தலையங்கம் - 09-07-2021

புதிய அமைச்சர்கள் 43 பேருடன் விரிவுபடுத்தப்பட்டுள்ள ஒன்றிய அமைச்சரவையின் சராசரி வயது 58 என்பதும் அவர்களில் 14 அமைச்சர்கள் 50 வயதுக்கும் குறைவானவர்கள் என்பதும் தற்போதைய அமைச்சரவையை இளையவர்கள் நிறைந்த அமைச்சரவையாக உணர வைத்துள்ளது. மாநிலங்களின் முன்னாள் முதல்வர்கள் நால்வர் அமைச்சரவையில் இடம்பெற்றுள்ளது ஒன்றிய-மாநிலங்களின் அரசியல் மற்றும் நிர்வாக உறவுகளில் தோன்றும் சிக்கல்களின் மீது கவனம்கொள்ளவும் சரிசெய்யவும் உதவ வேண்டும். பிற்படுத்தப்பட்ட சமூகங்களிலிருந்து 27 பேரும் பட்டியல் சாதிகளிலிருந்து 12 பேரும் பழங்குடியினரிலிருந்து 8 பேரும் மதச் சிறுபான்மையினரில் 5 பேரும் விரிவுபடுத்தப்பட்ட அமைச்சரவையில் இடம்பெற்றிருப்பது மதம் சார்ந்தும் குறிப்பிட்ட சமூகங்களின் நலன்களைச் சார்ந்தும் இயங்கிவரும் கட்சி என்ற குற்றச்சாட்டிலிருந்து பாஜகவை விடுவித்து, அதன் அனைவரையும் உள்ளடக்கிய அரசியலைப் பாராட்டுக்குரியதாக மாற்றியிருக்கிறது.

மோடியின் தலைமையிலான அமைச்சரவையில் புதிதாக ஏழு பெண் அமைச்சர்கள் இடம்பெற்றிருப்பதன் மூலமாகப் பெண் அமைச்சர்களின் எண்ணிக்கை 11 ஆக அதிகரித்துள்ளது. 2004-க்குப் பிறகு, அதிக அளவில் பெண்கள் இடம்பெற்றுள்ள அமைச்சரவை என்ற பெயரையும் தற்போது விரிவுபடுத்தப்பட்டுள்ள அமைச்சரவை பெற்றுள்ளது குறிப்பிடத்தக்கது. பெண்களுக்கான அரசியல் அதிகாரமளித்தலைப் பற்றி தீவிரமாகப் பேசிவரும் இந்நாட்களில், இது ஒரு முக்கியமான முன்னகர்வு. பெண் அமைச்சர்களாகப் பொறுப்பேற்றுள்ளவர்களும் பல்வேறுபட்ட சமூகப் படிநிலைகளைப் பிரதிநிதித்துவப்படுத்தும் வகையில் அமைந்துள்ளனர். அடுத்து வரவிருக்கும் பிஹார், வங்க சட்டமன்றத் தேர்தல்களின் முடிவுகளைப் பெண் வாக்காளர்களே பெரிதும் தீர்மானிக்கவிருக்கும் நிலையில், அதையும் கவனத்தில் கொண்டே அமைச்சரவையில் அதிக அளவில் பெண்களுக்கு இடமளிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது என்று விமர்சனங்கள் எழுந்துள்ளபோதிலும், இந்த மாற்றம் பெண்களுக்கு அதிகாரமளித்தலுக்கான நெடும் போராட்டத்தில் ஒரு முக்கியமான மைல்கல் என்பதை மறுக்க முடியாதது.

--Source: hindutamil.in

பிரதமா் நரேந்திர மோடியைப் பொருத்தவரை, அடிக்கடி அமைச்சா்களை மாற்றுவதை வழக்கமாகக் கொண்டரவல்ல. இப்போது கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பேரிடரும், அதனால் நிலைகுலைந்து போயிருக்கும் பொருளாதார நடவடிக்கைகளும், அடுத்த ஆண்டு வர இருக்கும் சில மாநிலங்களுக்கான சட்டப்பேரவைத் தோ்தல்களும், மத்திய அமைச்சரவையில் மேற்கொள்ளப்பட்டிருக்கும் மாற்றங்களுக்கு முக்கியத்துவம் ஏற்படுத்துகின்றன.

மத்திய அமைச்சரவை தலைகீழ் மாற்றத்தை சந்தித்திருக்கிறது. 12 முக்கியமான அமைச்சா்கள் அகற்றப்பட்டிருக்கிறாா்கள். 43 புதிய அமைச்சா்கள் பதவி ஏற்றிருக்கிறாா்கள். இதுவரை இருந்த மோடி அமைச்சரவைகளில், இளைய தலைமுறையினா் அதிகம் பங்கேற்கும் அமைச்சரவை இது. அமைச்சா்களின் சராசரி வயது 58. இளைஞா்களுக்கு அதிக வாய்ப்பு தரப்பட்டிருக்கும் அமைச்சரவை என்றுகூடச் சொல்லலாம்.

