Friday, December 9, 2016

Is Demonetization an attack on Secularism?

I believe it is a curse on Economics that it does not have an independent existence in the real world. Whatever theory or however strong a model it may be, if and when brought to the real world it gets corrupted by various political and ideological pulls and pushes.

                When I was listening to a speech on the demonetization, the above thoughts came to my mind. The speech delivery was excellent, the audience was receptive, and it was happening in a public place, right in the middle of an evening crowd in a busy market. It was a great opportunity to educate common people across the political divide about the severe repercussions of the demonetization decision- both what is happening and what is likely to happen. 

                Since the talk was organized by a left leaning cultural group and the speaker was a leftist, I did expect some political colour. The speaker was eloquent on how the demonetization affected the equality and dignity of Indians. He painted it as an attack on the rights guaranteed under, and the basic features of, the Constitution.  He explained how the decision should be viewed as a step towards fascism.

Despite my anticipation of politics in the talk, I was a bit disappointed when it got concluded.  Two reasons caused my disappointment. First reason is that the speaker did not make use of the occasion to educate people about many potential consequences of the decision, both for themselves and the economy.  He did not touch upon the importance of choice in a democracy. He did not cover the possible role of new payment banks and digital money companies in forcing the cashless India concept. He touched upon neither the implications of digital payments on the privacy of individuals, nor the assaults on the independence of institutions like the Parliament and RBI.

Second reason is what made my jaws drop.  It was his interpretation of the demonetization decision as an attack on secularism! When the speaker argued that the decision is a part of the RSS agenda against minorities, it came as a surprise. The only fact that he used to substantiate the charge was the Union minister Giriraj Singh’s statement about the need to introduce compulsory sterilization to control the population.

I believe demonetization is perhaps the most secular decision implemented by Narendra Modi Govt. This decision has affected, adversely, every Indian irrespective of his caste and religion (perhaps the reason why even some of the Hindu religious organizations have chosen to criticize the step). The decision can be faulted for being tougher on the poorer sections of the society. But to say, it is a part of the agenda against minorities is beyond all my imagination.

Such an interpretation hardly made any sense to me, even politically. When you are addressing a public audience, and not any party followers, why not try and bring every sections of that audience to your side by sticking to logical and factual arguments (which are available in abundance)? Why divide the audience into secular and communal groups, even on a decision that has affected every one equally? Why preach to the already converted ones? Why not try and convince even those who are supporting Modi on communal lines about the damages that he is causing to the entire economy and people?

Perhaps, there may be hidden political motives for peddling such conspiracy theories, which may be attractive to a captive audience. I will never understand those ground level political motives. I can only wish, an economic disaster of this scale could be approached without seeking to further narrow political agendas. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

How Does the Fascism Look? - A Tribute to Mr. Leonard Cohen

                We keep hearing about the advent of fascism, and the need to fight it tooth and nail. The problem is that we cannot recognize the fascism when we experience it. It is often clocked in various themes like patriotism, nationalism, racism, religious superiority, or charity. Even worse, at times, it is just the plain ‘normal’.

                The legendary writer of rock music, Mr. Leonard Cohen, who passed away a few hours ago, had written a poem that demonstrates the challenges of recognizing fascism. As a tribute to the great writer, and as an all-time reminder on what fascism doesn’t look like, let me quote Mr. Cohen’s poem on the infamous Nazi-SS commander, Adolf Eichmann, who was among those responsible for organizing the Holocaust:

All there is to Know About
Adolph Eichmann

EYES: ………………………………… Medium
HAIR: ………………………………… Medium
WEIGHT: ………………..…………… Medium
HEIGHT: ………………….………….. Medium
NUMBER OF TOES: ……………….... Ten
INTELLIGENCE: …………………….. Medium

What did you expect?
        Oversize Incisors?
        Green Saliva?

-Leonard Cohen

         The fascism, Nazism, and other inhuman ideologies are not practiced by somebody with talons, oversize incisors, or green saliva, but ordinary looking people like you and me. It makes it all the more difficult to recognize such dangers to humanity, until it is too late. The only way we can save humanity from such evilness is to be on guard, at all times. Our complacency today could land us in concentrations camps, tomorrow!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

NDTV India Ban, and We the People of India

Previous posts on this blog has made it amply clear that I am not a votary of absolute freedom of expression. I believe in reasonable restrictions on the freedom of expression when those restrictions can be linked rationally, to the larger interests of the society.

