The central hysteria behind Central Vista

Safety and functionality dictate the need for a new Parliament building. It is simply de rigeur to oppose anything that Prime Minister (PM) Modi says or does, no matter what its merits, nor the logic or rationale behind it, and even if you have to contradict your own earlier stand on the subject.

The resistance to the national Capital’s Central Vista redevelopment project by the anti-Narendra Modi galère exemplifies a key feature of Opposition politics and activism of the current era. It is simply de rigeur to oppose anything that Prime Minister (PM) Modi says or does, no matter what its merits, nor the logic or rationale behind it, and even if you have to contradict your own earlier stand on the subject.

This has come to be the norm for several years among a certain category of Left-liberals, bereft of their decades-long grip on the levers of government. Even the last remaining Opposition members who had thus far at least attempted to sound reasonable, have now joined the mindless Modi-bashing clique over the Central Vista project.

First, however, it is useful to examine the backdrop of the project. All through my 19 years in Parliament, I would see the many glaring safety deficits of the complex and wonder when tragedy would hit. Apart from safety and security concerns, it is also blindingly obvious that the complex is simply unsuitable for the functioning of any modern Parliament, let alone that of the largest democracy the world has ever seen.

To take just one eye-popping example, this pre-Independence complex does not have offices for its members. Sure, there are a few rooms for ministers and committee chairpersons, but well over 90% of Members of Parliament (MPs) have no place to work from, let alone workspace for assistants. This is in stark contrast to all modern democracies, where legislators have offices for themselves and their often large teams, including highly qualified professionals. On each of the dozens of MP delegations I have led to other nations, every single one of my colleagues has commented on this aspect.

Just three years ago, many among the Opposition complained about the lack of adequate space and individual rooms for MPs in the Indian Parliament. Even Speaker Meira Kumar had accorded approval for the need to build a new Parliament building.

A big reason for our Parliament’s shortcomings was that it was not intended by the colonial rulers to be a full-fledged temple of democracy, but was rather a begrudging concession to the nationalist movement. Which is why additions had to be constructed in recent decades to accommodate pressing needs, such as the large Parliament Annexe complex, and the new Parliament library. In any event, the redevelopment of the Central Vista will preserve the grand colonial Parliament building as a symbol of our heritage.

However, now the Opposition has been running a targeted campaign against the Central Vista redevelopment, resorting to logical fallacies such as claiming that funds allocated for the project should have been used for payment of the minimum support prices (MSP) for grains, for which some farmers have been agitating. Such false analogies seek to push disinformation about alleged waste during the pandemic. The two issues are not connected and, in fact, the Modi government has been ensuring MSP payment with unprecedented alacrity.

The reality is that funds have not been a constraint in tackling the Covid-19 crisis; the expenditure on the Central Vista during this period is only a small fraction of the project cost; and the thousands of direct and indirect jobs generated is exactly why public construction projects are needed in the current economic situation. It is for good reason that the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court described it as an “essential project of national importance” and dismissed pleas against it as “motivated” and “selective”.

Some Opposition members make a concession to the need for offices for MPs, but their other demands are telling. For instance, couched in logic about the age and aesthetics of the buildings, without taking into account the overall design, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor recently opposed the planned demolition of Jawahar Bhavan, while saying he has no such compunction about the similar fate of Shastri Bhavan. Of course, the subtext of such preferences is no mystery to any observer of the Congress “darbari” culture, but, in this particular case, there is a much deeper angst among some about this project.

In their claim that no one was consulted and falsely alleging that the expert opinion of architects and environmentalists has not been sought, the Opposition betrays the still scathing heartache of a dispossessed elite. It fits the classic analysis by Thomas Sowell, the nonagenarian doyen among western conservatives, that liberalism has decayed into doctrinal authoritarianism by an elite class of “the anointed”.

These self-appointed elites, who consider themselves the moral, social and aesthetic high priests of society, cannot conceive that the hoi polloi might actually know what is good for themselves and for society.

It is thus entirely understandable that “the anointed” among the Congress party believe that the native Modi’s marginalisation of the Lutyens’ elite will merely be a symbol of “governmentalism” and “not any great architecture of 21st century India”.

They couldn’t be more wrong. All they have to do is compare the Parliament Annexe, a legacy of the Lutyens’ elite at the height of the Congress’s power, and a true symbol of their banal imagination, with the stunningly aesthetic Ahmedabad river front redevelopment by then chief minister Modi.

Farm stir: Latest attempt to stop Modi’s reforms

Through the 1990s, economic reforms became the catch-phrase in India, after the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao departed from the socialist policies of his predecessors in the Congress and initiated privatisation. As India’s story changed from the licence raj to a hopeful nation, economic reforms earned greater currency among large sections of society. Since then, there is, by and large, a certain consensus among the majority in India that markets need to be free and open for reducing poverty and generating inclusive growth.

Yet, this common sense is abandoned by the Opposition as and when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — a party ideologically known for competitive markets — proposes or initiates economic reforms. Take for example, the ongoing farmers’ protests, which were fuelled and mobilised by the Opposition in Punjab against the new reforms in agriculture — the three laws introduced by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in September.

Several surveys have shown that the majority in the country support the implementation of the new farm laws and view the farmers’ protest unfavourably. The endorsement for the new legislation is strong in agrarian states, especially Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Most farmers are pleased to have the choice to sell their produce outside Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, and are hopeful that they will get better prices under the new laws.

Except for the Congress-ruled Punjab, there is a strong view among the farmers across the country that the agitators should not be part of partisan politics and wind down the agitation, especially since there is an assurance by the government on Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), one of the key demands of the protesters. Even noted economists like Swaminathan Aiyar, Gurcharan Das and others have come out in support of the farm laws, but the Opposition, led by the Congress, continues to ignite the ongoing farmers’ agitation with its dissimulation.

