பரிசாகக் கிடைத்த ஒரு லட்சம் புத்தகங்களைப் பள்ளி, கல்லூரிகளுக்கு வழங்க முடிவெடுத்திருக்கிறார் முதல்வர் மு.க.ஸ்டாலின். பொன்னாடைகளையும் பூங்கொத்துகளையும் தவிர்த்துப் புத்தகங்களைப் பரிசளியுங்கள் என்று ஐந்தாண்டுகளுக்கு முன்பு அவர் விடுத்த வேண்டுகோளுக்குக் கிடைத்திருக்கும் வெற்றி இது. பொன்னாடை போர்த்தி வரவேற்பதை ஒரு மரபாகவே நிறுவிவிட்ட திராவிட இயக்கம், இன்று புத்தகங்களைப் பரிசளிப்பதை ஒரு புதிய மரபாகத் தொடங்கிவைத்திருக்கிறது. சமூகத்தில் ஒரு பிரிவினர் தோளில் துண்டு போட உரிமை மறுக்கப்பட்ட காலத்தில் பொன்னாடை அணிவிக்கும் வழக்கம் ஒரு பண்பாட்டுப் புரட்சியாகக் கருதப்பட்டது. கல்வியே உரிமைப் போராட்டத்தின் முக்கியக் கருவியாக இருக்க முடியும் என்ற அனுபவப் பாடத்தின் விளைவாக, இன்று புத்தகங்களை நோக்கி அதன் கவனம் திரும்பியிருக்கிறது என்றும் கொள்ளலாம்.
முக்கிய நபர்களைச் சந்திக்கும்போது தானும் புத்தகங்கள் பரிசளிப்பதை வழக்கமாக வைத்திருக்கிறார் தமிழக முதல்வர். டெல்லி பயணங்களில் அவர் பரிசளித்த புத்தகங்களும் முக்கிய பேசுபொருளாயின. பிரதமர் நரேந்திர மோடியைச் சந்தித்தபோது ‘செம்மொழிச் சிற்பிகள்’ நூலையும் சோனியா காந்தியைச் சந்தித்தபோது ஆர்.பாலகிருஷ்ணனின் ‘ஜெர்னி ஆஃப் எ சிவிலைசேஷன் - இண்டஸ் டு வைகை’ நூலையும் பரிசளித்தார். டெல்லிக்குச் சென்று குடியரசுத் தலைவரைச் சந்தித்தபோது ஓவியர் மனோகர் தேவதாஸின் ‘மல்டிபிள் பேஸட்ஸ் ஆஃப் மை மதுரை’ நூலைப் பரிசளித்தார்.
சட்டமன்ற நூற்றாண்டு விழாவில் கலந்துகொள்ள சென்னை வந்த குடியரசுத் தலைவரை வரவேற்கும்போது, திருக்குறளின் ஆங்கில மொழிபெயர்ப்புடன் சி.சு.செல்லப்பா, தி.ஜானகிராமன், கி.ராஜநாராயணன், ராஜம் கிருஷ்ணன், நீல.பத்மநாபன் ஆகியோரின் நாவல்களின் ஆங்கில மொழிபெயர்ப்புகள் அடங்கிய புத்தகப் பேழையைப் பரிசளித்தார். இந்த ஆங்கில மொழிபெயர்ப்புகள் ஆக்ஸ்போர்டு யுனிவர்சிட்டி பிரஸ், பென்குயின், ஹார்ப்பர் காலின்ஸ் முதலான பிரபல பதிப்பகங்களுடன் இணைந்து, தமிழ்நாடு பாடநூல் மற்றும் கல்வியியல் பணிகள் கழகம் வெளியிட்டவை என்பது குறிப்பிடத்தக்கது. கடந்த அதிமுக ஆட்சிக் காலத்தில் வெளியிடப்பட்ட நூல்கள் என்றபோதிலும் கட்சி பேதம் காட்டாத முதல்வரின் பெருந்தன்மை பாராட்டத்தக்கது. பெரிதும் கல்வித் துறை அதிகாரிகளின் விருப்பத்தாலேயே முன்னெடுக்கப்பட்ட இந்தப் பதிப்புப் பணிகள் மேலும் வளர்த்தெடுக்கப்பட வேண்டியவை. தமிழ்நாடு பாடநூல் நிறுவனத்தால் ஏறக்குறைய 40 ஆண்டு காலமாகப் பதிப்பிக்கப்படாதிருந்த பல்துறை சார்ந்த அடிப்படைப் பாடநூல்கள் மீண்டும் மறுபதிப்பு கண்டுள்ளன. தமிழ் இணையக் கல்விக்கழகத்துடன் இணைந்து, மின்னூலாக்கம் செய்யப்பட்டு அனைவருக்கும் படிக்கக் கிடைக்கின்றன.
பெருந்தொற்றுக் காலத்தில் பொது நூலகங்கள் மூடப்பட்டிருந்தாலும்கூட இந்த மின்னூலாக்கத் திட்டங்களால் ஆய்வாளர்கள், மாணவர்கள் எனப் பலரும் தங்களது பணிகளைத் தொய்வின்றித் தொடர முடிந்தது. பாடநூல் நிறுவனத்தின் பொது நூல் பதிப்புகள், இணையக் கல்விக்கழகத்தின் மின்னூலகம் ஆகிய திட்டங்களுக்குத் தற்போதைய அரசு மென்மேலும் ஆதரவளிக்கும்பட்சத்தில் தமிழ்நாடு மட்டுமின்றி, உலகெங்கும் வாழும் தமிழர்களுக்கும் அது பெரும்பயன் அளிக்கும்.
இந்தியாவைப் பொறுத்தவரையில் விளையாட்டு என்பது சரிவரப் படிப்பு வராதவர்களுக்கான மாற்றாகவே கருதப்படுகிறது. ‘விளையாட்டு இடஒதுக்கீடு’ என்பது மதிப்புக்குரிய ஒன்றாகப் பரவலாக ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்படவில்லை. விளையாட்டுத் துறையில் நாம் பின்தங்கியிருப்பதற்கு இதுபோன்ற மனநிலையும் ஒரு காரணமே. விளையாட்டுத் திறமை உரிய வகையில் மதிக்கப்பட வேண்டும் என்பதற்கு இந்த ஒலிம்பிக் மற்றொரு சாட்சியமாகியிருக்கிறது.
படிப்பு, விளையாட்டு என இரண்டு துறைகளிலும் ஒருவர் உச்சத்தைத் தொட முடியும் என்பது நிரூபிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. இந்த ஒலிம்பிக்கில் கணிதவியல் ஆய்வாளர், மருத்துவ மாணவி, தொற்றுநோயியல் முதுகலை மாணவி ஆகியோர் பதக்கம் வென்று, இரண்டு துறைகளிலும் பரிமளித்திருக்கிறார்கள்.
அமெரிக்காவின் ஹார்வர்டு பல்கலைக்கழகத்தில் படித்த எத்தனையோ பேர் அந்நாட்டு அதிபர், ஆளுநர், நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர், நடிகர்களாக ஆகியிருக்கிறார்கள். ஆனால், ஹார்வர்டில் படித்து ஒலிம்பிக் பதக்கம் வென்ற முதல் பெண் ஆகியிருக்கிறார் கேப்ரியேலா தாமஸ். ஒலிம்பிக் மகளிர் 200 மீட்டர் ஓட்டப் போட்டியில் மூன்றாவதாக வந்து இதைச் சாதித்தார். ஃபிளாரன்ஸ் கிரிஃப்பித் ஜாய்னருக்குப் பிறகு 200 மீட்டர் ஓட்டத் தொலைவைக் குறைந்த நேரத்தில் கடந்த சாதனையை ஏற்கெனவே அவர் புரிந்திருக்கிறார்.
அமெரிக்காவின் கென்டகி பல்கலைக்கழகத்தில் மருத்துவம் படித்துவரும் வாள்வீச்சு வீராங்கனை லீ கீஃபர், ஃபாயில் பிரிவில் ஒலிம்பிக் சாம்பியன் ஆனார். அவர் வீழ்த்தியது 2016 ஒலிம்பிக் சாம்பியன் ரஷ்யாவின் இன்னா டெரிக்ளாசோவாவை. கீஃபரின் கணவர் ஜெரெக் மெய்ன்ஹார்டும் ஒரு மருத்துவ மாணவர், வாள்வீச்சு வீரரும்கூட. அவர் அணிப் பிரிவில் வெண்கலப் பதக்கம் வென்றுள்ளார்.
கேப்ரியேலாவும் கீஃபரும் மருத்துவ மாணவிகள் என்றால், ஆஸ்திரியாவைச் சேர்ந்த அன்னா கீசன்ஹோபர் கணிதவியல் ஆய்வாளர். பெண்களுக்கான நெடுந்தூர சைக்கிள் பந்தயத்தில் தங்கம் வென்றுள்ளார். கணிதத்தில் முனைவர் பட்டம் பெற்றுள்ள இவர், தற்போது லோசான் பல்கலைக்கழகத்தில் முதுமுனைவர் ஆராய்ச்சிப் படிப்பை மேற்கொண்டுவருகிறார்.
இன்றைய இளைஞர்களில் கணிசமானோர் கொண்டாட்டமோ துக்கமோ எதுவென்றாலும் மது விருந்து உண்டா என்று கேட்பது மிகவும் சாதாரண விஷயமாகிவிட்டது. அவ்வப்போது தன்னை மறக்கவும் பொழுதுபோக்காகவும் தொடங்கும் இந்த மதுப் பழக்கம், படிப்படியாகத் தன்னைத் தொட்ட மனிதனை அடிமைப்படுத்திடவே செய்கிறது. சமூக, பொருளாதார, பொதுநலப் பிரச்சினைகளை உருவாக்குவதில் குடிப்பழக்கம் பெரும் பங்கு வகிக்கிறது. ஆண்டுதோறும் நமது நாட்டில் பல்லாயிரக்கணக்கானவர்களின் மரணத்துக்கு மது அருந்துவதன் பாதிப்புகள் முக்கியக் காரணமாக இருக்கின்றன. உண்மையில், ஓர் ஆண்டின் உற்பத்தித் திறன் இழப்பும், மது அடிமை தொடர்பான உடல்நலச் செலவும் பல ஆயிரம் கோடிகளை விஞ்சிவிடுகிறது.
