தமிழ்நாடு பாடநூல் மற்றும் கல்வியியல் பணிகள் கழகத்தின் தலைவராக திண்டுக்கல் ஐ.லியோனி நியமிக்கப்பட்டபோது தொடங்கிய விவாதங்களும் சர்ச்சைகளும், அவர் பொறுப்பேற்ற பிறகு வேறு திசையில் இன்னும் தீவிரம்பெற்றிருக்கின்றன. தேர்தல் பிரச்சாரக் கூட்டத்தில் பெண்களைக் கண்ணியக் குறைவான முறையில் பேசியதாக லியோனி மீது வைக்கப்பட்ட விமர்சனங்கள், அவர் அப்பொறுப்பில் நியமிக்கப்பட்டபோது மீண்டும் ஒருமுறை நினைவுபடுத்தப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன.
33 ஆண்டுகள் பள்ளி ஆசிரியராகப் பணிபுரிந்த லியோனி, அறிவொளி இயக்கத்தில் தீவிரமாகப் பங்கெடுத்துக்கொண்டவர். அவரைப் பாடநூல் கழகத்தின் தலைவராக நியமித்தது சரியானதுதான் என்று திமுகவுக்கு வெளியிலிருந்தும் ஆதரவுக் குரல்கள் எழுந்தன. தவிர்த்திருக்கப்பட வேண்டியவை என்று அவரது மேடைப் பேச்சுகளைக் கடந்துசென்றாலும், பாடநூல் கழகத்தின் தலைவராகப் பொறுப்பேற்றுக்கொண்டதன் பிறகு நடந்த பத்திரிகையாளர் சந்திப்பில், அவர் அளித்த பதில்கள் விவாதத்துக்குரியதாகவே அமைந்துள்ளன.
ஒன்றாம் வகுப்பு முதல் பன்னிரண்டாம் வகுப்பு வரையிலான அனைத்து மாணவர்களுக்கும் முன்னாள் முதல்வர் மு.கருணாநிதியின் இலக்கியப் பணிகள், கல்விப் பணிகள், பொதுமக்களுக்கு ஆற்றிய பணிகள், பிற்படுத்தப்பட்ட மற்றும் ஒடுக்கப்பட்ட மாணவர்கள் கல்வி கற்பதற்காக ஆற்றிய பணிகள் குறித்துப் பாடங்கள் இடம்பெறும் என்று லியோனி தெரிவித்துள்ளார். நடப்புக் கல்வியாண்டில் புத்தகங்கள் அச்சிடப்பட்டு விநியோகிக்கப்பட்டுவிட்டதால், அடுத்த ஆண்டு இத்திருத்தங்களைச் செய்வது குறித்து ஆலோசிக்கப்படும் என்றும் அவர் தெரிவித்திருக்கிறார். திமுகவின் தேர்தல் பிரச்சாரங்களில் கலந்துகொண்டதற்கான பரிசாகத் தமக்கு அளிக்கப்பட்ட பொறுப்பை அவர் கருதியிருக்கலாம்.
அதற்கான நன்றியுணர்வை வெளிப்படுத்தும் வகையிலேயே அவரது பேச்சு அமைந்துள்ளது. கடந்த திமுக ஆட்சியில் சமச்சீர் பாடநூல்கள் அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்டபோது, ஏறக்குறைய அனைத்து வகுப்புப் பாடங்களிலுமே திமுக குறித்தும் மு.கருணாநிதி குறித்தும் குறிப்புகள் இடம்பெற்றிருந்தன. அதிமுக ஆட்சிக்கு வந்ததும் அந்தக் குறிப்புகள் நீக்கப்பட்டன. அதுபோலத் தலைவர்களின் பங்களிப்புகளை மாணவர்களுக்குப் பாடமாக வைப்பதை அரசியலாகப் பார்க்கக் கூடாது என்று ஒரு கேள்விக்குப் பதிலளித்திருக்கிறார் லியோனி. ஒன்றிய அரசோ, மாநில அரசோ எந்தவொரு ஆட்சி மாற்றம் நிகழ்ந்தாலும் அதன் கருத்தியல்ரீதியிலான சார்புநிலைகள் பாடநூல்களிலும் எதிரொலிக்கவே செய்கின்றன. தமிழ்நாடும் அதற்கு விதிவிலக்கல்ல.
ஆனால், ஒரே கருத்தியலில் இயங்கும் இரண்டு கட்சிகள் மாறி மாறி ஆளும் மாநிலத்தில், குறிப்பிட்ட ஒரு கட்சியின் தலைவரைப் பற்றி மட்டுமே பாடங்கள் இடம்பெறும்போதுதான், ஆட்சி மாற்றங்களின்போது பாடநூல் வரிகள் கருப்பு மை கொண்டு அழிக்க ஆணைகள் பிறப்பிக்கப்படுகின்றன. மு.கருணாநிதியின் இலக்கியப் பணிகள் பாடமாக்கப்படும்போது, அவரது சமகாலத்து திராவிட இயக்க எழுத்தாளர்களைப் பற்றி பாடங்கள் இடம்பெறுவதில்லை. முன்னாள் முதல்வர் என்ற முறையில் அவரது சமூகப் பணிகள் பாடமாக்கப்படும்போது, அவருக்கு முன்பும் பின்பும் ஆட்சிசெய்த மற்ற முதல்வர்களைப் பற்றிய பாடங்களும் இடம்பெறுவதுதானே முறை? அதற்கு வாய்ப்பில்லாதபட்சத்தில்தான் கட்சி அரசியல் தலைதூக்குகிறது. கடந்த காலத் தவறுகள் மீண்டும் நிகழாதிருக்கட்டும்.--Source: hindutamil.in
திங்கள்கிழமை தொடங்கிய நாடாளுமன்ற மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத் தொடர், எதிர்பார்த்தது போலவே அமளியில் மூழ்கி ஒத்திவைக்கப்பட்டது. அமைச்சரவை மாற்றத்துக்குப் பிறகு புதிய அமைச்சர்களை உறுப்பினர்களுக்கு அறிமுகம் செய்து வைப்பது என்பது மரபு. அதைக்கூட அனுமதிக்காமல் எதிர்க்கட்சிகள் அமளியில் ஈடுபட்டது நாடாளுமன்ற மரபுகளை மீறும் தவறான முன்னுதாரணம்.
