மாணவர்களின் வழிகாட்டியாகத் திகழ்ந்த முன்னாள் குடியரசுத் தலைவர் அப்துல் கலாமின் பிறந்தநாள் இன்று.
நமது மக்கள் குடியரசுத் தலைவர் அப்துல் கலாம் கடந்து வந்த பாதைகள் விவரம்.
1931: அப்துல்கலாம் பிறந்தார்.
1954: திருச்சி ஜோசப் கல்லூரியில் பட்டம் பெற்றார்.
1955: எம்.ஐ.டி., கல்லூரியில் "ஏரோஸ்பேஸ் இன்ஜினியரிங்' படிப்பில் சேர்ந்தார்.
1960: தலைமை விஞ்ஞானியாக டி.ஆர்.டி.ஓ., வில் சேர்ந்தார்.
1969: இஸ்ரோவில் பணியில் சேர்ந்தார்.
1992: பிரதமரின் தலைமை பாதுகாப்பு ஆலோசராக சேர்ந்தார்.
1997: நாட்டின் உயரிய விருதான "பாரத ரத்னா' விருது பெற்றார்.
1998: பொக்ரான் அணுஆயுத சோதனையில் முக்கிய பங்கு வகித்தார்.
1999: ஆராய்ச்சி மற்றும் மேம்பாட்டு நிறுவனத்தில் சேர்ந்தார்.
2002: 11வது குடியரசுத் தலைவராக பதவியேற்றார்.
2015: அப்துல் கலாம் மறைந்தார்.
முன்னாள் குடியரசுத் தலைவர் அப்துல் கலாம் எழுதிய நூல்கள்:
* அக்னி சிறகுகள்
* இந்தியா 2012
* எழுச்சி தீபங்கள்
* அப்புறம் பிறந்தது ஒரு புதிய குழந்தை
கலாம் பெற்ற விருதுகள்
நமது மக்கள் குடியரசுத் தலைவர் அப்துல் கலாம் பெற்ற விருதுகள் விவரம்.
1981 – பத்ம பூஷன்
1990 – பத்ம விபூஷன்
1997 – பாரத ரத்னா
1997 – தேசிய ஒருங்கிணைப்பு இந்திராகாந்தி விருது
1998 – வீர் சவர்கார் விருது
2000 – ராமானுஜன் விருது
2007 – அறிவியல் கவுரவ டாக்டர் பட்டம்
2007 – கிங் சார்லஸ்-II பட்டம்
2008 – பொறியியல் டாக்டர் பட்டம்
2009 – சர்வதேச வோன் கார்மான் விங்ஸ் விருது
2009 – ஹூவர் மெடல்
2010 – பொறியியல் டாக்டர் பட்டம்
2012 – சட்டங்களின் டாக்டர்
2012 – சவரா சம்ஸ்க்ருதி புரஸ்கார் விருது
நாட்டின் 11-ஆவது குடியரசுத் தலைவராக இருந்த அப்துல் கலாம், "மக்கள் குடியரசுத் தலைவர்' என்று அனைவராலும் அன்போடு அழைக்கப்பட்டவர்.
எளிமைக்கு உதாரணம்: குடியரசுத் தலைவர் மாளிகையில் அவர் 5 ஆண்டுகள் வாழ்ந்தாலும் பதவிக்காலம் மட்டுமன்றி வாழ்நாள் முழுவதும் எளிமைக்கு உதாரணமாக இருந்தார். தில்லி ராஜாஜி மார்கில் வசித்து வந்த அவரை அனைவரும் எளிதில் சந்திக்க முடிந்தது. எல்லோரிடமும் பண்புடன் பேசுவார். இளம் தலைமுறையினர் மீது அளவு கடந்த நம்பிக்கையைக் கொண்டிருந்தார். குடியரசுத் தலைவராக இருந்தபோது அவரது மாளிக்கைக்குச் செல்லும் தமிழ் அமைப்புகளின் பிரதிநிதிகள், கலைத் துறையைச் சேர்ந்தவர்கள், தமிழர்கள் உள்ளிட்டோரை அன்புடன் உபசரிப்பார்.
குடியரசுத் தலைவர் மாளிகையில் தூசு படிந்திருந்த நூலகத்தை மின்னணு மயமாக்கினார். இந்தப் பணியை தமது நேரடி மேற்பார்வையில் மேற்கொண்டு இரண்டரை ஆண்டுகளில் மின்னணு நூலகம் அமைய நடவடிக்கை எடுத்தார். இப்போதும் இந்த நூலகம் குடியரசுத் தலைவர் மாளிகையின் முக்கியப் பகுதியில் ஒன்றாக பராமரிக்கப்படுகிறது.
இந்தியா 2020: கலாம் தனது 'இந்தியா 2020' என்ற புத்தகத்தில் இந்தியாவை வல்லரசு நாடாக மாற்ற திட்டங்களை முன்மொழிந்துள்ளார். கலாம் தனது ஊக்குவிக்கும் முறையிலான பேச்சுக்களால், இந்திய மாணவர் சமூகத்துடன் தொடர்ந்து கலந்துரையாடல்களை நடத்தி வந்தார். அவர், "நான் இளம் வயதினருடன், குறிப்பாக உயர்நிலைப் பள்ளி மாணவர்களுடன் இருக்கும்போது நிறைவாக உணர்கிறேன்' என்று கூறியுள்ளார்.
தமிழகத்தைச் சேர்ந்த அரசியல், திரைத்துறை உள்ளிட்ட முக்கிய ஆளுமைகளால் மிகவும் மதிக்கப்பட்டவர். வாழ்நாளில் திருக்குறளை மாணவர்கள், இளைஞர்கள் மத்தியில் கொண்டு சேர்த்தவர்.
பயணி: நாடு முழுவதும் உள்ள கல்லூரி, பல்கலைக்கழகங்களில் நடைபெற்ற பட்டமளிப்பு, ஆண்டு விழாக்களில் கலந்து கொண்டு இளம் தலைமுறையினரை கனவு காண ஊக்கப்படுத்தி வந்தவர். ஓய்வுக்குப் பின்னும் அவரது ஓய்வறியாப் பயணத்தைக் கண்டு அறிவியலாளர்களும், அறிஞர்களும் வியந்தனர். வெளிநாடு வாழ் இந்தியர்களும் கலாமின் உரையை கேட்க தவமிருந்தனர்.
ஆசிரியர்களுக்கு அறிவுரை: தகவல் தொழில்நுட்ப வளர்ச்சியால் ஆசிரியர்-மாணவர், பெற்றோர்-குழந்தைகள் ஆகியோருக்கு இடையிலான இடைவெளி அதிகமாகியுள்ளதையும், தகவல் தொழில்நுட்பத்தால் நன்மைகள் கிடைத்தாலும் வன்முறையும் அதிகமாகி விட்டதையும், பெற்றோர்கள் தங்களது குழந்தைகளுடன் அதிகமான நேரத்தை செலவு செய்ய வேண்டும் என்பதையும் பல நிகழ்வுகளில் வலியுறுத்தியுள்ளார். இன்றைய கல்வி முறையை மாற்றி அமைக்க வேண்டும். பாடச்சுமையைக் குறைக்க வேண்டும். 6-ஆம் வகுப்பு வரை பெற்றோர்கள் அரவணைப்பில் மாணவர்கள் படிக்கும்படி பாடங்கள் இருக்க வேண்டும் என்பதையும் வலியுறுத்தியுள்ளார்.
தில்லியில் கடைசி நிகழ்வு: தில்லி தலைமைச் செயலகத்தில் கடந்த 2015ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜூலை 3-ஆம் தேதி தில்லி அரசுப் பள்ளி ஆசிரியர்கள் மத்தியில் பேசுகையில், "அடுத்த பத்தாண்டுகளில் திறன்மிக்க 30 முதல் 50 கோடி இளைஞர்களின் தேவை இந்தியாவில் எழும் என ஆய்வுகள் தெரிவிக்கின்றன. இதுபோன்ற திறன்மிக்க இளைஞர்களை உருவாக்க பல்கலைக்கழகம், இடைநிலைப் பள்ளி ஆகியவற்றின் பாடத் திட்டங்களில் முழுமையான மாற்றம் செய்ய வேண்டிய தேவை எழுந்துள்ளது. குறிப்பாக 9,10,11,12 ஆகிய வகுப்புகளில் 25 சதவீதமான பள்ளிப் பாட வேளைகள் மாணவர்களின் திறன் மேம்பாட்டுத் திட்டங்களுக்காக ஒதுக்கப்பட வேண்டும். பள்ளிப் படிப்பை முடித்துவிட்டு வரும் மாணவர்களுக்கு 10, 12-ஆம் வகுப்பு சான்றிதழுடன், அவர்களுக்கு நான்கு ஆண்டுகள் அளிக்கப்பட்ட திறன் மேம்பாட்டுச் சான்றிதழும் வழங்கப்பட வேண்டும். அறிவுசார் சமூக உருவாக்கத்தில் ஆசிரியர்கள் போன்ற கல்வியாளர்களின் பங்கு அளப்பரியது' என்றார். அவர் தில்லியில் அறிவுசார் சமூகத்தைப் படைப்பது குறித்து வலியுறுத்தியது குறிப்பிடத்தக்கது.