நீதிமன்றங்கள் அறிவுறுத்தியும்கூட சாலையோர மதுக் கடைகளின் கதவுகள் முழுமையாக மூடப்படவில்லை என்பது கவலைக்குரியது. அரசே மதுக் கடைகளை மூடினாலும் கள்ளச்சாராயமும் அதனைத் தொடர்ந்து, போலி மதுபானமும் பெருகிவிடும் என்பதும் மறுக்க முடியாத உண்மையே. குடி என்பது ஒரு நோய் என்பதை அறியாமல், போதைக்குள் மூழ்கிக்கொண்டிருக்கும் தமிழக இளைஞர்களிடம் “குடிக்க வேண்டாம்” என மருத்துவர்கள் கூறும் அறிவுரை அவர்களின் காதுகளில் கேட்பதில்லை.
குடிப் பழக்கத்துக்கு அடிமையாவதால், தனிமனிதனாகத் தன்னைச் சுற்றி சமூகத்தில் என்ன நடக்கிறது என்று உணராத விழிப்புணர்வு அற்ற நிலையில், தன்னையே அழித்துக்கொள்ளும் நிலை உருவாகிறது. மதுவால் ஏற்படும் பக்கவிளைவுகளைப் பற்றித் தெரியாமல், உற்சாகம் தரும் பொருளாக மட்டுமே அதனைக் கருதுகிறார்கள் இன்றைய இளைஞர்கள். மத்திய சமூக நீதித் துறை அமைச்சகம் சமீபத்தில் வெளியிட்டுள்ள அறிக்கையில் 7 இந்தியர்களில் ஒருவர் குடிகாரர் எனத் தெரிவித்துள்ளது. இந்திய மக்கள்தொகையில் சுமார் 15% பேர் மதுவுக்கு அடிமையாகியுள்ளனர். மதுப் பழக்கத்தால் உடல்நலம் பாதிக்கப்பட்டு, சிகிச்சை பெற்றுவருபவர்களில் உத்தர பிரதேசம், ஆந்திரம், தமிழ்நாடு போன்ற மாநிலங்கள் முன்னிலையில் உள்ளன.
சாதாரணமாக ஒருவர் குடிக்கும் மதுவில் எத்தனால் (எத்தில் ஆல்கஹால்) என்ற பொருள் அடங்கியிருக்கிறது. கலப்படம் இல்லாத எத்தனால் எரிச்சலூட்டும் ஒருவித சுவையைக் கொண்டிருக்கும். சர்க்கரை அடங்கிய பார்லி போன்ற தானியங்களையும் திராட்சை போன்ற பழங்களையும் புளிக்க வைப்பதன் மூலம் எத்தனால் தயாரிக்கப்படுகிறது. மது அருந்தும்போது அது மனிதனின் நரம்புகளைத் தளர்ச்சியடையச் செய்து, அதன்மூலம் மைய நரம்புமண்டலத்தையும் தளர்வுறச் செய்கிறது.
ஆரம்பத்தில் குடிப்பழக்கம் சிலரிடம் ஒருவித மனத் தூண்டுதலை ஏற்படுத்தும். ஆனால், தொடர்ந்து குடிப்பதால் மந்த நிலைதான் உண்டாகும். எந்த அளவுக்கு நிறையக் குடிக்கிறார்களோ அந்த அளவுக்கு அவர்களுக்கு மூளை மந்தம் ஏற்படும். மது முதலில் எண்ணங்கள், உணர்வெழுச்சி மற்றும் முடிவெடுக்கும் திறன் போன்றவற்றைப் பாதிக்கிறது. பின்பு கல்லீரல், கணையம், இதய நாள மண்டலம் போன்றவற்றையும் பாதிக்கிறது.
தொடக்கத்தில் அளவாகத் திறக்கப்பட்ட மது பாட்டில்கள் வாழ்க்கை முடியும் வரை தொடர்கின்றன. சிலருக்குக் காலை எழுந்தவுடன் ஆரம்பித்து இரவு வரை அடுத்தடுத்துத் தொடர்கிறது. எதைப் பற்றியும் கவலைப்படாமல் தெரு ஓரத்தில் தவளைகளைப் போல் விழுந்து கிடக்கும் மது அடிமைகளின் எண்ணிக்கை பெருகுவது கவலையளிக்கிறது. குடிப் பழக்கத்தால் குடும்பங்கள் சிதைந்து, ஆதரவற்ற குழந்தைகளும் கணவனால் கைவிடப்பட்ட பெண்களும் அதிகரிப்பது வேதனையானது. அடுத்த வேளை மதுவுக்காக எதை வேண்டுமானாலும் செய்யத் துணியும் மனம், அப்பழக்கத்துக்கு அடிமையானவரை நாளடைவில் ஒரு குற்றவாளியாக உருமாற்றுகிறது. இன்று நடக்கும் பெரும்பாலான சாலை விபத்துகளுக்கும் மது ஒரு காரணமாகவே இருக்கிறது.
இன்றைய இளம் தலைமுறையினரில் ஒருசிலர் தாய்மொழிப் பற்று, வாழ்க்கைமுறைக் கல்வி, குடும்ப உறவு, அரசியல் மாற்றம் மற்றும் பண்பாடு குறித்த எந்தவிதமான எண்ணங்களும் சிந்தனையும் இல்லாத தட்டையான மனநிலையிலும் நம்பிக்கையின்மை, நாடோடித்தனம், பதற்றம், சலிப்பு போன்றவை கலந்து வாழும் சூழலில் இருக்கின்றனர். இவர்களின் எதிர்காலம் பற்றிய கனவுகள் கவலையளிப்பதாக உள்ளன. இளைஞர்களின் இந்த நிலைக்கு மதுவும் போதையுமே காரணமாக இருக்கின்றன.
மதுவுக்கு அடிமையானவர்களை அடையாளம் கண்டுகொள்ள முடியும். உரையாடல்களையும் பொறுப்பு களையும் நினைவில் கொள்ளாமை, பொழுதுபோக்கு விஷயங்களில் ஆர்வம் குறைதல், மது கிடைக்காவிட்டால் அதிக எரிச்சல் அடைதல், வீட்டிலோ அலுவலகத்திலோ காரிலோ அல்லது மறைவான இடங்களிலோ மதுவைப் பதுக்கிவைத்தல், இயல்பான நிலை அல்லது நல்ல உணர்வைப் பெறுவதாக நினைத்து மீண்டும் மீண்டும் குடித்தல் போன்ற அறிகுறிகளை வைத்து எளிதில் அவர்களைக் கண்டறியலாம்.
இளைஞர்களிடம் குடிப் பழக்கம் இருக்கிறதா என்பதைக் கண்காணிக்கும் பொறுப்பு பெற்றோருக்கு இருக்கிறது. வேலைகளிலும் பொழுதுபோக்கிலும் ஆர்வமின்மை, எப்போதும் பதற்றம், சிடுசிடுப்புடன் காணப்படுதல், நட்புறவுகளில் மாற்றம், பழைய நண்பர்கள் மாறிப் புதிய நண்பர்கள் வருதல், கல்வியில் தரம் கொஞ்சம் கொஞ்சமாகக் கீழிறங்குதல் போன்ற அறிகுறிகள் இருக்கின்றனவா எனப் பெற்றோர்கள் தொடர்ந்து கண்காணிக்க வேண்டும். அதற்கு பெற்றோர்கள் தங்கள் குழந்தைகளுக்கு முன்மாதிரியாக மதுவை மறந்தவர்களாக அல்லது விரும்பாதவர்களாக இருக்க வேண்டும். மதுப் பழக்கத்தின் விளைவுகளைப் பற்றி அவர்களிடம் எடுத்துரைக்க வேண்டும்.
ஐக்கிய நாடுகளின் பாதுகாப்பு கவுன்சிலின் தலைமையை இந்த மாதம் ஏற்றிருக்கிறது இந்தியா. இந்தியா தனது 75-ஆவது சுதந்திர தினத்தைக் கொண்டாடும் ஆண்டில், சா்வதேச அமைப்பின் தலைமைப் பொறுப்பை ஏற்றிருப்பது என்பது மிகப் பெரிய கௌரவம்.
ஐநா பாதுகாப்பு கவுன்சிலின் நிரந்தரமல்லாத உறுப்பினராக இந்தியா 2021-22-க்கு தோ்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. ஆசிய பசிபிக் நாடுகளிலிருந்து தோ்ந்தெடுக்கப்படும் நிரந்தரமல்லாத முதல் உறுப்பினா் இந்தியாதான். அதுமட்டுமல்லாமல் ஐநா பாதுகாப்பு கவுன்சிலின் கூட்டத்துக்கு தலைமை தாங்கும் முதல் இந்தியப் பிரதமா் என்கிற பெருமையும், பிரதமா் நரேந்திர மோடிக்குக் கிடைத்திருக்கிறது.
சா்வதேச ஒற்றுமையையும், நல்வாழ்வையும் அடிப்படைப் பண்பாகக் கொண்டிருக்கும் இந்தியா, உலக அமைப்பின் தலைமைப் பொறுப்பை ஏற்கும் தகுதி பெற்றது என்பதில் யாருக்கும் மாற்றுக்கருத்து இருக்க முடியாது. உலகத்தை ஒரே குடும்பமாக பாவிக்கும் ‘வசுதைவ குடும்பகம்’ என்கிற கருத்தையும், ‘யாதும் ஊரே, யாவரும் கேளிா்’ என்று மனித இனத்தின் சகோதரத்துவத்தை வலியுறுத்தும் பண்பையும் கொண்ட தேசம், தலைமைப் பொறுப்பை ஏற்பது என்பது தனிச்சிறப்பு.