மக்களவை எதிர்க்கட்சித் தலைவர் கோரிய பொருளாதாரம் குறித்த, எரிபொருள் விலையேற்றம் குறித்த பிரச்னைகள் விவாதத்துக்குரியவை என்பதில் சந்தேகம் இல்லை. ஆனால், புதிய அமைச்சர்களை அவைக்கு அறிமுகம் செய்து வைக்காமல், எடுத்த எடுப்பிலேயே விவாதத்தை முன்னெடுக்க வேண்டும் என்கிற கோரிக்கை, அவையை நடத்த விடாமல் செய்வதற்கான முன்னெடுப்பு. புதிய வேளாண் சட்டங்களைத் திரும்பப் பெறுவதை வலியுறுத்தும் வாசகங்கள் அடங்கிய பதாகைகளுடன் எதிர்க்கட்சி உறுப்பினர்கள் அவைக்கு வந்திருந்தது, அவர்கள் முன்கூட்டியே திட்டமிட்டு செயல்பட்டதை வெளிப்படுத்துகிறது.
மாநிலங்களவையிலும், புதிய அமைச்சர்களை அறிமுகப்படுத்தவும், காலமான முன்னாள் மக்களவை உறுப்பினர்களுக்கு இரங்கல் தெரிவிக்கவும் அனுமதிக்காமல் எதிர்க்கட்சி உறுப்பினர்கள் அமளியில் ஈடுபட்டதும் அதேபோலத்தான். எதிர்க்கட்சிகள் முன்வைத்த 17 பிரச்னைகள் குறித்த விவாதத்துக்கு ஒன்றன்பின் ஒன்றாக அனுமதி வழங்குவதாக மாநிலங்களவைத் தலைவர் வெங்கைய நாயுடு உறுதி அளித்தும்கூட அதை அவர்கள் ஏற்காதது தவறான அணுகுமுறை.
நாடாளுமன்றத்தில் விவாதிப்பதற்கும், நரேந்திர மோடி அரசின் விளக்கத்தைப் பெறுவதற்கும் பல பிரச்னைகள் காத்துக் கிடக்கின்றன. அமளியில் ஈடுபடுவதால் அந்தப் பிரச்னைகள் விவாதிக்கப்பட்டுவிடாது என்பது தெரிந்தும் மக்கள் பிரதிநிதிகள் இவ்வாறு செயல்படுவது வருத்தமளிக்கிறது. நமது மரியாதைக்குரிய நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களும், பெருமதிப்பிற்குரிய குடிமக்களும் தெரிந்து கொள்வதற்காக, நாடாளுமன்றம் விவாதிக்க வேண்டிய முக்கியமான சில பிரச்னைகளை அவர்களது கவனத்துக்கு கொண்டுவருகிறோம்.
தினந்தோறும் ஆயிரக்கணக்கானவர்கள் தடுப்பூசி போட்டுக்கொள்ள இந்தியாவின் பல்வேறு பகுதிகளில் வரிசையில் நின்றும்கூடத் தடுப்பூசி பற்றாக்குறையால் மையங்களில் இருந்து ஏமாற்றத்துடன் திரும்புகிறார்கள். 18 வயதுக்கு மேற்பட்ட 92 கோடி பேருக்கு இரண்டு முறை தடுப்பூசி போடப்பட வேண்டும். டிசம்பர் மாதத்திற்குள் 216 கோடி டோஸ் தடுப்பூசிகள் கிடைக்கும் என்று கூறப்பட்டது. இதுவரை 40 கோடி பேருக்குத்தான் தடுப்பூசி போடப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. டிசம்பர் மாதத்திற்குள் எப்படி அனைவருக்கும் தடுப்பூசி போடப்படும் என்பது குறித்து அரசின் தெளிவான விளக்கம் தேவை.
இந்தியாவில் 5 முதல் 18 வயது வரையிலான பள்ளி செல்லும் குழந்தைகளின் எண்ணிக்கை சுமார் 30 கோடி. கடந்த 18 மாதங்களாகப் பள்ளிகள் செயல்படாமலும், அவர்களில் பலருக்கு இணைய வழிக் கல்வி வழங்கப்படாமலும் இருக்கிறது. கல்வி என்பது பொதுப் பட்டியலில் இருந்தாலும், மாநிலங்களின் பொறுப்பில் இருப்பது என்று மத்திய அரசு தட்டிக் கழித்துவிட முடியாது. 30 கோடி இந்திய குழந்தைகளின் வருங்காலம் கேள்விக்குறியாவதை மத்திய அரசு வேடிக்கை பார்க்கக் கூடாது. மாநிலங்களுடன் இணைந்து இந்தப் பிரச்னைக்குத் தீர்வுகாண அரசு என்னென்ன முயற்சிகள் செய்திருக்கிறது?
