ஒட்டுமொத்த உலகத்தையும் ஆட்டிப்படைக்கும் கொவைட் 19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றால் மிக அதிகமான பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளாகியிருப்பது வருங்கால இளைஞா் சமுதாயத்தினா்தான். அவா்களது கற்கும் திறனும், கல்வி முறையும், தோ்வும் முழுமையாக நிலைதடுமாறி, அடுத்தது என்ன என்கிற மிகப் பெரிய கேள்விக்குறியாகி இருக்கிறது. பள்ளிக் கல்வியில் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கும் தடைகள் ஒருபுறமும், உயா்கல்விக்குப் போக முடியாத நிலைமை மறுபுறமும் மாணவா்களின் வருங்காலத்தைக் கடுமையாக பாதித்திருக்கின்றன.
கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுக் காலத்தில் பள்ளிக்கூடங்கள் செயல்படாத நிலையில், இணையவழி மூலம் வீட்டிலிருந்தே கல்வி என்கிற முறை அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்டது. வழக்கமான கற்பித்தல் முறையிலிருந்து அது மாறுபடுவதால் கற்றலிலும், கற்பித்தலிலும் முழுமையான நிறைவு ஏற்படுவதில்லை என்பதை சொல்லித் தெரிய வேண்டியதில்லை. சக மாணவா்களுடன் வகுப்பறையில் அமா்ந்து படிப்பதற்கும், நேரடியாக ஆசிரியரிடமிருந்து கற்றுக்கொள்வதற்கும் கிடைக்கும் வாய்ப்பு இல்லாமல் போனதால் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கும் குறைபாட்டை ஈடுசெய்துவிட முடியாது.
இணையவழிக் கல்வி என்பது சமச்சீரான கல்வியாக இருக்க முடியாது. முதலாவதாக, எல்லா குழந்தைகளுக்கும் தடையில்லாத இணைய இணைப்பு இருக்க வழியில்லை. இணைய இணைப்பு இருந்தாலும்கூட, அதை பயன்படுத்திக் கொள்ளும் அளவிலான தரமான அறிதிறன்பேசிகளை வாங்கி வைத்துக்கொள்ளும் வசதி அனைவருக்கும் கிடையாது. சிறிய கிராமத்து வீடுகளிலும், ஒரே அறை மட்டும் இருக்கும் வீடுகளிலும் வாழும் ஏழை, கீழ் நடுத்தர வா்க்க குடும்பத்தைச் சோ்ந்த குழந்தைகள் முழு கவனத்துடன் இணையவழிப் பயிற்சியில் ஈடுபடுவது இயலாதது. அந்த வயதுக்கே உரிய விளையாட்டுப் போக்கும், பொறுப்பின்மையும் பின்தள்ளப்பட்டு இத்தனை தடைகளையும் மீறி இணையவழியில் படித்துத் தோ்வு எழுதுவது என்பதிலும் பிரச்னை நிலவுகிறது.
இந்தப் பின்னணியில்தான் பொதுத்தோ்வை எப்படி நடத்துவது என்கிற மிகப் பெரிய சவாலை கல்வித்துறை எதிா்கொள்கிறது. கடந்த கல்வியாண்டில் 10-ஆம் வகுப்பு, பிளஸ் 2 தோ்வுகளை நடத்த முடியாமல் கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று மிகப் பெரிய பாதிப்பை ஏற்படுத்தியிருக்கிறது. மாணவா்களின் கல்வித் திறனை எடைபோட வழிமுறை எதுவும் இன்றி, மதிப்பெண்கள் வழங்க முடியாத நிலை. தோ்வு எழுதி மதிப்பெண் அடிப்படையில் தோ்ச்சியை நிா்ணயம் செய்தது போய், தோ்ச்சி பெற்ற பிறகு எப்படி மதிப்பெண் கொடுப்பது என்கிற ஆராய்ச்சியில் இறங்க வேண்டிய அவலத்தைக் கல்வித்துறை எதிா்கொண்டது.
