Saturday, 20 January 2018

THE REAL SWADESHI INDIAN.


    It appears to me that Baba Ramdev, with his Patanjali and Divya Pharmacy brands, has done more to promote India's traditional knowledge and to make it a commercial success than the BJP govt's Make In India programme and the obscurantist efforts of its fringe elements. Good economics evidently is more sustainable than coercive politics. Whereas far-fetched claims of plastic surgery and organ transplant during the Vedic times and vapid platitudes about the Cow have evoked derision, Baba Ramdev's quiet promotion of the benefits of ancient herbal medicines, of the properties of medicinal plants and the value of cow products has made his venture a blockbuster that even Mukesh Ambani can be envious of. The revenues of Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. jumped from Rs. 446.00 crore in 2011-12 to Rs. 10561 crore in 2016-17, a twenty fold increase in five years. Forbes has computed that Acharya Balkrishna ( who hold 98.6% of the shares of the company on behalf of Baba Ramdev) is the 19th richest man in India and is worth US$ 7.3 billion! No wonder that HUL, Dabur etc. are scrambling to retain their market shares. If ever there was a truly Indian success story based on our own raw materials and know-how it is Patanjali.
   I personally do not find this surprising because, notwithstanding his simple, spiritual demeanour, Baba Ramdev is an astute and alert businessman. His impish, jocular facade conceals a brain as sharp as a razor. I discovered this personally in 2008 or thereabouts when I was holding charge of  the Forest Deptt.  Himachal's forests are a veritable store-house of medicinal plants and herbs and they are smuggled out in huge quantities. This, combined with the fact of their unscientific extraction, has put most of them in the endangered category. We felt that if the trade could be regulated through legal channels we might be able to ensure their sustainability. Enter Baba Ramdev, then a bit player, who was scouting around for raw materials. He contacted Mr. J.P.Nadda who was my Minister ( he is now, of course, the Health Minister at the center) who asked me to hold a meeting with the Baba. The meeting was held at the Bilaspur Circuit House, and I went there with my retinue of officers , armed with figures and cost prices. To my horror, Baba Ramdev ( who came without any managerial aides) was far better informed. He was juggling three smart phones all the time, constantly checking with his units about products, quantities, prices. He drove a hard bargain and took decisions instantly, putting us at a disadvantage what with our sarkari process of needing to get approvals from a whole host of agencies and departments which didn't even know the difference between a medicinal plant and a pharmaceutical factory. Within a couple of hours we concluded agreements on a number of items and the Baba, with a final churning of his six-pack abs, merrily went off towards Punjab to buy some "gaggals" for his lemon squash. I'm not aware of the current status of those agreements, but I hope the state has managed to build on them , now that the Baba's requirements must have gone up manifold.
   True, the Baba does have a habit of dabbling in politics and occasionally wanting to chop off a few heads. I wish he would eschew these tendencies: he has no need to become a part of the Hindutva brigade, given his wide acceptability as a champion of Ayurveda and Yoga. He probably feels he owes it to Mr. Modi for universalising the science of Yoga. But his constituency is now too big and extends across political borders for him to massage the BJPs ego. His efforts at mainstreaming Ayurveda are paying off, thanks also to the rapacious and unscrupulous profiteering by allopathic doctors and hospitals. Alternative medicine all over the world is gaining acceptance, and even the new Medical Commission Bill of the govt. proposes to include practitioners of Ayurveda, Homeopathic and Unani schools of medicine within the govt. health structure. This is a positive step, and Baba Ramdev has played no small role in making it happen.
   I cannot conclude this piece without a line or two on the Patanjali products. I'm completely sold on them and go nowhere else for a number of them: bathing soaps ( they last for months!), face cream ( not that there's much any cream can do for a face like mine), toothpaste, hair oil, kitchen masalas, floor cleaner( Gonyle, based on cow urine), honey, amla and aloe vera juice, jams, squashes pickles, etc. What appeals to me is their " Indianness", lack of chemical ingredients, the fact that Patanjali's profits are channelised into a trust for charitable purposes, the simple, almost ascetic life style of its founder and the fact that he is devoid of any corporate airs. My list of Patanjali products would have been longer but for the fact that the Treasury Officer Shimla never forgets to deduct a whopping TDS from my pension every month. I'm hoping he'll forget some month and I can then try out Patanjali's other products. I better go now- its time for the pranayam session.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