Let me also confess that I have not seen the programme aired by the NDTV India, on the Pathankot airbase, which earned the one day ban for itself. This posts is not about the merits of the NDTV programme or the decision of the Government. This post is about the procedural justice or lack of it in arriving at the decision.

Temporary ban on broadcasting is nothing new to Indian television.  Many channels have faced such temporary bans, usually on the grounds of obscenity and disrespect to women.  However, those channels like Fashion TV are not mainstream and the issue involved are not of much concern to the general public. Therefore, the public were not even aware of the ban in most cases and even when aware were not concerned about it.

NDTV India ban is perhaps the first, in relation to a news report. Power to ban TV channels or newspapers, vested in the hands of the executive is surely problematic, for various reasons. Firstly, concepts like public interest and national security are highly subjective and prone to misuse. Secondly, criticism of the government can easily be interpreted as one against national security. Thirdly, since the government is likely to be at the receiving end of such news reports any decision by the Government itself would amount to judging own affairs. Fourthly, the principles of natural justice demand that the accused party be given a proper opportunity to defend its case before a punitive action is taken. IN this case, NDTV India is not given an opportunity to state its case. Lastly, objective exercise of a power demands equal treatment of all complaints. There are allegations that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is very selective in dealing with complaints against news reports.

There may be situations when a channel reports in a manner, which compromises an operation or national security. There is also no doubt that actions must be taken against such channels. However, the issue remains as to who should decide whether a report is against national security. If the Government of the day and its officers can decide and ban a Channel, then the media freedom is surely at peril. We have seen central ministers pontificating on the need to refrain from raising any questions even when all the available evidences indicate blatant murder by policemen in a staged fake encounter! Can a government act against news reports on such issues, by holding them as against national security?

The need for an independent authority to judge the appropriateness of a report cannot be overemphasized. A free and fair independent media is one of the cornerstones of the democracy. Brow beating by the executive, or undeclared bans like the one being witnessed in the courts of Kerala, can damage the democracy itself. Therefore, the NDTV India ban is not a trivial issue to be ignored by the society.

I am sure NDTV India will seek legal remedies against the ban. I hope the judiciary will stand up and protect the freedom of expression of the media, against the arbitrary onslaught by the executive. I am also worried that my hope in the judiciary may be misplaced, considering what is going on in the courts across Kerala.  Judiciary, right up to the Supreme Court has not, so far, shown any inclination to protect the people’s right to know and the media’s right to report what is happening in the courts. When the Judiciary is unable to deal with the hooliganism of a few lawyers, will it be able to stand up to the might of Union Government and protect the guaranteed freedoms? I would love to remain optimistic, at least for the sake of democracy.

 I am not as sure about the media as a whole standing up in solidarity with NDTV India, in this critical hour. Ideally, I would like to see the entire news media going off the air on November 9th in solidarity with NDTV India. Jointly going off the air is the best way to inform the Executive that any attack on the freedom of media will be resisted, jointly.  However, the compromised corporate ownership and selfie-journalism may prevent the media, to take such a principled stand on November 9th.

If the judiciary and media are not able to live up to the expectations, we the people of India will have to intervene and play an important role. After all, when the freedom to report is curtailed it is our right to know what is going on, is affected. If the media’s powers are curtailed today, it will not be too long before our civil rights are also attacked. The ‘Emergency’ is merely a term that indicates certain situation. Even without the use of the term ‘emergency’ we might end up in an emergency like situation, if we do not strive safeguard our own constitutional rights.

Let us, the people of India, stand in solidarity with the right to report, right to fair trial, and right to justice, and boycott all Television News Channels for a day on November 9th.  Let this boycott be a message to both the executive and the media that 2016 is not 1976 and emergency like measures will not be tolerated, anymore. Let us think above our political differences and affiliations, and take a united stand against arbitrary decisions that affect our fundamental rights.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Soldiers Are Great; We Too Must Get our Share of Votes/TRP/Patriotism!