இந்தப் பின்னணியில்தான் நடப்பு கல்வியாண்டுக்கான சிபிஎஸ்இ 10, பிளஸ் 2 வகுப்பு பொதுத் தோ்வுகளுக்கான சிறப்பு மதிப்பீட்டு முறை அறிவிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. இதற்காக நடப்பு கல்வியாண்டு இரண்டாகப் பிரிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. நவம்பா் - டிசம்பா் மாதங்களில் முதல் கட்டமாகவும், மாா்ச் - ஏப்ரல் மாதங்களில் இரண்டாவது கட்டமாகவும் நடப்புக் கல்வியாண்டின் பாடத்திட்டம் இரண்டாகப் பிரிக்கப்பட்டு அதன் அடிப்படையில் தோ்வு நடத்துவது என்று முடிவு செய்திருக்கிறது மத்திய இடைநிலைக் கல்வி வாரியம் (சிபிஎஸ்இ). கடந்த ஆண்டைப் போலவே நடப்புக் கல்வியாண்டிலும் பாடத்திட்டம் கணிசமாகக் குறைக்கப்பட இருக்கிறது.
மத்திய இடைநிலைக் கல்வி வாரியம் அறிவிக்க இருக்கும் வழிகாட்டுதல்படி, மதிப்பெண்கள் நியாயமான முறையில் வழங்கப்படுவதை உறுதி செய்ய அனைத்து முயற்சிகளும் மேற்கொள்ளப்படுகின்றன. அகமதிப்பீட்டு மதிப்பெண்கள், செய்முறைத் தோ்வுகள், புராஜெக்டுகள் ஆகியவற்றை நம்பகமான முறையில் மதிப்பீடு செய்வதை உறுதிப்படுத்த வாரியம் பல நடவடிக்கைகளை மேற்கொள்ள இருக்கிறது. அதனடிப்படையில், அடுத்த ஆண்டுக்கான பொதுத் தோ்வுகளுக்கு சிறப்பு மதிப்பீட்டு முறையை அறிவிக்க இருக்கிறது வாரியம்.
கடந்த கல்வியாண்டில், நோய்த்தொற்று காரணமாக ‘இப்போது’ ‘அப்போது’ என்று தோ்வு குறித்த அறிவிப்புகளை வெளியிட்டு பெற்றோா், மாணவா்கள், பள்ளிகளின் அதிருப்தியையும், ஆத்திரத்தையும் வாங்கிக் கட்டிக்கொண்டது வாரியம். அதிலிருந்து படித்த பாடத்தின் அடிப்படையில் இப்போது எடுத்திருக்கும் இரண்டு கட்ட தோ்வு முறை முடிவு ஓரளவுக்கு தகுதி நிா்ணயத்தை முறைப்படுத்தும் என்று எதிா்பாா்க்கலாம்.
எந்தவொரு தீா்வும் அனைவரையும் திருப்திப்படுத்தும் முழுமையான தீா்வாக இருக்க வழியில்லை. இப்போது வெளியிடப்பட்டிருக்கும் இரண்டு கட்ட தோ்வு முறையும் அதற்கு விதிவிலக்கல்ல.
தோ்வுக்குத் தயாராவதில் மாணவா்களின் முனைப்பும், பெற்றோரின் மன அழுத்தமும் தோ்வில் அதிக மதிப்பெண் பெற வேண்டும் என்கிற அச்ச உணா்வும் ஏற்படுவது இயல்பு. இரண்டு முறை தோ்வு எனும்போது, அதுவும் இணையவழிக் கல்வி தொடருமேயானால், மாணவா்களும் பெற்றோரும் எதிா்கொள்ள இருக்கும் அழுத்தம் சாதாரணமானதாக இருக்காது.
மிகப் பெரிய பிரச்னையாக இருக்கப்போவது அகமதிப்பீட்டு முறை. இரண்டு தோ்வுகள் என்பதைவிட, மாணவா்களின் இறுதி மதிப்பெண்களை நிா்ணயிக்கப்போவது அகமதிப்பீடாக இருக்கும் என்பதால் மாணவா்கள் மத்தியில் அச்ச உணா்வு அதிகமாகவே இருக்கும். மேலும், தனியாா் பள்ளிகள் மாணவா்களின் அகமதிப்பீட்டை அதிகரித்து, தங்கள் பள்ளியின் தோ்ச்சி விகிதத்தை உயா்த்த முனையக்கூடும். இந்தப் பிரச்னையை வாரியம் எப்படி அணுகப் போகிறது?