Since its rout six years ago, the Congress has moved far to the Left in its political rhetoric and economic outlook to undermine the government’s progressive policies. However, only those unfamiliar with history would fail to notice its cognitive dissonance when it champions Indira Gandhi’s socialism to attack Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, but gloats about the economic reforms initiated under another Congress government.

On the new farm reforms in particular, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was so convinced about their requirement that in 2013, a committee it set up recommended the Agricultural Produce Inter-State Trade and Commerce (Development & Regulation) Bill for barrier-free markets.

A year later, even the self-declared messiah of the poor in India, Rahul Gandhi, was of the view that food prices should be determined by the market and MSPs should be used to provide only a lower level of support. In its 2019 manifesto, the Congress promised to repeal the APMC Act and make trade in agriculture produce, including export and inter-state trade, free from restrictions.

Now that the NDA did exactly what the UPA or any reasonable government would have done to expand the scope of trade areas of farmers’ produce and provide a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts with buyers, the Congress is disparaging the move. The perfidy of the Congress on its own policies for the sake of politics is not new. It is yet to acknowledge that the economic growth that India experienced during the earlier years of the UPA government a decade ago, was a consequence of the reforms initiated by the preceding Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. True to its tradition, it not only shuts its eyes towards the reforms that Modi has introduced in the last six years, but viciously opposes them out of a misguided sense of renewing itself through such activism.

Be that as it may, the fact is the Modi government brought in the bankruptcy law, Goods and Services Tax, Public Sector Bank consolidation, Foreign Direct Investment relaxations and now the farm reforms which will put India on a trajectory of not just competitiveness but also reduce the nation’s unnecessary dependence on foreign countries. Socio-economic schemes like Jan Dhan, Ujjwala, Ayushmann Bharat and PM Awas Yojana have been game-changers on the ground, which the voters acknowledged by giving an exceptional mandate to Modi for a second term in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

In many ways, Modi’s political audacity and economic vision resemble that of the United Kingdom’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan who during their own respective terms, faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms. Like Thatcher and Reagan, Modi, through his reforms, threatens the established structures and entrenched vested interests in both public and private sector. Although others see similar parallels with Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who undid Mao’s ruinous policies, the big difference is that it is much more difficult to bring about such momentous changes in democracies.

The Opposition may continue denigrating Modi but millions in India see in him a rare determination and willingness to take risks and cleanse the rot. Indians see in him, someone who is capable of taking decisions that he and Indians collectively believe will put India on an irreversible path of progress and self-sufficiency.

Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda is vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and a former Member of Parliament

The views expressed are personal


Eradication of malnutrition likely to happen sooner than projected

India is today one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and on a clear trajectory of becoming the world’s third largest in the foreseeable future.

As the saying goes, with great opportunities come great challenges. One such challenge is ensuring that this growth reaches and benefits everyone, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid. Another major challenge is that of malnutrition. Though malnutrition has been witnessing a drop in India, it has not kept pace with economic development. Eradication of malnutrition is one of the priority areas of the Narendra Modi government.

This pandemic has revealed the need for what the PM has been calling to attention for years—a much more focus on public hygiene through the Swachh Bharat campaign. Along with it is the need to make sure no one sleeps hungry at times like these, and this led to the government introducing Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. Around 80 crore people have been covered under this currently, receiving highly subsidised food grains. Both these programmes, along with many others, have a common end goal, and that is the eradication of malnutrition.

While it may appear that hygiene may not have much to do with combating malnutrition, it is important to understand that malnutrition isn’t just the result of inadequate food intake, but also caused due to infections resulting from unhygienic drinking water, poor sanitation, and lack of access to healthcare.

Fighting malnutrition is one of the key priorities of the present government. Various schemes have been initiated by combined ministries of women & child development (MoWCD), and health & family welfare” (MoHFW).

The MoWCD, in association with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Deendayal Research Institute, is developing a POSHAN atlas under POSHAN Abhiyan which is PM Modi’s multi-ministerial convergence mission with the vision to ensure the attainment of malnutrition-free India by 2022. It focuses on nutrition of children, women, and pregnant mothers in impoverished areas, and the government appears to be looking at community level management of the problem. The key focus is to combat SAM (severe acute malnutrition), which is a major culprit behind deaths of children under five years of age. ‘POSHAN Maah 2020’ was dedicated to identification and management of SAM children using a granular community-based approach.

Addressing factors such as lack of mothers’ knowledge and inappropriate feeding practices, and the social and economic policies, is key in efforts to reduce infant malnutrition. Research has also proven how MGNREGA was associated with reduced infant malnutrition possibly mediated indirectly via improved birth weight rather than by improved infant feeding.

The government, in cognizance of this fact, has announced allocation of Rs 40,000 crore to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) over and above the budgetary allocation of Rs 61,500 crore.

On World Food Day, (a fortnight ago), the PM released 17 bio-fortified varieties of eight crops which can increase the nutritional value of food staples several folds. The rice variety CR DHAN 315 has excess zinc, the wheat variety HD 3298 is enriched with protein and iron while DBW 303 and DDW 48 are rich in protein and iron.

For the subsidised food grain part, the government has focused heavily on reforming the Public Distribution Service—the world’s largest safety net of its kind—using new technologies. The government has digitised 230 million ration cards and nearly 30 million fake and duplicate ration cards have been cancelled.

Data suggests that the cost of treating malnutrition is 27 times more than the cost of its prevention. So, the Modi government is bringing in various reforms to mitigate the effects of malnutrition which in due course will lead to its eradication. In fact, the ministry of women and child development, in consultation with relevant ministries and stakeholders, is working on a new set of guidelines for tackling malnutrition under the Poshan Abhiyan programme for the states to follow.

Among reforms, one worth mentioning will be the recent farm bills which also forms an important part in the fight against malnutrition, which the opposition is vehemently opposing at all levels. Even though India presently is a food surplus state, it does not necessarily translate to preventing hunger. So, access to poor people had to be addressed and this bill exactly does the same. The farmers now need not go through the traditional APMC mandis so sell their produce.

