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


Social media: The new theatre of India’s culture wars

The phenomenal rise of social media (SM) platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and others is proving to be a double-edged sword in the functioning of democracies. On the one hand, it has democratised access to information. On the other hand, it has concentrated power over that information with a handful of private companies, their billionaire owners, and certain ideologically committed activist groups.

Billions of netizens around the world now feel empowered to bypass traditional curators of information, such as journalists and editors, in searching for their choice of content. They have also become creators and disseminators of content, not just consumers of it. This is further accentuated by tech platforms directing more content at people similar to what they have already seen, thus creating echo chambers of like-minded groups.

This is already known. What is happening now, however, is the next stage of that transformation in how information is generated, disseminated, and consumed, and it is directly impacting how democracies function. There is a global war underway, involving the role of SM and freedom of expression, which is an extension of the culture wars between the Left and Right.

India is seeing the early skirmishes of the online version of this war, which has already progressed to a much higher intensity elsewhere, most notably the United States (US). In America’s bitterly polarised polity, the frontline of this war is a battle between Twitter and President Donald Trump. The former’s flagging of a presidential tweet as fake news, and the latter’s executive order altering the liability of SM platforms who edit content, is worth understanding better.

One of the most stark aspects of the West’s culture wars has been its erosion of the right to freedom of expression, which had been a hallmark of its modern democracies. Especially since the early 20th century, US Supreme Court rulings by the legendary Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, interpreting its Constitution’s first amendment, had established what many considered a gold standard of free speech.

While those struggles for free speech had pushed for more freedom, even to say and write very unpleasant things, the intensification of the West’s culture wars in this century has seen a reversal of that trend. Curbs on hate speech became widely accepted and implemented. But, thereafter, there has been a relentless push by so-called woke activists for ever more curbs on speech, often implemented forcefully and without consensus, based solely on political correctness.

A key aspect of this has been the shift from earlier activism against governments clamping down on speech to a focus instead on pushing media, and especially SM, to impose curbs on politically incorrect speech.

The irony in this new activism for speech curbs is that it is being championed by those who call themselves liberals. Of course, this does not represent classical liberal philosophy, and is instead a reflection of the far-Left takeover of present-day liberalism. This is visible around the world, whether in the forced withdrawal of a US academic’s paper contradicting the zeitgeist about race relations, or in the unsavoury departures of senior staff at the once venerable New York Times, after they had dared to publish op-eds reflecting Centre-Right views. In India, this bullying has manifested itself in the ganging up by self-avowed “liberal” authors to stop the publication of a book contradicting their narrative on this year’s Delhi riots.

Such far-Left canons have now invaded the realm of big tech firms. That should hardly be a surprise, considering Silicon Valley’s preference for recruiting “liberal” and “woke” employees. Books and articles by conservative authors such as Douglas Murray and business journalists such as George Anders have documented explicit hiring policies, practices and statistics to confirm Left-wing dominance among SM employees. It was, therefore, inevitable that employee activism would push these platforms into adopting leftist, illiberal policies.

The inconsistencies in those policies show up when SM platforms apply selective standards, such as when Twitter was accused of hypocrisy for not flagging or proscribing the aggressive, warlike tweet of a West Asian leader.

President Trump’s executive order directly impacts this. In US law, SM had been protected against the kind of liabilities — such as defamation — that traditional news media are subject to, on the grounds that SM are simply platforms for others’ opinions and did not edit or otherwise shape that information. But now that they are, by flagging, shadow banning, or deleting posts and accounts, the Trump order echoes many voices that had been asking for SM to be treated on par with media outlets.

A similar battle is raging about SM giants’ abuse of their massive power by sourcing news from media companies without paying for it, and then disseminating and profiting from it. Despite a bitter legal struggle, Australia is likely to become the first nation to require Google to pay for such content.

These battles are relevant to India, which is both the largest democracy as well as one of the largest user bases for SM platforms. Some of these battles have already begun here, such as the recent Indian version of the West’s leftist pressure on Facebook to put curbs on Right-wing posts. It is time to broaden the dialogue here about how India ought to respond.

