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Handloom Industry: CRITICAL CULTURAL HERITAGE, By Dr. S Saraswathi, 8 August 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 8 August 2019

Handloom Industry

CRITICAL CULTURAL HERITAGE

By Dr. S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

August 7, the Day when Aurobindo Ghosh, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and others started the Swadeshi Movement in 1905, was declared as the Handloom Day in India in 2015, to create awareness among people about the importance of this sector as a rich cultural heritage and about its contribution to socio-economic development. The Day is also stretched as Handloom Week in some States. The occasion should not be allowed to pass on with some ceremonial speeches or for pushing sales with extra vigour. It’s time to bestow some serious thought to enriching this over 2000- year old  handloom industry, which  has survived several onslaughts and stands today adjusting itself admirably to changing demands and tastes.

 

While khadi is being invoked in the name of freedom struggle, handloom is linked with our cultural heritage and native skill and as a traditional family occupation. As such, it has devout patrons as well as bitter enemies. Handloom weavers once constituted an occupational caste known by different names in different States – a factor unacceptable today. The growth, decline and revival of handloom form part of our economic-social history.

 

India today produces nearly 90 per cent of handloom products in the world, employing nearly millions of artisans. It does not seem to be a dying industry as portrayed by some people. True, it is a struggling industry fighting against many adverse factors. It can re-emerge as one of the most promising industries as it has the ability to undergo a lot of transformation without losing its unique characteristics. Handloom contributes about 13 per cent of total cloth produced in India. Very few countries -- Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Norway, and Sri Lanka -- have handloom industry.

 

A genuine and total “Make in India” product, handloom deserves to be promoted by the NDA government.  The nation can reasonably expect a boom in the industry. Handloom industry is second largest employment provider in rural India next to agriculture. According to the Handloom Census of 2009-10, there were 23.77 lakh handlooms employing 43.31 lakh weavers and allied workers. It is considered a “green” industry as it does not cause noise, air, or water pollution.

 

The term “handloom” refers to wooden frames of various types used by skilled artisans to weave fabrics normally from natural fibres like cotton, silk, wool, and jute. It is mostly run as a cottage industry and as a family enterprise from spinning yarn to weaving on the loom. Handloom represents various sources of knowledge – physical and historical – and more importantly collective memories and indigenous knowhow. It combines art and science.

 

Presently, handloom is famous for various weaving styles that use machine spun yarns. Weaving styles specific to regions, sub-regions, tribal motifs, geometric designs, etc., have come up and have earned world-wide reputation for Indian handicraft in textiles.

   

Handloom went through a period of sharp decline during the British rule when India was turned into an exporter of raw cotton for manufacture of fabrics in Britain. Growth of mills in 1920s, high cost of yarn, and unfair competition led to the decline of handloom giving rise to the khadi movement in which boycott of foreign fabrics was an important programme. Mania for foreign cloth also gripped some sections of people. Its revival started after independence.

 

Since liberalisation of 1990s, handloom faces more competition and needs State protection for survival. The cost of natural fibre was growing, while the market was flooded with cheaper artificial fibre. Official surveys of the Office of the Development Commissioner (Handloom) has estimated that the number of weaver families reduced from 124 lakh in 1970s to 64 lakh by 1995 and to 44 lakh by 2010.

 

Handlooms and handicrafts are vital to the country’s economy. Export of handloom products from India was valued at US $355.91 million in 2017-18. These have the advantages of low capital investment and high ratio of value addition offering employment opportunities for the educated as well as uneducated skilled artisans. The sector absorbs noticeably large female workforce.

 

The Textile Policy adopted by the Government of India in 1985 introduced many changes in the unorganised sector cottage industries based on traditional technology. Weavers on low wages were asked to shift to powerlooms. Those on high wages weaving fine cloth were supported. The policy promoted efficiency, productivity, and healthy competition among handloom, powerloom, and mills.  In 2010, the revised policy aimed at maintaining a leading position for handloom in the global market. Technological upgradation and foreign direct investment were encouraged. Garment industry was removed from the list of small-scale industry.

 

Cluster schemes were introduced a decade ago to aid growth in the sector with improved infrastructure, training in new designing, adopting new technology and such direct interventions. Incentives in the form of minimum support price for cotton farmers, upgradation of weaving technology, and centres for trade promotion are extended.