This removal of restriction will allow the produces to be more accessible, thereby providing better options for consumers and better prices for farmers which will translate into adequate remuneration, which is one of the primary needs in eliminating poverty.

As a Member of Parliament over nearly two decades, on various occasions and platforms, I have been outspoken about the malnutrition problem in the country. Along with several fellow parliamentarians and other influential personalities, we formed a high-level advocacy group known as The Citizens’ Alliance against Malnutrition (CAAM). The goal of the alliance was to raise its voice against malnutrition in the country so that collective national consciousness can be converted into action to address and eliminate the menace of malnutrition.

To address malnutrition among pregnant women, there needs to be regular follow-up, possibly every trimester. Also, after marriage, at the gram sabha level, ASHA workers can provide counselling about how to conceive and the importance of nutrition at the time of pregnancy. There can be folic acid and iron supplementation for better nutrient intake.

Another alternative is Universal Basic Income (UBI), which I have been promoting since my parliamentary days. I have always held that UBI could be more affordable in India than in a high-income nation like the United States or Switzerland.

There are positive changes already visible. Malnutrition in children has seen improvement in the last two fiscal years and has reduced by two per cent per annum, according to a combined survey conducted by UNICEF and the ministry of health. The rate of stunting of children in India fell from 38.4 per cent in 2015-16 to 34.7 per cent in 2017-18. This plunge of two per cent each year is mainly on account of government initiatives. With such positive trends, we can be sure about the eradication of malnutrition much sooner than had been projected just a few years ago.

The writer is the national vice president BJP. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK

Modi’s leadership is evolving, even as his opponents continue to be in a time warp

It is a fact, not just an opinion, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi straddles India’s political firmament like a colossus. This is acknowledged by all, friend and foe, expert or novice. As he begins his 20th year in public life — he took oath as Gujarat’s chief minister for the first time this week 19 years ago — his ascendance and dominance is worth understanding better.

In 1987, when he joined the BJP, he had already made a name for himself as a tireless worker, quick on the uptake, making valuable contributions, and as a charismatic and strategic thinker. Nevertheless, as is all too well known, his debut as Gujarat’s chief minister was to quickly become a trial by fire, the kind few leaders survive.

No politician in independent India has been demonised in such a relentless, Goebbelsian manner as him, and none has withstood it all with such resilience and courage. Despite years of concerted attacks on him by the then-dominant mainstream media, his popularity only grew, his grip on both politics and governance only got firmer.

That ability to go beyond the circumstances in which he found himself has been a crucially important trait since his youth. From going past traditional familial constraints to wandering, exploring, seeking, and discovering his purpose, his is a classic journey that many young idealists fantasise about, but rarely dare to attempt.

The fact that his detractors tried to persistently target him, despite him prevailing in trials in courts and in public opinion, was resented by his support base. That not only helped consolidate his hold over them in the state, but also started the bandwagon of similar support nationwide.

A lesser man might have been content with that, perhaps even planned an extension of his entrenchment as Gujarat’s undisputed leader. Instead, Modi decided to, and succeeded in, transforming his image into that of Mr Development. It did not happen overnight, and it did not happen easily. He had to work against the tide of initial opposition from many quarters, not least of all significant leaders of industry and their associations. Slowly, but surely, he built a track record of decisiveness, of laying out the red carpet for investment, of out-of-the-box solutions for age-old bottlenecks like inconsistent power supply, and all that while avoiding the taint of corruption. Even as a CM he started acquiring a global reputation as a can-do leader.

That is not to say he gave up being the champion of the broadest section of the electorate, nor on his passion for a resurgent, modern India that also took pride in its ancient heritage. He has all along spoken out against the hypocrisy of those who represented what passed for secularism and liberalism in India, but made a mockery of that with their policies of appeasement, pandering to the fears and schisms in sections of society instead of trying to unite them. It is surely one of the great ironies of modern times that the person who marshalled the political will to bring about Triple Talaq reform in India was not from among those secularists and liberals, but one who has been unceasingly vilified by them.

The fact is, this prime minister has been just as staunch a reformer on a wide range issues, taking on established shibboleths. These include not just social changes, but also stunning advances on political and economic reforms that had long been given lip service by all but had also acquired the aura of being unachievable. The latest of these is the recent farm bills that have been advocated by virtually everyone, except perhaps far-left ideologues, for decades.

Looking back to the national political scenario a dozen years ago, it was obvious to many that Modi would almost inevitably lead the nation sooner or later. Even as the government of the day got ever more deeply mired in corruption scandals, infighting and palace intrigues, it continued to be blithely oblivious to the mood of the people. When the then prime minister, a member of a minority community himself, spoke of minorities having the first right on the nation’s resources, a tipping point was reached.

In the other corner stood a long-standing chief minister, exuding charisma, personal honesty, transparency, and good governance. But also unafraid to speak bluntly, against nepotism in politics, against cosseting sections of the population in ghettos, both physical and legislative, and was confidently asserting nationalism and an Indian renaissance. Born of this confluence of circumstances and preparation were such slogans as “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas,” and “minimum government, maximum governance.”

It is worth remembering that the long-entrenched elites he dislodged pushed back with a vehemence born from seeing their world evaporating before their eyes. They united to deny him early attempts at reform, such as on land acquisition, and, emboldened, thereafter opposed him tooth and nail on virtually every decision. They mocked those slogans and dubbed him a non-reformer.

And yet, reform he did, against all odds. The GST is arguably the single-biggest economic reform since Independence. And despite the persistent badmouthing of demonetisation by opponents, it triggered the transition to digitisation that made possible the large-scale monetary aid to hundreds of millions of Indians during this pandemic. The reset that he did with India’s response to cross-border terror attacks must also rank as immensely significant. In this time he has emerged as one of the most influential global leaders.