            A classic Malayalam story about a great writer Kunchan Nambiar, who created the satirical art form of Ottamthullal goes like this. One day, Kunchan Nambiar accompanied the King, along with other courtiers, to see a newly installed lamppost at a temple. The King asked everyone to comment on the beauty of the lamppost. Everyone tried their creative best, and managed to get prizes from the King. Nambiar remained silent. Finally, the King asked Nambiar why he is not saying anything despite him being one of the best poets around.  Nambiar is said to have replied poetically, “Deepasthambam Mahaascharyam, Namukkum Kittanam Panam.” My crude translation would be, “The lamppost is wonderful; I too must get some money” (effectively lampooning his fellow courtiers). The story says, Nambiar managed to get the best prize from the King!
            When I read the scores of messages appearing on Whatsup, Twitter, and Facebook, extolling the virtues of Indian soldiers, I am always reminded of the famous retort of Nambiar. Praising soldiers has become an easy way to get one’s patriotism displayed in public, get more votes, get more TRPs, and get more sales in today’s India. Another convenience is that it puts all other Indians, psychologically, under a lot of stress to share/ agree/ like/ desist from questioning those posts and comments. Anyone daring to raise a finger against, can be easily put down as anti-nationals!
            I understand the behavior of common people, as the cheapest and easiest way for them to exhibit their patriotism is to praise soldiers. One doesn’t have to suffer any cost or pain but can effectively feel happy that one is a patriotic Indian. I can also understand the behavior of the TV channels that demonized the veterans who were at Jantar Mantar, asking for their promised dues under One Rank One Pension (OROP) and then brand all those who question soldiers as anti-national. For those TV channels, the morality is defined by the political affiliations of their owners and the TRP hunting instincts! But, how about the Government?
            How does a Government headed by a party that was too quick to begin felicitations of their leaders and putting up of larger than life Flux Boards, to take credit for an operation conducted by the soldiers behave otherwise, towards the soldiers? I must say the double standards are only too obvious!
            The same Govt that now seeks to bask in the glory of our soldiers were the ones that sent police forces to physically attack the veterans who were agitating against the cheating in the name of OROP. The supporters of the Govt did not spare any effort to blacken the faces of the veterans, throughout the social media!
            Look at the implementation of the 7th Central Pay Commission recommendations. All other employees of the Central Government have received their enhanced salaries and arrears under the 7th CPC. Not so for our poor soldiers, who are still waiting! The reasons is that the Chiefs of the armed forces are unwilling or unable to accept the anti-soldier recommendations of the 7th CPC!
            What irony that it was on the very next day of the now famous surgical strikes that the Central Government issued notification for reducing the disability pension benefits enjoyed by the soldiers who lost their health due to extreme service conditions!
            Perhaps such an attitude of the Government can be understood in the light of certain comments from the top leaders. The Prime Minister of the country is only record that the traders in this country have to bear more risks than our soldiers!  The Defense Minister openly stated (in the aftermath of the surgical strikes) that Indian Army did not know its strengths until he came and made them realize!  The Defense Minister compared Indian Army with Hanuman, to drive home the point. Can anyone be more insulting to an Army that had conducted many a glorious operations, including winning wars and creating a new country? With such attitudes from the PM and DM, the treatment of the soldiers is, perhaps, not so surprising.
            Why spent money on soldiers, when we can do a better PR by a loud salute and a couple of Whatsup messages!
Deepasthambam Mahaascharyam, Namukkum Kittanam Panam.”

P.S: This writer is a pensioner who has put in two decades of service in the Indian Air Force and, hence, has pecuniary interest in the subject matter. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

GST Bill and the Level of Misinformation

            Based on what transpired in the so-called exclusive interview of the Prime Minister of India by the Editor of Times Now channel, Mr. Arnab Goswamy, the @PMOIndia tweeted as follows:


With 2,928 Likes and 1,327 retweets the message about the PM’s concern for the poor reached a large audience. Obviously, the readers of this tweet would also blame ‘those in the Rajya sabha’ (read the opposition, especially the Congress party) for their lack of concern for the poor and the GST.

            I was taken aback by this hypocrisy from a man, who is holding the highest office in the Government. I wanted to respond and highlight the hypocrisy. So, I decided to confront both @PMOIndia and the @TimesNow, which had failed to ask any relevant follow up questions on such an assertion by the interviewee.  I devised two Twitter Polls, using direct quotes from Mr. Narendra Modi. Anyone who kept a tag on the developments of GST legislation would know that the quotes are attributable to Mr. Modi. My aim was, therefore, not a poll, but merely highlighting the complete U-turn from the Prime Minister.