அடுத்தது என்ன என்று தெரியாமல் இருந்த கடந்த கல்வியாண்டைவிட, இப்போதைய கொள்கை முடிவால் ஓரளவுக்கு தெளிவு ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது என்பதை மறுப்பதற்கில்லை. இது இடைக்கால முடிவுதான், நிரந்தமல்ல என்பது ஆறுதல்.--Source: dinamani.com
Hundreds of impassable snow-capped mountains are spread over the 300-km stretch separating the Jammu region from the Kashmir Valley. A narrow highway which cuts through the Pir Panjal mountain range and snakes through the 2.85-km-long tunnel near Banihal connects the Dogri-speaking Hindu population with the Kashmiri-speaking Muslim population.
Given that the Kashmir Valley is prone to landslides, shooting stones and heavy snow, a tradition began, 149 years ago, of shifting the capital of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to Srinagar during summers and to Jammu during winters. The ‘Darbar Move’, which brought two linguistically and culturally different regions closer, was entirely dependent on the vagaries of weather.
Today, this tradition is likely to become history after the Lieutenant-Governor’s administration decided to shift to e-offices this month. The administration says the epic bi-annual move is too costly and takes up precious time and resources. But the decision has left hundreds of families worried that their decades-old links with families across the mountains may fade away. Students are concerned about losing opportunities; traders about losing profits. Some suspect that the move has a larger motive.
Sharing of cultures
Notwithstanding the distance and the difference in culture and language, Chasfeeda Shah, 30, a media professional from Kashmir’s Hyderpora, and Maanya Sethi, 26, a human resource manager from Jammu’s Gandhi Nagar, grew up seeing the Shahs and the Sethis as one family since 1983. A chance meeting between Chasfeeda’s father Bashir Ahmad Shah, a police officer, and Maanya’s grandfather Surinder Sethi, a Section Officer in the Irrigation Department, in Jammu city transformed into a bond and the Sethis and Shahs became one extended family.
“I was posted in Jammu during the Darbar Move in 1983 and met Sethisahib. Since then, we have stuck together through thick and thin. Sethisahibmet with an accident in the 1990s. I shifted him to hospital and stayed by his side till he recovered. Thereafter, we celebrated weddings, Eid and Diwali together,” Shah says.
Maanya is a fan of Kashmiri ‘wazwan’, an array of meat dishes served at Kashmiri weddings, and Chasfeeda developed a sweet tooth for the famous sweets of Jammu, also known as a city of temples. “I was introduced to ‘wazwan’ dishes when the Shahs invited our family on Eid many years ago. I got hooked to minced meat dishes likeRistaandGushtaba. I love spending summer vacations at the Shahs’ house in Srinagar. Ours is a relationship that cannot be expressed in words. When my grandfather passed away, Bashirsahibbooked a flight so he wouldn’t miss the final rites,” Maanya says.
For Chasfeeda, born in conflict-ridden Kashmir, shifting to Jammu meant six months of normal life, away from bomb blasts and frequent exchange of fire. She first entered a cinema hall in Jammu because all the cinemas were closed in Kashmir in the 1990s. “The first movie I watched wasHum Saath-Saath Haiin Apsara cinema hall in Jammu’s Gandhi Nagar. In Jammu, I would attend coaching classes conducted by a Kashmiri Pandit teacher and eat without any fear on the roadside. I like Jammu weddings — they’re loud and grand unlike those in Kashmir,” Chasfeeda says.
In July, when the Lieutenant-Governor administration issued a directive asking all the employees associated with the Darbar Move to vacate their flats within three weeks, without citing any reason, Chasfeeda was upset. In Jammu, Maanya felt the same way. “I will miss the Shahs if the Darbar Move stops,” she says.
This is not the first time that the Darbar Move has come under a cloud. In January 1987, during his visit to J&K, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was stranded in Kashmir due to heavy snowfall while the capital was in Jammu. “Gandhi asked the Farooq Abdullah government to have a re-look at this practice because officials were unavailable when they were needed in Kashmir during winters. However, an agitation started by the Chamber of Commerce and Industries-Jammu and the Jammu Bar Association forced the government to keep the tradition,” says former Director General of Tourism, Saleem Beg, who has continued to visit Jammu every winter since the 1970s, and even after his retirement.
