The recent decision of the Supreme Court of India in the case of A.G. Perarivalan and the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has stirred up a hornet’s nest for its constitutional righteousness and establishing its supremacy as the final arbiter of enforcing constitutional discipline. The decision has been hailed by some major political parties as a blow for federalism.
Court’s extraordinary route
The Court has treaded the extraordinary constitutional route under Article 142. The power to do ‘complete justice’, for grant of remission and consequent premature release. The Bench decided to exercise the power of grant of pardon, remissionet al. , exclusively conferred on the President of India and State Governors under Articles 72 and 161. In the teeth of foundational bedrock and cornerstone of separation of powers viz. Parliament/Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, whether the course adopted by the Bench to do expedient justice is constitutional calls for introspection.
The predominant purpose of this article is not Perarivalan-centric, as a convict, or whether the cry of an agonising mother deserved relief or not. The focus is only to evaluate the constitutionality of the decision in the context of Article 142.
The power under Article 161 is exercisable in relation to matters to which the executive power of the state extends. While the Governor is bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers (Article 163), the binding nature of such advice will depend on the constitutionality of the same. Article 161 consciously provides a ‘discretion’ to the Governor in taking a final call, even if it was not wide enough to overrule the advice, but it certainly provides latitude to send back any resolution for reconsideration, if, in his opinion, the resolution conflicted with constitutional ends. InM.P. Special Police Establishment (2004 (8) SCC P.788) a Constitution Bench had held that the “Concept of Governor acting in his discretion or exercising independent judgment is not alien to the constitution”.
Implication of ‘consultation’
In the other Constitution Bench judgment in Sriharan’s case (2016 (7) SCC P.1), arising out of the core of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination itself, one of the references placed for consideration was whether the term ‘consultation’ stipulated in Section 435 Cr.P.C. implies ‘concurrence’. It was held that the word ‘consultation’ means ‘concurrence’ of the Central government. The Constitution Bench highlighted that there are situations where consideration of remission would have trans-border ramifications and wherever a central agency was involved, the opinion of the Central government must prevail.
Basing its conclusion on the legal position that the subject matter (Section 302 in the Indian Penal Code) murder, falls within Lists II and III (State and Concurrent lists) of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, the learned judges concluded that the State was fully empowered to take a call and recommend remission in this case.
If it is a simple case of being a Section 302 crime, the reason for finding fault with the Governor’s decision to forward the recommendation to the President may be constitutionally correct. But the larger controversy as to whether the Governor in his exercise of power under Article 161 is competent at all, to grant pardon or remission in respect of the offences committed by the convicts under the Arms Act, 1959, the Explosive Substances Act, 1908, the Passports Act, 1967, the Foreigners Act, 1946, etc., besides Section 302, is in wobbly terrain.
According to the decision, it is a simple murder attracting Section 302 of the IPC and therefore the Governor’s decision to forward the recommendation to the President is against the letter and spirit of Article 161 — meaning it is against the spirit of federalism envisaged in the Constitution. Such reasoning, with respect, amounted to reductionism, oversimplification of the commission of heinous offence against the Indian state by the convict as co-conspirator, viewing it as an ordinary crime clothing the executive of the state with the power of pardon, remission regardless of its trans-border repercussions and the integrity/security of the country. Surprisingly, nothing has been said on this vital aspect in the order.
Article and issues
Having unprecedentedly concluded that the executive of the state is competent to decide, the Bench invoked Article 142 of the Constitution to usurp the power of the Governor of the State under Article 161. There are momentous issues that are flagged on the exercise of the power of remission under Article 142, by the Supreme Court in the present factual context.
The first is whether Article 142 could be invoked by the Court in the circumstances of the case when the Constitution conferred express power on the Governor alone, for grant of pardon, remission, etc., under Article 161. In the case on hand, the Bench found fault with the Governor not having taken a decision on the recommendation of remission by the State Cabinet for a long time. The fault of the Governor became more intense in the opinion of the Bench, when the Governor eventually referred the matter to the President of India for his decision, after sitting over the recommendation for more than two years.
Deeper examination needed
The entire investigation of the crime was by the Central Bureau of Investigation alone. In the teeth of the specific ruling in Sriharan, with reference to the invocation of power by the State government in terms of Sections 432 and 433 of Cr.P.C, the power exercisable by the Governor under Article 161 in respect of the subject matter is not so clear and obvious as ruled by the Bench. Whether what the State government could not achieve directly by invoking Sections 432 and 433 of Cr.P.C, without concurrence of Centre could be allowed to take a contrived routevide Article 161 and achieve its objectives is a pertinent issue. This aspect requires deeper judicial examination for the sake of constitutional clarity.
The second aspect is the delay in taking a decision by the Governor in the matter. The Constitution does not lay down any timeframe for the Governor to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
In a case like the present one, a long consultative process was imperative due to several litigations repeatedly being pursued at the instance of the convicts, under one legal pretext or the other.
In any event, even if the delay was constitutionally inexcusable or was vulnerable to challenge, the final arbiter of the Constitution (Article 245) could not have trumped Article 161 with Article 142, which is constitutionally jarring. It is usurpation of power of another pillar of democracy. With utmost respect, the constitutional course, if at all, may have been to put it back in the lap of the Governor with a nudge and a wink to ‘decide’ within a reasonable timeline.
The Tamil Nadu State Assembly resolution dated September 9, 2018 and the consequent Cabinet recommendation was to ‘respect Tamil sentiments’. What of the sentiments of the victims of the crime? An oft forgotten genre, as Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer pithily put it in his purple prose, “It is a weakness of our jurisprudence that the victims of crime and the distress of the dependents of the prisoners do not attract the attention of law” (1980 (SCR)(1) P.846). The Bench has regretfully bid farewell to such humane inputs.
To portray the remission as to what it was not in the State is a sad fallout the lawlords on the pulpit may not have bargained for. And on the constitutional plane, this verdict deserves a relook, even a review, as it stands on wobbly foundations built with creaky credence.
In 2016 (1) SCC P.463 (Rajbala vs State of Haryana ), the top court presciently wrote, “A judge should always bear in mind that erroneous and fallacious exercise of discretion is perceived by a visible collective.” — the visible collective being We The People.
The evolving principle of constitutional moralism and justice dispensation by the constitutional courts may as well heed the distressed cries of the real and imperceptible victims before showering their grace on the perceptible offenders.
Justice V. Parthiban is a retired judge of the Madras High Court
India’s push for electric vehicles (EVs) was renewed when phase-II of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric (FAME) Vehicles scheme in India, with an outlay of Rs. 10,000 crore, was approved in 2019. This was significant since phase-I, launched in 2015, was approved with an outlay of Rs. 895 crore. India was doubling down on its EV ambitions, focusing on cultivating demand for EVs at home while also developing its own indigenous EV manufacturing industry which could cater to this demand.
Initially envisioned for three years, FAME-II got a two-year extension in June 2021 owing to a number of factors including the pandemic. It aims to support 10 lakh e-two-wheelers, 5 lakh e-three-wheelers, 55,000 e-four-wheeler passenger cars and 7,000 e-buses. Three years into FAME-II, the numbers have been lagging far behind the original three-year target. As a part of FAME-II, the government has made a push for indigenous manufacturing with a number of automakers answering the call. Legacy auto manufacturers such as Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, Hero Electric, and TVS unveiled their EV offerings. New EV players also emerged on the scene with the likes of Ola and Bounce entering the e-two-wheeler segment. While e-two-wheelers and e-four-wheelers receive significant coverage, a three-wheeled underdog has been quietly dominating the Indian EV space.
The dominance of e-3-wheelers
Three-wheeler EVs like e-autos and e-rickshaws account for close to 65% of all EVs registered in India. In contrast, two-wheeler EVs come at a distant second with over 30% of registrations and passenger four-wheeler EVs at a meagre 2.5%. Under the targets for FAME-II, e-three-wheelers have crossed over 4 lakh vehicles of the 5-lakh target since 2019. The numbers are expected to be higher given the prevalence of unregistered vehicles in India. At the current rate, e-three-wheelers are expected to breach the 5-lakh target by 2023. Given the success of e-three-wheelers, it is worth taking a closer look at their dominant position, how they got here, and what India’s EV policy can do to sustain their success and extend it to the other categories.
The EV registrations data show that Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal account for close to 80% of all e-three-wheeler registrations, with U.P. accounting for close to 40% of all registrations. Of these five States, Assam, Delhi, U.P., and West Bengal have formalised EV policies while Bihar has a draft policy with a final policy due to be introduced later in 2022. Incidentally, these five States are characterised by high population density and shortage of affordable public transport. Indigenously designed and produced, e-three-wheelers like e-rickshaws have become a common sight in these States. Costing between Rs. 1 lakh and Rs. 1.5 lakh, these vehicles are produced by scores of local workshops and small enterprises and have come to dominate the e-three-wheeler market. With financial assistance from FAME-II, local manufacturers have built a truly Indian EV with its unique design catering to Indian commuter needs. Legacy automakers with their own e-three-wheeler offerings have been struggling to compete with these local producers. The EV policies put in place by these States as part of FAME-II have been instrumental in driving this growth.
The focus of the EV policies of these five States is on accelerating adoption of EVs among consumers and promoting local manufacturing. All five States provide road tax exemption of 100% and on registration fees. Assam, Delhi and West Bengal have linked incentives to the battery size (in kWh) with additional benefits on interest rate on loans and scrappage incentives in some cases. U.P. has gone a different way with its subsidies, offering 100% interest-free loans to State government employees for purchasing EVs in the State and 30% subsidy on the road price of EVs to families with a single girl child. To promote sales of EVs manufactured within the State, U.P. exempts SGST on all such vehicles. It has outlined incentives to promote EV manufacturing in the State. Bihar’s draft EV policy too has been drafted along similar lines: it focuses on adoption and manufacturing. These States have performed exceptionally well in the FAME-II scheme and are on their way to achieve the target of 5 lakh e-three-wheelers.
The success India has experienced in the e-three-wheeler space has come from developing both the demand and supply sides. Subsidies, tax exemptions, and interest-free loans have successfully rallied demand for these vehicles. These vehicles provide for inexpensive means of transport for millions, are easy to maintain, and have relatively low operating costs, making them immensely popular among operators. The indigenous design allows for easy local manufacturing in workshops and small enterprises and makes them relatively easy to charge and maintain compared to their two-wheeler and four-wheeler counterparts. This success in the e-three-wheeler space has been difficult to replicate in the e-two-wheeler and e-four-wheeler space, which have problems both on the demand and supply side. Since two-wheelers and four-wheelers are essentially associated with personal use, consumers are justifiably apprehensive in adopting such vehicles given the host of issues which come with it. The recent incidents of fires in e-scooters have added to the apprehension. Reliable manufacturers with proven track records in the two-wheeler and four-wheeler EV space in India are hard to come by. This further adds to the supply side crunch and there are very few affordable offerings for the consumer.
Issues to be addressed
The current policies in place at the State level, which are focused on accelerating adoption of EVs among consumers, have spurred an e-three-wheeler dominance. However, this has come at some costs. A major one is adequate passenger safety. Subsequent EV policies must therefore pay special attention to this issue. Local manufacturing enterprises often lack the necessary resources or the motivation to invest in design developments focusing on safety. Lack of proper oversight from regulatory bodies over these manufacturers add to the woes. Future policies must therefore incorporate appropriate design and passenger safety standards. While the current State-level policies have been instrumental in increasing local e-three-wheeler manufacturing, they have led to an increasingly fragmented manufacturing industry with non-uniform standards akin to the formative years of motor vehicles in the early 20th century. This fragmentation has led to legacy automakers struggling to compete with the large number of manufacturers in every State. EV policies must address this issue so that legacy automakers are not demotivated from competing in the e-three-wheeler space. Their resources are necessary for designing and manufacturing more advanced and safer e-three-wheelers. Future EV policies must therefore take into account the existing and emerging stakeholders on the demand and supply sides for effective implementation. With the prevailing trajectory of EVs, India must take lessons from its e-three-wheeler success story to sustain its EV ambitions.
Soumyadeep Kundu is a Doctoral student and Soumya Roy is Associate Professor, Quantitative Methods and Operations Management Area, Indian Institute of Management-Kozhikode
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves through the world, especially in Europe, being the region most immediately affected. The countries close to the Russian border, namely the Baltic states and Poland, had long warned against such a possibility, which they considered the next step after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the month-long Russian military build-up along the border. The Germans, the strongest European economy and the key nation for the European Union, however remained indifferent, regarding such warnings as exaggerated alarmism.