            The first poll asked the question:

170 people were kind enough to respond, to this poll. Out of the170 responses 80% were correct in saying that it was Mr. Narendra Modi who had said the words, “Aap ki GST sapna sakaar nahi ho sakta.” Surprisingly, there were another 14% who thought it was Mr. Rahul Gandhi who had said these words. Another 6% attributed the statement to Mr. Manmohan Singh or Mr. Chidambaram who were the architects of GST legislation, in the first place!

            The second poll asked:

This poll received only 56 responses. 75% of those who responded rightly said, it was Mr. Narendra Modi who had resorted to such a negative stand on the GST, even though now he claims not passing of it is such an injustice to the poor of this country! Once again, 21% of the responses attributed the statement to Mr. Rahul Gandhi (remaining 4% saying it was Mr. Chidambaram who said it).

            The poll results made it obvious that there is still a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding on the respective roles played by the Congress and BJP, on the GST issue. The 14% and 21% of the responses claiming it was Mr. Rahul Gandhi who expressed such a negative attitude towards the GST legislation has not cared to look at his and his party’s stand on the issue.

            Mr. Rahul Gandhi is on record that they are ready to cooperate with the government to get the GST Bill passed. He said, ‘Hum yeh nahi chahte hai ki ghareeb log ka upar tax na lage. Our, hum uske upar ek chhath si lagaana chahte hai,” referring to the Congress party’s demand for mentioning a cap on the rates at which tax can be imposed on goods and services. He continued, “Tho yeh faraq hai, magar hum GST lanaa chahte hai, our pass karana chahte hai.”

            Congress party has also made its reservations on the proposed GST BIll clear in their Dissent Note given to the Rajya Sabha’s Select Committee on the GST Bill. They have cited eight specific objections to the latest version of the GST draft Bill (You may refer this post for more details on the objections). These have come down to just three contentious issues, which a responsive government can address in no time. The three remaining issues are a cap on the rate that can be imposed in future, mechanism for dispute resolution between states or states and the Centre, and additional 1% levy by manufacturing states. Modi Govt has not chosen to be responsive to the demands. Instead, the Govt has decided to continue the attitude of confrontation with the opposition and refuse to even introduce the GST Bill in the Rajyasabha.

            I am not sure, when blaming the members of the Rajyasabha, Mr. Modi also meant Mr. Subramanian Swamy, whom he had recently got inducted into the Rajyasabha! Mr. Swamy had tweeted, “As an economist I say GST not worth the time spent to get it passed in RS.” Just because he is an economist, would Mr. Swamy want to continue ‘the injustice to the poor’ forever?

            The Government and Prime Minister can be a bit more sincere and truthful in presenting the facts and views on important matters like Constitutional amendments and tax reforms.

The Congress Party should also introspect on their communication strategy and see why a significant portion of the population (going by the results of these limited polls) continue to believe that it is Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, who are the stumbling blocks to the introduction of GST!

Note: All the quotes used in this post can be seen and heard in a short video on the subject. I express my thanks to Mr. Gaurav Pandhi, for sharing this video.    

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Time to Revisit the Aided Schools of Kerala?