ஐநா சபையின் பொதுச் செயலாளா் அன்டோனியோ குட்டெரெஸ் குறிப்பிட்டிருப்பது போல சா்வதேசச் சட்டத்தின் அடிப்படைப் பாா்வையை மாற்றி அமைத்த பெருமை இந்தியாவுக்கு உண்டு. இந்தியரான ஹன்ஸா மேத்தாவின் பங்களிப்பால்தான் மனிதா்களின் உரிமைக்கு முன்னுரிமை கொடுக்காமல், சா்வதேச மனித உரிமைக் கொள்கை முன்மொழியப்பட்டது என்பதை அவா் சமீபத்தில் நினைவுகூா்ந்தாா்.
ஐநா சபை உருவானதைத் தொடா்ந்து, பல இந்தியத் தூதா்கள் அதன் வளா்ச்சிக்கும், பெருமைக்கும், செயல்பாட்டுக்கும் பங்களித்திருக்கிறாா்கள். ஐநா பொதுச்சபையின் தலைவராக இருந்த முதலாவது பெண்மணி என்கிற பெருமைக்குரியவா் இந்தியரான விஜயலட்சுமி பண்டிட்.
ஐநா சபையின் அமைதிப் படைக்கு தொடா்ந்து ராணுவத்தை அனுப்பிக் கொடுக்கும் மரபை பின்பற்றும் நாடுகளில் இந்தியா முன்னணியில் இருக்கிறது. ஐநா சபையில் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கும் பல்வேறு மாற்றங்களுக்கும், செயல்பாடுகளுக்கும், அடிப்படைக் கண்ணோட்டத்துக்கும் இந்தியாவின் பங்களிப்பை சொல்லி மாளாது.
பிரதமா் நரேந்திர மோடியும் வெளியுறவுச் செயலா் ஹா்ஷ் ஷ்ரிங்லாவும் சமீபத்தில் இந்தியாவின் வெளியுறவுக் கொள்கை குறித்த சில கருத்துகளை வெளியிட்டிருக்கிறாா்கள். உலக நன்மைக்கான சக்தியாக விளங்குவதுதான் இந்திய வெளியுறவுக் கொள்கையின் அடிப்படையாக இருக்கும் என்கிற பிரதமா் நரேந்திர மோடியின் கருத்து சா்வதேச அளவில் வழிமொழியப்பட்டு வரவேற்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. முதன்முறையாக இந்தியாவின் வெளியுறவுக் கொள்கையில் சா்வதேச கண்ணோட்டம் இணைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது என்பதும், உலகளாவிய அணுகுமுறைக்கு இந்தியா முனைந்திருப்பதும் வரவேற்புக்குரிய மிகப் பெரிய மாற்றம்.
மாா்ச் மாதம் நடந்த ‘க்வாட்’ அமைப்பின் முதலாவது உச்சிமாநாட்டில் சா்வதேசக் கூட்டணிகள் குறித்தும், அவை உலக அளவிலான நன்மையின் அடிப்படையில் செயல்பட வேண்டிய அவசியம் குறித்தும் பிரதமா் மோடி ஆற்றிய உரை கவனத்துக்குரியது. ‘தடுப்பூசிகள், பருவநிலை மாற்றம், புதிய தொழில் நுட்பங்கள் போன்றவற்றை உள்ளடக்கிய உலக அளவிலான நன்மை ‘க்வாட்’ அமைப்பின் இலக்காக இருக்க வேண்டும்’ என்பது பிரதமரின் உரையில் அடிக்கோடிடப்பட வேண்டிய வாசகம்.
அனைத்து நாடுகளையும் தமது நாடாகவும், அவற்றையெல்லாம் உள்ளடக்கிய உலகத்தைத் தனது குடும்பமாகவும், அனைத்து மக்களையும் உறவினா்களாகவும் கருதும் பாரத பூமியின் சித்தாந்தத்தை வெளிப்படுத்துவதாக அமைந்திருந்தது பிரதமரின் கூற்று. அக்டோபா் 2 காந்தி ஜயந்தியை சா்வதேச அஹிம்சை தினமாகவும், ஜூன் 21-ஆம் தேதியை சா்வதேச யோகா தினமாகவும் ஐநா சபை அறிவித்ததற்கு இந்தியாதான் காரணம். கொவைட் 19 நோய்த்தொற்றின் முதல் அலையின்போது 150 நாடுகளுக்கு தடுப்பூசி மருந்துகளை அனுப்பிக் கொடுத்தது, உலக நன்மைக்கான சக்தியாக இந்தியா இருக்கிறது என்பதன் எடுத்துக்காட்டு.
1966 ஐநா தினத்தன்று, அன்றைய பொதுச் செயலாளா் உதாண்ட்டின் அழைப்பின் பேரில் ஐநா சபையில் பாடினாா் ‘இசைக்குயில்’ எம்.எஸ். சுப்புலட்சுமி. அந்த சா்வதேச மன்றத்தில், காஞ்சி பரமாச்சாரியாா் ஸ்ரீ சந்திரசேகரேந்திர சரஸ்வதி சுவாமிகள் இயற்றிய ‘மைத்ரீம் பஜத’ என்கிற பாடலை அவா் இசைத்தாா். குறைந்த வாழ்நாள் அளவே உள்ள வாழ்க்கையில் நாம் எப்படி வாழ வேண்டும் என்பதை எடுத்தியம்பும் அந்தப் பாடல் வரிகளின் அடிப்படைக் கருத்து, ‘அனைவருக்கும் அனைத்து நன்மையும்’ - அதாவது சந்தோஷமும், செல்வமும், ஆன்மிக மேன்மையும் - கிடைக்க வேண்டும் என்பதுதான்.
அடுத்த நூறு ஆண்டுகளுக்கான சவால்களை மனித இனம் எதிா்கொள்ள வேண்டுமானால், இந்தியாவோ வேறு எந்தவொரு நாடோ தனியாக செயல்பட்டு வெற்றிகாண முடியாது. ஒன்றாக இணைந்துவிட்ட உலகத்தால் மட்டும்தான் இனிவரும் சவால்களை எதிா்கொள்ள முடியும் என்பதை கொவைட் 19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று உணா்த்தியிருக்கிறது.
அதனால், உலக அளவிலான நன்மைக்கான சக்தியாக உலகிலுள்ள அத்தனை நாடுகளும் இயங்கியாக வேண்டும். தலைமைப் பொறுப்பை ஏற்றிருக்கும் இந்தியா, ஐநா சபை மேற்கொள்ள வேண்டிய சீா்திருத்தங்களை முன்னெடுக்க வேண்டிய கட்டாயமும் இருக்கிறது.
Every great change starts with a revolutionary step. The recent decision of 14 engineering colleges across eight States to offer courses in regional languages in select branches from the new academic year (https://bit.ly/3lsPuma) marks a historic moment in the academic landscape of the country on which rests the future of succeeding generations.
Showing the way
On a parallel note, the decision of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), to permit B. Tech programmes in 11 native languages in tune with the New Education Policy (NEP), is a momentous one. This monumental move opens the door to a whole world of opportunities — to students of B.Tech courses, in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Malayalam, Bengali, Assamese, Punjabi and Odia.
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his address marking the first anniversary of the National Education Policy (NEP), hailed the move and pointed out that the NEP’s emphasis on the mother tongue as the medium of instruction will instil confidence in students from poor, rural and tribal backgrounds. Importantly, he added that even in elementary education, the mother tongue is being promoted and referred to one of the key drivers in this regard — the Vidya Pravesh programme launched on the occasion.
These remarkable steps should be welcomed and scaled up over the next few years to ensure that the dreams of millions of students seeking to pursue professional courses in their mother tongue are realised.
Interestingly, in a survey conducted by the AICTE in February this year, of over 83,000 students, nearly 44% students voted in favour of studying engineering in their mother tongue, underscoring a critical need in technical education.
The progressive and visionary NEP 2020 champions education in one’s mother tongue right from the primary school level — improving the learning outcomes of the child and the development of his/her cognitive faculties hinge upon this.
Multiple studies have proved that children who learn in their mother tongue in their early, formative years perform better than those taught in an alien language. UNESCO and other organisations have been laying emphasis on the fact that learning in the mother tongue is germane to building self-esteem and self-identity, as also the overall development of the child. Unfortunately, some educators and parents still accord unquestioned primacy to English, and resultantly, the child’s mother tongue ends up as their ‘second/third language’ in schools.
There are bubbles now
It would be pertinent to recall the words of the great Indian physicist and Nobel Laureate, Sir C.V. Raman, who, demonstrating exemplary vision, observed, “We must teach science in our mother tongue. Otherwise science will become a highbrow activity. It will not be an activity in which all people can participate... (https://bit.ly/2VvakX6).” While our educational system has seen phenomenal growth to the extent that it offers courses of international repute in engineering, medicine, law and the humanities, we have, paradoxically, excluded our own people from accessing it. Over the years, we have ended up building academic roadblocks, impeding the progress of the vast majority of our students and remained content with creating a small bubble of English-medium universities and colleges, while our own languages languish when it comes to technical and professional courses.
A cursory look at the global best practices in the medium of instruction at the level of higher education should inform us more on where we stand. Among the G20, most countries have state-of- the-art universities, with teaching being imparted in the dominant language of their people.
Take the Asian nations among them, for instance. In South Korea, nearly 70% of the universities teach in Korean, even as they aspire to play a role on the international stage. In a unique move, with the increasing craze for learning English among parents, the South Korean government, in 2018, banned the teaching of English prior to third grade in schools, since it appeared to slow pupils’ proficiency in Korean.
Similarly, in Japan, a majority of university programmes are taught in Japanese; in China too, universities use Mandarin as the medium of instruction. In Europe, France and Germany offer us great insights into how nations protect their languages. France went to the extent of having a strict ‘French- only’ policy as the medium of instruction in schools. In Germany, while the language of instruction in schools is predominantly German, even in tertiary education, more than 80% of all masters’ programmes are taught in German.
Canada showcases a sound approach to education, revealing a picture of a country with linguistic diversity. While English is the dominant medium of instruction in most provinces, in Quebec, a province with a majority French-speaking population, French is the medium of instruction in primary and secondary education in many schools, as also a number of universities.