The second term has begun with a breathtaking shifting of gears, pushing through many long-pending, big-ticket reforms. And yet, while his opponents continue as if in a time warp, doubling down on their failed tactics, Narendra Modi keeps evolving, his best yet to come.

Opposition is wrong on agriculture bills

The combination of cynical disregard for the truth, fear of change, and emotions trumping reason, can crimp policy reform. That is happening today, with some in the Opposition preying on farmers’ insecurities and feverishly trying to incite panic among them, in total disregard of the facts and even of their earlier, committed positions.

By no stretch of the imagination can it be argued that introducing new options for beleaguered farmers to sell their produce, while also retaining the old system, is somehow against their interest. Yet, that is the perception that Congress and some others are trying to create, to instigate farmers to agitate, and to browbeat other parties.

This deeply cynical tactic is a repeat of what the Congress has been doing for six years, blindly opposing everything the Modi government does. It is based partly on sheer cussedness, that is, its leadership’s personal antipathy towards Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, no matter how much it harms the nation. When they repeatedly parrot the stands taken by Pakistan and China against India’s military response to cross-border terrorism and hostile troop movements, this attempt to foment trouble in the heartland should only have been expected.

The reality is clear to any thinking person who has engaged with this topic earlier, or at least taken the trouble to read about it now. Until the current reforms, India’s farm policies dated from more than half-a-century ago, when we faced immense shortages and depended on “ship-to-mouth” foreign aid. Those policies restrained farmers to where and to whom they could sell produce, thus making it a buyers’ market.

That system of monopoly buyers skewed the power balance in favour of middlemen, hurting farmers. Thus, farmers’ incomes did not rise commensurately with economic growth, unlike in many sectors. Such restrictions were lifted long ago on most other sectors and it is unconscionable to continue restraining farmers.

This is particularly so because, in recent decades, India has become surplus in foodgrains, and, in fact, has a storage problem. For long, most stakeholders, in fact, everyone other than far Left ideologues, have been clamouring for these changes. And it is part of the Congress election manifesto, too.

As noted agri-economist Ashok Gulati has written, the recent trio of legislation “breaks the monopolistic powers of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) (in order) to provide greater choice and freedom to farmers to sell their produce.” Equally importantly, the safety net of government procurement through the minimum support price (MSP) will also continue, thus leaving the old mechanism in place for those who want to continue with the tried and tested. All these together shift the balance in favour of the sellers, that is the farmers.

Now the Congress is trying to justify its hypocrisy with shameless dissimulation. Its claim that these reforms somehow run counter to what it had committed to is a bald-faced lie. Since that has become obvious, at least to those willing to engage in the debate with reason rather than emotion, the formerly grand old party is now desperately trying to shift the goalposts. Its choice of tactic for that is to demand that the MSP mechanism be a part of legislation rather than the administrative orders it has always been, and to insist that all new buyers pay for produce at the MSP level or higher.

This is calculated as an emotive appeal, but does not withstand rational scrutiny. For the party that has governed the Republic for the vast majority of its existence, and sustained the MSP regime as an administrative framework, to now suddenly demand its legislation, takes the cake for brazenness. MSP always was, and continues to be, a safety net, a fallback option for farmers. It was never intended, nor is it wise, to legislate it as the desirable, default option. That would permanently cap the upside for farmers.

The opponents’ related second demand to make MSP compulsory for even private buyers would have a similarly disastrous effect. It would ensure that no new private buyers would enter the fray. In other words, it would help the current, politically-connected middlemen to stay empowered as the monopolistic buyers. As Gulati puts it, governmental procurement via MSP covers only 6% of farmers, and there isn’t the wherewithal for covering the entire spectrum. Without these long-pending reforms, 94% of farmers would continue to be at the mercy of imperfect markets.

Apart from visceral antipathy to the PM, the Congress leadership’s opposition banks on two flawed strategies. Both are based on classical propaganda principles, which, however, are out of sync with realities today. The first is to brand him a non-reformer, who talks but does not deliver. Of course, a quick look at the track record of the past six years unravels that allegation. And as former deputy chairman of Niti Aayog, Arvind Panagariya, has tweeted, “Those who thought the PM is not a reformist must be stunned by the last two weeks, with changes that were due for more than two decades in medical education, agriculture and labour laws.” And the final Congress hope, of denting the PM’s popularity by repeating a lie often, does not work. In this era of information ubiquity, a lie cannot sustain when the reality is unambiguous, like the Centre’s early announcement of the MSP hike last week.

Globally, a ripe moment for India, writes Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda

Twenty years ago, as a new Member of Parliament participating in international Track-II events, two themes made a big impression on me. The first was how much influence China had managed to acquire globally. At dozens of gatherings, I saw influential personalities from politics, diplomacy, think-tanks, and Fortune 500 corporations speak emphatically in favour of China. The second theme was many commentators saying they wished India would step up and play a larger role in geopolitics, but also bemoaning that we had a long way to go.

Indeed, we did. For in the preceding two decades, from 1980 until the turn of the century, China had transformed itself in comparison to India. From an economy with per capita income similar to ours, its GDP had already become nearly thrice India’s size, eventually to become five times larger. That growth in wealth afforded it much more military and economic clout around the world.

But over the years, there have been big changes in both these themes, in opposite directions. These have only intensified in recent months. On the one hand, during the coronavirus pandemic, the number of nations that are unhappy with China and suspicious of its motives has grown exponentially. On the other hand, the goodwill for India and its actions, and respect for its capabilities, have grown equally sharply. Our path forward requires understanding both these trends.

It was a dozen or so years ago that I first ran into western companies complaining about doing business in China. After years of praising the ease of doing business there, and contrasting it with India, they had begun sounding off about Chinese partners appropriating their intellectual property rights and unexpectedly turning into competitors.

China used its growing wallet to push its strategic aims around the world, using “aid” funding in a uniquely new manner. While traditional aid by developed nations consisted of subsidised, long-term, low-interest funding, Chinese projects, like those under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) came with high commercial rates of interest. At least one such project, the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, has been directly taken over by China after it defaulted on those usurious repayments.