This attitude was not only the fault of the current Federal Government, formed by the Social Democrats, the Green Party and Liberals. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat conservatives, then in alliance with the Social Democrats, had retained the hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be deterred if offered concessions without any penalties. Even after Moscow, for the first time since 1990, had created a new border in Europe in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, a major pipeline project, Nord Stream 2, between Russia and Germany, was approved and almost operationalised. In regard to the warnings about possible Russian intentions, the German government believed that it understood Russia better than the rest of the world, which eventually turned out to be wishful thinking.
An over and underestimation
The lack of realistic thinking in foreign affairs in a country holding arch-realist Otto von Bismarck in high esteem might appear absurd for an India struggling with two powerful neighbours with nuclear weapons as a fact of life in this century. While the Germans, based on a particular mindset, have overestimated their influence on the Kremlin and underestimated Mr. Putin’s security obsessions over the past three decades. The first category falls under the term ‘peace-dividend’, after overcoming the Cold War and Germany’s partition, surrounded by friends without any hostile neighbours. And the second was the German-Gandhian dream of a world without any arms, an especially attractive concept for a people who had initiated, and suffered most from, the destruction of Europe in two world wars in the 20th century.
The consequences of these pacific views have now become more visible. Despite being one of the richest countries, Germany starved its armed forces financially. The Army has a highly diminished number of serviceable helicopters, submarines or artillery. As a result, while Ukraine pleads for weapons of all kinds to defend itself, Germany has hardly anything to offer except tanks that had been decommissioned a decade ago and for which there is no ammunition available.
Near taboo subjects
Apart from such practicalities, mental reservations stand in the way of steering a different course, which can be observed throughout German society. After Hitler, Germans struggled hard to become likeable in the world, and to be regarded as democratic, pacifist, cooperative, understanding and helpful. As a result, military force, power politics and national interest have become almost taboo subjects, and declining to be involved in conflict has become the national mantra. Defending the national interest, such as the protection of export opportunities which are the basis of German wealth, by sending the navy to protect certain shipping routes was approved by the Parliament, but condemned as a relapse into military adventurism in large sections of the media.
This same attitude is found even among leading Social Democrats such as their chairman in the Parliament, Rolf Mützenich, who built his career in the belief of a world without arms. Apart from the criticism in the media and among the public, the views of dignitaries such as Mr. Mützenich make the current Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, appear indecisive, because he cannot rule in favour of arms deliveries to Ukraine due to massive resistance within his own party.
The Green Party is prone to facing a similar dilemma; its Ministers in the cabinet are the most outspoken in supporting Ukraine by whatever means available, but there is growing discontent among its pacifist-minded supporters, who do not support the argument that the victims of an invasion require to be supported. Germany is an important member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but is extremely conflicted on how deeply it should be involved in supporting Ukraine. Deciding on such a course of action will mean a further modification of several decades of a mainly non-interventionist policy.
Amit Das Gupta is a scholar in the Federal Army University Munich.
Krishnan Srinivasan is a former Indian Foreign Secretary
In a case involving the interpretation of the Copyright Act of 1957, Justice Prathiba M. Singh of the Delhi High Court has appointed Arul George Scaria, a law professor, as an expert to assist the court. Prof. Scaria’s appointment is an opportunity to assess the role of law professors in society. The core occupation of a law professor is to teach and push the frontiers of knowledge through research and scholarly engagements. But they have much more to offer provided the system gives them the right opportunities. Do India’s judiciary and the executive employ the expertise of law professors?
The examples of their doing so are sporadic. Shamnad Basheer, a celebrated academic in the field of intellectual property law, who died at 43, assisted the Supreme Court as an ‘academic intervenor’ inNovartis v. Union of India (2012). Aparna Chandra and Mrinal Satish served asamicus curiae before the Delhi High Court. Legendary academics such as Upendra Baxi and Lotika Sarkar have voluntarily intervened in matters of importance, compelling courts to take them up. On select occasions, the Supreme Court has appointed law professors such as Mool Chand Sharma as Joint Registrar (Research) and Anup Surendranath and Daniel Mathew as Deputy Registrars (Research). V.S. Mani was part of the team that represented India before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the 1999 aerial incident case involving India and Pakistan. The Law Commission has employed the services of law professors to draft reports batting for law reforms. In some instances, parliamentary committees have invited law professors to depose as expert witnesses in important matters. The executive has also appointed law professors to serve in different committees.
Neglect of academics
But these examples are the outcomes of individual initiatives by judges, bureaucrats or politicians reposing faith in law professors; they are not a consequence of a system that values the expertise of academic lawyers and is desirous of using their skills. Both the judiciary and the executive have largely overlooked India’s academic lawyers. The following examples elucidate this point. First, Article 124(3)(c) of the Constitution provides that a ‘distinguished jurist’ i.e. an illustrious law professor, can be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court. But no law professor has ever been appointed as a Supreme Court judge. Compare this with countries like the U.S. where several law professors have served as judges of the Supreme Court.
Second, India has rarely nominated a law professor to international judicial and legal bodies like the ICJ and the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization. India has preferred to send retired judges, government lawyers, or superannuated bureaucrats to these bodies compared to other liberal democracies which routinely nominate law professors to these organisations. This is despite India producing iconic international law professors like B.S. Chimni, R.P. Anand and V.S. Mani, whose work is cited globally.
Third, the Modi government has been heard championing the lateral entry of experts in the government to replace generalist bureaucrats for work that requires a high level of domain expertise. But there is rarely an example of a law professor being inducted as a full-time expert in any of the ministries. Fourth, India’s constitutional courts seldom appoint academics to serve asamicus curiae or as experts to assist the courts in comprehending difficult questions of law. Contrary to the practice of courts in other liberal democracies, Indian courts largely rely on the expertise of the Indian Bar.
Why partner with academics?
Often, constitutional courts grapple with challenging legal questions. Answering these requires a certain ability to theorise and conceputalise, which practicing lawyers lack. Law professors are academically trained to theorise. Unlike practitioners who are generally wedded to the ‘black letter’ approach, law professors study the law critically, often employing empirical, interdisciplinary, and comparative approaches. This skill set has the potential of raising the bar of legal reasoning by several notches. Basheer’s iconic intervention inNovartis is a case in point.
Appointing academics as judges of constitutional courts or involving them to assist courts in tackling complex legal issues can bring in a refreshing perspective. It will also foster institutional diversity in our judicial process. Decision-makers occupying the high echelons in the judiciary and the executive should recognise that by not making the fullest use of the expertise of academic lawyers, they are doing a disfavour to our society. The onus is on them to develop robust institutionalised mechanisms to engage academic lawyers in the service of the nation.
Prabhash Ranjan is Professor and Vice Dean, Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University. Views are personal
Four gang rapes in under three months, with the latest victim being murdered, have turned the spotlight on the need for enhancing safety for women and strengthening law and order in Tamil Nadu. Of greater concern is that the accused targeted the three survivors, who were with their male companions, in public spaces. In another case, a youth stalked a woman, forced his way into her home and allegedly raped her at knifepoint in the heart of Chennai.
The gang rapes in Vellore, Cuddalore, Namakkal and Rameswaram were preceded by a horrific incident of a woman in Virudhunagar being blackmailed and raped by four men and three juveniles over a period of seven months. In Vellore, a woman doctor from Bihar and a male colleague were hoodwinked into taking a ride at night in a share autorickshaw, with the accused pretending to be co-passengers. The two were robbed, the man beaten up and the doctor raped. The traumatised woman left for Bihar and filed an online complaint with the police. While the modus operandi in the Vellore case had traces of the ‘Nirbhaya’ case, the Virudhunagar incident brought back memories of the 2019 Pollachi case in which young women had been blackmailed and abused and which the DMK had made a campaign issue then.
The two cases, which surfaced when the Legislative Assembly was in session in March, caused great embarrassment to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. Not long ago, as the Leader of the Opposition, he had questioned the Union government for adjudging Tamil Nadu, then ruled by the BJP’s ally AIADMK, the leading State in the Good Governance Index. He had asked how the Centre could rank Tamil Nadu first in ‘public security’ when there were incidents such as the Pollachi serial sexual abuse case. Therefore, he lost no time in declaring that the investigation and trial in the Virudhunagar case would be fast-tracked and monitored to fetch maximum punishment for the accused. He vowed that the investigation would not be (slow and shoddy) like the Pollachi case. He transferred the case to the Crime Branch-CID, which fast-tracked the investigation and filed a voluminous charge sheet against the accused. The accused persons in the doctor’s case too were arrested within days of the crime.
However, the administration’s quick actions did not prevent similar crimes from unfolding in Cuddalore, Namakkal and Rameswaram. In the last incident, a woman out on work at a prawn unit was robbed, raped and murdered by two migrant workers from Odisha, triggering massive protests. The rapists in all cases have been arrested. But it also had a different fallout in Rameswaram with the Municipal authorities seeking to profile details of guest workers selling pani puri and working in restaurants and construction sites, ostensibly linking crime with migrants.
Sexual crimes have evoked strong reactions from Tamil Nadu’s politicians in the past. Against the backdrop of the ‘Nirbhaya’ case, then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had called for amending central laws to provide for punishments such as the death penalty and chemical castration for sexual offenders. After the Hathras rape, Mr. Stalin had promised to set up special courts to hear cases related to violence against women when his party is voted to power. The State already has Mahila Courts.
To the government’s credit, there was no attempt to cover up the rape cases. Mr. Stalin has made it a point to make surprise inspections at police stations whenever possible — something his predecessors had not done in decades. But what is needed is preventive action, strengthening security for women and a special focus on ‘visible policing’ with senior police officers playing a proactive role.
In a bizarre reversal on Sunday, the Union government withdrew a notification from a Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) office cautioning people against sharing photocopies of their Aadhaar card, just two days after the advisory was issued, claiming that it would be “misinterpreted”. The May 27 notification that was issued by the Bengaluru Regional Office of the UIDAI urged people to use the masked Aadhaar number facility — that can be downloaded from the UIDAI website — and which displays only the last four digits of the Aadhaar number. This was a sensible advisory. The masked Aadhaar facility has been in place since 2018 and this came about following a report by the Centre for Internet and Society that publicly available datasets had sensitive details such as full Aadhaar number details and also included bank account details of individuals. The dangers of providing the full Aadhaar number to several agencies — the use of the Aadhaar card and the number for various purposes today has only multiplied exponentially — are evident in the way these numbers have been used by fraudsters for criminal purposes such as identity theft, Know Your Customer (KYC)-related fraud among others in recent years, and which have been documented in news reports. The UIDAI has itself registered far more potential fraud cases related to the issue highlighted above in recent years compared to the past. Other scams that are of a higher order have also been revealed recently, related to biometrics theft that have allowed scamsters to steal welfare benefits at the expense of genuine beneficiaries. The Internet is rife with leaked data and this poses a major threat to user privacy.
The UIDAI has, however, been ambivalent about the inherent dangers in the indiscriminate use of the Aadhaar number or the Aadhaar card by citizens, as evidenced in its series of flip-flops on the issue even before this latest withdrawal notice. There seems to be a contradiction of views within the authority on the issue of potential misuse of the Aadhaar number. On the one hand, in statements advising caution and user discretion in revealing one’s Aadhaar number, it is seeking to treat these as sensitive information just like the biometrics provided by citizens to the authority. Yet, on the other, it has sought to universalise the open use of the Aadhaar as an identity document with missionary zeal and has downplayed the risks of doing so. This ambivalence does not help at all. The UIDAI must popularise the use of the masked Aadhaar facility as a start and rethink ways to tighten the scrutiny over how Aadhaar numbers are issued and utilised even as law enforcement agencies crack down on data leaks and websites carrying unmasked Aadhaar-related information.
Taking another step towards equity, three women, Shruti Sharma, Ankita Agarwal and Gamini Singla, secured the first, second and third ranks, respectively, in the 2021 Civil Services examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Considered one of the toughest examinations to crack, the girls emerged successfully at the top in their second attempt, and in the case of the second-ranker, in her third try. All three women agreed that it was a long, difficult and challenging journey. With 10 of the top 25 rank-holders being women, there is a lot to celebrate — and ponder over. According to the latest All India Survey on Higher Education report, published by the Ministry of Education for 2019-2020, the gross enrolment ratio in higher education for the female population is 27.3%, compared to 26.9% for males. In this backdrop, women comprised only 26% — or 177 — of the total of 685 candidates recommended by the UPSC for appointment to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Central Services, Group A and B. This skewed statistic must change because public service offers a unique opportunity to bring about social change, and women can drive this, especially in a country where girls often have to drop out of school for a variety of reasons, from poverty, early marriage to lack of toilets.