உணவுப் பொருள்களின் விலைவாசியும், பெட்ரோல் - டீசல் - சமையல் எரிவாயு விலையும் கடுமையாக உயர்ந்திருக்கின்றன. நடுத்தரக் குடும்பங்கள் அதனால் மிகப் பெரிய மன உளைச்சலுக்கு ஆளாகி இருக்கின்றன. அதன் விளைவாக பொருளாதார வளர்ச்சி தடைப்பட்டு, மக்களிடம் வாங்கும் சக்தி குறைந்து பொருளாதாரம் ஸ்தம்பித்திருக்கிறது. ஒருபுறம் சேமிப்புகளுக்கான வட்டித் தொகை குறைகிறது; மற்றொருபுறம் விலைவாசி அதிகரிக்கிறது. வரவுக்கும் செலவுக்கும் ஈடுகட்ட முடியாமல் மக்கள் தவிக்கிறார்கள். இந்தப் பிரச்னையை அரசு எப்படி எதிர்கொள்ளப் போகிறது?
உச்சநீதிமன்றம், கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று இறப்புகளுக்கு இழப்பீடு வழங்குவது குறித்து வழிகாட்டு நெறிமுறைகளை வெளியிட வேண்டுமென்று பேரிடர் மேலாண்மை ஆணையத்துக்கு உத்தரவிட்டிருக்கிறது. மத்திய சுகாதார அமைச்சகத்தின் கணக்குப்படி, இதுவரை கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றால் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கும் உயிரிழப்பு 4,13,091. இன்னொருபுறம் மத்திய உள்துறை அமைச்சகத்தின் 2019 அறிக்கைபடி, ஐந்தில் ஒரு இறப்பு பதிவு செய்யப்படுவதில்லை. அப்படியானால், கொவைட் 19 நோய்த்தொற்றால் உயிரிழந்தோரின் உண்மையான எண்ணிக்கைதான் என்ன? அரசிடம் இந்தப் புள்ளிவிவரம் இருக்கிறதா? இல்லை கடந்த ஆண்டு பொது முடக்கம் அறிவிக்கப்பட்டபோது உயிரிழந்த புலம்பெயர்ந்த தொழிலாளர்களின் எண்ணிக்கைபோல எந்தவித விவரமும் இல்லையா?
கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுக்குப் பிறகு வேலைவாய்ப்பை இழந்தவர்களின் எண்ணிக்கைதான் என்ன? தொழிலாளர் நல அமைச்சகத்திடம் வேலை இல்லாதவர்களின் புள்ளிவிவரமும், வேலை இழந்தவர்களின் புள்ளிவிவரமும் இருக்கிறதா, இல்லையா? கடந்த ஓர் ஆண்டில் மூடப்பட்ட சிறு, குறு, நடுத்தரத் தொழில்கள் குறித்த புள்ளிவிவரம் திரட்டப்பட்டிருக்கிறதா? ஆண்டொன்றுக்கு ஊழியர்களுக்கு ஊதியமாக மட்டும் மக்கள் வரிப்பணத்திலிருந்து மத்திய அரசு ரூ.2.54 லட்சம் கோடியை வழங்கும் நிலையில், இந்த புள்ளிவிவரங்களைக்கூட சேகரிக்க முடியவில்லை என்றால், எப்படி?
அரசிடம் கேட்பதற்கு இன்னும் எத்தனையோ கேள்விகள் இருக்கின்றன. நாடாளுமன்ற அமளி மூலம் அரசைக் காப்பாற்ற எதிர்க்கட்சிகள் உதவுகின்றன. இதனை ஏற்பவர் ஏற்கட்டும், மறுப்பவர் மறுக்கட்டும்!
“If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.” Those words of Sen. Frank Church, who led one of two committees on intelligence and surveillance reform established in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, are just as relevant in India today given the revelations of extensive surveillance — it is unclear by whom, but signs point to the Indian government — by the use of spyware on people’s phones. While there is much to be said about the international regulation of the unaccountable sale of spyware by shadowy entities such as the NSO Group, it is equally, if not more important to ensure that surveillance in India is made accountable.
Go easy on the salt
My former colleague, Sunil Abraham, often likens surveillance to salt. A small amount of surveillance is necessary for the health of the body politic, just as salt is for the body; in excess, both are dangerous. While one cannot enjoy the liberties provided under the Constitution without national security, we must equally remember that national security is not meaningful if it comes at the cost of the very liberties such security is supposed to allow us to enjoy. Excessive and unaccountable surveillance imperils privacy, freedom of thought, of speech, and has a chilling effect on people’s behaviour, while shattering the bedrock of the rule of law upon which a constitutional liberal democracy is built.
The government claims all its surveillance is authorised and justified. But then, the question arises: where are the prosecutions for terrorism, organised crime, espionage, etc., based on evidence from such surveillance? Who is ensuring that the surveillance is necessary and proportionate? Indeed, on the contrary, there are numerous examples of surveillance powers being misused for personal and political gain, and to harass opponents.
In 2012 in Himachal Pradesh, the new government raided police agencies and recovered over a lakh phone conversations of over a thousand people, mainly political members, and many senior police officials, including the Director General of Police (DGP), who is legally responsible for conducting phone taps in the State.
In 2013, India’s current Home Minister was embroiled in a controversy dubbed “Snoopgate”, with phone recordings alleged to be of him speaking to the head of an anti-terrorism unit to conduct covert surveillance on a young architect and her family members without any legal basis. The Gujarat government admitted the surveillance, including phone tapping, but claimed it was done on the basis of a request made to the Chief Minister by the woman’s father. Yet, no order signed by the State’s Home Secretary — a legal necessity for a phone tap — was ever produced, and the Gujarat High Court shut down an inquiry into “Snoopgate” upon the request of the architect and her father, on the shocking basis that it “did not involve public interest”.
In 2009, the United Progressive Alliance government swore in an affidavit in the Supreme Court that the CBDT had placed Niira Radia, a well-connected PR professional, under surveillance due to fears of her being a foreign spy. Yet, while they kept her under surveillance for 300 days, they did not prosecute her for espionage.
Non-state actors such as the Essar group, have also been shown to engage in illegal surveillance. K.K. Paul, then the Governor of Meghalaya, noted complaints by telecom operators that private individuals were misusing police contacts to tap phone calls of “opponents in trade or estranged spouses”.
There are dozens of such examples of unlawful surveillance which seem to be for political and personal gain, and have nothing to do with national security or organised crime. Yet, there are few examples of people being held legally accountable for unlawful surveillance.
Currently, the laws authorising interception and monitoring of communications are Section 92 of the CrPC (for call records, etc), Rule 419A of the Telegraph Rules, and the rules under Sections 69 and 69B of the IT Act. Indeed, it is unclear when the Telegraph Act applies and when the IT Act applies. A limited number of agencies are provided powers to intercept and monitor.
In 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs told Parliament that nine central agencies and the DGPs of all States and Delhi were empowered to conduct interception under the Indian Telegraph Act. In 2018, nine central agencies and one State agency were authorised to conduct intercepts under Section 69 of the IT Act. Yet, the Intelligence Organisations Act, which restricts the civil liberties of intelligence agency employees, only lists four agencies, while the RTI Act lists 22 agencies as “intelligence and security organisations established by the central government” that are exempt from the RTI Act. Thus, it is unclear which entities count as intelligence and security agencies.
Further, a surveillance alphabet soup exists, with programmes such as CMS, TCIS, NETRA, CCTNS, and so on, none of which has been authorised by any statute, and thus fall short of the 2017 K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, which made it clear that any invasion of privacy could only be justified if it satisfied three tests: first, the restriction must be by law; second, it must be necessary (only if other means are not available) and proportionate (only as much as needed); and third, it must promote a legitimate state interest (e.g., national security).
In 2010, then Vice-President Hamid Ansari called for a legislative basis for India’s agencies, and the creation of a standing committee of Parliament on intelligence to ensure that they remain accountable and respectful of civil liberties. In 2011, the Cabinet Secretary in a note on surveillance held that the Central Board of Direct Taxes having interception powers was a continuing violation of a 1975 Supreme Court judgment on the Telegraph Act. That same year, parliamentarian Manish Tewari introduced a private member’s Bill to bring intelligence agencies under a legislative framework. That Bill soon lapsed. In 2013, the Ministry of Defence-funded think-tank, the Institute for Defence and Strategic Analysis, published a report, “A Case for Intelligence Reforms in India”, a core recommendation of which was: “the intelligence agencies in India must be provided a legal framework for their existence and functioning; their functioning must be under Parliamentary oversight and scrutiny”.
In 2018, the Srikrishna Committee on data protection noted that post the K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, most of India’s intelligence agencies are “potentially unconstitutional”, since they are not constituted under a statute passed by Parliament — the National Intelligence Agency being an exception. In its 2019 election manifesto, the Indian National Congress — in what to my knowledge was a first for a national political party — called for parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies.
The legacy of the Church Committee can be seen in the fact that the Snowden revelations in 2013 did not uncover any spying on Opposition politicians, journalists, judges, and human rights defenders for partisan political ends. What was shocking about the Snowden revelations was the extent of NSA’s surveillance, the overreach of the powers provided under the PATRIOT Act, as well as the lack of sufficient checks and balances provided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Snowden revelations led to meaningful reform of that court, and controversial domestic surveillance provisions of the PATRIOT Act expired in 2020.
We need such reforms in India, which are aimed at professionalising intelligence gathering, bringing intelligence agencies under parliamentary oversight, making them non-partisan, and ensuring that civil liberties and rule of law are protected. This is India’s Watergate moment, and the Supreme Court and Parliament should seize it.
Pranesh Prakash was a co-founder of the Centre for Internet and Society, and is an affiliated fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project
When garment manufacturer, the Kitex Group, recently announced that it was rethinking its plans to make fresh investments in its home State of Kerala, nine other States competed to win its favour. They offered it financial incentives and other sops. The company chose Telangana; the State had not only offered it the “best deal” but also sent a plane for the company leaders to travel to Hyderabad and meet the Minister for Industries. Kerala’s often toxic trade unionism has been the major factor in derailing the industrial ambitions of the State. But beyond the industrial climate of Kerala, the Kitex episode mirrors an ongoing global bargain between capitalism and democracy.