இளைஞா்களுக்கு முக்கியத்துவம் அளித்திருப்பது போலவே, மிகவும் பிற்படுத்தப்பட்ட, பட்டியலினத்தவா்களுக்கான ஒதுக்கீடும் அமைச்சரவை மாற்றத்தின் முக்கியமான அம்சம். புதிய அமைச்சரவையில், பிற்படுத்தப்பட்ட சமூகத்தினா் 27, பட்டியலினத்தவா்கள் 17, ஆதிவாசிகள் 8, பௌத்தா்கள் 2, முஸ்லிம், கிறிஸ்த்தவா், சீக்கியா்கள் தலா 1 என்று அனைத்துத் தரப்பினருக்கும் வாய்ப்பளித்திருப்பதில் இருந்து, அமைச்சரவை மாற்றம் குறித்துத் தீர ஆலோசிக்கப்பட்டிருப்பது தெரிகிறது.

77 உறுப்பினா்கள் கொண்ட புதிய மத்திய அமைச்சரவையில் 48 போ் ஜாதிய மேலடுக்கைச் சாராதவா்கள். அவா்களில் குறிப்பிடத்தக்க பலரும், விரைவில் சட்டப்பேரவைத் தோ்தலை எதிா்கொள்ள இருக்கும் மாநிலங்களைச் சோ்ந்தவா்கள் என்பதையும் குறிப்பிட வேண்டும். அமைச்சரவையில் இப்போது இருக்கும் உத்தர பிரதேசத்தைச் சோ்ந்த 14 அமைச்சா்களில், ஒரே ஒருவா் மட்டும்தான் பிராமண சமூகத்தைச் சோ்ந்தவா்.

மத்திய அமைச்சரவையில் மூத்த அமைச்சா்களாக இருந்த சட்ட அமைச்சா் ரவிசங்கா் பிரசாத், சுகாதாரத் துறை அமைச்சா் ஹா்ஷ் வா்தன், சுற்றுச்சூழல் அமைச்சா் பிரகாஷ் ஜாவடேகா், கல்வி அமைச்சா் ரமேஷ் போக்ரியால், ரசாயனத் துறை அமைச்சா் சதானந்த கௌடா என்று பல மூத்த அமைச்சா்களின் தலை உருளும் என்று யாரும் எதிா்பாா்த்திருக்க முடியாது. அவா்கள் இப்படி தடாலடியாக அகற்றப்பட்டிருக்க வேண்டுமா என்கிற கேள்வி எழாமல் இல்லை.

மத்திய சுகாதாரத் துறை அமைச்சா் டாக்டா் ஹா்ஷ் வா்தனை அகற்றி இருப்பது கடுமையான விமா்சனத்துக்கு வழிகோலி இருக்கிறது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றை சரியாக எதிா்கொள்ளமல் போனதும், இரண்டாம் அலைத் தொற்றை எதிா்பாா்க்காமல் இருந்ததும் அதற்குக் காரணங்களாகக் கூறப்படுகின்றன. அதேபோல, நீதிமன்றங்களின் விமா்சனங்களுக்கு ஆளானது ரவிசங்கா் பிரசாத் அகற்றப்பட்டதற்கும், ஊடகங்களில் அரசின் பெயருக்குக் களங்கம் வராமல் பாதுகாக்காதது ஜாவடேகா் நீக்கத்துக்கும் காரணமாகக் கூறப்படுகின்றன. அப்படியானால், எதிா்க்கட்சிகள் முன்வைத்த குற்றச்சாட்டுகளை அரசு ஏற்றுக்கொள்கிறது என்று பொருளாகிறது.

இதே அளவுகோலை பயன்படுத்துவதாக இருந்தால், நரேந்திர மோடி அரசின் மீதான விமா்சனங்களில் முன்னிலை வகிப்பவை பாதுகாப்பு அமைச்சகமும், நிதியமைச்சகமும்தான். எல்லையில் தொடரும் பதற்றம் தணிந்தபாடில்லை என்றும், பொருளாதாரம் சரியாகக் கையாளப்படவில்லை என்றும் விமா்சனங்கள் தொடரும்போது, அவை ஏன் கவனத்தில் கொள்ளப்படவில்லை என்று கேள்வி எழுப்ப முடியாது. அமைச்சரவை மாற்றம் என்பது பிரதமரின் தனியுரிமை.

அனைவரையும் புருவம் உயா்த்த வைத்திருப்பது பாபுல் சுப்ரியோ, தேவஸ்ரீ சௌதரி இருவரையும் அகற்றிவிட்டு, நான்கு முதன்முறை மேற்கு வங்க எம்.பி.க்களுக்கு இடமளித்திருக்கும் பிரதமரின் முடிவு. மேற்கு வங்கத்திலிருந்து பாஜக-வின் பாா்வை அகன்றுவிடவில்லை என்பதன் வெளிப்பாடு இது.