Ms. Sharma hails from Bijnor (Uttar Pradesh), Ms. Agarwal from Kolkata and Ms. Singla from Sunam (Punjab), and each of their stories is that of struggle and persistence. It has been a hard-fought battle for women to come this far in the IAS, and sometimes a trickier road awaits them once inside the steel framework of the administrative setup. If three women are at the top today, they have a lot to thank trailblazers such as Anna Rajam Malhotra (née George), the first woman to join the Indian Administrative Service in 1951, or C.B. Muthamma, the first woman to join the IFS in 1948 who fought a landmark case in the Supreme Court of India when she was looked over for a promotion for Ambassador, or even Anita Kaul who worked tirelessly to champion the Right to Education Act 2009 which made education a fundamental right for every child. The early part of a civil servant’s career is usually spent in rural or semi-urban India, giving her a vantage point over issues including women’s health, literacy, economic independence, caste and gender disparities that are in need of reforms or policy intervention but are often overlooked due to lack of a proper understanding. To achieve this, education is the key. Also, if civil service has to represent all sections of the population, of which half are women, their representation in the services too must increase at all levels of the bureaucracy, starting with the highest rung.
New Delhi, May 31: The Press Council of India has said that its findings have had a salutary effect in safeguarding the freedom of the press and in ensuring that this freedom is not regarded as a licence by newspapers. In its annual report for 1971 laid on the table of the Lok Sabha to-day, the Council said that by and large the press served the cause of the public with a few exceptions where a few papers had chosen to indulge in “blackmail, cheap sensationalism, scandal-mongering, scurrilous and communal writings or obscene publications.” Such journals, it said, did not generally command a large circulation. The Council was doing all it could to restrain them from abusing their journalistic role and violating ethical standards. During the year under review, the Press Council considered 28 complaints. In respect of complaints upheld, five editors were censured and four warned while the Council expressed displeasure against one. In nine complaints the Council, apart from expressing its opinion about objectionable writings, refrained from taking further action because the editors concerned admitted impropriety.
Over the six weeks that the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial took place in the US, the former couple leveled several serious allegations against each other. Details about physical and sexual abuse, verbal threats, substance addiction, trashed rooms and broken bottles were brought forth in their testimonies, painting a picture of a marriage in which both parties hurt each other. While the jury ponders over the evidence that was presented in the courtroom before it pronounces its verdict, there is one thing that is already clear: Those following the trial online treated the stark frames of the breakdown of a marriage as a spectacle to be pruriently consumed.
The marriage had come apart and ended in 2017. Everything that happened subsequently — Depp’s libel suit against the UK tabloid The Sun for calling him a “wife beater”, Heard’s Washington Post op-ed in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse”, and the defamation case that resulted in a highly-scrutinised trial — resulted from personal decisions made by two individuals in contexts that no one outside of their relationship will ever fully know. But that didn’t seem to matter at all to those watching.
Even before the opening arguments were made, the fact that both Depp and Heard are celebrities — Hollywood actors with starring parts in major film franchises — indicated that the case would be closely followed by the public. How closely only became evident once the trial began and was live streamed on screen all over the world, particularly in the vicious trolling of Heard, the less famous and powerful of the two. Millions of memes, TikToks, and hashtags crowded timelines, revealing, in all its starkness, an ugly obsession with being entertained at all costs, including at the cost of the dignity of the two people in the marriage and the courtroom.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on June 1, 2022 under the title ‘The reality show’
Broadly in line with expectations, the Indian economy grew by 4.1 per cent in the fourth quarter (January-March) of the last financial year (2021-22), as per the latest data released by the National Statistical Office. For the full year, the economy is now estimated to have grown by 8.7 per cent, marginally lower than the earlier estimate of 8.9 per cent released at the end of February. However, the latest estimates imply that at the end of 2021-22, the economy is only 1.5 per cent higher than its pre-pandemic level, as both private consumption and investment — the two major drivers of growth — continue to be subdued.
Gross value added by the entire economy rose by 3.9 per cent in the fourth quarter. This appears to have been propped up by agriculture and public administration, defence and other services. Excluding these, core value added grew at an even slower pace of 3.2 per cent. The disaggregated data also points to a mixed performance across sectors. Agricultural growth has been estimated at 4.1 per cent in the fourth quarter. However, this is at odds with estimates of wheat and most rabi crops whose yields were hit by excess rains during December-January and the post mid-March heat wave. Within industry, manufacturing has actually contracted by 0.2 per cent in the quarter just ended. In fact, the sector’s performance has dipped sequentially — it has barely registered a rise in the second half of 2021-22. This is, perhaps, an outcome of margins coming under pressure. Within services too, performance has been varied. While trade, hotels, transport, and communication services have slowed down to 5.3 per cent in the fourth quarter, down from 6.3 per cent in the previous quarter, the financial, real estate and professional services sector has maintained its trajectory — contact-intensive services did get affected by the third wave of the pandemic in the initial few weeks of the quarter. Worryingly, private consumption has continued to remain muted, growing by just under 2 per cent in the fourth quarter. And while gross fixed capital formation, which connotes investment activity in the economy, saw a marginal uptick in the quarter just ended, it has grown by under 4 per cent in the second half of last year.
Leading economic indicators suggest the momentum of economic activity in the weeks and months thereafter has remained healthy. Growth is also likely to be aided by a low base effect. However, the recovery is neither broad-based nor fully entrenched. Moreover, the combination of slower global growth and higher commodity prices, especially crude oil, will act as headwinds.
Optimism over a good southwest monsoon has strengthened, with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicting rainfall for the country during the four-month season (June-September) at 103 per cent of the historical long period average. This is as against the 99 per cent projection in the IMD’s first forecast on April 14. Moreover, the probability of a below-normal/deficient monsoon — aggregate rainfall turning out less than 96 per cent of the historical average — has been scaled down from 40 per cent to 19 per cent in the agency’s forecast update issued on Tuesday. The sanguine prognosis is based on the ongoing La Niña conditions likely to continue in the upcoming monsoon months. La Niña, an abnormal cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean waters off South America that causes moisture-laden winds to move westwards towards Asia, is generally favourable for rains in India. That, coupled with sustained high summer temperatures over the Indian landmass necessary for formation of low-pressure systems, should translate into a “normal” monsoon this time.
There can be nothing better for the Indian economy today than a monsoon that is normal — not just overall, but also in terms of spatial and temporal distribution. This wasn’t the case last year, which saw a month-long dry spell from the second week of July and too much rain after late-August. La Niña’s arrival from October resulted in excess rain that extended beyond the monsoon season till January. In the event, the kharif crop suffered from rainfall deficit during the sowing/early vegetative growth stage and water-logging at harvesting time in October-November. La Niña, thus, did more damage than good last time. This year, its prevailing even before the monsoon’s start, and hopefully not strengthening further, should help deliver copious rains during the season, especially from mid-June through August. A bumper kharif crop is, indeed, required at a time when retail food inflation is ruling uncomfortably high, at 8.38 per cent year on year in April.
What should the Centre do? In the immediate term, it must announce the minimum support prices (MSP) for kharif crops. The prospects of a good monsoon will definitely induce farmers to sow aggressively. They should be given the signals to plant the right crops — more oilseeds, pulses, cotton and maize than water-guzzling paddy and sugarcane. While the market prices of the former are good enough, MSP assurance can push them further in the desired direction. Equally important is ensuring adequate and timely availability of seeds, fertilisers, crop protection chemicals, credit and other farm inputs. This calls for coordinated action between the Centre, state government and agri-input suppliers. A good monsoon should not become a squandered opportunity.
Written by Lesle Lewis
KK has left us at far too young an age. His passing is a loss not just for the music industry, but for everyone who loved music. He had a voice that was unlike anybody else’s, and great range and natural talent. KK’s incredible ability to not only hold a note for long but also really feel it made those listening to him experience those same emotions. The songs on his debut album, Pal, showcased this ability, which is why tracks like Pal and Yaaron still resonate with listeners. Something in his voice speaks to you. Even the tracks he sang for Hindi films sounded like KK songs, not like the usual Bollywood songs. KK made every song his own. He was able to do so because, in the true sense, he was a rock balladeer. He hadn’t received formal training, but he’d been part of college rock bands, where he sang mostly rock ballads and that experience showed in his voice.
The first time I met KK, I was struck by his rockstar vibe. I met him — a young guy with a big warm smile and long hair – when Hariharan, who had first heard him sing, sent him to me. I was composing a lot of advertising jingles at the time, and even though KK immediately told me that his dream was to have a music album produced and composed by me, I first gave him jingles to sing. Not that I wasn’t flattered by what he said. Especially, as time went on, he showed immense faith in me. For example, sometime after he had started singing jingles for me, he told me that he’d got the opportunity to record an album with a smaller audio company. I told him it was a terrible idea because he would only end up getting lost among the hundreds of other singers who were around. Surprisingly, for someone who had long nurtured this dream of coming out with his own music album, he took my advice and let go of the opportunity.
Another example of the trust that he had in me: Years later, after he had already become a well-known singer, I had him sing Chadta Suraj on Coke Studio India (with Sabri Brothers). I wanted him to sing very low, which was challenging, no doubt. He thought about it for two minutes and said, “Let’s go ahead”. Anybody else would have asked me to raise the pitch a little, but he had immense trust in me and my judgement.class="viewmore-premium">More Premium Stories >>
In a way, I think of him as my baby. After he turned down the opportunity to record an album on my advice, I took a recording of his jingles to Sony Music. They agreed to sign him on if I got on board as well, and that’s how KK’s first album Pal was produced. I composed the music for it. It was with this album that music lovers all over India discovered KK, and his unusual voice, which sounded like nobody else. He wasn’t a hustler, calling up people and telling them to give him projects, even though he did find success in Bollywood, with composers bringing him songs that were particularly suited to his style.
It must be some twist of fate that his first introduction to music lovers in India was through the song Pal, and his farewell to us was also through the same song, which was the final one he sang at his Kolkata concert last night. It’s almost like the song itself was a time machine of some sort — he came to us on it, and then left on it.
The writer is a music composer and producer
The framers of the Constitution made a giant leap of faith when they incorporated universal adult suffrage into the design of India’s founding document and enshrined it in Article 326. In 1947, India’s literacy rate was only 12 per cent. In other words, 88 per cent of India was illiterate. What this epochal decision meant was that all Indian citizens, irrespective of caste, colour, creed, sex, place of birth or any other disability, including illiteracy, would henceforth be qualified to participate in the great Indian democratic experiment that was set to unfold in 1952.
In many nations around the world, the right to vote has followed a very hard fought battle, especially for the coloured, indigenous and the poor, and more so for women. It was only as late as 1928 that women got the right to vote in the United Kingdom, even though the parliamentary system was established in 1215 with the creation and signing of the Magna Carta.
It was only pursuant to the 15th amendment to the US Constitution in 1870 that African American men got the right to vote and it was in 1920 through the 19th Amendment that women were entitled to participate in the democratic process. Remember the US constitution was formally adopted in 1789 and the Bill of Rights that encapsulates the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution was approved way back in 1791. In Australia, interestingly, true adult suffrage was not achieved till as late as 1967 when the Commonwealth Electoral Act extended the right to vote to all Australian citizens irrespective of race. In Japan, the right to vote was made universal only after it lost the Second World War in 1945.
This plunge into the dark that the makers of modern India took has held us in good stead. With every election since 1952 our democracy has deepened and become more broad based. In 1988, at the instance of the NSUI that I then headed at the national level, the former prime minister, late Rajiv Gandhi, in the teeth of internal opposition from party apparatchiks, lowered the voting age to 18 years. By the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution, Parliament institutionalised democracy at the third tier or at the grassroots of the administrative or governance paradigm. It also reinforced the belief of the people in the ballot box as the principal instrument of change. Except for certain areas in the Northeast, north-west and minuscule parts of Central India, an overwhelming number of people developed a deep-rooted belief in the efficacy of the country’s democratic system.
However, there remains a big black hole in the functioning of India’s democratic model and that is the functioning of political parties that underpin our democratic edifice. At last count, there were 2,858 parties registered with the Election Commission of India. Of these, eight are national parties, 54 are state parties and 2,797 are unrecognised parties.
The internal functioning and structures of an overwhelming number of these political parties are opaque and ossified, to put it very mildly. While the Election Commission of India has superintendence, direction and control of elections under Part XV of the Constitution of India, it argues that this does not extend to the supervision or superintendence of internal elections of political parties — a claim that is problematic. While it is correct that under Section 29-A of the Representation of People’s Act 1951 the Commission has the powers to register a political party and not deregister it, that assertion precludes the fact that the Commission has wide ranging powers available to it under Section 16-A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 to either suspend or withdraw recognition to a political party as a national or state party.