The new LDF Government in Kerala has an immediate challenge in finding a politically and legally tenable solution in the raging controversy regarding the closing of aided schools that are classified as not viable. The managers of certain schools have approached the High Court, seeking permission to close down their schools. The immediate motive for these managers is alleged to be freeing their valuable real estate so that it can be utilized for more profitable ventures than non-viable schools. The High Court has ordered the closure of some of those schools. An appeal to Supreme Court, by the state Government, did not succeed for technical reasons.
Some schools have already been closed down. More schools are in line for the closure. The situation offers an opportunity for revisiting the aided schools system prevailing in the state of Kerala.
In the distant past, the so-called private schools were established by individuals who were interested in serving the people through promoting education. Their successors inherited those schools, but not necessarily the same noble motives. The multiple divisions of the family properties have also left many of those managers, not anywhere near as rich as their illustrious ancestors.
As long as sufficient students were being enrolled in those schools, the managers could keep appointing teachers from time to time. It is an open secret that the teachers are appointed in aided schools by taking a lot of black money (often running into multiple millions). The teachers are paid by the government so that there is no burden on the management. The government also pays (negligible) grants for maintenance of these schools. However, the main attraction remains the black money received against the appointment of new teachers.
When a school is classified as non-viable, for want of students, the ability of the managers to appoint new teachers comes to an end. The grant from government also reduces as per the fall in the number of students, forcing the managers to spend money from their pockets for the upkeep and maintenance of the schools. Not many individual managers have the resources or willingness to fund such schools. Not spending money on maintenance leads to poor infrastructure at these schools. With the advent of so many CBSE and English medium schools around, any possibility of these aided schools turning viable is also feeble. Under the circumstances, it is only natural that the management will seek an exit from such unviable schools. It is also against the principles of natural justice and logic to compel someone, to continue a venture (howsoever noble it might be), forever, despite incurring financial losses. Any economic activity calls for an exit if the objectives are not met.
The objections to the closure of such schools are manifold. Some are emotional, with people not liking the closing down of the so-called temples of knowledge. Many people are nostalgic about these schools where many of their generations have received the basic education.  However, we cannot force someone else to bear the costs for the benefit of our nostalgia and emotions, right?
Another argument relates to the right to education and future of the students who are currently studying in those schools. This argument is also illogical since the right to education does not extend to be educated in any particular school. Perhaps it might do wonders to the students, to shift from one school to another, at least once. It is better for the personality development of those children, to move to schools where there are at least 20-25 students in a class. Having to interact only with 4 or 5 students throughout their schooling will not do any good for the children, socially.
Third reason is nothing but jealousy that the management will benefit from the closure of schools. There is nothing wrong if the individual managers get benefitted from freeing of real estate, which is their property in the first place.  The political leaders and local trouble makers also try to fish in the troubled waters!
Fourth argument is that the education is not a for-profit business.  Fine, but can we ignore the fact that these managements are not charitable trusts, either? Even if not profitable, shouldn’t these institutions be at least self-sufficient? Can we force charity upon individual owners, unlike not-for profit organizations?
There are attempts at the government level to amend the laws and empower themselves to take over such schools. I am not sure if such a step will be a prudent one. Many government-owned schools are similarly not viable, and facing the threat of closure. There is nothing to suggest that a mere takeover by the government will turn unviable schools into viable ones. The viability of a school depends on many factors including availability of other schools, perceived, rightly or wrongly, as better ones. We have to note that the enthusiastic support that protests against the closure of schools receive does not turn into more admissions to those schools.  Most likely, even those agitating for the continuance of the schools are not sending their children to those schools!
To conclude, let me state my recommendations for dealing with the situation:
1.    The responsibility to impart education for all should be on the government and not individuals, even if they happen to be managers of aided schools.
2.    The right to exit must be fundamental to any ventures including schools.
3.    The government should contemplate taking over only those schools that have the potential to be turned around. Taking over schools for emotional or political reasons will only increase the financial burden on the government, with no corresponding benefit to anybody.
4.    The government must ensure that the students are protected from the ill effects of any closure of schools by ensuring their timely transfer to other schools in the vicinity. Even financial assistance and scholarship can be considered for the help of these students.
5.    The government should pay salaries to only those teachers who are appointed by the Public Service Commission.
6.    The management may continue to appoint teachers provided they are willing to pay the salary to those appointed by them. Those who are not willing to abide by these conditions of appointment should be allowed to exit.
7.    The education is currently a for- profit business for many communal and profit-minded organizations and individuals. The schools should be converted into genuine not-for-profit activity.
8.    The government must ensure that schools with less than a stipulated number of students for a stipulated number of years should be merged with nearest schools. Unless there are sound and compelling reasons, classes should not be allowed to run with less than 10 -15 students.
Let the law and reason prevail in public education!

Post Script: 

The Government has taken the decision to acquire four such schools. According to the news reports there are over 3500 such schools. If a large number of those schools demand similar acquisition, the financial burden on the government is going to be enormous. See the picture below. 

This is a report (Mathrubhumi, 09.06.2016) about 16 students of a school celebrating the news of their school's take over by the government. For 16 students in a UP school (average 5 students in a division) will the government incur the expenses of acquiring and maintaining a school?  Why not bear the expenses of sending these 16 students to some other schools as compensation for the closure? Acquiring the land and buildings, and continuing a school is more like protecting the interest of the teachers rather than the students!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

One Kerala, Two Tragic Deaths…

Today’s newspaper brought the news of two tragic deaths;
Jisha of Perumbavoor, Lineesh of Narippatta near Nadapuram

Another Soumya, Nirbhaya; yet another female victim of
The male chauvinism, sexual perversion, caste system, and what else!
Social conscience of Kerala is awaken
Postmortem is going in the media debates, as to who all are responsible!
Must find out, must punish, but would that suffice?