प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी के दृढ़ रुख के चलते चीनी सेना को सरहद से अपने कदम पीछे खींचने पड़े

निरर्थक आदर्शवाद का परित्याग

सरहद से जुड़े हालिया मामलों में मोदी सरकार की दृढ़ता से यही स्पष्ट होता है कि वह अनुपयुक्त आदर्शवाद के बजाय धारदार चाणक्य नीति पर चल निकली है

[ बैजयंत जय पांडा ] : हमारी सरहदों पर बीते कुछ दिन खासे हलचल भरे रहे। प्रतीत होता है कि भारत की बढ़ती शक्ति को चुनौती देने के लिए हमारे विरोधियों ने हाथ मिला लिए हैं। वैसे तो आजादी के बाद से ही चीन और पाकिस्तान के साथ हमारा संघर्ष होता आया है, लेकिन अब काफी कुछ बदल गया है। मोदी सरकार अनुपयुक्त आदर्शवाद के बजाय चाणक्य नीति पर ही चलती दिख रही है। लद्दाख में चीनी सेना की हरकत के बाद प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी ने यह स्पष्ट कर दिया कि भारत किसी भी दबाव के आगे नहीं झुकेगा। उनके इस दृढ़ रुख के परिणामस्वरूप चीनी सेना को अपने कदम पीछे खींचने पड़े। दोनों देशों के राजनयिक तनाव घटाने के लिए वार्ता में जुटे हैं। यह दृढ़संकल्पित आचरण नए दौर की चाणक्य नीति का जीवंत प्रमाण है।

आजादी के बाद से भारत आदर्शवादी विदेश नीति का पालन करता रहा जो कभी उपयुक्त नहीं रही

चाणक्य जिन्हें कौटिल्य के नाम से भी जाना जाता है, संभवत: समग्र संसार के पहले राजनीतिक रणनीतिकार थे। राष्ट्रीय हितों की पूर्ति के लिए उन्होंने स्वयं को शक्तिशाली बनाने के साथ ही पड़ोसियों पर नजर बनाए रखने की वकालत की। इसके उलट आजादी के बाद से ही भारत आदर्शवादी विदेश नीति का पालन करता रहा जो वैश्विक राजनीति के वास्तविक परिदृश्य के खांचे में कभी उपयुक्त नहीं रही।

70 साल बाद मोदी सिद्धांत के तहत भारतीय कूटनीति में नया अध्याय शुरू हुआ

स्वतंत्रता के 70 साल बाद मोदी सिद्धांत के तहत भारतीय कूटनीति में नया अध्याय शुरू हुआ है। इसमें भारत के हितों से समझौते का कोई प्रश्न ही नहीं उठता। चीन ने द्वितीय विश्व युद्ध के पश्चात स्वतंत्रता हासिल कर शुरुआत से ही अपना ध्यान औद्योगीकरण और आंतरिक वृद्धि पर केंद्रित किया। अब अधिकांश देश और वैश्विक अर्थव्यवस्था आपूर्ति शृंखला के लिए चीन पर निर्भर है। इससे वह दुनिया की दूसरी सबसे बड़ी अर्थव्यवस्था बन बैठा। बड़ी आबादी, मजबूत अर्थव्यवस्था और सक्षम सेना ने चीनी नेताओं को यह गुंजाइश दी कि वे आर्थिक एवं सैन्य, दोनों मोर्चों पर अपनी दबंगई दिखा सकें। खासतौर से दक्षिण चीन सागर में उन्होंने यह किया भी है।

भारत के प्रति चीन की नीति हमेशा नियंत्रण की रही

भारत के प्रति चीन की नीति हमेशा नियंत्रण की रही है। जब 1940 के दशक से दोनों ही देशों ने औपनिवेशिक समाप्ति के नए युग में प्रवेश किया तबसे चीन ने भारत को अपना दीर्घकालिक प्रतिस्पर्धी ही माना और इस नाते उस पर अंकुश लगाने की मंशा रखी। इसीलिए वह भारत पर दबाब बनाए रखने की कोशिश में लगा रहता है। वह भारत के उभार को दबाने का प्रयास करता है और इसके लिए हरसंभव तिकड़म आजमाता है। भारत के खिलाफ चीन की इस रणनीति के संकेत 1950 के दशक से ही मिलने लगे थे जब उसने पाकिस्तान को संरक्षण देना शुरू किया। उसने इस कंगाल देश को अपने पिट्ठू के तौर पर इस्तेमाल करना शुरू कर दिया। उसका मुख्य मकसद पाकिस्तान के जरिये अपना उल्लू सीधा करना था।