A committee formed in 1987, headed by the then Chief Secretary, Shiekh Ghulam Rasool, submitted a report titled ‘Darbar Move: The Reality’ to the government, to place before it the pros and cons of the practice. But the report was put on the back burner after the Jammu agitation.
“The process of shifting hundreds of files and employees ran smoothly. It always connected people, regions and cultures,” Beg says.
A week-long carnival
The Hindu Dogra rulers from Jammu expanded their boundaries up to Afghanistan in the 19th Century, but most of them preferred to stay in the Valley. It was in 1872 that Maharaja Ranbir Singh began the practice of shifting his government from Jammu to Srinagar in summers, taking the arduous journey along the Banihal Cart Road.
“Dogra rulers popularised the papier-mâché artwork of Kashmir in many Jammu structures and the architectural elements of the Dogra Raj are visible in monuments in Srinagar such as the Sher Garhi Palace. Dogra ruler Pratap Singh was so impressed by Kashmir’s calligraphy that he started an annual award for calligraphy artists,” says Beg.
The Dogra rulers set up key institutions like J&K’s first museum and the Oriental Research Library in Srinagar. “Even the Royal Samadhi is in Srinagar. The Dogra Maharajas preferred to be called as Kashmir’s kings and contributed a lot to the Valley’s socio-economic development,” Beg says.
Zafar Choudhary, a Jammu-based writer and author of the book,Kashmir Conflict and Muslims of Jammu, goes to the extent of saying that the Dogra rulers were biased towards Kashmir. “The first power project of J&K was set up in Uri in the Valley so that the King’s palace could be well lit in Srinagar. No such project came up in Jammu despite the Chenab river flowing through it. When Maharaja Gulab Singh, the founder of the modern but difficult State of J&K, stepped down for his son, Ranbir Singh, he decided to live the last four years of his life in Kashmir as its Governor,” Choudhary says.
The Dogra Maharaja used hundreds of carts driven by horses and elephants to move to Srinagar through the treacherous stretch connecting Jammu and Kashmir. Cut to 2019: files and records, many loaded in hard drives and computers, took about a week to move to the capital via trucks and buses. A total of 151 government departments used to shift capital twice a year in J&K.
“All the departments would first bundle their files and seal them and then stock them in tin trunks. A team of every department would head for the capital where everyone would be shifting. On arrival of the trucks, the teams would identify the trunks and unload them and place the files in the respective departments,” Beg recalls.
According to the officials of the J&K Estates Department, it took 152 trucks and 56 buses in April 2019 to ferry files and employees from Srinagar to Jammu. The August 5, 2019 decision to end J&K’s special status, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupted the Darbar Move in 2020 and 2021.
According to official figures, 10,112 employees had moved to Jammu, including 1,179 gazetted officers, 7,110 non-gazetted employees and 1,823 Class IV employees, in April 2019. “While the loading and unloading of files cost Rs. 45.41 lakh, the carriage cost Rs. 116.55 lakh. The Darbar Move cost about Rs. 1,636.04 lakh, besides the additional expenditure of Rs. 1,213.44 lakh as special allowance to the employees,” an official of the Estates Department says, on the condition of anonymity.
The Darbar Move, which took place twice a year — in October/November to Jammu and in April/May to Srinagar — would take two weeks of working days. From the Raj Bhavan to the Chief Minister’s Secretariat to the Chief Justice’s office, the shifting of the capital was like a week-long carnival. It cost around Rs. 198 crore in 2019 to keep the tradition alive, officials say.
According to the Estates Department, 151 private houses, 125 J&K Tourism Department Corporation structures and 1,457 hotels were booked for shifting employees to Kashmir, while 69 private houses, 253 J&K Tourism Department Corporation structures and 2,387 hotels were booked in Jammu. Arranging for accommodation cost the exchequer Rs. 4,161 lakh in Srinagar and Rs. 2,053.99 lakh in Jammu in 2019.
Under the scanner of the court
It was this “expenditure, wastage of time and the labour” that caught the attention of the J&K High Court in May 2020 while it was hearing a petition on the Darbar Move and the ongoing pandemic. A Division Bench of the court comprising then Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rajnesh Oswal directed the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, and the Chief Secretary of J&K “to examine the issues raised by the court”.
