimated due to various reasons. And these bi-polar states are now on the verge of becoming triangular with the emergence of new players much to the advantage of BJP. In Chhattisgarh renegade Congressman Ajit Jogi and BSP chief Mayawati have formed a third front that has the potential of derailing Congress’ electoral prospects.

The BSP has also been trying to emerge a third pole in MP with some generous helping from the saffron camp. The AAP has set its eyes on Rajasthan and Haryana among other states. With the emergence of YSR Congress, Andhra has a third pole. None of these parties has the potential emerge a pan-India force in the near future. More and more regional parties are good news for the political behemoth BJP.

In April this year, stung by their desire to bond together, BJP chief Amit Shah likened the Opposition parties to “snakes, mongooses, dogs and cats” struggling to save itself from the deluge unleashed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Six months later, as the Congress upped its Hindu ante and offered tough in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, the PM was forced to prune Shah’s Animal Farm. Addressing a rally in Nizambad Tuesday, Modi said Mayawati (BSP), Mamata (TMC), the Left and Akilesh (SP) are fine….”Congress is the only party which has to be banished from our country forever.” PM’s shrewd political comment praising regional leaders to isolate the Congress may not have the desired effect.

A compliment from him to these parties that depend heavily on Muslim vote is not a politically correct message. The Congress has been trying to convince the Muslims that “undependable” regional parties have time and again played footsie with BJP and Modi’s certificate to them only underlines the possibility of an open door policy post 2019.

As much as the Congress is responsible for catapulting the BJP to power, the left, liberal, intellectual and regional satraps are also equally responsible. They too contributed to the perception war against the “corrupt” Congress by joining the Anna Hazare bandwagon making the ground fertile for BJP take over. However, 2G, supposedly the mother of all scams, turned out to be a dud. The mainstream media is either co-opted or too timid to taken on the establishment. Several senior journalists including some television anchors have become unabashed cheer leaders of cultural nationalism.

Against this background the revisionist Congress tactic of wooing back the Hindus make sound political sense. Rahul Gandhi sent across a message by making as many as 27 temple trips during his Gujarat campaign (80 pc Hindus). And the Congress won 18 seats from these areas. MP has 90 pc Hindus, Rajasthan over 88 pc and Chhattisgarh 87 plus pc. In MP, making a radical change, Swami Namdev Tyagi, popularly known as Computer Baba, and several other religious leaders declared support to the Congress for the assembly elections.”When we can give fifteen years to them (the BJP), then we can surely give five years to Congress,” he told media persons.

A ToI report said CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had a past midnight 90-minute meeting with senior RSS leaders at Sangh headquarters in Bhopal on November 21 apparently “in the backdrop of negative feedback” from as many as 60 constituencies and sought Sangh help to intensify campaign.

Even as it reaches out to the Hindus, the Congress needs to reassure the Muslim community that their interests will not be sacrificed. Intellectuals do not fight elections, but are mostly on the side of winners. If the Congress wins the elections, all its sins will be forgiven. In 11 days the country will know if the Grand Old Party’s Hinduism gambit has worked in the states.

kay Bendict is an independent journalist.

Congress can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Congress can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

written by Bhavdeep Kang FPJ :The Congress’ stakes in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are much higher than the BJP’s. It is in these three states that the grand old party, head-to-head with its national rival, will prove its strength (or lack thereof) to the electorate, potential allies and its own party workers.

The BJP may well regard the assembly elections as a skirmish before the big battle in 2019, but for the Congress, it’s a matter of life-or-death. More so, because conditions could not be more conducive for the party than they are now. To muff it up would be a humiliation very hard to overcome.

The BJP faces double anti-incumbency, in addition to the double whammy of demonetisation and GST. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it also carries the burden of voter fatigue, having been in power for three terms. To make matters worse for the BJP, Rajasthan and MP saw unprecedented mobilisation by farmers in 2017. As a result, the usual angst over unemployment, agrarian distress, comparatively high oil prices and bad governance has been magnified.