மேற்கு வங்கத்தில் பாஜக படுதோல்வி அடைந்தது என்கிற பரப்புரையை, வேறு கோணத்தில் அணுகுகிறது பாஜக. ‘ஆட்சியைப் பிடிப்போம்’ என்கிற கோஷம் காரணமாகத்தான் இடதுசாரிகளையும், காங்கிரஸையும் ஒரேயடியாக ஓரங்கட்டி நான்காம் இடத்தில் இருந்த பாஜக இப்போது வலிமையான எதிா்க்கட்சியாக மேற்கு வங்கத்தில் உயா்ந்திருக்கிறது.

மத்திய அமைச்சரவை மாற்றத்தால் தமிழகத்துக்கு என்ன பயன் என்று கேட்டால், மாநில பாஜக தலைவா் எல். முருகன் மீன்வளம் உள்ளிட்ட துறைகளின் இணையமைச்சராக நியமிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறாா். இது அவருக்குத் தரப்பட்டிருக்கும் வெகுமதியா அல்லது தமிழக பாஜகவுக்கு புதிய தலைவரை நியமிப்பதற்கான உத்தியா என்பது தெரியவில்லை.

ஏழரை கோடி மக்கள்தொகையுள்ள தமிழகத்துக்கு கேபினட் அந்தஸ்துள்ள அமைச்சரோ, தனிப் பொறுப்புடன் கூடிய அமைச்சரோ தரப்படாமல் இருப்பது நரேந்திர மோடி அரசு எந்த அளவுக்குத் தமிழகத்துக்கு முக்கியத்துவம் அளிக்கிறது என்பதன் வெளிப்பாடு என்கிற விமா்சனத்தை எழுப்புகிறது. கடந்த முறை பாஜக சாா்பில் தோ்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட போதும் பொன். ராதாகிருஷ்ணனுக்குக் கேபினட் பதவி தரப்படவில்லை என்பதை நினைவுகூரத் தோன்றுகிறது.

ஒன்றியம், தமிழ்நாடு, கூட்டாட்சி என்றெல்லாம் பேசிப் பிரிவினைவாதம் ஊக்குவிக்கப்படுகிறது என்கிற பாஜகவினரின் குற்றச்சாட்டுக்களை முனைமழுங்கச் செய்கிறது அமைச்சரவை (ஏ)மாற்றம். பிரதமருக்கும், பாஜக கட்சித் தலைமைக்கும் இது புரியாத வரையில், தமிழகம் தேசிய நீரோட்டத்தில் முழுமையாக இணையாமல்தான் தொடரும்...

--Source: dinamani.com

Last week, on Friday, the United States handed over the Bagram airbase to the Afghan authorities, marking a symbolic end to its military presence, as U.S. forces complete their withdrawal well ahead of the September 11 deadline, announced by American President Joe Biden on April 14. A familiar air of uncertainty surrounds Kabul as the Afghans ponder over the future of their land, ravaged by conflict for nearly 50 years. Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours are now faced with a new challenge — how to persuade the Taliban against overplaying their military hand?

A costly misadventure

Could anyone have predicted when the U.S. commenced its military intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001 that it would get embroiled in an endless war for 20 years and to exit safely, it would have to negotiate with the Taliban, the same entity that it went in to punish?

It has been a costly lesson. The war effort has cost $980 billion, over 2,400 U.S. soldiers (plus 1,144 allied troops) and 388 private military contractors have lost their lives. It also spent $143 billion on reconstruction; about $90 billion went for the Afghan army, police and other security forces, $36 billion for governance and economic development activities (the rest of the international community contributed an equivalent amount) and the balance on counter-narcotics and humanitarian relief works (https://bit.ly/3ADTcP7).

Yet, the real price has been paid by the Afghans. The 20-year war has claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians and nearly 70,000 Afghan security forces (a majority during the last seven years); add to it another 60,000 Afghan Taliban, and the scale of the Afghan human loss becomes evident.

There have been gains too. In 2001, there were 9,00,000 boys in school. Today, eight million children attend school and a third are girls. Literacy is up from 12% in 2002 to 35%; life expectancy from 40 to 63 years. Urbanisation is 26% and 70% of the population watch TV. From 320 miles of paved roads in 2002, today, tarred roads cover 10,000 miles. Infant mortality rates are down from 20% by over half. With a median age of 18.5 years, a majority of Afghans have grown up in a post-Taliban era. Today, they bear the brunt of 130 daily Taliban/IS Khorasan (IS-K) attacks, the highest since the U.S. ended combat operations in end-2014. Tomorrow, even these limited gains are at risk.

Taliban gains legitimacy

For U.S. President Bush, the objective was “to build a stable, strong, effectively governed Afghanistan that won’t degenerate into chaos”. As the U.S. shifted from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, shades of Vietnam began to emerge. To Hamid Karzai’s credit, he saw the writing on the wall when he protested about the night-raids and warned the Americans “to either take the fight to the safe havens and sanctuaries across the Durand Line or make peace with the Taliban” but it only soured his relations with the U.S.

Eventually, U.S. President Barack Obama diluted the objective to “preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for global terrorism”. He oversaw a successful operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden in 2011, implemented an unsuccessful military surge concluding with an end to combat operations in end-2014 and Taliban opened the Doha office in 2013.