Why did we leave Jisha to live in a single room house that offered no protection from the predators?
Until her tragic end, nah, until she became a news,
Where were we, all the cultural talking heads, and the powers that be?
Why couldn’t we find the most deserving family of Jisha and offer help, while she was still alive?
Civil servants, politicians, organizations, innumerous social workers…
No one saw the tragic life? A solution?

Outraging in death is much easier than seeking a living solution
Jishas and Nirbhayas will continue to be attacked in this imperfect world;
Society can ensure a good night’s sleep by, at least, ensuring ‘justice’ to the victims!
No life will come back, but at least a semblance of vengeance!
While at it, we can also try and seek a few extra votes and some TRP.

Had a house, not a women, not a dalit
Yet, killed in his thirty-forth year!
Was making bombs with his comrades in arms!
The bomb blasted a little too early, taking the maker’s own life!

Why the bombs, while in elections?
For what? For whom? Shouldn’t we know?
Shouldn’t we find the responsible persons? Punish them?
Or should we merely etch Lineesh as yet another martyr, on a tombstone?
I see no postmortem, no outrage….Only a deafening silence, all across!
Don’t we need a living solution, here too?
Shouldn’t we end this political violence and bomb culture?

Sexual perverts and psychotic killers will always be there
We can at least build a house and try to protect Jishas from them
What about those political leaders- lusting for power, willing to kill?
Shouldn’t we save Lineeshs, democracy, and our society from them?

Let each life live its full course!

P.S: Subsequently, got to read the news reports that Kerala Government has already given Jisha's family financial assistance of Rs 3.75 lakhs to buy a plot of 5 cents land and Rs 3 lakhs to construct a house therein. Notwithstanding the unfortunate end of Jisha, how many state governments in India would be able to claim such a noble deed?!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ishrat Jahan – What is the Real Issue?

Ishrat Jahan refuses to rest in peace! For one or other reason, she keeps coming back to haunt the Indian judicial system and the ruling establishment.  The latest round stems from the so called revelations by a convicted terrorist, David Headly that Ishrat was a terrorist belonging to the Laskar e Taiba group, and the revelations by former Home Secretary and reportedly a current Director of Adani Group, Mr. GK Pillai that the affidavit on Ishrat Jahan was changed as per a decisions taken at the political level.

            I am not competent to assert whether Ishrat was indeed a terrorist or not, in the absence of any evidence on either side. Nor is it the subject of this post. In this post, I would like to discuss what I consider as the real issue in the controversy relating to the killing of Ishrat Jahan by the Gujarat Police.

            The real issue is, even if Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist, out on a mission to kill the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi, would her killing be justified? The answer depends on whether the encounter itself is genuine or fake. The only judicial scrutiny of the encounter, so far, was conducted by the Metropolitan Magistrate of Ahmedabad, way back in the year 2009. A 243 pages report by the Metropolitan Magistrate had clearly established that the encounter was a fake one. According to the news reports, the magisterial report stated, "Ishrat was innocent and was killed only because she was a Muslim and fitted the Gujarat Police's idea of a terrorist."  

            Pardon this slight digression, but it is not out of place to mention that the Gujarat Police’s “idea of a terrorist” and the style of terror investigations could not stand the test of judicial scrutiny by the Supreme Court, in the infamous Akshardham temple terror case, as well. In a significant judgment that was ignored by the media (which was in love with the then sensation Narendra Modi and his Gujarat Model), the apex court concluded that the case “would go to show clear non-application of mind by the Home Minister in granting sanction.” The then Home Minister in question was none other than Mr. Narendra Modi and his ‘non-application of mind’ (or was it a clever application of criminal mind?) and the ensuing fake inquiry led to the concurrent judgments of the POTA Court and Gujarat High Court, awarding, inter alia, death penalty to three persons and life imprisonment / rigorous imprisonment to the remaining three! All six accused persons were acquitted by the Supreme Court, and that included one accused who did not appeal as he has already completed the sentence while others have spent more than ten years in jail. But for the apex court’s intervention, those three innocents would have been executed in what some Indian would surely consider as judicial killings (For a more detailed analysis of the judgement, you may read my posts Counter-Terrorism - POTA Style and Supreme Court Verdict in Akshardham Terror Case- Some Thoughts).