Monika Kohli, amicus curiae, argued against the Darbar Move. “Jammu and Srinagar are well connected by air, road and rail service. The distance of about 300 km is covered in half an hour by flight. It is clearly logical that the consideration of extreme weather in support of the Darbar Move does not hold weight today,” she said.
A battery of lawyers also questioned the security of records that were being ferried from one place to another. “Sensitive documents and old archives cannot tolerate exposure of any kind. Such documents may be on matters of security of the country as well as of the Union Territory. This security ought not be compromised for any reason whatsoever,” Kohli said.
Chief Justice Mittal, who was impressed by the arguments, called for rationalisation of the tradition. “The amount of money, resources and time which could be saved could be utilised towards the welfare and development of the Union Territory, which has otherwise witnessed much turmoil. The financial savings and resources could be utilised for contributing towards the protection and propagation of its inherent culture and heritage of the communities,” she observed.
Beyond an emotional bond
The Darbar Move is not just an emotional bond between Kashmir and Jammu. Hundreds of students leave turmoil-hit Kashmir Valley to go to Jammu to seek admission into educational institutes and coaching centres. Retailers in Jammu procure special stocks for the 10,000 employees and their families and friends who mill around Jammu for six months.
Naresh Katoch, sales manager of the famous sweet shop, Pahalwan Di Hatti, at Jammu’s Wave Mall, says his shop has traditionally attracted buyers from Kashmir during winters. “Sales would see a jump when Kashmiris would stay in Jammu. Kashmiris have a special preference for Sund Panjeeri, Kala Kand, Chana Murgi and chocolate bars and would take huge stocks back to Srinagar, where we don’t have an outlet,” Katoch says.
Similarly, Jammu’s Khati Ka Talab area has become a hub of pink tea sellers. “Kashmiris prefer pink tea ornoon chai(salty tea) and special morning bread. From just two to three shops in the 1980s, there are over a dozen shops serving the tea,” says Niyaz Ahmad, a shopkeeper who shifted from Ramban area to Khati Ka Talab in the 1980s and managed to set up a buzzing tea business.
“The Darbar Move, if it was a practice in the West, would have been an annual festival and would probably have everyone participating, even outsiders; it would be used to showcase the uniqueness of the region. But here it’s mired in politics and confusion. The fact remains that there is no viable alternative to the practice so far. Can J&K afford an administrative capital somewhere between Jammu and Srinagar,” Choudhary asks.
He says many leading retail shops in Jammu have stopped buying fresh stocks now that the pandemic has disrupted the practice. “Shopkeepers would procure special stocks in September for the Kashmiris who would travel and stay here for six months,” he says.
Arun Gupta, who heads the Chamber of Commerce-Jammu, says the government will soon provide a clarification about the move. “The tradition is not merely about shifting of files but a living example of brotherhood. We will oppose any move to end it. Shifting may cost the exchequer Rs. 200 crore but the fact remains that the people of Kashmir spend thousands of crores here and vice versa. It’s the job of the government to maintain brotherhood in J&K,” he says.
Politics over the Darbar Move
Three Jammu-based political parties — the Bharatiya Janata Party, the J&K National Panthers Party, and Ikkjutt Jammu — have welcomed the move to abandon the practice. They see this as an end to Kashmir’s domination over the Civil Secretariat, the seat of governance in J&K. Kashmir-based parties have opposed the move.
Choudhary says there were more Kashmiri employees than Jammu ones in the Secretariat in the 1950s and 1960s. “That gave birth to the notion that there was a bias against Jammu,” he says.
The practice resulted in the region becoming a melting pot of cultures. Marriages took place between people from different regions: Muslims from the Kashmir Valley, the Chenab Valley and the Pir Panjal Valley, otherwise separated by mountains. It resulted in new cross-cultural Muslim colonies coming up in the surroundings of Jammu city.
“Jammu has seen a new cultural landscape with cross-cultural marriages. New colonies have come up. If the Darbar Move stops, people from the Chenab Valley and the Pir Panjal Valley will feel like a part of them is not there,” Choudhary says.
