Monday, October 19, 2015

Further Strife with Judiciary .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ October 18, 2015

Further Strife with Judiciary Will Put Government’s Democratic Intentions in    the Dock

King Solomon, the ancient king of Israel, was widely known for his sagacity and justice. His throne had a round top and two lions standing below each arm. Centuries later, Indian justice’s golden throne, the Supreme Court, delivered a judgment that protected the cornerstone of our democracy. A five-member Bench headed by Justice J S Khehar struck down the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) Act, which sought the government power in choosing judges.

The greatness of the Indian judiciary is an allegory of Solomon’s throne, nationally emblematic of India’s legislature and executive. There was, however, leonine disappointment over L’affaire NJAC. It was the Modi government’s first major encounter with the judiciary. But PM Narendra Modi should take the setback as signal for course correction by initiating a dialogue for reconciliation and accommodation rather than insolent confrontation.
The judicial burial of NJAC has, however, caused much animosity and anger in the ruling establishment. Justice Khehar made a significant remark in his judgment: “It is difficult to hold that the wisdom of appointment of judges can be shared with the political-executive. In India, the organic development of civil society has not as yet sufficiently evolved. The expectation from the judiciary, to safeguard the rights of the citizens of this country, can only be ensured by keeping it absolutely insulated and independent from the other organs of governance.”  He was echoing the voices and intent of the collective wisdom that gave India its Constitution. It’s no surprise that the idea of the NJAC was born out of political consternation after various courts brought many of the high and mighty to justice, sending Union ministers, chief ministers and top bureaucrats to prison.
The judgment showed the Indian judiciary continues to be courageous and outspoken. The reaction of the ruling party and its top law officers, however, was dismally churlish. Law minister D V Sadananda Gowda, an advocate himself, said, “I am surprised by the verdict of the Supreme Court on NJAC which was completely supported by the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. It had 100 per cent support of the people.” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who extensively argued for the government, echoed Gowda’s sentiment and termed it a flawed judgement “ignoring the will of the Parliament, half of state legislatures and the will of the people for transparency in judicial appointments”. Ironically, it is the BJP and its allies who have historically gained from judicial activism. Leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani have been champions of judicial independence. The BJP must remember that it is an independent judiciary that has corrected distortions in the functioning of the executive and restored the rule of law. In the 1970s, Indira Gandhi had rammed through various legislations, which she considered the Will of the Bill. Many curbs on fundamental rights during the Emergency were passed by the same Parliament, which adopted the NJAC. The will of the people is reflected in the Constitution of India as “We, the People.” Various judicial orders since Independence have clarified that the Constitution’s basic structure cannot be mauled to suit the political philosophy of a ruling party. Using convoluted arguments against the role of courts, politicians are suggestively selling the ominous idea that any elected government can demolish the judicature by invoking the Will of the People doctrine.
It is not for the first time that court verdicts have created a confrontation between the judiciary and executive and sometimes even with the legislature. Irked by judges’ vigorous scrutiny of government actions and legislations, politicians have tended to tinker with the judiciary’s powers. The current battle stems from the same desire to disturb the delicate balance of power between the judiciary, executive and the legislature. Undoubtedly, the collegium system to choose judges needs to be insulated against extraneous factors. But it has worked much better than the previous one for the past 22 years. Of the 2,000-odd appointments in high courts and the Supreme Court since 1993, hardly a dozen turned out to be bad apples. But if the NJAC is enforced, politicians will choose judges. By making the law minister and two other non-judicial individuals members of the selection panel, the executive can slip in people with dubious backgrounds. Can India afford to institutionalise a mechanism by which chargesheeted or tainted leaders are allowed to select top judges? What sort of Solomons would the country get if Yeddyurappa, Lalu Prasad, Azam Khan or A Raja becomes the law minister, either in their states or at the Centre? Is it not a possibility that by changing the system, those facing the rule of law would instal puppet judges to superimpose the rule of their masters on the system?
The judiciary’s role is well defined by the Constitution. Its responsibilities are to ensure the rule of law and to interpret the Constitution. People who are tempted to remove any checks on their lust for unlimited power cannot be allowed to choose judges. The Indian judiciary has delivered directions on issues like health, environment, crime against women and better education, which are not in our written Constitution. It takes over when the executive fails. Even now, the latter has the power to stall any appointment if it finds the candidate’s credentials unsatisfactory. The NDA government, too, prevented an eminent lawyer from becoming a Supreme Court judge for unexplained reasons. Any further confrontation with the judiciary will not only weaken India’s healthy democracy but also raise questions about the government’s democratic intentions. Like during Indira’s regime, there are many in the NDA who enjoy intimidating the judiciary to settle personal scores. They will push the PM to take the verdict as a challenge to his authority. But a strong and secure leader like Modi will succeed only by making hallowed institutions like the judiciary even stronger. History is an estuary of evidence, which shows that those who have fiddled with judicial independence have done so at their own peril.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pak Artists Can'[t Dilute fight against Terror .... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ October 11, 2015