U.S. President Donald Trump saw himself as a deal-maker and in 2018, initiated direct negotiations with the Taliban. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation) began by setting out four elements — a ceasefire, cutting ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, intra-Afghan peace talks, and, a withdrawal of all foreign military forces, declaring that “nothing is agreed till everything is agreed”. Within months, the Taliban had whittled down the U.S. demands till it got what it wanted — a withdrawal timeline not linked to the other factors. In addition, the Taliban managed to get the U.S. to push the Kabul government to release over 5,000 Taliban cadres in custody. In short, the U.S. ended up legitimising the Taliban at the expense of the government in Kabul that they had worked to create and support.

U.S. President Joe Biden was no stranger to the Afghan dossier. He was convinced that the U.S. had to exit from its quagmire of “forever wars”. The U.S. may have decided that it had no military options but the Taliban are still pushing ahead militarily.

From less than a fifth, today, over a third of Afghanistan’s over 400 districts are under Taliban control. The day after the exit from Bagram, 13 districts, in Badakhshan, Takhar, Paktia and Kandahar fell to the Taliban, adding to the 50 that have fallen since May. In many cases, the locals manning the security posts and checkpoints have just surrendered. From villages and towns, there is already a move towards the cities. Intra-Afghan talks in Doha have been in limbo for months.

Questions about the future

Gen. Austin S. Miller, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, indicated in a recent press conference, “Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if it continues on this trajectory.”Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, warned on June 30, “The truth is, today the survival, security and unity of Afghanistan is in danger....”

Ironically, the most vocal critics of the U.S. overstaying in Afghanistan and hinting that the U.S. would never leave are the ones now blaming the U.S. for a hasty and irresponsible withdrawal.

In coming months, as uncertainties mount, there will be increasing Taliban presence in the countryside as the Kabul government concentrates on ensuring security in urban areas and of the road networks. The Taliban military strategy has been to target districts that enable them to surround provincial capitals. The clutch in the northeast including Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz and Baghlan enable them to control the Afghanistan–Tajikistan border and the Wakhan corridor that links to China. In the east, they exert control in Ghazni, Zabul and Paktia while the Haqqani network is active in Khost and Paktika, and the IS-K in Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. Further south, the Taliban control large parts of Kandahar, Helmand and Farah (bordering Iran).

As the reality of the U.S. withdrawal takes hold, how events unfold by end-2021 depends on three factors. First, have the Taliban changed their ideological colours? The U.S. in recent years, and Pakistan for much longer, have been pushing this line but the Taliban leadership have given no clues about it. Related to this is the question of Taliban unity. Distances have grown between the Quetta shura, the Doha negotiators and the fighters who want to guard their individual preserves. This works as long as everyone is pursuing the military option, but when it comes to power sharing, who calls the shots? Or, does it lead to no power sharing?

Second, can the Kabul regime present a unified front? If the leaders in Kabul and the government continue sniping at each other, it will adversely impact the integrity of the chain of command of the Afghan security forces. If opportunistic leaders are tempted to strike their own deals with the Taliban, it will only hasten the collapse, and even western funding will dry up.

The Pakistan factor

Finally, is Pakistan still seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan or has it realised that a Taliban-dominated Kabul will be a magnet for its own home-grown extremists as well as those from the neighbourhood? Can it persuade the Taliban that its legitimacy will be at risk unless it shares power? Pakistan’s influence will weaken once the Rehbari Shura decides to move back from Quetta to Afghanistan.

History tells us that in Afghanistan, there have only been winners and losers, seldom any lasting compromises.

Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and presently, Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

The sudden exit of Tirath Singh Rawat as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, a development the Bharatiya Janata Party sought to explain in terms of a constitutional roadblock to being elected as a legislator within six months, has led to thickening speculation about the fate of West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, another unelected Chief Minister. In a conversation moderated byAbdus Salam, M.R. Madhavan and S.Y. Quraishi thread through precedents and procedures as all eyes are firmly fixed on the Election Commission of India (ECI)’s next moves. Edited excerpts:

Should Chief Ministers be mandatorily picked from the pool of elected MLAs? Or at the very least, should a Member of Parliament resign immediately from the House if picked to lead a State?

M.R. Madhavan:Let’s look at it from the first principles of how the Constitution is. We have a parliamentary democracy, which essentially means that whoever has the confidence of the majority of the members of the Lok Sabha, in the case of the Centre, will be the Prime Minister. It also requires that all Ministers should be a Member of Parliament (MP) or get elected within six months. Rather, it puts it in negative terms. Anybody who is a Minister and is not an MP for six months automatically stands to be disqualified from the administration. It visualises the Chief Minister as being elected by the members of the House of their own free will. And it assumes that the Chief Minister is a member. There are, of course, exceptional circumstances, especially for Ministers. Let me mention the fairly non-controversial case of Dr. Manmohan Singh in 1991 when there was a crisis, and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted him as the Finance Minister. Was that for the national public good? In hindsight, we would say yes. In the case of a Chief Minister, it becomes slightly dicey. There is a party high command, especially in the case of national parties, which decides who will become the Chief Minister. Effectively you have removed the whole concept of the person being the popular choice of the elected people. So, the Chief Minister is an indirectly elected person by the directly elected members. But now the Chief Minister dictates how each of those persons will vote, because with the anti-defection law, we have weakened that accountability mechanism drastically. What is the way out? Not very clear.