That said, the Congress is famously capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. A weak party organisation and a tendency among state satraps to undermine each other has often proved expensive.Conscious of the costs of endemic infighting, Congress MP and Madhya Pradesh election-in-charge Kamal Nath has tried to carry his principle rivals, Digivijay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, with him. He may not have been the best choice of ‘face’ for the Congress, because he is a baniya in an OBC-dominated state, but he is a wily and pragmatic politician. The do-or-die feeling has permeated the party’s state unit and the state leaders appear to have buried the hatchet for now.

In Rajasthan, the in-fighting in the Congress is fortunately offset by exaggerated anti-incumbency, which had manifested as early as 2015. Unlike MP, here public anger is directed more against CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia than the centre, so much so that the Congress took the risk of fielding a turncoat, Manvendra Singh, against her. In Chhattisgarh, infighting in the Congress took its toll long before the elections, when former CM Ajit Jogi floated his own outfit. Judging from exit interviews, Jogi didn’t have much traction, which ought to be good news for the Congress.

The most interesting aspect of the campaign – apart from the revelation of the Congress president’s gotra and the party’s new-found love for the cow and other Hindu symbols – is Rahul Gandhi’s direct attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In MP, he was quite kind to incumbent CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan and other BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj, but came out all guns blazing against Modi. His ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan is aimed at undermining Modi’s scam-free credentials by alleging kickbacks in the Rafale defense deal. (The resonance with the Bofors scam that took down his late father in 1989 must be rather satisfying.)

In earlier campaigns, Rahul has tried not to confront Modi directly and in fact, sacked motor-mouth Mani Shankar Aiyer, albeit temporarily, for describing the PM as ‘neech’ during the Gujarat assembly elections. That he is now comfortable with a presidential-style face-off with Modi speaks volumes for his growing confidence. The regional parties, on the other hand, may have strong reservations about a one-on-one between Rahul and Modi in Lok Sabha 2019.

The expected Modi blitzkrieg in the three states did not materialise. The PM confined himself to just 20 or so public meetings, leaving the heavy lifting to the chief ministers and the RSS. For the latter, central India represents a tough challenge. The sangh parivar’s footprint here is strong, but its own frontal organisations and workers have been severely critical of economic policies that have impacted farmers and traders. It has had to conduct a house-to-house campaign to allay the fears of even hard-core supporters. If Chauhan, with the RSS backing him, somehow manages a fourth term in the face of such overwhelming odds, he becomes a Modi-in-the-making.

Both the national parties are aware that assembly election results are rarely reflected in the Lok Sabha. The last round of elections were exceptional, in that the BJP won all three states in 2013 and then went on to win a Lok Sabha majority in 2014. In previous elections, there has been a disconnect between assembly and Lok Sabha results. In 1998, the Congress won Rajasthan and MP, but lost Parliament in 1999. In 2003, the BJP won both states, but lost Parliament. The 2008 result was mixed – the BJP won MP while the Congress won both Rajasthan and Parliament.

In recent battles between the two parties, the BJP has emerged victorious. In Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Karnataka, it left the Congress far behind in terms of seatshare. In Tripura, it effectively replaced the Congress. This is the Congress’ golden opportunity to strike back. As Scindia said, ‘it’s now or never’.

Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with  35  years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.

Refugees: Early warning of an impending storm

Refugees: Early warning of an impending storm

written by Swapan Dasgupta FPJ : One of the most touching stories I read recently in the British press centred on the kindness and modesty of former British Prime Minister Clement Atlee. Till last week, few were aware that the understated Labour Party leader had sponsored a Jewish woman and her children and facilitated their asylum from Germany, then under the grip of Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism. He hosted the family in his home for four months and never spoke about it, even when it was politically rewarding to do so. He was part of the unspoken kindness that we often encounter from strangers, especially in foreign lands.