The foremost industrial societies are grappling with this question, and the G7 countries have taken the initiative to move towards a global minimum tax on corporations and to obligate companies to pay more taxes where they operate also as opposed to where they are headquartered. At the heart of the debate are two questions. First, how does a capitalist enterprise relate to the political and social organisation in its location? Second, how do different jurisdictions compete for investments, and at what social cost? Now, a recap of the Kitex story with reference to these questions.
Kitex is primarily export-oriented and counts American retail giant Walmart among its global clients. Located in the Kizhakkambalam panchayat near Kochi, the company employs nearly 10,000 people, most of them from outside Kerala. In 2015, the corporate social responsibility activities of the company took a political form. Under the banner ‘Twenty20’ Kizhakkambalam, it fielded candidates in the local body elections, in a sensational move. It won 17 of the 19 seats and took control of the panchayat (https://bit.ly/3zlVxgl). In the 2020 local body elections, it captured power in three more panchayats. In the 2021 Kerala Assembly elections, Twenty20 fielded candidates in eight segments and performed well, though nobody won. Along the way, in 2020, the group had announced Rs. 3,500 crore of fresh investments in the State.
Things suddenly turned turtle after the May Assembly results; the company said that the 11 inspections it had at its sites in the month of June were nothing but harassment. The government said these inspections were in response to specific complaints regarding human and labour rights violations. The company chairman berated the investment climate in Kerala. At the end of it all, Kitex announced its decision to move to Telangana.
Compact of social control
The regulations that cover labour relations, the environment, and natural resources and taxes make up the compact of social control over private enterprises. The social compact between capitalism and democracy is negotiated through elected representatives and bureaucrats. This negotiation turns out in practice to be legal and illegal, and through formal and informal means. Rules are there, but bribes and political donations are also a part of it. In places where democracy is dispersed and political action is multilevel, such negotiations become more complex. For instance, in Kerala, even the Chief Minister is unable to enforce everything that he thinks appropriate — a point that the Kitex chairman has repeatedly made. It is in places where the chief executive has untrammelled power that all decisions are at the ‘single window’.
Based on all these considerations, the investor has to make his decisions at two levels — where to locate the capital, and how to deal with the social and political issues there. As American States began to compete with one another to attract investors, the phrase ‘race-to-the-bottom’ came into use in the early 20th century, denoting the competition to please capital, and overlook other factors such as the environment and labour. This race turned global towards the end of the century. Countries, and jurisdictions within countries, are encouraged to compete with one another. In 2015, India partnered with the World Bank to launch the Ease of Doing Business ranking of States, following the global ranking model.
The investor friendliness of a State is often reduced to its willingness and capability to override the interests of the labour, environment, and indigenous populations. How tax concessions impact State capacity is a linked question. With States losing most taxation powers, tax concessions are not a viable allurement that they can offer any more. Jharkhand is ranked five in the Ease of Doing Business ranking;; Kerala is at 28 (https://bit.ly/3hQRTF5). The previous government of Jharkhand would jail 3,000 Adivasis who claimed legally guaranteed rights under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The fight for their legal rights led Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy to imprisonment and death in custody at the age of 84, recently. In the poverty score card (out of 100) in the Sustainable Development Goals Index 2019-20, Jharkhand is 28, while Kerala gets 64.
The American example
Before the rise of globalisation, the capitalist had to negotiate with the political system at its base. The influence of corporations in U.S. democracy remains a contentious topic. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed unlimited election spending by corporations and billionaires. They promote or undermine particular causes and personalities. The Kitex group took this model to a step further and directly captured political power in four panchayats, even as complaints of pollution rose against it. Not stopping there, its chairman proposed that bigger companies should follow his model and take over political administration across the country. But controlling four panchayats did not amount to control over the overarching political system. Hence, relocation.
The story of globalisation is a story of capital’s enhanced capacity to flee from the shackles of too much democracy to places that are well-controlled under a strong regime, where all clearances are available at a ‘single window’. Investments moved to places where environmental regulations are lax, wages are low, labour standards are weak, and dissent is answered with an iron fist. This was working perfectly until its ripple effects reached the shores of western democracies. Now the West is waking up to the challenge and the G7 move is an acknowledgment of the crisis. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen now talks about the “working class”. “That global minimum tax would end the race to the bottom in corporate taxation, and ensure fairness for the middle class and working people in the U.S. and around the world,” she said recently. This would also be “encouraging countries to compete on positive bases, such as educating and training our work forces and investing in research and development and infrastructure.”
Need for a national standard
Rather than vilifying Kerala for its alleged hostility to investments and glorifying the opportunism of capital, the need of the hour is to discuss the requirement of a national standard for corporate governance, environment and labour, alongside the forceful implementation of the laws that guarantee the rights of indigenous communities in the development process.
It is ironic that India is encouraging competition among States as a route to development at a time when the most advanced industrial societies are realising the limits of competition and pushing for better global standards in labour, environment and taxation. Turning the development aspirations of States into a modern-day gladiator sport is hardly in line with the slogan that we are asked to repeat — One India.
Even as the real economy returns to the doldrums after being hit by the second wave of COVID-19 infections, the continuing bull run in India’s equity market in the April-June quarter has baffled many observers. After breaching the 41,000-mark between December 2019 and February 2020, the benchmark BSE Sensex had nosedived to below 28,000 in March-April 2020, following the nationwide lockdown. Although India’s stringent lockdown could not prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from doing considerable damage, the equity market posted a sharp V-shaped recovery in 2020-21. The Sensex surged beyond 50,000 in February 2021 and is currently closing on the 53,000 level.