Pak Artists Can't Dilute Fight Against Terror with Music, and Money Earned in India

Ghulam Ali

Music unites hearts and souls. Only in India can music and musicians divide society longitudinally. The recent Shiv Sena-sponsored ban on the famous Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali from performing in Mumbai has brought onstage a direct confrontation between the ill-liberals and liberals on one side, and nationalists and ultranationalists on the other. Ironically, a Pakistani citizen like Ali has become the symbol of the fight for cultural freedom in India as if his own country is the paradise of pluralism and tolerance.

Some semantic saviours of secularism have tried to paint the musical prescription as a rift between Hindus and Muslims. It is appalling that the BJP government couldn’t convince its alliance partner to refrain from preventing a well-beloved singer from entertaining the Mumbai audience. The Shiv Sena, like the Muslim League or Owaisi’s obstreperous outfit, is entitled to sing its communally divisive tune. But none of them have the right to impose their choices—cultural or otherwise—on the entire state or country. The Shiv Sena has always been allergic to anyone from Pakistan, be it cricketers or artists, performing in Mumbai. This time it sang its revolting raga to the convenient composition of nationalist idealism. “Some people may have a problem with what we did, but we have no regrets. We have done our national duty. This is a tribute to all our martyrs who died at the hands of Pakistan’s cowardly hands. Raising war memorials is not enough, you need to give a stern reply and that is what we have done,” surmised an editorial in the party mouthpiece Saamna. Expectedly, others wearing jingoistic badges on their sleeves joined Sena’s offensive orchestra against Pakistan’s cultural invasion.
Popular Bollywood singer Abhijit Bhattacharya was the first to tweet in favour of the ban: “These shameless people have no self-respect, no work except terrorism. So-called Hindu political parties just shout 4 mileage bt never tk action agnst these Dengue Artists from terrorist country. These qawwals don’t come here on their merit but due to paki Dalals.” Predictably, he was savagely set upon by the secular cabal of Shabana Azmi, Mahesh Bhatt and Wendell Rodricks, who wear blinkers against Pakistan’s own attitude to their artistic colleagues across the border. Since it was a Hindutva political party that opposed Ali, leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal naturally played to their galleries and adopted the singer. They have invited him to perform in Kolkata and Delhi. Even committed Hindutva outfits disapproved the Shiv Sena attack and ban on Ali’s show. The RSS too expressed displeasure with Shiv Sena’s action. But all these conciliatory contortions couldn’t force Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to call his ally’s bluff by ensuring that the concert went ahead as planned.
Ever since the change of government at the Centre in 2014, the actions and averments of fringe elements have dictated and defined the discourse on individual liberty. It can’t be denied that a few self-proclaimed torchbearers of Hindutva have been emboldened by the administration’s inaction towards their shoot-from-the-hip statements. On the other hand, the literati and chatterati class has been deliberately ignoring the assault on Indian culture, entertainment and minority citizens in Pakistan. Not one of those who are now in the forefront of defending Ali have taken up cudgels on behalf of Indian artistes and films prevented from playing in Pakistan. Their silence has provided a handle to individuals with extreme ideological leanings to