Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why Congress Party is Opposing the GST Bill in its Present Form?

Many people are curious to know why Congress Party is opposing the GST Bill after pushing it for many years. It is natural for the people to think that it is merely to pay back in kind the obstruction of the Bill caused by BJP and its Chief Ministers like Narendra Modi and Shivraj Singh Chouhan when UPA was trying to bring this much needed reform. However, going through their dissent note given to the Rajya Sabha’s Select Committee on the GST Bill makes one realize that the objections being raised by the Congress Party are in the national interest, and not merely to get even with the hypocrisy of BJP.

I have tweeted the eight reasons cited by the Congress Party in its Dissent Note. Let me collate those tweets, with minor elaborations where necessary, in this post:

Reason 1: Congress wants the ceiling on highest rate at 18% instead of 27%. Would you prefer paying 27% tax?
In fact, the highest rate will not be 27% but could go up to 30% under the present proposals.

Reason 2: Congress finds additional 1% tax by manufacturing states as market distorting. Even more so, since there is a provision for 100% compensation.
The whole purpose of the GST is to unify entire India as a single tax regime. Therefore, introducing any special taxes to cater to the greed of certain states is not in the spirit of a GST.

Reason 3: The term supply/ies is not defined. It will make even intra company transfers taxable!
This will cause levying of tax even on transfer of raw materials and semi-finished goods between different branches of a company, situated in different states. Is it not obvious that such a situation is not in the interest of what is proposed by the GST system?

Reason 4: Present GST is diluted by excluding tobacco products, alcohol & electricity from its purview!
These excluded items for a substantial portion of the tax collections. If a substantial portion of taxes are left out of the GST, what is the use of introducing the same?

Reason 5: Proposed GST council is unduly weighed in favour of the Union Govt. Goes against federalism.
Since, disputes between the Centre and one or more states are likely to arise in matters relating to collection and/or sharing of GST, the federal systems requires no single party holds undue influence in the GST council. Therefore, it is only reasonable for demanding a GST Council which consists of more members representing the states.

Reason 6: There is no independent dispute settling mechanism. GST Council consists of parties to dispute.
As stated under reason 5, disputes are likely to arise between states and/ or between state and centre. It is necessary to have independent dispute settlement mechanism to ensure integrity of the country. Instead of an independent mechanism, current form of GST Bill entrusts the task to the same GST Council, which consists of the representatives of the disputing parties. Read this with the Reason 5 which talks about undue weightage for the Union Government in appointment of the GST Council and we get a clear picture of the danger.

Reason 7: There is no provision to protect the share of local self-Govt bodies in the taxes collected
The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain share in the revenues to our local self-government bodies like Panchayats and Municipalities.  The present Bill does not have provisions to protect such shares. It is necessary to incorporate clear provisions so that our scheme of political decentralization does not suffer.

Reason 8: Failure of the RS Select Committee to include detailed rationale for various amendments moved.
Finally, the Congress party is objecting to the refusal of Rajya Sabha Select Committee to include the detailed reasons given by the party for seeking each amendment. Non-inclusion of such reasons will prevent the Parliament members and the public from knowing the rationale behind each proposal for amendment.

                To my mind, these are valid objections from the opposition, which require to be addressed by the Government. If the Select Committee refused to even include the rationale for seeking amendments, one can only speculate what the Loksabha where the Govt is in clear majority will do with those objections!

Source: For the full text of the Dissent Note, you may refer this article, on

Friday, July 31, 2015

More on the Death Penalty and Subjective Administration of Justice

In my previous post, I mentioned about the dangers from a judiciary that awards death penalty, based on subjective considerations, and not on objective criteria.  Such selective death penalties will surely lead to alienation among different groups.

Just to emphasize my point, let me quote from the judgment in the infamous Naroda Patya massacre, which was a part of the 2002 Gujarat riots.  
Para 8 (j):  Even though this can be considered as rarest of the rare case on the face of it, considering the fact of 96 murders and 125 serious hurt to attempt to murders, but while considering the fact that long time has elapsed to the communal riot of 28/02/2002 during which period they have also to face the trial, the accused have also undergone the agonies of the trial for 3 years in which, on about 400 days, this case was conducted.
Noticing the fact that the sword has been kept hanging for ten long years on the accused who were implicated in the crime, the purpose of deterrence has already been partly served in this duration hence, death sentence should not be awarded eventhough it is held that it is rarest of rare massacre. Principally, death sentence should be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime.
(k) A fact cannot miss the site that, it is no doubt a gruesome offence and the biggest massacre of post Godhra riot case, but the interest of justice would be served if it is kept in mind that the accused had undergone agony and the hanging sword for about 10½ long years.
The object of punishment is to deter the accused and since the crime committed by the accused is more serious and grave in nature, it should be appropriately handled so as to set an example in the society.
(l) The punishment imposed should be fit to the crime committed and that it is the duty of the Court to impose proper punishment depending on the degree of criminality. Improper and insufficient punishment can seriously undermine respect for law.
(o) In the facts of the case, when alternative to death penalty is available, it is better to embrace the same. There are ways to address this violent crime in a more constructive way in which precious lives were lost in a barbarous attack launched by the assailants.
(p) It is true that communal mind set is unfortunate and unhappy situation. Unfortunate deep rooted religious bias is the misfortune for any democratic country. On account of the lapse of time of ten and half years the agony of impending trial to the accused and suffering of their families, the case just falls short for death sentence but, it is undoubtedly rarest of the rare case. On account of the agonies of the accused, this Court feels some what reluctant in imposing the death sentence by holding the case to be rarest of the rare case.
Unquote (All emphasis supplied by me)

                I can’t find fault with the above judgment. In fact, I salute the judge who had withstood all the pressures and even threats to her life, during and after the trail. The judgment is currently under appeal before the Gujarat High Court. Reports have appeared that the Gujarat government is nudging the prosecution not to press for death penalty for the convicted persons. Therefore, any views on this judgment might be a bit premature. With that caveat, it is necessary to point out certain factors.