Why is there an equity bubble?
This equity market exuberance at a time of severe socio-economic distress has prodded the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s annual report (2020-21) to state: “This order of asset price inflation in the context of the estimated 8 per cent contraction in GDP in 2020-21 poses the risk of a bubble.” An analysis in the same annual report though sees “a part of Sensex increase” as “rational”, being supported by improved corporate earnings.
Whether bubbles can at all be “rational” remains a matter of academic debate. Empirical evidence across several centuries, however, bears out a home truth — sooner or later, bubbles burst. There was an 81%-plus growth in the Sensex between April 2020 and March 2021 in the backdrop of real GDP growth plummeting to -7.3% during the same period. While output contraction had reversed from the third quarter of 2020-21, the inflation rate also rose and remained way ahead of the real GDP growth rate in the last two quarters (Chart 1). It is difficult to find any rationality behind the skyrocketing BSE Sensex in the context of such stagflation in the real economy.
Just like the precipitous fall in the equity prices was driven by foreign portfolio investors (FPI) net selling over Rs. 68,800 crore worth of equities in March-April 2020, the return of massive FPI inflows has driven the Indian equity bubble since then (Chart 2). Net FPI inflows clocked an unprecedented Rs. 2.74 lakh crore in 2020-21, the previous high being Rs. 1.4 lakh crore in 2012-13. While the mutual funds were net sellers during 2020-21 to the tune of Rs. 1.2 lakh crore, retail investors chased higher equity market returns, with the interest rates falling across the board. As reported by the RBI, 1.43 crore demat accounts were opened in 2020-21 as against around 50 lakh accounts opened in 2019-20.
The equity bubble in India has not evolved in isolation. The global liquidity glut, following the expansionary, easy money policies adopted by the fiscal and monetary authorities of the OECD and G20 countries, has led to equity price inflation in several markets driven by FPIs, especially in Asia. Following cues from the U.S. and the U.K., Asian equity markets in Singapore, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong are currently witnessing price-earnings (P/E) ratios significantly above their historic means. The BSE Sensex’s P/E ratio of 32 in end-June 2021 is way above its historic mean of around 20.
Correction in the equity market
With COVID-19 vaccination and economic recovery proceeding apace in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe, fiscal and monetary policy stances will change soon. Once the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks start raising interest rates, the direction of FPI flows will invariably change bringing about corrections in equity markets across Asia.
India remains particularly vulnerable to a major correction in the equity market because of two reasons. First, the pace of COVID-19 vaccination in India, given the vast population, lags behind most large countries. India has so far fully vaccinated only 6.3% of its population. Within G20 countries, only Indonesia and South Africa are at similar levels, with 6.1% and 2.9% of their populations fully vaccinated, respectively. Many other countries have ensured much higher rates of vaccination. The U.S., the U.K. and China have fully vaccinated half their populations. In contrast, insufficient budgetary allocation and mismanagement of vaccine procurement has created severe supply bottlenecks in India, which have brought down the pace of vaccination in July. In the absence of a substantial increase in the vaccination budget and procurement, large segments of the Indian population will remain vulnerable to a potential third wave of COVID-19, with its attendant deleterious impact on the real economy. Second, India’s economic recovery from the recession will remain constrained by the weak fiscal stimulus that has been delivered by the Central government. Data from the IMF clearly show that while the total global stimulus consisted of additional public spending or revenue foregone measures amounting to 7.4% of global GDP, India’s fiscal measures amounted to 3.3% of GDP only, less than half of the global average. Only three countries in the G20 had a smaller fiscal stimulus than India’s (Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Mexico). The large doses of additional liquidity support, which in many of the G20 countries/ regions like the European Union, Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey exceeded the size of the fiscal measures, have contributed more to the equity bubbles than to spurring real economic activity.
The second COVID-19 wave had hit India at a time when the economy had just started showing signs of acceleration, reflected in a sharp rise in GST collections and gross tax revenues in April 2021. The consequent lockdowns once again disrupted economic activity and led to a deceleration in GST and gross tax revenues in May and June 2021. With all agencies, including the RBI, downsizing India’s growth projections for 2021-22, it remains to be seen whether India’s equity bubble lasts beyond end-August 2021, when the first quarter GDP results are due. If it does, it will only be for a while, before one or the other possible trigger causes speculative finance capital to change its course.
Prasenjit Bose is a Kolkata-based economist and activist; Indranil Chowdhury teaches economics at PGDAV College, Delhi University
The U.S.-based Pew Research Center’s survey has thrown up an interesting finding on religious tolerance in India: Indians of all faiths, paradoxically, support both religious tolerance and religious segregation. Most Indians (84%) surveyed said that respecting all religions is very important to them and all religious groups must be allowed to practise their faith freely. Yet, a considerable number of them also said they preferred to have religious groups segregated and live and marry within their own community.
This curious finding has resulted in a BBC Asia report stating that India is neither a melting pot (diverse cultures blending into one common national identity) nor a salad bowl (different cultures retaining their specific characteristics while assimilating into one national identity) but a thali (an Indian meal comprising separate dishes on a platter where they are combined in specific ways). The academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta concluded that the survey shows that though India is committed to religious diversity, it is “exclusionary and segmented in toleration”.