चीन ने भारत की घेराबंदी के लिए  ‘मोतियों की माला’ नाम की रणनीति बनाई

चीन ने काफी पहले ही अपनी तेजी से बढ़ती अर्थव्यवस्था का अनुचित फायदा उठाना शुरू कर दिया था। भारत की घेराबंदी के लिए उसने दक्षिण पूर्व एशिया से लेकर अफ्रीका तक ‘मोतियों की माला’ नाम की रणनीति बनाई। बेल्ट एंड रोड इनिशिएटिव के तहत श्रीलंका में हंबनटोटा और पाकिस्तान में ग्वादर बंदरगाह और गुलाम कश्मीर में चीन-पाकिस्तान आर्थिक गलियारे जैसी परियोजनाओं के जरिये हाल के वर्षों में ये गतिविधियां और तेजी से बढ़ी हैं।

चीन ने भारत के पड़ोस में अपने पिट्ठू बनने लायक देश तलाशने शुरू कर दिए

ऐसे में कोई हैरानी की बात नहीं कि चीन ने भारत के पड़ोस में अपने पिट्ठू बनने लायक देश तलाशने के प्रयास तेज कर दिए। नेपाल के हालिया घटनाक्रम से यह बखूबी जाहिर भी होता है। चीन केवल एशिया ही नहीं, बल्कि गरीब अफ्रीकी देशों को भी अपने कर्ज के जाल में फंसाकर वैश्विक मामलों में अपना प्रभाव बढ़ा रहा है। बीते कुछ वर्षों में भारत का रवैया भी बदला है। इसमें संदेह नहीं कि इससे पहले हमने कई दशक व्यर्थ ही गंवा दिए, जबकि इस दौरान हमें अपनी सीमाओं और सैन्य क्षमताओं को और मजबूत बनाना चाहिए था ताकि सरहदों की सुरक्षा को लेकर सुनिश्चित हो सकते। यह तब और आवश्यक हो जाता है जब हमारे पड़ोस में ऐसे देश हों जो कभी भी उन्मादी हो सकते हैं।

भारत सीमावर्ती राज्यों में बुनियादी ढांचा तेजी के साथ विकसित कर रहा

मोदी सरकार के कार्यकाल में सीमावर्ती राज्यों में बुनियादी ढांचे के विकास को खासी तेजी दी गई है। तमाम जानकारों का मानना है कि चीन की हालिया आक्रामकता की एक वजह यह भी थी। चीनी सेना की यह हरकत भारत को उकसाने की भी कोशिश हो सकती है, क्योंकि वह बराबरी का ओहदा हासिल करने के लिए प्रयासरत है। भारत केवल अपनी सीमा के दायरे में नहीं, बल्कि दूसरे देशों में भी बुनियादी ढांचा विकसित कर रहा है। ईरान का चाबहार बंदरगाह इसकी उम्दा मिसाल है। हालांकि भारत-ईरान द्विपक्षीय रिश्तों को धार देने के लिए इस पर सहमति तो 1970 के दशक में ही बन गई थी, लेकिन पूर्ववर्ती सरकारों के दौर में काम लगातार टलता गया।

2018 में भारत ने चाबहार बंदरगाह का परिचालन अपने नियंत्रण में लिया

2018 में जाकर ही भारत ने इस बंदरगाह का परिचालन अपने नियंत्रण में लिया। तबसे वह होर्मुज जलसंधि जैसे रणनीतिक स्थान पर अपना प्रभाव बढ़ा रहा है। हमारी विदेश नीति में इन घटनाओं के विश्लेषण से चाणक्य की रीति-नीति के मूलतत्व को तलाशा जा सकता है। एक चतुर रणनीतिकार के रूप में चाणक्य ने राजा को यही सलाह दी कि कोई भी देश अलग-थलग नहीं रह सकता और उसके लिए अपनी सीमाओं के परे भी अपने हितों की पूर्ति आवश्यक होती है। उसे चाहिए कि वह स्वयं को सामर्थ्यवान बनाकर लगातार पड़ोसियों पर ध्यान देता रहे।

एलएसी पर चीनी सैनिकों की ओर से हुई हिंसा में भारतीय सैनिकों ने अदम्य साहस का परिचय दिया

हाल में जब एलएसी पर चीनी सैनिकों की ओर से हिंसा हुई तो हमारे सैनिकों ने अद्भुत साहस और प्रतिरोध का परिचय दिया। पूरे देश ने पीएम मोदी में अपना विश्वास व्यक्त किया, क्योंकि उनमें उन्हें ऐसा नेता नजर आता है जो भारत की क्षेत्रीय अखंडता को लेकर कोई समझौता नहीं करेगा। अपने पूर्ववर्तियों से इतर मोदी ने बिगड़ैल पड़ोसियों के प्रति दृढ़ता दिखाई। वह शांति के भ्रामक संदेशों से संतुष्ट होने वाले नहीं।