However, senior BJP leaders like Kavinder Gupta termed the end of the Darbar Move akin to the August 5, 2019 move, which took away the special constitutional position of J&K.
“We welcome it. The first priority is governance. There are e-offices in place now. It will not impact cultural interaction. Who has time to interact in this era of Internet and social media? The only issue is that the Jammu Civil Secretariat requires equal recruitment: about 70% of the recruits in the Secretariat are from Kashmir. In fact, most of the higher posts are occupied by the people of Kashmir,” Ikkjutt Jammu president Ankur Sharma said.
More than resolving the issue, the Lieutenant-Governor administration has ushered in new challenges for itself. Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader M.Y. Tarigami has asked the government to explain where the Chief Secretary, the Director General of Police, and the administrative secretaries will function from. “If people have to meet any officer, where will they meet him or her? Where will the Assembly function from? Where will the Raj Bhavan be? There is no clarity on this issue,” Tarigami said.
Many political analysts fear that the move will drive the wedge between the Kashmir and Jammu regions deeper, which could eventually result in their separation, the way Ladakh was carved out as a separate Union Territory on August 5, 2019. Gul Wani, head of the Department of Political Science at Kashmir University, is wary of the move. “On the face of it, it seems like a step towards good governance. But the fact remains that people from Kashmir see Jammu as a safe location to settle down and buy property. Most prefer to spend their earnings there. The old and ailing population, who cannot live in severe winters in Kashmir, prefer the warm weather in Jammu. In contrast, the people from Jammu are not able to settle down in Kashmir. The whole move has a conspiracy angle to it. In Kashmir, conspiracies are proven true with time,” he says.
Meanwhile, hundreds of files of the 97 departments, which include 47 Secretariat-based departments, have been digitised so far. The J&K e-office project has scanned and digitised around two crore pages from 3.50 lakh files, in a bid to end the practice of shifting the capital. “The e-office is one of the reformative steps taken to put an end to the Darbar Move in J&K, thus saving crores of rupees spent on transporting files in hundreds of trucks,” Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha said earlier this month.
In Srinagar’s Hyderpora, Chasfeeda is singing a lullaby to her 18-month-old daughter, Madiha. “I am not sure now if the relationship between the Shahs and the Sethis will last through the next generation,” she rues, pointing towards the baby.
China’s developmental pathway over the last century has been spectacular. No country in history has ever grown faster and more dynamically. Not only have hundreds of millions been lifted out of poverty, but social indicators have improved dramatically. India’s developmental record has been much more mixed. Since the 1990s, the Indian economy has grown impressively, but it remains far behind China in its global competitiveness. Poverty has come down, but employment prospects for the majority remain limited to low-wage informal sector jobs that are, by definition, precarious. Maybe, most startling of all, improvements in basic social development indicators have lagged, so much so that as Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen have pointed out, India has actually fallen behind Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The ‘too democratic’ line
Comparing these track records, some commentators, including voices in the Government, have drawn a facile lesson. India’s problem is that it is just too democratic. Unlike China, making and implementing key decisions about public investment and various reforms is impossible in the din of multiple and contradictory democratic voices. What is needed are firmer and more independent forms of decision-making that are insulated from this cacophony.
This line of thinking has at various times been embraced by sections of the Left (Leninism) and multi-lateral technocrats and bankers, but, increasingly, has become the animating fantasy of right-wing leaders and movements, ranging from elected autocrats such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi. The strangeness of these bedfellows alone should be cause for alarm. But in the current moment, it is especially important to be clear why comparisons with China are not only specious, but very dangerous.
The claim that less democracy is good for development does not stand up to comparative, theoretical and ethical scrutiny. Contrary to those who believe economic management cannot be left to the whims of democratic forces, the comparative evidence clearly shows that democratic regimes have on balance performed better than non-democratic regimes.
China, with a history of state-building going back two millennia, and an exceptionally well-organised, disciplined and brutal form of authoritarianism, has done especially well in transforming its economy. Africa and West Asia, where authoritarian governments of every stripe have dominated, remain world economic laggards. The Latin American military dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s had a terrible economic and social record, and it was with the return of democracy and the “pink wave” of Left populist parties that prosperity and social progress were ushered in. Taiwan and South Korea are also instructive. Their economic take-offs happened under military regimes and relied on labour repression. Their transitions to democracy saw their economies move up to the next level and become much more inclusive.