The second part of your question is much clearer. If you look at various other parts of the Constitution, it’s clear that the Constitution expects a person not to hold more than one constitutional position at a time. If you look at Article 101, it says that if a person is a member of both Houses of Parliament, he or she loses membership of one; if a person is an MP and gets elected as an MLA, or vice versa, he or she has about 14 days to resign from one.

When you are an MP and become the Chief Minister, you are the head of the executive of that State. So, what is your primary role? Is it to vote as a Member of Parliament? Or is it to be in the State and attend the State’s legislature and be accountable to it? In that at least, we should definitely amend the Constitution to say that if you are going to be the Chief Minister or a Minister of a State, you should resign your membership of another House before taking up the role. That is, one should not occupy two constitutional offices concurrently.

S.Y. Quraishi:Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing is not the issue for us to decide, because the framers of the Constitution provided for this fresh air coming from outside, if need be, with the condition that within six months they need to get elected. It’s a good provision and I feel we don’t need to tinker with it because it does restrict options. Of course, this option should be used intelligently and with full honesty, and not just to tinker with politics. And it should be used sparingly.

So, you want the door to remain open for lateral entry. Coming specifically to Tirath Singh Rawat’s case, was his election as MLA a constitutional impossibility?

SYQ:He could have easily contested the election. Didn’t he anticipate that he would have to get elected in the thick of COVID-19? To say that in the time of COVID-19 it will not be advisable to conduct elections and therefore I’m resigning is a very flimsy excuse. It is some kind of a deeper political calculation. It’s a build-up for something more serious, to create the precedent for West Bengal [bypolls] whereas the entire West Bengal [Assembly] election was held during COVID-19. And the Bihar election was held during COVID-19, and it was very well done. The ECI issued guidelines for COVID-19 before the Bihar election, which were beautiful. By then, it had the global experience of 70 countries which had conducted elections in the thick of COVID-19 and done them very well, [to learn from]. India learnt a lot from all of them, and then formulated its own guidelines. Having conducted a bigger election, what stopped the ECI from conducting a by-election in Uttarakhand? My feeling is that a scene may be created where by-elections won’t be held. This should not create a precedent — that it would be dangerous to hold a by-election.

Mamata Banerjee has four months left to get elected as an MLA. Several Opposition leaders have suggested that Mr. Rawat’s case portends a similar predicament for her. Is there reason for her to worry?

MRM:The constitutional position is clear, right? If she doesn’t get elected, she can’t be the Chief Minister. It is the job of the ECI, and not of anyone else, to ensure that there is no constitutional crisis. Let’s visualise the general election circuit for the country. In the case of a State, the Constitution still permits stopgap things like President’s Rule. What would you have done for general elections if they were due this year in the middle of the pandemic?

SYQ:I hope my apprehension is just an imagination and that it doesn’t turn out to be correct, because the election must be held. Otherwise, there will be a constitutional crisis. And it will be humanly created rather than being a gift of the Constitution. After all, a huge election was conducted recently and all went well. But in West Bengal, public meetings were happening. We were all expressing our concern then: ‘What the hell is happening? Why are you allowing such huge meetings?’ Surprisingly, the Prime Minister, instead of getting concerned looking at those crowds, in violation of his own guidelines for the whole country, was showing his excitement like a child. Those public meetings were the only undesirable thing; they should have been banned. They were eventually banned, but that decision should have been taken earlier. With the COVID-19 guidelines and their implementation ensured, there is nothing to stop the ECI from conducting the by-election for Mamata Banerjee. There should be a ban on public meetings because that is the only security risk of COVID-19. Nobody has any reason to complain because the rules apply to all parties.

Given the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic raging since early 2020, should we as a polity be flexible on constitutional and legislative deadlines?

MRM:I would say that you cannot defer the elections; you’ll have to pull them off in some manner. The U.S. did that. If you say that under extraordinary circumstances, the constitutional requirement of parliamentary elections in five years could be deferred, then you will find people figuring out ways to create extraordinary situations more and more often, and these situations will become ordinary.

The ECI has the choice, because if an election is not held, it leads to a constitutional crisis. And the ECI’s job is to ensure that there is no constitutional crisis instead of creating one. Under Section 151 of the Representation of the People Act, it is provided that if only one year is left of a House, a by-election will not be held. But it is actually at the discretion of the ECI to make an exception. And it has been making an exception only for the Chief Minister. Because in a House of 200-300, about three-four vacancies are always there. The government being allowed to fall because the ECI says it cannot hold an election... that would be the very unbecoming of the Commission. Now, in Section 151, a subsection provides that the ECI in consultation with the Central government certify that it is difficult to hold the by-election within the set period. I hope we don’t read into that.