On August 13, 1996, the Election Commission in a bold initiative issued a circular to all political parties registered with it, whether national, state or unrecognised, that they must hold regular elections in accordance with their respective constitutions. Two paras of this circular are worth quoting and they are extrapolated from the judgment of the Commission in the matter of Arjun Singh vs President Indian National Congress: “… the Commission having noticed that a large number of political parties have failed to hold elections for years and have been functioning on an ad hoc basis. We have therefore decided to issue independent notices shortly, to all the political parties registered with the Commission to send us latest information regarding their elected office bearers as per provisions and procedure in their respective constitutions along with all material and documentary evidence not later than the 1st of July 1997. If any political party fails to do so the Commission may be left with no choice except to consider such legal measures as are available, necessary and appropriate”.
Consider the import of these three words — such legal measures as are available, necessary and appropriate. They clearly underscore that the Election Commission is not a mere post office that has to accept without demur any drivel that political parties furnish it with in terms of the integrity and fairness of their internal organisational electoral processes, which unfortunately is the practice that the Election Commission has adopted since 1997. It is reluctant to lift the veil and verify for itself whether the claims being made by a political party are correct and honest. It hides behind a carefully constructed and assiduously cultivated myth about its lack of powers to escape from what it construed as its own mandate in the Arjun Singh case. The correct interpretation of it’s own mandate and powers two and a half decades back under the stewardship of Late TN Seshan has given way too an inexplicable servility and reluctance to do what is necessary to correct and rectify the fundamental distortions in India’s democratic paradigm.
The time has come for the Election Commission to ensure through the appointment of external election monitors and other innovative mechanisms that the internal democratic processes of all political parties play out in a just, fair and credible manner. Only when the underpinning is truly democratic would the great Indian democratic experiment bloom in its true glory. That is the second wave of democratic reforms that India desperately requires.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 1, 2022 under the title ‘How to fill the big black hole’. The writer is a lawyer, Congress MP, and former I&B minister
May 2014 marked the beginning of an era of stable governmet. The nation had inherited strong constitutional and democratic ideals, but policy paralysis weakened the underlying spirit. The Narendra Modi era has awakened the national spirit. As we look back on the eight-year journey of the strong Modi government, significant milestones are visible.
The Modi government has taken inspiration from our glorious past in a mature and holistic manner. The most admirable characteristic of its journey remains that the uplift of the poor continues to be the focus of all government programmes. This dimension has led to a culture of improved governance for delivering government services with minimum interference.
A meticulous approach to realising the “antyodaya” vision by utilising technology in governance has broken the long-running systemic inertia. The JAM trinity (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) has plugged the loopholes in service delivery. Direct Benefit Transfers of Rs 22.3 lakh crore to the targeted beneficiaries have translated into estimated gains of Rs 2.22 lakh crore.
In order to provide basic amenities to the poor, 1.77 crore houses have been completed under the PM Awas Yojana with 57 per cent of beneficiaries belonging to backward communities, SCs, STs and minorities. 10.93 crore “izzat ghars” (toilets) built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan have instilled a sense of security among women. The ambitious Ayushman Bharat Scheme facilitates free healthcare — Rs 36,112 crore has been disbursed among 17.88 crore beneficiaries. Under the PM Ujjwala Scheme, 38 per cent connections were extended to SC/ST families. The free vaccination drive, Mission Indradhanush, and the fortification of staple food have been targeted at the young. The PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana has consistently provided food items to more than 100 crore beneficiaries.
Programmes such as Eklavya Model School have taken care of educational and capacity-building needs. Pre-matric, post-matric and merit cum means scholarship schemes have given wings to the aspirations of hitherto ignored communities. The aspirational district programme, PM Adarsh Gram Scheme, and the National Social Assistance programme are dedicated to improving basic social indicators. The development of the Northeast is the top priority of the government.
The specially designed policies fulfill the minimum needs of the poor and enable them to become a significant stakeholder in the nation’s growth trajectory. Self-attestation, self-certification documents, and doing away with the interview for junior-level group C and D and non-gazetted Group B central government jobs has built an ecosystem of trust. Citizens and businesses have benefited as the government invoked the principle of minimum government, maximum governance to do away with 30,000 compliance burdens.
Another hallmark of the Modi government is breaking the silos and following “the whole government” approach to improve efficiency of schemes. The National Infrastructure Master Plan in the form of the PM Gati Shakti programme is a massive collaborative exercise for speedy execution of projects. The Mudra loans, Stand up India and Venture Capital Funds, and PM Svanidhi, among others, are turning vulnerable sections into enablers and recognising them as stakeholders in the development journey of India. PM Gram Sadak Yojana, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, PM Fasal Bima Yojana are improving the prospects of the farmer community. The proposed FPOs have enhanced the bargaining power of small and marginal farmers.
The Prime Minister’s undivided attention to poor people’s welfare continues. The instance of washing the leg of the sanitation worker in Prayagraj and showering flowers on the labourers of Kashi has touched millions. His commitment to better working conditions and ease of life is evident in increased formalisation of workers through e-Shramik registrations, labour codes, and one nation-one ration card.
The last eight years have witnessed massive improvement in the implementation of government schemes. Despite the pandemic-related shocks, development projects are on track. Growth is finally reaching the masses and a just society is under incubation.
The world is looking at India to play a significant role in global affairs. Once a food starved country, India is now extending food assistance to other countries. Amid the uncertainties and chaos of international events, a strong and confident India provides valuable lessons to developing nations — in deploying public investment, building institutional infrastructure, regulatory systems, delivery systems, market interventions and innovation — in pro-people governance.
The unbounded potential of the 130-crore Indians is the bedrock for the nation to scale new heights in the upcoming Amrit Kaal. Let’s resolve to utilise this emerging nectar and imbibe the spirit of reform and performance to transform India into a world leader.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 1, 2022 under the title ‘From margin to centre’. The writer is Union Minister of State for Culture & Parliamentary Affairs
India’s exports surpassing the pre-pandemic level of $331 billion in FY 2018-19 and reaching $418 billion in FY 2021-22 is certainly an achievement. Total exports, including the services exports of around $240 billion, amount to more than $650 billion. The revival of exports has provided relief at a time when major components of aggregate demand such as consumption and investment had been slowing down. Total merchandise trade, including imports of $610 billion, amounts to $1.28 trillion for FY 2021-22. These milestones on the trade front are a sign of a rising India, which would certainly accelerate the growth and the increasing imports are a good sign given the high import intensity of India’s exports. If we sustain the momentum and capitalise on our exports’ potential, we will meet the targets of $1 trillion in merchandise exports by 2027-28 and $1 trillion in services exports by 2030, which will help achieve the $-5 trillion economy goal sooner.
The trade achievements are a sign of growing confidence in the Indian economy. The proactive policy schemes by the government — such as merchandise exports scheme, duty exemption scheme, export promotion capital goods, transport and marketing assistance scheme — have helped the export sector. Schemes like the gold card scheme and interest equalisation scheme by RBI and the market access initiative by the export promotion councils are also useful.
Though achievements in trade are laudable, India still has much potential. For example, the annual growth rate of India’s exports between 2011 to 2020 is a little over 1 per cent compared to 3 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively, for China and Bangladesh. If we go by India’s Trade Portal estimates, we find a huge difference in India’s exports potential and actual exports in many sectors, especially pharmaceuticals, gems and jewellery and chemicals. Therefore, it is time to address sector-specific and market-specific problems so that we fully capitalise on exports across sectors. For example, India’s potential in diamond and jewellery exports is close to $58 billion but actual exports are at $30 billion.
To achieve the export target, India has to aggressively increase its participation in global value chains (GVCs). India’s best endowment for the next couple of decades is its working-age population and its strength is in labour-intensive manufacturing. However, the space vacated by manufacturing giants such as Japan, Korea, Malaysia and China has been captured by Vietnam, Bangladesh, Mexico and Thailand. Many of these manufacturing giants are moving away from the labour-intensive assembly of network products, which offers India an opportunity. As the Economic Survey (2019-20) suggests, “assemble in India”, particularly in network products, will increase India’s share in world exports to 6 per cent and create 80 million jobs. It is time to find out and research why MNCs are (re)locating to countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Mexico when India offers a big market and cheap manpower. We are yet to capitalise on “China+1 strategy”.
India also needs to work on institutions facilitating trade, processes for exports and imports and logistics that not only reduce trade and transaction costs but also ensure reliability and timely delivery, which is important to becoming part of GVCs. India’s rank in the logistics performance index is 44 while China’s rank is 26 and South Korea’s 25. The unit cost of a container of exports is significantly higher for India compared to China, South Korea and others, thereby reducing the price competitiveness of India’s exports.
Recently, the Niti Aayog, in partnership with the Institute of Competitiveness, prepared the Export Preparedness Index (EPI) 2021 for Indian states. There are wide variations in the EPI index, which is based on trade policy, business ecosystem, export ecosystem and performance. It’s time to focus on the first three of these input pillars in states whose scores are below the national average. State-level reforms in reducing red tape and complex laws including taxation will go a long way. One way to reduce the complexities of trade and business is by signing free trade agreements. These not only reduce tariffs and give market access but bring down non-tariff barriers such as administrative fees, labelling requirements, anti-dumping duties and countervailing measures. It’s a good sign that Delhi recently concluded FTAs with the UAE, and Australia and is negotiating with the UK, GCC and Canada. Though FTAs may not necessarily help the trade balance immediately, they help in streamlining policies.
Along with the merchandise exports, India should focus on services exports. As per the Ministry of Commerce (MoC), services exports are expected to reach the target of $1 trillion before the deadline of 2030. India has done well in IT and IES exports and it can accelerate services exports in other categories including travel and tourism and business, commercial and financial services. However, the services sector needs government support.
The acceleration of merchandise and services exports could potentially make the Indian economy a $5-trillion economy sooner provided we are proactive in policies to capitalise on our exports potential, explore new markets and curb protectionism. There are also opportunities arising out of geo-political conflicts and the intention of the world to diversify its supply chain portfolio. India should capitalise on the “China+1” strategy. However, we must avoid protectionism and inverted duty structures which may give temporary relief to domestic industries but will affect India’s overall competitiveness.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 1, 2022 under the title ‘The growth accelerator’. Sahoo is professor, and Mujtaba is research analyst, at the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG), Delhi
“Sedition” is the vaguest of all offences known to the criminal law. In colonial times, it was defined expansively in order to uphold the majesty of British power in India. With effect from 1870, (as amended in 1955), Section 124A of the Penal Code read: “Whoever by words, spoken or written, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection, towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life…”.
Prior to the advent of the Constitution of India 1950, there were in operation a catena of Court decisions on Section 124A; amongst them was Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s case (1897) [25 Indian Appeals 1], where the Privy Council declined to grant leave to appeal from an order of conviction and sentence by the High Court of Bombay, affirming that “disaffection” only meant “absence of affection in any degree towards the British rule or its administration or representatives”, and that exciting of mutiny or rebellion or actual disturbance of any sort was “absolutely immaterial”!
With the establishment of a Federal Court by the Government of India Act, 1935, in Niharendu Dutt Majumdar And Ors. vs Emperor — an appeal from a conviction by courts in Calcutta — the Federal Court held that if the language of Section 124A were to be read literally “it would make a surprising number of persons in India guilty of sedition and that no one however supposes that it is to be read in this literal sense”; it then declared that “the gist of the offence was public disorder or the likelihood of public disorder” (AIR 1942 FC 22), the decision in Tilak’s case remained unnoticed.
In 1947, in an appeal from a decision of the High Court of Bombay, it was precisely in this literal sense that the interpretation of Section 124A was reiterated by a Bench of five judges of the Privy Council (AIR 1947 P.C. 82) in which it was declared that the Federal Court had proceeded on an “entirely wrong construction of Section 124A”, and that: “If the Federal Court had given their attention to Tilak’s case (1897) they should have recognised it as an authority… by which they were bound”.