convert every opportunity as a pledge to defend India’s pride. Those offended by Pakistan’s direct support to terror and Kashmiri separatists wonder why India should be a remunerative oasis for Pakistani singers, actors and other entertainers to hawk their talent. Come festival season, India is flooded with hordes of Pakistani showmen camping in various cities. They are invited by the rich and mighty to perform at private functions such as weddings. Revenue authorities’ estimate says Pakistani singers and artists take away over $77 lakh every year from India. A few years ago, noted Pakistani singer and B-Town balladeer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained at the IGI Airport in New Delhi after he and two of his troupe members were caught with $1.24 lakh in undeclared foreign currency.
None of these virtuosos who benefit commercially from the Indian market do ever speak against Pak-sponsored terror or plead in favour of liberal visas for Indian artists and journalists. But they host sumptuous parties for Indian socialites who visit Pakistan, who in turn take up their cause at home. Can a Lata Mangeshker, an Anupam Kher or even any of the Khans perform to packed audiences in Pakistan? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Pakistan has banned for short and longer duration over a dozen Indian films during the past 10 years. Over half of these films like Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Chennai Express, Agent Vinod, The Dirty Picture and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag had popular Indian Muslim celluloid icons like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan , Saif Ali Khan, Imraan Hashmi and Farhan Akhtar. All of them have done India proud but Pakistan found their films a threat to its cultural identity. Saif Ali’s Phantom was banned by a Pak lower court after the terror outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa led by Hafiz Saeed filed a petition against its screening. Saeed is a prime suspect in 26/11 Mumbai attacks. None of the famous flag-bearers of freedom of expression in India and abroad have ever taken out candlelight marches or resorted to social media frenzy to condemn the macabre melody of the Pak establishment. Indians, however, have rarely rejected any effervescent entertainment from Pakistan. A large number of TV serials made in Pakistan draw huge TRPs in India and are regularly telecast in India.
Even after almost seven decades, Pakistani opinion-makers have not been able to change the anti-India mindset of their rulers. They have, however, been highly successful in creating a powerful, well-connected coalition of socially savvy illiberals who are united by qawwals and cuisine to fill their pockets in India. It is time they realised that India, under PM Modi, even though backed by some hot-headed supporters, will not allow music and entertainment by Ali and ilk to dilute and divert the fight against terror, and that too with money earned in India.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 5, 2015

Owaisi and Ilk can talke backseat ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ October 04, 2015

Owaisi and Ilk Can Take Backseat, the Change They're Driving is not the Sort India Needs

AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi addresses a rally in Aurangabad

“My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist,” the immortal line delivered by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan in the eponymous film, went viral in 2010, sending the message that the majority of Muslims oppose violence. In 2014, the minority audience has been captivated by a leader whose name is Owaisi, who appears to be an error-ist.

