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 In large swathes of the country today,the writ of the state has been replaced by that of the Naxals,who collect taxes,hold trials,issue punishment (including executions),recruit and operate a standing army,and are deeply dedicated to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.

India’s manufacturing policy

Article Title:”Manufacturing Change: Policy, infrastructure and mindset hurdles must be removed for ‘Make in India’ to take off”

The launch of the ambitious ‘Make in India’ campaign to promote manufacturing in India could not have been more timely, coming as it does in the wake of the death of two iconic brands, Ambassador cars and HMT watches.

Recent months have undoubtedly seen a turnaround in India’s economy, a surge in investments and optimism in the markets. However, the prevailing positive sentiment rests less on specific policy changes so far – which till now consist of the signalling of intent, some trial balloons, and only the first few course corrections – and more on the belief that the new government means business.

Even as large investments are lined up from Japan, China and elsewhere, it is time to ensure that these (as well as domestic investments) don’t get stuck in the quagmire of red tape for which we have become infamous. India consistently fares poorly in global indices that rank economic freedom, such as those by the Heritage Foundation and others. The World Bank, in its 2014 rankings on the ease of doing business, puts India at 134th out of 189 countries.

While investments of all sorts have long had to contend with this landscape, the manufacturing sector has been especially penalised. With manufacturing contributing only 16% of India’s GDP – a third of China’s, and far lower in absolute terms – it is clear that this sector is not pulling its weight. That means tens of millions of missing jobs for a population that desperately needs them.

Of course, it can and has been argued that India’s forte is services, while China’s is manufacturing, and that we should make the most of this rather than fretting about it. Such arguments are couched in free market principles, against having an industrial policy, and in favour of letting the chips fall as they may, with each country making the most of its own competitive advantages.

There is a case for such an approach. Except that India’s manufacturing handicap is self-created, rather than due to any inherent shortcomings. Third world infrastructure, complex regulations, Byzantine procedures, counterproductive labour laws and a viciously extractive inspector raj, all contribute to disincentivising entrepreneurship. This is especially so in manufacturing. It should thus be no surprise that young Indian entrepreneurs, of whom there are plenty, mostly prefer to steer clear of this sector.

Ironically, Indians have long been lauded for their entrepreneurial skills in every corner of the world, and are increasingly respected for their contributions to manufacturing on a global scale. For instance, the automotive sector has long been a benchmark of a country’s manufacturing capabilities. Mahindra and Tata vehicles have been working their way up the value chain and now have significant presence in some parts of the world, as have other Indian companies in other industries.

This was a departure from an earlier era, when the likes of L N Mittal felt compelled in the 1970s to leave India to build their empires, in his case the world’s lar-gest steel company. But after a few years of both domestic and foreign companies scaling up in India, recently even the best-known Indian manufacturing companies, including the Mahindras and Tatas, have been finding it far easier to grow abroad than at home.

The mood seems to be turning optimistic again, but turbocharging the manufacturing sector is going to take some doing. For starters, there are clear lessons from past efforts, which have included numerous such initiatives over the decades. From Export Oriented Units, to SEZs, to industry-specific promotional schemes, there’s nothing that has not been mooted.

Though some of these measures have experienced some success (the automotive industry is again a good example), the share of manufacturing in GDP has remained stagnant for decades. Typically, poor implementation of policy thrusts is the chief villain. Take the 2011 National Manufacturing Policy, for example. A perfectly reasonable concoction, envisioning the creation of manufacturing zones with better infrastructure and updated labour laws, but with no follow-through on the ground. If only wishes were horses.

But the deeper problem beyond poor policy implementation is the overall ambience of obstructionism, even hostility. Decades of statist policies were built around suspicion of trade and commerce, with the private sector being particularly tarred as exploiters. And although early this century saw a few years of genuine entrepreneurs being lionised, political reverses, government apathy and the massive resurgence of crony capitalism saw a return to the earlier paradigm.

In the past few years, all entrepreneurs have again been viewed with suspicion for the sins of a few black sheep who conspired with rent seekers to fleece the system. But a country without entrepreneurs – the authentic kind, with dreams, ideas and passion – can never create enough jobs. India’s entrepreneurs have a tough enough time in any sector, but have bigger hurdles to overcome in the manufacturing sector, involving land, labour, infrastructure, taxes, inspections and the like.

So the ‘Make in India’ thrust will yield results if implemented vigorously. But for the manufacturing sector to contribute a much bigger share of India’s economy, an entirely new ecosystem is called for. For that, a lot of undoing is needed, of accumulated laws, procedures and attitudes, towards economic activity as a whole.