With the advent of the Constitution of India on January 26, 1950, this interpretation of Section 124A became “the law in force immediately before the commencement of the Constitution”. It continued unaltered, not because the Privy Council decision of 1947 was binding on the Supreme Court (after January 26, 1950 it was not), but only because of the operation of Article 372 of the Constitution. It stated that all laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution shall continue in force therein until altered or repealed or amended by a competent legislature or other competent authority. And in 1955, the Supreme Court had held that the words “laws in force made by a legislature or other competent authority in the territory of India” in Article 13(3) of the Constitution could only mean a legislative authority. (AIR 1955 S.C. at page 31)
In 1962, in criminal appeals arising from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that though Section 124A “clearly violated” the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(a), it was not unconstitutional only because it was protected from challenge by the words “in the interests of public order” in Article 19(2). The provisions contained in Article 372 were neither noticed nor considered, the Court erroneously holding that there was “a direct conflict between the decisions of the Federal Court (1942) and of the Privy Council (1947)”, and that “either view can be taken and can be supported on good reasons”. But, there was no conflict of decisions at all, because the decision in AIR 1942 Federal Court 22 had been expressly disapproved by a court of superior jurisdiction (AIR 1947 P.C.82); and the “law in force at the commencement of the Constitution” was that Section 124A had to be interpreted on its own terms without any reference to public disorder or the likelihood of public disorder.
All this has now become pertinent and relevant, because in a fresh batch of writ petitions filed in 2021, the constitutionality of Section 124A (IPC) has been once again challenged in the Supreme Court. By order dated May 11, 2022, a Bench presided over by the Chief Justice of India, has directed that the petitions be listed for final determination in the third week of July 2022; and that in the meantime since “the rigours of Section 124A IPC are no longer in tune with the current social milieu”, it would be appropriate not to continue the use of the said provision of law by either the central or state governments, till the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court re-examines the provisions of Section 124A.
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 1, 2022 under the title ‘A dispiriting law’. The writer is a constitutional jurist and senior advocate to the Supreme Court
Tensions between Hindus and Muslims are once again growing. This time, the contention is around the origins of the Gyanvapi Masjid, a mosque constructed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after the demolition of a Hindu temple in the 17th century. But why are historical wrongs and rights of the past invoked and decontextualised by the current political dispensation in a Subcontinent that has deep imprints of an Islamic past and Muslim present? The intentions, clearly, are not benign. There is a conscious politics of communal polarisation, unabashedly pursued by the Hindu right in India today. And here, a natural question arises: To what end can history be reversed?
The end is neither far nor unattainable, given the series of events that speak of the cultivation and entrenchment of longstanding grievances between the two communities that have colonial roots and are often inflamed by Hindu nationalists for political ends. While the ends are political — to establish a Hindu nation — the impulse is social and cultural. It underscores a sense of primacy and superiority in the “Hindu past” characterised by three important institutions — temple, education, and family — that function as the ideological arms of the state, subscribing to the ideology of the ruling class.
In constructing an artificial homogeneity of a Hindu national identity, an old blueprint is re-upped where religion is co-opted in everyday national rhetoric and political mobilisation. The bolstering of Hindu pride is done in the interest of consolidating power and establishing hegemony over a constructed homogenised national culture, which swiftly erases the past. The deliberate act of political forgetting is juxtaposed to the act of political remembering, largely centred on the politics of temple desecration and attacks on Hindu women by Muslim rulers, thus linking the decline of “Hindu civilisation” with the Muslim past. It is here that the temple becomes the site of the ancient Hindu glory and the medieval Muslim violence, aiding Hindutva’s endeavour of political suturing — across class, caste, and regional differences — and selectively expunging the history of multiple and layered realities, thereby giving precedence to religious motivations over political impulses and statecraft.
The new nation-state is being reimagined and constructed over the ashes of (an erased) shared history. As Ernest Renan remarked in 1882, “forgetting is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation”. This suppression of past knowledge is tied to remembering, through educational “reforms” and revision of the school curriculum, where forgetting and remembering take place simultaneously. Through the revision of textbooks that aligns with the communal and divisive agenda of the BJP, they want the new nation to remember the sufferings inflicted by the Muslim rulers and find grounds to advocate and promote ideas of India being a Hindu nation. Since 2014, several controversies have erupted over the arbitrary revision of school textbooks for political purposes of conformity to Hindutva leanings. Since textbooks operate as primary mediums of disseminating national hegemonic narratives, masculinised memories are invoked in both public and private spheres, where boundaries between the two blur with increasing urgency to remake the nation.
The gradual infusion of Hindutva’s ideology in the educational apparatus is done to resurrect the (Hindu) “nation”, first by social fragmentation and then by political unification of disparate groups, where the family or the domestic space becomes increasingly important. In pursuit of a Hindu nation and weaving of a “single genesis historical narrative” (McClintock, 1993), the family trope is employed to normalise social hierarchies, and distinctions of gender, caste, and community — with gender binaries, caste rigidities and community differences reinforced and rearticulated in the political blueprint. As repositories of Hindu values and transmitters of national culture, the domesticated female body transforms into public performers participating in the Hindu nationalist mobilisation where women play dual and often contradictory roles in the making of a Hindu nation and in forging an ideal Hindu woman — one who exhorts violence in the public, galvanising fellow men and women, while at the same time, adheres to heteronormative feminity within the patriarchal domesticated space that instils Brahmanical morality and control. As argued that Brahminism parades in the garb of Hindutva (Kancha Ilaiah), there is the emergence of the family as the first and the foremost site of “collective regeneration” of the Hindu nation that is premised on a perceived notion of cultural superiority to be preserved and guarded by the middle-class, upper-caste custodians of the nation.
In promulgating these characteristics of the new nation, the place and position occupied by alternative publics/citizenry — the “unruly” queer bodies, the “impure” caste groups, and the Muslim “invader” — are restricted, confined and surveilled to sustain power, as the existence of these groups punctures the myth of a single narrative of the nation. This point underscores the link between myth-making and majoritarian nationalism that is socially exclusionary, politically violent, and economically debauched. It is for the feeling public — the unwavering supporters of Hindutva — to think, why are myths created, and who stands to gain?
This column first appeared in the print edition on June 1, 2022 under the title ‘A nation forgets and remembers’. The writer is associate professor of politics at Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University
India’s alcohol industry in popular perception is closely linked with election campaigns of political parties. It doesn’t stop there. The industry is also associated with the political economy of corruption at the level of state governments.
Perhaps the most important way by which state governments maintain a tight grip on the industry is by controlling its retail prices. It’s an industry where almost the entire production chain and even the prices of the end product are controlled by states, which makes them vulnerable to pressure.
India is in the midst of a surge in prices of most commodities. There’s no industry that has been left untouched. Yet, in this operating environment, liquor manufacturers cannot adjust retail prices without the concurrence of state governments. Prices usually change after much lobbying. There’s no economic or policy reason for this level of control on a product that is not an essential one.
States must unshackle the industry. But the resistance to it is strong as it affects the political economy of political corruption in India.
The murder of singer and Punjab Congress politician Sidhu Moose Wala a day after the state’s AAP government reduced his security cover raises several questions about VIP protection in this country. That Moose Wala’s security cover was scaled down may have been a police decision that followed AAP’s stated goal of rationalising VIP security. What was strange was AAP’s Twitter handle identifying Moose Wala as one of those with scaled down protection. This needs to be investigated – because it possibly made the singer-politician vulnerable. Whether the Punjab government’s judicial commission will get to the truth is a good question.
Even more important questions, which need to be asked despite all the media frenzy over Moose Wala’s death, are about the system that decides who gets what level of security and what strain this puts on policing, which suffers from personnel inadequacy to begin with. Especially at state levels, security covers are often political favours bestowed on those in or close to power – gun-toting cops are another status symbol in our hierarchy-obsessed politics. And just as real assessment of threat is not done while granting a security cover, often it isn’t done while reducing or withdrawing the cover. Politics influences both decisions. The result is a VIP security culture that perhaps has no parallel in any other democracy.
As per data from the Bureau of Police Research and Development, more than 66,000 police personnel were providing protection to more than 19,000 ministers, MPs, MLAs, judges, bureaucrats and others in 2019, in the Centre and states. The bulk of this ‘protection force’ is drawn from state police ranks. Even more revealingly, none of the top three states in this list – Bengal, Punjab and Bihar – are suffering from entrenched insurgencies or violent movements. Look at this data: Bengal had more than 3,000 VIPs under protection and Punjab, more than 2,500, but Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh had only 315 people under security cover. Remember, in this context, that almost the entire Chhattisgarh Congress leadership was wiped out in the 2013 Jhiram Ghati massacre by Maoists.
India has 155.78 police personnel per lakh population, against the UN recommended standard of 222 cops per lakh. Overworked cops are a daily danger sign that goes unnoticed. There’s also a serious skew in distribution, with many parts of non-urban India being seriously under-policed. Of course, protection is essential for a number of public figures. Equally, no political party will want to review a system that’s gone haywire but that suits them so well.
India’s GDP in the January-March quarter of 2021-22 grew 4.1% to Rs 40.78 lakh crore. It took the growth rate for 2021-22 to 8.7%. which led to a GDP of Rs 147.35 lakh crore, a level higher than the pre-pandemic period. This was, however, inadequate to offset two worrisome trends. One, Q4 2021-22 growth is far lower than what was forecast a few months ago. So, Omicron plus the beginning of the Ukraine war had a big impact. Two, private consumption in per capita terms remains below the pre-pandemic period, a measure of the unevenness in recovery.
RBI in December estimated Q4 GDP growth would be 6%. At 4.1%, growth is almost two percentage points lower, which gives a sense of the extent to which the economic environment has worsened in the last few months. Other than the Omicron wave, the partly war-induced surge in global commodity prices is the most significant influence on fourth quarter results. Unlike Omicron, this impact will last longer. The consequence of these developments is that per capita private consumption in 2021-22 was Rs 61,215, a level lower than the Rs 61,594 recorded in 2019-20. It’s the most telling indicator of weak demand.
The most positive aspect of the fourth quarter result was the healthy growth in fixed investment over the pre-pandemic period. At Rs 13.7 lakh crore, it was 15.8% higher than the level two years ago. This growth was helped by a similar surge in government expenditure. Government expenditure will have to continue supporting economic growth as RBI’s monetary policy is tightening fast to stave off a second-round impact of elevated inflation. Fiscal support won’t worsen debt sustainability as high inflation has pushed up nominal GDP and tax revenue. For instance, GoI’s net tax revenue of Rs 18.2 lakh crore in 2021-22 comfortably exceeded the year’s revised estimates.
An updated monsoon forecast, coinciding with a contested onset, has improved the rainfall prediction and its geographical spread during the four-month season. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) revised its forecast for the 2022 southwest monsoon to 103% of the long period average (LPA) from 99% predicted in April. Cause for the improved prospects is seen in the La Nina weather phenomenon - a fall in the sea surface temperature in a part of the Pacific - which is now predicted to remain favourable for the entire season. There is some indication the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) - sea surface temperature oscillation between the eastern and western parts - could turn inimical during the latter half of the monsoon. As things stand, climate modelling suggests rainfall marginally above normal in most parts of the country.
The fourth normal monsoon in a row is likely to take some pressure off policymaking that is grappling with scorching inflation and a cooling economy. An increase in the summer acreage could aid import substitution for edible oil, prices of which have shot up due to the war in Ukraine. Farmers, who have gained from the surge in global food prices, are well placed to take advantage of a normal monsoon. A good summer harvest with adequate reservoir levels for winter crop irrigation should prop up consumption in the countryside. This should ease some monetary contraction and fiscal expansion.
The caveats are the accuracy of long-range weather forecasts, the farm sector's ability to pivot to market demand, and the institutional response to rainfall becoming erratic in later stages. Agriculture has remained relatively insulated during the pandemic and GoI intends to cushion it further with a bigger fertiliser subsidy during a phase of elevated natural gas prices. Recent export restrictions on food are in step with similar bans in other countries. But these do a disservice to farmers. Better prospects of a summer and winter harvest in India will come in handy for a world that is on the verge of a food crisis.
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The process of registering deaths and births has improved a lot in India. However, not much progress has been made on ascertaining cause of death (CoD). The Medical Certification of Cause of Death (MCCD), 2020, report finds most states ascertaining cause in less than 20% of registered deaths. Bihar provides CoD for only 3% of registered deaths. A few outliers include Manipur (100%), Goa (100%) and Lakshwadeep (99.7%). One should understand how these states are able to overcome hurdles to put in a place a system that includes CoD data.
The inability to provide robust CoD information makes it difficult to establish the impact of health hazards such as pollution, or determine the number of Covid deaths. Without a sense of which diseases are resulting in fatalities, it is hard to chalk out a strategy to counter the diseases. In a country where access to proper healthcare is still a challenge, the paucity of accurate CoD is no surprise. The erosion of the system of neighbourhood medical clinics staffed by general physicians has meant that home visits for ailing or dying patients is not a viable option.