                Look at the order. The court is convinced that the cases falls under the rarest of rare cases. Anyone who has any idea about what was done in this case to the victims that included women and children cannot hold otherwise. It was indeed a rarest of rare case. Yet the court was so lenient and considerate towards the interests of the convicted persons that court felt reluctant to impose the death sentence “on account of the agonies” that the convicted murderers had undergone!

                Talking about the agonies of the murderers involved, one was a Minister for the most part, in the Narendra Modi Ministry, in Gujarat. I do not know how much agony is it to work with Modi, but surely not sufficient to escape death penalty in a rarest of rare case?!

                Now consider this. Yakub Memon was also found guilty by courts, again in a rarest of rare case. His trial also took a lot of time. Unlike Madam Kodanani, Memon was not enjoying the powers of a minister, but locked up in a jail, throughout the trial. But all the courts and the President had no reluctance in ensuring that he was hanged on time. Nobody thought the “interest of justice would be served” by anything less than his execution. Nobody thought it necessary to consider the “agonies of the trial” for so many years.

               Let me disclose that I am against death penalty for various reasons. But I respect the law of the land, as it stands today, which includes the death penalty. However, as a concerned citizen, I want the administration of law to be fair and equal, as envisaged in our Constitution. I have no complaints about the hanging of Yakub Memon who was found guilty in a rarest of rare crime, by our judiciary. I want all others who are found guilty in other rarest of rare cases also to be hanged, until we eventually decide to do away with death penalty.

                The reason is simple. Can the courts find a case rarest of rare, and then decide to proceed with a punishment, which is less than the death penalty?  I agree that for any civilized society, “when alternative to death penalty is available, it is better to embrace the same.”  But does it suit a civilized society or an objective judiciary, to award different punishments for similar (rarest of rare) crimes? Can grounds like agony of trial be different for different accused?

                Add to the above questions, the fact that two of the kingpins identified by the court (A-18 Babu Bajrangi and A-37 Dr. Mayaben Kodnani) were easily sent out on bail, pending appeal, by the higher courts. Also, consider the fact that some of the high profile terrorists, for whom the state legislatures had passed resolutions, were let off from the gallows on account of delay in deciding mercy petitions.   

Now, can you blame if some sections felt aggrieved about the absence of real justice in the system?  Is it sufficient to put intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on what is being said on the social media? Or is it necessary to address these concerns by undertaking systemic reforms in our judicial functioning? Should a democratic country ignore the perceptions of injustice among sections of the society? No doubt, punishments have deterrence value in our system, but its administration cannot be allowed to cause further alienation.

Hope, better sense will prevail.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Death Penalty: Forget Memon and Think about the Dangers from a Subjective Judiciary!

Yakub Memon is no more. He was hanged till his death, by the state. Every killing, be it by a terrorist, a state, or by a common murderer raises various questions. These questions are triggered by the killings, but goes beyond the individual cases. In this post, I will deal with some of the questions related to the subjective exercise of the power to grant and execute death penalty, coming up in the backdrop of the latest hanging, of Yakub Memon. However, let us keep Yakub Memon out, as any reference to individual cases will only prejudice the views and harm the debate.

First question is about the death penalty itself. Undoubtedly, death penalty is not the only punishment for murders. Not all murders or even terrorists are executed. The debate about the death penalty will continue for a long time. Unfortunately, most people approach the issue very subjectively, in the light of specific executions. A lot of people seem to think nothing short of death is punishment enough. I will not go into details of the death penalty debate here (Those who are still interested in my views may read the 2011 post, Politics of Death Penalty and Mercy Petitions). Suffice to say, death penalty is a part of our legal system, as of today.

Without getting into the detailed debate on death penalty, let us consider the second question, why a lot of people support the executions, so vociferously? Is it because we are a blood thirsty people? Is it because we believe in the eye-for-an-eye justice system? Many people justify their support by citing the sufferings of the victims. In other words, the victims’ sufferings come to an end only by executing the revenge, by hanging the convict. When we adopt that logic aren’t we also justifying the original murder if it was carried out as a revenge for some perceived injustice to some victims? For example, many terror and extremist acts are carried out as revenge for the injustices meted out to some or other section of people!  The only logical counter argument is that it is the state alone that has a monopoly in revenge killings on behalf of any victim!

Third question is about the subjectivity in awarding capital punishment. Whether we approve it or not, so long as the death penalty is a part of our laws this question remains even more critical than the first two questions. If we adopt a law that every person convicted for murder will be hanged, then such a question will not be relevant. Similarly, if the law says only for such and such type of murders there will be death penalty, there won’t be any confusion. Our Supreme Court tried to address this issue by introducing a law that said death penalty will be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. In other words, even the Apex Court felt that the death penalty should not be a natural choice for murders, as in an eye-for-an-eye kind of justice system.

                Nobody can argue that the justice system is a perfect one. If it was so, why we need appeals? The subjectivity of judges is an inevitable part of the justice delivery. In cases after cases, we have seen how the rich and powerful manage to stay out of prisons or punishments. We have also seen any number of convictions or penalties getting overturned in the appeals. Those who support death penalty by citing the objectivity of our judicial process only need to read the Supreme Court verdict in the Akshardham terror case where some people got saved after being awarded with the death penalty by the ‘objective’ lower judiciary and High Court. (Those who are interested may like to read my posts on this subject, Supreme Court Verdict in Akshardham Terror Case- Some Thoughts and Counter-Terrorism - POTA Style).  If the judiciary can make such grave errors in appreciating the evidences while awarding death penalty, as in the case of Akshardham terror case, the society has to be really concerned about the implications.