            From the Akshardham judgement, it is clear what Gujarat Police and the then Home Minister were capable of doing, to project an effective and successful anti-terror image! Be that as it may, if the Ishrat and her companions were indeed Lashkar terrorists, what should a responsible police do? Shouldn’t they catch them alive, interrogate, and find out the larger network of terror? Why should they eliminate the terrorists and lose possible critical intelligence? If the police chose to eliminate the suspected persons in a fake encounter, as evident from the Magisterial report and subsequent CBI charge sheet, there is no doubt the action was not in the national interest, though it might be in the interest of a Chief Minster with ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister!

            The larger point pertains to the fairness of the system. No court has ever declared Ishrat Jahan, a terrorist, or even an absconder. Even if she had indulged in terrorist activities, as being suggested now by David Headly and Mr. Pillai (howsoever suspected their motives in making those statements might be), the Indian Constitution guarantees a fair trial before a court of law. Under no circumstances can the police or political leadership be allowed to accuse and eliminate a person, without a fair trial.  If we draw a parallel to the present times, we can easily observe that the Narendra Modi regime has not learned any lessons. Look at the manner in which the President of the students union of JNU was accused of sedition, arrested, and then allowed to be physically beaten up by the criminal elements wearing the robe of lawyers! The judicial system must protect the citizens from the highhandedness of the police and the rulers. Ishrat Jahan was also a victim of such highhandedness.

It is disheartening to note that some of the responsible elements of our society are projecting a line of argument that justifies Ishrat’s killing on the ground that she was a suspected terrorist!  As if suspected terrorists can be murdered at will! Same as in, suspected seditionists can be lynched by any group in robes of lawyers or lawless patriots!

I clarify, I am not denying the instances where it might be necessary to eliminate terrorists while engaged in gun battles or other operations. However, based on the information available as of now Ishrat case does not fall into such genuine operations.

 To conclude, in my opinion, the only pertinent issue is whether Ishrat Jahan was murdered in a fake encounter or not. In answering that issue, whether she was a terror suspect or not is immaterial. If it indeed was a fake encounter, as suggested by both the magisterial inquiry and CBI charge sheet, the killers must be punished according to the law of the land! 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

To Talk, or Not to Talk? That is the Question!

The diplomacy between India and Pakistan stands reduced to a simple question. To talk, or not to talk? There are any number of talks, just to decide whether to talk or not. Perhaps, no other subject has consumed so much debating time of the so called national news channels of Indian television?

The issue is really complicated. Talking with Pakistan can be perceived as a sign of the weakness of an Indian Prime Minister. The entire media could be at your throats, accusing you of selling out nation’s pride and interests. Ask Dr. Manmohan Singh! Trying to talk with Pakistan can also become a sign of strength for a Prime Minister, at least in the eyes of the committed bhakts. When I say Bhakts that include the modified media. Ask Mr. Modi!

Even the supporters of talk, or the ‘Aman ki Asha’ can become heroes or traitors, depending on the climate in Delhi durbars.

The current Prime Minister is well aware of the situation as he was an expert on how to deal with Pakistan, until he became the Prime Minister. Mr. Modi had thrilled his support base by his ‘Pakistan ko uni ke basha mein samjhayein’ (Make Pakistan understand in its own language) type dialogues. How his tweets that highlighted the weakness of his predecessor had induced many a virat dream of a defeated Pakistan, among his bhakts!

That leads to the question why Mr. Modi suddenly became very fond of visits and talks. I am not privy to which language Mr. Modi uses during his interactions with Pakistan, be it talking to its Prime Minister, gifting sarees, or touching the feet of the family members of Nawas Sheriff. Whether it is ‘uni ki basha’ or ‘khud ki bhasha’ I am all for the talks and such niceties between the immediate neighbors.  His bhakts who used to object any attempt by his predecessors would surely close their eyes when he is the one making the attempt- be it fuel price increase, GST, or even talk with Pakistan. Let us not even count those jholawallahs who suggest promotion of some of the crony businesses with Pakistan as the real reason for the sudden change! That means, only those who are scared of the possibility of Mr. Modi getting a Nobel Prize for Peace are left, to object to his visit and talks. What if a Nobel Prize for Peace finally manages, perhaps, to clean his image from the stains of 2002?

