Monday, 16 December 2013

ANNA'S EXPIRY DATE IS OVER.

The LokPal Bill will be passed in the next few days in its present imperfect form. The Congress is desperate to remove this weapon from Kejriwal's armoury, the BJP dare not be the spoil sport and no one cares anymore about the anti-diluvian mutterings of the Samajwadi property. A lot of credit for this must go to Anna Hazare whose obstinate idealism embedded this demand firmly in the nation's conscience last year. But since then Anna has lost his way.
One can overlook the fundamental difference of opinion between Anna and Kejriwal about the course to follow post the Jantar Mantar protests: their parting of ways was a natural consequence of their differing perceptions and ideologies. But whereas Kejriwal marched onwards to his new destiny under the illusion that he still retained at least the blessings( if not actual support) of the old war horse, it is now becoming increasingly clear that Anna harboured a lot of rancour and illwill towards his former protege for daring to differ. Nothing else can explain his curious behaviour since then.
Ever since Kejriwal and his group took the paradigm-changing decision to go political the Anna rump has been constantly sniping at him, realising fully well that this could only strengthen the Goliaths whom the former had taken on in a trench war-fare( whereas Anna himself had retired to the comforts of the Jindal spa in Bangalore). Beginning with sniping shots  about Kejriwal's political ambitions( what's wrong with that in a democracy, anyway?) it quickly developed into a fusillade of accusations and innuendos about his using Anna's Lok Pal issue to garner support and raising questions on the use of funds collected during the earlier movement. As it turned out, neither of the charges was correct but they took away a lot of the energy and time of the fledgling party to counter. It also brought them a lot of adverse publicity from TV anchors who right then were short of news and were willing to scavenge on any offal. Kejriwal's response was to rebut them in a civilised manner: he would have been well within his rights if he had behaved like Kiran Bedi and reminded the patriarch that the LokPal was not his IPR( Intellectual Property Right) and that he should also apologise for the canard about mis-use of IAC funds. Post the recent elections the tirade by the Anna camp has acquired an air of desperation in the last couple of days: Kejriwal has been told not to bother to come to Ralegaon, his supporters have been thrown out of the village, he has been reminded that the credit for the LokPal Bill belongs to Anna exclusively, and that he is an apostate for opposing the Bill. Just when Kejriwal had routed the enemy in the front, he has been attacked on his flanks by a force he had considered his ally.
Anna Hazare has betrayed not only the Aam Aadmi Party and stabbed it in the back: he is also betraying the people who had supported his agitation in Delhi and elsewhere.
Look at the facts dispassionately and realistically. Anna cannot appropriate all credit for the LokPal movement: people like Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan also made stellar contributions to it: in fact Anna was the moral figurehead- all strategy, planning, logistics, confrontation with authorities were scripted and executed by them, and it would be fair tosay that without their relentless efforts the movement would have petered out long ago. And peter out it did, with the sham drama at midnight in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill went into the cold storage owned by Congress Inc. Anna went back to his idyllic village to issue dictats about hanging drunks from the tree tops. It was Kejriwal who kept the movement and the momentum alive, not least by his realisation that he would have to enter the Augean stables if he meant to cleanse them. He decided to enter the political arena, much to the amusement, derision and moral condemnation of intellectuals, armchair conscience keepers, dyed-in-the-wool politicos and TV anchors-and Anna. The likes of Kiran Bedi, Hegde and Gen. V.K.Singh, long used to lecturing from the pulpit instead of getting their hands dirty in the muck, rallied behind Anna to denounce Kejriwal as nursing political ambitions. Even this short-sighted behaviour would have been acceptable if not for what followed.
Kejriwal proved them all wrong. He went out into the streets to rally support in the heat of Delhi, preparing for the elections, when all other political leaders were happy to strategise from their air-conditioned rooms. This was the time for Anna and his advisors to have supported him, but it was probably at this time that they started feeling side-lined and marginalised by the massive response that the AAP started receiving from the common public. Anna's hubris now took over, ably aided and abetted by the likes of Kiran Bedi, Hegde and the General, all blue blooded ex-members of the power pyramid who could not stomach a lowly ex-Income Tax official from Ghaziabad stealing their thunder. They did all in their power to ensure that he came a cropper in the elections. The y failed miserably, but they cost him at least ten seats, and deprived him of the clear majority that he needed to form the Govt. And still they continue to hound him, to the point where they have compromised on their own LokPal Bill, and now support the Congress Bill which lacks some of the major provisions they once swore by. They are now denouncing Kejriwal for insisting on the passage of the Bill they themselves had drafted !Their intentions have now become clear- Anna is desperate to claim credit for a Lok Pal Bill, any Bill, even a truncated one, so that Kejriwal and AAP can be denied the credit for the real Bill ( which, I have no doubt, the people would get if only Anna put his weight behind the AAP). In the process, if AAP can be halted in its tracks and its march towards a repeat performance in the General Elections next year slowed down, so much the better. Anna Hazare and his gang have lost the public space to Kejriwal and the AAP and are now desperate to reclaim it, even if it means supping with the devil. But I have a feeling that they will be proved wrong once again-the people of Delhi will see through their miserable strategems and power plays. It is time for Anna Hazare to gracefully walk into the sunset and not try to do more damage to to the first real chance we have had since Independence to introduce real democratic principles in our polity.  
     

Monday, 4 November 2013

BUREAUCRATS DON'T NEED FIXED TENURES-THEY NEED STRONGER SPINES.




[ The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that all bureaucrats should have fixed tenures and that states must set up Civil Services Boards to decide on transfers, promotions and disciplinary action. This would improve professionalism, efficiency and transparency. It has asked the Center to frame appropriate statutes for this and report back within three months.- News report.]