मोदी की प्रखर कूटनीतिक रणनीति ने दी भारत को एक बड़ी ताकत

सीमा पर तनाव के दौरान उनके दो-टूक संदेश हों या फिर सैनिकों का हौसला बढ़ाने के लिए लद्दाख दौरे से यह स्पष्ट भी है। पीएम मोदी की प्रखर कूटनीतिक रणनीति ने स्पष्ट कर दिया कि भारत एक बड़ी ताकत है जिसे सम्मान देना होगा। भारत शांति चाहेगा और उसके लिए प्रयास भी करेगा, परंतु अपनी सीमाओं और संप्रभुता की रक्षा भी करेगा।


Covid-19: Portraying India unfairly

It would not have come as a surprise to most people when a national survey last week showed an staggering 93% of Indians expressing confidence in Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s leadership in tackling the coronavirus crisis. In fact, other surveys had shown public’s confidence having steadily grown, from 77% at the beginning of the national lockdown over a month ago, to 83% earlier this month.

This was evident to anyone with an ear to the ground, such as the millions of volunteers who have been reaching out to assist those in need, or those who are in touch with many of them to coordinate aid. That confidence was also echoed by the vast majority of domestic and international public health experts monitoring India. Their sentiments were backed by solid evidence of the nation having done remarkably well in managing the pandemic.

Nevertheless, for a group of the usual suspects among international media, and some of their fellow travellers in India, all this might have been happening in a different galaxy. So deeply do they seem vested in purveying bad news about India, that they appeared oblivious to the overwhelming evidence that India was a stunningly positive outlier.

In the early stages, this school of reportage and commentary predicted catastrophe for India. They kept emphasising that since first world nations with superior healthcare systems were in big trouble, India was doomed. Some headlines include “Callousness of India’s Covid response”; “A vulnerable population braces for a pandemic”; “The consequences (in India) will be especially grim”; and even “Mr Modi is in big trouble.”

Next, as the days went by, they cast doubts on the relatively few infections by hyping the “low level of testing.” Never mind that their cynicism —which should have been corroborated by a severe shortage of hospital beds and ventilators, and a sharp rise in respiratory-related deaths— was contradicted by reality. As testing was ramped up dramatically to the hundreds of thousands, and it became clear that far fewer Indians were turning up positive per 100 (IS THIS 1,000?) tests than in Europe and the United States (US), that bogey has mostly been quietly tucked away.

Thereafter, their acknowledgment that India was doing relatively well has been fleeting, and the tone grudging. Some sounded wistful, almost as if hoping that the good news about India were untrue, or if it were, that it would soon be overcome by negative developments. To be sure, the road ahead for India’s fight against the virus will be long and arduous. But while it is not the global media’s job to exude undue optimism about India, neither should it be to downplay real achievements and ooze negativism.

Finally, when the doom and gloom failed to materialise, these purveyors of a rigidly-blinkered narrative on India turned to their favourite charge: Islamophobia. They pounced on the developments surrounding the Tablighi Jamaat, and the public’s disapproval of its members’ behaviour, to accuse the Modi government and most Indian media of polarising the situation.

Of course, the reports that made this claim invariably omitted mentioning that the government’s rules —such as the closure of places of worship— were equally applicable to all religions. Or that the PM’s repeated appeals to unite people, including asserting that this virus “does not see race, religion, caste…we are in this together” was exactly the opposite of their allegation. And ironically, even those in the Indian media who went out of their way to be politically correct, more often preferring to use the euphemism “single source” rather than name the Tablighi Jamaat, were nevertheless accused just the same.

Such jaundiced views about India have gradually become commonplace among far-left, modern liberals within and without the country. Another aspect that stands out among this group is an excessive empathy for China that defies reason and which has eroded their credibility.

That was visible in the hotly-contested debate about the name of this virus. Although originally termed the “Wuhan virus” and later whitewashed into “SARS-CoV-2,” the moment US President Donald Trump called it a “Chinese virus,” all hell broke loose. Calling it that has, somewhat oddly, been termed racist by these commentators. More to the point, as the American talk show host and classical liberal —and no fan of Trump— Bill Maher pointed out, all past epidemics have been named after the place of their origin. These include German measles, Japanese encephalitis, Spanish flu, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and others.

The reason this should be of interest in India is that none of this cohort objected a few years ago when an antibiotic-resistant bacterial strain was named the “New Delhi metallo beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1), because it was possibly first acquired here. This sort of hypocrisy only reinforces the perception of an entrenched bias against India among these circles.