There’s also the question of institutional resilience. What more can be done to insulate bodies such as the ECI from being seen as susceptible to external pressures?

MRM:There’s a legitimacy of a government being formed in a free and fair election, and everybody subscribes to that. If that legitimacy is undermined, we are in deep crisis. What does the legitimacy rest on? It rests on public belief and public trust in the ECI holding free and fair elections. The ECI has been a very trusted institution for a fairly long time now. Is that public trust getting bigger or not? That’s a big question.

SYQ:The ECI has a constitution designed for it to be insulated from the government. Which is why once appointed, the Chief Election Commissioner cannot be removed except through impeachment. Now, there are two reforms that we have been shouting for. The Commission is appointed by the government of the day without consulting the Opposition. It is a different matter that all the Election Commissioners appointed through this route performed very well. And we hope that it will continue to happen. But hope is not a strategy, a system has to be in place. Nowhere in the world does such a situation exist. In some countries, there is scrutiny by Parliament. In some cases, the candidates are interviewed by Parliament. The systemic change we are pleading for is that appointments should be through a collegium. And promotions should be automatic, on the basis of seniority. Second, the removal procedure of the two Election Commissioners. They are not protected, so they feel they are on probation. They’re always looking over their shoulder to see if the government is happy with them or not. That fear is absolutely dangerous and disastrous. So, that protection has to be provided. Government after government has not paid any heed to this extremely important and critical issue. And even the Supreme Court has not claimed the issue, despite its grave importance.

MRM:Today, the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] Director is appointed by a committee which includes the Chief Justice of India, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Is the ECI far more fundamental and important an institution than the head of the CBI? Obviously, yes. This would also provide greater authority to the Commission because appointments would be made after an agreement across political lines. The Central Information Commission is not a constitutional body, it is a statutory body, but appointments are through a collegium. The CBI is not even a constitutional or statutory body. Why do we have our priorities upside down?

[Rawat’s resignation] is a a build-up for something more serious, to create the precedent for West Bengal bypolls.

S.Y. Quraishi

When an officer from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) came to interrogate Father Stan Swamy last monsoon, the Jesuit sociologist, then 83, in turn asked him about police integrity, and why a father-son duo (P. Jayaraj and Bennicks) should die of custodial torture in a Tamil Nadu police lock-up. It was quintessential Fr. Swamy: unafraid, outspoken, and questioning injustice.

Fr. Swamy was sent to Taloja Jail in October 2020 in the Bhima Koregaon case, where some of his co-accused have now spent more than three years without bail or trial. All have been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), a widely misused tool for governments to criminalise lawful dissent and hold ideological opponents in prolonged incarceration. For all the talk by authorities of a terrorist conspiracy, Fr. Swamy was never interrogated in nine months of custody. His arrest in the middle of the pandemic, over two years after the first raid on his spartan one-room residence, seems like targeted viciousness.

All Indians have dignity, not just the wealthy and the privileged. This belief guided Fr. Swamy’s life-long concern for justice, as I saw in my interactions with him over the years as a journalist.

Adivasis and loss

When he first came to West Singhbhum from his native Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu in the 1970s, living among the Adivasi communities profoundly shaped him. He had told me in an interview, “I underwent an awakening, looking at Adivasi values of equality, community, and decision-making by consensus.” His work firmly rejected the prejudice of Adivasi ‘backwardness’, and tirelessly pointed out how violence and dispossession was pushed down their throats and called development: “Adivasis lived on lands full of minerals. Others took these out and enriched themselves, but Adivasis did not get anything.”

In a decade-long tenure as Director of Bengaluru’s Indian Social Institute, he trained countless grass-roots activists. He continued this work when he co-founded the Ranchi-based Bagaicha in 2006 — a centre for research, training and social action dedicated to working with Adivasi and other marginalised communities and legally empowering their struggles for justice and dignity. As long-time friends and colleagues testify, Fr. Swamy wanted it to be a place which the marginalised felt was their own. A statue of Birsa Munda and a megalith with the names of those killed in anti-displacement protests marked Bagaicha’s central ground. Its one room library contained reports, studies and files of newspaper cuttings on issues such as forced displacement, hunger deaths, extra-judicial killings and grassroots protests — a buried history of India’s democracy.

Helping hand for undertrials

When I first met Fr. Swamy in 2013, his team was immersed in efforts for poor undertrials in prisons across Jharkhand against a raging armed conflict. After three years of painstaking research based on prison visits, meeting police officials and villagers, and Right to Information Act requests, his team released a report that included the case studies of over 100 UAPA undertrials. Overwhelmingly, they were Adivasis and Dalits, and in some cases they had languished in the criminal justice system for up to 10 years. About 59% of the households of undertrials, the report found, earned under Rs. 3,000 per month and were forced to sell assets such as goats to meet bail conditions or legal expenses. Fr. Swamy also filed a public interest litigation on the basis of his team’s findings, which is still being heard in the Jharkhand High Court. As he publicly stated before his arrest, he believed that such efforts to challenge an unjust status quo led the state to target him.