China also became increasingly assertive in geopolitics, such as in its South China Sea disputes with neighbours and others. Some commentators sensed hubris in this, and a shift away from the path of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic prowess, who had advised his successors to “maintain our position, meet challenges calmly, hide our capacities, and bide our time, remain free of ambition, never claim leadership.”

Gradually, diplomats and Track-II delegates began using different terminology in reference to China. From the turn-of-the-century phraseology that the rise of China was inherently beneficial to the world, within a decade, the tenor shifted to an insistence that it must play by the rules of global engagement from which it had itself benefited.

With the growing tensions over trade in recent years, and the pandemic this year, the wheel has turned further. Last week, a White House report titled The US Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China did away with all previous diplomatic euphemisms and asserted it “is responding to the Chinese Communist Party’s direct challenge by acknowledging that the two powers are in ‘strategic competition’.”

The US is not alone, as many nations around the world have taken a stand demanding China come clean about the origins of the coronavirus and the beginnings of its spread in Wuhan. After initially rebutting such demands, China has acceded to an inquiry by the World Health Organization. But at the same time, it has lashed out against Australia, one of the lead signatories, with punitive economic measures.

China has also taken steps in its own immediate neighbourhood that are raising eyebrows. India, too, is experiencing yet another face-off across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in Ladakh. To be sure, the border dispute has not seen a shot fired in anger in decades. Yet, recent years have seen a series of such incidents, the last one being at Doklam in 2017. India has demonstrated that, while remaining peaceful and reasonable at all times, it is capable of being resolute in defending its territory.

All these developments present opportunities for India, which has been gaining respect in the world’s eyes since the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era, and more rapidly in recent years. This has defence aspects, of course, including the acquisition of equipment, technology, production, and joint exercises.

However, the economic aspect will be crucial. And whatever your views on India’s ~20 lakh crore economic stimulus, the policy reforms built into it are the key. Making available large chunks of land, rejigs in labour and other laws, and especially opening up all sectors to private investment are what India has long needed.

As China was the latest to demonstrate, it is far, far easier to win friends and influence nations with a bigger wallet. India is set to follow the same path, without the hubris.

भारत से जुड़ी पॉजिटिव खबरों को खारिज करने में जुटा अंतरराष्ट्रीय-भारतीय मीडिया का एक तबका

बैजयंत जय पांडा। कोरोना वायरस से उपजी महामारी के खिलाफ भारत की जंग एक नए दौर में पहुंच गई है। इस जंग के दौरान यह आम सहमति उभरी है कि देश ने इस आपदा का सामना बहुत सक्षमता और कुशलता से किया है। इसी कारण इसकी रोकथाम के लिए लगाए गए लॉकडाउन को चरणबद्ध तरीके से खोलना भी शुरू कर दिया गया है। इसी कड़ी में ग्रीन, ऑरेंज और रेड जैसे सभी प्रमुख जोन में कुछ गतिविधियों की इजाजत दे दी गई है। इससे हालात और सहज होंगे। भारत इस संकट से जिस बखूबी ढंग से निपट रहा है उसकी पुष्टि न केवल डब्ल्यूएचओ जैसी अंतरराष्ट्रीय संस्थाओं से मिली शाबासी से, बल्कि उन सर्वेक्षणों से भी होती है जो प्रधानमंत्री मोदी के नेतृत्व में जनता के पूर्ण विश्वास और अगाध आस्था को रेखांकित करते हैं।

जरूरतमंदों को आवश्यक स्वास्थ्य सेवाएं : जमीन से जुड़े किसी भी व्यक्ति के लिए ऐसा परिदृश्य कोई हैरानी की बात नहीं। वे लाखों स्वयंसेवक खुद इसकी गवाही दे सकते हैं जो पिछले कई हफ्तों से राहत कार्यो में जुटे हैं। हालांकि इस राह में कुछ दुश्वारियों से भी दो-चार होना पड़ा है, लेकिन देश की व्यापक धारणा यही है कि भारत मिल-जुलकर इस आपदा को मात देकर उबरने में कामयाब होगा। यह सकारात्मक नजरिया उन साक्ष्यों पर आधारित है जो यह रेखांकित करते हैं कि भारत न केवल इस वायरस के संक्रमण को सीमित करने में सक्षम रहा, बल्कि जरूरतमंदों को आवश्यक स्वास्थ्य सेवाएं भी सुनिश्चित कर सका।

भयावह कोहराम मचने की भविष्यवाणी : हालांकि अंतरराष्ट्रीय एवं भारतीय मीडिया का एक तबका अभी भी इस पर अड़ा है कि वह भारत से जुड़ी किसी भी सकारात्मक खबर को खारिज ही करता रहेगा। देश को लेकर केवल नकारात्मक एजेंडा आगे बढ़ाने में ही उसकी गहरी दिलचस्पी दिखती है, खासतौर से सरकार के खिलाफ विषवमन करने में। इस विषवमन के लिए स्थापित तथ्यों को भी नजरंदाज किया जा रहा है। फरवरी के अंत और मार्च की शुरुआत तक ये मीडिया संस्थान देश में कोरोना के कहर का भयावह कोहराम मचने की भविष्यवाणी कर रहे थे। उनका जोर इसी पहलू पर था कि जब बेहतरीन स्वास्थ्य ढांचे के बावजूद विकसित देशों ने कोरोना के आगे घुटने टेक दिए तो भारत का भरभराना तय है। तमाम अंतरराष्ट्रीय पत्र-पत्रिकाओं में डरावने शीर्षकों के साथ आलेख लिखे गए जो बहुत खौफनाक तस्वीर सामने रख रहे थे।