Democracy and development
Most pointedly though, one only has to look within India to understand how development and democracy can thrive together. By just about any measure, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done more to improve the lives of all their citizens across castes and classes than any other States in India and it is no coincidence that both have also had the longest and most sustained popular democratic movements and intense party competition in the country. In contrast, in Gujarat, where single party Bharatiya Janata Party rule has been in place for nearly a quarter century, growth has been solid but accompanied by increased social exclusion and stagnation in educational achievement and poverty reduction. The comparative record leaves little doubt that on balance, democracies are better at promoting inclusive growth.
The theory behind the authoritarian fantasy also does not hold up. First, the assumption that authoritarianism supports forms of decision-making that can rise above the hubbub of democratic demand-making to get things done presumes that those in command will serve the general interest rather than catering to the powerful and that when they enjoy such autonomy, they actually know what to do with it. This is just hubris. On both these points, democracies are in fact more likely to meet the necessary conditions for successful decision making. Elected representatives, no matter how venal, have to win re-election, which means answering to a broad swath of the electorate.
It allows negotiation
The conflicts and noise that democracy generates may complicate things, but in the end, having to respond to a broad spectrum of interests and identities not only protects against catastrophic decisions, but actually allows for forms of negotiation and compromise that can bridge across interests and even balance otherwise conflicting imperatives for growth, justice, sustainability and social inclusion. The remarkable progress the United Progressive Alliance governments made in building a welfare state (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right To Information, the right to food and other programmes) is a testament to how a democracy can master even the most complex policy goals. As democratic theorists have long argued, the common good cannot and should not be determined by science, profits, technocrats or autocratic fiat. What it is and how we get there can only emerge out of sustained societal deliberation.
A look at China
India’s tryst with democracy was born not only of its liberation movement but also of its affinity with what makes democracy ethically unique: it promotes equality by endowing all citizens with the same civic, political and social rights even as it protects and nurtures individuality and difference. And this is where the China-India comparison is so problematic, indeed unconscionable.
However one might like to measure or evaluate China’s development successes, there is no way to discount the human cost of the party-made great famine that took some 35 million lives, a cultural revolution that made enemies out of neighbours, a one child policy that devastated families and erased a generation or the violent, systematic repression of the Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities. These were not unfortunate excesses or the inevitable costs of development. These were and are the irredeemable instincts and predations of an authoritarian state, one which now denounces as “historical nihilism” any interpretations of the past that challenge the party’s official history. Conversely, while India’s democracy has been quarrelsome, cumbersome and often dominated by elites, it has also opened social and political spaces for subordinate groups and has built a sense of shared identity and belonging in the world’s largest and most diverse society. It has preserved individual liberties, group identities and religious and thought freedoms, all the things that confer recognition on human beings. To even pose the question of a trade-off between these freedoms and the role they have played in building a pluralistic nation and some cold, utilitarian calculus of “development” not only does violence to the very idea of human agency and dignity but completely abstracts from the very different social and historical realities of India and China.
There is a backslide
Beyond these comparative arguments for democracy, one need look no further than the object lesson the BJP government has provided to dismiss the authoritarian fantasy. The democratic backsliding has been clear. The Government has not only sought to centralise, insulate and personalise decision-making but has also aggressively undermined the independence of democratic institutions and silenced and imprisoned Opposition voices, all in the name of nationalism and promoting development. Yet, the development track is dismal at best. While corporate business interests and the billionaire class have flourished, the overall economy has sputtered and since COVID-19 has experienced the worst contraction of any sizeable economy in the world. Demonetisation and the disastrous response to the second COVID-19 wave were not just instances of utter policy incoherence fuelled by the sycophancy and myopia that comes with an inwardly focused government, but exposed a degree of callousness and arrogance rarely seen in a democracy. On the social front, the pursuit of Hindutva — a prototypical variant of authoritarian ethnic nationalism — has shaken India’s democratic norms and institutional foundations and weaponised a politics of polarisation and demonisation that threaten to unravel the social fabric of the nation.
Rather than look to China, it is time to defend the noise of Indian democracy.
Patrick Heller is Professor of International Affairs and Sociology, Brown University, U.S.