 

Handloom production itself is region-specific in every stage of production including skills of the weavers and has a unique system of registration on geographic indicators (GI). Inclusion of GI under Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIP) has benefited Indian handloom industry to a great deal. GI tag is non-transferable.

 

In recent years policy has been revised several times and in 2019, A New Integrated Textile Policy was adopted to ensure sustenance of the industry in long-term. Several schemes of subsidies to help the industry, including 10 per cent capital subsidy for new machines have been announced. But, the industry is undergoing tremendous stress and for the weavers a difficult time.  Suicide of weavers due to debt burden is a serious problem to be tackled at the earliest.

 

There is no dearth of promotional policies or required governmental assistance for the handloom sector. But, we have to protect decentralised growth so as to encourage innumerable varieties that make the product so attractive. The tradition of family enterprise is not dead, but weakened as new generations of weavers choose to migrate and take up more rewarding occupations involving less physical exertion. Establishment of cooperative societies has come to the rescue of this cottage industry. It will be advantageous to continue the linkage between the owner, producer, and worker in order to protect small enterprises in rural areas.

 

“India Handloom Brand” was launched in 2015 to authenticate the quality of the products on various parameters such as the raw material used, processing, embellishment, design, etc. It is intended to ensure quality and conformity to the unique characteristics of Indian handloom in all products.

 

Government had tried policies of reserving particular products like border sarees, dhotis, and bed sheets for handloom manufacture. In these days, copying designs and patterns are very easy though methods of production may vary. While considering efficacy of reservation policy, we may consider the suggestion of using largely handloom in temples and other places of worship, and in important national celebrations.

 

The biggest competitor to handloom is machine fabrics also produced in India. But, handloom is indeed linked with our rich culture including ethical, aesthetic, and family values, and religious beliefs and rituals. It is a rich cultural heritage that fits well with modern life. --- INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Rising Hate Crimes: DEMOCRACY IN PERIL?, By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee, 7 August 2019 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 7 August 2019

Rising Hate Crimes

DEMOCRACY IN PERIL?

By Dr. Oishee Mukherjee

 

Not just dissent but healthy discussion and dialogue are key features of a democracy. Every citizen is entitled to have the right to criticise the ruling party and its various actions – be it in the political, economic or social realm. Also actions by other political parties may come in for criticism. But, unfortunately, this criticism is not seen as constructive, which would augur well for any democratic society.

 

The ruling party is just a political party in the democratic system of a country and questioning or criticising it does not make one ‘anti-national’ as is being made out to be, at least in India. Thus, criticism may not mean that an individual or a group of individuals are against the national ethos but have diverse approaches in political and/or economic and social understanding. In this connection, the recent open letters to the Prime Minister, first by those criticising lynching and apathy and hatred towards minorities since the BJP came to power and the counter by another group, saying that it was one-sided and voiced selective outrage, are quite interesting as they project diverse viewpoints.

 

Last month, those critical of the government sent an open letter to Prime Minister Modi, written by 49 eminent personalities, including filmmakers, vocalists and historians, which said that lynching of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities must be stopped immediately, and also  stressing there is “no democracy without dissent”. They came out with bare facts.

 

These referred to the ‘Face Checker in Database’ and the ‘Citizen’s Religious Hate-Crime Watch’, which stated that religious identity-based crimes had gone up in the last nine years and 62 per cent of the victims belonged to the Muslim community. Of the 254 religious identity-based hate crimes between 2009 and 2018, about 90 per cent of the attacks happened after May 2014, adding that a country cannot have true democracy without dissent. In fact, they pointed out that people should be allowed to lead their own lives as long as they do not violate rules and regulations of the land.

 

On the other hand 62 other celebrities hit back promptly with another open letter, describing the 49 as self-styled ‘guardians’ and ‘conscience keepers’ of the nation and accused them of “selective concern and demonstrated a clear political bias and motive”.  They merely tried to defend the Modi government.

 

Given the two groups arguments, one finds it difficult to deny the fact that the attitude of the present government towards minorities, specially Muslims, as per media reports, leaves much to be desired. International media too has reported the rise in hate crimes. These widespread reports of Muslims being lynched, tortured and even killed just because they may not toe the official line or practise a different religion is indeed quite distressing.

 

Worse, the latest trend of chanting of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has now become synonymous with nationalism, and has been reduced to “provocative war cry”, which obviously impacts and deprives the minorities to preach and practise their own religious beliefs.