                Talking about the subjectivity, another question arises as to what are rarest of rare cases. Despite many judicial pronouncements on the subject there are no logical rules that applies across the cases.  If there is any objectivity is deciding what is a rarest of rare case, we would not have found those who were convicted for Naroda Patya massacre of 97 innocent people (including women and children) during 2002 Gujarat riots escaping gallows (I know some readers will accuse me of being selective in talking about 2002 while keeping silence about 1984. Let me remind, the judicial system has not even convicted people responsible for 1984. The quantum of punishment comes only after that). Similarly, a Kerala Court failed to see a planned murder that shook the conscience of Kerala, conducted with utmost cruelty, by a professional killer gang maintained by a political party, merely because the victim dared to oppose that political party, as rarest of rare!  I am not suggesting the convicted criminals in these cases should be hanged. What I am suggesting is the selective grant of death penalties, by a subjective judiciary.

                Fourth question relates to the mercy petitions.  What is the logic behind mercy petitions? Why should the Executive be allowed to undo a judicial verdict? Every government in power are concerned about vote banks and political fallout, more than furthering justice. A judiciary at least have the semblance of objectivity, but to entrust such a power to executive is simply dangerous. If the judicial verdicts has the finality, we can also avoid politicization of hanging, which makes us look like a blood thirsty people.

                Fifth question relates to the accountability for any delay in deciding mercy petitions.  It would be inappropriate for me to talk about Dr. Kalam and his unwillingness to decide mercy petitions, throughout his stay in the Rashtrapati Bhawan, as we bury him today. That apart, governments and Presidents have dithered for unreasonable periods, in deciding mercy petitions. Even the Supreme Court has agreed to this issues in principle. Supreme Court of India had quoted with approval the following words of the U.S. Supreme Court:
The cruelty of capital punishment lies not only in the execution itself and the pain incident thereto, but also in the dehumanising effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to execution. The prospect of pending execution exacts a frightful toll during the inevitable long wait between the imposition of the sentence and the actual infliction of death” (You may refer my 2011 post, Delay in Considering Mercy Petitions- No Less a Crime).
As a result, the Supreme Court of India has treated the delay in deciding mercy petitions as a valid ground for setting aside many death penalties. It is a mere coincidence that on the same day it decided to send Yakub Memon to the gallows, the Supreme Court also decided to reject Central Govt’s plea against the commutation of death penalty of three terrorists involved in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi and others! The reason for the commutation was the delay in deciding their mercy petitions. Another prominent example is the case of Devinderpal Singh Bhullar who was awarded death penalty for killing 30 people in a terrorist attack. The Supreme Court commuted the death penalty of Bhullar, again on the ground of inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions. Again, let me clarify, I am not complaining about the commutations, but pointing out the subjectivity and selectivity in making those decisions by which the judiciary had undone its own decisions to award death penalty. The justice would have served better if the Supreme Court fixed accountability or time limits for deciding a mercy petition instead of being selective in commuting the sentences. I have no hesitation to suggest the decisions to commute death penalties had to do as much with the so called public opinion and political clamoring as the delay in deciding mercy petitions.

                At least in the matter of life and death of a person, albeit a convicted person, let us not leave it to the whims and fancies of individual judges or governments of the day. Let us not stop the debate on these issues, now that Yakub Memon is hanged, until another person approaches the gallows. Let us have some objective rules on the death penalty so that each time a person is hanged or not awarded the death penalty, it serves the purpose of furthering justice. A subjective exercise of power by even judiciary is not in anybody’s interest.  

PS: When I tweeted about the total silence on certain serious allegations raised by an Ex Judge of the Supreme Court against the present Chief Justice and the government, somebody suggested that the Ex Judge is a maverick and we need not take his allegations seriously. Another serving Judge shared his fantasies about what he would do if he ever become a dictator! Now, when we know we have mavericks even in the Supreme Court, would we still prefer their idiosyncrasies, rather than well defined legal principles, to decide the life and death issues?



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rishi Raj Singh, APJ Abdul Kalam, and Democracy!

            Social media serves an important purpose by reflecting the unedited and unfiltered public opinion. One may agree or disagree with an opinion existing among the public, but it is critical to know the existence of such opinions.

            Rishi Raj Singh is an ADGP level officer of Kerala police. A man who follow unorthodox policing, Rishi Raj Singh has been a darling of the social media. Many a time, the support he received from the public was justified as the issues involved his taking on some or other entrenched and organized crime syndicate. His actions to uphold the rule of law and control the crimes in whatever field he may be working in, made him a kind of hero in many people’s eyes.

            The problem with deification of someone into a hero is that once given that status the fans are bound to seek excuses for rationalizing all his or her actions are heroic.  Just like in those movies, the hero can do no wrong. When a hero stalks and woman or use violence against his detractors it is all just part of the game! However, unlike the characters of action movies, individuals cannot be classified as hero and villain.  

             Perhaps this what happened when a large section of the social media extended full support to him when he failed to stand up and salute the Home Minister of the State when the latter arrived at a police function.  The Home Minister, being the political head of the Police forces, is, no doubt, the boss of the ADGP. It was also clarified by none other than the Chief of Kerala Police (DGP) that the police officers are required to stand up and salute when a minister walks in, into a public function.  

            Despite the clarification by DGP, social media continues to support Rishi Raj Singh.  Many excuses are presented to justify the indiscipline by a police officer. It was not surprising, given some of the public opinions already existing in some sections of Kerala. Not everyone in Kerala values the democracy or supremacy of political leadership. There are the right wingers who miss the ‘strong police’ that can stalk women or kill innocents, at will, just like in Gujarat. There are sections of dogmatic left that do not care for the democracy, in the first place. For them, democracy is only a means through which they can try and capture power. There is yet another group that yearns for the autocratic rule of Gulf countries as they think those countries are far more ‘efficient’ than a democratic India.  Then the usual anarchists, who will support anything and anyone that goes against the state and political leadership. There are the political opportunists who will support the officer as the minister happens to be a political opponent (thankfully, many saner voices from the opposite camp were not seen supporting the officer, in this instance).  Last but not the least, there are also those well meaning citizens who wants to support the officer since they think he has been wronged in the past by the state.