My apologies for drifting away from the subject of this post. Yes, the question is to talk, or not to talk! The question is not as simple as it might look. It is complicated by many factors. Firstly, whenever you want to talk to Pakistan, you need to live with the fact that Pakistan had not acted on Mumbai terror attack or on harboring India’s most wanted terrorists and underworld dons. Unlike in the past, a Modi cannot even be expected to write ‘love letters’ on these issues, to Pakistan. Secondly, you also know that Pakistan is either not willing, or not capable of acting on the demands related to Mumbai attack or Indian fugitives, for various reasons. Thirdly, you never know who will ultimately call the shots in Pakistan. So long as it was under the Military rule, matters were relatively simple. With the democratic governments in Pakistan, one never knows where the real power is located. Last but not the least, you also know any attempt to talk will coincide with renewed attacks across the border, either in the form of ceasefire violations at the Line of Control or terror attacks inside the Indian territories. All these factors make it much safer for any Prime Minister, just to procrastinate and refuse to answer the question.

All the factors that usually affect the Indo-Pak talks remained the same. Only Mr. Modi’s willingness to take the initiative changed. Modi even dared to do an unscheduled stopover at Lahore in a show of exemplary neighborly relations. Apparently, the newfound friendship among neighbors changed nothing on the ground. Even as Modi was walking at Lahore, holding hands with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Pakistan based terrorists were crossing the border to carry out another attack in India. Everyone, except the incorrigible optimists, had expected some terror or ceasefire violation as a result of the renewed attempt at talks. In fact, if anyone had gone ahead with the attempts to talk, without considering such possibilities then the only conclusion is that they are grossly ill-suited for the job!

Pathankot airbase attack happened. This time it was not on the hapless civilians of an unsuspecting Mumbai, but one of the critical establishments of the armed forces of India that the terrorists chose to attack. The advanced information received (an act of providence or stupidity of terrorists) and the bungling that followed (with some ‘unfortunate’ deaths) are well known. To stick to the subject, as predictable as it can get, the clamor to discontinue the proposed talks with Pakistan became shrill.

There are indications that the proposed talks at the level of Foreign Secretaries might be affected by the Pathankot attack.  Even the official statements from the Indian side gives such an impression. This situation is despite the fact that everyone knew all along that the terrorists and their handlers would try to stall the talks by carrying out more terror attacks.  So, where does that leave our question, to talk or not to talk?

To my mind, there are only two ways to go ahead with any talks with Pakistan. The first is to ensure that no cross-border terror attempt succeeds in India, but that would require a much better response than what we saw in Pathankot. The second way is to continue with the talks, irrespective of any terror attack. Not sure how palatable that will be, politically, but refusing to discontinue the talks will remove the motivation for carrying out more terror attacks.  If the terror attacks are carried out to stall the peace talks, then the logic suggests that we do not oblige the terrorists by discontinuing the talks!

Will Mr. Modi continue talking to Pakistan, despite Pathankot? Will he wait for the terrorists in Pakistan to stop targeting India, before initiating any further talks?  Will he ensure measures to prevent any repeat of Pathankot type attacks in future, despite any or no progress in the talks with Pakistan? Will someone from the Indian Government let the nation know what is in its (or more importantly, in his) mind?

Only one thing is clear… is futile to initiate talks, only to stall them as soon as the terrorists demand it ‘uni ki basha mein.’

P.S.: I have deliberately ignored the question, whether we can stop the cross-border terror by merely agreeing not to talk any more!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Social media’s love for dead soldiers!

Whenever a soldier gets killed in action, it is action time for the social media, with tweets and Facebook posts flying all around.  Everyone salutes the dead, and displays the tearful pictures of their near and dear ones. Some people are explicit about their motive- they demand RTs and likes! If you don't do it, you are not a patriot!

Some others take it as an opportunity, to showcase their patriotism. After all, they will not go and serve the armed forces. Nor will they send their children to serve in the armed forces. It is always for someone else’s children to go and die, protecting the mother land. Wasn’t it a soldier who coined the saying about firing from another person’s shoulders?

Why bother about such thoughts that perhaps a soldier’s pride is not in getting killed for his country, but in eliminating the country’s enemies without getting killed. A military leader had apparently shouted at his men- “I don’t want anyone willing to die for the country. I want only those who are willing to kill for the country.”

None of the patriots are as kind, to the survivors of actions and wars. The survivors are mostly a nuisance. They call themselves veterans. They demand higher pay and allowances. They demand respect from civilians. They demand One Rank One Pension. They even go on Dharna at Jantar Mantar against ‘our Government.’ They bore us by recounting their action stories, for years to come!

Above all, what a shame, they even failed to die for the country!