The issue of refugees is touchy and emotive. Historians have unearthed the enormous difficulties that Jews, intent on fleeing from certain persecution, deportation and, eventually, murder in the Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s faced formidable obstacles trying to get out and find sanctuary. Britain was said to be very inhospitable but, yet, some 80,000 Jewish refugees did manage to secure asylum in that country till the outbreak of the War. If Britain was said to be mean-spirited, the US was no better. Although some Jewish notables such as Albert Einstein made America their home, draconian immigration rules resulted in only 21,000 refugees from Europe making their way across the Atlantic between 1934 and 1943. People, although, remember the stellar role played by individuals such as Eleanor Roosevelt in getting persecuted Jews over to the US, the state as a whole was unsympathetic—this despite the fact that the US was by no means an overcrowded land.

I invoke the story of Atlee for an obvious reason. After the details of the Holocaust came to be widely known, the post-1945 attitude to refugees has veered between extreme humanitarianism and pragmatism, both compassionate and hard-headed. Germany, for understandable reasons, has been the most welcoming—a reason why its compassion has also been the most misused. Sweden, too, has an impressive record, while the Britain has always found a place for notables who found themselves on the wrong side of the political divide in their host countries.

Sri Lankan Tamils, Iranians, Vietnamese and Afghans have benefited from the humanitarianism of the West. However, as most people now agree, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow nearly a million refugees from Syria, Iraq, North Africa, not to mention those from Afghanistan and Pakistan who joined the bandwagon, was a step too far. Apart from encouraging others to somehow get to Europe, knowing they wouldn’t be turned back, it has changed the debate over refugees and, by implication, immigration.

Today, Europe is in the throes of a virulent anti-refugee backlash that has destabilised politics in Germany, Italy and all the Scandinavian countries. In another corner of the world, Australia has clamped down on those who are seen to jump the queue for entry to a country that still encourages immigration. Some countries such as Poland and Hungary have flatly defied European Union directives and closed their doors to all refugees.

This debate is not inconsequential for India. As an independent country, India began its innings by having to cope with some seven million people displaced in two wings of the country. Since then, there have been influx of smaller numbers of Indians from Burma, Tibetans from China, not to mention the uninterrupted trickle of Bengali Hindus from East Pakistan/ Bangladesh—an influx that peaked during the 1971 crisis and war. On top of that, there has been a steady flow of illegal migrants into West Bengal and Assam, and most of them can’t be called refugees by any stretch of the imagination. In the 1980s, Assam witnessed a massive ‘anti-foreigner’ movement whose political after-effects still linger.

In the past year, India finally chose to ‘enough is enough’. The demands to accommodate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India has been met with a flat refusal by India. New Delhi has, instead, focussed its attention on trying to create conditions within the Rakhine province of Myanmar that would allow the refugees to go and come from the makeshift camps in Bangladesh. Although, some Rohingyas have managed to enter India illegally, courtesy some local patronage in West Bengal, their numbers are small. However, India’s refusal to assume responsibility for another lot of refugees has incensed the NGOs and professional liberals who maintain this is against the traditions of sanctuary extended by Indian society over the ages—the example of Parsis and Jews.

At one level, the issue is about overcrowding, but more importantly, it is about the devastating impact of demographic change. Tripura is a state when refugee immigration has transformed a province dominated by tribal people into a Bengali-majority province. In Assam, there are many districts bordering Bangladesh where the indigenous Assamese people have been turned into a minority. Today, Assamese-speakers within Assam are, for the first time, in a minority. In West Bengal, the religious demography of border districts has altered dramatically and created communal tension.

India is among the few countries that has a refugee problem but no statutory guidelines for refugees. Ad-hocism, discretionary approaches and cynical vote bank politics has created absolute mayhem in eastern India. It is time to take stock before the situation becomes explosive. Today, in many places, the very integrity of Indians are being threatened by the growing clout of non-Indian illegal immigrants, a minority of whom are refugees. We are also witnessing a systematic easing out of the religious minorities from Bangladesh—a process that has nothing to do with the official policies of the Sheikh Hasina government.

These are issues that are certain to come to the surface after the dust from the Assembly elections settle down after December 11. The question is: Should India’s approach be guided by mushy emotionalism or a hard-nosed acknowledgment of national interests? This column is an early warning of an impending storm.

Swapan Dasgupta  is a senior journalist and Member of Parliament, being a presidential nominee to the Rajya Sabha.

Question for justice is duty of media and judiciary

Question for justice is duty of media and judiciary

Whoever controls either the media or the judiciary controls the mind. But when the judiciary restricts the media from resorting to leaks while reporting public trials such as corruption within the CBI, it is a sad day for democracy. This is because the judiciary and the media supplement and complement each other in championing the rights of the people.

But while the qualifications, privileges and duties of the judiciary are clearly spelt out in the Constitution, the media has no such privilege. Not many may know it, but the media enjoys the same freedom which any Indian citizen enjoys — which is nothing at all because occasionally the judiciary may force the media to reveal its sources.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi was reportedly peeved that “The Wire” had published details of CBI director Alok Verma’s reply to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner’s (CVC) top-secret report on corruption charges against him. The CJI was hearing a petition by Verma challenging the government’s decision to divest him of his powers and send him on leave. “The Wire” clarified that its exclusive article on November 17 was based on the responses given by Verma to the CVC’s questions and not in any top secret document which was leaked to them.

The Wire has the right to keep secret its sources.  The furore erupted when the CJI handed over a printout in open court to senior advocate Fali S Nariman on Monday and told him: “This is just for you. We are not giving this to you as a Counsel for the CBI director. What do you say? Would you like to help us ?” To this, Nariman, whose son is the first Supreme Court judge to be a Harvard University alumnus, said he had read about the “leak” in the morning newspapers and was upset. “The press has to be free as well as responsible. I would respectfully request your Lordships to summon editor and ask him about this (leak). How can this happen,” he said.

The first point here is that the media is a hotch-potch of different news channels and newspapers with varying ideologies and budgets. There is always internecine competition between them with each newspaper or news channel seeking to “scoop” the other. In the process, those who want to leak news to the media, while the matter is being adjudicated before the judiciary, are free to do so.

The second point is that judges are trained to analyse the evidence before them without being influenced by what the media or the public opine. Media reports and television news is not admissible as evidence in courts unless the reporter who wrote the report or presented it on television deposes before the court that it is authentic and based on eye-witness accounts.

So lecturing to the media is futile because sants and saints do not make good journalists. In any case, only if there is a deliberate attempt to obstruct the court from doing justice, the judge can issue a notice for committing contempt of court to the errant newspaper or television channel. The same judge or another judge can then hear what the reporter has to say before pronouncing sentence which cannot exceed six months in gross cases of contempt.

CJI Gogoi was the first to break protocol when he addressed the national media in Delhi on January 12, 2018 with his colleagues, Jasti Chelameswar, Kurien Joseph and Madan Lokur when they felt that “democracy was in danger”. This breaking of protocol itself proves the sincerity and honesty of all four judges. More so, when CJI Gogoi confirmed that the PIL about the mysterious death of Judge Anup Loya from Nagpur was selectively assigned to a particular bench.

In a democracy, both the judiciary and the media must remain free to make mistakes and correct them immediately. The people are eager to read about what takes place within the CBI. If there is a breach of propriety and confidentiality which prevents the Supreme Court from doing justice, the remedy is to issue a contempt notice to the errant newspaper or direct that the Press Council of India probe the matter and submit its report to the court.

CJI Ranjan Gogoi had declared at the third Ramnath Goenka memorial lecture in Delhi, six months after his historic January 12 press conference that the need of the hour was “independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges” to save democracy. He said this at a time when lawyers were all agog as to whether he would be sworn in as the next CJI for doing what was unthinkable for a judge: to address the media during court working hours.

But sometimes, journalists can be noisy and conservative judges, who are hearing sensitive cases, may not take kindly to leaks and disclosures of top secret news. Journalists use ploys to extract secret information which may not be legally correct or admissible as evidence in courts. But they, too,

try to get at the truth which quite often gets obfuscated when top CBI officers accuse each other of being corrupt. For CBI officers like deputy inspector general Manish Prasad Sinha, who was probing corruption charges against CBI special director Rakesh Asthana, may have been transferred to Nagpur to stymie hidden rot within the highest echelons of the Narendra Modi government. When the hearing on Monday was deferred to November 29, Sinha’s lawyer asked for an urgent hearing as he had “shocking information”.

When refused this urgent hearing, the “shocking information” which was again leaked to the public was that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had interfered in the probe against Asthana and a Union cabinet minister had taken bribes.
But nothing shocked the judges. For in a democracy like India, nothing shocks anyone any longer.

Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in law and is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay high court.

written by Olav Albuquerque

Will the remittances flow revive?

Will the remittances flow revive?

written by RN Bhaskar -:Four years ago, when oil prices were slipping, there were worries that remittances from foreign workers into India would decline. The reduction in oil revenues had made many countries in the Middle East shelve their development plans. There were fears that mass retrenchment of Indians working there would soon take place. The first batch of people who lost their jobs only helped intensify such fears.

Today, there are many reasons to believe that the fears may have been overstated. But the concerns still remain, and need to be addressed. But first the good news. India remained the biggest recipient of remittances in the world during 2017 (see chart). It received $69 billion as remittances and was followed by China which received $64 billion.

The Middle East accounted for a bulk of remittances. But as much as 82% of such remittances came from seven countries — UAE, the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UK and Oman.

According to the World Bank, officially recorded remittances to low and middle-income countries reached $466 billion in 2017 globally, an increase of 8.5 per cent over $429 billion in 2016. Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, grew 7 per cent to $613 billion in 2017, from $573 billion in 2016. Global remittances are expected to grow 4.6 per cent to $642 billion in 2018.

Some people also talk about how the current depreciation of the rupee will translate into higher rupee receipts. But that could be neutralised by a similar rupee value of imports into India.

The pitfalls lie elsewhere. As the World Bank points out, longer-term risks to growth of remittances include stricter immigration policies in many remittance-source countries. Also, de-risking by banks and increased regulation of money transfer operators, both aimed at reducing financial crime, continue to constrain the growth of formal remittances.

The second problem is that even though India was the largest recipient of remittances, the total amount was lower than what was received in 2014, when remittances stood at $70.39 billion. They slipped to $68.9 in 2015, and further to $62.7 the following year. 2017 saw this number revive, though not to 2014 levels.

The World Bank also highlights another concern. The global average cost of sending money back home $200 was 7.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, more than twice as high as the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of 3 per cent. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most expensive place to send money to, where the average cost is 9.4 per cent. Major barriers to reducing remittance costs are de-risking by banks and exclusive partnerships between national post office systems and money transfer operators. Hopefully, India’s foray into this area with IMPS and RuPay could help address this problem, not only for Indians, but even globally.

Within India, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu together received 58.7 per cent of the total inward remittances. The southern states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had a share of about 46 per cent or $31.74 billion (Rs 2,30,900 crore). Clearly, the South remains the spearhead of manpower exports from India.

If India has to ensure that its remittances do not flag, it has to begin scouting for other areas to which manpower exports are possible. As mentioned earlier as well, one country India should be cultivating very seriously is Russia ( Russia has the largest land resources in the world, but suffers from one of the poorest of population densities. Indians can help it exploit its mining wealth — Russia has the world’s largest reserves of gold and oil and many other minerals as well.

A beginning has already been made by the government through partnerships between the Russian oil industry and OVL, the overseas wing of ONGC.

Another mover has been made by Tata Power. In December 2015, Tata Power signed an agreement with the Russian Ministry of Far East Development for investment projects in the energy sector in that region. It will also be building a rail line linking the coalfields to the nearest port (http://www. and http:// www. asiaconverge. com/ 2017/ 04/ making-sberbank-relevant-to-india/).

Will oil gradually being phased out by solar and other renewable sources of energy; and with the global economic centre of gravity shifting eastwards, India will have to come up with new strategies to further its manpower exports. Only then will India’s remittance flow remain strong.

RN Bhaskar is consulting editor with FPJ.

A self-goal by Britain

A self-goal by Britain

One British prime minister lost his job to Brexit, another’s job appeared to be on the line at the weekend, though Theresa May could still survive, bruised and mauled. David Cameron was under no particular compulsion to poll the Brits over the country’s membership of the European Union. But an old-style politician that he was, he kept the electoral promise and lost by a narrow margin, 52 : 48 in favour of leavers. Morally wounded, he resigned. That was in June 2016. Theresa May pipped other contenders to Cameron’s post. A few months ago, in a miscalculated move she went for an early election and found the Tories’ numbers further reduced. Yet, she continued with the help of smaller groups. However, all through her tenure, the only thing that has been on the agenda of the UK is Brexit. How to leave the EU without surrendering too much to Brussels and without paying too much in compensation. It has not been easy. Cannot be when the common market bonds go back to the early 70s. Aside from the currency union, Britain has been a bona fide member

of the EU, following Brussels on common market, immigration, free movement of goods and services, etc. However, after a long-simmering movement for what they called ‘reclaim our sovereignty’, Cameron called  for a referendum. He lost his job. Now, May is hard put to retain it. At the weekend, it appeared that the turmoil in her own party might leave her wounded far more than a newly-energised Labour Party under doctrinaire socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, can ever expect to inflict. A rebellion brews within her own Cabinet and backbenchers. Five members of the government have resigned, including the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, the man in-charge of preparing the blueprint for divorce from the EU. A parallel move is on to oust her from the Tory leadership, 48 MPs are required to trigger a fresh confidence vote. It is unlikely that she would fail the majority test in the ruling party. Her real challenge comes from getting the 585-page document laying down the terms of departure from the EU through the House of Commons. Divisions within her own party and in the Labour Opposition make it hazardous to speculate the outcome. Even those opposing the current Brexit plan have no clue  what  better can  replace it. As May insists, either it is Brexit or no-deal. She most dourly stood her ground for seven hours in the Commons last week, as MPs from all sides asked piercing questions, picking holes in her plan and accused her of surrendering to Brussels. The draft document, to be approved by the 27 members-states of the EU on November  25 once the Commons say yes, is to be  enforced on March 29th next year.

But the main sticking point is a hard Northern Ireland border with the EU. Those opposed to her plan are against the soft ‘backstop’, arguing that EU rules and regulations on products and services entering the UK through the Northern Ireland border would virtually defeat the objective behind Brexit. A hard border however would reignite the Irish question and cause Brussels to put its back up. The back-up is in effect a half-way house between leaving and staying within the EU.

Until a better plan emerges during the transition period which is scheduled to end in December 2020, the ‘best plan under the circumstances’ which May offers will remain in place, that is, in case it passes the tumultuous events expected in the Commons next week. In the thrust on a soft border, another controversial part of the exit plan seems to have attracted little notice. Britain will commit to pay the EU $50 billion as part of the withdrawal agreement. Of course, even if May gets her way in Parliament, the costs of leaving the EU for Britain will be quite steep. Already, the British currency is under stress, banking shares have lost value, businesses are in a state of uncertainty. In a globalised and globalising world, the

narrow nationalist fervour, ignited by the likes of Trump, is bound to prove destabilising. Growing economic disparities and the unhindered influx of workers from the poorer parts of the EU had fuelled the Brexit fury. The relatively young and well-to-do  Britons, especially Londoners, were vehemently opposed  to leaving. The UK was divided almost evenly, but it is unlikely that either side will have reason to feel satisfied with a half-way solution as it emerged after two years of tortuous negotiations between Brussels and London. More than the EU, the UK could be staring at economic slowdown at home and a loss of diplomatic influence abroad. Now, it will woo individual countries, including India and Japan, for free-market agreements.

written by Editorial FPJ.

Review diktat on Sabarimala

Review diktat on Sabarimala

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court neither accepted nor rejected an appeal against its own order of September 28, declaring unlawful the ban on menstruating women in the age group of 10 to 50 years entering the revered Sabarimala temple in Kerala. However, a five-member bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, agreed to hear the review petitions on January 22 next year. As the fate of the review petitions challenging the lifting of the ban on entry of women remains unclear, the Sabarimala temple is set to reopen for pilgrims from Saturday, November 17.

Since the controversial September verdict, the iconic Lord Ayyappa shrine has opened for seven days on two separate occasions, both times causing law and order problems with some women activists trying to force their way while being resisted by a far bigger number of devotees. The Marxist Government of Chief Minister Pinaryi Vijayan was caught unprepared by the high tension drama that was enacted under the glare of global television news cameras. It was virtually a test of wills between the majesty of the temporal laws and the peoples’ faith in their respective gods and the different ways of worshipping them. The Sabarimala temple has a long tradition of prohibiting the entry of menstruating women to protect the celibate deity who lies in majesty in the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple complex which is normally accessible through strenuous trek through leafy and secluded paths. It is an innate part of the faith in Lord Ayyappa that devotees themselves turn celibate for a month, shun non-vegetarian food and trek bare-chested to the temple to pay obeisance to Lord Ayyappa.

In other words, strong traditions are associated with the practices and rituals at Sabarimalala temple. It is that which came under attack when a few activists challenged the ban in the apex court through a batch of PILs. The State Government of Kerala was hard put to take an unambiguous stand, especially when the management of the temple is under the direct control of government nominees. On September 28, a five-member bench, headed by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, held that the centuries-old custom was not an essential religious practice. “…the attribute of devotion to divinity cannot be subjected to the rigidity and stereotypes of gender…” The argument that the ban on menstruating women was due to the innate character of the deity which was in a state of eternal celibacy did not cut ice with the majority. However, the dissenting order by Justice Indu Malhotra upheld the ban, saying “the religious practice of restricting the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 years is in pursuance of an essential religious practice…and notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts.”

Here is the nub of the matter which the dissenting judge seems to have captured rather well. At one level, all religions are a matter of faith, individual faith, if you like. So long as a particular place of worship poses no threat to public order and peace, the State should maintain a hands-off approach. Even the state control of temple trusts was supposed to scrupulously avoid altering the way of worship, its rituals, practices, etc. Many religions, indeed many sects and sub-sects of various religious faiths, have their own peculiar ways of worship. The state in the name of gender or other civic rights cannot interfere, or at least avoid interfering as far as possible by enforcing change through the use of force. Let that change be voluntary, initiated by the devotees in view of the evolving scientific and technological changes in the society at large. Several religious places have sought to integrate technology to facilitate worship; others have opened doors to hitherto banned castes and communities. But the important thing is that in a majority of such cases change has come from within. The apex court should revisit its order and leave it to the good sense and maturity of the presiding priests of the Sabarimala temple to consider lifting the ban on menstruating women. But a forced entry of women in the age group of 10 and 50 years merely to make a point about the triumph of secularist faith over the so-called communal/religious elements will keep the agitation simmering and end up dividing the people between devotees and non-devotees of Lord Ayyappa, not a happy augury for law and order in Kerala and beyond.


Pitting Patel against Nehru as the first prime minister

Pitting Patel against Nehru as the first prime minister

written by G Ramchandram -These days there is so much heat and dust around the debate Patel vs Nehru. Narendra Modi said “Sardar Patel would have made a better prime minister than Jawaharlal Nehru. “His critics say that he is saying so to distract people from the failures of his government and to denigrate Nehru. It is important to understand his narration from a historical perspective.

Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel were the duumvirate of the transition period 1947-1950. Michael Brecher in his book Nehru: A political biography wrote: “No two leaders of any Asian nationalist movement in the twentieth century differed more than the duumvirs of the new India-in background, education, temperament, ideology, sources of power and qualities and defects of leadership.” However, there was mutual confidence in each other’s integrity and a firm belief that neither desired power per se, most important was Nehru’s deep loyalty to political comrades.

Gandhiji had named Nehru as his political heir in 1929, by opting out of the race for presidency of the Indian National Congress in favour of Nehru. He had intervened in 1946 to make Nehru the president of the Congress and persuaded Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sardar Patel to withdraw from the contest, as it was evident of transfer of power with an interim government headed by the Congress president. Gandhiji had considered Nehru modern, secular and liberal more than any other leader, who would be acceptable to all Indians of diverse background, particularly the minorities, being “identified with all of India, rather than a particular caste, language, region or religion.” As the contemporary historian, Ramachandra Guha, says, “In the elections of 1937 and 1946, he was the chief vote-gatherer for the Congress. When India became independent, he was the natural choice for Prime Minister.”

Did Pandit Nehru becoming a prime minister at that crucial period of history make a difference to India? Patel — an orthodox Hindu — was the first Congress leader to agree for the partition of India. As a home minister in the Interim Government, he had bitter experience in dealing with Finance Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. At the AICC meeting convened to vote on the proposal to partition of India, Patel said: “I fully appreciate the fears of our brothers from the Muslim-majority areas. Nobody likes the division of India. But the choice is between one division and many divisions. We must face facts. We cannot give way to emotionalism and sentimentality. I am afraid of one thing, that all our toil and hard work of these many years might go waste or prove unfruitful. Whether we like it or not, de facto Pakistan already exists in Punjab and Bengal. I would prefer a de jure Pakistan.” Thus, “Patel was an architect of partition”. And “the unification of the princely states with India was inevitable, with or without Patel.”

Similarly, Patel was willing to concede accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. V Shankar-Political Secretary to Patel — in his book My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel said, “the Sardar was content to leave the decision to the Ruler (of Jammu and Kashmir) and that if the Ruler felt that his and his State’s interest lay in accession to Pakistan, he would not stand in his way.” And if “Jinnah allowed the King (Hyderabad) and the pawn (Junagadh) to go to India, Patel might have let the Queen (Kashmir) go to Pakistan, but Jinnah rejected the deal.” The accession of Jammu & Kashmir became messy because of initial hesitation of Maharaja Hari Singh. When the raiders from Pakistan were invading Kashmir and Sringar was about to fall, he appealed to Nehru for military intervention and agreed to sign the instrument of accession.

However, taking the Kashmir issue to the UN and not driving out the invaders completely from Kashmir, which left a part of it to remain under the occupation of Pakistan, were historical blunders. On both these issues, Nehru was guided by Mountbatten and Gandhiji.

Of late, it is a fashion to denigrate Nehru. Patel had survived a massive heart attack in March 1948. His three years of service to the country would not have altered the course of history. After his death in 1950, the task of building a modern liberal democratic India fell on Nehru. It was his decision to introduce the universal adult franchise. And the first three general elections under him saw India making history as the largest democracy, with poor, illiterate and backward people choosing their governments. Nehru’s secular India had succeeded in containing the majority communalism, which he considered more dangerous as it could easily pass of as Indian nationalism. He built the dams — the modern temples — established IITs and IIMs and ensured economic development through the planning. Nehru’s India had exercised moral leadership in the community of nations. His policy of non-alignment had insulated India from getting entangled with the cold war politics.

Nehru, as the prime minister, had made a difference to India and the world. But for Nehru, “India would have gone the way in which many other newly liberated countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America went.” Bertrand Russell and Arnold Toynbee believed that the credit for existence of some pockets of democracy in Afro-Asian countries goes to Nehru’s India. Adlai Stevenson, American Ambassador to the UN, had paid a touching tribute to Nehru: “Prime Minister Nehru’s influence extended far beyond the borders of his own country. He was a leader of Asia and of all the new developing nations. And in other parts of the world as well, his name had come to be synonymous with the spiritual goals and worthy hopes of mankind. He was one of God’s great creations in our time.”

Narendra Modi, while unveiling the ‘Statue of Unity’ claimed that “his government was taking forward Patel’s legacy of unifying the nation.” The reality is, under Modi’s rule, the country is more polarised and divided on communal lines than never before. The rabble-rousers of his party and the Sangh Parivar have vitiated the social harmony. What a paradox, if Patel could exercise power independent of Nehru, today no Union minister can act independent of Modi. There is total concentration of power in his hands. Raghuram Rajan thinks “the Central government is excessively centralised,” virtually paralysing the governance.

G Ramchandram is a professor of Political Science, retired principal and an independent author.