            I would like to deal with the last category of the opinion discussed above, in a little more detail.  I agree, the officer has been unceremoniously removed or transferred from many posts when his acts became too hot for the entrenched interests. Therefore, some people think that he has a right to show his contempt for the political leadership. However, as I indicated at the beginning we cannot classify individuals as heroes and villains and then rationalize all their actions based on our classification.  There may be hundreds of incidences where an officer is stopped from doing his right duty, for various reasons. There are also remedies available to him, in case he feels that he has been wronged. However, he cannot adopt indiscipline as a means for redressal of his perceived grievances. If such a thing is allowed to take place, every officer, soldier, or policeman will be justified in refusing to do his duty as perceived grievances exist in almost all cases.

            Perhaps, it is this well-meaning group discussed above, who sought to justify Rishi Raj Singh’s action by quoting Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. A quote attributed to Dr. Kalam was circulated widely through social media. It said, “If you salute your duty, you need not salute anybody, but if you pollute your duty, you have to salute everybody

            This quote appears to be a very convenient tool to justify the behavior of the officer.  However, what the people forget or conveniently ignore is that saluting the Home Minister itself was a part of the officer’s duty.  People are given uniform and the procedures like saluting for a specific purpose. I wouldn’t even dare to think what would happen if any soldier and policeman adopts this above quote to justify their indiscipline in the forces!

            I know this sounds childish, but let me demonstrate what Dr. Kalam said was not meant to be taken literally.  Dr. Kalam had been the President of this Country for five years. Saluting and receiving salute was part of his duty, just like in the case of Rishi Raj Singh.
Have you ever heard Dr. Kalam refusing to give or take salute since he believed that saluting is not necessary unless one is polluting his duty? Apparently not, as these pictures here clearly show!  
           In this picture, Dr. Kalam is seen saluting along with the three Chiefs of armed forces. I am sure none of them thought they are saluting because they have polluted their duty! 

Again, Dr. Kalam is seen receiving the salute. I am sure Dr. Kalam would not agree that all those, whose salute he was receiving and reciprocating had polluted their duties. 

            Let me conclude by saying that this episode is another reminder about how shallow is our feelings for democracy.  We have to inculcate a respect for democracy and its institutions. If we perceive them to corrupt or bad, there are in built remedies but those do not include glorifying indiscipline among police or armed forces.

“Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” - Winston Churchill



Friday, July 10, 2015

Modi, Sushma, Pakistan, and Flip-flops!

            Modi, Sushma, Pakistan, Bilateral talks, and Flip-flops add to my confusion! Sorry, but this is not about my confusion. Even though the blog is all about the Confused Ambadi, this post is about a confused Pakistan policy of the Modi government, and the nation’s honour and credibility, at stake.

            When Modi Govt came to power, people were curious about its Pakistan policy. Narendra Modi had issued many strident statements against Pakistan and UPA Govt’s Pakistan policy. The new External Affairs Minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj had demanded getting ten Pakistani heads for the head of an Indian soldier that was allegedly taken away by Pakistani forces. BJP had consistently derided any attempt at bilateral talks by terming it as Biriyani diplomacy, on the ground that talks cannont go on so long as Pakistan fails to prosecute and punish the perpetrators and master minds of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. Not to talk about the vocal and often abusive supporters of Modi on social media who would agree to nothing, as far as Pakistan was concerned.

            Such militant positions by the supporters and leaders of the incoming government would cause concern to anybody who is interested in the regional peace. However, the roles were reversed with the innovative swearing in ceremony diplomacy and the consequent exchange of garments between Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers. The supporters and media (not much difference in between) described it as a great diplomatic coup by Modi after an ‘ineffective’ Manmohan Government.

            Well, the story had anything but a happy ending. Soon the skirmishes got exacerbated on the border with many more heads of Indian solders falling on the ground. Fortunately for the peace lovers, Sushma Swaraj had given up the 10 for 1 bargain style. India blasted a boat from Pakistan, along with the people on board, accusing it of involvement in another 26/11 type terror act.  Pakistan continued to provoke India with its overtures towards Kashmir separatists. However, talks also continued intermittently. The talks between Pakistan would commence on a day and get stalled on the next day. The only moot point remained as to what could be the possible trigger for the beginning or ending of a talk with Pakistan!

            In one of the latest provocations, the Pakistani court released the 26/11 master mind Lakhvi on bail (some people point out that a government cannot be held responsible if a court orders release of an accused on bail, be it in the case of Lakhvi and the like in Pakistan, or many persons in India accused of terror acts).  India made very strong protests on this issue which remains sensitive back home.  India even approached the United Nations to seek action against Pakistan on this issue. The move, however, was blocked by another ‘close friend’ of Prime Minister Modi, the People’s Republic of China, despite all the latest rock star visits and bonhomie!

            It was against this back drop that India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj issued a statement that there is no flip-flop in her government’s stand on talks with Pakistan. She categorically stated, “No talks could be held as long as Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was walking free.”  This statement was issued on June 01st, 2015.

            Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is still walking free. Pakistan continues to be belligerent on the Line of Control, with the killing of an Indian solder taking place just three days before, on 06th July 2015. However, India’s Prime Minister Modi chose to meet and talk with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, at Ufa, in Russia, on the sidelines of BRICS summit! As usual, no explanations are expected on what changed India’s stand on 'no talks with Pakistan as long as Lakhvi is walking free,' or continuation of unprovoked attacks on Indian soldiers, from across the LoC.

            BJP sought to justify the latest talks. The recently converted leader of BJP, MJ Akbar, reportedly claimed, "For the first time Pakistan has accepted to combat terrorism in 'all its forms." However, Congress was quick to point out that similar joint statements were issued way back on 08th September, 2012.  