As India grapples with the next phase of this pandemic, both in containing it as well as reviving the economy, it will also have to contend with more such determinedly pessimistic portrayals. It would be more appropriate for us to strive for a more balanced global narrative on India.

How PM’s power of exhortation is critical in the battle against Covid-19

The ongoing 21-day national lockdown is unprecedented, though it could not have come as a surprise to those who had been watching how other countries responded to the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). India was quick to react to it, convening a crisis management group in early January.

Since then, beginning with the stoppage of flights from China in January, to screening of arriving international passengers, and quarantining, preventive measures have been gradually ratcheted up. This is as it should be. Any other way, say, imposing total lockdown a month earlier, would not only have been premature, but would have had a calamitous impact on the economy, far worse than the already serious current setback.

More importantly, such a drastic measure likely could not have been enforced before achieving a tipping point of acceptance among the populace. In fact, even now, there are stray examples of lack of compliance, even among the educated middle-class. This is why the rehearsal on March 22, the voluntary one-day “janata curfew” (people’s curfew) was a crucial prerequisite.

The eerie stillness all around the nation during the janata curfew was unprecedented. Social media was full of netizens’ posts, some with videos, about the only sounds heard all day being the long-forgotten chirping of birds. Except at 5pm, with millions thronging their doorsteps, balconies and windows to applaud the work of those in essential services with protracted clapping and clanging of utensils.

India has seen large-scale mass movements before, of course, but they have been political. From Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement to Jayaprakash Narayan’s challenge to Indira Gandhi’s continuance, impassioned millions thronged the streets. And despite stated objectives to the contrary, violence invariably ensued.

But never before had India seen the buy-in, on such a grand scale, totally peacefully, of so many of its citizens for a social cause. Yes, there were a few who came out onto the streets in a misguided, celebratory mood. But they were a tiny fraction of those who joined in from their homes, in the true spirit of what was being attempted.

The reason this exercise was important has to do with democracy and State capacity. Authoritarian states like China can, and did, clamp down hard in enforcing social distancing. Of course, China bears culpability for suppressing information about the coronavirus in the initial weeks, to the extent of harassing and disciplining the first whistle-blower doctor. But in a first after decades, it demonstrated something heretofore unimaginable in the 21st century, that shutting down entire cities and provinces was not only conceivable but also doable.

Democracies find it harder to emulate that sort of brutal, top-down policymaking and enforcement. Examples abound in this particular crisis itself, with various democracies reacting at different speeds. All democracies, by definition, are burdened by slower decision-making than authoritarian ones. The ones that did take tough decisions faster did so, more likely, because of cultural attributes than any inherent systemic speed.

As the largest, most diverse democracy, India is no exception. In fact, over the seven decades in which it has been gradually rediscovering its historic relevance after centuries of slide, India has often been found wanting in State capacity on a variety of fronts. Unlike in China, therefore, no one, not even the most popular prime minister (PM) in decades, could simply snap his fingers and expect to successfully enforce a lockdown. Millions of argumentative Indians would have resisted, not for rational reasons, but due to long inculcated discomfort with diktats.Thus, democracies require leaders who excel at communicating with the masses, especially during crises. And that, unarguably, is this PM’s forte. Even leaving aside his ability to rally the electorate during campaigning — which has resulted in the biggest mandates in decades — there are plenty of other examples.

Narendra Modi’s messianic zeal in uniting millions for a social cause, simply by the power of exhortation, has been on display many times. His reigniting of the national consciousness towards public hygiene through the Swachh Bharat Mission was initially mocked by opponents. But six years down the line, it is widely acknowledged as having begun showing results. There is still a long way to go, but changes in attitudes are discernible.

Similarly, among many other examples, another one that stood out was the PM’s appeal to middle-class beneficiaries of subsidised cooking gas cylinders to voluntarily surrender them. Over 10 million Indians did so, enabling subsidies to be directed to the needy.

Nevertheless, to stop a pandemic in its tracks in a country like India, exhortation is a necessary but not sufficient precondition. Strict enforcement is unavoidable. Though large segments of the population are convinced of the need for social isolation, a few can still be seen violating the lockdown. Whether they are not yet convinced or are indisciplined, harsh enforcement of public health guidelines must be put in place.

As these weeks grind on, there will be many challenges. The marshalling of enormous resources will be required. The big package announced this week for the most economically vulnerable citizens is a crucial component. The government is surely working on more such measures. And yes, from time to time, exhortations from the top will continue to be needed.