In Asaduddin Owaisi’s quest for nation-wide acceptability, the 46-year-old barrister from Lincoln’s Inn has committed an error of judgment. Like many other Muslim leaders in the past, he too pursues the notion that he is the chosen one meant to carve out a political niche by communally pandering to his community’s fears. In the past few weeks, he has not missed any opportunity to project himself as the saviour of minority interests, as if it is the only course open to him to survive and thrive in politics. In that respect, he has something in common with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, also a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, who fought for a separate nation for Muslims, taking the divisive position that India wasn’t doing justice to his community. Most of India’s Muslims rejected this thesis. Owaisi, however, had till recently limited his ancestral political fiefdom to in and around Hyderabad, where Muslims form the largest chunk of the electorate. His latest gambit to delve into the Bihar poll fray reflects his dream to acquire the label of a pan-India Muslim leader. He is putting up over 40 candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies. He and his brothers are known more for their acerbic speeches against the majority community than for crafting a road map to improve the conditions of impoverished section of minorities. Perhaps because they are his vote bank. Besides, in Bihar, it is unclear how a leader contesting less than 20 per cent of seats can bring about any transformation in a caste-ridden state. 
Having tasted political blood in Maharashtra, where his party with the tongue-twister moniker, ‘All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’, did fairly well in both the Assembly and municipal elections, Owaisi has expanded his battlefield to other parts of the country. He appears at every spot where any communal accident or incident takes place. Last week, he  popped up in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim was lynched to death because he was suspected to have stored beef in his larder at home.
Owaisi has every right to practice his kind of politics. He is one of India’s few Muslim leaders, who is widely travelled and well educated. The question is why does an erudite leader like him indulge in communal politics? A study of the rise and fall of leaders in India since the early 20th century reveals that ones who took up the cause of extreme elements could never become national leaders. None of the Hindu Mahasabha satraps could acquire national stature because the overwhelming majority of Hindus disapproved of their actions. Jinnah floated the Muslim League because he failed to get his spot in the sun, pun intended, in the Indian National Congress. Owaisi and his type do not perceive themselves as leaders of an inclusive India. Most Muslim leaders are involved in combat to capture the majority of minority sentiment, not realising that it wouldn’t serve their mission to impact the nation’s governance. It is surprising that even after 68 years of Independence, the country doesn’t have a single Muslim leader with pan-India acceptability among his own community, let alone others. India has produced leaders like Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Dr Zakir Husain and more who spoke for the nation as a whole, not just for its 17-crore Muslims. India has the largest Muslim population after Indonesia. It should give enough of a headstart for any leader who empathises with the angst of his community. It is true that the benefits of economic development have not reached the minorities fully. All political outfits have ritually obliged a few Muslim leaders by giving them symbolic posts in the government or party. After the fall of Babri Masjid, the voice of the moderate Muslim has been drowned in the cacophony of protests of a psychologically wounded section of the community. Instead of exploring reconciliation, insane elements in both the Muslim and Hindu communities took to violence. Since then, they have been talking in terms of revenge and rivalry rather than friendship and fraternity. Owaisi and his ilk are forgetting that when anyone who practices the rhetoric of extremism becomes the darling of just the fanatic fringe, they are hated by the silent, peace-loving majority. He can draw some consolation from the fact that electoral expansionism may have paid some dividends, but like many others of his plumage, he too is a victim of diminishing returns.
Owaisi is seen as a leader who divides those voters who are expected to fight what he and fellow travellers call the Hindutva forces. But it wasn’t a coincidence that all the AIMIM candidates lost their deposits in the Bengaluru civic elections. Even organisations such as Sanatan Sanstha are rejected by the majority of the Hindu and secular elements because the DNA of India is genuinely secular. Owaisi is advised to ponder why any Google search throws up only the names of film stars while looking for India’s top Muslim leaders. Of 20 names, 18 are from tinseltown and academia. Isn’t it a tragedy that in a country where over 16 per cent of the population is Muslim, not one prominent political activist is considered the legitimate face of the community? Indian voters have always rejected extremist elements. The Muslim League has been reduced to a party in a few districts of Kerala. The Shiv Sena hasn’t been able to cross the Vindhyas, as well as the numerous smaller offshoots of the saffron type. Even the Ram Sene’s antics couldn’t get them an entry into Goa.
The Indian Muslim needs a voice that resonates over the political landscape, which speaks up for their genuine demands. Today’s minority leaders are seen as pocket borough paladins or vote bank small-timers. It is a matter of concern that India’s moderate and progressive Muslims scholars and opinion leaders are staying schtum on the rise of the extremist elements in politics. None can deny the reality that Muslims are an integral part of India’s unique identity as a tolerant nation. It is time they found leaders who speak for an Inclusive India and not a Divided Bharat. The voice of Owaisi is as dangerous for Muslims as the venomous statements made by fringe Hindu elements for the rest of the country. 
Owaisi’s Facebook page sports the slogan: ‘Bihar, change will come.’ Mr Owaisi, keep the change. Yours is not the sort India needs.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 28, 2015