            If we agree with Sushama Swaraj that the latest talks are not a part of an ongoing flip-flops, then what it is? Where is the credibility for India’s diplomacy if one day India’s External Affairs Ministers says not talks, and the next day, India’s Prime Minister agrees to a summit meet?  Will any nation take India’s words of caution, seriously?  Can any self-respecting External Affairs Minister continue in that post after such a rebuff from the Prime Minister?

Well, I confess, I am all for talks between countries even when things are not going well. However, I am thoroughly confused by this policy, or lack of it from Modi government! The only ‘plausible’ explanation seems to have come from Lalu Prasad’s RJD, which said the talks are an outcome of Modi’s “emphasis on ‘photo opportunity’ and uploading pictures on Twitter rather than respecting what India needs.”

P.S:      As of 14th July 2015, it has become clear that apart from the 'photo opportunity' and 'pictures on Twitter' nothing is likely to come out of this flip-flop diplomacy with Pakistan. Pakistan refused to move any fresh application for obtaining Lakhvi's voice sample, termed the discussions with Modi as informal, and stated that no formal discussions will take place without including Kashmir as part of the agenda! After the initial 'mandatory' euphoria, many are already talking about how 'India' (not Modi Govt) has been taken for a ride by Pakistan!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Modi’s Myanmar Blunder: Will India have to Pay the Price?

                There is a saying in Malayalam, “Alpanu Aishwaryam Kittiyaal Ardharathrikkum Kuta Pitikkum.” A crude translation would be, when the small minded people become rich, they will hold an umbrella even in the midnight. Holding an umbrella in the hot sun during the day is a sign of prosperity (the poor people working under the sun cannot, of course, afford it), but using an umbrella even at midnight (well, rain is an exception) is a sure sign of small mindedness coupled with undeserved prosperity.

                The reactions from Modi Government, to the Indian Army’s reported cross border strikes against North East militants hiding in Myanmar territory reminded me of that old saying. However, the focus of this post is not whether Modi and his ministers are small-minded or not. What I am concerned about is whether India will have to pay the price for Modi government’s blunder. Let me explain!

                No sovereign country in the world would like soldiers from other countries to cross its borders and carry out operations at will. If and when such things happen, the relationship between the countries would suffer, for sure.  However, there are exceptions when the countries create sufficient mutual trust and understanding on how to proceed when such cross border strikes become imperative for whatever reasons. One such exception was the India-Myanmar understanding on cross-border operations against militants from Northeast who cross over to Myanmar after committing terrorist activities in Indian Territory.

                It was in December 2010 that India and Myanmar entered into an agreement to allow Indian forces to cross the borders in hot pursuit of militants who escape to Myanmar. Of course, as expected in any such agreements between two sovereign countries, there were permissions to be obtained and process to be followed while crossing the border. Even with those conditions, it was an exceptionally friendly gesture from the Myanmar government to allow such cross border operations. It was also exceptional diplomacy from the then Indian government to get such an agreement executed with a neighboring country. Unlike the Modi government, nobody in the then government went to town with the news, claiming credit.   

                It was not the first instance of India’s neighbors providing assistance to India in dealing with her militant outfits. Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar have provided similar assistance in the past. Indian Army had conducted operations, or assisted the armed forces of neighbors in flushing out Indian militants camping in their respective territories. However, these operations were either projected as sole operations of the armed forces of respective countries or kept under wraps, for obvious reasons. No country can afford to be seen as compromising its sovereignty, whatever the reasons might be.  Even in the present strikes, it is naïve to believe that India conducted a unilateral operation without keeping the friendly government in Myanmar informed (Some friends suggest, it might have been the case that Myanmar not kept in the loop by Indian Army during this operation. Even if that is true, India should have kept the details of the operations a secret for the sake of continued friendship with Myanmar and similar actions in the future, in any of the friendly neighboring countries).

                Where does that leave the brave chest thumping by Modi government, post Myanmar operations? Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore used the occasion to warn other countries by saying that the operation was a message to all. Of course, the ‘all’ included China and Pakistan, the latter being the highest cross border supporter of Indian militants and terrorists.  Perhaps the Minister was playing to the crowd of gullible Modi Bhakts on social media for, obviously, he could not have been oblivious of the difference between a permitted incursion into Myanmar and hostile incursion into China or Pakistan!

                The overt claims over a supposedly covert operation can make India a laughing stock across the world, yet again. That apart, consider where do all these leave Myanmar government? How will it answer (if at all it does) its own people about the supposed violation of its sovereignty by Indian forces? No doubt each border crossing by an Indian militant is equally a violation of the sovereignty of that country, but no militant issues press statements to claim such violations. Will Myanmar reconsider any such assistance in the future, or is it so enamored by Modi’s charisma that it will suffer silently and let Modi create his larger than life image of a daring leader?

                That applies to even other neighbors. Will they dare to offer similar permission or assistance to Indian forces in the future, when it is likely to lead to exaggerated claims from Modi government and create embarrassment for their governments? It may not matter so much for Myanmar, but other democratic countries in which the opposition is more active will not dare to be in a similar predicament.

                Hope Modi and his ministers will learn the basics of statecraft and diplomacy and stop showing off their new umbrellas, at midnight! 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Supreme Court’s Guidelines on Government Advertisements- A Bad Law with a Good Intent?

                Couple of days back, I happened to overhear a rather interesting conversation between a shopkeeper and his customers. As a usual practice in Kerala, the shop also functioned as the newspaper reading centre for most customers. A senior citizen who was reading the days’ newspaper welcomed the Supreme Court’s order on restricting the use of photographs of political leaders and ministers in government advertisements, issued at the cost of public funds. His friend, another senior citizen questioned the logic of limiting the use of photographs to only the President, Prime Minister, and the Chief Justice of India. A heated discussion followed on why the Chief Ministers were excluded even while the Prime Minister was included. Somebody said the judgment is applicable only for central government issued advertisements and, hence, the Chief Ministers were not permitted to be included. Another person countered this argument and stated that the judgement is applicable to all public funded advertisements, irrespective of who issued it. The one who was reading the newspaper commented that, as usual in all matters related to India, this judgement also appears to be a means for quid pro quo. As per his logic, once a person becomes a Supreme Court Judge that person is not bothered about smaller fishes like Chief Ministers. As long as in service, a Supreme Court judge has to keep the Chief Justice of India, happy. The Judge must also ensure that the Prime Minster is kept happy so that the post retirement placements are taken care of. The President, of course, is the head of the nation and the one who appointed the Judge. Even while issuing a very good judgement to prevent the misuse of public money, the judges have kept interests of their present and future benefactors out of its purview, said the old man.