Determining cause for home deaths has become difficult. It has not been replaced with an effective and responsive ambulance system. Thus, the number of people dying at home, or when being taken to hospital in regular vehicles, has gone up. In the absence of proper healthcare system, there is no medical history to refer to for an approximate CoD. In such cases, reliable and easy access to robust healthcare, underpinned by proper digitisation of records, will help with the medical history required to determine CoD. CoD data is important for guiding allocations and developing policies. Otherwise, they will be little but shots in the dark.
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Elections to 57 Rajya Sabha seats across 15 states will be held on June 10 but the focus will be on four seats spread across Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In the first three, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has thrown down the gauntlet to the Opposition by fielding additional candidates and the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) are locked in a three-way fight for the fourth seat on offer.
Elections to the Upper House have turned from largely anodyne affairs to thrilling, down to the wire fights in recent years as old political calculations have been abandoned by a party looking to trounce opponents at every turn. For the BJP, which crossed the 100-seat mark in the Upper House in the last round of elections earlier this year, these polls represent an opportunity to gain a firmer hand on its central legislative agenda, insulating core elements of its ideological charter from Opposition scrutiny and attempts to send bills to committees. For the Opposition, the stakes are higher — with its diminished presence in the Lower House where the government has a brute majority, it is in the Council of the States that non-BJP parties can wield legislative influence.
Hanging in the balance are the fates of the Congress’s Ajay Maken whose battle to secure his seat ahead of BJP-supported independent candidate, Kartikeya Sharma, rests on razor’s edge in Haryana, and Pramod Tiwari, who faces a difficult battle against BJP-backed independent candidate, Subhash Chandra, in Rajasthan. In Maharashtra, too, the BJP’s third candidate, Dhananjay Mahadik, will test the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi’s cohesion and floor management as every last vote will need to be corralled by the three partners to ensure that the Shiv Sena’s second candidate, Sanjay Pawar, wins. After a string of recent electoral reverses, the Congress and its allies will be keen to avoid any embarrassment.
The leak of the photographs and videos of the Gyanvapi mosque complex survey and the resulting frenzy bring the fairness of the entire judicial process to adjudicate the communally sensitive case under a cloud. Coming before the maintainability of the suit, filed by five Hindu women is to be approved, the turn of events breaches the foundational principle of a free and fair hearing.
The leak came hours after the material was shared with the parties in the case, raising questions about the wisdom of the Varanasi district court in doing so. After all, it was asked categorically by the Supreme Court (SC) to first determine whether the suit is maintainable under the law, and if the chief prayer of giving unhindered access to Hindus to the mosque premises could be entertained at all in the wake of the 1991 Places of Worship Act. Even as it kept the petition filed by the Gyanvapi mosque management committee pending, the SC held on May 20 that the “complexities and sensitivities involved in the matter” would require a “more senior and experienced hand” in the Varanasi district courts to hear it at the first instance. The order added that the district judge shall decide on priority the application of the Gyanvapi mosque management committee, which claims that the case of the Hindu petitioners is barred by the Places of Worship Act, which locks the position or “religious identity” of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947. But the subsequent proceedings before the district judge leave much to be desired – both in terms of law and sensitivities.
What can justify the leak of the photos and videos that are being used by a section to propagate a narrative, while the legality of the suit itself is yet to be decided? When the most basic question is still to be answered by the Varanasi district judge, handing over material to the contesting sides with the propensity of vitiating the entire proceedings and giving rise to communal fervour clearly falls short of the golden principle: Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.
Images of the fire raging at the Bhalswa landfill last month were a stark reminder of India’s waste crisis. This year alone, there have been fires at the Perungudi dump in Chennai, Dadu Majra in Chandigarh, and Ghazipur in New Delhi. Of the astonishing 150,761 metric tonnes generated per day (TPD) across India, over a quarter goes to landfills while an additional quarter remains unaccounted for.
The Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016 apply a “polluter pays” principle that charges waste generators for collection, processing, and transportation of waste, and spot fines for non-segregation. Since Indian waste has high biodegradable content, the rules also recommend setting up waste processing facilities for bio-methanation and/or composting. However, poor segregation leads to mixed waste being dumped irresponsibly, turning dumpsites into ticking time bombs. These sites generate explosive gases and pose a massive health hazard, especially to vulnerable waste-picker communities forced to live near and off them.
SWM rules require urban local bodies (ULBs) to seek authorisation for setting up waste treatment facilities, if they manage over 5 TPD of waste. Only about 60% of these applications was granted in 2019-20. Many landfills are exhausted and ULBs lack the finance to procure new land. Finding new sites also faces strong opposition from different stakeholders due to the complex challenges of plummeting values of adjacent land, deterioration of nearby environmental resources, and health risks. As a result, ULBs end up relying on unsanitary dumpsites.
The crisis needs holistic waste management from generation to disposal. Four approaches may help.
Reducing the waste that arrives at landfills is the first and most obvious step. Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh, Chandrapur in Maharashtra, and Taliparamba in Kerala have adopted a “zero-landfill model” of development, which focuses on resource recovery, recycling, waste segregation, and decentralised processing of organic waste. Indore’s centralised material recovery facilities, which segregate waste by recyclability value, are supported by two bio-methanation and one composting facility that together keep 630 TPD of biodegradable waste from reaching landfills.
Two, going local will promote decentralised waste management and help reduce transportation costs, which make up a bulk of municipal expenditure. Many innovative small enterprises have developed technology solutions – waste deposit kiosks, marketplaces to trade recyclable waste, radio frequency identification and GPS tagged waste – to improve collection efficiency.
Three, make landfilling the last resort. Landfills are meant for inert and rejected waste and should make up no more than 15-20% of the total waste. Sites need to be scientifically designed to manage leachate and enable the controlled extraction of methane as a fairly clean energy source. Delhi’s Narela-Bawana remains India’s only planned scientific landfill with a waste-to-energy plant that can treat 2,000 TPD, generating 24 megawatts of energy.
And last, recognise landfills as infrastructure with limited carrying capacities, which require end-of-life management plans allowing for reclamation for other uses. The Mahim Nature Park in Mumbai is a reclaimed dumpsite now boasting of housing and a wide array of trees and biodiversity. Closing existing landfills also offers potential for methane capture, such as Mumbai’s Gorai landfill. After collecting almost 10 million tonnes of waste over its 35-year life, it has been closed, levelled, and managed through 40 engineered leachate and methane extraction wells and a power generation facility, financed by carbon credits.
Landfills are the third largest methane emitter in the country — a gas 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide over 20 years. India is rapidly urbanising, and by some projections, would need land the size of New Delhi for landfills by 2050. Across the country, innovative solutions are being developed, but ecosystem reforms and mobilised investment are needed. Without behaviour change, coordinated stakeholder action, and building capacities for enforcement, we will be locked into a cycle of increasingly unmanageable landfills rendering land unfit for any other use for at least half a century.
Aarathi Kumar is senior programme associate and Jaya Dhindaw is programme director at World Resources Institute India (WRI India)
The views expressed are personal
There are different estimates of the participation of Indian women in the workforce. But whichever estimate we use, the numbers are abysmal. One of the better numbers being used by many is 27%, which still ranks us below Saudi Arabia. A 2020 World Bank study has shown us at 18% participation rate, which is lower than Pakistan and barely edges out Afghanistan at 16%. It doesn’t matter whether the study is precisely wrong or not, the directional data suggests we have a fundamental problem that needs fixing.
If we were to check in with our traditions or look at the pantheon of gods in India, we find many gods — wealth (Lakshmi), education (Saraswati), and Durga, who killed the asuras that the male Gods failed to destroy — are women. Even in modern India, many important leaders in various fields have been women. India boasts of more women leaders than most countries — a president, a prime minister, chief ministers, Supreme Court judges, police officers, bank chief executive officers, Reserve Bank of India deputy governors, and sports champions. As a nation, our medal tally in numerous international sports meets — whether wrestling, boxing, badminton, or tennis — has been on account of Indian women. The Indian women’s cricket and hockey teams are internationally competitive.
Yet, our workforce participation of women is dreadful.
Stereotypes about women everywhere see them at home and in the kitchen. But why are we worse than Saudi Arabia? While no single factor can fix long-held beliefs and customs, we must tackle this important issue.
Empowered working women are good for society and the nation in multiple ways that don’t need repeating; but what type of policy action can stimulate movement towards this? The long-term solutions for women’s equality are education, stronger legal rights, and better law and order. However, to spur a movement, a shorter-term technical fix could begin with the institutionalisation of crèche across the country.
As important as primary education is for all in India, access to crèche facilities for infants aged one to six is equally necessary. We have about 120 million children in this age group. We should assume about 60 million of these children are residing in semi-urban, urban, and metro areas. Most of these children are likely born in lower-income households, where the mothers are the primary caregivers and part-time income supplementers.
If these mothers had a safe place where they could leave their children, it would empower them to seek jobs more easily. At the lower-income end, just providing a space that is clean, with access to drinking water, toilets, and nutritious supplements at lunch can be very beneficial.
At present, 40% of our children are malnourished, with a consequential impact on their long-term development and learning. Further, hygiene-related diseases are a major source of ill health in children. These are additional collateral benefits that would accrue to India if we could provide safe and clean crèche. An investment in the nation’s children cannot rank lower than any other investment we conceive for ourselves as a nation.
This will not be an easy initiative to implement. There are many issues that will arise: Acceptance, access, proximity, safety, and perceived quality. This is before we talk of the capital and the trained staff that will be required. We will need high-quality and dependable personnel to manage these crèches, who are not to be confused with domestic help. These people will be entrusted with the early development of the child.
Just as we conceived of Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country, for access to education, we will need to conceive of the creation of accredited Kendriya Creches (KC) at a much grander scale. Salaries in these KCs should be on par with teachers and must include benefits. For this, a host of training institutes for crèche personnel will need to be set up. A collaborative scheme will need to be worked out at various levels. It should begin with lower-income households getting crèche vouchers, which they could use in accredited KCs. These KCs should come up in the private sector and be monitored by parents’ committees and state government officials. The location of these crèches will be a critical parameter — close to urban conglomerations, slums, residential complexes, and construction sites. Further, crèche investments should be considered valid corporate social responsibility (CSR) expenditures for companies.
A scheme like this will require a lot of thought. To catalyse such thinking, we should constitute a high-powered committee (comprising women leaders, academics, politicians, government officials, and respected members of civil society) to thoroughly and collaboratively examine the idea, obtain feedback to a draft report, and thereafter, finalise the details. We should obtain across-the-board political support for the scheme before we move forward. But move forward we should.
As they say, “There is no wrong time to make the right decision.”
Janmejaya Sinha is chairman, BCG India
The views expressed are personal
India’s high frequency rural economy indicators point to interesting divergences at a time when government policies on agriculture are witnessing several marked changes. Some of the variables such as tractor and fertiliser sales are not only showing a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in double digits but a very sharp pick-up in the last two months — up 72% and 36% year-on-year (YoY) respectively. On the other hand, indicators such as two-wheeler demand or real rural wage growth still languish below pre-Covid-19 levels. So, is the rural economy on the cusp of a near-term pick-up, or are there too many headwinds, which can nip this nascent recovery in the bud?
To answer this question from the perspective of the rural farm economy, both volumes and margins are important. The winter wheat crop has been destroyed by the March heatwave, leading to a wide divergence in production estimates. The Indian government estimates say 106 million tonnes (MT), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) peg it at 99 MT, and that of other private forecasters are even lower. This drop in volume, from last year’s 110 MT, could be a negative for farm income, but can be counterbalanced to some extent by better price realisation for farmers.
Wholesale prices of wheat are up by 12% in the last nine months, after almost continuously declining for a year before that. In fact, the price momentum picked up after the Ukraine conflict drove a sharp rise in global wheat prices. Now, wholesale prices are firmly above the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat. Rice prices in wholesale markets have risen by almost 10-11% YoY, and even for some other key crops such as bajra or soyabean, prices have increased by 40% YoY and 30% YoY, respectively over the last six months. This could be short-term favourable terms of trade for farmers since their cost of production is linked to the prevailing input prices in October-November last year when the crop was sown. In that sense, there might be some windfall gains for farmers, which is reflected in the higher rural demand momentum mentioned earlier.
However, even these favourable terms of trade for farmers could be short lived because of three potential headwinds.
First, the government is steadfastly pursuing an anti-inflationary approach and the objective of ensuring lower food inflation along with adequate supply is being prioritised. Export controls on wheat and sugar and more liberalised imports of vegetable oil are steps in that direction. These policies are likely to put a lid on the extent of price realisation by farmers and the full benefit of the global food price increase might not be passed on to them.