खारिज करने में जुटा अंतरराष्ट्रीय-भारतीय मीडिया : जब संक्रमण के कम प्रसार के साथ ये अनुमान धराशायी होते गए तो इस तबके ने एक नया राग अलापना शुरू कर दिया। उसने भारत में परीक्षणों यानी टेस्ट की कम संख्या को लेकर सवाल उठाने शुरू कर दिए, जबकि हकीकत उसके दावों के उलट थी। वास्तविकता में टेस्टिंग का दायरा भी जरूरत के हिसाब से बढ़ाया गया और उसमें यह बात भी सामने आई कि यूरोप और अमेरिका के उलट भारतीय इस वायरस के संपर्क में कम ही आए। आइसीएमआर के डॉक्टर और स्वास्थ्य मंत्रलय के अधिकारियों ने संबंधित आंकड़े भी सामने रखे, मगर मीडिया के एक वर्ग ने अपनी सुविधा और पूर्वाग्रह के कारण इसे खारिज ही किया। जब उसके नकारात्मक सुरों को तथ्यों के जरिये प्रभावी ढंग से शांत किया गया तब इस तबके के बदले रागों से यह आभास हुआ कि अब वे यह उम्मीद कर रहे हैं कि कोविड-19 के खिलाफ भारत की मुहिम कुछ हफ्तों में दम तोड़ देगी।

मीडिया की जिम्मेदारी नकारात्मक रिपोर्टिंग को बढ़ावा ना दे : संकट के समय मीडिया की यही जिम्मेदारी बनती है कि वह वाजिब मुद्दों को उठाए, न कि पूर्वाग्रह से ग्रस्त होकर प्रशासन की उपलब्धियों को नकारकर केवल नकारात्मक रिपोर्टिंग को बढ़ावा दे। जब विनाश को लेकर अपना अनुमान साकार होता नहीं दिखा तो नकारात्मक नजरिये से भरे मीडिया ने भारत में इस्लामोफोबिया का शिगूफा छेड़ दिया। इसके लिए उसने तब्लीगी जमात की करतूतों का सहारा लिया। तब्लीगियों की करतूत के खिलाफ आम जनता के असंतोष को लेकर उन्होंने आरोप लगाना शुरू कर दिया कि मोदी सरकार और भारतीय मीडिया का एक बड़ा वर्ग इस स्थिति का ध्रुवीकरण करने में लगा है। इस वर्ग ने सरकार के उन नियमों का उल्लेख करना भी उचित नहीं समझा कि जो सभी धाíमक समूहों पर समान रूप से लागू थे। मीडिया का यह वर्ग प्रधानमंत्री मोदी की उन तमाम अपीलों को भी अनदेखा करता नजर आया जिनमें उन्होंने लोगों से एकजुटता का आह्वान करते हुए कहा कि यह वायरस जाति, धर्म और ऐसी किसी अन्य पहचान के आधार पर भेदभाव नहीं करता और इसे हराने के लिए हमारा एकजुट होना जरूरी है। अफसोस की बात है कि भारत को लेकर ऐसा शंकालु नजरिया देश के भीतर और बाहर बसे कट्टर वामपंथी स्वयंभू उदारवादियों में एकसामान भाव से घर करता गया।

भारत के प्रति शंकालु नजरिये वाला मीडिया चीन के प्रति सहानुभूति दर्शाने में कुछ अतिरिक्त प्रयास करता दिखा। इससे उसकी विश्वसनीयता ही घटी। जब अमेरिकी राष्ट्रपति ने कोरोना वायरस को चीनी वायरस कहा तो वह लगातार उस पर बहस करता रहा। यह स्थिति तब थी जब मीडिया के सभी वर्गो ने न सही, लेकिन अधिकांश ने शुरुआत में इसे वुहान वायरस नाम ही दिया था। इसे चीनी वायरस कहना नकारात्मकता से भरे मीडिया को नस्लीय टिप्पणी लगा जबकि अतीत में अधिकांश महामारियों को वही नाम दिया गया जिस जगह से उनकी शुरुआत हुई। इनमें जर्मन मीजल्स, जापानी इंसेफेलाइटिस, स्पेनिश फ्लू, इबोला और मिडिल ईस्टर्न रेस्पिरेटरी सिंड्रोम यानी मर्स जैसे तमाम नाम मिसाल हैं। इसी तरह जब भारत में एक एंटीबायोटिक-रेसिस्टेंट बैक्टीरियल स्ट्रेन मिला तो उसे न्यू डेल्ही मेटलो बीटा-लैकटामेस-1 यानी एनडीएम-1 नाम दिया गया। किसी बीमारी के उद्भव से उसका नाम रखने की पुरानी परिपाटी के उलटे कोरोना मामले में नस्लवाद का मुलम्मा चढ़ा दिया गया। एक बेहद बुनियादी तथ्य को अनदेखा कर अपनी विश्वसनीयता पर ही आघात किया गया।

एक ऐसे वक्त में जब भारत महामारी से निपटने और अपनी अर्थव्यवस्था के कायाकल्प की चुनौती के लिए खुद को तैयार कर रहा है तब मीडिया के लिए भी यह जरूरी है कि वह भारत से जुड़े विमर्श की संतुलित तस्वीर पेश करे। उसके लिए बेहतर यही होगा कि वह अंतरराष्ट्रीय स्तर पर जबरन भारत की छवि मलिन करने का कोई उपक्रम न करे।

Opinion | Federalism is not a one-way street

India has just completed 70 years as a Republic, the largest democracy in the history of humankind. To many Indians, it may seem odd, perhaps even disconcerting, that the nation continues to debate fundamental principles about the nature and structure of our government. However, to students of history, this is a familiar tussle.