How to stop rapes: Death penalty is not the answer, but police and prosecutorial reform are

How to stop rapes: Death penalty is not the answer, but police and prosecutorial reform are


After another spate of horrific rapes of minors, some involving gruesome violence and murder, the Union government last month finally issued an ordinance incorporating the death sentence for rapes of minor girls. This had been a long-standing demand of many agitated citizens, though there are also sceptics who doubt it will halt the epidemic.

This column last month (11 April, ) had dealt with India’s penchant for compensating the lack of enforcement of various laws by introducing ever stiffer penalties in those laws. The new ordinance is the latest example of this, though it is oddly not gender neutral, considering that boys too get raped. In any case, the brutality of some of the recent assaults undoubtedly qualifies as “rarest of rare,” the Supreme Court (SC) yardstick for awarding death sentences.

Sometimes those additional penalties are summary, such as mandatory arrest based on an accusation alone, even without prima facie evidence. That is the crux of an ongoing controversy after the SC stipulated due process criteria for arrests under the SC/ST Act.  Of course the death penalty proviso in the new ordinance is not summary, it does require conviction by a court.

But convictions in India, as the proverb goes, are rarer than hen’s teeth. Through a triple whammy of deterioration in policing, shambolic prosecutions, and abysmal backlogs in courts, the odds are so low of justice being delivered that it is a miracle survivors and families of victims bother to report the attacks at all.

Yet, report they do, and at a rapidly rising pace. Whether you attribute the increased reporting to an actual increase in such heinous crimes — some of it surely is! — or to increased societal confidence and assertiveness, the end result remains unacceptable for any civilised society. For not only are convictions far lower than in developed democracies, the reasons in India — delays and witnesses turning hostile — are disheartening.

Ironically, the number of convictions in such cases has risen in recent years, but the far sharper increase in the number of crimes reported has meant the percentage of convictions has fallen. In 2016, convictions for crimes against women stood at 18%, and those for crimes against children were only marginally better at just under 30%.

Some sceptics of the new death penalty believe it can perversely lead to child rapists killing their targets more often, to reduce their chances of being caught, and because the punishments are now the same anyway. But unless most cases are speedily adjudicated, it is largely a moot point.

Curbing the impunity with which such assaults are happening will require delivering swift justice. Of the three areas that need overhauling for that to happen, this column has earlier touched upon judicial and prosecutorial reform, and will now cover police reforms.

The hurdles against tackling crime begin with the police having long been politicised, and the reluctance of state governments to rectify that malaise. A recent Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative study concluded that not a single Indian state has fully complied with a 2006 SC judgment issuing seven directives for police reform.

Those SC directives included appointing Directors General (DG) of police in a merit-based, transparent manner; minimum tenures for senior officers; forming Police Establishment Boards (PEBs) for appointments, transfers, and promotions; separating investigations from law and order; a board to hear public complaints against police; and most importantly, forming State Security Commissions (SSCs) to prevent political interference.

Even states which established the all-important SSC, have done so without incorporating stipulated checks and balances, such as having the leader of the opposition be a member, have other independent members, and make its recommendations binding. Such truculence leads to disastrous outcomes. For instance Odisha, which along with Jammu & Kashmir has not bothered to set up an SSC, saw much higher increase of crimes against children between 2014 and 2016 (50% vs 19% nationally).

Contrasting that with two examples from democracies with which we have shared systemic roots, the UK and Canada, is instructive. With its 2002 Police Reform Act the UK distributed powers between the Home Office, the local police administration, and the Chief Constable of the force, in order to create a buffer between the police and the state.

Similarly, Canada’s police system has two striking features that, if implemented here, would revolutionise India’s crimefighting. First, instead of one monolithic force, it has police forces for municipal, provincial and federal levels, with differentiated, escalating powers. Second, based on a fundamental premise that civilians must exercise oversight and control over the police, it has supervisory boards and commissions comprising of civilians. These aim to shield the police from being influenced by partisan politics and to involve community members to help improve police administration.

Police reform in India needs much else besides these, but most other steps require very large allocations of funds. For example, raising India’s woefully low ratio of police personnel from today’s 137 per lakh of population to the UN recommended 222 would increase states’ expenditure by tens of thousands of crores.

That is a worthwhile investment and political resolve must be garnered to commit such funds. But meantime, the reforms in police administration discussed here can achieve a dramatic turnaround, with little cost other than to political egos.

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.