Second, the cost of agricultural inputs is increasing rapidly. We have constructed a cost index for material inputs in agricultural production, which includes items such as fertilisers, pesticides, machinery, tractors, electricity, and diesel. According to this index, the cost of agricultural production has risen by close to 24% over the last six months and 20% over the last 12 months. The Commission of Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP), which proposes MSP for different crops, also includes farm labour cost in estimating the overall agricultural cost of production, with labour cost having almost equal weight as material cost. Even after accounting for a very subdued rural wage growth, the overall increase in the agricultural cost of production is still likely to be averaging in excess of 10% now.
For terms of trade to remain favourable for farmers, the MSP increase for summer crops needs to factor in this sharp rise in the cost of production. In the last three years, MSP increases have been averaging 2-5% for different crops. We have estimated that if the MSP increase is in the range of 8-10% to neutralise the increase in the cost of production, then the fiscal cost could be an additional ₹20,000 crore and it can generate an upside risk of 35-40 basis points to headline Consumer Price Index (CPI).
The early June MSP announcements are likely to be a difficult balancing act for the government between trying to improve farmers’ terms of trade to support rural demand growth and controlling a surge in food inflation, which can derail urban demand for non-food items. This growth-inflation trade-off in setting the MSP could be further complicated by the fiscal pressure already being felt by the government because of its different measures to insulate the economy from global inflationary pressures.
Third, farmers also face another kind of “terms of trade” challenge — between food prices (their income) and non-food prices (their consumption). This indicator has been worsening for farmers since mid-2020, but over the last six months, the trend has been somewhat arrested with food prices rising again. With inflation becoming more broad-based and spreading to various non-food items, even these indicators could turn adverse for farmers going forward and become a headwind for rural demand.
Nurturing rural demand against an inflationary backdrop, with a spate of geopolitical considerations will be a challenging environment for shaping the government’s agricultural policies. Setting MSPs for summer crops could be a pointer of things to come, but more government intervention in continuously managing this delicate balance might be required.
Samiran Chakraborty is managing director, chief economist, India, Citi Research
The views expressed are personal
Modern humans have been around 200,000 years, which is a fraction of the nearly four billion years that life has survived on earth. Ask a biologist what the future of our species is on the planet, and you will hear that we’re headed for extinction sooner or later. In that sense, we’re no different from any other form of life.
Human activities in the Anthropocene are leading to the sixth mass extinction event. Duke University biologist Stuart Pimm estimates that species on the planet are dying at a rate that is one thousand times faster than new ones are evolving. In other words, due to human activities, the earth is witnessing catastrophic biodiversity loss. And the climate crisis threatens to exacerbate this great dying.
Most of the life on the planet has not been identified and perhaps will never be studied by humans. For example, we don’t even have a grasp of how many species of insects there are on the planet. As many as seven out of eight species of insects might not have been observed or named.
Our species might be the last line of humans. Or it might evolve into something that is not quite the same as the humans of today. Yet, life will persist beyond humans. This is inevitable, according to the laws of evolution as documented in the natural history of the planet. But even though the climate crisis is in focus for us now and (if unchecked) will cause hardships to hundreds of millions, it might not rise to the level of an extinction-level event for humans. No one knows when and how humans will become extinct.
The thought of the extinction of our species may be morbid, but we are the only species that can think about our fate. It is an area of fertile thought for a biologist.
What will life in a post-human world look like? We can never know for sure, but we can make specific predictions based on our knowledge of existing life. That is exactly what ecologist Rob Dunn set out to do in his latest book, A Natural History of the Future: What the Laws of Biology Tell Us About the Destiny of the Human Species. As the author notes, we cannot control how species evolve in accordance with our behaviours. The rise of the Sars-CoV-2 variants is a case in point. But the species that evolve with us and after us also obey biological principles
Evolution is all around us – even in urban environments. If some habitats are shrinking, then others are growing. Some of the most successful crop plants and animals have been selected for specific traits. And many species have opportunistically evolved with us. The biomass of cities mainly consists of humans, pets, pests, and our collective food and waste.
Dunn notes that humans are hosts to thousands of species – perhaps more than on any other form of life on the planet. It is quite possible that some of these species, and some domestic pets and crop plants, will become extinct once humans are not around to take care of them. And parasites that depend on humans that cannot evolve to find other species will also become extinct.
All forms of life will be affected by the climate crisis, but not equally. Plants will thrive in parts of the planet that were once covered in ice and increases in carbon dioxide may lead to lush growth of certain plants.
Dunn writes that “if we disappear during warmer times, many species, particularly mammal species, may evolve smaller body sizes. The evolution of small-bodies mammals is well documented during the last period in which Earth was extremely hot. Tiny horses evolved.”
After every mass extinction event, there is a rebirth. Even after human extinction, there will be a resurgence of new forms of life. There will be some animals and plants that fill in existing niches – flying birds and mammalian carnivores for example. But there will also be some animals that we cannot predict because they are so specifically unusual. The biologist Stephen Jay Gould predicted that humans were one such animal: If you rolled the tape of life back you would not get humans again.
If all large mammals become extinct, then smaller mammals such as rodents may diversify into new species to fill ecological niches. This happened once before with the extinction of non-bird dinosaurs 66 million years ago, and it may happen again after humans are gone. For example, rats that do not rely on humans could evolve to climb trees, take to the sky, and roam grasslands.
On the one hand, it’s possible to predict that the forms of life after we are gone will depend on the state of the Earth when we become extinct. But on the other, the forces of nature might tilt the planet back slowly to a greener and more entropic state. And as a microbiologist, I appreciate that the vast diversity of life both in terms of the earth’s past and future (up until the moment the sun causes the earth to become inhospitable for all forms of life in the distant future) will remain microbial.
Microbes have always been the predominant form of life on the planet and there are more microbes in our bodies than there are human cells. Environments that are inhospitable to us are also breeding grounds for forms of life –hydrothermal vents deep in the sea, oxygen-deprived regions of the earth, subsurface ice – all of them harbour myriad forms of life, many of which we may never know. This should give us hope that even after human extinction, many new species will rise. Only we will not be around to see them.
Anirban Mahapatra is a scientist by training and the author of a book on COVID-19. He’s writing a second popular-science book
The views expressed are personal
Narendra Modi first assumed an elected office on October 7, 2001. On May 26, 2022, he completed 20 years in that position. Over the two decades, the “idea of Modi” spread and held sway over a country of a billion-plus people with a fascinating diversity of cultures, languages and geographies. In many ways, it is the “idea of Modi” that has served as the unifying force redefining India. In 2014, Prime Minister (PM) Modi set the ball rolling on that project when he presented an all-inclusive, growth oriented “idea of India”. An “idea of India” that sets an ideological framework of equality and growth, steering clear of doles, privileges and sectoral giveaways.
Over the last 20 years, his popularity has only soared in the eyes of the people. He has been topping global leadership popularity charts with amazing consistency. And that perhaps has been the most remarkable aspect of his journey as a leader of the masses. History tells us elected leaders, over the course of time, see their popularity and charisma wane. They make mistakes, they tire out, they take their mandates for granted, they start to treat power as an end unto itself. But not PM Modi. He has used his positions, as three-time Gujarat chief minister and India’s PM, as nothing more than an opportunity to serve Bharat.
As this momentous journey dedicated to the service of India and its people completes 20 years, it is pertinent to understand what “Modi magic” is and what makes it work. It is also important to understand how PM Modi is giving shape to his “idea of India”. The one book that currently holds the answer to that question is Modi@20: Dreams Meet Delivery, an anthology put together by people of eminence and achievements, with the book’s foreword having been written by the late Lata Mangeshkar.
The book is both analytical and academic in its approach and comes packed with personal anecdotes shared by its contributors from across a spectrum of fields, including politics (Amit Shah), sports (PV Sindhu), arts (Anupam Kher), economics (Arvind Panagariya) and religious and spiritual thinkers (Amish Tripathi).
The title aptly defines PM Modi’s eventful journey from an underprivileged social and economic background, with no dynastic privilege, and no connection with the network of elites to India’s high office. His work in elected office is nothing but a continuous pursuit to achieve 100% saturation of social welfare schemes for the poor, create endless opportunities for the aspiring youth, ensure quality life, social equity and equality – Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas. It is PM Modi who has infused in India a “can do” approach and motivated public participation in nation building by invoking the pressing need for Sabka Prayas (Jan Bhagidari).
Indian badminton’s pride PV Sindhu sets the tone in the very first chapter, Why Modi is the Undisputed Youth Icon, in explaining “Modi magic” by highlighting through personal anecdotes how the PM has brought about an attitudinal shift from kaise hoga (how will it be done) to hoga kaise nahi (how can it not get done). People who have worked with the PM can vouch for the truth in Sindhu’s observation. He has never seen a problem as a problem but an opportunity to optimise the latent potential in the country for the best results.
During a closed session of the Quad Summit in Tokyo, US President Joe Biden hailed PM Modi for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic successfully in a democratic manner. Biden said that PM Modi’s success has shown the world that democracies can deliver. Who can forget the impending sense of doom with which the world watched India when the pandemic broke, sure in their hearts and minds that India will buckle. PM Modi took the challenge head on. The result? We are confidently set on the path of Atmanirbharta (self reliance).
Amish Tripathi in his chapter, Modi, The Bhagirath Prayasi, writes that PM Modi is building an India of tomorrow firmly rooted in the India of the past, drawing lessons from its civilisational heritage, asserting India’s dominance not as a nation-state but as a civilisational state. In all his addresses, the PM’s clear message is: We must remember who we are.
As the West tried to shift the blame for the climate crisis to India, the PM reminded the world that Indians are the writers, believers and practitioners of Prithvi Sukta (Atharvaveda), which contains unparalleled knowledge about nature and the environment. He asked the world, keeping aside differences, to come together to fight the climate crisis at the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow.
It was under PM Modi that for the first time a party’s manifesto was picked up by people after elections with wonder and awe to find that the party was meeting all promises made. PM Modi wasn’t just showing dreams but he was promising on what he could deliver. And deliver he did. Why does he focus so much on delivery of promises?
The answer lies in the chapter, Democracy, Delivery and the Politics of Hope, penned by home minister Amit Shah. Shah writes, “He [PM Modi] has an emotional attachment to the party that is rare and touching… he looks upon the party as a Mother… the party’s manifesto is to him his Mother’s word.”
His promise of 100% saturation of welfare schemes is a continuum of the dream Deen Dayal Upadhyay saw when he spoke of Antyodaya.
Modi@20 subtly brings out the Bhagirath-prayaas of a person who is unstoppable when it comes to fulfilling the dreams of a people. The scale of what he is doing, the dedication with which he is doing it, fills us all with hope – hoga kaise nahi.
His journey is an inspiration for every individual. The book does an excellent job in providing a long, hard look at the journey from those who saw it from close quarters. Do read.
Bhupender Yadav is Union minister for environment, forest & climate change; and labour & employment. He is the author of The Rise of the BJP
The views expressed are personal
After the exams, come the results — a time of reckoning, the judgment day. It is a day when students and their families wait and pray, with nerve wracking energy and anxiety. It is a “do or die” kind of a day, when destinies change for almost everyone — with several hundreds making it to one of India’s most elite public services, and most others, rejected, dejected, set to accept the reality of the moment and trying to move on.
Most Indians have always held the All India Services (AIS) in great esteem, with a rather strong popular narrative that this is the best of India, selected through the most excruciating of tests in three stages, who finally make it to serving the country, and its highest power bearers, who, beyond the optics of politicians, truly make development and almost everything government happen.
This year, as the results came out, the larger theme of women empowerment and crushing all ceilings emerged as the biggest headline. The three national toppers are women in the IAS exams — Shruti Sharma, Ankita Agarwal and Gamini Singla.
Most Indians would have forgotten the name of Pooja Singhal, a woman IAS officer working in Jharkhand, arrested recently by the Enforcement Directorate under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act for allegedly embezzling MGNREGA funds to the tune of over Rs 18 crores.
Most Indians should do well to always etch into their memory the names of Sanjeev Khirwar and Rinku Dugga, an IAS couple, who were both transferred from New Delhi to Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively, after taking their dog for a walk in a stadium. It must hurt citizens of remote areas that posting to Ladakh and Arunachal are considered “punishment” postings in the IAS view of the country.
For a nation rapidly trying to undo and rectify historical wrongs, this sort of first city bias smacks off a colonial hangover and represents an almost stupendous achievement of control of narrative that persists even inside the present government. The IAS, in every sense, is indeed a colonial legacy, a remake of the ICS of the British Empire which was an elite force conceptualised by Thomas Babington Macaulay more than two centuries ago aimed at keeping the slave subjects in place and the empire safe.