BETRAYAL OF THE AAM AADMI


[   This article was published in the New Indian Express on 15.1.2018 under the title A HOPE LOST TO POLITICS AS USUAL ]

                                     
      The late Nirad C Choudhry’s definition of India as the continent of Circe, where humans are transmogrified into a lesser species, is particularly true of politics in India, and the latest evidence of this is the transformation of Arvind Kejriwal. Never before in the history of politics in India had a party, and that too a two year old fledgling ranged against an all conquering behemoth like the BJP, ever won 99.5% of seats in an election. Mr. Kejriwal and his AAP achieved this in the 2015 elections in Delhi, winning 67 of the 70 seats. He did this on the back of a desperate yearning for a change, not just in government but in the very nature and quality of politics in the country. The people brought in the BJP to replace the Congress in Parliament in 2014 because they wanted to change the government. But they brought in Kejriwal in Delhi in 2015 because they wanted to change the very essence, values and idiom of politics in the country, not just the government. The transformation sought was far more basic and elemental and Kejriwal was the Merlin who could do this.
    Cleaning out these Augean stables was no easy task, what with 70 years of accumulated political ordure. The long suffering citizens were not unaware of this and were prepared to make allowances for the inexperience and administrative immaturity of a greenhorn party, and they have been keeping the faith these last two years and more. They have consistently overlooked, if not forgiven, Kejriwal for his many mistakes: the dog fights with the Prime Minister and the Lieutenant Governor, the expulsion of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, the distancing from other AAP stalwarts like Anjali Damania and Mayank Gandhi, the dubious ticket distribution in Punjab, the hobnobbing with Khalistanis, the open support to the Art of Living’s desecration of the Yamuna floodplains, the failure to improve Delhi’s transport problems, the appointment of as many as 21 MLAs as Parliamentary Secretaries in order to circumvent the constitutional provisions. The people perceived these mistakes as errors of judgement and continued to repose their faith in AAP and Kejriwal for one reason, and one reason only: his appeal to a higher political standard. Indian polity has always lacked a moral and ethical underpinning, an honest and principled core, the nucleus of compassion, humaneness and tolerance around which all civilised nations and societies are built. In him and in AAP many Indians saw a vague outline of a path leading back to our moral roots, and so they persevered; for all his faults, they reasoned, here was a politician who would never compromise on the one value that is a complete stranger to politics in India- probity, rectitude and integrity. Like Moses he would take us to the promised land, we were prepared to wait- after all, didn’t the Hebrews wander in the deserts for forty years, and didn’t the Pandavas spend years in exile, before they gained their goals?
    We have been betrayed. By Mr. Kejriwal himself. He has nominated to the Rajya Sabha two individuals- Sushil Gupta, a businessman and N.D. Gupta, a Chartered Accountant- who have absolutely nothing to recommend themselves for the historic role of the first ever AAP  MPs in the Upper House.This was a momentous opportunity for the AAP to nominate persons of eminence and gravitas, to depart from the general practice of awarding hangers on, sycophants, financiers, cronies, to demonstrate that it really was a party with a difference. The Guptas, however, are nobodies; rich, no doubt, but with no track record of any public service or contribution to the polity or society. Could Mr. Kejriwal not find even two individuals from among the hundreds who gave selflessly of themselves in the India Against Corruption movement or later to his own party? Is his party so devoid of quality and talent that he had to go shopping in the same bazaar other parties customise? These, and other, questions are being raised but Kejriwal, for a change, has gone silent. Like a Prime Minister he has frequently questioned for his silences, Kejriwal too is in mute mode: he has not uttered one word of explanation for his disgraceful decision, or clarified what his party stands to gain by these inexplicable choices. Perhaps there ARE no explanations, perhaps the only gainer is Mr. Kejriwal himself and not his party, perhaps he has given up the fight and is preparing to fold up his tent and steal away into the night with whatever he can. There is something rotten here and his staunchest supporters ( like me) cannot ignore the overpowering stench emanating from these nominations.