                I was appalled to hear those words. Despite all the recent judgments that seem to favor people with money, fame, or power, my belief in the judiciary continues to be firm. I believe the judgements such as in the case of Amit Shah, Jayalalitha, and Salman Khan are aberrations and our judicial system and its judges are still honourable men and women, who hold the interests of justice above everything personal. I was sure that if the judges of Supreme Court thought it necessary to exclude Chief Ministers while including the Prime Minister, in the permitted photographs to appear on government advertisements, there will be solid logic and valid reasons. More so since the objective of the judgement itself was curbing the practice of projecting the political and personal images, at the cost of the public was indeed laudable.

                I also knew that the media is not very good in reporting the judgements, for reporting the essence of a judgement requires reading the long judgements. It is much easier to quote couple of sentences that can generate controversy and catch public’s eyeballs and leave the serious reporting to others. So, I decided to check on the social media, which has become a more reliable source for news and perspectives.  I tweeted a question, asking why not CMs, if the PM and CJI are permitted on the government advertisements. The responses also turned out to be confusing as some of them ridiculed the judgement while others defended it by saying that it was only applicable to the central government.  Then I decided to get to the bottom of the issue by doing what I should have done at the first place- reading the judgement itself!

                  A reading of the thirty-three page judgement issued by the Bench consisting of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justce Pinaki Chandra Ghose, on 13 May 2015, brought out the following facts:

1.            The judgement was issued in a Writ Petition filed by two NGOs, Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

2.            The Writ petition had sought restraining the central as well as all state governments from using public funds on advertisements that were primarily intended to project individual functionaries of governments of the ruling party. It was also sought that the Supreme Court issue appropriate guidelines to regulate government advertisements.

3.            After hearing the parties the Supreme Court, on 23 April 2014, had appointed a three member Committee to look into all matters related to the subject.  The Committee submitted its report along with draft guidelines, after conducting deliberations on the subject.

4.            The Supreme Court noted that the draft Guidelines were based on the following five principles:
“i)     advertising campaigns are to be related to government responsibilities,
ii)      materials should be presented in an objective, fair and accessible manner and designed to meet objectives of the campaign,
iii)     not directed at promoting political interests of a Party,
iv)     campaigns must be justified and undertaken in an efficient and cost-effective manner and
v)     advertisements must comply with legal requirements and financial regulations and procedures” (Ref Para 11 of the Judgement).

5.            The practical measures recommended to achieve the above stated five principles included the following:
i)      The content and format meeting with the objectives of the campaign.
ii)     Ensuring political neutrality, and avoiding glorification of political personalities or vilification of the opponents
iii)    Avoid any links to any political party name, logo, symbol, or website.
iv)     If it is felt essential for effective Government messaging, only the photographs of the President/Prime Minster or Governor/Chief Minister should be used.
v)      Advertisement shall not be used to patronize media houses.
vi)     Prior decision on the list of historical personalities on whose birth or death anniversaries, advertisements could be released every year, and the Ministry/Department authorized to issue the same.
vii)    Govt to appoint an Ombudsman to look into complaints of violations of the Guidelines.
viii)   Special performance audit by concerned authorities on compliance.

6.            After conceding that it is not feasible to list all situations where government advertisements are to be issued, the Court attempted a broad categorization of the permitted advertisements, as follows:
i)       Advertisements highlighting completion of a fixed period of the Government’s Tenure
ii)     Advertisements announcing projects.
iii)     Advertisements issued on the occasion of birth/death anniversaries and such other events.
iv)     Advertisements announcing policies and benefits for public (Ref Para 9).

7.            The State of Bihar had challenged the guideline that called for restricting the use of photographs to the President and the Prime Minister of the country and the Governor and the Chief Minister of the State.  The judgement is silent on any aspect of hearing the states, other than Bihar.

8.            The Union of India challenged various clauses of the draft Guidelines. According to the Supreme Court, the serious disagreement were in respect of the following matters:
(1)     Restricted publication of photographs of the Government functionaries and political leaders, along with the advertisement etc.
(2)    Appointment of an Ombudsman
(3)    The recommendation with regard to performance audit by each Ministry.
(4)     Embargo on advertisements on the eve of the elections (Ref Para 15).

9.          The Court also examined the good practices on the subject, prevalent in other jurisdictions. The Court found that barring the issues where serious objections were raised by the Union of India, the Guidelines prepared by the Three Member Committee were acceptable.

           The court went on to deal with each of the above listed objections. However, keeping the readers’ patience in mind, I shall restrict this post to the first and fourth points of disagreement only.

Firstly, on the use of the photographs, the Court held, “Photographs, therefore, have the potential of developing the personality cult and the image of a one or a few individuals which is a direct antithesis of democratic functioning” (Para 22; all emphasis in this post are supplied by me).  The Court also stated, “The legitimate and permissible object of an advertisement, as earlier discussed, can always be achieved without publication of the photograph of any particular functionary either in the State of a political party” (Para 23). No democrat in their right mind can have anything in disagreement with these observations of the Court. However, the court went on to state the following:
“We are, therefore, of the view that in departure to the views of the Committee which recommended permissibility of publication of the photographs of the President and Prime Minister of the country and Governor or Chief Minister of the State along with the advertisements, there should be an exception only in the case of the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the country who may themselves decide the question” (Ref Para 23).
It is an established legal principle that a judicial pronouncement must be a speaking order. The Court, while departing from the view of the Committee, does not cite any reason why it formed another view. This silence, in my opinion is bad law making, especially since the law making powers of the Judiciary is an exception and not a rule.  If you read the pronouncements from Para 22 and Para 23 of the judgement quoted at the beginning of this paragraph, it becomes clear that the second portion is in effect self-contradictory.  Should we understand that the Supreme Court is fine with “developing the personality cult and the image of” the “President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the country” but not others? What is the rational for departing from the objective suggestion of the Committee and adopting only these three functionaries?  Where did the question of Chief Justice of India come in from? Why not Chief Ministers, if the Prime Minister is permitted?  Isn’t this judgement going against the letter and spirit of the federal structure adopted in our Constitution? Can the powers vested under Article 142 of the Constitution be exercised against the very basic structure of the Constitution? Why is the judgement leaving it to the three chosen functionaries, by stating “who may themselves decide the question,” to decide whether they want their photographs to be included in the advertisements? Why should it be left to the beneficiaries to decide whether they want to develop a personality cult and image for themselves?

                Coming to the next point on the special curb recommended by the Committee, on the election eve government advertisements, again the Judges stated no reason for going against the recommendation of a Committee appointed by themselves.  It is no secret that the election eve advertisements are issued with the objective of boosting the chances of the ruling party.  It is these election eve advertisements that are against the spirit of democracy and fair elections. I am not questioning the right of the Court to reject the recommendation of the Committee. I am questioning the absence of reasons other than merely stating “we do not feel the necessity of imposing a special curb” to depart from the recommendation. If the Judges were expecting the “three member body consisting of persons with unimpeachable neutrality and impartiality and who have excelled in their respective fields” (Ref Para 24), to be appointed by the Government in place of the recommended Ombudsman, would curb the potential misuse of election eve advertisements, it was only proper for the judgement to say so.

                In my view a judgement is a bad judgement when it leaves so many legitimate questions unanswered! Especially, the exception on the use of photographs of  PM and CJI leaves so many questions unanswered so that, with all due respect to the court, I have to say the court created a bad law!

                I wouldn't agree with the gentleman whose opinion on possible motives was cited at the beginning. However, as the judgement does not provide any reasons or materials that I can rely upon, I wouldn't dare to challenge his perception, no matter how bad it sounds for those who believe in the judiciary!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On Crossing the Milestone of 100,000 Visitors!

 Thank you all, for making it Possible!

And forgive me for this self-congratulatory reflection!

When I created this blog titled Thoughts, on August 29, 2008, my intention was to simply experiment with a new medium that I came across.

I described the objective of my Blog in the following words:
This blog functions like an exhaust valve to bring out my cluttered and sometimes confused thoughts. Please give your comments so that we can make this more useful, with wider perspectives.
It took me five months to do another post, and it took me three years to cross the milestone of having more than 100 visitors in a month!

My blogs took a definite political direction when the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement began what was considered by many people, at that time, as India’s Jasmine revolution.  Many of my arguments got proved right, by subsequent events.

What followed was the blitzkrieg of Narendra Modi’s takeover of Indian politics.  I did many posts against what I genuinely felt as a danger to the social fabric and constitutional framework of India. The last one year of Modi’s governance is clearly showing that my fears were not entirely misplaced. The systematic undoing of each and every authority that can help the civil society and individuals against the hegemony of state are indication enough for what is yet to come. CIC, CVC, Lokpal, NHRC, changes in the Land Acquisition Act, dilution of the Environmental laws are only the tip of the iceberg. I hope my worst fears will not become true, and the democracy of India will remain powerful enough to deal with the intentions of Modi and the groups that created him.

As a concerned citizen, I could not remain aloof to the political development and it reflected in my posts. However, to a large extent, I continued to share those apolitical thoughts that are dear to me. Those are the posts that gave me many valuable friends from the other side of the political divide. My wish is to increase the frequency of such posts that focus on various aspects of the day to day affairs of individuals, families and societies.

Today, my Thoughts crossed the 100,000 number on the visitors’ count. I do not know the significance of this number to the blogging world, but I count this event among one of the greatest achievements of my life! I am neither a celebrity nor an established writer to take the numbers for granted. Apart from the urge to share my perspective on issues, each increasing number on the visitors’ count is what motivates me to continue writing. 

There are many people, especially from Twitter, who encouraged and supported my Blog by giving feedback, commenting on the posts, or sharing the links.  But for their active support, I am convinced I would not have reached anywhere near this important milestone of 100,000 count. Those interactions also gave me many valuable friends- some of them sharing my ideas and some of them opposed to those ideas.

I, once again, thank everyone who contributed in any manner, to my blog reaching this important milestone.  

These posts will continue to share my cluttered, and often confused thoughts.  I will never claim any absoluteness of my views. However, I promise sincerity in all my posts! I, once again, solicit readers’ perspectives on the issues raised in my posts so that I (and other readers) can widen the perspectives. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

#SorryNepal Don’t Judge us by the Standards of our Media!

The recent earthquake, with its epicenter in Nepal and affecting many part of the North India was yet another reminder how the nature is oblivious of the man-made boundaries.  Only blind ones can ignore the fact that the lives and welfare of all people in this world are interconnected. Therefore, we all have to deal with the calamities, crises, and challenges faced by people in any part of the world through mutual cooperation.

However, human minds are not as evolved as the nature. The effect of nationalities and man-made boundaries on the human psychology is enormous. Instead of contributing something worthwhile to the world and feeling legitimate pride, human beings prefer to be proud of the artificial boundaries and identities.  Even while dealing with common disasters one has to remain sensitive about human feelings such as pride and patriotism.

When the Indian government and its armed forces responded to the tragedy in Nepal in a good neighborly fashion, it was heartening, and it was as it should be. However, soon the Indian Media stepped in and started reporting from the ground! Some elements of the media found yet another opportunity to inflate the image of their benefactor (or is it their creation?) Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, by eulogizing India’s efforts at rescue as something like a personal gift from Modi to people of Nepal (just like the 2500 KGs of Sandalwood gifted to a temple in Nepal).  

Soon, the entire sangh parivar propaganda machine joined the said elements of Media (for convenience, let us refer to these elements as Modia) and began spreading misinformation. Tweets by spokespersons of BJP that RSS is sending 20,000 volunteers to Nepal for rescue efforts (eventually denied by RSS itself) was only a beginning. Soon, Modi’s PR machinery and Modia joined forces and trended #ThankYouPM, as if India under any other PM would not have helped a neighbor, at such a time of distress.

Narendra Modi and his PR machinery are used to exploiting natural calamities for inflating his image. Be it Rs 5 Crore donation to Bihar at the time of Kosi floods, or so called mass Innova evacuation from Uttarakhand, Modi finds an opportunity to tell the world how great a man he is! This time in Nepal, he was clearly overdoing it, considering the fact that Nepal was an independent country and a separate nation, and the Indo-Nepal relationship cannot prosper without taking into account the sensitivities of the people.

In this era of instant social communication, it is perfectly fine that the Prime Minster of Nepal who was on foreign travel came to know about the earthquake, back home, from a tweet by Indian Prime Minister. It was also fine when the Nepal’s Prime Minister informed people about how he got the news. However, when the Prime Minister of another country starts telling the world that the PM of Nepal got to know about the earthquake from his tweets, it hurts the pride of both the people and government of Nepal. You don’t have to be an expert in diplomacy to know the effect of such statements.

All these indications clearly showing that the Modia and Modi PR were hurting the cause of neighborly relationship, I tweeted cautioning those who cared:

I am afraid, the over hyping of India's help in rescue operations is going to affect our long-term relationship with Nepal, adversely.

10:28 AM - 29 Apr 2015

When I tweeted the above, I was looking at the long-term effect of continuously telling our neighbors about how great we are and how we were helping them. However, the ground reality was even worse, apparently. The PR and TRP objectives of the Modia had an immediate effect on the people of Nepal, who resented such highhanded approach to rescue and relief efforts.

            To mark their resentment, the people of Nepal top trended #GoHomeIndianMedia on 03 May 2015. The tweets expressed under the hashtag were scathing in their criticism of Indian Media’s conduct in the disaster struck Nepal.  As an Indian, I felt guilty for our people adding insult to the injury suffered by our neighbors. I tweeted:

#SorryNepal don't judge us by the standards of our modia, oops media!
4:45 PM - 3 May 2015

            What I did not expect was the reaction to the above tweet from people of Nepal. I did not expect the message to reach people of Nepal as I did not have any significant followership in that country.  However, to my surprise, many people from Nepal responded to my tweet. Barring one or two tweets that were not very friendly, all the replies from Nepal emphasized one point- that they were against Indian media only and they fully appreciated Indian people and the help by Indian defense forces. Let me quote some of the responses without the identity of the persons:

आँप लोगो को सहयोग हमारे लिय सम्मान हे मगर हमारे देस मे दादागिरी नहि चलेगा
6:14 PM - 3 May 2015

we are thankful to indian people and indian government for your more support to us, we just hate indian media .
7:33 PM - 3 May 2015 · Details

India has helped us too, we are grateful for that.
7:36 PM - 3 May 2015 

we are thankful to india nd indians for ur support. Disgraceful are those media who cant understand the pain
7:54 PM - 3 May 2015 

you guys are awesome!!! Will never forget India's help:) Fuck indian media though...
8:32 PM - 3 May 2015 

No you are really nice people. We know how you guys are plagued by #IndianMedia and so you call them #presstitutes
9:22 PM - 3 May 2015

We know, don't worry. We have high opinions of you. #GoHomeIndianMedia
7:15 AM - 4 May 2015 

This is for Indian media but not to Indian people #GoHomeIndianMedia
11:00 PM - 3 May 2015 ·

            The reason why I quoted these responses is because it is easy to create an image of an ungrateful people, especially when the media is the target of their attack.  The Prime Minister of India had himself commended Indian media for the ‘great work’ done by them:


Mention must be made of the media. They are bravely covering the disaster from the ground. Thanks
12:21 pm – 27 Apr 15

I can understand the Prime Minister commending the relief workers and soldiers engaged in the rescue operations, but to praise the media contingent is beyond any comprehension. More so, when we look at the impact that the so called great reporting has made on the people of Nepal, as reflected in the responses quoted above!

            The responses in large numbers also indicate the noble intentions of the people of Nepal. They took the pain not only to trend #GoHomeIndianMedia, but also to make it clear that their resentment is limited to the Media and not to the people of India. It also shows that not all people of Nepal are sitting in a corner and crying about the misfortune, but fighting back to regain their lives, dignity, and honour! It is important to note this, since another Modia personality had expressed doubts how in the aftermath of those devastating earthquakes Nepalis can sit and trend something like #GoHomeIndianMedia, perhaps smelling or indicating a conspiracy by someone, to deflate the great man’s image!

            Nepal is still struggling against the misfortune and aftershocks. Let us wish them safety and a speedy return to normalcy.  Let us provide whatever assistance we can, without making it a cheap show. Let us not try and milk natural calamities in neighboring countries, for image building and PR.

            Diplomacy is what guides international relations. Being diplomatic includes taking others’ sensitivities into account while dealing with them. Nepal is a sovereign country and let us respect those feelings.

            I leave the following tweet for the readers to ponder:

एक बात याद रहे नेपाली हर बातो टेक्निक मे पिछे होगा पर बिरोध और आन्दोलन मे दुनियाँमे अगे है #GoSriyaIndiaMedia #GoHomeIndianMedia

9:05 PM - 3 May 2015

P.S: Not sure if it is linked to the last day’s trend or people’s sentiments in Nepal, but the government of Nepal has now urged all foreign rescuers to leave the rescue work to the local authorities and return home!