Religious conversion in India

Article Title:”Losing my religion: If minority communities have the right to convert others then so does the majority”

During the framing of India’s Constitution, the matter of whether it should guarantee the right to not just freely profess and practise one’s religion but also to propagate it was much debated. Ultimately, Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees all three, but subject to “public order, morality and health”.

The Hindu right has often accused Christian and Muslim proselytisers of using inducement or coercion to get Hindus to convert. Missionaries from those religions – as well as secular, liberal activists – have invariably opposed such accusations, and have stood in favour of ensuring constitutional protection for propagating religion. Ironically, neither side has been consistent in the principles of its stand, sometimes arguing in opposite directions depending on who the converters are and who the converted.

Though Hinduism is not considered a proselytising religion, Hindu missionaries are not exactly a new phenomenon. The ancient evangelist Adi Shankaracharya led a movement to revitalise Hinduism in light of the growth of Buddhism. And the first modern-day Hindu missionary effort, seeking to reconvert those whose ancestors had left the fold, was the Arya Samajis’ Shuddhi movement of the early 20th century. It faced fierce resistance, culminating in the assassination of Swami Shraddhanand in 1926.

Born that year was the man who later became known as Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, another Hindu missionary who was in turn also killed in 2008, triggering the riots in Odisha’s Kandhamal district. But violence has not been the preserve of any one group, as the murder of Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons proved, also in Odisha, in 1999.

Recent incidents of conversion have again reignited the issue, with sections of the opposition resolutely stopping Parliament from functioning, particularly the Rajya Sabha where the government is in a minority. In the process, however, both old and new fault lines are on display.

Many in the opposition who have in the past stoutly defended the right of the minorities to proselytise – and rejected allegations of coercion or inducement – are today taking exactly the opposite stand when it concerns proselytising by the majority. And just as blatantly, some who have energetically opposed minority missionaries are adopting both their tactics and their arguments.

Though it is today a BJP government and its supporters who are suggesting a national law to regulate conversions, such suggestions have come in the past too, when Congress was in government. Bills were proposed to be introduced in Parliament in 1954, 1960 and 1979, but fell through for lack of support. And upon mass conversions in Meenakshipuram in 1981, it was a Congress-led union government that advised all states to enact laws regulating conversions.

Such laws have been passed by several states and have even withstood constitutional challenges. The first two were by Odisha as far back as 1967, and then Madhya Pradesh (1968). Both wound their way to the Supreme Court, where a constitution bench upheld them. The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on the public order caveat of the constitutional guarantee, as well as its determination that both the state laws guaranteed religious freedom to all.

The Supreme Court’s ruling also held that while Article 25 of the Constitution grants the freedom of conscience to all, as also the right to transmit or spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets, it does not confer the right to convert another person to one’s own religion.

Subsequently Chhattisgarh (2000), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006) and Rajasthan (2008) have passed laws to regulate conversions. Tamil Nadu had passed its anti-forcible conversion law in 2002, but repealed it in 2005. Incidentally, state laws regulating conversions are not just a post- independence feature. In British India, the princely states of Raigarh, Patna and Udaipur had far more rigid laws, which in fact were aimed squarely at preventing conversions to Christianity.

Nevertheless, the UN rapporteur for religious freedom, Hiener Bielefeldt, has said that these state laws undermine religious freedom in India. Despite lauding India as the birthplace of many religions and its heritage of pluralism, he asserts that the requirement of converts having to explain their reasons for conversion is humiliating and wrongly attributes the state with somehow having the ability to assess its genuineness.

Though the UN rapporteur concedes that coercion must be prevented, he also states that such concepts as inducement or allurement are not only vague but that “any invitation to another religion has elements of inducement or allurement”. He notes that these are “loosely defined terms” and don’t meet the standards of criminal justice, in which “laws need to be clear”.

So, would a national law help? Could it be precise and clear, thus giving force to the Constitution’s provisions, both its rights and protections? Might it help overcome the current contradictions? After all, since all sides have indulged in propagating their religions – and faced accusations of coercing, inducing and alluring – it is theoretically possible to agree on a minimum definition of acceptable norms that are compatible with the Constitution.

But in practice, it is highly unlikely that there can be any such consensus across the political spectrum on a new law regulating conversions, clear or otherwise. If the issue lingers on, sooner or later the nation’s highest court will have to step in again.