BJP only lowering Modi's Cachet .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ September 27, 2015

BJP Only Lowering Modi’s Cachet by Turning National Debate into NaMo vs RaGa Battle

‘Love me, hate me but don’t ignore me’ is the phrase de jour of Rahul Gandhi and his party. The success of any leader lies in his ability to provoke both his friends and foes to keep on talking about him or her. It’s one of the most successful methods to beat the popular belief that out of sight means out of mind. In the slipstream of his frequent disappearances, it is this message that Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi leaves behind for both his promoters and detractors. Last week, RaGa once again decided to take a break from his pusillanimous political tourism at home. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in the US for a diplomatic-cum-commercial covenant with the global alpha group, RaGa chose some arcane venue to engage in academic and intellectual acrobatics with a battery of opinion shakers and makers.
Unlike Modi, the Congress scion was not hot news for the American media or establishment. He, however, managed to capture almost the same amount of mind and media space back home as Modi. A leader who’s yet to show his mettle to win a major political battle for his 129-year-old party, Rahul and his cohorts were happily preening in the attention they have got; more for his absence than his actions. The quality of the political narrative and debate has been debased so much that, now, even a private visit of a political leader becomes an instrument to score brownie points. How does it matter to any normal Indian if Rahul or any other leader spreads his carbon footprint, whether it be to Aspen or Brisbane? At a time when most Indian leaders are discussing the implications of the Bihar Assembly elections on the NDA and its loquacious leader, a section of hyper-committed political sympathisers were speculating about the venue, nature and characters who would be dining and wining with a Gandhi 12,000 miles away from the dust and drumbeats of political war.
So it has come to this! It seems that all it takes to be a leader today is to grab prime time spots and make front-page news for something he or she has hardly done or said, which is relevant to the ordinary citizens. Inexplicably, the BJP seems to be obsessed with the idea of Rahul Gandhi as a mass leader. Instead of ignoring his antics, wannabe BJP leaders are fiercely engaged in a verbal competition with each other on how to attack Rahul for his periodic vanishing acts. New-age BJP leaders prefer personality-bashing over beating their opponents ideologically. If Modi is anathema for the Congress, for the BJP, RaGa appears to be the worst thing that has ever happened to Indian politics.
Last week, hardly did a day pass without BJP leaders aggressively asking the Congress leadership about the whereabouts of a leader who barely has any significant role to play in running the establishment. They were accusing his ‘bhagoda’ act from the Bihar electionscape as a betrayal, as if the Congress poses any threat to the NDA. The party has been given 40 Assembly seats as an act of charity by the Nitish-Lalu combo to contest in the state, but is already finding it difficult to identify eligible candidates. The attrition between the BJP and Congress has centred more around the reasons for Rahul’s foreign visit than on the successful sojourn of the Prime Minister to the US. The BJP is convinced that by targeting RaGa incessantly on even inane issues, it can make him the least acceptable alternative to NaMo. From all visible indicators, RaGa is myriad miles behind the Prime Minister in terms of popularity and credibility. If the ferocity and frequency of the BJP’s offensive against the peripatetic princeling exceeds its voltage of venom against the Congress party, then it is evident that Rahul has hit the BJP where it hurts the most.