மாணவர்களின், இளைஞர்களின் கனவு நாயகராக விளங்கிய அவர், மக்கள் மனத்தில் நீங்கா இடம்பெற்ற மக்கள் குடியரசுத் தலைவராக நீடித்திருப்பார் என்பது திண்ணம்.
Customs duty waiver on edible oil imports : புதன்கிழமை அன்று, மத்திய வர்த்தகத்துறை அமைச்சர் பியூஷ் கோயல், அரசு சூரியகாந்தி எண்ணெய், பாமாயில் மற்றும் சோயா எண்ணெய்களின் கச்சாப்பொருட்களை இறக்குமதி செய்வதற்கான சுங்கவரியை, விலைவாசிகளை கட்டுப்படுத்தும் பொருட்டு நீக்க முடிவு செய்துள்ளதாக அறிவித்தார்.
ஒவ்வொரு ஆண்டும் 20 முதல் 21 மில்லியன் டன் சமையல் எண்ணெய் இந்தியாவில் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டு வருகிறது. இதில் 4 முதல் 15 மில்லியன் டன் எண்ணெய்ப் பொருட்கள் வெளிநாடுகளில் இருந்து இறக்குமதி செய்யப்படுகிறது. சீனாவிற்கு அடுத்து உலக அளவில் சமையல் எண்ணெய்யை அதிகம் பயன்படுத்தும் இரண்டாவது பெரிய நாடு இந்தியாவாகும். பாமாயில் தான் இந்தியா முழுவதும் அதிக அளவில் (45%) பயன்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. குறிப்பாக சமையல் பண்டங்கள் உற்பத்தி தொழிற்சாலைகளில் மிட்டாய் மற்றும் நம்கீன் ஆகியவற்றை வறுக்க பயன்படுகிறது. அடுத்தபடியாக சோயாபீன் எண்ணெய் (20%) பயன்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. 10% கடகு எண்ணெய் பயன்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. எஞ்சியுள்ளோர் அதிக அளவில் சூரியகாந்தி எண்ணெய், பருத்தி எண்ணெய் மற்றும் கடலை எண்ணெய் ஆகியவற்றை பயன்படுத்துகின்றனர். கச்சா மற்றும் உணவுக்கு நேரடியாக பயன்படுத்தும் வகையில் சுத்தகரிக்கப்பட்ட சமையல் எண்ணெய் மலேசியா, ப்ரேசில், அர்ஜெண்டினா மற்றும் இந்தோனேசியா ஆகிய நாடுகளில் இருந்து கப்பல் மூலம் இறக்குமதி செய்யப்படுகிறது.
இறக்குமதியை அதிகம் சார்ந்துள்ள காரணத்தால், இந்திய எண்ணேய் சந்தை சர்வதேச எண்ணேய் சந்தைகளின் தாக்கத்தினால் பாதிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. சோயாபீன் எண்ணெய், கடலை எண்ணெய், கடுகு எண்ணெய் போன்ற உள்நாட்டில் வளர்க்கப்படும் எண்ணெய் வித்துகள் சோல்வண்ட் மற்றும் எக்ஸ்பெல்லர் ஆலைகளுக்கு எடுத்துச் செல்லப்பட்டு அங்கே எண்ணெய் மற்றும் புரதம் நிறைந்த புண்ணாக்கு தனித்தனியாக பிரித்தெடுக்கப்படுகிறது. பிந்தைய பொருள் ஏற்றுமதிக்கு உகந்ததும் கூட.
கடந்த சில மாதங்களாக சமையல் எண்ணெய் பொருட்களின் விலைகள் உயர்ந்து வருகிறது. உணவு மற்றும் நுகர்வோர் விவகாரத்துறை அமைச்சகத்தின் ப்ரைஸ் மானிட்டரிங் செல் சேமித்த தரவுகளின் படி, பெரும்பாலான சமையல் எண்ணெய்கள் ஒரு லிட்டருக்கு ரூ. 130 முதல் 190 வரை விற்பனை செய்யப்பட்டு வருகிறது. உ.பி., பஞ்சாப், ஹிமாச்சல், கோவா மற்றும் உத்தரகாண்ட் மாநிலங்களில் அடுத்த ஆண்டு சட்டமன்ற தேர்தல்கள் திட்டமிடப்பட்டுள்ளது. மேலும் எண்ணெய் விலைவாசி உயர்வு என்பது எந்த அரசாங்கமும் தங்களின் வாக்காளார்களை எதிர்கொள்ளும் கடைசி விசயமாக வைத்திருக்கிறார்கள். மேலும் விழா காலங்களில் சமையல் எண்ணெய்கள் வாங்குவது அதிகரிக்கும்.
அரசு இறக்குமதிக்கான சுங்கவரி மட்டுமின்றி 2022ம் ஆண்டு மார்ச் மாதம் 31ம் தேதி வரை அக்ரி செஸ் வரியையும் குறைத்துள்ளது. எண்ணெய்ப் பொருட்களின் விலையை குறைக்க எண்ணெய் வித்துகள் மற்றும் எண்ணெய் பொருட்களின் சேமிப்பு வரம்பை மாநில அரசுகளே நிர்ணயிக்கலாம் என்று மத்திய அரசு அறிவித்த பிறகு இந்த செய்தி வெளியாகியுள்ளது. பிப்ரவரி மாதம் முதல் கச்சா மற்றும் சுத்திகரிக்கப்பட்ட சமையல் எண்ணெயின் வரிகளை குறைத்துக் கொண்டே வந்தது. விலையை கட்டுப்படுத்த ஐந்தாவது முறையாக எடுக்கப்பட்ட நடவடிக்கை இதுவாகும்.
நுகர்வோர்கள் எண்ணெய் விலைக்குறைப்பை உடனடியாக பார்க்க முடியாது என்று தொழில்துறை வட்டாரங்கள் தெரிவிக்கின்றன. Solvent Extractors Association of India அமைப்பின் தலைவர் அதுல் சதுர்வேதி அறிக்கை ஒன்றில், வரி குறைப்பின் மொத்த பலன்களையும் வாடிக்கையாளர்கள் பெறமுடியாமல் போகலாம் என்று கூறினார்.
ஒரு டன் பாமாயில் கச்சா பொருட்களுக்கான சுங்கவரியானது ரூ. 14000 ஆகும். ஆனால் அதே நேரத்தில் சோயா எண்ணெய் மற்றும் சூரியகாந்தி எண்ணெய்யின் கச்சாப்பொருட்களுக்கான சுங்கவரி ஒரு டன்னுக்கு ரூ. 20 ஆயிரம். உண்மையில் இன்று சுங்கவரி நீக்கம் என்ற அறிவிப்பு வெளியான பிறகு மலேசிய சந்தைகளில் ஒரு டன் கச்சாப்பொருட்களின் விலையானது 150 முதல் 170 ஆர்.எம். வரை அதிகரித்துள்ளது. மேலும், கடந்த சில நாட்களில் சந்தையில் வதந்திகள் ஏற்கனவே உள்நாட்டு விலையை ஓரளவு குறைத்துள்ளது. சுத்திகரிக்கப்பட்ட எண்ணெய் விலை மேலும் ஒரு கிலோவுக்கு ரூ. 6 முதல் 8 வரை வரை குறையலாம் என்று அறிக்கையில் குறிப்பிட்டிருந்தார்.
சங்கத்தின் நிர்வாக இயக்குநர் பி வி மேத்தா, சர்வதேச விலைகள் அதிகமாக இருப்பதால், விலைவாசி குறைவதற்கான வாய்ப்புகள் உடனடியாக தெரியவில்லை என்று கூறினார். இந்தோனேசியா மற்றும் மலேசியாவில் பனை உற்பத்தி அல்லது அர்ஜென்டினா/பிரேசிலில் சோயாபீன் அல்லது உக்ரைனில் சூரியகாந்தி எண்ணெய் கச்சாப்பொருட்களை உடனடியாக வழங்குவதற்கான வாய்ப்புகளும் குறைவாக உள்ளது. சந்தை விலைகள் குறிப்பிடத்தக்க வகையில் குறைகின்ற போது டிசம்பர் மற்றும் ஜனவரி மாதங்களில் விநியோகத்தில் முன்னேற்றம் இருக்கலாம் என்று கூறியுள்ளனர்.