Fr. Swamy’s demise has led to a public outpouring of sadness and anger at the cruelty of our criminal justice system. Ever self-effacing, he would have wanted this attention not on him but on the resource grabs that continue to inflict staggering violence against Adivasis and other marginalised groups, fill our prisons with people with little access to justice, and necessitate draconian laws such as the UAPA. To blame ‘the system’ or ‘the government’ for his death is to overlook how we are implicated in this political economy founded on dispossession, and the ever-expanding criminalisation of demands for social and environmental justice as conspiracies against the state.

Liberalisation, the oppressed

The human rights activist, K. Balagopal, had argued that an abiding legacy of liberalisation is the delegitimisation of concern for the oppressed. This is why a man who strove all his life for solidarity, fraternity and justice in real terms stands accused by our government of promoting enmity. And why his death, while foretold, transcends textual analyses of the UAPA, courtroom proceedings and prison reforms.

Fr. Swamy had one chance to appear in court, when a Bombay High Court Bench asked for him to be presented via video-conferencing from Taloja jail on the afternoon of May 21. Battling multiple ailments including Parkinson’s disease, diminished hearing, and by then COVID-19 contracted in prison, he was visibly ailing, but as always full of self-respect.

He told the court that prison conditions were steadily destroying his abilities to read, write and walk, and that he be granted bail to return to Ranchi to be with his own. In rejecting the judges’ suggestion that they send him to hospital for a few days, Fr. Swamy asserted his dignity and innocence, and registered a moral protest against being effectively made to serve a death sentence, as an indefinitely imprisoned undertrial.

As now well known, a dying man’s final wish to return to Jharkhand, to the people he loved and with whose struggles he had become one for over five decades, went unheard. These struggles will keep Father Stan Swamy’s quest for a more democratic India alive.

Chitrangada Choudhury is a journalist and on the editorial board of Article 14

Indian law on extradition is spread across the Indian Penal Code as well as various laws pertaining to narcotic drugs, Information Technology, hijacking, and so on. Procedural laws have the Code of Criminal Procedure as their backbone but there are other laws too, such as the Extradition Act, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Prevention of Money Laundering, and so on.

Investigation and prosecution

The bulk of the investigation and prosecution work happens at police stations in the States, while Central agencies take up the important cases. Central agencies have developed reasonable expertise because they are focussed only on investigation and prosecution work, whereas State police forces (except specialised wings) are engaged in law-and-order work as well as investigations. There is a tendency to close investigations once the accused have absconded, and an overwhelming tendency to bank on statements obtained from the accused or during interrogation before closing investigations. It would be interesting to know what proportion of arrest warrants obtained by investigation agencies of States pertain to persons who have absconded or are ‘wanted’, whether within India or abroad. Some police stations do initiate proceedings for attachment of property and declaration of the accused as proclaimed offenders, but the number of cases where coordinated efforts are made to pursue fugitives – domestically or internationally – are hardly documented. If the number of Red Corner Notices issued are of any indication, only about 750 such criminals are wanted by Indian agencies. The number of Blue Corner Notices issued is about 300.

Theoretically there exists a system of tracking criminals worldwide – through Interpol Notices and the sharing of immigration databases of different countries – but there is no coordinated system or database for tracking criminals or wanted persons domestically. In the absence of such a system, it is relatively easy for criminals from one police station/jurisdiction to melt into the population in any other area, almost undetected.

Requirements

The creation of a nationwide database of wanted persons, which could be accessible for police agencies, the public and others (like passport and immigration authorities), is imperative. The Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems and the National Intelligence Grid are efforts in the right direction, but more integration is desirable. Perhaps a nation-wide system of ‘Wanted Persons Notices’, similar to Interpol Notices, is required, to help track fugitives domestically. Countries like the U.S. have functional inter-State extradition and fugitive tracking systems; India needs to set up such dedicated ‘fugitive tracking units’. There needs to be enhanced integration between immigration agencies, State police agencies, Interpol-New Delhi, the External Affairs Ministry and Home Ministry and central investigation agencies. Intelligence agencies also need to pool in.

What may also help India plug loopholes is sharing its ‘wanted’ database or providing access to it to foreign embassies on a reciprocal basis or through treaties or arrangements. All this will help detect possible plans of criminals to abscond abroad.

Signing of more bilateral and multilateral conventions on criminal matters would help plug legal infirmities. Signing bilateral agreements on cooperation in policing matters would also help. All relevant legal processes and requirements should be incorporated into one consolidated law on international cooperation.

The entire gamut of activities pertaining to fugitives, from investigation to extradition, needs to be incorporated into a specialised set-up with an Integrated International Cooperation Division (IICD) at the top. The IICD should have linkages with proposed fugitive tracking units at the State level. This would ensure that requisite expertise and forward-and-backward linkages are created. Making systems watertight would deter criminals from hoodwinking the law.