The UPSC has now added 685 more Indians to the elite services — 244 (general category), 73 (economically weaker sections), 203 (OBCs), 105 (Scheduled Castes) and 60 (Scheduled Tribes), who will soon head to the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy Of Administration, Charleville, Mussoorie, for training, following which they will take charge of the fate of millions of Indians.
Even in popular Indian art, movies and TV series, the IAS is shown as a real life replica of its best brochure — educated, sophisticated, dedicated, selfless, professional, intelligent, compassionate, fearless, and in service of the nation and its people, a Dr Jekyll, which has no Mr Hyde facet at all.
India must relook hard at this colonial legacy, the services and its utility; and maybe redraw the entire approach to identifying, creating and training a set of people who, unelected and unanswerable directly to people, have extraordinary powers over them but largely remain hidden behind a tape — a red tape — and identified best by the white Turkish towels draped over their chairs.
The Congress’ selection of 10 candidates for the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha has, as usual, caused heart burn to the unlucky ones but the process leaves some questions on the spirit and legitimacy of the decisions the party took at the Chintan Shivir it had organised recently in what was claimed to be an attempt to rejuvenate itself. The party had said there will be one ticket for one family when it comes to elections but that has been violated in the process. Half of the tickets would be given to leaders below 50, it had decided, but only two persons of that category made it to the list of 10 this time around.
Resentment is brewing in the party for the catastrophic decision to impose a posse of leaders from outside to represent the states which returned Congress governments. All the three seats in Rajasthan, which goes to the polls later this year, and both the seats in Chhattisgarh, are given to leaders from other states, leaving local leaders red-faced. The party has chosen to pay back the loyalists of the leadership and this has resulted in three leaders from Uttar Pradesh, which elected only two Congress members to its legislative Assembly, chosen to be sent to the Council of States.
The grand old party of Indian politics that has been teetering from one blunder to another and wandering clueless on how to take on the Narendra Modi government has of late given out some signals to its followers that it was serious about a course correction. The Chintan Shivir was cited as the firm commitment of the party’s leadership to that goal. But less than a month after the jamboree, it has proved that the more it wants to change, the more it remains the same. It has no plans to shed its image of being an organisation run by coteries. It would be ideal if the party declares that it won’t change. That way, it can at least claim that it’s honest about its intentions.
The regularity of the departure announcements from the Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi and her proxy, Rahul Gandhi-Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, confirms and signals several things. These departures are no-confidence verdicts in the Gandhi gang as leaders of the party. When old timers like Kapil Sibal and Sunil Jakhar most recently and others since 2019 leave, it signals that change in strategy and respect for dissent is no longer possible in the party.
Neither Kapil Sibal nor Sunil Jakhar and in fact many others who quit in the last three years are truly mass-based vote catchers who have home constituencies where they are permanent fixtures as representatives of the majority of voters. They are, however, influential opinion makers, or as Kapil Sibal described his value — independent voices — who, can and do contribute to the political discourse that is fundamental to any democracy, where dissent, differences and disputes are intrinsic to the role of the Opposition as much as within ruling parties. Their role and heft cannot be discounted because they contribute to the idea of heterogeneity in a robust democracy.
Where defectors go after they quit is a heavily loaded signal. When Congress defectors go to the BJP, it implies that they are choosing a combined package of joining the anticipated winning side in the next elections and giving themselves an assured seat in either the state Assembly or the Lok Sabha or even the Rajya Sabha. The other bit is committing themselves as ambassadors of the BJP and Narendra Modi’s ideological agenda of a Congress Mukt Bharat.
The Congress Mukt Bharat is not just the simple goal of ending “parivarvaad” in Indian politics and creating a more democratic politics that gives opportunities to merit even for aspirants from underprivileged legions. It is not an anti-elite fight against the Gandhis.
It is, by definition, destruction of the values that the Congress name invokes; its ideology as politically and socially liberal, secular, tolerant, inclusive, heterogeneous and therefore respectful of diversity. India, free of the Congress, would have a fixed destination, that would also be a dead-end of a hard Right communally divisive, majoritarian identity politics couched in the hyper-nationalist narrative of the BJP’s Hindutva agenda run for an oligarchy that underwrites the gigantic expense of maintaining the world’s largest party in the style to which it is now accustomed. A Congress Mukt Bharat would mean the power to gag criticism of policies that promote zooming inequality and growing poverty.
There is no argument that Kapil Sibal, with the support of the Samajwadi Party, will become a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh. His choice, however, means something different. It is not the enlightened self-interest that drove hordes of Congress leaders to take up accommodation within the BJP. For die-hard liberals who represent the middle ground in Indian politics, accommodation in the Samajwadi Party implies a vote of confidence in the capacity of anti-BJP regional parties to battle Hindutva politics and its capacity to divert voters from prioritising the personal in terms of economic distress experienced at the individual level.
When a senior leader who was an active member of the G-23 that challenged the Gandhis on leadership, strategy and direction of the Congress quits to take up with a regional party, it is a conscious and principled choice. After the infamous “Chintan Shivir” at Udaipur that simply reiterated faith in the Gandhis as leaders of the Congress that effectively rejected the remedies demanded by the G -23, Kapil Sibal’s exit is a blunt denunciation of the cosmetic changes unrolled by Sonia Gandhi to protect her incompetent progeny and a tocsin. How the Congress responds is to be seen.
By joining forces with the Samajwadi Party, Kapil Sibal has, perhaps consciously or may be inadvertently, sent out a message to the Congress faithful who are disenchanted with Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. Break free of the Sonia Gandhi Congress and save the party and their personal investment in the principles that the Congress tradition represents.
The idea of the Congress does not come in one shape or size; Sonia Gandhi and her court are but one of the entities within the Congress. In the states, the Congress has hard-working leaders and cadres, who choose to cluster under the Congress banner, because it signifies values they wish to uphold or represent. By going independent, Kapil Sibal has opened up the possibility of these die-hard Congress believers to consider doing the same.
That part of the Congress which is in bondage to Sonia Gandhi and her brood has demonstrated its inability, and unwillingness, to fight the BJP. There is another part of the Congress, in the states, where leaders and cadres are fighting for the party against the BJP on the one hand and rival regional parties on the other. Congress leaders in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Kerala and Gujarat are often at loggerheads with the central Congress leadership and engaged in local faction fights. There is life and ambition in the states where the Congress is in power or has been in power or has been forced out of power because of the central leadership’s mismanagement. Effectively, the Congress units in many of these states are franchisees. They share the name.
Breaking free of central or high command control may be a survival strategy for the more vigorous parts of the Congress. Setting up shop as autonomous units is always a possibility in the Congress.
There was a time when the state leaders of the Congress were equals of the high command and its coteries. In 1963, the redoubtable K. Kamaraj launched his “Kamaraj Plan” and six chief ministers resigned to strengthen the Congress. He did this without taking Jawaharlal Nehru’s approval. In fact, Nehru was rattled enough to hoist Kamaraj away from Tamil Nadu and install him in New Delhi.
Later, Indira Gandhi systematically destroyed the state satraps and established the high command that treated state leaders like puppets.
There are competent state leaders in the Congress. They deliver the 52 Lok Sabha seats to the party even when Rahul Gandhi fails to win from his home constituency Amethi. These leaders win states for the Congress. The gangrenous politics of the Congress high command needs to be amputated from state party units that are still healthy. By cutting loose, Kapil Sibal has cut his losses. The rest of the party may want to think if it should do so and save the Congress as an ideology with a heritage and a lineage that is entirely independent of the petty Gandhi gang now in control.
Former Congress leader Hardik Patel’s attack on the Aam Aadmi Party this week is a pointer that, sooner rather than later, he is going to join the BJP in poll-bound Gujarat. His bidding goodbye to the Congress over a week ago had not come as a surprise, much less shock. The 28-year-old working president of the Gujarat Congress had made up his mind to dump the Grand Old Party.
Mr Patel’s parting of ways with the Congress needs to be seen as an “extraction” by the powers-that be of a leader who had proved to be a tough nut to crack in the last Assembly polls. It was a tacit admission that Rahul Gandhi at the national level and the “three musketeers” in the state had then given the BJP a run for its money.
The BJP wanted to break the back of the disorganised and dispirited Congress Party. The last Assembly polls were a unique challenge for the BJP as the Congress had prepared a heady social cocktail. With Hardik Patel representing the restive Patidar community, Alpesh Thakore from the OBC and Jignesh Mewani of the dalit community at its command, the Congress had all the firepower at its disposal. It was led by a “Janeaudhari Brahmin” to blunt the Hindutva in the BJP’s “laboratory”.
This “extraction” was necessary as the Patidar community is influential and is said to be the deciding factor in at least 50 Assembly seats in the state and plays an important role in many other constituencies. The BJP is also seeking to humour the community as it has denied the chief ministership to its top Patel leader, Nitin Patel, who had been deputy CM for a long time.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been towering over the affairs of Gujarat for the past two decades and his success lies in the fact that he has been an expert in macro- and micro-managing the affairs of the state, which the faithful proclaim as the “Gujarat Model”. So, there is no need to give anyone else the credit for Hardik’s parting of ways.
It is but natural that a general seeks to take the enemy by surprise and also makes every effort to deplete its strength. In political terms, it is also called “divide and rule”. Some political observers insist that the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP becoming active in Gujarat should also be seen in this context. So far, Gujarat is a state where only the BJP and the Congress count. The last time the Congress won the polls was way back in 1985.
The fact remains that Mr Modi excels in demoralising his detractors to the maximum extent possible, and Rahul Gandhi has been his favourite punching bag for the past eight years. The “Pappu” campaign by Modi supporters hasn’t come out of thin air. In the BJP scheme of things, everything has an agenda and a purpose.
While as of now the BJP is sitting pretty, it doesn’t get complacent. That is why the Prime Minister, by turning proactive last year, virtually sacked chief minister Vijay Rupani and his entire Cabinet amidst reports of the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was like a surgical strike aimed at removing “anti-incumbency”. What the Prime Minister did after that was almost unthinkable. He brought an entire team of freshers as CM and ministers. The new CM, Bhupendra Patel, is also a first-term MLA, having been elected from a seat earlier represented by Anandiben Patel, to whom Mr Modi had entrusted Gujarat when he moved to New Delhi in May 2014.
Mr Modi might have changed the grammar of politics in Gujarat and in the country in the past decade or so, but it is also a fact that on his home turf he hasn’t been able to better the 149-seat tally of the Congress under Madhavsinh Solanki way back in the 1980s. At that time, Mr Solanki’s trump card was KHAM, an alliance of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Minorities.
Gujarat had witnessed a strange spectacle in the past two decades where Ahmed Patel was the strongest leader, being the political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, but Mr Modi called the shots in the state. This will be the first election after the demise of Ahmed Bhai over a year back amid the Covid-19 pandemic and Hardik Patel’s departure is going to make matters even more slippery for the Grand Old Party.
Despite the fact that the Congress secured 77 seats in the outgoing House, it failed to keep its flock together and the fact that over a dozen MLAs dumped the party so far tells its own story. There is certainly a message behind Hardik’s exit. The BJP wants to proclaim from the rooftops that by any stretch of imagination, the Congress can never come anywhere close to the winning post.
If reports are to be believed, then the Congress too is bracing for life after Hardik by seeking to induct another weighty Patel. It has for long been wooing Khodaldham chief Naresh Patel, but nothing is certain till he finally takes the plunge in active politics and joins the Congress.
Mr Modi over the years has been busy painting the Congress as a “party of Muslims”. But despite this, the Congress’ offensive in the 2017 polls was the scariest for the BJP in recent times as Rahul Gandhi managed to restrict the BJP to 99 seats in the 182-member House. The Congress’ challenge was never so real since Mr Modi became Gujarat “chowkidar”, and later that of the nation. The magnitude of the Congress’ challenge can be gauged from the fact that the BJP boasted it would get 150 seats.
With his eye on the next Lok Sabha elections, the Prime Minister wants to register a huge win in his backyard. With the BJP in the driver’s seat after its triumph in four states, including Uttar Pradesh, Mr Modi wants to break Solanki’s 149-seat record. The “extraction” of Hardik Patel from the Congress should be seen in this context. The less the impact of castes and communities, the more fertile is the ground for Hindutva — that is the BJP’s belief.
In 2002, Gujarat was a ripe fruit for the Congress to pluck. The BJP lost the gram panchayat elections in 2001 and three Assembly byelections the same year, and was badly rattled. But then occurred the Godhra train incident, and its aftermath. The rest is history.