ஏற்கனவே அறுவடை ஆரம்பமான நிலையில் அல்லது தசராவிற்கு பிறகு அறுவடை செய்ய உள்ள நிலையில், அனைத்து எண்ணெய் வித்துகளின் மண்டி விலையும் இதனால் பாதிப்படையும். மகாராஷ்டிராவில் லத்தூரின் மொத்த சந்தையில் சோயாபீனின் சராசரி வர்த்தக விலை வியாழக்கிழமை ஒரு குவிண்டாலுக்கு ரூ.300 குறைந்தது. இந்த எண்ணெய் வித்து புதன்கிழமை அன்று ரூ. 5600க்கு விற்பனை செய்யப்பட்டது. ஆனால் இந்த அறிவிப்பிற்கு பிறகு குவிண்டால் ஒன்று ரூ. 5300க்கு விற்பனை செய்யப்படுகிறது. குஜராத்தில் கடலைக்கான சராசரி வர்த்தக விலையிலும் குறைவு ஏற்பட்டது.
செப்டம்பர் பெய்த கனமழை காரணமாக ஏற்கனவே மகாராஷ்ட்ராவில் உள்ள விவசாயிகள் தங்களின் பயிர்களை இழந்துள்ளனர். ஆகஸ்ட் மாதம் நிலவிய ஈரப்பதம் காரணமாக நிலக்கடலை விவசாயிகள் பாதிக்கப்பட்டனர். நாடு முழுவதும் எண்ணெய் வித்துகளை உற்பத்தி செய்யும் விசாயிகளுக்கு இது பாதிப்பை ஏற்படுத்தும்.
கோழித் தொழிலுக்கு உதவும் வகையில் மரபணு மாற்றப்பட்ட சோயாமீல் கேக்கை இறக்குமதி செய்ய மத்திய அரசு அனுமதித்ததால், சோயாபீன் விவசாயிகள் இரட்டை விவகாரங்கள் குறித்து வருத்தம் தெரிவித்துள்ளனர். இந்த அறிவிப்புக்கு பிறகு நாடு முழுவதும் சோயாபீன் விலை 4,000-5,000/குவிண்டாலுக்கு மேல் குறைந்தது. தற்போதைய முடிவு தங்களின் வருவாயை மேலும் பாதிக்கும் என்று விவசாயிகள் அஞ்சுகின்றனர்.
கடந்த சில ஆண்டுகளாக, அரசு எண்ணெய் மற்றும் எண்ணெய் வித்துகளுக்காக மற்ற நாடுகளை சார்ந்திருக்கும் நிலையை குறைக்க அரசு முயற்சிகள் மேற்கொண்டு வருகிறது. அடிக்கடி நிகழ்ந்த சந்தை தலையீடுகளால் விலைவாசி குறைந்தது என்று கூறும் தொழிற்துறைகள் இது அரசாங்கத்திற்கு பின்னடைவை ஏற்படுத்தும் மற்றும் எண்ணெய் வித்துக்களை வளர்ப்பதிலிருந்து விவசாயிகள் வெளியேறும் நிகழ்வை அதிகரிக்கும் என்று கூறியுள்ளது. எண்ணெய் வித்துக்கள் அல்லது பருப்பு வகைகளை வளர்க்க விவசாயிகளுக்கு உதவ விலைகளில் தொடர்ச்சி தேவை. இல்லையெனில் உள்நாட்டு உற்பத்தி விலையில் மாற்றம் ஏற்படாது என்று லத்தூரை சேர்ந்த வியாபாரி ஒருவர் கூறினார்.
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, arrested in connection with the assassination of Lala Jagat Narain will be released on October 15, according to Akali sources. The state government will also announce on October 15 a judicial inquiry into the police firing on Chowk Mehta on September 20, the burning of two buses in Ohandu Kalan, the lathi charge in Amritsar Khalsa College and the firing at Madhuban, near Karnal before the talks between the Akalis and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi begin on October 16. There will be two separate judicial inquiries — one by the Punjab government and the other by the Haryana government — into the firing incidents. These were the two pre-conditions set by the Akalis for talks with Mrs Gandhi. The Akalis, who arrived in Delhi on October 13, conveyed their wishes to the prime minister through Congress-I MP from Patiala Amrinder Singh.
Cop vs Cop
A constable of the Central Reserve Force (CRPF) was shot dead by another constable of the Andhra Pradesh Special Police (APSP) at Kurnool on October 13. According to preliminary information received at Hyderabad, the striking APSP man was asked to surrender his arms when he shot dead the CRPF constable. Following the incident, a company of the CRPF was sent to Kurnool from Hyderabad. Three companies of the CRPF and one of the BSF are already stationed at Kurnool. The shooting was the first violent incident during the six-day-old strike by the Andhra Pradesh Non-gazetted Officers Association.
Mubarak Is President
Former Vice-President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was proclaimed the country’s new President on Wednesday at a brief swearing-in ceremony in the parliament.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched PM Gati Shakti, a National Master Plan for multi-modal connectivity. The scope of the government’s latest initiative is expansive, the targets ambitious. It will integrate road, railway, airport and multi-modal connectivity projects across the country, incorporating a range of existing infrastructure projects of the government such as Bharatmala, Sagarmala, inland waterways, dry/land ports, and UDAN. It promises to greatly enhance the national highway as well as the electricity transmission networks, increasing the cargo handling by railways and the cargo capacity at ports, and also setting up mega food parks, defence corridors, and electronics manufacturing clusters. Considering the multiplier effects, timely implementation of such infrastructure projects, especially at the current juncture, could provide a notable boost to the economy.
The intent behind the initiative is straightforward. As public sector projects in India are marred by inordinate delays and cost overruns, there is a need to coordinate the planning and execution of infrastructure connectivity programmes across the country and speed up implementation in order to bring down logistics costs. This could lower the inefficiencies in supply chains in India. A recent report by CII and Arthur D Little had estimated the logistics costs in supply chains in India at 14 per cent of GDP. In comparison, the report had pointed out that such costs amounted to only 8-10 per cent of the GDP in the US and Europe and 9 per cent in China. In the case of South Asian countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, though the cost structures are similar to those existing in India, they fare better on the World Bank’s logistics performance index. While India scores 3.18 on the index, Vietnam and Malaysia score higher at 3.27 and 3.22 respectively. Logistical inefficiencies not only cause delays, but also add to manufacturing costs and lower the competitiveness of Indian exports.
Considering not only the multiplicity of approvals required from varied departments, but also the typical inter-ministerial delays in the entire process, the need for a coordinated approach to streamline the process and minimise the bottlenecks cannot be emphasised enough. By bringing together 16 ministries to help remove the hurdles in project implementation, the Gati Shakti digital platform could provide an effective mechanism for closely monitoring the public sector infrastructure projects. This technology-led integrated approach could help align all stakeholders, ease the problems with attaining clearances, and bring about greater coordinated action across government departments. But there are concerns. For one, the effectiveness of a platform in ensuring better coordination among ministries is debatable — breaking down bureaucratic silos may prove to be harder than expected. Then, critical to the success of some of these infrastructure projects will be the participation of state governments. The Centre will need to devise political interventions and ways to coax and incentivise state government participation and cooperation.
The results of rural local body polls in nine reorganised districts in Tamil Nadu could hint at the arrival of a new star in state politics. Candidates fielded by fans of Vijay, seen as a youth icon and next only to Rajinikanth in fan following, have had a 68 per cent strike rate, winning 115 of the 169 seats contested. These numbers suggest that voters are willing, once again, to try out the new. Since winning the assembly elections in May, the DMK has consolidated its support — it swept the local bodies’ polls — while the AIADMK is still to find its footing after losing office. Chief Minister MK Stalin’s welfare agenda and populist stance on issues such as the NEET have further endeared him to the public and diminished the Opposition. It is this space that “Ilaya Thalapathy (young commander)” Vijay may be eyeing — at 47, he has age on his side unlike Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, superstars who joined electoral politics after 60.
Vijay, too, is using his fan base to test the political waters — it was All India Thalapathy Vijay Makkal Iyakkam, the Vijay fans’ association, that fielded the candidates in the local polls. In the 1970s, MGR built the AIADMK by turning his fans into party cadres. Rajinikanth had hoped to do the same but he withdrew from politics even before entering the electoral fray. Haasan, who rivalled Rajinikanth in fan base in the 1980s, turned a niche actor-director in the 1990s and has fewer fans to work for him. Other stars rode with established political groups (Napoleon, Khushboo) or leaned on caste/community support (Sarath Kumar, Karthik). The exception is Vijayakanth, who set himself up as a Dravidian alternative to the DMK and AIADMK. He polled nearly 10 per cent votes in the 2006 assembly elections, a year after forming the DMDK. That performance helped him to manipulate electoral alliances and claim seats disproportionate to his influence. But the DMDK is today a shell of what it was a decade ago.
It is clear that mere box-office pull is not enough to win over voters, and keep them there. MGR was successful because he, over the years, carefully plotted his political entry by using cinema as a medium for messaging and the DMK platform to claim an ideological lineage. The challenge for Vijay, or any other new entrant, would be to convince voters that they have the political vision and stamina to take on the Dravidian behemoths in elections and stay the course. There is no straight path from the box office to the ballot box, not even in Tamil Nadu.