One of the most contentious of these is the issue of federalism. The crux of the debate is about the division of powers between the Union government and the states. At different times, different factors have energised this debate. Currently, two developments have once again brought the issue to the forefront. One is the apparent resistance by some Opposition-governed states to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), and the other is a judicial challenge by one of them to the 2008 Act, creating the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

In understanding federalism, it is instructive to look at historical parallels. This tussle between central authority and decentralisation is relevant for democracies, especially large or diverse ones. It goes without saying that there is no such debate in authoritarian countries, where the outcome of any such tussle can only have one outcome, with central authority prevailing. As such, it is a good sign for Indian democracy that this is a matter of debate.

Even in democracies, this debate is less relevant for smaller, more homogenous nations, although there are those among them that have enough diversity for the issue to be germane. But it is really only in large, diverse democracies that this debate is the most lively.

The best example of it from another country is the United States (US), the second-largest democracy. After its colonies declared Independence from the British in 1776, it still took many years of war before they prevailed. But even after the US war of independence ended in 1783, for several years the newly independent nation continued to be an unwieldy amalgamation of the original 13 colonies, such as New York and Virginia. With inadequate central authority, the US was ungovernable. That only changed in 1789, with the adoption of its constitution, and the creation of a union government, with General Washington elected as President in 1792, and an independent judiciary. Ever since, from time to time, it’s supreme court issues judgments that either limit or enhance federal authority.

Many resisters of central authority in India often refer to the Constitution’s description of our Republic as a “Union of states.” If that was all there was to it, India too would be ungovernable, as the US was 250 years ago. Fortunately, the drafters of our Constitution were cognisant of history, especially BR Ambedkar, who had, in fact, completed his higher education in the US.

Thus it is that our Republic has features that are both federal as well as unitary. But in fact, it has numerically and qualitatively many more features that give an edge to the authority of the Union government. These include, unlike some other federal democracies, no separate State constitutions (the abrogated Article 370 had been the only exception); more items on the Union List than the State List; and even empowers the Union government to legislate on a particular state subject if two or more states request it.

Therefore, the Constitution has more accurately been described as “the centripetal bias in it is strong, it is only federal in form and unitary in spirit and, therefore, quasi-federal in nature.” The wisdom of our Constituent Assembly is on display here, recognising both that a vast country needs much devolution of authority for governance to be practical, but also that the Union government must have the necessary powers to keep matters spiralling out of control.

However, the tone and tenor of some domestic commentators often wrongly insinuates the concept of federalism as being a one-way street, with the emphasis only on devolution of authority, as if the powers of the Union are somehow subservient, or not intended to be exercised. In reality, it works both ways. The quasi-federal nature of our Constitution has sometimes been called “cooperative federalism,” recognising the inherent interdependence of the union and state governments.

Thus, in the wake of years of rising inter-state crime and terrorist attacks, a dozen years ago there was general consensus on the need for concerted national resources to be devoted to it, leading to the formation of the National Investigation Agency. And indeed that has yielded dividends, with the agency playing an important role in drastically curbing terror attacks and investigating major crimes. It is ironic that after so many years, and after largely succeeding rather than failing, the establishment of the National Investigation Agency is suddenly faced with a legal challenge. And that too, by a state now governed by the very party that legislated it when it ran the Union government. It is perhaps no surprise that states governed by it are also threatening to “not implement” CAA, despite it being a Union subject, and this very amendment having been specifically advocated in 2003 by the party’s soon to be prime minister.

Of course, hypocrisy is not exactly unheard of in politics, and these about-turns are more likely short-term posturing rather than deeply held convictions. But they can take a toll on the nation.

India’s Kashmir move: Two perspectives

It’s notable that the government’s move on Kashmir has enthused many more Indians than just the BJP’s staunch supporters – many opposition leaders have also supported it.
There have, however, been bitter recriminations by Kashmiri separatists, as well as some in India’s opposition, who claim the move is unconstitutional and will end in tears.
But it is hard to predict how a defanged Article 370 could in practice be any worse than the decades during which it prevailed.
That era saw well over 40,000 deaths in Kashmir as well as two wars and a limited conflict fought over the region by India and Pakistan. It also saw the brutal persecution of hundreds of thousands of its minority Hindu Pandit community, who were forced out of the region in the 1990s as Muslim militancy grew.
The move to revoke Article 370 enthused many more Indians than just the BJP’s staunch supporters
Kashmir now has the potential to be infinitely better.
The region’s special status under Article 370 meant that many progressive Indian court rulings and laws passed by parliament did not apply there.
These included the prevention of child marriages, the rights of Dalits (formerly untouchables), attempts to eliminate discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community, and the prevention of corruption, among many others.
The Nehru government’s introduction of Article 370 into India’s constitution in 1949, granting the region its own constitution, flag, and special status, was never tenable in the long run. Even Nehru himself said so, and it was explicitly worded as a temporary provision.
In any event, Kashmir formally acceded to India in October 1947 under the same rules as all other princely states.
Thereafter, strictly speaking, both the introduction of Article 370 and its amendments were a matter for India’s Parliament. Neither Pakistan nor any other body has any legal role in the matter, any more than it would have for any other state that acceded to India.
Importantly, the people of the region continue to have the same democratic rights as before, just like citizens of any other part of India. They will still have elections and constitutional rights of equality, just like all of India’s 1.36 billion citizens, including more than 200 million Muslims.
And although, as a union territory, it will have less devolution of administrative powers from the federal government than states, it will allow the union government to better co-ordinate federal and state resources for security.
Kashmiri separatists, as well as some in India’s opposition, claim the move is unconstitutional and will end in tears
Since 1948, India’s huge infusion of federal funds into Jammu and Kashmir (four times the amount for the rest of the country on a per capita basis) has not had a proportionately lasting effect.
Though on several socioeconomic parameters Kashmir seems to be near the Indian average, that is not because of its own development, but rather because of large handouts from Delhi.
Its special provisions not only facilitated enormous leakages from the Indian treasury, in conjunction with the security situation it also inhibited investment in a sustainable local economy.
That is set to change dramatically. A major business meeting is planned for October, and some of the biggest Indian companies have indicated they will announce large investments. It is not just the big players – many others are keen to participate in its development.
Land is an emotive issue all over the Indian subcontinent and this region is no exception. Article 370 not only prevented Indians from other parts from buying land there, but even disenfranchised Kashmiri women who married non-Kashmiris. Modern, liberal democracies should have no place for such discrimination.
Though there are similar restrictions in a few other states as well, there is a crucial difference. In the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, for instance, there is a specified length of residency required before Indians from outside the state can buy land. While requiring a demonstration of commitment to a region for land purchase can arguably be a good thing, a total ban based on regionalism or gender will only foster ghettoisation.
Some of the biggest Indian companies have indicated they will announce large investments in the region
Similar arguments have been made about preserving the demographics of India’s only Muslim-majority state.
That goes to the root of Pakistan’s angst about the region because of its foundational two-nation theory – but that is surely redundant after its eastern wing broke away citing linguistic and ethnic discrimination to become the nation of Bangladesh.
On the other hand, unlike the dwindling of Pakistan’s minorities, India has seen the flourishing of its own, with Muslims going from less than 10% of the population after partition to more than 14% now.
India’s Muslims have seen all-round success too. They have held high office in political, judicial and military circles, and joined the ranks of the nation’s billionaires.
The autonomy that Kashmiris have aspired for is already built into the federal structure of the biggest democracy that humankind has ever seen. As a fully integrated part of it, whether now as a union territory or later once again as a state, it will be much better placed to deliver a better life to its people.
As India’s Ambassador to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, so eloquently put it, the amendment of Article 370 has no external implications whatsoever.
The temporary security measures there have successfully prevented the engineering of violence and casualties; and as for dialogue with Pakistan, India remains committed to the Shimla agreement, which saw both nations conceive steps to normalise relations and end conflict.