In this global context, it is ironic that India has an overwhelming majority of professional courses being taught in English. In science, engineering, medicine and law, the situation is even bleaker, with native language courses being practically non- existent. Fortunately, we are now beginning to find our voice in our own languages.
How do we improve this grim situation? The NEP outlines the road map, demonstrating to us the means to protect our languages while improving the access and quality of our education. We must begin with imparting primary education (at least until Class 5) in the student’s mother tongue, gradually scaling it up. For professional courses, while the initiative of the 14 engineering colleges is commendable, we need more such efforts all across the country. Private universities must join hands and offer a few bilingual courses to begin with.
One of the biggest bottlenecks for more students to take up higher education in the native languages is the lack of high-quality textbooks, especially in technical courses, and this needs to be addressed urgently.
Build on these initiatives
In the digital age, technology can be suitably leveraged to increase accessibility of these Indian language courses to students in remote areas. Content in the digital learning ecosystem, still a nascent domain in our country, is greatly skewed towards English which excludes the vast majority of our children, and this has to be corrected.
A welcome development in this regard is the collaboration between the AICTE and IIT Madras to translate SWAYAM’s courses in eight regional languages such as Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam and Gujarati. This will be a major boost for engineering students and help them transition more smoothly to an English-dominated curriculum in later years. We need more such tech-led initiatives to really democratise higher education.
Laying the stress on instruction in the mother tongue is not exclusivist in nature — as I often say, one should learn as many languages as possible, but what is required is a strong foundation in the mother tongue. In other words, what I am advocating is not a ‘Mother tongue versus English’, but a ‘Mother tongue plus English’ approach. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, proficiency in different languages opens new vistas to a wider world.
Together, we must work to remove the sense of inferiority some of us display when it comes to speaking in our own languages. In the end, we must remember that if we neglect a language, not only do we lose a priceless body of knowledge but also risk depriving future generations of their cultural roots and precious social and linguistic heritage.
I hope more institutions will be encouraged and inspired in the coming years to offer courses in regional languages. India is a land of immeasurable talent. We must unlock the full potential of our youth, without letting their seeming inability to speak a foreign language impede their progress. It is against this backdrop that the decision of the 14 engineering colleges across eight States to offer courses in regional languages needs to be seen and appreciated.
M. Venkaiah Naidu is the Vice President of India
After four years, the promise of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) remains substantially unrealised. It is a far cry from the attempted avoidance of cascading and continues to be a not very transparent multi-rate system with associated difficulties in computing and assessing tax liability, tax burden and tax incidence. States have less headroom in handling GST collection shortfall after surrendering their fiscal autonomy. When the period of five years of compensation ends in 2022, will we see a continued flawed system or a freshly minted GST 2.0, given the asymmetry of the power equations between the States and the Centre?
The tax base of GST does not appear to be expanding as the recent uptick has reversed last month. The GST is strongly co-related to overall GDP. Revenue collection of the GST is dependent on the nominal growth rate of Gross Value Added (GVA) in the economy. Since inception, GVA per quarter has been between Rs. 40-lakh crore to Rs. 47-lakh crore and GST revenue has not been higher than Rs. 2.7-lakh crore to Rs. 3.1-lakh crore. The Tax to Gross value addition is only about 5% to 6.5% though GVA growth was much higher. Obviously, a very large segment is covered by exemption, composition schemes, evasion and lower tax rate.
Centre holds the cards
The fundamental weakness of the GST is its political architecture which is asymmetrically loaded in favour of the Centre. Disputes between States and between the Centre and the States are inevitable in a mosaic arrangement. But in the current structure, no particular body is tasked to adjudicate this though the original Constitution (115th Amendment) Bill 2011 (GST Bill) had a provision for such an institution. In the voting, the central government has one-third vote and States have two-thirds of total votes (with equal voting rights regardless of size and stake). With the support of a dozen small States whose total GST collection is not more than 5% of the total — and their Budget is mostly underwritten by the central government — the game is hugely in the Centre’s favour. With equal value for each States’ voting, larger and mid-sized States feel shortchanged.
Severe fiscal strain is expected when the 14% compensation comes to an end as the median growth rate of subsumed taxes is only 11%, and in many States between 5% to 10%. The median subsumed tax buoyancy is below unity. This means with 1% growth, there will be a 0.75% growth of tax. The contraction of GST revenue across the country means that the compensation amount will be higher and the clamour for a continuance of compensation scheme is inevitable.
Issues with tax structure
The second problem is the design flaws in the tax structure. Nearly 45% to 50% of commodity value is outside the purview of the GST, such as petrol and petroleum products. In addition, States which export or have inter-State transfers or mineral and fossil fuel extractions are not getting revenue as the origin States and need a compensation mechanism. The pre-existing threshold level of VAT has been tweaked too often which has led to an evaporation of tax base incentivising, enabling evasion and mis-reporting. Most trading and retail establishments, (however small) are out of the fold of the GST. At the retail level, irrespective of whether Input Tax Credit (ITC) is required or not, the burden can be passed off to the consumer. As a result, the loss could be as high as one third.
Third, exemptions from registration and taxation of the GST have further eroded the GST tax base compared to the tax base of the pre-existing VAT. Exemptions are purely distortionary and also provide a good chance to remain under the radar, thereby directly increasing evasion or misclassification. Theoretically, exemptions at the final stages reduce tax realisation. As multiple rates are charged at different stages, it goes against the lessons of GST history. This tax works well with a single uniform tax rate for all commodities and services at all stages, inputs and outputs alike. While most countries have a single rate, India stands out and is among the five countries to have four rates/slabs.
Exclusion as another issue
The fourth is that of exclusion. Petroleum products remaining outside the purview of GST has helped the Centre to increase cesses and decrease central excise, in what would otherwise have been shareable with the States. Now, States will be keen on including petrol and diesel under the GST as their share of tax goes up in the process, even if there is a special rate fixed for it.
In April 2017, cess and surcharge formed 56% and 35% of the excise duty on petrol and diesel, respectively. Now, their share has increased to 91% and 85%, respectively, and the shareable central excise has reduced by Rs. 6.5 a litre, making it Rs. 2.98 for petrol and Rs. 4.83 for diesel. Equity requires that petrol and diesel be brought under the GST. Apart from the complexity it creates in record keeping and ‘granting ITC’, in the present form it also leads to a cascading which the GST avowedly tried to avoid (https://bit.ly/3xiIhYp).
Fifth, compliance with GST return (GSTR-1) filing stipulation and the resultant tax information is not up to date. The gap in filing GSTR-1 was 33% in 2019-20 and has been increasing. As per GSTR-3B, the effective tax rate is as low as 6.5% when GSTR-1 shows an average 15% tax rate. Fraudulent claims of Input Tax Credit (ITC) because of a lack of timely reconciliation are quite high though it has come down by two thirds. Tax evasion, estimated by a National Institute of Public Finance and Policy’s paper, is at least 5% in minor States and plus 3% in the major States.
These policy gaps with regard to a higher threshold (when in sales tax, it was lower) exemption level and multiple tax rates have led to a base erosion. Policy gaps along with compliance gaps do need to be addressed. Without proper tax information, infrastructure and base, the States would go in for selective tax enforcement. In the long run, voluntary compliance will suffer and equity in taxation will be violated. Finally, the grand bargain will come apart. Given all these problems, a version 2.0 of GST may have to be designed sooner rather than later.
Satya Mohanty is a former Secretary to the Government of India
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly apparent to every country that rapid mass vaccination is the only sure way to stop the virus in its tracks. Yet, as we debate issues like vaccine inequality and vaccine nationalism, we tend somewhat to neglect the science bit, the creation of the vaccines, which happens to be the only positive element in the discourse about the pandemic. Indeed, the speed with which the vaccines to fight COVID-19 have been invented and tested is unparalleled in the history of medical science. And one interesting fact about this stunning feat of science is that several women have led it from the front.
These women of science have emerged as role models in a field of human endeavour that is still perceived as ‘masculine’ and is dominated by men in leading positions. Sarah Gilbert at the University of Oxford led the creation of AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria (known in India as Covishield). In the same league we have K. Sumathy, who steered the team behind Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Hanneke Schuitemaker, a Dutch virologist, guided the development of Janssen by Johnson & Johnson. Elena Smolyarchuk at Sechenov University led the study for Sputnik V.
A bold idea
However, the scientist who should be feted the most for her work on developing vaccines to fight COVID-19 is Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian-origin biochemist working in the U.S. Dr. Kariko has not only led the creation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is one of the most effective, but in doing so, she has also invented and perfected a new technique involving a molecule called the mRNA. This has revolutionised biotechnology, paving the way for unheard- of miracles in drug development.
The mRNA (messenger-Ribonucleic Acid) is a molecule naturally manufactured by animal cells that gives signals to cells about which proteins to make. That is, it carries to the cells vital genetic information upon which protein synthesis, one of the most critical physiological functions, thoroughly depends. Yet, no one before Dr. Kariko thought mRNA could be modified in labs to harness their code-carrying ability for triggering the manufacture of specific proteins by cells — proteins that would generate precise antibodies needed to fight particular antigens or disease-causing micro- organisms.
This idea, of tweaking the ‘message’ in the mRNA for customised signalling to cells, was simple and logical, like many breakthrough ideas in science. But it was also stunningly bold. In effect, Dr. Kariko was aiming to play God with a cellular function so foundational that it has always been taken for granted. Expectedly, her idea was treated by the whole scientific community in the U.S. as odd and improbable. It was repeatedly rejected by funding bodies, and Dr. Kariko struggled to get a grant or even a lab to work consistently on the mRNA.
Two chance encounters
Yet, she held on to her idea, working on it sporadically in shared labs, while surviving on a low-end, insecure job at the University of Pennsylvania. And this — the lack of grants or a solid professional position — meant more rejections and more isolation. Dr. Kariko was at the point of giving up when a chance encounter at a photocopy centre one morning in 1998 changed her decision. Dr. Drew Weissman, an influential biotechnologist working at UPenn, was moderately impressed by Dr. Kariko’s idea and agreed to share his lab and other resources with her.