In the few minutes that William Shatner left the planet, he didn’t “discover new life and new civilisations” nor did he “boldly go where no one has gone before”. But the 90-year-old Canadian actor, best known for playing Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the original Star Trek series and then reprising the role in multiple shows and movies over the decades, was visibly overjoyed after his 11-minute trip on New Shepard, the rocket run by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.
Shatner’s character has been a staple of science fiction, inspiring generations of people — including, reportedly, a young Bezos — to take an interest in science, engineering and astrophysics. And despite the glaring differences between the fictional USS Enterprise and New Shepard, the unmitigated joy that Shatner expressed is probably the best advertisement for the Amazon founder’s commercial space venture: “What you have given me,” Shatner reportedly told Bezos after the flight, “is the most profound experience possible”. Shatner is the oldest person to have travelled beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
In the future that Star Trek envisioned, the boundaries between nation-states had dissolved, there was no poverty, all people were treated with respect and space exploration was not a business venture. The current competition for cornering the commercial space flight market and the space programme is far less exhilarating. It seems to be dominated — and diminished — by the cynical concerns of profit and the strategic interests of great powers. The high hopes put in place by yesteryear’s futurists have been left by the wayside, in ways big and small. The way Jeff Bezos is seen interrupting nonagenarian Shatner as he talked of his once-in-a-lifetime experience is not incidental. No, the space race today certainly isn’t Star Trek. And yet, not even the best fiction can match the moment of enchantment that New Shepard brought to Shatner.
Decades after Independence, one thought process dominated the domain of public policy, ranging from poverty alleviation to envisioning a global third front in the form of NAM for maintaining strategic autonomy in the comity of nations. The Nehruvian consensus is more or less responsible for the present state of affairs in our society and the nation at large. The vestiges of the Nehruvian consensus — like the unresolved border dispute with China and the creation of a permanent adversary in Pakistan — have hectored the country’s leadership for the last four decades. It was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who, in one of his letters in 1961 to the chief ministers of different states, spoke on reservation in government jobs. One must go through the letter to realise Nehru’s annoyance and his belief that affirmative action would dilute merit and impact the efficiency of governance.
“I dislike any kind of reservation, more particularly in services. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first-class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost. The only real way to help the Backward group is to give opportunities of good education… But if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn of how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal considerations. It has amazed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal and caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Let us help the backward groups by all means but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build our public sector or indeed any sector with second-rate people?”
A critical analysis of the policies of the leaders who are no longer with us is important for the enrichment of the public discourse. Although much literature is available on the life and times of Nehru, there is a considerable shortage of academic work on the impact of his politics on the idea of social justice. The recent chaos in Punjab politics can be attributed to this mindset of the founding fathers of the party.
Having a Dalit as a placeholder chief minister is not a new page in the Congress’s textbook of appeasement and ceremonialism. Damodaram Sanjivayya in Andhra Pradesh, Bhola Paswan Shastri in Bihar and many others have been used in the same manner. The moment Channi as CM had the audacity to exercise autonomy in the selection of officers and ministers, the state leadership of the party had a problem. It is an open secret that Channi’s elevation was an outcome of the conflict between senior state Congress leaders and he was chosen as a compromise candidate. This mindset is deeply problematic.
The interaction between Nehru and B R Ambedkar is also a matter of intense scholarly research. Congress party had the space for someone like M A Jinnah, who was elected from Bombay, but Ambedkar had to go to present-day Bangladesh to be elected to the Constituent Assembly. Babu Jagjivan Ram is also a case in point. Noted strategic commentators like Henry Kissinger and Gary Bass have placed Jagjivan Ram as one of the most hawkish defence ministers of his time for the phenomenal role he played in the remarkable victory in the 1971 war. But the credit was given to Indira Gandhi, without even a footnote about Jagjivan Ram’s stellar role.
The Congress has failed to reconcile with the emerging realities and aspirations of the Dalits and the marginalised. The party is stuck in a time warp, engaging in the politics of selective appeasement and symbolism. With Dalits increasingly becoming relevant shareholders in power politics, their concerns and challenges have also evolved. The new Dalit narrative is beyond the sheer optics of placeholder CMs and fulfilling the diversity quota. Under the visionary leadership of PM Narendra Modi, there is space for everyone, regardless of identity. New India will be inclusive, equitable and resolute about realising the vision of the makers of our Constitution.
As was only to be expected, the recent macabre targeted killing of members of the minority communities has generated widespread panic in Kashmir. Much of Srinagar has also been overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu — a frightening reminder of the 1990s when select killings and an overwhelming fear had led to the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. But this is not the 1990s. And despite the deep angst within the Kashmiri Muslims over government policies, we may be beginning to see a new sliver of hope: The possibilities, finally, of a real reconciliation between the two communities that cohabited (despite the historical ups and downs in the relationship) the same space for centuries. Ironically, then, the terror of the past few weeks may have opened up a new window of opportunity.
I write today, not as an academic but a resident of Srinagar, who spent most of the last few weeks in the city seeking to understand the sentiment on the ground. What follows, therefore — at its most pedestrian — is street gossip and, at its most uplifting, vox populi.
For the most part, my day began — until the killings — by following a familiar routine — walking to the Shankaracharya temple on the hill from Gupkar Road. Gupkar is the meandering gateway to the vistas of the Dal Lake, which runs from the desolate offices of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) at Sonwar to the fading charms of erstwhile royal palaces on the banks of the lake. It is here that security agencies are nested in close comfort with the political and business elite, and where interrogation centres have morphed into “haunted” guesthouses.
The Shankaracharya hill gives you a breathtaking view of the densely packed city, with its shrines, temples and churches, but the hill is also a reminder of the city’s ancient roots and atavistic heritage; the non-dualist Shaivism of Kashmir, but also the earlier Mahayana Buddhism and the later Sufi Hallaji passion. Adi Shankara’s Advait captured in Nirvana Shatakam (“I am consciousness, I am bliss, and I am Shiva. I am Shiva”) seems to blend seamlessly with Mansoor Al Hallaj’s Ana Al-Haqq (“I am truth”) as you absorb the sounds and smells of the city. And as you reach out to the steady stream of visitors on that gentle trek, it is clear that Kashmir’s composite heritage is robust and alive on the hill. But not just there.
Once a single coffee shop was a luxury on Residency Road, today cafés and coffee shops jostle for space in virtually every neighbourhood. Srinagar may not be a smart city but it is home to a remarkably talkative and reading society (a women’s collective, a Kafka society, a Brecht playhouse, etc) where former residents return to pay homage and find inspiration — from the opinion editor of The New York Times to the former head of Twitter India. And in all that talk, there is space — space for Kashmiri Pandits to come back and for the two still separate civil societies to argue, to disagree and to build trust, perhaps even on the terms of engagement.
Was 1990 then an aberration? In an almost Rashomon-like cinematic imagination, the Kashmiri Pandit exodus of the 1990s invites multiple narratives that are embedded in Manichaeism. What is not disputed is that the departure led to a gulf between the two communities, which has still not been bridged; polarised narratives only reflect a sharp divide and the return of the Pandits remains, admittedly, an elusive project. Today, there are just a few thousand Kashmiri Pandits who did not leave during these troubled years, other than those who live in camps (in Sheikhpura, Varmul, Hal, Vesu and Mattan) under a special employment package scheme of the Prime Minister.
But there is the possibility of recovering the sentiment that helped the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims live in relative harmony. It is possible for Kashmiri Pandits to return with respect in the foreseeable future but it is critical to do so organically in constant dialogue with Kashmir’s civil society. Through talking, talking and more talking. The killings may have then unleashed a positive force that the new militant outfits could never have imagined or believed possible.
Consider this. The killing of Makhan Lal Bindroo, the Pandit pharmacist, invited real shock from all sections of Kashmir’s civil society for a number of reasons. Bindroo had stayed in Kashmir through the troubled years, had a deep personal connection with his customers, and enjoyed the confidence and trust of the people enough to persuade his accomplished endocrinologist son to return to Srinagar to serve the people. Bindroo’s was also a success story: From a small chemist shop to a fancy pharmacy with a clinic, he was proof that a Kashmiri Pandit could be successful in Srinagar without compromising on his faith or lifestyle. When his daughter Shraddha Bindroo spoke to the media (after her father’s killing), she spoke with courage but without rancour; a remarkable testimony to her Kashmiri upbringing.
Consider also this. The most remarkable example of Kashmiri Muslims seeking to reassure and reach out to the minorities is the first citizen of the city, Srinagar’s Mayor, the remarkable Junaid Mattu — who I have often disagreed with in the past. This time, however, I was deeply impressed by his clarity and his unambiguity when I met him in person. He has since said: “We will have to stick our necks out and stand as shields to give our minority communities a sense of safety and belonging. This is not the time for conspiracy theories and nuanced condemnations. This is the time to call a spade a spade.”