It is quite disconcerting that the Supreme Court has been informed for the second time in two years that Section 66A of the IT Act, which was struck down as unconstitutional six years ago, is still being invoked by the police and in some trial courts. One can see why the Court deemed it “a shocking state of affairs” when a petition by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) came up for hearing. Section 66A made messages deemed by the police to be offensive or menacing to anyone, or those that caused “annoyance”, a criminal offence if these were sent through a computer or computer resource. It prescribed a prison term of up to three years on conviction. In its landmark judgment inShreya Singhal(2015), the Court ruled that the provision was vague and violated the freedom of free speech. It was so broadly defined that it took into its sweep protected speech also, and therefore upset the balance between the exercise of the free speech right and the imposition of reasonable restrictions on it. In January 2019, too, the Court’s attention was drawn to the same problem of the invalidated provision being used by the police to register cases based on complaints. Not much seems to have changed since then, and it is quite surprising that the police headquarters and prosecutors in the various States had not disseminated the effect of the Court ruling among officers manning police stations.
There were also instances of courts framing charges under Section 66A even after lawyers had cited the 2015 judgment. The PUCL has said as many as 745 cases are still pending in district courts in 11 States. It is not difficult to surmise that police officers who receive complaints and register them as First Information Reports may not be aware of the judgment, though one cannot rule out instances of the section being invoked deliberately as a tool of harassment. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for the citizen, and it must equally be no excuse for police officers who include invalidated sections in FIRs. Recently, police in Uttar Pradesh booked a journalist for defamation under Section 500 of the IPC, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that defamation can be pursued only by way of private complaints and there can be no FIR. The current hearing may result in directions to States and the police, as well as the court registries, for appropriate advisories to both station-house officers and magistrates, but it is not necessary for those concerned to wait for such orders. Police chiefs and the directorates of prosecution must proactively begin a process of conveying to the lower courts and investigators all important judgments and their effect on the practices relating to investigation, prosecution and the framing of charges from time to time.
The brazen assassination of Jovenel Moïse, the 53-year-old President of Haiti, has pushed the impoverished Caribbean country battered by political and economic crises into more chaos. Haitian police say 28 foreign mercenaries, including retired Colombian soldiers, killed the President at his residence in Port-au-Prince early Wednesday. Most of them were arrested and some were killed in a gun battle. But key questions — who the mastermind was, what the motive was and how a group of armed foreigners could walk into a presidential residence, shoot him dead and exit — are yet to be answered. Moïse was at the centre of a political crisis that had shaken the country in recent months. His opponents claimed that his five-year-term came to an end on February 7 and demanded his resignation. Moïse, who took over office in February 2017, months after his disputed election in 2016, claimed that his term would be over only in February 2022. When the Opposition formed a parallel government, Moïse alleged a coup and cracked down on them. Moïse came to power promising to strengthen Haiti’s institutions, fix its economy, fight corruption and stabilise governance. But he himself faced serious corruption allegations, his government could not hold the 2019 parliamentary elections and the economy contracted under his watch. The outbreak of COVID-19 made matters worse.
Now, Haiti stares into an uncertain future. According to the Constitution, the President of the Supreme Court should take charge. But the Supreme Court chief died of COVID-19 last month. There is no legislature as the 2019 elections have been postponed. For now, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph has taken charge. But Moïse had fired him two days before his death and nominated Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, for the post. Mr. Joseph is now consolidating the government, but Mr. Henry has asked him to step down, signalling that another political crisis is taking shape in the midst of security worries. This is not the time for another power struggle. Haiti’s politicians and military should take a phased approach of uncovering the truth, stabilising the country and ensuring the formation of a legitimate administration. The government’s immediate priority should be to get to the bottom of the assassination. If foreign nationals were involved in the attack, as the police have claimed, Haiti should get international help in the investigation. And Haitian leaders should not allow the vacuum left by Moïse’s assassination to destabilise the country further. Part of the problems Haiti faces is its inability to hold free, fair and credible elections in time and ensure a peaceful transition of power. Interim Prime Minister Joseph, Mr. Henry and other leaders should come together and hold legislative and presidential elections at the opportune time to ensure that a stable government with popular legitimacy is in place to address the myriad problems the country is facing.