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


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।

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.