RaGa habitually makes fun of the Prime Minister at his rallies. Since the Gandhis are not big crowd pullers like Modi, they are restricting their public contact by choosing to engage with only a well-defined target audience. For the past two months, RaGa has addressed students, women, farmers, youth, Dalits, party workers et al. Instead of expounding on the Congress agenda, he has been viciously vituperative against Modi for betraying the mandate of the people. Rahul has been lampooning the NDA government for its failure to bring back black money and tame inflation. He has been repeatedly calling the NDA government a suit boot ki sarkar.
Undoubtedly, RaGa is more focused and confident since his return to active politics from a long sabbatical this year. His strategy appears to be only to provoke the BJP. And the saffron party has obliged by walking into his trap. Fortunately, its top leaders like party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi have refrained from even indirectly naming the Congress princelet in their political speeches. In the age of political marketing, various parties are expected to choose their target audience carefully and create a message accordingly. Modi understood this truth and mastered the art of selling himself. He could get a buy-in from all sections of the electorate because he could reveal many earthy things about himself. In contrast, RaGa is now selling himself without having much to say about himself. If his dismally low popularity is slowly heading north, the credit must go to his rivals and not the Congress or his marketers. Never before in the political bazaar has a leader been so conspicuous by his absence than his presence. RaGa has decided to dump the upper middle class and urban elite totally since they seem robotically mesmerised by the Modi mantra. His focus is on bringing back the traditional Congress vote bank of labourers, marginal farmers, Dalits and minorities, which has spurned it. It is to this segment that RaGa wants to project Modi as a pro-rich leader.
The Congress has been losing elections because it is seen to be an outfit that promotes corruption and crony capitalism. RaGa knows his foreign visits matter little to his highly polarised electorate. In fact, there are many rich and mighty in India who would be admiring him for going on holiday like they do. With Indian elections becoming more and more personality-driven, the GOP would like RaGa to stay on top of mind of the people. It is unable to displace Modi from public space, since his public connect through the Demosthenic power of his words and the novelty of new ideas reigns supreme. Rahul’s unique invisibility should have been the natural victim of Modi’s excessive and choreographed visibility. But by making his periodic AWOL an incessant issue, the BJP is lowering Modi’s cachet by turning the national debate into a NaMo vs RaGa battle for the future.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 21, 2015