    The Aam Aadmi Party has just been murdered by its own founder. It has renounced the only values that were its USP, that made it different from other parties- its clean, uncompromising, idealistic, honest image. It is now just another party. I am reminded of the concluding sentences in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm: there came a stage when it was difficult to tell who were the pigs and who the humans, they had become one and the same. This will be the epitaph of the AAP. And what about us, the ordinary citizens, who were promised so much? We will continue to wait for a Godot who will never come or, if he comes at all, will only flatter to deceive. Like one Arvind Kejriwal.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A PROMISING BEGINNING IN HIMACHAL


    The new BJP government in Himachal is off to an encouraging start, it would appear. It certainly begins with a few significant advantages. With the eclipse of the two families who have controlled Himachal politics for more than two decades, Mr. Jai Ram Thakur can begin with a clean slate and jettison the accumulated baggage of their hangers on, vested interests and prejudices. The new Chief Minister- being from Mandi- occupies the middle ground between upper Shimla and Kangra both geographically and metaphorically, and hopefully his politics would do likewise. He has done well to dispense with the services of the bureaucratic camp followers- the Congress sub-cadre- of the previous regime. But that in itself is not new as all new govts. do so. Where he can show some mettle and break new ground is in ensuring that one sub-cadre is not replaced by another-the BJP sub-cadre. The latter has been waiting in the wings for the last five years and will now demand their place at the feeding trough. If Mr. Thakur obliges them by appointing another set of retired officers and defeated politicians to important positions he will be no different from his predecessor or the one before him. The reason is simple- these superannuated officers have no stakes in the govt., they are not accountable as they are beyond the purview of service and conduct rules, and if things go wrong it will be Mr. Thakur who will pay the electoral price, as Raja Sahib did- the officers will be laughing all the way to the bank and to Bali or Europe. The Chief Minister's only standard should be merit- political loyalty is not only blind, it is also a two edged sword.
    Mr. Thakur's announcement that he will not indulge in political victimisation is also welcome for this is a virus that sickens the entire body fabric of the state. Mr. Virbhadra Singh expended huge amounts of goodwill, state prestige, time, energy, and the state's resources in targeting the HP Cricket Association: it achieved nothing other than tarnishing the reputation and careers of a few officers. Every such misconceived action further ensures that the bureaucracy will withdraw into a shell and not take decisions- after all, you can berate an officer for inaction but you can't charge-sheet him or lodge an FIR against him. The civil service cannot work in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and distrust. And at the end of the day any govt., even one with 44 seats out of 68, cannot deliver if the govt. servants decide to be safe rather than sorry. By all means, if laws have been violated go after them, but refrain from doing so to settle personal or party scores. Retain the good policies of the last govt., throw out the bad ones, but don't throw out the baby with the bath water just because it was conceived by your predecessor.
    The new Chief Minister should also be wary of Trojans carrying gifts. There will be many among us with inside information, mysterious file notings, gory details of contracts awarded or rejected- the gifts intended to gain access to the Chief Minister's confidence. Some of it can be useful, most of it is trash. Mr. Thakur will need wise, uncompromised and honest officers to sift through all this raw ore- for this task he should pick non sub- cadre officers, for only they will have no personal axe to grind. He has been long enough in the political sphere of the state to be able to identify such people- there are not many around, but surely enough to have the job done. By the way, the so called " victims" of the previous regime ( there will more of them than in the AIIMS OPD on any given day) cannot be trusted with this sensitive responsibility for they have their own scores to settle. They should be kept at arm's length.
   The new Chief Minister has shown statesmanship and respect for democratic principles very early in his term by announcing that the film PADMAVAT  shall  not be banned. By doing so he has shown his other BJP counterparts for the men ( and women) of straw that they actually are. In the process he has been faithful to the exceptional catholicism and eclectism of religious beliefs in our state. Himachal has so far been spared the poison of fundamentalism and regressive nativism which has inundated most of the rest of the country in the last three years. The credit for this goes partly to the previous govt. but mostly to the localised form of Hinduism practised in the state. The over-arching Hinduism here is moderated by the fact that in Himachal every village and valley has its own local Devta or Devi who command the primary obeisnace and loyalty. This has acted as a buffer and moderating influence against the more toxic elements now being introduced into the main body of the  religion, especially in the BJP ruled states. It is no coincidence that the proscription of PADMAVAT- announced or intended-has so far been limited to states where the BJP is in power- MP, Rajasthan, Goa, UP, Maharashtra, Haryana. There is no particularly vocal demand for a ban in Himachal, and the govt. has done well by dousing a fire even before it has been lit. By doing so it shall convince the people of the state that it has a mind of its own and will not be led by the nose by the RSS or the infamous fringe, something which is extremely reassuring.. There are no legal grounds for banning the film- the Supreme Court has refused to do so, and the CBFC has cleared it- and any such action shall be unconstitutional. Hiding behind the fig leaf of " law and order" does not behove an elected govt.- if a govt. cannot protect the Constitution or maintain law and order, it has no right to be in office and should go. Himachal has always been a peaceful oasis in an otherwise increasing communal country, and Mr. Thakur's biggest challenge in these difficult times will be to keep it so. By allowing PADMAVAT to be released in the state he will be making  a clear opening  statement which, hopefully, will set a positive tone for his tenure.