The onus of beginning a fresh process of confidence-building rests on the leadership of the two communities. The best the government can do is neither interfere nor be seen as directing the process. Anecdotally, it is also clear that Kashmiri Pandit forums like the Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD), for one, are ready to take steps to begin a dialogue and take concrete steps to recover a common bond. This is an opportunity, if missed, that may never come back again.
While releasing prisoners in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the high-powered committee mandated by the Supreme Court of India to decongest prisons did not invoke the health vulnerabilities of prisoners but recalled the crimes they were accused of committing. It is also common knowledge that the experience of incarceration in Indian prisons does not depend on the crime individuals are accused of committing, but on the social status and power of the prisoners.
Both these seemingly unconnected realities reflect one principle — that legal practices and discussions in the public sphere continue to privilege the principle of retribution as justice over rehabilitation. This lack of compassion may arise from the fact that a disproportionate number of prisoners in Indian prisons come from Muslim, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. Because of the abject poverty and powerlessness of most of the accused from these groups, they have little access to quality legal representation or aid. They languish in prisons without bail for periods even longer than the punishment mandated by the law they are accused of violating. Many suffer continued incarceration even after securing bail, simply for the lack of surety or inability to pay cash bail.
The lack of compassion is not only a feature of the criminal justice system. Withholding compassion from certain categories of human beings has become a hallmark of majoritarian nationalism. This was transmitted from the government to the digital public sphere, and manifested as mob violence in public spaces. Unfortunately, even judicial decisions have often revealed a similar lack of compassion.
The current government will go down in history for its chilling ability to stare down protest and crush dissenters. For example, in October 2015, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) students called off their strike of 139 days after failing to elicit a response from the government. Since then, citizens, especially students and human rights defenders, have been damned for their opinions on how they or their fellow citizens should be treated. Rohith Vemula’s “crime” was that he dared to protest against injustice in spite of his social identity. Despite protests over JNU student Najeeb Ahmed’s disappearance, there was no impression of a fair investigation. Since 2019, the repression of dissent has become more pronounced and intensified. On practically any issue, peaceful protesters are met with a ruthless attitude from the police and vigilante supporters of the government. In some instances of Muslims being lynched, assailants were garlanded, feted in public, and rewarded.
Before long, it was not just charges of sedition and defamation, allegations of offences such as incitement, rioting, damage to public property or attempt to murder were made against dissenters. Unlawful custody, custodial torture, and criminal intimidation by police and investigative agencies appear to have become a norm too. Remarkably, protesters too demonstrated a total lack of fear of any brutality. The allegations of the police’s inhumane and humiliating treatment of protesters such as Sadaf Jafar or Nodeep Kaur seem to render protestors fearless. By remaining undaunted, by speaking up fearlessly, by not retracting their dissent at any cost, activists like Dr Kafeel Khan were able to unmask the true face of this regime.
It bears pointing out that the only “offence” youth and student activists like Sharjeel Imam, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Meeran Haider, Asif Tanha, Safoora Zargar, Gulfisha and Umar Khalid committed is making speeches of dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, a law they considered immoral and discriminatory.
In this dystopian narrative, those who dared to protest were accused of violence but those who engaged in arson and killings were propped up as the righteous. The anti-CAA-NRC protesters were charged with what was essentially anti-Muslim violence in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Dalit intellectuals and activists who participated in the Bhima Koregaon event were linked with anti-Dalit violence, and human rights defenders have been accused of hatching a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. A mind-boggling, logic-defying framing was used to book and imprison Dalit and Muslim activists and anyone who expresses solidarity with them.
The deplorable conditions inside Indian prisons, ranging from violence, torture, custodial deaths and rape, poor quality of food and healthcare, have been documented. Prison authorities and personnel routinely inflict unlawful punishment on prisoners, a majority of whom are undertrials. Human rights activists and lawyers have been at pains to demarcate categories of prisoners that might be considered as deserving of judicial compassion. In such a scramble for the painfully limited quota of mercy, activists who also dabbled in electoral politics like Khalid Saifi, Shifa-ur-Rahman, Ishrat Jahan and Tahir Hussain often fall out of the categories of the worthies. Extraordinary laws such as NSA and UAPA facilitate unjustified prolonged incarceration of individuals from marginalised communities. By the time these students and human rights defenders would be able to establish their innocence in higher judiciary and secure acquittals, years would pass away. Who would be responsible for heaping physical torture, humiliation and years of incarceration on these young students and activists, who otherwise could be acquiring and creating knowledge, helping and providing a healing touch to their fellow citizens?
Where the norm ought to be bail not jail, unfortunately, violation of human rights of incarcerated individuals seems more a norm rather than an anomaly.
Indian prisons have alarmingly high occupancy rates, mass incarceration of the poorest and powerless — this was a problem already crying for attention. Taking cognisance of this problem will be an opportunity to rethink and reframe the debates on the protection of rights of the accused persons.
Reforming India’s bureaucracy is a “mission impossible”, similar to the punishment meted out by Zeus to Sisyphus, of endlessly rolling a boulder up a hill. While justifiably criticising the bureaucracy for many of its ills, we often forget that, like in every other profession, the bureaucracy has its share of the good, the bad and the ugly. To believe that any other profession is the epitome of goodness or competence, and thus can replace the bureaucracy misses the wood for the trees. India’s civil services have some of the best and brightest as also some of the worst, just like in any collection of people. And they are sitting atop a prickly, unionised, rules-obsessed, obdurate lower bureaucracy. However, the bureaucracy that took India through the last 75 years can’t be the one to take it through the next 75 — we need a proactive, imaginative, technology-savvy, enabling bureaucracy.
Today, we have a lot for which to thank the bureaucracy. This is often forgotten in the anger against it, some of which is indeed justified. But for the civil services, and the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in particular, the country could not have been held together post-Independence, and much of the impressive nation-building across sectors happened because of their dedication and commitment. It is also forgotten that the bureaucracy, unlike the private sector, is a creature of the Constitution and is bound by multiple rules, laws, and procedures. Many of these are well past their expiry date and the Modi administration has done stellar work in doing away with over 1,500 of them.
As per estimates compiled by the Institute of Conflict Management, the government of India (GOI) has about 364 government servants for every 1,00,000 residents, with 45 per cent in the railways alone. About 60 per cent and 30 per cent are in Groups C and D, respectively, leaving a skeletal skilled staff of just about 7 per cent to man critical positions. Thus, the complaint that India’s bureaucracy is bloated is factually incorrect. In fact, we are grossly understaffed. That we need not be in many sectors is well-recognised — leave them to the markets — and politicians must get bureaucrats out of business, in more ways than one.
Further, faced with extensive judicial overreach (both justified and unjustified), reporting to an often rapacious, short-sighted political executive, and a media ever ready to play the role of judge, jury and executioner, the bureaucracy has in large part found comfort in glorious inaction and ensuring audit-proof file work. Faced with such incentives, roughly half the bureaucracy becomes “the Wall”. Twenty-five per cent is willing to do anything for the right bribe, with another 25 per cent focusing on ensuring outcomes in extremely difficult circumstances.
How to increase the officers’ willingness to take decisions? One possible solution is to legally prevent enforcement agencies from taking punitive action, like arrest for purely economic decisions without any direct evidence of kickbacks. Instead, a committee of experts with commercial experience constituted by the government should suggest whether it’s corruption or just a decision gone wrong.
Despite PM Modi’s ability to get things done, some parts of the bureaucracy have been obstinate, eschewing fast progress. For example, the progress of last-mile connectivity and electronics for BharatNet, the recapitalisation and reform of failing banks, the distribution and transmission sectors and the privatisation of space are moving, although slowly. Some of this is due to a bureaucracy obsessed with accountability to processes and not to results. When an outstanding IAS officer like Pradip Baijal is pulled out of his hospital bed to be produced before the courts after the CBI closed an outlandish case against him, even the best officers become timid and cautious, lest something returns to haunt them years after retirement.
Modi’s toughest challenge is to change an inactive bureaucracy to one that feels safe in taking genuine risks. Lateral entry needs to expand to up to 15 per cent of Joint/Additional and Secretary-level positions in GOI. Areas such as bad banks recapitalisation, new development credit institutions and perhaps a sovereign fund for India, privatisation of everything that the government shouldn’t be in, renewable energy, electric vehicles, climate change, global trade negotiations and information technology, to name a few, are where problem-solving professionals are needed.
Changes in recruitment procedures, like the interview group spending considerable time with the candidates and not deciding based on a half-hour interview, along with psychometric tests, will improve the incoming pool of civil servants. Most importantly, after 15 years of service, all officers must undergo a thorough evaluation to enable them to move further, and those who do not make it should be put out to pasture. Give them full salary till they hit retirement age.