Revealing, not withholding information, is Real Power ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ September 20, 2015

Revealing, not Withholding Information, is Real Power. In India, It's the Other Way Round

Information is power. Withholding information is even more power. News is what the powerful want to hide from the public. The rest is just free publicity. Since the government is the sole repository of all classified matter, it is instinctively reluctant to disclose any information on any subject. An Indian citizen cannot access any file marked ‘confidential’ by any babu, even if it is something relatively harmless like instructions on framing a policy to contain dengue. The civil services have flourished in the smoke and mirrors ecosystem, by cloaking in secrecy even the most visible silhouettes of the establishment and revealing little of what lies hidden in history. The denial of information is its most potent magic spell, which preserves its clubby sense of power. Preventing the public from being illuminated on government matters is deemed the most effective method of protecting national interest.

For the past few weeks, the political class has been obsessed with the quality and quantity of the Subhas Chandra Bose files made public so far. Since West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee joined the Bose battle, it has become evident that the classified files on the INA war hero are a puissant political bomb. Setting an odd precedent, Banerjee not only ordered the local police to release 64 files containing 12,000 pages, but also drove down to the police station herself where they were kept. Bose had become Didi’s latest instrument to woo Netaji worshippers for the upcoming Assembly elections. She went a step further by challenging the Centre to release all Bose files kept in North and South Block.
The furor over the files indicates the lack of transparency in our administrative system. Netaji was one of India’s most respected political leaders. The country has the right to know about his whereabouts and how he spent his days after fleeing India. For the past 65 years, successive governments have refrained from releasing the entire docket of files despite promises made during election campaigns. It is clear that it is the political leadership and civil service, which decide to hold back information without following any consistent principle or policy. For example, why cannot Banerjee reveal the truth about the rise and death of Naxalism in Bengal and the dismissal of state governments in the past?
At the Centre, the Modi government had promised to make the maximum number of classified government files public. But most Union ministries are reluctant to disclose information. According to the Manual of Department Security Instruction, 1994, “every classified file/document will be reviewed every five years for the purpose of declassification”. It also says the “automatic declassification may take place after 25 years except in cases where particular information may require to remain classified beyond this period for reasons of national security and national interest”. Rarely has the bureaucracy followed its own manual in letter and spirit. Official agencies do not maintain records about the number of files to be considered for annual declassification. Many are marked ‘Not to Go Out’. Even a joint secretary-rank official cannot retrieve one.
The situation in the states is worse. None of them have declassified any file during the past six decades. If classified documents that contain details of snooping on political and opinion-driving leaders were to be made public, it would expose the tyrannical nature of ruling establishments. Even Parliament has been denied knowledge about a serious matter like the number of corporate shares held by senior civil servants, by invoking the privacy or security clause. The most well-guarded open secret of the past is the process of appointment of High Court and Supreme Court judges. Much before the collegium system came into force, it was on the basis of secret reports that a person was chosen for the post of a judge. If 50-year-old files about their appointments were made accessible, the ugliest side of the Indian political system will come to light. Even files on the appointments and removal of governors would tell their own stories that delineate the noxious narrative of Centre-state relations.
Ironically, babus have invoked convenient clauses relating to national security to conceal files containing matter that pose a real threat to national security or the leadership. Many, like the ones dealing with the defence preparedness during the Indo-China war haven’t been declassified. But then Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon was forced to resign. Why doesn’t the government release the chain of files and correspondence preceding the 1965 Indo-Pak war and Tashkent declaration, after which PM Lal Bahadur Shastri met a mysterious death? If the files containing Indira Gandhi’s views on Henry Kissinger and the US establishment were to be made public, they would expose a simulacrum of the tortured nature of the Indo-US relationship in the 1970s. Why is India being blindfolded to the circumstances that led to cancellation of nuclear tests when P V Narasimha Rao was in power? How did Mrs Gandhi conduct the Pokhran nuclear test without a single colleague getting a whiff about her intentions? Even her decisions to sack Finance Minister Morarji Desai and nationalise private banks were taken after exchange of secret notes with the Cabinet Secretary.
The people have the right to know the details in the files in North and South Block, concerning US groupies infiltrating the system. There lie numerous files in the defence ministry, containing questions a few upright civil servants had raised on defence procurements. Some of them even name the individuals responsible for sabotaging the domestic production of equipment. Declassification of 30-year-old files from the petroleum ministry would reveal how ONGC wasn’t allowed to explore more terrain and which foreign oil companies were favoured for imports. Even the documents dealing with choosing the new PM’s home after Jawaharlal Nehru’s passing would make an interesting study about decision-making. Who decided to reverse the decision to retain Teen Murti Bhavan as Prime Minister Shastri’s official residence?
The unedited saga of the imposition of Emergency and supersession of three Supreme Court judges is yet to be told. Files recording the consultations among various ministries and PMO on Operation Blue Star remain hidden. Other democratic countries like the US and UK declassify material after periodic reviews. Unfortunately, in India, withholding information from the people is considered the tool to retain power than gaining it by revealing more and more.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 14, 2015

Meat Ban a battle between ..... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard /September 13, 2015

Meat Ban a Battle Between Promoters of Faith and Those Diluting it in Name of Freedom