[ DISCLAIMER: The unsolicited advice above is something rare in Mr. Jaitley's India- it is completely free- no VAT, no GST, no cess. However, it does have 35 years of input credit, service on which the writer has paid all his taxes. It is, therefore, declared, white and untainted ! ]

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

LAST CHANCE TO SAVE SHIMLA.


                 [  This piece was published in the TRIBUNE Supplement on 6.1.2018 ]

                                          

    I first came to Shimla in 1982. We used to stay in Brokhurst, Chhota Shimla, and every evening my wife and I would take our two year old son in a pram for a stroll to Mall Road and back: it was a pedestrian’s town then. The spurs radiating from the main ridge- New Shimla, Knollswood, Mehli, Strawberry Hill, Kasumpti, Nau Bahar- were all covered with thick greenery. It took five minutes to drive from the Lift to the Secretariat. Ceiling fans were unheard of. There was no nine story High Court building to proclaim the majesty of the judiciary, no monolithic monstrosity called Armsdale to accommodate a rapidly expanding and deteriorating government. Those were the last years of Kipling’s Shimla, for now it is an abomination, thanks to populist politicians, an unconcerned bureaucracy, short-sighted citizens, predatory builders and platitude spouting NGOs.
    I now live in a village near Mashobra and NEVER venture into Shimla. Its roads are a smorgasbord of potholes, there is no place to park, traffic jams snake their way all the way to Taradevi, the hills are covered with plastic. A kid in a pram would not survive  two minutes. The greenery is mostly gone, replaced by thousands of houses on 70 degree slopes, their slabs as thin as “Lijjat” papads,  govt. buildings have spread all over the hills like the parthenium weed, every one who can afford it has to have ACs now, even the monkeys of Jakhu have anthropomorphised and adopted our degraded way of life.
    So I am not at all surprised that the state govt. has decided to appeal in the Supreme Court against the 16th November order of the National Green Tribunal imposing strict restrictions on further constructions in the city. ALL governments in the last thirty years have given two hoots for the natural environment of the state. Its rivers have been “hydroed” nearly out of existence: in a few years only four kms of the Ravi ( between Bajol and Chamba) and twelve kms of the Sutlej ( between Khab and Bilaspur) would be visible, the rest diverted to headrace tunnels. More than 102 sq.kms of prime forest land has been diverted for hydel projects, mining and road construction, 800,000 trees slaughtered, mindless and unplanned urbanisation has made slums of all the state’s towns. Governments have been mute spectators, if not active colluders, to this despoliation. They have resisted each and every move by the judiciary to redress this devastation: the ban on plying of vehicles to the Rohtang pass, the stay on regularisation of illegal constructions ( Shimla alone has more than 20000 !), the removal of encroachments on forest lands. Instead, they have implemented perversely illogical schemes such as the four-laning of the Parwanoo- Shimla highway without bothering about its ruinous implications- when complete, this will treble the tourist traffic flowing into Shimla, to about 10000 cars every day. Assuming that each tourist will stay for three days, the city will need 30000 parking slots, not counting for the 30000 odd local vehicles. There is just no way so much space can ever be created along its few and narrow roads. Additionally, the number of hotels will also have to treble to accommodate the absolute increase in the number of tourists, with attendant issues of garbage, sewage, water supply etc. Where is the advance planning for this impending apocalypse ?- not that any amount of planning can avert this certain disaster.
    The 16th November order of the NGT is the city’s last life line, if only we collectively have the wisdom to seize it. Its three major components need to be appreciated in their proper context:
[1] No construction or regularisation of buildings in the core/ heritage areas and the green belts. The core area is the original Shimla of British times and must be maintained in its original state. The 17 green belts cover 400 hectares and are the only surviving green cover of this city, giving it its micro climate and unique charm- I read somewhere that it is the largest urban forest in the world. A 2000 notification, which is constantly being challenged politically and legally, protects it and I am glad the NGT has now put its imprimatur on it. Without these natural buffers Shimla would only be just another piece of rock.
[2] No constructions on slopes of more than 35 degrees. Shimla lies in seismic zone V, and it should not have needed a judge sitting in Delhi to impress this upon the govt. Just one look at the multi-story buildings that have come up in the last 25 years or so, especially in Sanjauli, Dhalli, Panthaghati, Mehli and the Sanjauli by-pass, and one’s faith in God is reaffirmed- nothing else can explain how these structures remain standing in the face of all laws of physics. Built on 90 degree slopes, with wafer thin slabs and skeletal pillars, no set-offs or retaining walls, no proper drainage, they will collapse like  houses of cards in the event of even a mild tremor or quake. Thousands will die but I guess by then the politician will have got his votes and the bureaucracy its shekels.
[3] No felling of trees in the Catchment forest and the sub-catchment of streams and rivulets. To really understand how vital this is, just take a trip to the Catchment forest beyond Dhalli and carefully observe the water supply scheme built there by the British a hundred years ago. It’s an environmental and engineering marvel: the waters stored and released by the millions of trees here are collected in tanks and channelized to Shimla through underground pipes, all by gravity! This scheme still supplies a fair percentage of the requirements of the town, at practically no cost. The NGT is in a way asking us to replicate this simple and sustainable model: protect the green cover of the surrounding catchment areas- Ashwini Khad, Noughty Khad, the Glen, Anandale- and there would be no need for hare- brained schemes like piping in water from the Chandranahan lake 250 kms away or lifting it from the KOL Dam, all at great cost.
    The NGT has offered a lifeline to a terminally ill patient. The govt. should act upon it, not challenge it. It will not get another chance.



Saturday, 6 January 2018

PRIME TIME AND CONDOM TIME


    Marketing managers have just had their jobs made easier by our self righteous Ministry of  (Mis)Information: it has decreed that henceforth there shall be only two advertising slots on TV- Prime time from  6.00AM. to 10.00PM and Condom Time from 10.00 PM till the oui hours of the morning. Ads for the humble condom can only be shown in the latter slot so that young minds should not be corrupted.! As usual, however, the govt., which considers that sex is not part of Indian culture and came here with either Alauddin Khilji or the East India Company, has missed a few tricks.
    There were approximately 20 million babies born in India last year, even though half the country's population was standing in ATM queues for three months ( how's that for good old Indian "jugad' ?- we never let an opportunity go to waste). Anyway, that's quite a lot of babies, even if it has a psephologist's standard margin of error of +/ - 3%. To me this figure of 20 million is significant for two reasons: one, all these births cannot be the result of Immaculate Conception because even the good Lord gave up this idea long ago in favour of the Missionary Up disposition, a genuflective posture which suits our profound religiosity; obviously, therefore, corporeal mergers are taking place at a rate that should satisfy even the Sensex, which appears to be drooping a bit these days. Secondly, has the I+B Ministry completely lost its marbles? The message this country needs to disseminate most urgently is not that we had cracked the atom in 7000 BC or invented the space shuttle the very next year but that condoms prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS. And this message needs to go out to precisely that demographic group the Ministry does not want the ads to reach- youngsters. Because how many babies are born in the next decade depends on them, not the mandarins of Soochna Bhavan who in any case probably have sex only on second saturdays and gazetted holidays( probably the reason why govt. servants oppose any reduction in these holidays).
    Big Brother obviously doesn't agree, and in the process has revealed its total disconnect with reality. It should know that the only guys who are wide awake after 10.00 PM are the same impressionable young minds it wants to mollycoddle. All the others-adults, the hewers of wood and the drawers of water- have by then gone to sleep, effectively sedated by the screams of prime time anchors and exhausted by standing in queues the whole day to link their Aadhar with their college degrees, car number plates, marriage certificates, e-mail IDs and, ultimately, their own death certificates. So when Sunny Leone pops up on the screen at 10.03 PM doing to a strawberry what Donald Trump is doing to America the only ones clutching the remotes will be our under 25 demographic dividends. These kids already know more about sex than Dr. Kinsey and Hugh Heffner put together; thanks to the internet they not only get to be born free but also get  porn free. Could it be possible that our I+B chaps don't know that said Ms Leone is the most googled person in India, or that 47% of internet users regularly visit porn sites? Who are they trying to "protect", for God's sake?
    The female form, including the plunging cleavage and the rising hem-line, has been used to sell products ever since it was first used to launch a thousand ships in Troy. Its on TV every minute selling pan masala, insurance policies, penthouses, cars, fashion products, based on the premise that galvanising the pheromones results in an opening of wallets. Sex is the silent persuader, the red flag that makes the stock exchange bull charge up the bourses. The condom is only just another such product, with a vital difference- it can save lives and curb the demographic explosion. It therefore needs to be promoted more widely than these other effete fropperies of modern life. And the govt. has to understand that just as cars, houses, insurance do so by leveraging our need for glamour,security and financial gain, condoms do so by titillating our sense of pleasure. In order to do so their ads have to be targeted at the younger lot, not at geriatric chess grandmasters- after all, the whole game is about mating, not check- mating.
    The restrictive dictat will have no effect in anycase. The caterers of condoms will now resort to that old ploy of surrogate advertising, as our liquor barons do. Durex will now promote super thin latex gloves ( "nothing comes between you") , ManForce will advertise fruit flavours that will "blow" your mind. and SKORE will come up with Braille books that will help you score. Nothing will change- the same sinuous limbs and husky voices will now urge you to put on the gloves, sip the flavoured drink and -well, score. But I like my advertising the old fashioned way- I want to be sure that what I see is what I get; as the Duchess told the octogenarian Duke: " If I can't see it, how do I know its still there?" And let's be honest for once: who would you rather have to sing you a lullaby- Arnab Goswami or Sunny Leone ?  

Thursday, 21 December 2017

THE MALLYA EXTRADITION- EASIER SAID THAN DONE.

    [ This piece was published in The New Indian Express on 20.12.2017, with some minor changes, under the heading BRINGING BACK MALLYA NOT EASY. ]                   

    T he government has pulled out all the stops to extradite Mr. Mallya from the UK but it would be well advised not to put its prestige on the line. It’s unlikely to happen, primarily because of the dismal state of our criminal justice system and our poor human rights track record. The developed world sets great store by both these factors and the past history of our extradition requests clearly show that they are not applauding us for either.
    India has extradition treaties with 38 countries and since 2002 only 61 accused have been extradited to this country. Currently, 121 extradition requests are pending with 24 countries. We signed a treaty with the UK in 1993 but till now only one person has actually been extradited, and that too because he consented to it! Ominously for the govt., the latest rejection was in October this year: one Sanjeev Chawla, a UK based bookie, was given the reprieve even though the judge found prima facie evidence against him for match fixing in 2000. The reasons cited for refusing the request were our poor human rights record: abysmal conditions in Tihar jail, overcrowding, lack of medical provisions, risk of being tortured, violence from other inmates and prison staff which, the judge noted, “is endemic in Tihar.” And it’s not only the UK. In February 2016 a Canadian court rejected the extradition of Surjit Badesha and one Mrs. Malik wanted for an honour killing in Punjab in view of the “appalling human rights record of Indian prisons.”  And therein lies the rub.
    Statistics prove that these judges were right. With more than 450,000 persons in jail( most of whom are undertrials and shouldn’t be there in the first place), our prisons are horribly overcrowded: Tihar has three times the population it was designed for. Corruption and violence are rampant. Quoting NHRC figures, the Asian Centre for Human Rights has revealed that between 2001 and 2010 there were 14231 custodial deaths in India- 1504 in police custody, 12727 in judicial custody. 99.99% of the deaths took place within 48 hours of the person being taken into custody. This is damning enough, but what the international tribunals will find even more inexplicable is the govt’s refusal to do anything about it. India signed UNCAT ( United Nations Convention Against Torture) in 1997 but we have not yet ratified it. We are only one of 7 countries not to have done so, and they are not elevating company: Sudan, Gambia, Comoros, Brunei, Bahamas, Angola. Unlike other countries, we have also failed to enact an anti- torture law: the draft Bill has been pending in the Lok Sabha since 2010. The recent murder of a woman inmate by warders in Arthur Road jail in Mumbai does not help our cause.
   We have not improved our credibility with the developed world by failing to adopt or implement the Standard Minimum Rules ( for prisoners), also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, adopted by the UN unanimously in 2015. This signals a disregard for prisoner welfare and rights.
    The British court will also note our pathetic conviction rate- 45%- which will raise doubts about the genuineness of the charges made in most of the cases, including, naturally, Mallya’s. The independence of India’s investigating agencies will come under close scrutiny, with the Supreme Court itself labelling the CBI a “ caged parrot.” Ironically, the CBI is the investigating agency in Mallya’s case! The manner in which only opponents of the ruling regime are being prosecuted will lend credence to Mallya’s defence that he is a “political victim”. The clogged judicial system is another major area of concern: as on October 2017 there were almost 40 million pending cases, of which 1.62 million and 743000 cases had been pending for more than five and ten years, respectively, with the various High Courts. These figures raise serious questions about our judicial system’s ability to provide justice in time. Taken together, all these dysfunctionalities feed into a perception that human rights cannot be assured in the country. Even the 2017 report of Human Rights Watch notes that India “has serious human rights concerns.”
   Certain recent events in the Supreme Court will further erode the perceived image of our higher judiciary- charges by senior lawyers against the Chief Justice himself concerning his integrity, inaction on the suicide note of the Arunachal Chief Minister in which he had accused senior judges of bribery, corruption charges against a retired judge of the Odisha High Court. In fact, according to a press report on the 13th. October 2017, Mallya’s lawyers have already seized on this- his defence has already brought to the Magistrate’s notice a research article by a scholar in Portsmouth Law University about corruption in the Supreme Court. It does not help matters that the Court is locked in a bitter battle of attrition with the Central Govt. over appointments and “judicial overreach,” or when its coherence is suspect when it appears to be internally divided, with judges overruling each other on important matters.
    There is also the question of whether Mallya’s failure to repay loans justifies criminal prosecution or is a matter for civil action. We do have a propensity to arrest people at the drop of a hat, whether it is for someone’s foot accidentally touching a woman on a plane or a cartoonist lampooning someone in power. All these factors will coalesce into a powerful defence for Mallya, and his lawyers have already started using them. A lot of our dirty linen shall get washed in public but the outcome is still not certain as most of the cards are stacked against India. It is difficult for a civilised society to extradite a man to a country with a dysfunctional legal system, a thoroughly compromised police and a strident media which appears to be the final arbiter of guilt and innocence.





Monday, 18 December 2017

THE GUJARAT ELECTIONS : PAPPU PASS HO GAYA !