Lastly, every modern bureaucracy in the world works on technology-enabled productivity and collaboration tools. India procures about $600 billion worth of goods and services annually — can’t all payments be done electronically? Why not automate India’s $90 billion utility bills market at a time when UPI transactions worth Rs 6 trillion happen every month? Can we not try to automate every major touchpoint between the government, citizens, and businesses?
India cannot hope to get to a $5-trillion economy without a modern, progressive, results-oriented bureaucracy, one which says “why not?” instead of “why?” when confronted with problems. Make no mistake, despite working in a difficult, complex ecosystem, about a third of civil servants are doing exceptional work, better than their peers in the corporate sector. The challenge remains to realign incentives institutionally, to move those who are honest yet don’t perform, send home those who steal/are non-performers and imbue more technology throughout the system.
On the night of January 11-12, 1964, one month after Zanzibar gained independence, the Arab sultan and his elected constitutional government were overthrown by forces claiming to represent the African racial majority. There were reprisals and pogroms against Arabs and South Asians, resulting in the death of around 20,000 people. Zanzibar’s much vaunted cosmopolitanism came face to face with the repressed memory of slavery and the slave trade. It had been one of the main slave trading ports and, in the 19th century, about 50,000 slaves passed through the slave markets here. The new rhetoric pitted the African against the Arab. Abdulrazak Gurnah, of Arab heritage, fled Zanzibar in 1967 to England along with his brother, to land in the middle of racial hatred in a country coming to terms with imperial decline and its increasing irrelevance.
In 1968, Enoch Powell was to make his infamous “rivers of blood” speech as he predicted a violent and sanguine future for Britain with what he and other conservatives saw as a rising flood of immigrants. Gurnah’s oeuvre reflects these histories of the Indian Ocean world, colonialism, migration, violence and race. What does it mean to belong somewhere, and does the migrant live a life that can only be about coping, with a persistent memory of violence past and present?
In Gurnah’s novels, migration is not a single act. It is an ongoing process with individuals constantly caught between worlds, bearing the scars of former degradation and continuing secrets. It is a state of suspended animation. As Hannah in The Last Gift lashes out at her mother and asks, why do these “vile, immigrant tragedies” continue to haunt people? These are ordinary people without tremendous psychic resources, who muddle through, and there is the promise of redemption that lies in suggestions of a life beyond the space of the novel.
Gurnah leaves open windows in each of his novels, suggesting possibilities of healing through return, new meetings, and possible resolutions. However, return too is fraught with the possibility of disillusionment as much as a sense of not fitting in. In Gurnah’s Admiring Silence as much as By the Sea, what the returning migrant is confronted by is a sense of unbridgeable distance, born as much out of estrangement as the guilt of leaving. In the former novel, the presence of persistently blocked toilets becomes a metaphor for the stagnation as much as the squalor of the postcolony. The central character in Admiring Silence lies to his white partner about his country and himself to win for himself a sense of self-esteem as well as to solicit affinity. It is his way of managing and of coping.
There is no bedrock here, no haven from the heartless world. Families are fragile entities and consist as much of inner tensions as the fact that one belongs to them contingently. One may be taken in as a foundling, and subjected to an authoritarian patriarch. On the other hand, as Gurnah says, “even love can be crushing”, as families make demands on individuals; fierce chains of required loyalty or obedience bind one. Menace attends every moment, and the child is the prime candidate for prospective violence. So too the young women, who are manipulated and begin to acquire a mere “mercantile worth”. In Departure, the childhood of the protagonist is short and brutal. In Dottie, the eponymous character “comes through” but her siblings do not. Yusuf in Paradise survives, but luck matters as much as individual resilience or resourcefulness. There is none of the sentimentality associated with the bourgeois fiction of the family as a unit which, despite all its problems, provides a space of return. There is no there there in Gurnah’s world of immigrants.
The Indian Ocean world impinges on the consciousness of characters, in which being Muslim is less about religion and more about a cultural cosmopolis — the world of Arabian Nights and tales of the trickster Abu Nuwas. It is a world that takes in Palestine, the Swahili coast from Somalia to Mozambique, and Aden, Kerala and Bombay. Madagascar, an African island, seems to belong to another planet in this world determined by monsoon winds and historical networks. The Indian Ocean is both vast as well as familiar in its micro-worlds.
Colonialism impacts on this world and creates new hierarchies and disruptions. In Afterlives, we get a parable from a German colony in southern Africa during World War I. We know by now that colonial wars involved the large-scale carnage of colonial troops from Africa and Asia and mawkish European invocations of Ypres and Flanders usually forget this fact. An oberleutnant develops an affinity for Hamza, his orderly, and tries to civilise him through cultivating a love for Schiller’s poetry. This misguided humanism is rooted in the hardness of racial difference and the impossibility of friendship between unequals. As Gurnah shows, the ideological mindset of superiority can only exude condescension, not affinity.
Abbas in The Last Gift has the sense of coming from a tiny place, he remains frightened of the world with its vastness. This sense of men from small places trying to find a home in the world is a theme that runs through Gurnah’s novels. However, despite the scars, the memories of violence, and the fragility of relations, they come through in the end.
Among the 116 countries ranked by the Global Hunger Index 2021, our country ranks an appalling 101st. It’s not just that our children show higher levels of undernourishment compared to most countries in the world, including neighbours Bangladesh (76), Nepal (76), and Pakistan (92), we are doing worse relative even to ourselves. India’s GHI score has declined significantly between 2012-2021.
And before someone comes crying ‘foreign conspiracy’ note that this decline does not just derive from domestic datasets it is loudly echoed there. The first phase of the National Family Health Survey 2019-20 has most states reporting worsened indicators since NFHS 2015-16, with the proportion of severely wasted children going up in 14 out of 18 states (including the UT of J&K). Exacerbations of the trend by the pandemic can be reasonably assumed.
This is obviously a multi-prolonged challenge. Too many mothers lack the health to make healthy babies. Then diseases like diarrhea take a heavy toll, with improvements in sanitation and drinking water supply still not showing improvements in children’s disease burden. Diets are also crying for improvement, not just in quantity but also quality, and diversification. The appalling data surely reflects appalling failures at different levels of government.
The World Health Organisation that had earlier called for a complete moratorium on Covid vaccine booster doses until 2021 end, has this week recommended them for immunocompromised people. This is because of emerging data about their higher risk of breakthrough infections after standard immunisation. But the advisory also makes clear that it is intended for countries that have maximised two-dose coverage. With around 30% of adults double-vaccinated so far India has some way to go, even if second doses are really picking up pace now. What it must not delay is the immunological research that will enable making an informed decision about booster shots, for the new year.
Reportedly Biological E has sought approval to conduct the third-phase clinical trial of its Corbevax vaccine as a single-dose booster for those who are fully vaccinated with Covishield or Covaxin. Such investigations are important as trials elsewhere have indeed shown that mixing and matching can be preferable. For example, an NIH study of the three vaccines currently authorised in the US – Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson – has tested as many as nine combinations of initial shots and boosters.
Advanced investigations of this nature need to be built upon understanding whether and how protection against infection, if not hospitalisation and death, is fading in India over time. Variances may turn up between different vaccines, different age groups, different regions and these will be critical in prioritising boosters. Remember many of our health workers were fully vaccinated by February. Monitoring their antibody levels is of utmost importance.
The importance of local research bears underlining. Israel and the US for example don’t use the same definitions of severe disease, and this may explain why a large number of double-dosed Israelis have been found to be hospitalised with Covid-19 but very few Americans. So borrowing the findings of either country could be inapt. With Covaxin of course, there are no international studies to rely on. Finally, all Indian serosurveys should disaggregate data by vaccination status from now on. In the UK the React study that tests 1 lakh blood swabs for Covid-19 antibodies every six weeks, has been able to place the varying protections enjoyed by the unvaccinated, partially vaccinated and fully vaccinated on a timeline, helping make the case for booster shots. Strong data builds strong policy. India must use the current disease lull to gird up research that will be a reliable guide at the right time.
Civil aviation is among industries that bore the brunt of Covid-induced economic disruption. A fallout of the public health emergency is that domestic airlines were not allowed to fly at full capacity for over 18 months. Therefore, GoI’s decision this week to remove capacity restrictions on airlines is a positive development. It helps both aviation companies and the cause of business normalisation.
During the worst phase for the aviation industry, both GoI and states pitched in to provide support. The primary aid came in the form of a price band for air tickets. It helped put a floor under ticket prices when capacity restrictions were in place, and a price ceiling that was aimed at helping flyers. Separately, the aviation industry was helped through GoI facilitating coordination with IAF to rationalise routes and, thereby, cut fuel costs. Aviation companies were brought under the emergency credit guarantee scheme and the GST rate on domestic maintenance and repair was cut from 18% to 5%. Airlines are now receiving a boost from the rapid increase in passenger traffic.