Meat in India is being priced higher than morality on the political menu today. Food comes in numerous colours and cuts. It is now dividing the nation into various hues and habits, from Kashmir to Kerala. Bloody morsels of slaughtered animals and birds are dictating the contours of dialogue and debate. Foodies are so incensed over the ban on meat in many states that they are willing to send conscience to the abattoir over the inhuman act of a well-heeled Saudi diplomat who has been accused of raping two poor Nepalese women, and behaved like a butcher of decency. Most part of the last week was usurped by meat-loving gourmands to denounce and demonise a government, which was just implementing a ban that has been in place for decades. The municipal body in Mumbai was reinforcing a resolution, which was adopted in 1994. But for ill-liberals, it was a cardinal crime to extend the number of days during which the sale of meat was banned. They charged the BJP government of vote bank politics because the ban was imposed to oblige the Jain community. In the Valley, extremist elements took to streets and slaughtered animals after the J&K High Court directed the government to enforce a ban on killing cows that has been in force in the state for over a century. Forces opposed to the PDP-BJP government charged it of exclusively pandering to the Hindutva agenda. The print and electronic media, which were obsessed with Indrani Mukerjea’s salacious sins for weeks, shifted their cameras and took to their iPads to broadcast and podcast what they deemed was massive damage done by imposing a ban on their favourite dish for a couple of days.
Even the foreign media, which usually ignores retrograde practices in their own countries, started labelling India a Ban-Ban nation. Anyone and everyone who could speak English with an Oxbridge or Harvard accent left their bedrooms and boardrooms to moan and groan about the death of the freedom of gastronomy. All the famous TV anchors and the usual experts on everything, from potatoes to politics, played down the physical assault on impoverished Nepali women by a depraved diplomat, who would have been dead meat by now in any other country’s media coverage. They were more concerned about missing a meaty meal for a few days than leading the protest against the diplomat accused of rape. The discourse on the meat ban also reflected the nature of priorities, which are dear to the hearts of a privileged section of the urban elite. For them, freedom of food, the nature of sexual choices, free access to pornographic sites and mocking Indian deities, heritage and sites trump the survival of inclusive Indian culture. Any attempt to laud or revive Indian traditions of cuisine or clothing is termed an attack on privacy and individual liberty. But the ferocity of the uproar over the restriction on the sale of meat appears to be a clear indication that a vocal, well-connected, influential section of urban India is determined to dictate the lifestyle and moral choices of the entire nation.
In principle, it is none of any government’s business to dictate the food habits of people. They should be allowed to eat what they think is good for their health and mind, as long as it doesn’t violate any law. It should be left to the market forces to dictate and determine the sale of any food product. In fact, many senior leaders of the ruling BJP are enthusiastically non-vegetarian. Some of their staunch supporters boast about the virtues of Kobe beef over the Wagyu beefsteak they ate in Michelin restaurants all over the world. On the other hand, the number of vegetarians outnumbers non-vegetarians in the Congress and Left parties. Hence, it is not surprising that it was the Congress-dominated Constituent Assembly, which introduced the provision for the ban of cow slaughter in the Indian Constitution. It was during the party’s rule that majority of states imposed selective restrictions on the sale of meat.
With India being home to over 10,000 communities with different culinary habits, no uniformity of choice can be imposed by any agency. In a democracy, an elected government enjoys the right to protect the religious sentiments of various sections of society. Ever since vote bank politics became the gravy train to win elections, many parties have used gastronomy as governance to influence voters or retain their core constituencies. For example, the Kerala government doesn’t allow schools to serve mid-day meals during Ramzan, because it may hurt the feelings of Muslims. Similarly, in many North Indian schools, meat is not served in hostels or at government functions. Sticking to mutually acceptable principles and conventions has been the prudent policy of various governments  worldwide. For example, horsemeat is banned in the US. Pork can’t be served or sold in most West Asian counties in deference to the religious beliefs of citizens. In India, 24 of the 29 states have banned cow slaughter. The majority of states permit the sale of beef only in designated places. Last week, when all the five states—Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Haryana —imposed a temporary ban on the sale of meat during the Jain festival period, it was dubbed as a move to restrict the palate preferences of the people. But such bans are imposed periodically in various parts of the country depending upon the local situation. But never before has the country seen such an angry and aggressive protest against it. The BJP is hitting back at its detractors with a vengeance by imposing a ban regime on more and more states.
The uproar over a temporary ban on meat sale in certain parts of the country is also motivated by political, cultural and commercial reasons. India is the fifth largest exporter of beef in the world. As the BJP-led NDA government moves forward on its agenda of imposing a total ban on cow slaughter, it would hurt the massive commercial interests of a section of the trading community. According to some reports, powerful political leaders in Maharashtra and North India clandestinely support the beef mafia, which smuggles cows from India to Bangladesh, where each animal fetches three times its price in India. The ban is not new. But what is novel is the assertion of individual choice of victuals over the feelings of some others. The current confrontation over meat seems less to do with eating habits than the battle between the promoters of Indian faith and heritage and those who want to dilute it in the name of freedom of choice. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla