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Kashmir Meeting: OVERCOMING TRUST DEFICIT?, By Insaf, 26 June 2021 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi,  26 June 2021

Kashmir Meeting


By Insaf


Removing ‘Dilli ki duri’ and ‘Dil ki duri’ with Kashmir is a challenging goal indeed that Prime Minister Modi has set for himself. His invitation to People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, derided by him and his Home Minister Shah as ‘Gupkar Gang’, for a meeting on Thursday last suggests there’s more than meets the eye. Remember, in the past two years they have termed the alliance as ‘irrelevant’ and determined to ‘banish them from public life’.So, was the meeting called just to prepare a future course of action or holding elections eventually? Not really. It’s sheer realisation by the Centre that it does need to get mainstream regional parties on board if it wants to get the delimitation exercise underway, the first step towards Assembly elections. Perhaps, pressure from the new dispensation in Washington DC? Or rather it’s time BJP redrew electoral boundaries in J&K to its advantage. But for that it needs a measure of legitimacy like did the DDC elections. However, it’s not easy. ‘New Kashmir’ remains a slogan as 14 leaders first demanded restoration of Statehood at the meeting. They were ‘unwilling’ to accept revocation of J&K’s special status and bifurcation into two UTs. It was made amply clear they would continue to protest, but peacefully. Be that as it may, there is already the first deadlock: delimitation first, says Modi, Statehood demands the alliance. Can it be overcome and how soon? When the curtains will fall down on Central rule, imposed in June 2018? The answer perhaps lies in whether New Delhi can build trust, unquestionably lost since the aftermath of 5 August 2019.

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Meghalaya Vaccine Poser

The vaccination drive gets an interesting twist in Meghalaya. On the one hand, its High Court held that vaccination was ‘need of the hour, an absolute necessity’ and on the other was against mandatory or forced vaccination, saying it impinges on Constitution’s Article 19(1). This it said, while dealing with the court filing a suo moto PIL after State authorities had asked shopkeepers, vendors, taxi drivers and others in many areas to get themselves vaccinated before resuming business.On Thursday last, the CJI’s bench opined putting a pre-condition on taxi drivers, shopkeepers etc “vitiates the very fundamental purpose of the welfare attached to it… and impinges on fundamental right(s) under as such, especially when it affects the right to means of livelihood…” It also observed it was the State’s responsibility to disseminate information and sensitise citizens of the entire exercise of vaccination and to stop misinformation on it. Interestingly, a day earlier, the court asked all business houses, shopsand commercial vehicles to put on display the ‘vaccinated’ status of employees at a “conspicuous” place to allow people make a conscious decision before using their services.Similarly, owners of local taxis, auto-rickshaws, taxis, and buses, must too put up a sign with the vaccination status of drivers, conductors or helpers.Guess the message to many would read as: ‘You can’t have the cake and eat it too!

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WB Speaker Joins In

The bitter feud between West Bengal-Centre reaches the doorstep of House of the people, the Lok Sabha. On Tuesday last, State Assembly Speaker Biman Banerjee took the opportunity provided by the virtual All India Speakers’ Conference on Tuesday last, and complained to his Lok Sabha counterpart Om Birla about “excessive interference” of Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar in matters related to parliamentary democracy and the House’ functioning. Not a political turn, but more to do with business of the House? Apparently, despite the Assembly passing bills, Banerjee said, several of these were lying at Dhankar’s desk waiting for his signature. This, he added, ‘is unprecedented in history of West Bengal’s parliamentary democracy.”It’s no secret, that the Governor, who assumed office in July 2019, has repeatedly been accused by TMC leadership of acting as BJP’s mouthpiece, not just interfering in functioning of the Mamata Banerjee government but maligning it too. Expectedly, State BJP unit rubbishes the allegations saying Dhankar was only exposing reality—of lawlessness in the State. And though there have been complaints against him earlier, it adds, all turned out to be baseless. Be that as it may, the big question is what will the Lok Sabha Speaker do? Remember,  the CBI’s repeated requests to chargesheet MPs, including turncoat Suvendu Adhikari, who is now BJP’s Leader of Opposition, continue to gather dust on his desk. Adding fuel to fire? 

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Bihar’s Churnings

Will political Gen Next hold hands, is a question doing the rounds in Bihar. The turmoil in the LJP and its beleaguered leader Chirag Paswan has made RJD’s firebrand leader Tejashwi Yadav, leader of Opposition, reach out to him. The enemy i.e. BJP seems common, though somewhat blurred in LJP’s case. The revolt in the party by his uncle, has disenchanted Chirag with his alliance partner’s silence and feels JD(U) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may be playing mischief. Chirag is set to embark on ‘Aashirwad Yatra’ from July 5, his father Ram Vilas Paswan’s birth anniversary to test waters. There’s a ripple already. Reminding him of how his father Lalu Prasad had helped Ram Vilas to get a Rajya Sabha seat in 2010 when LJP had no MP or MLAs, Tejashwi said “It’s Chirag to decide if he would continue to live with followers of Guru Golwalkar’s ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ or with BR Ambedkar, maker of Constitution.” Though Chirag has yet to respond, there appears political logic for the two to come together. While Chirag failed miserably in Assembly poll, the two have their respective vote banks, Paswans and Yadavs are political castes and not antithetical and can work for next poll cycle. Importantly, the two are not really averse to each other. Recall it was Chirag keen to partner with BJP, though his father had in past left Vajpayee Cabinet due to differences with Modi after 2002. Time will prove the ancient proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

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Kerala Steps In

Glimmer of hope appears in Lakshadweep for its protestors. On Tuesday last, the Kerala High Court stayed two provocative orders of the UT administration headed by Praful Patel, following a petition by a lawyer and native of Kavaratti. These relate to closing down dairy farms on the islands and changing midday meal diet of school children by excluding chicken, beef, and other meat from the menu. Patel through a new set of proposals these past months had stirred up a hornet’s nest. The petitioner termed the decisions as being ‘violative of human rights’ as these were ‘aimed at destroying culture and eating habits of islanders.’ Besides, like other proposals, the decision to shut down dairy farms and auction off the animals was taken without any consultations with elected local bodies. The islands have been witnessing unprecedented protests under ‘Save Lakshadweep Forum’ (SLF),a group of six political parties with the population observing ‘black day’ and day-long fast demanding ‘justice’.All eyes are now on the UT’s response to the Kerala court. Will Patel be convincing and continue to ride rough shod with his right-wing leanings or will his clips be eventually clipped? New Delhi must step in too. 

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‘Third Front’ In Offing?

An evening in Delhi has created a flutter in political circles. Is a ‘third front’,against the formidable BJP, in the offing as leaders of 8 political parties along with some intellectuals got together on an invitation of Rashtra Manch, at NCP Chief Sharad Pawar’s home on Tuesday last? The organisers deny any such move and explain individuals and not parties were invitedto discuss ‘current political and economic situation in the country.’ Not convincing enough as other than NCP, leaders of TMC, SP, AAP, Rashtra Manch (founded by former Yashwant Sinha), SP, Left parties, RLD and NC were present. The absence of Congress raised some eyebrows, though it was said its members were invited. Among the non-politicos were former Delhi HC Chief Justice A P Shah, writer and former MP Javed Akhtar, Sudheendra Kulkarni, economist Arun Kumar and former diplomat K.C. Singh. The timing of the meeting is interesting too—followed after Pawar having a 2nd sitting with poll strategist Prashant Kishor within 10 days. More so as though leaders say a common strategy must emerge to deal with issues such as joblessness, farmers’ protests, freedom of press, inflation etc, it is important to make a note of Kishore’s reaction. He said “I don’t believe a Third or Fourth Front could emerge as a successful challenge to the current dispensation…The ‘tried and tested’ 3rd Front model is archaic and does not suit the current political dynamic..’ Should one read into the group strategizing at the State level with eye on winnability? It’s a long way off to 2024, but an early start may give a lead.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


Gender Equality: WOMEN PRIESTS IN TEMPLES, By DrS.Saraswathi, 24 June 2021 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 24 June 2021

Gender Equality


By DrS.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


In the midst of our fight against Covid-19 and the fear of third wave in a few weeks haunting our spirit,theDMK government in Tamil Nadu is going ahead with temple reforms as oneof the  most important items on its agenda tobe executed as fast aspossible. It relatesto appointment   of female priests in templesundergovernment control. True,thepandemic cannot be an excuse  for postponing social reformsor rendering gender equalityandjustice.


The Minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) in TN has announced  a few days back that the State would offer training to women who are interested in becoming  priests in temples managed by the Department. “As  all Hindus canbecome priests,women can also become priests”, stated the minister. The announcement marks that the DMK government is  picking up the thread again to continue democratisation of temple administration initiatedin the  1970s soon after the DMK first came to power.


The minister has also announced that Hindus of all castes would be appointed priests in 36,000- odd temples under its control before the newly elected DMK government completes 100 daysin office.It is not known whether the urgency is due to the pressure given by devotees or priests in waiting or by temple management or by the DMK Partyborn for removing caste inequalities.


Temple worship is not just a religious practice, but is linked with sect/denomination, caste, and language. With administration of bigtemples going into the hands of government, Constitution and laws have to be adhered to and democratisation and secularisation in managing temple affairs have become policy issues for governments and political parties. Hence, issues like women gurukal(priest) and archana in Tamil.


In 1971, the HRE Act wasamended in TN to allow appointment of temple priestsfrom any  caste. The apex court abolished the hereditary priesthoodin temples, but upheld the authority of the agamas and its rules which laid stress on usage and denominations in appointment of priests.


As denominations are not castes and people from different castes may belong to the same sect,  an ordinance was passed in 2006 to specifically remove caste bar in becoming priests. The judge then stated, quoting from a famous judgement that, “freedom to act and practice in pursuance of  religious beliefs is as much important as the freedom of believing in a religion”. The test is that provisions in Part III of the Constitution on Fundamental Rights should not be violated. The bench did not strike down the ordinance, but ruled that it should be applied case by case only.   Agamas are not common for all temples.


Agamas represent themanual or guidebook on which temple rituals are based.They prescribe rules about everything pertaining to temples including food,  dress, and  habits of  priests  and the  manner of conducting rituals in the minutest details. Even temple architecture, housingof deities,   anduse of space are dealtwith. 


It is reported that after an order passed in 2006, 207 men were trained for priesthood in major temples in TN. But, the programmehad to be shelved soon for lack of jobs for the graduates.    Till date, very few have been appointed as priests and about 15 gone abroad.


The whole controversy in Tamil Nadu is due to the common notion of associating “priest” with   “Brahmin” and “Brahmanism,” Brahmin was considered andreferred to in caste literature as the “priestly class”  although Brahmin was the first to take to English education and modern jobs. The  term “priest” is used by Hindus forspecialists  who conduct rituals athome or in public places  to conduct family samskaras and ritualson occasions like birth of a baby, wedding,death, etc ., and also for those engaged in puja and connected rituals in temples.   Women rarely cameforward to do priestlyfunctions. Arya  Samaj founded aschoolin Sakori in  Maharashtra in 1932 to train women for priesthood.


Government of Tamil Nadu seems to be keen on breaking the tradition of appointing male priests in some big temples attractinglargecrowds and having vast resources and income and  conducting festivals on an extravagant scale. For, women priests and priests from castes other than Brahmin are not any new idea in smaller temples in Tamil Nadu. Besides the famous Adi Parasakti Temple in Melmaruvathur near Chennai which has female priests and allows females   to even touch the idols, there are hundreds of temples of “little tradition” where  women priests  are common. In many temples, even hereditary system of  women priests is in force.There are a number of temples of “village gods” in southern India  with mostly women priests.


The  Supreme  Court held in a case from Andhra Pradesh that performance of rituals was part of religion, but the performer was not and ruled that any person qualified to function as priest can be appointed. Priestly functions are physicallyarduous with  stringent regulations and involve late night and very early morning duties. Specialsafetyarrangements are required for female priests.


Hindu tradition even in most conservative places is not as strongly against female priesthood  as   the Roman Catholic Church. Holy books of Hindus do not prohibitwomen from becoming  religious leaders.But, the teaching of the Catholic Church on ordination permits only  a Catholic male to receive valid ordination. In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued  the Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the  Ministerial Priesthood which  taught that for doctrinal, theological, and historical reasons, the Church “does  not consider itself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.” In 1994 Pope John Paul II confirmed that Church could not confer priestly ordination on women.Women priests and bishops who  attempt to ordain them could be excommunicated according to a decree from Vatican in 2008.This   position was reversed by a German  bishop in 2017. 


There are schools to train women priests in many States in India. Pune is in the forefront where two schools were started several years back totrain women for priesthood.


Temple trusts are another place inaccessible to women. Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu  have passed laws mandating reservation of seats for women in the Board of trustees.Andhra Pradesh provides 50% reservation for women in temple trusts and committees. Some famous temples like Puri Jagannath, Vaishno Devi shrine, and Siddhi Vinayak temple have women members as trustees.


Today, proper maintenance of places ofworshipseems to be far more important than appointment of women priests. UNESCOonce described that temples in TN are in “decay”.   Misappropriation of temple property, lack of proper auditing, idol theft, and dilapidated condition of several temples need urgent action and not appointment of women priests.  Assessment of temple properties and preservation of templerecords using digitised technology  must be undertaken immediately.


In short, state control of religious institutions may betterbe limited to material issues leaving spiritual and ritual matters to the decision of religious leaders and devotees inconsonance with temple rules and traditions.--- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



Afghan Crisis: INDIA WATCH OUT!, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 25 June 2021 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 25 June 2021

Afghan Crisis


By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC)


The battle between Taliban and Afghan government has intensified since 1 of May as United States NATO troops begin to withdraw. According to the United Nation’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), there has been sudden increase in violence despite talks and an agreement last year between US and Taliban. The Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar speaking in a special meeting of United Nation’s Security Council on Tuesday, 22nd June has called for a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.


As per the report presented by UNAMA, the civilian casualties have increased in the first quarter of 2021 by 29 per cent, of women by 37 per cent, and of children by 23 per cent. In the recent attacks, the targets have been civilians, women, children, armed forces and government officials. Taliban is fast gaining control of the Afghan territory and so far has captured 19 districts out of 42. The recent catch in Taliban bag is the control of Kunduz province on Monday, the 21 June. This province holds the border crossing to Tajikistan which is crucial for trade with Central Asia.


Atthe UNSC,Jaishankar asked for an end to ‘terrorists’ safe havens’ and ‘terrorist supply chains’. He did not mention Pakistan although the reference was obvious. At the same time,  Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar was more forthright in naming Pakistan Al-Qaeda and other Pak-based terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accompanied by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of High Council for National Reconciliation was scheduled to meet US President Joe Biden at the White House on Friday, the 25 June. According to White House spokesperson, the US is determined to continue to extend diplomatic, humanitarian and economic assistance for restoration of war-torn Afghanistan.


Ghani, however, has expressed his dismay at the outcome of US military mission in Afghanistan.They had come to curb violence in the country, but when they leave after two decades, the violence has spiked. At the same time, Ghani castigates the Taliban for putting their relationship with networks and sponsors ahead of the interest of the country. He urges them to make a choice between LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Qaida and other such groups, and the patriotic forces of Afghanistan.


The US Ambassador to United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UNSC that US will not accept a military solution in Afghanistan, a government by force, and restoration of Islamic Emirate. This would have no legitimacy. The US is committed to supporting an Afghan people-driven andpeople-owned peace process. While the NATO is committed to training the Afghanistan security forces, the world likes to see a stable and peaceful Afghanistan which would link the economies of South-Central Asia.


Let us note that India is strongly supportive, like the US and other democracies, of the peace process in Afghanistan. But what does it tangibly mean? Where do the Taliban get the support from to simply overpower the government as soon as the USA and NATO troops decide to drawdown? Is it not Pakistan and its mentors? Should Government of India not be wary of Afghan territory being used for cross-border terrorism in the region?


To answer the above questions, it will be in order that we critically look at India’s Afghan policy. Initially, India has a developmental role in rebuilding Afghanistan since the violence started with Soviet occupation of the country way back in 1979. The trail of violence could be traced to the fateful month of December 1979. India extended aid of over $2 billion to Afghanistan and made massive developmental efforts in terms of various projects. It constructed the new Parliament building at a cost of about $90 million as a friendship gesture. The Afghan Parliament and the Salma dam are two flagship projects in Afghanistan.


In recent years, the pace of India-Afghan bilateral collaboration has accelerated in the framework of Afghanistan-India strategic partnership agreement (SPA) in the political, security, development and cultural sectors. It was perhaps perceived by the South Block that India’s ability to mentor a nascent democracy will demonstrate to the world of India’s growth as a big and a responsible power.


Was it enough, or indeed an appropriate strategy to deal with the Afghan question? Donald Trump in his inimitable and cavalier way downplayed the Indian developmental approach. He, in fact, mocked the construction of library building saying how many people made use of the facility. These snide remarks aside, India’s contribution earned the goodwill of Afghan people but did little to stop the violence and rivalry. The call of time is to tame the Taliban and get them to follow the democratic peace process.


At several points in time we have argued that, if necessary, India could have been militarily involved to contribute to disarm the violence-mongers and force them to come to peace negotiations. Short of that, New Delhi needed to make contact with Taliban, who are a formidable party, albeit backed by Pakistan and its partners-in-crime. Thankfully, there has been a big shift in India’s approach as it opened channels with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders. The Indian security officials made contact with faction leaders who were seen to be nationalists or not under the influence of Pakistan or Iran.


On June 9 and June 15, Jaishankar had two stopovers at Doha to meet the Qatari Foreign Minister and National Security Advisor, and the US Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad who happened to be there at the time. Qatar government has been hosting the Taliban’s main office in Doha since 2013, has been involved in Afghan peace process as the main organiser of Intra-Afghan dialogue (Afghan-Taliban Talks) which were inaugurated in September 2020. Jaishankar was a part of the inauguration. However, India’s contacts with Taliban have been exploratory, not decisive in any way.


It requires no imagination to establish that India has huge stakes in Afghanistan’s peace, stability and security. But New Delhi has been a peripheral player in the peace negotiations although it has bilaterally engaged incurring considerable goodwill among the people. In the latest conclave of the countries organised by Russia, India was kept out. With growing proximity between Moscow and Beijing, the former suggested that only five countries – Russia, China, US, Pakistan and Iran should be at the table. It is US that made India finally sit at the table with five other countries to decide the road map for peace in Afghanistan. New Delhi perhaps realises now that “our interests need to be safeguarded”.


By being a part of the team, New Delhi hoped to have a role in fixing the terms for negotiation – especially on terrorism, violence, women’s rights and democratic values. India could play that role with support of USas other countries in the pack, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan are of a similar hue. It is a correct approach for New Delhi to talk to all players in Afghan imbroglio, but it is important not to be kept out. New Delhi should persuade US to give it a hand in steadying the fragile restoration of Afghanistan. In the past, New Delhi has left the onus to US;whereas it should have been more involved. As the saying goes, “everything may be lost, but future remains”. New Delhi should prepare for that future in Afghanistan to make itself secure from its toxic spill over. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Ailing Economy: EYE NOT GDP BUT EWS By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 23 June 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 23 June 2021 

Ailing Economy


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


In the midst of the economy being hit severely and government suffering a financial crunch, Prime Minister Modi’s announcement of giving free vaccines to all States and extending the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) till Diwali this year, which entitles beneficiaries to 5 kg free foodgrains every month, South Block would need to do a juggling act with finances. Judging the economy from merely GDP growth, which too has been lowered to around 8.5 percent by various agencies, is erroneous viz the ground reality at grass-root level and the income of lower segments of society.


A case in point is a recent petition in the Supreme Court filed by NGO, Distress Management Collective, pleading that the Reserve Bank of India and banks should be directed not to declare any assets of borrowers as NPAs for non-payment of EMIs. This, at least for the period from April to August this year and consider rolling out a financial package primarily focusing on “the severely affected sections of society and also keeping in mind an imminent third wave”. The petition stated that the second wave of Covid-19 is pushing India’s middle class towards poverty with an estimated 32 million people losing their jobs and sources of livelihood.


It would not be difficult for even a student of economics to understand the quantum of job loss, the under-nutrition of children, the ongoing severe sufferings of EWS, poor and the underprivileged since the beginning of last year. Added to this, the after effects of cyclones last year and this year has made matters bad from for worse for the poor. The extent of poverty and squalor has been ravaging at least 30 to 35 per cent of the population.


The CMIE report on loss of jobs and growing unemployment is thus alarming. Over 15 million jobs were lost during May while the urban joblessness rate hit 18 per cent in the week ending May 30, the highest in the past one year. “Employment fell from 390.8 million in April 2021 to 375.5 million in May 2021. This translates into a loss of 15.3 per cent million jobsor a 3.9 per cent fall in employment” in May. April and May witnessed a particularly severe fall in employment and it is understood that this accounts for 22.7 million of the 5.8 million job losses in the past four months.


The Congress party termed 2020-21 as the “darkest year of the economy” in four decades and accused Prime Minister Modi of refusing to pay heed to good advice and global experience of management during the pandemic and lockdown. The combined reports of CMIE and also research and survey of Azim Premji University have concluded that 23 crore people have been pushed below the poverty line and into indebtedness and worse the figure is likely to have increased by May-end.


The resource crunch, has forced the government to turn a blind eye to the problems being faced by particularly migrants, unorganised workers and daily wage earners, who have been worst-hit. All that the Centre has done is giving five kg of free grains for individuals, enlisted under NFSA through the Public Distribution System for May and June But the allocation for MGNREGA has been just Rs 73,000 crore, which is around Rs 38,500 crore less than that of the revised estimate of the last fiscal.


According to one estimate, total households demanding MNREGA work in the next two months would be somewhere around 30 per cent more than that of 2019-20 during the same period; six crore households are expected to be working in the programmeinthe current fiscal. At the current rate of Rs 268 per day per person, at least Rs 1.3 lakh crore would be needed to be made available in the current fiscal, if around 75-80 days of employment has to be given. Moreover, the government has to hike MNREGA wages by say 10 per cent.


Therefore, there is need for formulating a spending programme. The first being the need for cash transfers to as many low-income households as possible. However, this should reach both the rural and urban poor. This cash transfer has to be realistic and time bound. The report, ‘State of Working India, 2021, from Azim Premji University rightly suggested that Rs 5000 per month for three months be distributed to many vulnerable households.


Secondly, there should be employment guarantee schemes beyond MGNREGA. as urban unemployment has risen to over 15 per cent. As this segment has no access to any State-funded social insurance scheme, introducing a MGNREGA scheme for urban workers would go a long way towards insulating them. Hundred days work at say Rs 250 per day for 15 per cent of urban labour force would help such workers and would take around 0.7 per cent of GDP. Finally, the government mustn’t bother about deficit targets and take a form view that these need to be relaxed


It is unfortunate that the government has yet to decide on how it would redress the sufferings of the impoverished, as so far there is no strategy shared. The only concern of the government, which is backed by extensive media reports, is the percentage of GDP growth but such growth has no bearing on the impoverished and marginalised sections of society.


One is inclined to refer here to Keynesian economics and acknowledge the decisive role that public policy and the State can play in a populous country like India. As is well known, Keynes advocated that demand deficiency and persistent unemployment can be tackled if the government were to chip in resources by various public investment programmes, thereby raising demand and public expenditure.   


But in today’s prevailing situation in the country, where informal sector is the main source of livelihood and where millions have been affected due to the pandemic and lockdowns, public spending has is minimal and therefore has become imperative. Even well-known economist and Nobel laureate, Abhijit Banerjee, has taken the Keynesian line of thinking and argued in favour of cash transfer from the government in order to inject demand as well as to battle poverty as resultof job loss.Sadly, the government has not followed this policy, specially at this critical juncture when public expenditure is badly needed in rural health infrastructure development.


Significantly, West Bengal Finance Minister has in a letter to his counterpart at the Centre suggested extending the compensation period by another five years while also raising their borrowing limit by 5 per cent of GSDP (gross state domestic product), without any conditions to enable them to carry on vaccination and deal with damages caused by cyclones. This would help the cash-starved States to revive their ailing economy and carry out development work in a better manner, specially those relating to social and physical infrastructure in rural areas. 


It goes without saying that the Centre must offer incentives and subsidies for the poor and EWS and so also job opportunities such as expanding schemes like MGNREGA so that they are assured of income support for meeting basic necessities of life. The government need not worry about fiscal deficit which may go up to 7-8 per cent of GDP. It must look at the ground reality and address the suffering of the people. Sooner the better.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Dissent Vital For Democracy: GOVT NEEDS SELF CONTROL, By Poonam I Kaushish, 22 June 2021 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 22 June 2021

Dissent Vital For Democracy


By Poonam I Kaushish

Democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. An adage which nails our leaders’ angst when it comes to their reactions on ‘anti-national’ speeches and ‘terrorism’ depending on which side of the liberal-bigoted divide they are. Leaving one wondering if anti-nationalism is the new black!

Kudos to the Delhi High Court for upholding the right to protest as a Fundamental Right which can’t be termed as a ‘terrorist act’, while it granted bail to  three student activists who faced charges under various provisions of the IPC and the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for being part of a premeditated conspiracy behind the communal violence in north-east Delhi riots conspiracy case February 2020 during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act last week.

Observing, that “protests against Governmental and Parliamentary actions are legitimate” the Court said it was constrained to note that in its anxiety to “suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the State has blurred the line between the Constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril”, it noted. The Government cannot be “allowed to cry wolf” and “draw inference” when no direct evidence exists.

Not only this, it admonished the Police which too loves to slap colonial era sedition laws to put those critical of the Government behind bars. Over the last few years, the police have frequently been invoking UAPA and sedition to silence critical citizens’ voices and put them behind bars under stringent anti-terror law.

Amulya Leona who raised “Pakistan Zindabad” slogan thrice at AIMIM Chief Owaisi's anti-CAA-NRC Save Constitution rally last year was slapped with sedition and imprisoned for 14 days in Bengaluru. Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court times out of number frowning on the rampant use of sedition.

Recall, when farmers gathered at Singhu to protest against the three farm laws some of them were dubbed Khalistanis and terrorists out to destabilize India. What to speak of the arrest of a Muslim in Kashmir for objecting to the presence of an official from outside the Union Territory at a meeting held by the Lieutenant Governor and a BJP MLA castigating Nehru's pluralism for coming in the way of India becoming a Hindu rashtra at Partition.

Questionably, is the Government wanting to peddle a patriotism whose condition of possibility is the wiping out of all thought? Is its concept of nationalism per se a justification to stifle critique? No matter, that these are symbolic of every Indian’s freedom credentials! How does merely criticizing a law tantamount to spreading “hatred”? Is the Government, be it Centre or State crushing free expression? Is it trying to tell us that outpouring by its critics and activists not be tolerated?

By doing so does it not make a mockery of the concept of a “nation” built on the values of democracy? Are we so paranoid or intolerant that any outpouring is viewed as a threat to the nation, the Constitution or the Government? Is the polity afraid of a clash of ideas in our public life? Should this become litmus of one’s patriotism?’

Have we lost the ability to accept criticism? Bordering on a narcissist phobia? Is it mere coincidence or a sign of an increasingly knee-jerk, reactionary country? Should an assertion become litmus of one’s patriotism?’

Obversely, is putting someone who protests or denounces a law behind bars, the Governments’ way of teaching us a lesson in rashtra prem and desh bhakti? Do we want to produce robots who only act at the command of what their leaders and chela thinkers, benefactors and wealth creators’ desire?

Even as Prime Minister Modi underlined India’s “democracy, its vibrancy, diversity and civilizational ethos'” at the G 7 conclave, protests ruled the roost in Lakshadweep where a BJP administrator’s crackdown on non-vegetarian meals in schools along with a ban on beef consumption denoted scant regard for dietary preferences of the locals.

Perhaps this display of machismo, bravado or growing tentacles of majoritarianism, with the Government acting as the enabler is to reassure its hardcore Saffronites of its Hindutva and Hindu rashtra agenda which galvanises the rank and file and polishes the Party's image as the nation's savior, especially when it is directed against the minorities. Masked by Modi’s clarion call for sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas.

Given this dissonance between India's age-old civilization and its democratic temper vs suppression of criticism it cannot be easy for the BJP to maintain its balancing act to convince the world that all is well. Yet it needs to realize that dissent is the essence of a mature democracy. Any criticism of the Government should not be treated as an act of terror or declaration of war against the State.

A senior BJP leader blamed the Opposition, intellectuals and Lutyen lobbyists who are obsessed with portraying negative news and painting the Government in poor light, instead of highlighting “more positivity” and what is needed to fix the system. The problem with them is it is easier to blame the Modi Sarkar for everything than take responsibility themselves.

Be that as it may, the Court’s observations must serve as an eye-opener for all Governments and police which violates citizens’ rights and arrest critics, dissenters and protesters on the flimsiest grounds and charges them under draconian laws.

Undeniably, democracy is messy business but dissent, even while being difficult, does not make it anarchic; it only tries to rearrange the pattern. Having a system where dissent can freely exist plays a critical role in holding Governments accountable, making Governments work for the welfare of the people, decreases the risk of corruption and ultimately makes the nation safer for its citizens.

A culture of dissent allows civil society, press and social media to thrive which are crucial to the sustenance of democracy. Societies where dissent is allowed to exist usually have greater political stability, rule of law and Government efficiency in policy making. Consequently, if democracy matters, our leaders need to go beyond partisan politics and safeguard dissent in the country. People should speak out every time they see dissent being curtailed. No one should normalize the curtailment of dissent.

On the other extreme is a sterile political system that is democratic only during elections. To use a Covid analogy such a state of existence can be likened to that of an individual hooked to a ventilator. It is not where we want to find our democracy in.

In fact, democracy is strengthened by the plurality of opinions and the freedom to express them. People protesting peacefully for their ideals are an important element of democracy and invoking the most severe penal provisions against them belittles democracy, trivialises terrorism and undermines the intent and purpose of Parliament in enacting a law.

Time our rulers pressed the pause button and drew a clear demarcation line between criticism of the Government, which is a Constitutional right and activities that destabilise the country. As the Government walks the tightrope between our multi-cultural tenets and the anti-minority temper of its Hindutva cadres it should realize it could fall between two stools even as it is disdainful of ‘self-appointed’ critics. There is urgent need for temperance else democracy will be in peril. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)



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