GoI data shows that passengers handled by Indian airports more than doubled between 5.99 million in June to 12.97 million in August. August’s numbers, the latest available, are more than double on a year-to-year basis. September should be even better. Around a month back, GoI made the price band applicable only for tickets bought for flying within 15 days. Market prices apply for flights scheduled beyond that. It’s time the 15-day price band goes as well. When business is normal, market forces should get full play. Aviation companies should not get emergency help anymore. And consumers needn’t worry. Competition will keep prices down, especially with a privatised Air India also set to join the battle.
The RBI’s Master Directions for an active secondary market for bank loans seek to boost liquidity and risk management for banks, and transparency and credit availability for borrowers. An active secondary market for corporate loans should promote an active corporate bond market, and step up efficient, arm’s-length finance.
A loan transfer (read: loan participation) is defined as a transaction in which a transferor transfers all or part of its economic interest in a loan to one or more transferees, without transfer of the loan contract. And the transferee has to fund the transferor to the extent of the economic interest transferred, amounting to the principal, interest, fees and other payments, if any, as per agreement.
A minimum holding period (MHP) of 3-6 months, depending on tenor of loan, is prescribed for the transferor. The transferee(s) may get the loan pools rated for credit quality, but such rating cannot substitute for due diligence on the latter’s part. So, the norms call for skin in the game, which seems unexceptionable. Disclosure is mandated on loan valuation and the discount rate used by the transferor, which may be linked to cost of equity, average cost of funds, or opportunity cost or other criteria, with the contracted interest rate charged being the floor. For loan transfers of `100 crore or more, two external valuation reports are required.
Both performing and non-performing assets may be transferred, but the rules stipulate that stressed loans can only be transferred to permitted transferees and asset reconstruction companies via a bidding process termed the Swiss Challenge method — the initial bid is made public, others bid against it and the original bidder has a chance to better those bids.
Ahit show for Netflix across 90 markets is a Korean thriller serial, Squid Game. The remarkable part of the success is that the original storyline had failed to find favour with assorted Korean producers, since 2008. Then, it took the fancy of a Netflix producer, who saw potential in the show, dubbed it in 13 languages and released it in 90 markets. An unusual Korean show has attained global success, through an American streaming platform that took it to more countries in one week than a conventional movie release format could have reached in years.
There is plenty of scope for talented audiovisual storytellers in India to create their own Squid Game success stories, making use of the talent-scouting capabilities and global reach of major streaming platforms. And there is scope for Indian streaming platforms to reach global audiences, as well, fuelled by venture capital. Culture is a vital, complex export. Ever since the British introduced English studies in India — the first time English studies were introduced anywhere in the world — to serve the same role for Indians that Greek and Latin had performed for Europeans for ages, that of civilising the natives, Indians have been major importers of culture.
From Shakespeare, James Bond and the Beatles to the hegemonic charms of Oxbridge, Indians are hooked to many cultural imports from Britain. Film and music have been cultural exports from India, along with yoga and assorted forms of faux spirituality. Some have regional reach, some others, global. Made-for-streaming serials must be recognised as a major genre of audiovisual storytelling that has all the potential of cinema, without its normal time constraint, aided by the increasing size and sophistication of the screens onto which shows are streamed.
Those with compelling stories to tell, with themes that have a universal resonance even if presented in the assorted idioms of diverse India, they, too, could win global glory. Squid Game tells a dystopian tale, but its global success points to possibilities of hope and achievement.
The affirmative action debate has always been riddled by the question of merit versus social justice. Critics of reservations argue that admission to public employment should be based on performance. In response, activists have rightly questioned the meaning of merit in a society as unequal as ours.
Political observers have written about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) reluctance to count Other Backward Classes (OBCs), fearing Mandal 2.0, a new wave of OBC mobilisation that could benefit regional parties. Data-inclined commentators have raised important issues regarding the vast class divide within OBCs and the possible implications of the census in restructuring the quota system.
These are all valid questions. But can reservations in public employment help development? Public servants, after all, are expected to work towards the public good.
Let us begin with some historical context. The term OBC goes back to the Madras Presidency in the 1870s. The British administration combined Shudras and Untouchable castes under the label “backward classes” to identify non-Brahmins. Untouchables were reclassified as Scheduled Caste (SC) in the 1935 Government of India Act.
After Independence, the Indian government continued to use this classification for affirmative action policies for SCs and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The Constitution had, at least in principle, also resolved to make provisions for OBCs. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that “OBC” transformed from an abstract administrative category to a politically salient group.
After Prime Minister VP Singh announced reservations for OBCs based on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in 1989, massive protests by upper caste students broke out throughout north India. Some scholars have argued that the emergence of the BJP as a strong electoral force during this period reflects an “elite revolt” against the rise of lower castes. Counter-mobilisation by the otherwise fragmented Shudras consolidated OBC politics, in what Yogendra Yadav referred to as India’s “second democratic upsurge”. OBC political representation increased significantly in the 1990s as a result. Parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Samajwadi Party (SP) grew significantly with this “Mandalisation” of politics — which is what the BJP may be fearing now with the new caste census.
Not unlike trends of political representation, the sharpest increase in OBC reservations took place after 1993, following the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. Currently all states have some level of quotas for OBCs in public employment. What has been impact of such quotas on development?
We generally think of OBC reservations as a form of patronage. But public servants are the main individuals involved in the implementation of government programmes. Local bureaucrats are also often the most visible presence of the State in citizens’ lives. Their inability or unwillingness to design and enforce development projects can have important implications in determining the success of policies of the political class. I am currently working on my first book on how caste-based mobilisation has shaped development in India. Some findings from the research may be relevant to the current debate.
I examined the relationship between caste-based representation and public spending patterns in all major states from 1960 to 2012. Governments can choose to distribute their limited resources in either economic or social sectors. Economic sectors, such as industry, ports and highways generally support economic growth by attracting private investment. Social sectors such as education, health care, and social security promote the welfare of the masses. I studied the factors that affect redistribution, measured as the proportion of developmental budget that goes into social sectors.
Contrary to expectation, I found that both SC and OBC political representation are not associated with redistributive spending. But places with higher OBC political representation and higher OBC reservation in the bureaucracy are more likely to spend more in social sectors. Why might this be?
The interaction between legislature and bureaucracy remains a black box in the social sciences, but I have some insights from Bihar, where I carried out my research for many years. The appointment of lower caste officials can help in breaking down traditional upper caste patronage networks and hence reduce elite capture of government programmes. Caste bias in development projects has been widely documented in various sectors in India. A more representative bureaucracy can also make the State more accessible to a wider population and allow citizens to make demands.
Recalling the transformation after the RJD appointed more lower caste officials, a Bihar cadre Indian Administrative Service officer, for example, told me, “Lower castes would not have dared to enter the office of the DM (district magistrate) or BDO (block development officer). They thought that if they said something, they would be punished. That changed. Now they have the confidence to raise their voice against the DM. They don’t know if their job will get done, but they can enter his office without fear.”
Concerns of patronage and misgovernance in some states are not without merit, but it is important to note that OBC mobilisation is relatively new in north India and overall, backward castes are still underrepresented in most state governments. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are celebrated as models of social development, but the politics of these states was mired in what was dismissed as “identity politics” for decades. In the southern states, concerns for group-based and representational demands gradually gave way to a broad welfare agenda and an inclusive civil society over the long-term. Maybe we can expect the same in the north?
Poulomi Chakrabarti is an assistant professor in the department of political studies, Queen’s University, and a postdoctoral fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
There are many things disturbing about the continued custody of Aryan Khan — that bail is clearly now the exception rather than the norm, that a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker and a private detective (since absconding) were present during the raid by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and later took selfies with the megastar’s son, that the contrast in how the system responded to this powerful father’s son was so different from how it dragged its feet when it came to arresting another powerful man’s son, Ashish Mishra, son of the junior home minister, and accused of the way more egregious crime of murder.
And we can all have our views on why the film industry is square in the middle of India’s culture wars.
But the worst thing about the kerfuffle over 13 gm of cocaine and 21 gm of charas (as distinct from the 3,000 kg of heroin seized at the Mundra Port that barely made a stir) is the amount of media play it is getting, given the gravity of what else is going on in the country.
The Shah Rukh Khan-Aryan real life starrer is not just about easy ratings for our television media; it is also the perfect distraction from more troubling and important issues exploding all around us. It is the perfect excuse for supplicant primetime anchors not to ask any of the questions that matter.
Even the bruising videos from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, where four farmers were crushed under a car belonging to the family of the junior home minister (even he has not denied that) and three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers were killed in retaliatory mob fury, have not been enough to dislodge the obsession with Aryan Khan on TV screens.
In a redux of the Rhea Chakraborty case, private WhatsApp chats are being treated as fair game, pronouncements of guilt and innocence are being made from the safety of studios, and in a perverse twist, Shah Rukh Khan’s stardom is being used to sell hatred for Shah Rukh Khan.
If Lakhimpur Kheri has not got the importance it should have, you can forget about the situation with China getting the requisite spotlight. We now know that after the initial disengagement at Pangong Tso in Ladakh, pretty much nothing substantive has moved in being able to get the Chinese to restore the status quo ante.
Beijing is cocking a snook at our soldiers by releasing unpalatable videos of what it claims went down in Galwan Valley when we lost 20 men in the line of duty. Its expansionist ambitions are on ugly display with new fronts of conflict being opened in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. So far, the country has not been taken into confidence on the scale of the Chinese intrusions, though eyewitness accounts, including by Ladakhi councillors in the remotest areas, have underlined the seriousness of what is unfolding. Tens of thousands of our soldiers are standing eyeball-to-eyeball with the Chinese in what has clearly become the new Siachen. They are getting ready to serve in the highest reaches of the Himalayas in yet another winter with temperatures plummeting to as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
The Chinese brazenness cannot be divorced from what is happening in the Kashmir Valley, where religious minorities are being targeted and there is resurgence in terrorism, or from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
Konchunk Stanzin, Chushul councillor, told me it was a “war-like situation” in Ladakh. So, why is this not a headline every day? Which other country’s media would focus on a minor drug bust over a military conflagration?
Now, we have horrific news from the Singhu border, the site of the farmers’ protest for over 300 days, of a man being killed in an absolutely brutal assault, allegedly by a group of Nihangs, over the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. What has happened is unconscionable and makes the situation at the protest site inflammable and grave.
I haven’t even mentioned the shortage of coal and the worries around a possible power crisis.
If television news still chooses to pretend that the custody of Aryan Khan is a significant matter or somehow part of an “international conspiracy’, as NCB has argued in court, well then, the joke is on us.
Whichever way you lean on how best to handle the issue of recreational drug use among India’s rich and famous, it is not important to the fate of the country right now. The story is, at best, escapism from reality and at worst, a crafty, knowing deflection. And the media is complicit.
At 16, she wanted to be a teacher like her father and left home to enroll in a training course — the first Dalit girl from her region, Barmer in Rajasthan, to go for higher education. A year later, on March 29, 2016, she was dead, her body found in a water tank on the roof of the teaching institute.
The previous night, the weeping girl had called her father. She told him that the hostel warden, Priya Shukla, the wife of the principal Pragya Prateek Shukla, had sent her to clean the physical training instructor Vijendra Singh’s room. There, Singh had raped her. The trio then made her sign a document, saying it was an act of “mutual consent”. The next morning the police called the father to tell him his daughter was dead. Her body was hauled off in a garbage truck.
It took five years, six months, and 84 trips to the court — 12 hours each way — for the verdict: Life imprisonment for Vijendra Singh and six years for the Shuklas. The father had to hire personal security for fear of reprisals from the dominant castes, reports The Leaflet. He took loans, but didn’t give up hope for justice.
The judgment coincides with the first anniversary of the Hathras crime where a Dalit girl was gang raped and killed and her body cremated at night by the police. It is a grim reminder of how caste-based crime continues unchecked. In a year that saw a general decline in crimes against women and children, crimes against Scheduled Castes showed a 9.4% spike, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Dalit women face sexual abuse daily, said Manjula Pradeep, convenor, National Council of Women Leaders. When rape survivors try to file police complaints, they are accused of filing false cases. “They don’t see us as human beings. The impunity is widespread,” she said.
A recent e-book, No Lockdown on Caste Atrocities, released by the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network, contains a litany of horror stories that are routine in modern India: A Dalit graduate and his mother assaulted for asking for water from the community tap; another boy stripped naked and beaten for touching the motorcycle of a dominant caste man; a 16-year-old Dalit girl raped in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district, her spine broken, by a dominant caste man. These are not isolated incidents, but part of a pattern “to brutally assert the deep-rooted caste hierarchy,” states the book.
Justice in one case does not signal the end of crimes against Dalit women. But it does signal one tiny step forward in a longer march against caste hierarchy.
“Dalit women have come a long way from pain to power, from oppression to assertion,” said Pradeep.
Justice for the girl, named after the place where a river breaks out into several branches before it enters the sea, spells out hope for so many.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy called for a new Charter of rights for the 21st century last week, aptly titled the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Bill of Rights.
These rights are envisioned as the first step to ensure the protection of established norms of civil rights, and aim to direct the development and use of technology in ways that are compatible with constitutional mandates, furthering the interpretation of the Bill of Rights in today’s world of data and algorithms.
Such initiatives are gaining momentum across the world. The European Union (EU) proposed the Artificial Intelligence Act this summer, initiating conversations on regulating the development and use of AI. The objective was to create conditions for the effective functioning of the EU’s single market, adhering to standards of safety and governance while creating legal certainty.
China is also in the process of releasing a flurry of legislative instruments that establish liability for the use of algorithms and setting technical and governance standards for AI systems.
In recent years, the use of AI-based systems has seen a meteoric rise in private and public spheres in India. Algorithmic decision-making that is foundational to AI pervades our lives. We experience it not just when while scrolling social media, ordering food, booking cabs, but also when accessing public distribution systems or in schools. Reports suggest that police departments across many states are extensively using facial recognition technologies. Although touted as modernisation, and a part of the Digital India initiatives, its effects on civil rights have been proven to be catastrophic in other parts of the world.
These concerns have caused a major pushback against the use of such AI-enabled technologies in various jurisdictions across the globe. Pending clearer research that substantiate the benefits of these technologies over the harm they can cause, and policy prescriptions that offer ways to mitigate the risks of their use, the time is ripe for a reconsideration of unbridled use of these technologies. The intention to regulate can accelerate research in these areas, providing better grounding for well-crafted legislation.
India appears indifferent to these developments. Our population is interacting with these unregulated technologies at an ever-increasing rate. The absence of regulatory oversight and legally established protection leaves the Indian citizen unprotected against the vices of these technologies. Not only do we lack the safeguards against the use of these technologies, which may be intrusive and harmful, but we also lack fundamental protection of our personal data. It is imperative at this juncture that legislation identifies and clearly lays down India’s regulatory framework for dealing with personal data.
India has a lot to gain if we engage in norm-setting and regulation of technologies. We missed the opportunity at the negotiation tables of the TRIPS Agreement due to the lack of proactive engagement. The resultant agreement laid down standards that proved more beneficial for countries that were already prosperous, often at the cost of equitable realisation of the benefits of intellectual property. The promises of technology transfers in lieu of access to markets appears a mirage, looking back at the pressure India received against issuing compulsory licenses.
The recent leaks of Facebook’s internal research documents show that considerable damage was done to the Indian ecosystem. But at the moment, there is little respite to any Indian who wants to challenge the harms caused by Facebook’s proprietary AI.
We must alter the status quo. Policymakers should ensure that adequate regulatory safeguards are put in place, and that the interests of the Indian society are central to such regulation. This is of greatest importance in public-facing technologies that can have wide-ranging consequences on civil rights. We should consider pushing the pause button on rolling out technologies such as facial recognition, at least until we arrive at first-principles to regulate their use.
For the United States (US), and many countries in Asia, the key global threat at the moment is Chinese expansionism. This expansionism has been felt most acutely in the maritime sphere in the South China Sea. There is thus recognition of the need to keep sea lanes and smaller islands in the region free of Chinese ingress and militarisation. The coming together of four naval democracies in the form of Quad is an outcome of this assessment. And while Quad isn’t a military alliance, military exercises among Quad partners are now a regular phenomena in the Indo-Pacific. It is in this backdrop that India and the US have got to a stage where, from an era of distrust, especially in the defence realm, their respective naval chiefs now participate together in a joint exercise in the Bay of Bengal, as they did on Thursday. Their presence in the southern part of South Asia was meant as a signal to the power to the north of South Asia, and there is little doubt that China would have taken note.
On the very day that Delhi and DC sent a signal from the seas, Beijing sent its own signal from the mountains — as news broke of forward movement in China’s protracted boundary negotiations with Bhutan. To be sure, given the remarkably close partnership between India and Bhutan and the Thimphu royalty’s clear strategic orientation towards Delhi, Bhutan would have informed India about these negotiations in advance. China and Bhutan have also just agreed on a three-step framework, not an outcome. And India remains in a position to indirectly shape these talks. But despite these caveats, the fact is that the evolution of Bhutan-China boundary talks can have a profound impact on India’s security in the eastern Himalayas, and not necessarily positively.
In the same week that the India-US maritime partnership got more robust, the India-China stalemate in Ladakh also deepened, with unusually harsh public statements after military-level talks failed to make progress. This indicates that China wants to stay put in the new areas where it has established its presence, and is not even bothering with the pretence of being constructive. Beijing’s belligerence comes in the wake of its new (brief) incursions both in the middle sector (Uttarakhand) and eastern sector (Tawang) over the past month, and polemics against Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu’s visit to Arunachal. India should use the seas to enhance leverage, but remember its greatest challenge is in the mountains.