Many, many years ago when I was a pimply faced Deputy Secretary in Shimla a group of us blisters put up a skit for the annual IAS Association Night. The skit opened with the victim of a hit and run accident lying dead on the road. The police identified the body as being that of a very senior IAS officer on the basis of the post mortem report revealing that it had no backbone! This one scene from a long forgotten and much derided skit comes closer to the truth than does the Supreme Court, I dare say.
However well intentioned the Court's order is it won't stand the test of a reality check: not only will it not be effective, it may just worsen the situation. Consider the following.
The root of misgovernance, corruption and lack of transparency is not the politician but the bureaucrat, not only because of what he does, but mainly because of what he does not do. He does not express his own mind but goes along with what the politician wants. He does not take a stand based on principles or the law. He does not say that he will not do what is wrong. He does not enforce discipline and integrity for fear of rocking the boat.
WHY?
The assumption behind the Supreme Court order is that the bureaucrat cannot act because he is intimidated by the prospect of transfer, denial of promotion, dismissal by the political executive. Nothing can be further from the truth for the following reasons:
[1]  Insofar as the All_India Services are concerned I can assert with all responsibility that there is no job in India which offers greater security of service- it is practically impossible to dismiss an IAS/IPS or IFS officer( the same is true of the Central Services). The services themselves have ensured this- even if the political or administrative will to take action is present( it rarely is) the process is so cumbersome( like impeaching a judge!)-- consultations with state govt., central govt.,UPSC, Vigilance Commission, Law Ministry, followed up with appeals to the President of India, Administrative Tribunal, High Court, Supreme Court-that no one even wants to initiate the process. Getting into govt. service is tough-but getting out is even tougher! Forget dismissal-even someone who wants to resign can find that its not easy to leave the govt.-- a friend from the UP cadre submitted his resignation six years ago: he has since retired in the normal course but his resignation has not yet been accepted! Dismissal from service, therefore, is no threat to a bureaucrat.
[2]   ALL promotions in the AIS and Central services are time bound- that is to say, one is promoted almost automatically after certain years of service at every succeeding level. Performance has very little to do with it; the only relevant factor is the ACR( Annual Confidential Report) and it is extremely rare for someone to have an adverse ACR- peer pressures ensure this. As long as the assessments at the superior officer level are okay, there is very little a politician-even a Chief Minister- can do to hold back a promotion. Even if he over-rules the Secretary/ Chief Secretary he has to give detailed reasons for doing so, and any DPC ( Departmental Promotion Committee) in any case goes more by the assessment of the Chief Secretary than a CM or Minister. Proof of this is not far to seek: 99 out of 100 IAS officers retire at the maximum ( Apex) scale of Rupees 80000 per month; the same holds true of the other services. This is almost their fundamental right, no politician can deny them this, and they know it. No threat here, either.
[3] This leaves us to consider only the alleged threat of the dreaded T word-Transfers. The effect of this politician's " brahmashastra", as it were, has been grossly exaggerated and sensationalised by the media and their expert panels. There are two types of transfers- those which involve just a change of job in the same place, and those which which entail both- change of job as well as station. Now, 90% of IAS and IPS officers are invariably located at the state capital and for most of them a transfer does not even mean changing their room, personal staff or residence-only their files change, nothing else. I simply fail to understand how a transfer is a " hardship" in such cases, or why it should conjure up images of Dante's Inferno! Yes, frequent transfers for those in the field- District Magistrates, SPs, SDMs- do cause great inconvenience, especially if they are ordered in such numbers as in UP under both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, but here also it is the timidity of senior bureaucrats which is to blame as much as the politicians. It is in the nature of a politician- a Minister or an MLA or even a Party worker- to try and get rid of an inconvenient officer: we can't blame a leopard for having spots. It is for the senior bureaucracy to resist such efforts and to protect the junior officer who is doing his job. This just doesn't happen. It is extremely rare for a Chief Secretary or a DG police to speak up on behalf of one of their officers in such cases, primarily because they want to hang on to their own posts! ( Remember how the UP Secretariat was opened up at mid-night to enable the issue of Durga Shakti's suspension orders?) But then, why pin all the blame on the politician when the bureaucracy is just as complicit? And why build barricades all around when the enemy is actually within?!
The actual fact of the matter is that the bureaucracy in India has developed an auto-immune disease and is destroying itself-the politician is only a virus that takes advantage of the former's weakened immune systems to invade it. It is my assessment( I could be wrong, but not far off the mark) that only about ten percent of the senior bureaucracy is actually corrupt, but the vast majority is simply pusillanimous and not bothered at what is happening to their colleagues just so long as they can hang on to their own posts. They do more harm by their silence and indifference than what their more courageous comrades do by their cupidity. I remember an incident pertaining to roughly the same time as the skit referred to in the first paragraph. A senior Secretary was transferred because he had taken a decision( the right one, as it later turned out) which was seen to be against the interests of Scheduled caste employees. Some of us young bloods in the IAS Association decided that we must convey our protest to the Chief Minister and took an appointment to meet him the next day. The whole day was spent in drumming up support from the Secretary level officers, all of whom assured us that they would also join us the next day in our meeting with the CM. The next day not a single one of these senior officers turned up!
Tra nsfers are not such a big thing as they are made out to be and an honest, forthright officer should take them in his stride- if a price has to be paid in terms of inconveniencing the family, so be it. Why else should the IAS be called a premier service, if their members have the vision and commitment of only a sanitary inspector? If the truth be told, bureaucrats today lack the breadth of vision, the underpinning of values, the sense of mission and the feeling for history that their predecessors of even twenty years ago proudly possessed and worked for. Today it is for them just a ten to five job in which the perks of office have to be protected at all costs and the devil take the hindmost. They have vacated the space where values,sense of destiny and feeling for the country should reside in favour of the politician who therefore now calls the shots.
It is in this context that the prescription of the Supreme Court should be assessed.
A " fixed tenure" will change nothing because those who have " plum posts" will not vacate them( a fixed tenure provides a minimum term and not a maximum one!), and those who are out of favour will be rotated among the unwanted posts. ( In any case, bureaucracy is not the second oldest profession in the world without reason: it can adapt to changing contexts with amazing versatility. It has so adapted to the transfer syndrome too: every five years, when governments change, their positions are reversed- those who were out in the cold now come in to warmth of plum postings, and vice-versa! In a way, they find this an equitable system as the loaves of office are, in the long run, fairly distributed to all!).                                                  There is a negative side too in assuring an officer of a fixed tenure, regardless of his or her performance. Not all transfers are politically motivated. Not all transfers are bad. Many of them are necessary in the public interest and based on the officer's lack of performance. What does the government now do with an officer who is corrupt, does not behave properly with the public, whose work is grossly unsatisfactory ? Non-performance is not chargesheetable and there is not always evidence of corruption. In such situations the only option before the govt. is to shift the officer, but with fixed tenures that will no longer be possible. Taking away a govt's powers of superintendence over its officials can never be a healthy antidote to the disease. We have just recently witnessed the consequences of such quick-fix solutions: the CBI's infamous and highly dubious case against Kumaramanglam Birla and Mr. Parakh. Without a shred of evidence, and acting solely on presumptions of wrong-doing it has filed FIRs against both of them. Though its Ministers were critical of it on the media, the govt. itself was a helpless spectator and could do nothing to rein in the agency because it has suddenly acquired an " autonomous" halo. ( I had warned against just such a possibility in my earlier blog- CBI-CAGED PARROT, SWOOPING EAGLE OR SITTING DUCK?). The fixed tenure rule will only end up creating similar rogue officers.                                                                                                  A Civil Services Board will change nothing because all those who will be on it are answerable( and owe their positions) to the Chief Minister and will do nothing that displeases him . It will only endorse the Chief Minister's wishes: this is precisely what is happening with the Police Boards that have been set up in some states after the Supreme Court's orders in 2006. They are rarely consulted: Muzzafarnagar is the latest example of their vestigiousness- how else could four SPs have been transferred within one month before, during and after the riots, purely for reasons that are now known to be political?
We appreciate and laud the Supreme Court's earnest desire to make the bureaucracy more efficient, professional and transparent. But there is no instant cure, and the primary villain is not the politician- it is the bureaucrat himself. The cure lies within. He is paid handsomely; he has been given more than adequate protection; he enjoys the highest status in society- what more does he need to be upright and do his work fearlessly? All he needs, actually, is a backbone. Character cannot be legislated or decreed by courts.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

INDIA'S SECULAR FUNDAMENTALISTS

          We live in the room of Magic Mirrors where every reflection is distorted and upside down. Consider this. A Chief Minister who says he is a Hindu and a Nationalist is denounced as communal; another Chief Minister who wears a Muslim prayer cap at a Muslim gathering in the middle of a savage Hindu-Muslim killing frenzy is branded as secular. A Chief Minister who forcibly removes a religious ( Hindu) encroachment on public land for building a road is denounced as communal; another who suspends an IAS officer for doing the same to a similar structure for a mosque is hailed as secular. A Prime Minister who facilitates a " shilanyas" in a centuries old disputed Mandir-Masjid structure to allow prayers by Hindus is secular; a ( future) Deputy Prime Minister who wants to build a Hindu temple there is branded as communal. ( Both worthies were dead wrong, but why praise one and damn the other?)
        In the prevailing polity of India today, the Oxford English Dictionary has been the first casualty. It defines Secular as " not concerned with religion", but to our politicians and liberals it means " contemptuous of one's own religion and obsessed with the religion of a particular minority." " Communal " was once a good word, denoting sharing between members of two groups and communities; it now refers to an entity of Hindu origin who says he is proud to be one. The word " Inclusive", according to the OED denotes something which is comprehensive and comprises all parts; our politicians understand it to mean the exact opposite- something which includes the interest of the minority community at the cost of the majority community! Not only are words, attitudes and values being redefined and recreated in the image of political convenience, but new species of politico sapiens emerging- the secularist, the fundamentalist, the communalist ( not to be confused with the communist, which in fact is a regressing species). And among this lot, the most vocal and visible nowadays is a unique product of Indian politics- a clone of electoral calculations, intellectual reverse-snobbery and foreign funding- which I prefer to call the SECULAR FUNDAMENTALIST.
        The Secular Fundamentalist is a person who negates/ denies his( or her) religion publicly( not privately),  and seeks to appease members of other religions under the garb of affirmative action. Such appeasement either has no sanction under law, or is legalised by the unscrupulous use of political and legal processes. It is motivated by the lust for political power or ( among the educated and the intelligentsia) by the desire to appear westernised, liberal and " secular" as proof of their intellectual superiority. Secular Fundamentalism is more dangerous and divisive than Religious Fundamentalism because whereas the latter can be countered by the force of law and thus contained, the former BECOMES THE LAW and pervades all levels of the structure of government and the state. It thus raises local and short-lived tensions and differences between  religious communities to a national level and gives them a permanence that ensures that the fissures between them will continue for ever. Secular fundamentalism is not a frontal assault like religious fundamentalism, it is a slow poisoning of the nation's innards which can have only one result.
      Secular fundamentalism( SF) is actually the product of two hundred years of British rule of India and its twin adjuncts of Macaulay's westernised education and Christian proselytising. Our new English speaking and Western thinking elite gradually discovered a new fashion statement- running down and belittling Hinduism to the point where today the mere affirmation of being Hindu is considered communal. There could be no bigger folly, or tragedy, for this is to deny the greatness of a religion that existed long before Christ, one that was battered continuously by a thousand years of violence and forced conversions but reemerged stronger to claim its rightful place. It is to be blind to the fact that Hinduism is the most eclectic, tolerant and liberal of all major religions-it does not thrust any dogmas on you, but encourages you to develop a spirit of inquiry, to think, to ask questions, to discover your own meanings and find your own answers to life. Unlike the Abrahamic religions, it does not extol death but celebrates life. Its literature- the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to name just a few- far surpass the literature of all other religions combined, and offer a body of knowledge that has been deliberately suppressed ( and much of it destroyed in the pillage of Nalanda and Somnath) that goes far beyond conventional western notions of religion and encompasses astronomy, physics, mathematics, philosophy). Hinduism is the most pacifist and non-violent of religions and has never sought to force itself on others. It does not seek to convert or to confront: it just wants to be left alone to contemplate the meaning and mystery of life and death. It is not an episodic religion which merely requires a number of prostrations a week or a service every Sunday- it is a way of living, not worshipping. By refusing to acknowledge all this in their quest for a distorted secularism ,our " intellectual elite" do great injustice to this venerable body of knowledge and thought. But that is their loss, for Hinduism will subsist without their endorsement. This ersatz " secularism" by itself is not a worry for the nation; where it becomes a cause for concern is when they seek to impose their disdain for Hinduism on 800 million Hindus who feel otherwise. They do this by conferring special favours on a minority religion, by branding any display of the Hindu faith as communal, by permitting the Muslims their personal laws but denying it to the Hindus, and a host of similar provocations designed to belittle Hinduism. Post 1980s the Indian politician, especially those of the Congress party who were looking to counter the emergence of regional parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party with a new " causus belli ", suddenly discovered the virtues of this mutant secularism: properly handled ( they realised) this could keep the Hindus and the Muslims perpetually divided. The resultant animosity and fears would, like good beaters at a shikar, drive the Muslims to seek security within the folds of the Congress and their 18% bloc votes would ensure victory at the polls every time. And thus began the era of Secular Fundamentalism in governmental policy. I give a few examples below merely to illustrate the point.
       In any civilized society governed by the rule of law it is the responsibility of the state to ensure equity and fair treatment for all its citizens, regardless of religious practices and tenets- that is true secularism. Towards this end a progressive and enlightened Indian state codified common laws to govern issues relating to marriages, inheritances, succession and thereby did away with differing practices and customs of various castes and communities. These legislations were immensely beneficial, especially to women, because it gave them rights in marriage and in inheritance which previously their personal laws denied them. But the Muslims, who constitute 18% of the population and number 200 million, have been kept out of these legislations and continue to apply their personal laws to such issues. Their women therefore continue in their bondage to medieval practices and are discriminated against legally and socially.  WHY? The BJP has constantly been raising the demand for a Uniform Civil Code to remove this anomaly, but because it is a predominantly Hindu party it is deemed communal for doing so. No other political party has had the guts to raise this issue. Even when our courts step in to ensure  justice for women beyond the preaching of the mullah or a pundit, brute legislative strength is used to invalidate their orders: in 1986 the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano Case held that Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure( which provides for maintenance for separated wives) would apply to Muslim women notwithstanding what their personal laws stated. Such a judgement should have been welcomed by all- but no, our secular fundamentalists felt it was not secular enough because it infringed on the Muslims' faith and so Rajiv Gandhi amended the law and threw it into the dustbin! The same blatant disregard for the law is evident in the government's attitude to the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid. On at least two occasions The Shahi Imam has been named in police chargesheets- the 2001 case relating to an attack on the police in Lodhi colony, and a 2004 case concerning an attack by his supporters on the house of one Arshad Fahmi- and local courts have ordered that he be arrested and produced before them. The state has persistently refused to do so, citing law and order apprehensions! Breaking the law to uphold it? If Babu Assa Ram can be arrested ( he should have been arrested a week earlier) then why not the Shahi Imam?
       Affirmative action to ensure that there is no discrimination on grounds of religion is something no right minded person would quibble with: in fact is the duty of any government to take such action. But our SFs have turned this laudable objective on its head- they discriminate on grounds of religion and call it affirmative action! And that too without any constitutional sanction. Crores of rupees are spent every year by the govt. on subsidising Muslims going on Haj: no such subsidy is given to Hindus going to Kailash Mansoravar or Sikhs going to Gurudwaras in Pakistan. Why? In many states the govt. pays a monthly salary to Maulvis in mosques: no pundit in any temple or Granthi in any gurudwara or lama in any monastery is given salary by the govt. Why? Recently the Andhra Pradesh govt. announced compensation to about 30 Muslim youth wrongly imprisoned for the Mecca Masjid bombings. It is a laudable step for the state should compensate citizens for wrongly depriving them of their liberty, and many countries have such a policy. But why for Muslims only? Are the rights of Hindus and Christians and Sikhs and Buddhists of an inferior order? The Union Minorities Minister recently announced the setting up of a special Commission to re-inquire into cases in which Muslims have been jailed. Again, a welcome step because it is no secret that the police routinely jail innocent people for reasons other than the upholding of law. But, again, why a Commission for Muslims only? The Uttar Pradesh govt.last month announced that it was reserving 20% of its development budget for Muslims. Why? Should state expenditure be based on actual need or on religion? By all means spend even 50 % on them if so needed, but why have this caveat for just one community?
      The Constitution of India specifically prohibits reservation in jobs on the basis of religion, and yet govt. after govt. has been persistently attempting to provide such reservation for Muslims  for years- if not as a religious minority then as an OBC( Other Backward Caste)! The courts, fortunately, just as consistently have struck down these attempts. But for how long? Sooner or later a Rajiv Gandhi clone will emerge and legislate it into law.
      I willingly accept, and endorse, that minority communities should not face any kind of legal or social discrimination, and that the state should always take steps to ensure that they are not made victims of prejudices by the majority community. The psychological effects of being outnumbered should be assuaged. There is no legal discrimination in India- let us be clear about that. But yes, social prejudices and discrimination do exist. However, the way to counter these is NOT BY DISCRIMINATING AGAINST THE MAJORITY COMMUNITY: that will only aggravate ill will between the two. The way all civilized societies deal with this problem is by developing legal and administrative mechanisms to punish such prejudicial action. We have such laws to protect the Scheduled Castes: why not a similar law for religious minorities? Why not set up an Equal Rights Commission to ensure that minorities are not discriminated against in matters such as employment, finding a house to rent, treatment in hospitals, admission in schools-areas where the maximum number of complaints occur? No right minded member of any community could possibly object to these measures because they do not infringe on his rights, because they confer equal rights on minorities, not special rights.
       Instead, the insidious quick-fix policy of reverse discrimination has for years been sending all the wrong signals to the vast Hindu majority of India who are now beginning to feel discriminated against in their own country. Let us accept one fact- India is not a secular country: it is a multi-religious, pluralistic country with Hindus comprising 80% of its population. In fact, no country in the world is a secular country- they are either Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or Shinto or Jewish or what have you. It is governments which are secular, not countries. This is a distinction which our Secular Fundamentalists do not seem to comprehend. Countries do not have to be ashamed of proclaiming their own, native, majoritarian religion even while their govts tread the secular path- there is no contradiction in this-look at Germany, the UK, USA- all proud Christian nations with truly secular govts who do not discriminate for or against any religion. We, on the other hand, are expected to be a secular country with an avowedly religion-driven govt.: the exact opposite of what a progressive, enlightened dispensation should be!
       This secular fundamentalism is extremely dangerous for the country as the recent riots in Muzzafarnagar have shown. The provocation there was not the incident of molestation of a girl, but the blatant pro- Muslim stance of the Samajwadi govt.: the video recorded conversations with local police officers only confirms this.( This one-sided stance continues even after the riots- only Hindu political leaders have been arrested, no one from the other community even though there is as much evidence against them as against the others). Such behaviour on the part of governments only alienates the law abiding Hindus and creates space and opportunity for lumpen and criminal elements on both sides- it emboldens the likes of the Vishwa Hindu Parishads, the Bajrang Dals and the Ram Senas. One major reason why there have been no communal riots in Gujarat for the last eleven years is precisely this- Modi has  given no reason for either community to feel discriminated against and has thus deprived the lumpen fringe elements of the diet of resentment and grievance they need to survive. Mayawati also did this during her reign in UP and all was peaceful during her five years. It is, in fact, axiomatic that religious hostilities will arise only when the state is seen to be weak and partial. Remove the motivated preachings of our secular fundamentalists and we can have a chance at a lasting peace in our pluralistic nation. The time has perhaps come for us as a nation to embrace a new ideology- not that of the BJP, but that of Modi who, in fact, occupies the true secular space in the country today. His vision of India first, of all Indians being equal, of even handed development, of preferential treatment to communities strictly within the framework of the Constitution- this is the road-map of the future for us. This formulation is appealing to more and more people, and this is why the Secular Fundamentalists of all hues have now stepped up their attacks on him. They realise that if the country accepts his vision at the next elections the very " raison d'etre" for their existence will disappear. The sooner they vanish into the mists of time the better. This country deserves better than their ilk.


         

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

ITS TIME TO GO MR. PRIME MINISTER

                                         


            Dear Prime minister,
                                          in Hindu tradition and culture the concept of renunciation has always been valued more than the idea of acquisition, and even though you may not accept this for fear of offending your party's minority vote bank, let me allay your fears by reminding you that this is something preached by the Abrahamic religions also. I would, therefore, urge you to seriously consider this option in your own interest as well as in the larger interest of this unfortunate country.
            The government headed by you has already taken the country back to 1990 in sheer economic terms, and in terms of other social and public values we have reached the nadir of the Dark Ages. The country had great hopes from you when it voted you to power in 2004, and even higher expectations when it renewed your mandate in 2009 after your sterling display of vision and courage in the nuclear deal. But you only flattered to deceive, and for reasons which are now becoming obvious, relinquished any pretence of leadership or governance. A big ship needs a strong hand at the rudder-your hand- but you have handed it over to a motley crew of rank opportunists and faceless lascars who can only run it aground. You were never a politician- a positive for most of the voters- and the two qualities that made us repose our trust in you were your honesty and your acknowledged status as an eminent economist. Today, both lie in tatters- you have betrayed our trust, not substantially but wholly, and therefore you must go.
            Honesty is not divisible, and for those who exercise power there can be no nuances between personal honesty and public honesty. A person who allows others to loot cannot be honest. A Manager who does not raise his voice when illegalities are being committed by his subordinates cannot be honest . A law maker who protects criminals cannot be honest. And a Prime Minister who does all this simply to remain in power cannot be honest. Your honesty has already cost the country dearly, Mr. Prime Minister, and we cannot sustain this cost any longer.
           Your reputation as an economist may still follow you to Harvard or to the LSE after your retirement, but in this country its devaluation is proportionate to the devaluation of the Indian rupee. Where did you lose the plot? You had everything going for you when you took over in 2004-- an economy growing at 8-9%, a Current Account SURPLUS of  US$ 10.56 billion, Foreign Exchange reserves in excess of US$ 400 billion, a comfortable net INFLOW of Foreign Direct Investment. After nine years of your being at the helm, the growth rate is down to between 5% and 6% and falling, the Current Account has gone into a DEFICIT of US$ 20 billion and increasing, Foreign Exchange reserves are down to seven months' import and depleting, the Fiscal Deficit is going to hit 6%, Foreign Exchange reserves are down to US $ 200 billions( with repayments of US$ 150 due before March 2014), there is a net OUTFLOW of  FDI funds to the tune of almost US$ 7-10 billions every month. The Rupee has reached an exchange rate of 65 to the dollar. Nobody believes Mr. Chidambaram anymore, the RBI Governor can only hyper-ventilate, and you, of course, continue to maintain your sphinx-like silence. In the meantime inflation continues unabated, jobs are being lost by the millions ( unemployment actually rose by 2% between July 2011 and June 2012), Indian industry prefers to take its money abroad, infrastructure projects languish somewhere between Messers Jaiswal, Jyoyiraditya Scindhia and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and a litre of cooking oil now costs more than two litres of beer! ( Can you imagine, Mr. Prime Minister, what a field day Marie Antoinette would have had with this?!). And this is at the precise time when the rest of the world is coming out of its downturn! No, sir, you and your band of forty thieves have been so busy with your petty politicking, with ensuring the survival of a particular dynasty, securing the financial well being of future generations of your party colleagues and allies, dividing communities and classes, that you have had no time for planning and taking decisions. The only decisions you HAVE taken boggle the mind. We are already spending 75000 crores every year on our Public Distribution System:  every single survey indicates that at least 40% of this, or 30000 crores is siphoned off by politicians, bureaucrats and middle-men. And now your govt. is determined to pour another 50000 crores into this bottomless pit through the Food Security Act! What for? The BPL( Below Poverty Line) families and the Antyodaya( poorest of the poor) families are already covered under the existing PDS-the FSA will make no difference to them. Govt.'s own figures state that  only 27% of our population is now below the poverty line; why then do you want to bring 67% of the population under the FSA, and spend a whopping 50000 crore on people who do not deserve this largesse? And that too at a time when you have no money for infrastructure development or health and education( in both of which we now lag behind even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh!). Is it worth destroying a country just so your motley crew can win another election? Is this honesty, Mr. Prime Minister?
            Had it been only the economic downturn we could perhaps have been more generous. For economics, as we all know, is not only a dismal science, it is also an uncertain one: as they say, even if one were to lay down all economists end to end, we still wouldn't reach a conclusion! After all, if Mr. Amartya Sen and Mr. Bhagwati cannot agree on what is good for India we can hardly expect you to have the answer. No sir, the economics is only a part of the mess: let me recount what the others are.
           You have systematically sought to destroy every fibre of the democratic fabric of this nation. Constitutional authorities have been attacked publicly by your minions and sought to be humiliated  at every turn: remember the diatribes against Vinod Rai and the Central Information Commissioner? Statutory authorities like the CBI and the office of the Attorney General have been subverted and made to fall in line, your party's line. Your oath of office demanded that you protect them, but you remained mute, as is your wont. You have even done the unthinkable: set the Intelligence Bureau against the CBI, ensuring for ever that our premier intelligence agency will never cooperate with our premier criminal investigating agency- every terrorist, insurgent and crooks of all assorted types must be lining up outside Teksons to buy " thank you" cards for you!
            Such is your hubris that you have shown contempt for the orders of the Supreme Court even. The Court's judgements, instead of being respected and seen as a matter for serious contemplation, are publicly criticised and sought to be by-passed by the collation of a consensus of those effected by the judgements(!) and a brute legislative majority. So criminals can continue in Parliament. Merit will find no place in the selection of Doctors( at the senior most, Professor, level) even in Super speciality disciplines; minorities will get reservations in government jobs even though the Constitution forbids it. This lack of respect for the final arbiter of the Constitution and the law is not only breeding a competitive defiance of the Court among other political parties but is also setting the stage for a show down with the judiciary a-la Pakistan and other banana republics.                                                                                                                                                    You behave as if the Opposition is not part of the democratic process, that it is a nuisance that is best ignored; consequently, all communication between the two has now snapped, and the nation is a helpless witness to a Parliament that resembles a rugby locker room in both language and action and is in a permanent state of adjournment. All parties are to blame for this, of course, but it is your party which laid down the rules of engagement. By refusing to walk the extra mile to accommodate even the legitimate demands of the Opposition, and by sabotaging time and again the Committees of Parliament, you have eviscerated this vital organ of democracy which under you has become as vestigious and irrelevant as your appendix. Practically no legislative work has been done in the last two years: there are 116 bills pending in both Houses, of which 19 and 21 relate to financial and educational reforms, respectively, two of the areas that need immediate attention. But your lack of concern is matched only by your shocking sense of priorities: instead of trying to push these bills, you have instead chosen to concentrate your fading energies on two other amendments that can only make politics murkier and more criminalised: removing the disqualification of convicted legislators, and exempting political parties from the RTI Act!                                                                                                  Perhaps the biggest price for your incompetence and your colleagues' venality is being paid by our defense forces: all three are many years behind in terms of armaments and weaponery ( because another " honest" Minister, Mr. Antony, will neither effect purchases from abroad nor allow FDI in defense production) and their very capacity to defend the country has been seriously eroded. Who will defend our borders in such a scenario, Mr. Prime Minister- the lethal barbs of Mr. Manish Tewari, or the boomerangs of Mr. Digvijay Singh. or the IEDs of Mr. Mani Shankar Iyer? Even worse, you have demoralised our armed forces by the constant interference of your Ministry and completely taken away their operational  and tactical independence. A succession of retired Army commanders have said so in recent times and the pusillanimous approach of our troops in response to violations of the LOC testify to this.( Of course, these same Army Commanders who have suddenly found their conscience and their voice also need to explain why they didn't defend their operational independence more vigorously when they were enjoying the perks of their office!). Under you we have become a whining nation- we whine when Pakistani troops shoot our soldiers, we whine when Chinese troops camp on our territory for weeks on end, we whine when Italian marines shoot our sailors, we whine when the Sri Lanka navy arrests our fishermen, we whine when our ex-President is frisked at an American airport. Under you a once-proud nation is being kicked around by even a Maldives or a Bhutan. What in God's name have you done to our image?
            In communal terms we have always been a fractured society. But true leaders have in the past  tried to bridge these fissures . To you, however, will go the dubious credit of widening and deepening these cracks between communities and castes. In order to survive, your party has countenanced the retrograde decisions of allies that can only raise the confrontational pitch: earmarking of state budgets for a religious minority, reservations in jobs for the same community( which goes against the express provisions of our Constitution), reservations in promotions( which has been struck down by the courts), setting up of a central Commission to review the ( criminal)cases of suspects of one community only. It is your party which has put communalism at the center of the  campaign for next year's election, not the BJP or Mr. Modi. The former has consciously downplayed the Ram Mandir issue, and Modi had made it clear that development was going to be his plank. But this did not suit you since your party couldn't possibly debate him on this plank, what with your miserable record of the last five years. So you deliberately inserted the communal element, as did your allies, by harping only on the 2002 Gujarat riots. To his credit, Mr. Modi has so far not agreed to stoop so low, and I do not think your strategy will work. But you have in the process vitiated the atmosphere for a long time to come, reopened old wounds that were beginning to heal, and provided a legitimate space for hot heads on both sides of the divide.
           How much damage to the country is one Parliamentary seat worth, Mr. Prime Minister? How many more Partitions will you recreate to satisfy your party's lust for power? Your opportunistic creation of Telangana has sown the seeds of disputes and blood-letting in all parts of the country that will sorely test the federal integrity of our country for many years to come. There are twenty one more statehood spectres waiting in the wings and by the time they are exorcised we may have ceased to exist as one nation.
         Do I need to refer to the endemic corruption that your government has been indulging in these last ten years? And to your pathetic attempts to distance yourself from them, even though it is gradually becoming clearer with each passing day that you were aware of what was happening and did nothing to stop it? Why? The quality of honesty, like that of mercy, cannot be strained: one cannot be honest and yet knowingly allow dishonesty on one's watch. Even worse, your increasing brazenness in the face of evidence against you boggles the mind: the Minister who doctored the Coalgate report has been made Special Envoy to Japan, a Minister whose nephew sold posts in The Railways for crores has not even been named in the chargesheet, the Minister on whose watch files relating to YOUR period of the coal scam have gone missing continues to bestride Shastri Bhavan like a collossus. Who is this Faustian devil you have sold your soul to, Mr. Prime Minister?
        
          Your deafening silence on all these matters-you have spoken in both houses of Parliament only fifty times in ten years-defies logic and conventional wisdom. And that leads me to speculate whether we are underestimating you. Is there, after all, a method in your madness? Could it be that you are reconciled to losing the next elections and are therefore  deliberately implementing a scorched earth policy? That you will leave behind as a legacy for the next government an India that is bankrupt, ungovernable, riven by caste and communal conflicts, all its institutions destroyed? An India that will soon be on its knees, begging for your party- the lone horseman riding in from the sunset, in Mr. Rahul Gandhi's words, don't forget-to take over the reins again, and save the country from perdition? But I forget, you never speak- so we'll never know till the horseman is upon us.
         Mr. Prime Minister, your party has stripped this country like a cloud of locusts. You have sown every type of poisonous seed known to your ilk and we shall be reaping the bitter harvest for many years hence. You have engendered an atmosphere of  uncertainty,venality, indecision, communalism, opportunism, criminalisation and defiance of constitutional and statutory institutions which cannot be allowed to continue, for that way lies certain disaster. Elections are nine months' hence but we cannot allow this conception to come to full term: the seed sown by you can only destroy this country and must be aborted. The time has come for you to go, Mr. Prime Minister, and to go immediately. Call for elections now, end the uncertainty, let us get on with our lives, give this country a chance to redeem itself. Do one last service to this nation, sir- stand not upon the order of your going, but go!

                                                                                                             With best wishes, 
                                                                                                              your's sincerely,
                                                                                                              A VOTING STATISTIC.
                                                                                                               
        
           


















Wednesday, 7 August 2013

WHO WILL SPEAK UP FOR INDIA ?



          Finally, the cat is out of the bag and the cards are on the table, face up: the ruling party of the largest state in the country, representing almost one fifth of its population, has announced its willingness to cede from the Indian Union. Because make no mistake- the statement that the Centre should take back all IAS officers from the state is a secessionist statement. The IAS is an instrumentality of nationhood, one of the strands that binds together the fabric of this nation: it was conceived by the statesmen of post-independent India to provide a common and uniform administrative ethos, an allegiance to the Constitution of the country, a cross-germination of varied state cultures that would, over time, provide a uniform administration and bring the people of this vast country together. The IAS is just one strand, however; there are others: the other Central services, the Banking system, the Postal and Railway Departments, the Public sector undertakings, Central Universities, the Defense services, the para-military forces, to name just a few. The IAS is, however, the primus inter pares because it is seen to control the actual levers of civilian power, and hence it becomes the most prominent symbol of national government. The attack on it by the UP govt., therefore assumes a sinister significance, for it raises the logical question ( posed by Shri TSR Subramanium, former Cabinet Secretary  on a TV programme recently): WHAT NEXT? Will the UP Chief Minister now ask for all instrumentalities of the Centre to be withdrawn from "his" state, will he now print his own coins like Muhammad bin Tughlaq, will he raise his own army, will he levy his own taxes? Will he, in short, now cede from the Indian Union? And will he be followed by the other regional satraps who are becoming more strident and assertive by the day?
          The Samajwadi party's statement should surprise no one-the cancerous regionalism and social separatism that is being fostered by these parties for the last twenty-five years was bound to damage the concept and practice of nation-hood. What they have been doing is no "celebration of diversity" but a call to fragmentation. Nation-hood means bringing diverse peoples together; what we have been doing since the seventies is just the opposite AND EVERY POLITICAL PARTY, EVEN THE SO-CALLED NATIONAL PARTIES, HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS, EITHER BY THEIR INCOMPETENCE OR BY DESIGN.
        The master at this, of course, has been the Congress. It has survived by pitting one community against another and by an obscene pandering to undisguised minorityism, overturning progressive Supreme Court judgements to please a community( Shah Bano), resurrecting a forgotten dispute that even the courts had gone to sleep over to please another( allowing pooja at the Babri Masjid in 1989), creating quota after sub-quota not envisaged in our Constitution, making a Satan out of a Hindu Chief Minister so it could feed at the trough of communalism, occasionally setting the balance right by allowing different communities to slaughter each other, allowing the ethnic cleansing( of Kashmiri pundits) to preserve its own interests-and not that of the country-in that state, refusing to bring one-fifth of the country's population under a common Civil Code thus ensuring that the radicals among both major religions will continue to hold sway over  their communities, carving out new states without caring for its implications for the rest of the country: the fires stoked by Telangana will burn for a long time, consuming even more of the little that remains of our nation-hood. The Congress created this country and it is its destiny to do its best to destroy it.
       The other political parties are no less culpable, and if the damage they have caused is lesser( by comparison) it is only because they have not ruled for so long or over so many states. The BJP, by its persistent hostility to one community has fallen into the Congress trap and ensured their alienation for posterity; VP Singh did his Mandal poll dance and faded away into oblivion, Mayawati's paranoia of other castes and obsession with Scheduled caste politics has taken this country back by decades, Mulayam Singh and his son are so keen to beat the Congress with its own trump( Muslim) card and to secure their legacy over their devastated state that they are even willing to part company with their country! These are the parties responsible for the horizontal divisions in our country. There are others-the regional parties- who have now superimposed on this a series of vertical-or regional- divisions or separatism. For them their individual, state specific identity is the only thing that counts, and if this can be promoted only at the cost of other state identities or the national identity, so be it and the devil take the hindmost. National identity is of little concern to these satraps focussed only on their miserable survival. And so we have a ShivSena or an MNS whose existence is postulated on driving all Beharis and UPites out of Maharashtra; a TRS which has announced that all Andhraites must leave Telangana immediately; an NC and PDP which steadfastly refuses to encourage the return of 100000 Kashmiri pandits evicted from their homeland; a DMK and AIADMK whose loyalty to a certain community in Sri Lanka matters more than India's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean; a TMC in Bengal which cares more about its share in the waters of one river than about a historic river basin Agreement with Bangladesh; an Akali Dal in Punjab which venerates Sikh terrorists hell bent upon declaring independence from India more than those brave soldiers who died to prevent that from happening. The same game is now being played with renewed vigour by at least a dozen wanna-be splinter groups who want statehood for their regions in order to preserve their " distinct identities". For the leaders of all these parties the national interest or identity does not matter-they are concerned only with their narrow, regional agenda, and the price of this tunnel vision is now beginning to show with a comatose government at the Centre.
      It takes statesmen, not self-serving politicians, to hold countries together. It took a Nehru and a Patel to survive the vivisection of our country, it took a Lincoln to create the United States of America, it took a Margaret Thatcher to prevent the double amputation of Ireland and the Falklands from the United Kingdom, it took an Attaturk to give shape to a modern Turkey, it took a Nelson Mandela to ensure that his country did not disintegrate in a welter of hatred and violence in the post-Apartheid period , it took an Indira Gandhi ( for all her faults) to preserve Punjab as an integral part of India. It will take only a Manmohan Singh or a Mulayam Singh to dismember India back into the pieces that Clive found when he stood at Plassey!
    The poison is spreading fast in the body politic of our nation and it cannot long survive its effects. The clarion call has been sounded by Mr. Akhilesh Yadav and the pack is beginning to gather. India needs a strong leader, never more than now, to stamp out these treacherous stirrings, by force if necessary. For the Indian politician has spoken- he has spoken for his caste, he has spoken for his religion, he has spoken for his sons, he has spoken for his fiefdom, he has spoken for his state- for UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Maharashtra, Kashmir, Assam.
     Who will speak up for India? 

Monday, 5 August 2013

THE GRAVE YARD SHIFT -MUSINGS ON DELHI, DEATH AND DIGNITY


             

 
          I have reached the age when my first action on a morning is to grab the newspaper, feverishly scan the obituary pages and, finding that my name is not there, release a pent up sigh of relief and proceed to read about the latest scam of this government. Perhaps I'm slowly progressing towards senility, though one can never be sure for, as Bill Cosby famously remarked, the good news about senility is that when you become senile you never know it!  But there is something about the monoxide of Delhi ( which passes for air), however, that of late has been driving my thoughts to the contemplation of matters relating to the visitations of the Grim Reaper or " Passing Away" ( as they call it here, as if the departure of the soul from the body was akin to a bout of terminal flatulence). My contemplation of these grave matters is a detached one, of course, as that of an observer, but I still wonder what occasions it. I suspect it is because Death is never far away in this city- every time you step out of your house you stand a good chance of being run over by an S-class Mercedes, or of being shot by some Dirty Harry cop who takes you for a terrorist, or of drowning in a sewer man-hole the Corporation forgot to cover, or of being poisoned because the lunch you ate in that eatery was cooked in a drum of pesticide , or of being blown up by a bomb planted by someone who pines for a return to the glory days of either the Mughals or the Mauryas : the possibilities are endless. But you get my point- one starts noticing matters relating to Death. I've been doing this for two years now and find some aspects fascinating.
      Take, for instance, the obituary notices in the Delhi papers. Every single departee is stated to have " left for his/her Heavenly Abode." I find this puzzling, for I know for a fact that for the average Delhi-wallah this Heavenly Abode is right here!  For the typical Delhi-ite Heavenly Abode is anywhere in South Delhi( Hell, of course, lies on the other side of the Yamuna river). To fine tune this concept by communities, HA for the Bengali is Chittaranjan Park, for the Punjabi it is Golf Links, for the Marwari it is Greater Kailash, for the retired defence officer it is Defence Colony, for the Yuppie it is Gurgaon, for the Tibetans it is Majnu ka Tilla, for the Politician it is Race Course Road, for the Glitterati it is MG Road or Vasant Vihar, for the Bureaucrat it is Chanakyapuri, for the Industrialist it is Amrita Sher Gill Marg. There CANNOT BE any other heaven for these Delhi wallahs, so I presume that the fond wish of the " nears and dears" of the poor departed sod would be that he takes re-birth in the neighbourbood of his choice as given above. This would partly explain why the population of Delhi has been increasing at such an alarming rate, for nobody ever goes away, not even after handing in their pail.
                                                                                *  *
     The other thing I've noticed with these obituaries is that the ones left behind invariably pledge " to follow the cherished values and high moral conduct ( of the deceased) which would forever be( their)  guiding light and beacon." Now, given the typical behaviour and conduct of the Delhi-wallah, this doesn't say much about the deceased, no disrespect intended. The "high moral conduct" usually consists of abusing your neighbour for parking in front of your house, slapping the driver who dares to overtake you, jumping any queue with total aplomb, groping any lady below seventy stupid enough to get onto a bus and similar stimulating behaviour. The " cherished values" they follow are even more ante-diluvian, consisting of lofty principles such as: Do unto others before they do unto you, Blessed are the meek for they shall never know what hit them, There is a sucker born every minute, Hand in Cash is better than cash in hand , Screw thy neighbour AND his wife, and similar uplifting principles. So you see why we can never rid the city of this lumpen sub-culture-its something its citizens owe to their ancestors who have to be revered in the typical Hindu tradition!
                                                                               *  *
      Delhi is the net-working capital of India and therefore people here love nothing more than attending weddings and funerals, especially those of important people: an invite is not necessary, just as it is not necessary to know the dramatis personnae involved. Over the years I have become used to strange faces at weddings, but it was only recently that I encountered one at a cremation! I was at the cremation of a relative at Lodhi Crematorium, where seven other pyres were also flaming. A hushed crowd stood respectfully around each. A man in immaculate white kurta-pyjama sidled upto me, nodded at my relative's pyre, and whispered: " Is - sorry, was- that Shri-----?" I shook my head regretfully. He nodded his head imperceptively and moved on to the next pyre. I kept my eyes on him and saw that he went to all the pyres, one by one, looking appropriately mournful all the time, whispering to some random people, and finally sidled out of the gate. He obviously didn't know a soul there, so what was he doing there? Why would he spend a whole day looking for the funeral of someone he clearly didn't know well at all? Did he simply want to mark his presence, or was he doing it out of respect for the deceased person? Did he attend cremations as a past-time or was he just fascinated by death? Since that incident I have observed such people at other cremations also- they hang out at the fringe of the crowd initially, speaking to no one, but come to life when some known/ important/recognizable figure appears, genuflect to the worthy, and then remain by his side all the time, whispering God only knows what to him. I have even seen some slipping visiting cards to the person!
                                                                            * *
     Delhi's bureaucrats are generally faceless, which is probably a blessing to the citizens of a city surrounded by so much ugliness! But it is in the DNA of a bureaucrat to be want to be noticed so they occasionally give in to the temptation of laying a foundation stone or two provided, of course, that Shiela Dixit has not beaten them to it. So one can see the odd Stone in front of a building or flyover or bus-stop, and one doesn't grudge them these little sops. But inaugurating a cremation platform or shed? Who would ever consent to such a ghoulish idea? Someone has, in the Lodhi Road Crematorium( you can go and see the name yourself). Just outside a shed with four platforms( donated by ONGC) is a stone on which is engraved the name of the worthy( a Director in the Ministry of Urban Development) who " inaugurated" this unit a couple of years back! Is this macabre, or am I being too severe on him? Sometimes I wonder- did they also arrange four dead bodies to cremate for his benefit, and was he given the honour of lighting the flames, in a devilish twist to the time honoured Hindu tradition of lighting the sacred lamp? Did he have to glorify himself at the very spot which should remind us of " dust unto dust", or of the words of the poet( John Donne?) :
" Sceptre and crown
 Must tumble down
 And in the dust be equal made
 With the lowly scythe and spade..."
                                                                          *  *

       The flavour of the season for people who, like me, are ready for their final boarding call, appears to be accounts of Near Death Experiences( NDE). I've read Anita Murjani's " Dying to be Me" and Dr. Alexander Eban's " Proof of Heaven" and Dr. Brian Weiss's " Many Lives,Many Masters." What they all have in common is relief at being freed from the body, a blinding white light, choral music, angelic beings accompanying them, someone( usually a deceased close relative) telling them that their time has not yet come and a disinclination to return to the ravaged body left behind. To be perfectly candid, this commonality of experience can be either reassuring, or suspicious, depending on individual assessment, and I guess I'm not in a position to pass judgement on it  till I've been through such an experience myself-the last Near Death Experience I had was some years ago when my wife caught me texting ( sexting?) an attractive PA in Shastri Bhavan but I guess that won't qualify as an NDE according to Messers Murjani, Dr. Weiss etc.! But what IS interesting in all these accounts is that the versions of life after death all correspond to the postulates of the Abrahamic religions( Christianity, Islam, Semitism) only-of their concept of Heaven, God, the type of beings who reside there etc.! The Hindu concept, to my mind, would be quite different for we don't have a distinct God figure towards which the soul gravitates( the blinding light) as Hinduism teaches that God is present in every object and creature; in our case the soul doesn't reside in Heaven or Hell everlastingly but is reincarnated into some other appropriate life-form( which is all the reward or punishment we can expect); there are no celestial or devilish figures patrolling these realms. Considering that two of three writers mentioned by me belong to the Christian religion ( Mrs. Murjani is a puzzle because she is a Hindu but her experience corresponds quite closely to that of the others. However, I note that she has spent her whole life outside India exposed to Western values, cultures and thoughts- could these have coloured/influenced her perceptions at a sub-conscious level?)-it is quite clear to me that these two gentlemen are trying- maybe unintentionally- to validate their religion through their NDE "experiences". And this in itself is enough to create a strong doubt in my mind about the authenticity of their experiences and to raise all manner of questions: Does the religious divide which exists between peoples on earth continue even after Death? Are there separate post-mortem realms for people of different religions? Are the Abrahamic religions the only true religions and other religions mere hallucinations?  Would an NDE by a true-blooded Hindu corroborate the experiences of the others mentioned above or would it be different, reflecting Hindu beliefs? Disturbing questions, but unless these can be answered the jury would be well advised to continue its deliberations and not return a verdict in a hurry.

                                                                                    *  *

           It is inevitable that Death takes everything from the dying but what is NOT inevitable is that it takes away one's dignity in that last moment too. The dignity I am talking about is not that of crowns, of robes of office, the bank account in the Cayman Islands or the Mercedes parked in the garage: what I refer to is the dignity of the human existence that comes from being with one's family, in the house built with one's own hard labour, not being dependent on another, of being aware and fully conscious of the state of one's existence, of being able to make firm choices, of letting go when the time has come. This , in essence, is the ultimate dignity a human being is entitled to, regardless of his economic, religious or social status. We are today being robbed of this dignity at an alarming rate by an unholy alliance of technology, medical rapaciousness, rising incomes and misplaced sense of duty. The act/ moment of death today robs one of all dignity, or of any sense of choice or control over one's life. Just think! Go over the last ten deaths of persons known to you- how many of them died at home and how many in ICUs or hospital rooms? Chances are nine out of the ten belong to the latter category. Death in a hospital environment demeans the human spirit and memory like nothing else-your last memory of your loved one-if at all you are even allowed to see him or her- being one of tubes stuck all over the body, the face covered with an oxygen mask, the mouth grotesquely distorted by a fat ventilator tube, the smell of chemicals all pervasive, the sound of screams of other patients adding to the all enveloping despondency. The person on the bed is either knocked out by the drugs, or, even if conscious, is unable to talk by the medical extrusions in his body. The eyes are generally the give away-if you're lucky they are closed, otherwise they move frantically from side to side, reminding one of nothing more than a trapped animal desperate to find an escape. Every NDE account I've read emphasises the person's feelings at this moment-the desire to leave the body, the resentment at being forcibly restrained, the longing to be free of its physical baggage. Should this be the manner of a human being's departure from this world?
         There was a time, not so long ago, when death was not such a traumatic and dehumanising experience- people died in their own comfortable bed, in a house they knew, surrounded by those they loved and who loved them, conscious and grateful in this knowledge; they could sometimes say a last few words or, if incapable of this, their silence was one of contentment. The soul was not held captive by force but could leave at a time of its own choosing. But all this is in the past now.People are no longer allowed to die gracefully: they are packed off to hospital ICUs, punctured with a dozen needles, injected with litres of drugs, operated upon in redundant procedures, monitored by a dozen consoles-and then finally pronounced dead. The family goes back home, their conscience and sense of duty assuaged by the hefty hospital bill  presented-and settled- before the body is handed over to them.
        I constantly wonder if this has been a change for the better. True, many more people are indeed saved to live a few more years. True, it is the duty of any family to do all they can to save a life. True, we must make full use of the advancements in medical technology. But, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we will admit that there comes a moment when we know that the end is inevitable, and yet we persist( either out of a sense of duty, or out of desperate hope) to subject the one we love to further tortures. In this we are generally encouraged by rapacious hospitals and mercenary doctors whose PRIMARY objective is to make money not save lives. They dangle before us new tests, medicines and procedures, and we succumb. Forgive me for saying so, but this is a manifestation ultimately of our selfishness The problem is that today we refuse to accept death, so arrogant have we become with our technology and our science. Sometimes our persistence works- the patient survives, but dependent on others for ever, living the existence of a vegetable. We must ask ourselves-is it worth extending a life by a few more months or years if the existence has to be at such a sub-liminal level? Is quality more important or quantity? More and more people are beginning to ask these questions now-even doctors and health administrators, I'm glad to note-and the concept of the "living will" is taking shape. By executing such a will a person prohibits the use of any life-support systems to keep him alive. California has even enacted legislation to make this a legal right, subject of course to safeguards. I would be delighted to know if any other country or state has similar legislations. Can India show the maturity and compassion to follow this path?- frankly, I have grave doubts, given that even the Supreme Court of this country refuses to allow a nurse, raped , sodomised and battered into a vegetable 27 years ago, existing in an insentient coma all these years, to die. It needs a wise and compassionate society to strike the balance between life and death. We ceased to be one long ago.   
















Saturday, 20 July 2013

The CBI-- Caged Parrot, Swooping Eagle, or Sitting Duck?

                            
The Supreme Court's now famous description of the CBI has created a stir in the avian community, especially among the flightless ones in Lutyen's Delhi. Its now open season for the CBI, with all four estates prescribing all kinds of life-saving medication for the hapless organisation, in varying dosages. It reminds me of a joke I'd almost forgotten: it goes something like this. One day a Red Indian brave rides furiously into town and heads for the local Doctor. He tells the Doctor: " Heap big Chief, no shit!" Correctly diagnosing that the brave's Chief had constipation the Doctor prescribes some strong laxatives and the brave rides away at a gallop. Next day he gallops into town again and screams at the Doctor: " Heap big shit, no Chief!" Is something similar happening to the CBI?

The diagnosis first. Yes, the CBI's track record over the last few years has been a mixed one at best- it has repeatedly and blatantly and inexcusably caved in to political pressure in a large number of important cases; even without the pressure it has not covered itself with glory in many other cases. It is no longer trusted by anyone- not the common man, not the judiciary, not the opposition. But please ask yourself: is it any different from any other govt. organisation? Have the track records of the Enforcement Directorate, SEBI, IB, all govt. Ministries and Departments, the state police and their Vigilance Departments, the various Regulators, State Public Service Commissions- mention anyone- been any better? Why pick only on the CBI? The fact is, every organ of the Govt. has succumbed to pressure from outside and capitulation by the bureaucrats from the inside and has self destructed insofar as objective, fair and effective governance is concerned. Is it reasonable to expect the CBI to be any different from other governmental entities? The CBI is just one rash among a horde of others on the thick skin of our polity, and by concentrating exclusively only on it we are making the mistake of missing the woods for the trees.


The medication next. One panacea appears to be on everyone's lips these days- GIVE CBI AUTONOMY FROM THE GOVERNMENT. The Supreme Court is keen on this, the Opposition is screaming for it( madly hoping it won't happen before they come to power), and TV anchors go apoplectic demanding it be injected immediately. Only the discredited Central govt. is opposing this, and for once, much as it goes against the grain, I agree with it ( though our reasons are totally different, believe me!). Please do a reality check. We are a democracy, and not yet one that has evolved a strong system of checks and balances unlike the UK or USA. In a democracy every organ of the state has to be accountable to, and has to be superintended by, Parliament. The instrument for doing so is the Government of the day elected by Parliament, no matter how incompetent or venal such a Government is: any other formulation-such as the Autonomy from Government control now being bandied about-weakens the democratic underpinnings of the state and should be abjured. The latent danger in taking this route multiplies exponentially when the talk is about giving autonomy to a uniformed, armed force which is legally empowered to detain, arrest and prosecute. Let us not, in a moment of media inspired hysteria, do the framers of our Constitution the injustice of implying that they did not know what they were doing when they firmly and unequivocally placed all uniformed forces under the unambiguous control of the civilian Government of the day. Do we wish the CBI to become like the ISI or the KGB, just two autonomous police forces I can think of immediately? And where do we draw the line?- if the Government's meddling with the CBI is adequate reason for making it autonomous then, by the same specious logic, shouldn't we be granting similar autonomy to the IB, BSF, CRPF, ITBP, SSB, all state Police forces, and maybe the Army, Navy and Airforce? Because you can rest assured that the Governments-all of them without exception- do just as much meddling with them. The chorus for Autonomy is a red herring introduced by people who should know better. Autonomy from Government control does not automatically lead to better performace unless the nuts and bolts of the machine are fixed. Neither Scotland Yard nor the FBI have the kind of autonomy we are now demanding for the CBI, yet they are the finest police organisations in the world.

Can we trust the CBI with autonomy? To find an answer to this question you need look no further than the expose by Shoma Choudhury( in the Tehelka magazine of 29th June) of the CBI's handling of the Aarushi murder case. It is a brilliantly researched, doggedly persevering and systematic uncovering of the depths to which the CBI has gone to frame the parents of the poor girl, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, in the murder of their own daughter. She exposes everything point by point- the manipulation of witnesses, the tampering of evidence, the misleading of the courts- by a DIG level officer, simply because he had made up his mind that they were the murderers- in the process, according to that article, he refused to look at evidence that could have pointed him in the right direction. Shoma Choudhury's point-by-point detailing and marshalling of facts makes one sit up and take another look at what many people thought was an open and shut case. This is not a case that involves political big-wigs, and so even the fig leaf of " political pressure" by the govt. is not available to the CBI. No. sir, this is just usual police working- the same mindset that makes police beat up women in UP, lathi charge protesting young students at India Gate, kill by the hundreds people in their custody, extort crores from petty hawkers every year on the streets of Delhi, rape women in lock-ups, arrest a young girl for tweeting her dislike for Bal Thackeray, allow the murderer of Jessica Lal to get away.  There was certainly no pressure from the government in these cases.And you would like this same police to be autonomous? Because make no mistake- there's no difference in the mentality of state police and central police, and most of the time its the same personnel flitting from one to the other. Think- if this is how they behave when they are accountable to the governments on a daily basis, what can they not do when they are no longer accountable?

 The fact is, government pressure/ covert interference is not the only factor that influences the actions of the CBI or any other police force. Their behaviour is also dictated by other forces- money power, caste and community considerations, personal loyalties to individuals who may or may not be within the Government, unabashed personal ambition, obligations to others in the matter of appointments and promotions, and the sheer predatorial instincts of all those who wear a uniform in this sub-continent. Taking away the Government's powers of superintendence will not remove these influences- in fact, this will only make them stronger, because now they can indulge their malfeasance and worse without fear of being pulled up, because now they are " autonomous".

There are no short-cuts to reforming the CBI, and no quick-fix solutions, certainly not of the kind that our TV channels want in the space of one panel discussion. Every trekker knows that the shortest path up a mountain is usually the most dangerous. Persisting with our present course of medication for the CBI will destroy this organisation for ever. Autonomy has to be eschewed in favour of " operational independence" and MORE( not LESS) monitoring. The structure of the organisation has to be reviewed. Selection procedures have to be reformed. The carrot and the stick both have to be taken away from the Government. This cannot be achieved by mere diktat, either by the courts or the Government, but needs comprehensive introspection by experts and a wide consultation with civil society. It should not be driven by a transient media frenzy This article is an attempt to perhaps kick-start the process. Given below are some of my own suggestions:

[1]   The appointments of not only the Director but of all officers till the rank of Superintendent of Police should be with the UPSC( for both direct recruits and deputationists). Only the best should be chosen and both the present and proposed systems cannot ensure this. It is being suggested that the Director should be chosen by a collegium comprising the CJI( or his rep), Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Three Wise Men, granted, but they are immediately handicapped by the fact that they would choose only from a short-list prepared by the Government, and its in the preparation of this list that the mischief lies. As all of us who have served in Government know( some to our cost) the preparation of such " panels" are totally subjective,opaque and not based on any verifiable criteria. Secondly, the selection of the Director of such a critical organisation should not be something that is completed in a short sitting over a polite cup of tea, which is all  these three wise( and presumably busy) men would have time for. Thirdly, it is certainly inappropriate and an infringement of the theory of separation of powers for a judicial officer to be involved in the selection of a senior executive functionary, who may even have to appear before him in court some day in a case relating to his conduct, or even his appointment- will the CJI( or his rep) then recuse himself ? And what does it say of our executive, and indeed the country, to impliedly admit that we can't find three competent and objective individuals outside the judiciary? As for the other two worthies on this collegium, suffice it to say that deals on senior appointments can be struck before between the Government and the Opposition....

 The UPSC is a constitutional body established to make selections to senior appointments in the Government. It has an objective and transparent process, and it has no personal axe to grind. It is far removed from the consequences of its recommendations. The Government should prepare the Recruitment and Promotion Rules for the post of Director( and all ranks upto SP) and leave it to the UPSC to make the selection. The person so selected is not obliged to anyone for any act of kindness because he has made it on his own merit, and herein lies one of the biggest advantages of the UPSC route. There can be no quid pro quo, no payment of an eternal debt which makes the Directors of such organisations effectively bonded labour.

The importance of selecting the right person as Director cannot be emphasised enough. It is, in the ultimate analysis, individuals and not mere legislation or court orders or autonomy that make an organisation. We have a whole host of " autonomous" organisations in our country- State Public Service Commissions, various Regulators, Commissions and Councils by the dozen, even Lokayuktas-yet, how many of them have displayed any independence of decisions and action? The Election Commission and the CAG have always been autonomous- yet it took a Seshan and a Vinod Rai ( with no additional powers than what their predecessors enjoyed) to make these organisations something any country can be proud of, entities that Governments now know cannot be intimidated or bought. The power to refuse to do anything wrong , or to refuse to suppress what is not right, is with every senior functionary of the Government, not only with Seshan or Vinod Rai- the difference is, they chose to exercise these powers while the others choose to take the route more travelled. If the CBI chooses to make U-turns in Mulayam Singh's cases, and delay those relating to Mayawati; if it dithers on Coalgate and looks the other way in Sajjan Kumar's case; if it chooses to let a wriggling Mr. Bansal off the hook and tries to put Modi there instead -its because the Director has consciously chosen not to exercise the powers he has. It is in the nature of all Governments to push, but the Head of the organisation must have the moral courage and caliber to resist: every single Director of CBI in the last few years- including the present incumbent- has failed to demonstrate this quality.

[2]   The Director CBI, like the Election Commissioners and the CAG, should on retirement be ineligible for any Government post, including any Committee or Commission. This is a vital reform provision, as anyone who has worked in Government knows. In the last couple of years of their service a kind of reverse evolutionary process usually occurs with senior civil servants- they start becoming invertebrates again and " homo erectus" starts resembling " homo prostratus"! It is the lure of a post retirement sinecure that makes all civil servants salivate uncontrollably: for most of them superannuation is a Near Death Experience, and they would happily sell their souls to Faust to avoid it- which is what most of them do. Governments know this, and have handled this phobia so well with the handing out of Governorships etc. that by now the undeclared motto of the CBI probably is: Thou shallst not bite the hand that feeds thee. Take away this bait, and half the battle is won.

[3]   Having appointed a Director who has no debts to repay,and who now knows that his golden years will be spent in looking for lost balls on the golf course and not in some Raj Bhavan ,the next step should be to strengthen his administrative powers so that he can run his organisation the way he wants to. He should have full powers of appointments for all officers of the rank of DSP and below. He should have complete powers to post his officers where he wants to- let him select his own team and then hold him accountable for their actions. His officers will also have only one point of loyalty-to him alone-because they now know that the Government has no role to play in the matter. Give the organisation complete financial independence: once its budget has been sanctioned by Parliament all financial financial powers should vest with the Director, and he should not have to approach any Ministry for sanctions.

[4]   The CBI should have its own Directorate of Prosecution and the freedom to appoint its own panel of lawyers. The Government is reluctant to allow this because, by giving legal advice which suits the government, its own Law Ministry appointed lawyers can influence the direction and nature of any investigation and prosecution. It is this which has contributed in no small measure to the CBI's loss of credibility, and this must be unequivocally corrected.

[5] Review the existing staffing pattern of the CBI, on which a lot of light has been shed by Brajesh Kumar in his article " To keep the Parrot caged" in the the June 16-30 issue of Governance Now. In his article Mr. Kumar reveals the hiatus between Cadre and Deputation officers in the CBI- at lower levels( SP and below) the ratio is 60:40 in favour of the Deputationist, which goes up to 75:25 at the level of DIG, and further to an astounding 80:20 at Joint Director rank. This is not healthy for any organisation and at least twelve Parliamentary Standing Committees have recommended that the in-house cadre should be strengthened. It is not difficult to understand why successive Governments have been reluctant to act on this recommendation. Deputationists( in this case from the IPS, IRS, IAAS) are easier to control and influence because their postings and continued tenure are completely within the discretion of the appointing authority( which is the Government and not the Director). Deputation has its positives: it brings varied experience and expertise to an organisation, but when overdone it can stunt the growth of that same organisation, as is happening to the CBI, because it prevents the internalisation and absorption of that same expertise. Furthermore, deputationists have no loyalty to their borrowing organisation, no espirit de corps, no vested interest in its future. Cadre officers in such situations, on the other hand, become demoralised and frustrated and fall easy prey to external influence and manipulation. Correction of this structural distortion has to be one of the top priorities for any meaningful reform of the CBI.

[6]  Reduce the multiplicity of authorities which hover above the CBI like a menacing cloud, striking it with bolts of lightning to assert their powers from time to time. DOPT, Law, Finance,MHA, CVC, Cabinet Secretariat, PMO- with so many conductors its no wonder the CBI doesn't know whose tune to dance to! Therefore, one is not too sure of the wisdom of the proposal before the Supreme Court that for cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act it should report to the CVC and for all others to the DOPT( its parent Ministry). Why introduce this schizophrenic element? This dichotomy is untenable also because most cases, even those with The PCA element, would also involve charges under the IPC and other Acts-forcing the Agency to report again to multiple Ministries. In the interest of both, effective functioning of the CBI and better monitoring by the Government, the agency should be superintended by just one authority-it could be either the PMO or the Cabinet Secretariat. The role of the DOPT is an anachronism and the sooner it is done away with the better.

[7]  The suggestion made in court that the CBI should not show its files or share any information with the Government is against the logic of a democratic polity. Perhaps this could be the case in a specific, court-monitored investigation, or where the court so orders, but it should not be made a general rule. As I've stated earlier in this article, the CBI has to be accountable to the Government, but there can be no accountability if the Government is denied any information it seeks. Furthermore, many cases have major ramifications that may impinge on international relations, economic policy, the country's security, issues related to defence; a Government that is denied information about these cases cannot act in the best interests of the nation. And thirdly, the law mandates that a civil servant cannot be prosecuted for an action done in the discharge of his official duties without the sanction of the appropriate Government- how will this sanction be given or denied if the latter is unable to see the papers relating to the case? The Government should have the powers to call for reports from the Director, to review his organisation's functioning from time to time. This cannot-and should not- be done by the proposed three member judicial panel: they themselves are not accountable to anyone, and they are not part of the executive. Their presence can only weaken the Government's role, which cannot be healthy. It is Government which has to answer to Parliament and the people, not the judicial panel. The Director cannot serve two masters. This further erosion of executive authority should be opposed in court.

[8] One final point: the CBI should no longer be made to serve as a lifebuoy for ineffective state governments whose own police forces have lost all credibility with the people. I refer to the practice of states handing over to CBI routine murder/ rape/kidnapping cases because of lack of trust in their own police. This has to stop: the CBI Director should be empowered to refuse to take over these cases because (a) the CBI is not a run of the mill thana, (b) such cases stretch its resources and other, more important investigations suffer as a consequence, and (c) it should be used only for cases with a national ramification. The relevant Act should be amended to achieve this, and to prevent politically expedient cases being dumped in its lap. In fact, the ideal we should move towards is to have a separate list of federal offences, cross-border in nature, which should be the CBI's exclusive turf, as in the case of the FBI.

All the above suggestions are a package-adopting one and not the other defeats its purpose.
      
I have attempted this write-up because I strongly feel that this country of ours is at a make or break stage of its evolution. The issues we face today, including the future of the CBI, are far too important to be left to be decided by the Courts or Governments alone. As someone once famously said: Politics is far too important a business to be left to politicians alone! Civil society has to get involved in this debate. We cannot have a CBI that can run amok with impunity, freed from all accountability except to the courts in some cases. It is the job of the Executive to run its organs, and if it is not being able to do so properly then we should look for systemic solutions, not administer steroids that transform the patient into a monster. Dr. Frankenstein did it once........                                                                                                      


I have given my views here, most of it based on 35 years of service in the Governments in the State and at the Centre. I have also at times played the Devil's Advocate in this article- or should I say, the Devil's Attorney General? After all , as Attorney General I can always revise my advice, or, better still, deny that I ever gave it in the first place!