An ‘unheroic form of tolerance’
Sociologist Ashis Nandy had developed a framework in the 2000s to understand these preferences. In a keynote address delivered in Australia (2010), Mr. Nandy observed that this form of living constituted a distinctly Asian cosmopolitanism. It had developed in regions which have to accommodate not just diversities but “radical diversities” that may prove to be dangerous if they are brought together in the same space. To accommodate these differences and peculiarities in the practices of different communities, everyday mechanisms of coping have evolved. This has resulted in a unique form of cosmopolitanism where differences can be accommodated without pressuring members of one community to be like the other based on a notion of universal brotherhood. On the contrary, members of one community can go to extraordinary lengths to help members of the other community maintain their own customary practices including their separate dining and dietary habits. Mr. Nandy called it a tolerance that is built into people’s everyday rhythms, is not backed by any ideological justification, and involves no sense of obligation to each other. He termed it an “unheroic form of tolerance” that allows interaction for various purposes without forcing one to declare brotherly love or adopt the other community’s practices.
It is this kind of cosmopolitanism that Mr. Nandy found operative in Kochi. In one of his earlier essays on Kochi (2001), he explored why the city, which has close to 15 diverse communities, had not witnessed any major religious strife in its 600 years of recorded history. When he interviewed people, they reasoned that Keralites are educated or progressive. But a different story emerged when he probed them about their own life histories. “Kochi’s tolerance was, alas, based on mutual dislike,” he wrote. Every community had an account from its own past to show that it was better than the others. This included two Jewish communities, each of which generally prevented its children from marrying those from the other community. Hence, Kochi’s pluralism and communal amity included hostilities and distances which, “because they operate within a widely shared psychological universe, have certain in-built checks against mass violence.”
This model of cosmopolitanism, where people accept “the otherness of the others”, is very different from the Enlightenment version which teaches us to divest ourselves of all prejudices so that we can emerge as the unbiased citizens of the nation state. The latter, a tougher version of tolerance, Mr. Nandy argued, forces us to hide our prejudices and preferences. As a result, everyday living becomes a struggle. It also leads to superficial forms of tolerance of diversity compatible with the demands of the middle class and the modern nation state where one can no longer accept radical diversities.
Mr. Nandy’s explanation helped me make sense of my traditional-minded mother’s attitude on the cow slaughter bill that became an issue in Karnataka. While she showed her distaste at the thought of cows being slaughtered for food, when asked if the practice should be banned, she said, “But how can you ban it. It is their food. They have been eating it for years.” Mr. Nandy’s framework allows us to make sense of such seemingly contradictory actions in our everyday lives. Is this form of living detrimental to the health of a society or is this another unique form of cosmopolitanism whose organic form must be recognised? Perhaps it is the erosion of our abilities to accept the “radical otherness” of people who are different from us that has resulted in much strife today.
Shashikala Srinivasan is the author of Liberal Education and Its Discontents
There is considerable excitement in Indian diplomatic circles on the nomination of the next U.S. Ambassador. Six months after President Joe Biden assumed office, the White House announced that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be the next occupant at Roosevelt House in New Delhi.
Support from the President
Mr. Garcetti is a political pick of Mr. Biden and endorsed him during his run for the top political post. The nomination is also seen as support from the Biden camp to Mr. Garcetti after some high-profile controversy in the Mayor’s office last year.
Mr. Biden is unhurried in making diplomatic appointments. The first set came in April. The latest announcement reflects the U.S.’s priorities as Washington prepares to host this September the first in-person summit meeting of the leaders of Quad.
While making public his acceptance of the nomination, the Ambassador-select promised to bring the same energy to the office that he demonstrated as an activist, teacher, a naval officer and a public servant. “And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles,” Mr. Garcetti tweeted.
People familiar with the workings of the administration in Washington suggest that Mr. Garcetti enjoys a strong backing from the Vice-President too. He served on the panel appointed by the Biden team to select the candidate for vice-presidency.
Considering the wide spectrum of interactions among the many sectors of New Delhi and Washington and the number of professionals engaged in conversations, his appointment should be looked at from the prism of both how things work inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C. and a reflection of politics of the West Coast, especially California.
As a number of Indian-Americans have been appointed in the Biden administration, a few aspirants with strong India connections will be disappointed. Reports say that a few with India Caucus on the House side also threw their hat in the ring. On this count, Mr. Garcetti’s dealing with India or previous interactions would appear thin. The choice of the new envoy to India, who has a sprinkling of Hindi vocabulary in his lexicon, should open up the conversation.
Since the announcement, a quick observation of posts by the denizens of Los Angeles on social media on Mr. Garcetti shows that they are unflattering, but then such is the nature of politics. Mr. Garcetti served in the city council for two decades including the last eight years as the Mayor.
Yet, from the standpoint of India, what is important is that Mr. Garcetti can pick up the phone and talk to the President and the Vice-President when required to move the pieces to provide momentum to the bilateral ‘global strategic partnership’.
Process of selection
The formalisation of his appointment awaits confirmation by the Senate, a requirement under the U.S. Constitution that states the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers…”.
The confirmation process can take a few weeks after the President sends the list of names up the Capitol Hill. There is a growing practice to scrutinise names, with Committees examining the qualifications, policy preferences and independence of the nominees, and at times even seeking information on their health and financial assets.
The confirmation process has been debated over the years. Some political commentators hold a poor view of it while the legendary Senator, Robert C. Byrd, from West Virginia, defended it saying that if the Senate “rushes through a nomination without adequate investigation, it is accused of ‘consent without advice, or being half-rubber, half-stamp”. Taking part in proceedings in 1987, he remarked that the Senate would do disservice to a president by rushing any nomination. The process as mandated continues uninterrupted.
K.V. Prasad is a senior journalist and a former American Political Science Association Fellow with the U.S. Congress
The Union Ministry of Jal Shakti’s gazette notification on the jurisdiction of the Krishna and Godavari River Management Boards over projects and assets in the fields of irrigation and hydropower, though delayed, is a welcome development. The two river boards can now administer, regulate, operate and maintain 36 projects in the Krishna Basin and 71 in the Godavari to ensure judicious water use in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The arrangement is expected to leave the working of Water Resources or Irrigation Department in the States intact. The seven-year delay to get the notification only reflects the tense equations between the two States over river water sharing. The States have been locked in a battle of sorts over the utilisation of Krishna water, with Andhra Pradesh proposing a few projects, including a lift irrigation scheme for Rayalaseema, a region from where Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy hails, and, in turn, Telangana coming up with half-a-dozen projects of its own. Although the Union Minister of Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat — the chairperson of the apex council of the two river boards — had said that the Centre would go ahead with notifying the jurisdiction of the boards, it took nine months to see whether a reluctant Telangana would fall in line. The seven-year-old State had held the view that the notification should flow from finalisation by a tribunal on Krishna water sharing by the two States that would enlarge the scope of reference of the existing Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal (KWDT)-II. Telangana had even moved the Supreme Court but the Centre said it would consider Telangana’s request only if it withdrew its petition which it did. In the process, Telangana wanted its complaint to be referred to the current Tribunal to avoid duplication of inquiry.
The Centre must now see to it that the empowered Boards function in a fair manner, as the Union government’s decision will be final with regard to matters concerning jurisdiction of the two bodies. Both States have their own justification to pursue new water and power projects as several areas await economic development. Rayalaseema is a dry region and it was grievances over poor utilisation of the two rivers in then undivided Andhra Pradesh that was a factor that led to the bifurcation. At the same time, the two States should instead focus on water and energy conservation and improving the efficiency of irrigation schemes and hydel reservoirs. Given the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the finances of the Centre and in States, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh do need to consider these alternatives and low-cost options. After studying the experiences of the revamped Boards, the Centre should look at turning the much talked-about concept of river basin organisations into a reality.
At least a 1,000 Indian phone numbers are in a list of potential targets of surveillance using the Pegasus spyware sold by Israeli company the NSO Group to “vetted governments” with the approval of the Israeli government. Of these, 300 numbers have been verified; 22 phones were subjected to forensic analysis by Amnesty International and peer reviewed by University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab. Of these, 10 were clearly established as being targeted by Pegasus; eight of the other 12 yielded inconclusive results. The evidence is strong, and the credibility of these revelations is extremely high. Indian citizens were indeed targets of a vicious, abominable and uncivil surveillance campaign by a government entity, Indian or foreign. The buck stops with the Government of India. Instead of coming clean and explaining what it intends to do to protect citizens, the GoI has fallen back on a disingenuous claim that no illegal surveillance is possible in India. There are legal provisions for intercepting communication and accessing digitally stored information in the interests of national security and public safety. The capture of a handheld machine by Pegasus turns that into a real-time spy on the target who can be watched over and followed every step. This surveillance is total, into their private and intimate lives, which have no bearing on any public interest.
The cohort of people who were potential targets — journalists, politicians, probably a Supreme Court judge and a former Election Commissioner — does not indicate that the surveillance was necessitated by national security or public safety concerns. It is safe to assume that no information regarding terrorism or Chinese intrusion can be obtained by spying on a woman who complained of sexual harassment by a former CJI. On the contrary, the composition suggests that private craving, turpitude and even voyeurism motivated the perpetrators. This violation is about privacy and much more. Information obtained illegally may have been used to compromise institutions, to steal elections, sabotage Opposition campaigns, and even dislodge an Opposition government. That the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case had their computers breached by unknown entities to plant evidence that the prosecution is now using against them is notable in this context. That state agencies can trample upon the lives of citizens in such manner while elected representatives plead ignorance is unsettling for a democracy. This is antithetical to the basic creed of democracy. The truth about these revelations must be unearthed through an investigation by a JPC or by the Supreme Court or any other credible mechanism. A starting point for the Government must be in clearing the air on the foremost question it is skirting around — has any Indian agency bought Pegasus?
Major Hashem al Atta, who, last night overthrew the Sudanese regime of his former comrade-in-arms, President Jaffar el Numeiry, in a second bloodless coup is a communist. Maj. Atta to-day [Cairo, July 20] cancelled a government ban on four communist organisations, representing the power base of the Sudanese Communist Party. The four groups were dissolved last February by the Numeiry regime, said Omdurman Radio. Contrary to earlier reports that Major General Numeiry was flown to exile in neighbouring United Arab Republic, the Iraqi News Agency said he was under arrest at Army Headquarters in Khartoum. The new rulers to-day formed a seven-man Revolutionary Council and consolidated their hold on Africa’s largest country. The chairmanship of the Revolutionary Council went to Colonel Babikr el Noor Osman, a former Vice-Prime Minister who was dismissed in a major Government shake-up last November, along with Maj. Atta and the former Interior Minister, Maj. Osman Hamdalla, who is also included in the Council.