    At times there's more glory in defeat than in victory, and the results of the Gujarat elections demonstrate this. Congress may have lost, the BJP will form the government for the sixth successive time, but the real winner is Rahul Gandhi. He fought an honourable battle, which is something of a rarity in these devalued times, against a party which has made the gutter its own, and a media vying with each other in singing hosannas to the presiding deity. His was an impossible task, taking on the most efficient and unscrupulous election machine the country has ever seen, a Prime Minister who appears to have cast a spell over most Indians, a partisan Election Commission and unlimited money power. And this with a non-existent Congress apparatus, a party which had been out of power for 22 years!
   Rahul Gandhi went to Gujarat as an underdog- the much reviled and lampooned poodle ranged against the powerful mastiff, scorned and reviled daily by the apopleptic  sycophants of TIMES NOW, REPUBLIC and  NEWS-X type of venom spouts. Not only did he lead from the front, it was almost a single-handed battle as very few other national level leaders of the Congress were around- whether by design or default, one will never know. For a person whose public speaking skills are limited, as is his knowledge of Hindi, he addressed more than 150 rallies over six weeks and by the end had matured into an accomplished word spinner. The style, manner and substance of his public interactions could not have been more different from that of Mr. Modi.
   Whereas the Prime Minister was his usual haughty, distant, table-thumping, talking-down self Mr. Gandhi came across as much more informal, relaxed, accessible, exuding an almost school-boy kind of openness and honesty. Where Mr. Modi came across as contrived and scripted, the Congress  (then) Vice-President appeared to be much more spontaneous and natural. The former did not mingle with the crowds, no doubt befitting his SPG endowed aura, but the latter( also an SPG protectee) had no hesitation in doing so at every opportunity, even stopping at the odd wayside tea stall to have a cup and a gossip session with the locals. This contrast in demeanour and attitude could not have gone unnoticed by the people and the results show this.
   The contrast between the two in the content and substance of their electioneering was even more stark. Mr. Modi stuck to his time tested formula of Hindutva, the Muslim card and the Pakistan bogey, playing the cliched poor chai wallah victim and personal attacks on the Gandhis- starting from Jawaharlal Nehru to Rahul ( he has not yet picked on Mr. Vadra's children but that is only a matter of time). The common thread uniting these sub-texts was a liberal dose of falsehood and innuendo. Development, economics and welfare were almost totally absent from his discourses- again, something that the electorate did not fail to notice. He stopped at nothing- he questioned Mr. Gandhi's temple visits, his religion, and his pedigree; he dug out the four year old chai-walla jibe of Mani Shankar Aiyer, spicing it with the latest " neech" appellation to further buttress his humble credentials as against Rahul Gandhi's privileged upbringing, forgetting that after 12 years as Chief Minister and 3 years as Prime Minister this plaint is wearing rather thin; setting the bar of decency at its lowest mark, he went on to accuse a former Prime Minister, a former Vice President and a former Army Chief ( among a dozen or so of India's most distinguished diplomats and journalists) of conspiring to remove him; he even hinted that Mr. Aiyar had issued a " supari" in Pakistan to get rid of him. As usual, he did all this with his customary mastery and the virtuoso performances must have got him the votes, but all this rabble rousing is becoming predictable; he needs to write a new script.