Naxalism in India

Article Title:”The soil isn’t coloured red”

The coyness with which Indian politicians desist from publicly describing Naxalites as terrorists is telling. But ask them privately,as I have of many,and a surprisingly large number of them have no compunction in saying that “encounters are the only way to deal with them.These anonymous endorsements for dispensing summary justice by way of staged encounters where police and paramilitary forces are encouraged to gun down suspects in cold blood also speak volumes about political correctness in the largest democracy on earth.

India has long been called a soft state when it comes to taking hard headed decisions in the national interest that is,taking those decisions in time,well before years of festering brings the country to the brink of calamity. After years of the central government pretending that Naxalism was a state level problem,we are now at that brink nationally. In large swathes of the country today,the writ of the state has been replaced by that of the Naxals,who collect taxes,hold trials,issue punishment (including executions),recruit and operate a standing army,and are deeply dedicated to overthrowing the six-decade old Republic of India.

It is,of course,the failure of the republic to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians that created the conditions for Naxalism to grow in the first place. This original sin has underpinned the guilt-ridden response of many liberals. Naxalism is not a law and order problem,goes the argument; it is a socio-economic one. The reality,of course,is that it is both. The tragedy is that the debate on how to deal with Naxalism invariably treats the problem as one or the other  that is,either a law and order problem,to be dealt with harshly,or a socio-economic problem,to be tackled with dialogue and development  when what is probably required is to do both.

The origins of Naxalism might lie in socio-economic injustices,but the movement has long since gone past the stage of fighting for social justice and development. In fact,and this is what the liberal viewpoint often misses out,the Naxalites today actively oppose any form of developmental activity,be it the construction of roads,schools,hospitals,anything whatsoever,with the cold-blooded aim of securing their turf. Their sole objective today is to ruthlessly keep hammering away at the organs of the state until the state is no more. The movement is explicitly committed to dismantling the republic,doing away with elections,closing down the media,and,by way of its sympathy for regional breakaway groups,chopping up the country.

So are they terrorists or not? The only stretch by which it could be argued that they don’t meet all the characteristics of terrorists  as opposed to militants or freedom fighters of some kind  is that they do not officially target innocent civilians. But ask those who understand the problem best,those who have studied the Naxals credo and have actually risked their lives in the frontlines,and they will tell you that there is no doubt at all.

Does that mean that dialogue with them should be out of the question,military-style action the only option? Not exactly. National policy must first distinguish that all Naxals are not equal. Many of the Naxal elite are college and university educated,they form the core of the CPI (Maoist) party,are its ideologues,and aspire to come to power some day. They must be tackled differently from the grunts,the disaffected tribals and other disenfranchised Indians who are the indoctrinated foot soldiers.

The central government has finally put together a grand plan,which will hugely increase boots on the ground to fight fire with fire. Those of us from Naxal-affected states had for years been wondering when Delhi was going to wake up and smell the coffee. Delhi seems to have not only smelled the coffee,but ingested a large dose of testosterone as well. But while hitting back with firepower is a necessary evil  necessary because the policy needs to have both carrot and stick  it will sadly not be enough.

The Naxals have been preparing for this day for years. They believe they have the upper hand in guerrilla type hit-and-run jungle warfare against the paramilitary forces being massed against them. They will also not hesitate to use as cannon fodder their cadre of foot soldiers. While the resolve of the Government of India will surely be tested,that of the Naxalites will not be,until and unless their core leadership,their ideologues,are engaged.

It is here that dialogue,track two discussions,could help. As in other militant movements in the North East for instance resolute military action combined with astute discussions could help to bring them into the mainstream. But there are those who maintain that dialogue is not the only complement to massive armed action. A retired civil servant with experience of such matters recently told me that talks are a waste of time,but a hundred or more top (Naxal) leaders need to be wiped out by targeted action,just the way it was done in Punjab before the terrorism there could be solved,and exactly how progress has been made in Andhra Pradesh.

There is hidden irony in the underlying similarity of these vastly different approaches talks vs. encounters  in that both doves and hawks are unwittingly saying the same thing: the massive armed action being readied now will run into expendable,and renewable,low-level Naxalites; what is also needed is a plan to tackle their leaders.