Rupin Sharma is an IPS officer

The reconstitution of the Union Council of Ministers on Wednesday was guided by both political and administrative considerations. As many as 36 new faces were inducted and 12 dropped from the council, which now has 78 members, just three shy of the upper limit of 81. In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began its rule advertising its 45-member Council of Ministers as an attempt at minimum government, but the restraint was quietly abandoned in the following years. The political aspirations of communities and regions are difficult to satiate in a country as vast and diverse as India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an attempt to make his Council more diverse and representative, in a manner that fits his political priorities. The new composition of the Council is in step with the BJP’s relentless efforts to rope in OBC groups, Dalits and tribes people under its Hindutva umbrella politics. This accommodation is crucial for the BJP to continue its dominance in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other Hindi-speaking regions, where caste tensions are simmering. New inductions and elevations also signal a continued effort by the BJP to expand its influence to new areas such as West Bengal and the northeastern States. Barring the continuing under-representation of Muslims, the council is impressively representative of Indian diversity.

Governance issues might have been a factor in the axing of some of the Ministers. Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar were among those who got the marching orders, apparently for mishandling the pandemic, relations with global IT giants and governmental communication, respectively. New inductees such as Ashwini Vaishnaw and Jyotiraditya Scindia have administrative skills that could prove valuable in crucial ministries that they now head. Individual talent and accountability both can only be contextual, and in a highly centralised system they become immaterial. The Ministers must be empowered to plan and take decisions in their respective areas. The notion of collective responsibility of the cabinet must be infused with meaning. Discussions in the cabinet must be open. Proposals that come for the cabinet’s consideration must go through rigorous technical vetting and wide political consultations. The recomposition was intended to enhance governance, rev up the economy and fuel the BJP’s political march ahead of crucial State elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. All these would be possible only if all hands are on the deck. Assembling a team is indeed a crucial task of a captain; allowing them to flourish as individuals while playing as a team is equally critical.

Entering its fifth year, India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) system reported a blip in revenue collections for June, breaking an eight-month streak of over Rs. 1-lakh crore in tax receipts. GST revenues tanked to a tad less than Rs. 93,000 crore last month — the lowest in 10 months — after a record Rs. 1.41-lakh crore in April and a relatively tepid Rs. 1.02-lakh crore in May. Generally, the June revenue reflects transactions that occurred in May. With the second wave of the pandemic in full flourish and States enforcing rigorous restrictions on most activities in May, the numbers are not really surprising. However, as May GST compliance dates for smaller taxpayers were extended till early July, some of this revenue also reflects April’s sales. Thus, the actual GST income attributable to May’s economic activity would be lower than June’s gross GST kitty. This is also reflected in the generation of e-way bills, which fell by a sharp 30% in May compared to April, while the sequential decline in revenues was not as steep. With caseloads declining over June and restrictions being pulled back gradually, revenues should pick up next month with 5.5 crore e-way bills generated in June from 3.99 crore in May. Despite the slowdown in May-June, GST collections in the Q1 of 2021-22 have been healthier than pre-pandemic levels, confirming that this year’s restrictions driven by States have inflicted less economic costs than the national lockdown at a few hours’ notice, in 2020.

While the second wave setbacks have shaken up business and consumer sentiment, average monthly revenues of over Rs. 1-lakh crore — which Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has termed the ‘new normal’ for GST — could perhaps sustain through the year, if there is no dramatic resurgence of the pandemic and vaccinations are ramped up as promised. This should give some fiscal breathing room for the Centre and States, but neither can afford to sit back. Structural corrections in the GST regime and the inclusion of petroleum and electricity may take longer, but there is enough that needs immediate attention. Industry has sought temporary rate cuts on some sectors to spur demand. It is plausible that a volume pick-up could make up for resultant revenue losses, just as an uptick in petrol consumption creates room for a revenue-neutral duty cut on fuels. The GST Council must be reconvened soon to take up such ideas to prod the economy’s rebound, apart from holding the promised special session to discuss all the brewing concerns related to States’ compensation. Delaying this will not only foster greater misgivings between the Centre and the States but also make it tough for States to plan their borrowings for the rest of the year. Clarity is also needed urgently on when the Rs. 1.58-lakh crore of back-to-back borrowings for States in lieu of compensation dues will begin. If the Centre plans to raise Rs. 5,000 crore a week, like it did last year, it will take roughly 32 weeks to complete such borrowings; so, any delay beyond early August may not be viable.

The Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Mrs. Nandini Satpathi, informed the Lok Sabha to-day [New Delhi, July 6] that the Government was considering bringing forward suitable legislation to secure a broader base of ownership of newspapers having a circulation above a specific minimum. Replying to the debate on the demands for grants of her Ministry, she said that was one of the steps contemplated by the Government to ensure freedom of the press and end monopolistic ownership of newspapers. The intention was that newspapers with a larger circulation should be owned by a comparatively larger number of people. This indeed had been recommended by the Press Commission more than 15 years ago. The proposed legislation, she said, might also provide for full disclosure of the financial interest and transactions of larger newspapers. She reiterated that the Government believed in complete and full freedom of the press.