    In refreshing contrast, and to the pleasant surprise of many, Mr. Gandhi came across as much more would-be statesman like. He publicly announced at the start that he would not repay Mr. Modi in the same demonetised coin, that he respected the office of the Prime Minister and would never use inappropriate words for Mr. Modi, that he would campaign with love in his heart, not hate; that  (unlike the PM's stated view of the Congress) he did not want a BJP mukt  India for a strong Opposition was essential for a functioning democracy. He perhaps overdid the projection of his Hindu credentials, and failed to publicly condemn the horrific murder of a Muslim labourer in Rajasthan to avoid sullying these credentials, and this is something he needs to avoid in future- he should not try to win the Hindu vote by espousing the  BJP's ethos. He would do much better by emulating his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. who, in the first election campaign after partition in 1951 when the wounds of the religious conflagration were still fresh, had the political courage and vision to proclaim his unambiguous article of faith at the Ramlila grounds in the following words: " If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, both at the head of the government and from outside." It is this kind of leadership we need in these critical times.
   Contrary to the vacuous " Pappu" image of Rahul Gandhi created by the social media trolls, he showed remarkable ability in strategising vital alliances and weaving the noose of failed economic policies and development with which to choke the BJP's narrative of specious claims. He appears to have correctly read the electorate's pulse, a departure from previous elections. He increased his party's seat tally by 19 ( 21, if one includes the two supported Independents), a 30% increase, and vote share by 5%- an astounding feat for a party which has lost just about every election since 2014. To put this in perspective, one should recollect that in the Parliamentary elections of 2014 the BJP had won in 165 constituencies; Rahul Gandhi has brought this down to 99. Let us also not forget that Mr. Amit Shah had arrogantly announced that his party would win 150 seats! He also showed great courage in accepting the Presidentship of his party just two days before counting and declaration of results, signalling that he was not afraid of accepting responsibility if things went horribly wrong for his party. They didn't, and in the process we have a new leader who has been through a trial by fire, has shed his "reluctant politician" image and can perhaps provide the counter balance to a powerful Prime Minister whose militaristic/corporate style needs to be tempered with compassion and tolerance. The BJP may not admit this in public, but Rahul Gandhi has given it plenty to chew over: if he can almost upstage the BJP in the Gir lion's den, he can inflict much more damage in the states going to the polls next year- MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh. He has seized the initiative and the BJP will no longer be the sole driver of the electoral agenda.  Pappu pass ho gaya !