It was here that Dr. Kariko honed the technology to modify the mRNA and tested it on mice. After an initial hiccup, she was successful. The modified mRNA was able to trigger targeted protein synthesis in mice with no negative side effects. Yet — such is the hold of convention and status on the scientific establishment — there was hardly any excitement around the invention. Dr. Kariko remained where she was and what she was until another chance meeting at a conference with Uğur Şahin, the CEO of BioNTech. Dr. Kariko, an academic, became the vice-president of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, using her technology to manufacture an influenza vaccine.
And then COVID-19 hit the world. In February 2020, when the virus was still mostly confined to China, her employer seemed to sense it was going to be much worse. He and Dr. Kariko decided to start working on a vaccine against the novel pathogen using the mRNA technology. By then BioNTech had partnered with Pfizer, and Dr. Kariko’s work led to the development of their vaccine against COVID-19. Moderna later used the same technology to develop their vaccine. Thus, Dr. Kariko’s once-derided idea led to the genesis of two of the most effective anti-COVID-19 vaccines, in the process establishing an epoch-making new technology in biomedicine.
Lessons from the invention
Dr. Kariko’s brilliance as an innovator underscores the point that women can be as good as men in science — a point that should have been well-established by now, but which is hardly the accepted view among people even in the Western world. Her revolutionary invention, one hopes, would go some way in negating sexist assumptions about women in science, not many of whom achieve such spectacular success but all of whom contribute to the collective endeavour of human science. Dr. Kariko’s career, moreover, should have a lesson for all systems of power everywhere — that when some idea challenges the norms or conventions of a system, it is the system that needs to stretch itself in order to give it a chance. Entrenched conventionality is the bane of all human endeavours, and especially of science, which is synonymous with progress.
When Dr. Kariko was invited to a vaccination site for health workers at UPenn, in December 2020, the otherwise emotionally stable woman was moved by the sight of the big crowd waiting to get a shot of her vaccine. And when the doctors broke into spontaneous clapping as she and Dr. Weissman walked past them in a hall, she gave in and “cried a bit” in joy, she told Gina Kolata ofThe New York Times. Her life’s dream, which she had been chasing since she was 22, was finally realised, and a long saga of doubt, implied insult, and unrewarded toil had come to an end. I believe Dr. Kariko deserves the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her revolutionary idea and her incredible hard work. Hers is an idea that has opened up the scope for endless possibilities in drug development.
Suparna Banerjee is an academic and commentator based in Bengal
Though probably the most equitable form of governance for multiracial, multicultural countries, there are only a few confederations in the world, such as Canada and Switzerland. India and the European Union (EU) are unions. However, India is a federation because powers are divided between the Union and the States, and the EU a supranational organisation that defies definition, with both confederal and federal aspects. It is this division of powers in India and the EU that brings the unions into conflict with their constituent parts.
Latest controversy in the EU
The EU is variously criticised as a “political dwarf”, “a hobbled giant” distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas, and an aggregate of secondary powers in search of primary status through collective agency. Despite the EU being one of the largest economies of the world, the 27 leaders squabble over issues from fisheries to budget allocations. The union finds it easier to promote universal standards in areas like climate change and food and bio-safety than domestic values. The latest controversy with Hungary and Poland on gay and lesbian rights is a case in point. Gay marriage is not recognised by Budapest and only heterosexual couples can legally adopt children. The LGBTQ law that took effect in July outlaws information perceived as promoting homosexuality or gender change to children under 18. This led to strong criticism from 17 liberal EU nations who believe the Hungarian law undermines the principle that discrimination on the basis of sexuality, ethnicity and gender is not permissible within the union.
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán has countered by proposing a national referendum on the law. He has been re-elected thrice, commands two-thirds of the legislature, and has diminished institutions designed to limit the powers of the state, such as free media, universities and an independent judiciary. Mr. Orbán also regularly frustrates EU’s unity on foreign policy, such as on refugees in 2016, opposing criticism of China’s actions in Hong Kong, and the call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Hungary was the first EU member to accept Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines before approval by the EU medicines regulator.
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to haul Hungary before the European Court of Justice over its LGBTQ law, and while there is an EU provision to remove voting rights from an offending country, penalties require unanimous agreement from EU states. This will never be forthcoming since Hungary and Poland support each other and the union cannot expel a member state without the unanimity requirement.
Poland’s Catholic-conservative governing party takes a similar stance on LGBTQ with by-laws that have designated one-third of the nation as ‘LGBT-free zones’. Budapest and Warsaw are supported by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, who condemns Brussels for imposing “imaginary European values” without paying heed to local tradition. All three countries’ leaderships have expressed doubts, and placed restrictions, on the functioning of judicial independence.
Although none of these leaders believe they can convince their EU colleagues to follow their social policies, they do not wish to separate from the union, since EU membership is supported by a huge majority. Hungary is the second-largest net beneficiary of the EU budget, receiving €5 billion more than it contributes each year. The measures introduced by the three nations are for domestic popularity in a combined population of nearly 50 million with cultural traditions different from more liberal EU member states. The crisis represents a clash of cultures, which underlines why integration towards a closer union is unlikely to materialise.
A fractious relationship
In India, the Centre and Opposition-controlled States have a historically fractious relationship. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959 dislodged the Communist government in Kerala on specious grounds. Ever since, the pattern of the Union government attempting to subvert Opposition States by stimulating defections, ordering selective raids by investigative agencies, electronic surveillance, and delaying or refusing financial entitlements has become the unsavoury norm, now taken to extremes by Hindutva ideologues in control of the Centre. The tensions between New Delhi and the Opposition-led periphery are magnified by differences in values, perceived arrogance on the part of the Centre and the victimhood card played by Opposition parties. The homogenising bias of the union clashes with the particularism unique to individual States, resulting in the clash of cultures. The term ‘cooperative federalism’, coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been reduced to an oxymoron.
Krishnan Srinivasan is a former Foreign Secretary
Recently, the Minister of Defence introduced the Essential Defence Services Bill, 2021, in the Lok Sabha to provide for the maintenance of essential defence services so as “to secure the security of nation and the life and property of the public at large” and prevent staff of the government-owned ordnance factories from going on strike. The Bill seeks to empower the government to declare services mentioned in it as “essential defence services” and prohibit strikes and lockouts in any industrial establishment or unit engaged in such services. The Minister, however, assured the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) employees that their service conditions will not be affected.
Rules and rights
This is not for the first time that strikes by government employees are being made explicitly illegal by the government. The Madhya Pradesh (and Chhattisgarh) Civil Services Rules, 1965, prohibit demonstrations and strikes by government servants and direct the competent authorities to treat the durations as unauthorised absence. A strike under this rule includes “total or partial cessation of work”, a pen-down strike, a traffic jam, or any such activity resulting in cessation or retardation of work. Other States too have similar provisions.
Under Article 33 of the Constitution, Parliament, by law, can restrict or abrogate the rights of the members of the armed forces or the forces charged with the maintenance of public order so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and maintenance of discipline among them. Thus, for the armed forces and the police, where discipline is the most important prerequisite, even the fundamental right to form an association can be restricted under Article 19(4) in the interest of public order and other considerations.
The Supreme Court inDelhi Police v. Union of India(1986) upheld the restrictions to form association by the members of the non-gazetted police force after the Police Forces (Restriction of Rights) Act, 1966, and the Rules as amended by Amendment Rules, 1970, came into effect. While the right to freedom of association is fundamental, recognition of such association is not a fundamental right. Parliament can by law regulate the working of such associations by imposing conditions and restrictions on their functions, the court held.
InT.K. Rangarajan v. Government of Tamil Nadu(2003), the Supreme Court held that the employees have no fundamental right to resort to strike. Further, there is prohibition to go on strike under the Tamil Nadu Government Servants’ Conduct Rules, 1973. Also, there is no moral or equitable justification to go on strike. The court said that government employees cannot hold the society to ransom by going on strike. In this case, about two lakh employees, who had gone on strike, were dismissed by the State government.
A police havildar was convicted of contempt of court by the sub-divisional officer, Gaya. The Gaya police, thereupon, gave notice of strike unless redress was given to the havildar and the sub-divisional officer punished. Though an inquiry was ordered immediately, the strike commenced on March 24, 1947. When some representatives of policemen met Gandhi at Jehanabad on the March 28, he told them that their strike was ill-advised. They were not mere wage-earners but the members of an essential service. They should immediately and unconditionally call off the strike. In his speech on March 27, Gandhi said that “the police... should never go on strike. Theirs was an essential service and they should render that service, irrespective of their pay. There were several other effective and honourable means of getting grievances redressed...”
There is no fundamental right to strike under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Strikes cannot be justified on any equitable ground. Strike as a weapon is mostly misused which results in chaos. Though the employees of OFB have threatened to go on strike, Parliament, which has the right to restrict even the fundamental rights of the armed forces, is well within its right to expressly prohibit resorting to strike.
R.K. Vij is a senior IPS officer in Chhattisgarh; Views are his own
The drawing down of tensions between Assam and Mizoram, at least at the leadership level, with the respective governments announcing the withdrawal of FIRs against the Chief Minister of Assam and a Rajya Sabha MP from Mizoram, among other steps, comes as a great relief. These actions followed the deaths of six policemen and a civilian from Assam in a violent gunfight in the border town of Vairengte in Mizoram on July 26, which exacerbated an already fraught situation between the States. The retaliatory actions such as filing FIRs against prominent representatives, at a time when locals in the Barak Valley in Assam had already imposed a blockade, disallowing trucks with essential goods from entering Mizoram, seemed to indicate that the States’ leaderships were throwing away their scabbards, militating against their own moves to restore calm. After all, the governments had taken the right decision to withdraw their police forces from a four-kilometre “disputed stretch” and let it be manned by central paramilitary forces till a permanent solution is found on the border question. But the “blockade” and the damage caused to the only rail line connected to Mizoram made matters tough, culminating in the Mizo Bar Association filing a PIL before the Aizawl Bench of the Gauhati High Court against the “economic blockade”. The Chief Ministers now seem committed to talks, with Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma even suggesting that his government will approach the Supreme Court to find an amicable solution. Continuing talks without recriminations is the only way out to tamp down tensions between the two States.
The situation should never have come to this. What began as a conflict between residents of the States in the border area that is disputed between them, morphed into a violent battle between police, with paramilitary forces doing little to control or halt this. Their role in stopping the violence and securing the peace in the border areas between the States will now be paramount, even as the Assam government must compel residents to avoid continuing the blockade. An impartial inquiry into the sequence of events that led to the firing incident and the deaths must also be held so that such a situation does not recur. On the question of settling the borders to the satisfaction of both States, a concerted, people-oriented approach by the respective authorities with the facilitation of the Centre can strive to achieve that instead of a purely juridical approach that seeks to address this via the States’ respective historical claims, a method that is used to settle sovereign claims. After all, both Assam and Mizoram are part of the Indian Union, and inter-State cooperation and cohesion are central to the sanctity of the federal system.
When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray, the country’s northern-most region, in November 2020, he promised it would be a short campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Seven months later, when Ethiopia declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew, Mr. Abiy was indirectly accepting defeat. Government troops are now facing serious allegations of war crimes as bodies wash up in a river in Sudan that borders Ethiopia. The federal troops had initially ousted the TPLF from Mekele, the Tigrayan capital, and established a parallel government. But the TPLF retreated to the mountains, and then struck back. In June, it recaptured Mekele, forcing the federal troops to pull back. At least in defeat, Mr. Abiy could have accepted his mistakes and sought a settlement. But instead, he announced a blockade on Tigray, with even international aid deliveries stopped. The UN says at least 3,50,000 people are facing a “severe food crisis” in the region. The TPLF says it will not stop fighting unless the government lifts the blockade and pulls back all opposing troops. The conflict has already spilled over into the Amhara and Afar regions, threatening the very regional make-up of ethnically divided Ethiopia. An influx of refugees has raised tensions with neighbouring Sudan.
Mr. Abiy, a Nobel Prize winner, went to war in Tigray as part of an ambitious plan to rewrite the country’s power balance. Since Ethiopia embraced democracy in 1995, the TPLF, which led the resistance against the military dictatorship, the ‘Derg’, had played a key role in the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Mr. Abiy, an Oromo, rose to power in 2018 amid growing ethnic tensions and protests as the EPRDF’s nominee. He ended the war with Eritrea, released political prisoners and promised more freedoms. But he also moved to end the TPLF’s clout in Addis Ababa, which led to a split in the EPRDF. He formed a different coalition, the Prosperity Party, and retained power, by cutting the TPLF off federal government networks. When a defiant TPLF challenged the government, he declared war on Tigray. He may have hoped that the federal troops could oust the TPLF from power and establish order quickly. But he seemed to have overlooked Ethiopia’s complex history of ethnic relations and the TPLF’s guerrilla warfare. The war may have helped him politically — his coalition won a huge majority in the delayed June Parliamentary elections which were held in all regions except in Tigray — but it has pushed Tigray into an endless rebellion and shaken up the country’s ethnic balance. It is time for Mr. Abiy to act like a statesman. He should stop the collective punishment of the Tigrayan people, end the blockade and be ready for talks with the TPLF for a mutually agreeable cessation of all hostilities.
Houston, August 4: Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin collected moon rocks and soil samples totalling 77 kilos — more than Irwin’s own weight — according to latest calculations by the Space Agency last night. They gathered 13 kilos on the first excursion, 35 on the second and 29 on the third. These are net weights excluding the collection bags and storage boxes. Irwin weighs 72 kg., according to NASA, Scott 79, and Alfred Worden, the third crewman, 69. Other calculations by NASA showed that the lunar Rover covered a total distance of just under 24 km. on a “straight line map” basis — not counting hills and valleys. Its mileage counting edometer on the wheels recorded a distance of about 28 km. The Apollo 15 command ship to-day ejected a satellite into moon orbit for long-term study of the lunar environment. Mission Control to-day woke up the astronauts with a rousing blast from the theme music of the science-fiction film “2001”, about a space odyssey of the future. “Apollo-15, good morning... this is Houston with a message from (composer) Richard Strauss, (British science fiction writer) Arthur C. Clarke and (movie producer) Stanley Kubrick”, Capsule Communicator Karl Henize said at 14-30 I.S.T.
What a year for Professor Sarah Gilbert. Not only was the vaccinologist, who designed the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid jab, honoured with a damehood this June, she’s now got a Barbie in her likeness. US toy maker Mattel has just released a Dame Gilbert doll, complete with red hair, glasses and a pantsuit, as one of six Barbies that pay tribute to women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Even though she described it as a little “strange”, Gilbert’s hope is that her doll will help girls realise that it is “normal” for them to aspire to STEM careers.
This would have seemed like an odd thing to say — of course, it’s normal for girls to want to be scientists, doctors and engineers — were it not for the hard facts. Around the world, STEM fields are dominated by men, even though in primary school, girls are as proficient as boys in maths and science. But as they grow older, ingrained biases, stereotypes and socio-economic pressures, especially in the developing world, steer girls away from STEM fields, sometimes even forcing them to drop out of education and forfeiting any chance at a career. According to data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, less than 30 per cent of the world’s researchers are women — the ignominy of this figure has led the UN to include “Women in science” as one of the themes for its Sustainable Development Goals.
Despite her history of promoting unrealistic beauty standards and sexist attitudes, Barbie may just be the doll for the job. Since 2016, she has come in more diverse and inclusive forms — wearing a hijab, with natural hair, in a wheelchair, and as a boxer, tractor driver and firefighter. And while the heavy lifting in the battle against gender discrimination will have to be done by governments and policymakers everywhere, Vaccinologist Barbie could show little girls everywhere that they can be whoever they want to be.
In the past four days, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has released a set of sobering figures on the Covid-19 pandemic. The decline in the country’s caseload, after the second wave peaked on May 9, slowed down considerably in early July because the infection had not abated in Kerala and other pockets in the country. Data now shows that the virus is rearing its head again. On Tuesday, the health ministry reported that the R-value — the rate at which an infected person transmits the disease — has gone beyond the danger threshold of I in seven states and UTs other than Kerala: Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, and Puducherry. Though only 44 districts have a positivity rate above 10 per cent, the fact that the country’s weekly caseload spiked by 7 per cent in the last week of July should warrant a rise in vigilance levels. The Centre has asked states to consider local-level containment strategies in districts witnessing a surge. Their prime objective should be to stop crowds from gathering at busy urban centres — the Delhi government’s crackdown on markets that violated Covid protocols in late June could be a good example to follow.
The uptick in the country’s Covid cases comes at a time when the US, Japan, Southeast Asia and parts of Europe are confronted with a fresh surge. Random changes in the contagion’s genetic code are threatening to undo the progress made in containing the pandemic’s spread. There is, however, enough evidence that the current crop of vaccines, globally in use, blunt the virulence of the new variants, limit the number of people falling gravely ill. Though India has done well to meet its July target of administering 13-crore shots, the country’s Covid challenge demands a quickening of the pace of inoculation. A little more than 55 per cent of people over the age of 60 have received one shot — about 27 per cent have received both doses. This means that a significant number of people, most vulnerable to the lethal ways of the virus, are still unprotected against the pathogen.
The government has maintained that vaccine supply will be ramped up in the next five months. Abiding by this commitment would, of course, be decisive in meeting the year-end goal of inoculating all adult Indians. In the coming weeks, increased supplies could also be crucial in helping state governments frame strategies to use the vaccine more effectively in curbing a potential surge — giving special attention to areas with a high incidence of Covid and priority to people at greater risk.
It’s two years since the Modi government announced its decision to do away with the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and the reorganisation of the state into two Union Territories. On the ground, the implementation of these momentous decisions was done through an unprecedented use of the hard instruments of state power. Thousands of political activists and leaders were arrested, and three of the state’s former chief ministers — including one who is a sitting member of Parliament — detained for months, and slapped with the Public Security Act. Some political workers are still behind bars. Internet services were disrupted for nearly 18 months. Kashmir’s media organisations were crippled, a new “media policy” was brought in. The onset of the pandemic only exacerbated the situation. The government’s justification for these methods was that it had enabled the implementation of the reorganisation measures without loss of life.
But it may be a mistake to take the apparent calm for normalcy. Kashmir has seen such calm before, only to have it rudely shattered. By all accounts, despite the promises that the changes would bring in more private sector investment and create jobs outside the government, no such visible “development” has taken place. The loss of statehood and fears of demographic change, apprehensions and insecurities regarding ethnic and cultural identity, and spectres of jobs being taken away by outsiders, stoked by the new domicile rules, have served to keep people, in Kashmir, Jammu and even Ladakh, in uncertainty. Though the number of new militants has fallen steadily, young men continue to leave home and join militant groups. An impersonal administration run by bureaucrats of the reorganised UT cadre can only add to the grounds for alienation. The yearning for political representation, which the state has lacked since the PDP- BJP government fell after the BJP pulled out of the arrangement, was evident in the turnout for the District Development Council election. At the same time, however, those elections also served to show the limits of an imagination for Kashmir that depends on a new political class and a clean slate, minted in the corridors of power in Delhi.
This is why the meeting at the end of June between the leaders of the political parties of Jammu & Kashmir with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a significant inflection point for both J&K and the Centre. It signalled that the government is perhaps ready for political accommodation. The main outcome from the meeting was a forceful reiteration by J&K’s political leadership of the demand for restoration of statehood. The government must continue the process of engagement with the political leadership of the erstwhile state, and in consultation with them, must plan for Assembly elections at the earliest. After two years of heavy-handed measures, drift and political experimentation, this is the only way forward.
On July 28, it was reported that 650 of the 8,033 Nexons — Tata Motors’ popular mini-SUV — sold in June were EVs, that is, had electricity-driven engines. This breakthrough has been ascribed to the fact that thanks to a spate of central and state government subsidies, the e-variant now costs only Rs 2 lakh more than the diesel and Rs 3 lakh more than the petrol variant. Since the running cost of the E-Nexon is only a sixth of the diesel variant, even buyers who drive as little as 40 km a day can now recover the extra capital cost of the car in just over two years in comparison with the diesel, and three years in comparison with the petrol variant.
This sounds wonderful. So has India found the way out of fossil fuels in the transport sector? Not exactly. For, a year ago, the showroom price of the basic E- Nexon was Rs 14.3 lakh and that of the diesel variant Rs 8.3 lakh. The price difference between the two was therefore not Rs 2 lakh but Rs 6 lakh. So what has enabled the Tatas to bring it down to just Rs 2-3 lakh? The answer is the hefty subsidies being offered by the central government, and the state governments of Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat.
Together, these subsidies add up to Rs 5 lakh per car. They are presently time- bound and are being offered only by five states — Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Meghalaya. But the “Keeping Up With The Joneses” effect is bound to extend these subsidies, sooner or later, to the whole of India.
The moral blindness behind this offer is breathtaking. For only one in 50 of the 2.77 million cars sold in 2020-21 cost more than Rs 10 lakh. That is the affluent fraction of the car-owning population upon which the central and state governments intend to shower these subsidies on. A complete shift to EVs will therefore transfer Rs 2,770 crore from taxpayers to this fraction every year till the government terminates these incentives.
Such a “start up” subsidy would have been justified if there had been no alternative to electricity for replacing fossil fuels in the transport sector. But there are alternatives — ethanol and methanol — whose superior quality and greater safety has made them the preferred, often the only permitted, fuels in major motor races since the 1960s. The limitations of ethanol as the sole alternative to gasoline are now well understood, but there is no such limit for methanol, which can be produced from any biomass waste from crop residues to municipal solid waste, both of which are available in abundance.
The first commercial plant to convert 1,75,000 tons of refuse-derived fuel into 45 million litres of aviation turbine fuel is being commissioned outside Reno, Nevada even as I write. It is expected to start commercial production before the end of this year. A three times larger plant is coming up at Gary, Indiana, and six more sites have been identified in other medium-sized cities.
For India, gasification holds even greater promise because simple, air-blown gasifiers are already in use in food processing that can convert rice and wheat straw into a lean fuel gas that can generate electricity and provide guaranteed 24- hour power to cold storage in every village. A by-product, biochar, is no less valuable because it can replace imported coking coal in blast furnaces or be used as a feedstock for producing transport fuels even more easily than municipal solid waste.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2021 under the title ‘Wrong Way To Clean Up’. Jha is a senior journalist and author
There is a story that in 1973 Zhou Enlai asked a young American interlocutor, “Do you think China will ever be an aggressive or an expansionist power?” The American, perhaps being polite, since these were the early days of the rapprochement, said “No.” At which point Zhou Enlai is supposed to have shot back, “Don’t count on it. It is possible. But if China were to embark on such a path, you must oppose it. And you must tell the Chinese that Zhou Enlai told you to do so.”
Rush Doshi tells this story in his brilliant, bracing and empirically rich The long game: China’s grand strategy to displace American order. The book takes on the dual mandate implied by Zhou’s remark. The first is to explain that China is indeed on its way to being an aggressive and expansionist power. It is out not just to displace the American order, but to remake the international order in its own image. The second is to think about how America might respond to Chinese ambition. The book is based on an extraordinarily deep dive into Chinese documents and sources. It may well turn out to be the one single book that distils both the Chinese approach to the world and the broad contours of Sino-American competition. The Long Road would have been a consequential book in its own right but it acquires added interest since Doshi is now China Director on Biden’s National Security Council.
The guiding thread through the book is that there is immense continuity in the Chinese approach to the world. This continuity is derived from a single-minded focus on national rejuvenation that enables China to be at the apex of the global order. The Communist Party is the vanguard of national regeneration. This rejuvenation involves not just immediate national aims, like unification with Taiwan, but a new form of order building that will be distinctively more coercive. Xi Jinping represents not so much a break with the recent history of Chinese policy, but the next logical step in its evolution. On this view, the differences between a slightly more open, less authoritarian China under Deng Xiaoping or Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping are inconsequential for world politics. The seeming difference in the Chinese approach to the world is governed by one critical factor above all else: The perception of China’s relative power in relation to the US.
On this view, the Cold War, as it were, between China and the US had already begun in 1989. The decline of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War and Tiananmen Square, heightened China’s threat perception. What is depressing is the sense the book conveys that China’s suspicion of the US is over determined. There is almost nothing the US could do to convince the Chinese of their benign intentions. There is almost a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” quality to the perception of the US. If you don’t integrate China into the world order, it is an indication of hostile intention; if you do integrate China, as the US did in allowing MFN and WTO status, it is a covert strategy to promote liberalisation and regime change.
But the actions that follow from this determined suspicion of the US are a function of an assessment of China’s relative power in the world. In an analytically sharp, if perhaps overly neat, narrative, Doshi describes the Chinese foreign policy outlook in three phases. From 1989 to 2008, China’s strategy was to blunt US power, prevent it from inflicting harm on China. Doshi shows in vivid detail how the blunting strategy works through all spheres of China’s engagement with the world: It economically engages and participates in international institutions to protect itself. Its choice of weapons, from submarines to missiles, are guided by a consciousness of its need to wage asymmetric war and ensure area denial to the US, and it politically engages the world to soften its image. From 2009, especially with the onset of the global financial crisis, China goes into a building mode. It creates its own international institutions, its military acquires more offensive capabilities, and it asserts itself more politically. It has now entered an expansionist phase, where the objective is to resolve all territorial disputes in its favour, acquire bases around the world, evict the US from Asia, and create the world order in its relatively more illiberal image. The choice of actions in all three spheres, economic, political and military, are guided by this assessment.
Doshi’s response to an assertive China is to take a leaf out of the Chinese playbook. On his view, the US needs to blunt Chinese power where it can and build where it must. The book is full of vivid detail. But it requires effectively denying China the military space, making sure the Chinese do not capture international institutions, creation of partnerships through which Chinese influence can be curtailed, and the creation of a new US industrial strategy. It is a full blown manifesto for an ongoing Cold War.
It is possible that some might not be convinced by the seemingly excessive coherence that Doshi conveys about Chinese decision-making. But the book is refreshing in not making any assumptions about potential Chinese domestic weakness, or somehow the internal social contradictions of Chinese society bubbling up to save the world from potential Chinese ambition. It presumes that the Chinese system has deep roots, will remain legitimate enough, and has the ability to self- correct to reorient its society to its national aims.
Doshi argues against American declinism. But as he notes, we are in uncharted territory in global politics, where America is encountering an adversary whose GDP is going to give America a run for its money. China is vital to shaping the future of the world order. The assessment of China is convincing. But there are two issues. The first is whether the US can execute a China-style grand strategy domestically without compromising its openness or attracting allies. It is still America First by any other name. A revitalised US democracy (increasingly looking unlikely), will of course have the power of its example. But just reiterating that China will export authoritarianism while the West will export liberal principles is too easy a narrative. The prospect of a world in which nothing can convince China that the US will not undermine it and little can convince the US that China is not expansionist, is a sobering one. This will be a bumpy ride.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2021 under the title ‘The New Cold War’. The writer is contributing editor, The Indian Express
August 1 has been declared by the government as the “Muslim Women’s Rights Day”. I ask the Minister of Minority Affairs (who I met several times during my 10-year term in the Planning Commission), “Do you really believe in this ‘day’?”
In a statement released on August 2, more than 1,000 women and men across the religious divide have called your act “cynical optics”. A popular song by the poet Hasrat Jaipuri in Basu Bhattacharya’s film, Teesri Kasam comes to mind — Sajan re jhoot mat bolo/ Khuda ke paas jana hai! (My friend, do not lie/All of us have to face God!)
In 1998, when I was a member of the National Commission for Women, I went to Darul Uloom University in Lucknow to meet Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi — popularly known as Maulana Ali Miyan — who was also chairperson of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The commission, under the guidance of Mohini Giri, had just completed holding public hearings of Muslim women in 18 places across the country. We wanted to share our findings with Maulana Ali Miyan. He received us with affection and warmth, probably because he had known my family, especially the writings of my great grandfather, India’s first feminist poet and religious and social reformer, a man by the name of Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali. He spoke a language that resonated with my understanding of Islam as a religion, which gave the highest status to women. “Then why is their condition across the country so different from what had been ordained?” I asked. He spoke of the “mindset of the quom”, of “patriarchy”, of deviation from Islamic tenets.
The NCW report, Voice of the Voiceless: Status of Muslim Women in India, in which all the above is recorded, appeared in the year 2000. It gathered dust until 2004. When the government changed, it was taken off the shelf and many programmes for Muslim women were started. During my term in the Planning Commission, I witnessed the Sachar Committee laying bare the state of Muslims, both men and women. The government launched schemes, and the Planning Commission was entrusted with oversight. Civil society was brought in right from the start, first in planning, then in implementation. The best part of this process was that no one thought in terms of the religious divide. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians worked to bring Muslims into the mainstream. Taking inspiration from Maulana Ali Miyan, his successor Maulana Mujahidul Islam Qasim and the board secretary Qasim Rasool Ilyas tried to bring Muslims into the development paradigm. This was the first time that representatives from the women’s movement sat across the table with the AIMPLB.
In the capital city, at the university campus where I live, a slogan-shouting gunman shot at protesting students. At a crowded chowk, crowds are instigated by a future Cabinet Minister — “goli maro salon ko”.
In the remotest part of India, Lakshadweep, where the population is 97 per cent Muslim, the threat of ecological destruction is unleashed by the diktat of an administrator appointed by the Centre. In Assam, it appears as though Muslims may well be denied their constitutional rights. In UP, perhaps with an eye on the 2022 polls, polarisation seems to be the order of the day — whether as calls for “love jihad”, the proposed population control Bill or the Religious Conversion Ordinance.
Our youth are incarcerated on dubious grounds — Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid , Siddique Kappan, to name a few. The honourable ministers launched the day in the name of Muslim women. Where were they when hundreds of women sat 24X7 for 100 days at Shaheen Bagh ? Did they heed their supplications? Did they salute their courage? Muslim Women Empowerment Day, did you say?
The MW (Protection of Rights on Marriage) 2019 Bill, which became law on its promulgation on August 1, remains a farce. What was its need when in 2002 the Supreme Court had already struck down instant triple talaq in the case of Shamim Ara vs Dagdu Pathan?
Scenes from the event were played out on the screens on August 1. Many hijab-wearing women were caught on camera in a meeting room, where they were being tutored about their bright future. Images of some compliant faces were flashed. Some banal sentences of praise attributed to them were seen as subtitles.
The words of the poet Suroor Barabankvi speak volumes:
Yehi log hain azal se jo fareb de rahe hain/Kabhi daal naqabein kabhi odh kar labada (These are people who have duped us for aeons/By putting on masks or wearing sacred robes)
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2021 under the title ‘The saviour complex’. The writer is former member, Planning Commission
Exactly two years ago, the Government of India decided to annul the country’s special constitutional arrangement with Jammu and Kashmir and separate Ladakh from the rest of former J&K. While the decision was welcomed by sections within the rest of the country, its multi-dimensional ramifications continue to be felt across the former state. All this was done by keeping the people of J&K under confinement. It was a big blow to democracy and the Constitution itself.
While our opposition to this unwarranted, unconstitutional assault on the basic foundations of our relationship with the Indian Union is known, I don’t want this column to be a reiteration of the same. I will use this occasion to objectively draw everyone’s attention to some of the ground developments.
Those who defended the abrogation called it imperative as it would promote gender equality and end discrimination against marginalised communities like the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in J&K. Reservation for the SC community was enshrined in the J&K constitution. On the issue of reservation for the ST, many state legislators had moved a bill in the assembly, though unsuccessfully. However, the reality is that even after reservation, the number of ST candidates in the legislature will be the same as in the last assembly. This is because of the demography of ST-dominated constituencies of J&K.
I agree that a state which was once at the forefront of progressive reforms in the subcontinent should have been more responsive to the allegation that some of the executive provisions seemingly promoted inequality of women. There is a need for the political class of J&K to introspect on these issues. At the same time, our apprehensions about the post-August 5 developments should also be heard with empathy and an open mind.
First of all, the abrogation has deepened the alienation of large sections of the population. It delegitimised the mainstream political space in J&K which has worrisome consequences for the rest of the country. In the last three decades, at great risk to our lives, we have consistently argued before the local people that a federal and secular India is the best channel that can provide dignity to our distinct Kashmiri identity. The people of J&K had opted for secular India rather than Muslim Pakistan not simply by virtue of accession, but because of the promises of building a pluralist, secular India in which the people of J&K were to have maximum autonomy. Those promises were part of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the Constitution of J&K itself. But those constitutional guarantees were gradually eroded and now fully abrogated, thereby providing an opportunity to those who wanted to undermine our relationship with the Union.
The precious space that was carved out by the sacrifices of hundreds of political activists, who were assassinated by militants, is now considerably diminished. The larger point I want to make is that in democracies, apart from constitutional, an emotional bond proves to be equally definitive in ensuring peace and prosperity. Sadly, that emotional bond stands deeply weakened.
Second, within the diverse region of J&K, the fissures continue to deepen among communities and regions. This is a subject that demands a threadbare discussion. But in the post-August 5 era, the gap has widened and it seems the executive wants to govern the two regions of J&K as de-facto separate entities of Jammu and the Kashmir valley. Even within separated Ladakh, the Buddhist-majority Leh and the Muslim-majority Kargil are now divided on religious grounds and there is no glue holding them. Connected with this is the issue of delimitation, which has merely accentuated the anxieties of people in both the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region. It seems that whatever decisions the commission takes will only deepen the mistrust among regions and communities. There are apprehensions that with Ladakh already separated, there is a design at work to execute RSS’s plan to trifurcate J&K. A resolution to this effect was adopted by the RSS at Kurukshetra in June 2002.
The Constitution is categorical that before taking any decision to tinker with the boundary of any state, consultations with the legislature of that state are required. For J&K, the bar was even higher because of Article 370. In this regard, there is already a resolution of the assembly to preserve the unity of the state of J&K and its secular character. A resolution which was moved by me on December 16, 2003 in the J&K legislature was adopted on March 3, 2004.
Incidentally, August 5 is also the birthday of the late Balraj Puri, whose work on J&K is widely respected. In the 1990s, at the height of the militancy, he had argued in his book, Kashmir Towards Insurgency, that “no Kashmir policy can succeed without taking into account the political and psychological urges of the people. The controversy over whether the policy should be tough or soft, whether it should be based on a nationalist or moral appeal, on realpolitik or ideal politics is unreal and irrelevant here. The real and relevant question is what is and what is not a correct assessment, a correct diagnosis, a correct strategy and a correct mix of force and tact. After all, Gandhi’s ideal politics had triumphed over Jinnah’s realpolitik on Kashmir.” While keeping the unity of J&K, he had consistently proposed the idea of regional autonomy with a decentralised set-up that could accommodate the diverse aspirations of various regions, sub-regions and communities that make up the mosaic of J&K.
Recently, our interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though welcome, has not generated any significant hope among the people. Though we were heard patiently, no concrete assurances were offered. Nothing seems to be moving in the direction of reducing “Dil ki dooriyan aur Dilli ki dooriyan”. Within the present context, immediate confidence building measures have to be taken. The immediate release of prisoners languishing in different jails has to be considered, ensuring protection of basic rights of movement and assembly, and putting an end to indiscriminate harassment. An immediate restoration of full statehood to J&K is the prerequisite to initiate a credible political process in the region. One of the essential lessons from the 1977 J&K assembly elections was that loyalty to India should not be construed as loyalty to the ruling party at the Centre. Democracy and national interest should not be seen as incompatible to each other.
To sum up, the engagement with J&K should draw from the complex history of the region. We should not repeat the mistakes of the past. Whatever the circumstances, all efforts should be focused on restoring the people’s confidence. The aim has to be to reduce the massive alienation of the people.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2021 under the title ‘Wrong Way To Clean Up’. The writer is the former CPI(M) MLA from J&K. He is the Convenor and Spokesperson of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration
Two years ago, India bid farewell to Articles 370 and 35 (A), marking the start of a new era in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. When the decision on 370 and 35 (A) was taken, there was happiness in most people, some experienced shock and a few felt apprehensive about the direction in which things would go. Two years later, it is important to assess whether Jammu and Kashmir is better placed than it was before August 5, 2019.
The first parameter is that of national unity. Articles 370 and 35 (A) created an unnatural and unhealthy divide in our nation. For every law passed, every rule made, we had to ascertain whether it applied to J&K or not. Today, such distinctions are history. J&K has been fully integrated with the other states and Union Territories.
The second parameter is that of democracy. By democracy, I do not refer to only state and central elections being held. I refer to a healthy culture of grassroots-level participation which was absent — rather, allowed to remain absent — for all these decades. One mistake by Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah turned the clock back in 1987 and the after-effects lingered for a long time. Since assuming office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly said that among the critical deliverables for J&K was to hold panchayat polls, which were finally held in 2020. Holding these polls came at a heavy political cost for the BJP — the party preferred to sacrifice power in the PDP alliance rather than compromise on its commitment to grassroots democracy. Despite stray comments by disruptive elements, the polls were held peacefully, and people got a taste of participative democracy. This one step will go a long way in shaping the development paradigm in Jammu and Kashmir.
The third parameter is that of peace. The memories of 2008, 2010 and 2016 are still fresh in the minds of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. An effort was made to reignite such sparks of tension after the decisions on Article 370 and 35 (A) but the Valley as well as Jammu have remained peaceful.
The fourth parameter is about people’s aspirations. It baffled every thinking person why Jammu and Kashmir should not have RTI laws and why the benefits of reservation should not be availed by its SC, ST and OBC communities. The fact that the most marginalised groups can now get reservation benefits is a major leap forward in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of J&K.
The fifth and a very important parameter is economic growth. It is an undeniable reality that the state machinery in J&K was under the stranglehold of red-tapism and corruption. The Valley is today abuzz with news of action against corruption in key departments and financial bodies in the state. Money being sent for public good was being misused by vested interest groups. The economic upliftment in the Valley began with the Prime Minister’s Package of 2015. This set the stage for extensive spending on physical and social infrastructure. With the going of 370 and 35 (A) there is great hope that tourism will pick up in the Valley. Incentives given to different sectors of the economy — be it saffron farmers or those who fish trout — combined with a largely peaceful environment is empowering many lives. With corruption and leakages drastically reduced, resources are reaching the intended beneficiaries.
The road ahead also seems filled with hope and optimism. A few weeks ago, PM Modi sat down with key stakeholders from Jammu and the Valley to discuss the path ahead. The meeting was attended by four former chief ministers of J&K, and it was held in a conducive and cooperative manner. Political activity has also picked up across Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre’s emphasis on a proper delimitation followed by full-fledged elections is in line with the commitments made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ever since the NDA government assumed office in 2014, it was clear that engagement with Jammu and Kashmir needed a fresh approach — one that widens political participation and makes space for fresh, young and aspirational voices.
The Prime Minister visited Jammu and Kashmir to extend solidarity to those affected by floods. Unlike what we saw in Uttarakhand in 2013, the flood relief was provided in a quick and transparent manner. Since then, PM Modi has made many visits to Jammu and Kashmir, including on Diwali to spend time with the troops. He has repeatedly mentioned inspiring life stories of common people from Jammu and Kashmir during his “Mann Ki Baat” programmes.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir was never easy. Sadly, the need to maintain the status quo dominated the working of previous governments. Vested interest groups loved using Kashmir as a stick to beat India’s democratic and inclusive ethos. As we enter the Amrut Mahotsav, it is for us to see the new realities in J&K. The people of the state have got the wings to fly and, in the years to come, J&K will make even greater contributions to India’s growth and development.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 5, 2021 under the title ‘In J&K, new hope’. The writer is a Union minister