 

It is also distressing to note that colonial era laws are being used to suppress freedom of expression. One may refer here to Mahatma Gandhi, who was charged under Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC on which he aptly observed: “If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence”.

 

The present attitude of equating any critique of the government or State or even the party in power with ‘anti-nationalism’ is to devalue nationalism itself to the level of ‘lumpen evangelism’. The conflict between democracy and nationalism should not arise in a mature republic like India. The ruling party must not forget Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

 

The government must that in a diverse country like ours, with different castes and creeds, different religious identities etc., people should be allowed to follow their own path of belief and feel secure to lead their lives of course without violating the laws of the land. But unfortunately this is not happening. The secular spirit has been eroded and imbecile justifications are being advanced and threats issued to those who go against the religious beliefs of so-called Hindutva.

 

The question here arises is whether Hindutva, which is being practised presently is a true reflection of Hinduism. Analysts feel that aggressive Hindutva has led to curtailment of individual rights, specially of those belonging to the poor and weaker sections. At least religious leaders like Ramakrishna and Vivekananda always emphasised the need for religious unity and also pointed out that the essential values of all religions were the same.  

 

The present trends clearly point out that an aggressive political society today has made life insecure for the common man. As law-abiding citizens, where do they seek recourse as they live in a virtual state of fear if they are not part of the so-called “Majority”?  While on the one hand, big statues such as Sardar Patel’s are being constructed and Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated with leaders talking about his life and mission, on the other, they are violating the basic principles of equality and justice.

 

As is well known, Gandhi, in his political and social struggle, was influenced by intrinsic values of Christianity, Islam, apart from Hinduism. Can we then not say that right to life is being violated at every step by the government? 

 

The intolerance in society, manifest through increase in hate crimes, cannot be allowed to continue. But then intellectuals, religious leaders and social activists have to come together to propagate the true meaning and essence of religion. The ulterior motive of clinging to power should not be allowed to be accomplished by misinterpreting religion and playing with peoples’ sentiments.

 

Apart from freedom of thought and expression, rights of the struggling masses have to be restored so that they could live with dignity. Thus, the approach of the government must change from mixing religion with politics to a genuinely pro-poor approach that would evolve a genuine action plan for rural regeneration, more employment opportunities, entrepreneurship development at the grass-root levels along with more power to the panchayats for a real democracy to be functional.

 

People have started realising that the majoritarianism is just a ploy of the government to come away from crucial economic and social issues. Thus the present government’s over enthusiasm with religion and nationalism is just to hide its inefficiency in tackling more pressing matters that could really bring in transformation and improve the living standards of the masses.

 

It is only time that even illiterates will realise this and understand the fact that we have to live in society in harmonious and communitarian manner and this was emphasised by none other than luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Quality Of Leaders: KATIL=NETA, TOH KYA, By Poonam I Kaushish, 6 August 2019 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 6 August 2019

Quality Of Leaders

KATIL=NETA, TOH KYA

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

Nothing costs a nation more than a cheap and venal politician. This lexicon was brutally underscored last week by the murder attempt on a girl by UP’s Unnao BJP MLA last week whom he had raped in 2017. Post the media frenzy the Party suspended the MLA, paid Rs 25 lakhs compensation and transferred the case to the CBI. But the case raises many disturbing questions: Have honest good leaders been guillotined for thugs and goons as winning the numbers game is paramount? Are criminal-politicos calling the shots in their “bullet-proof jackets” MP/MLA tag?  Have ideology, morality and ethics been wantonly dumped?

Sadly, yes. Today, all Parties are brazenly nominating criminals as candidates resulting in racketeers, criminals and murderers filling the rogues' gallery of power and fame. Shockingly, 233 or 44% of 545 Lok Sabha MPs have criminal cases of murder, kidnapping, crimes against women etc against them, an increase of 109% since 2009. One Congress MP has declared 204 cases including committing culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery, criminal intimidation.

The BJP has 116 MPs of 301(39%), Congress 29 MPs of 51 (57%), JD(U) 13 of 16 (81%), DMK 10 of 23 (43%) and TMC 9 MPs of 22 (41%). Of these 29% cases are serious: 10 MPs have convicted cases, 11 have cases related to murder, 30 attempt to murder and 19 crimes against women. This is higher than 2014 when 185 MPs (34%) had criminal cases and  2009 162 (30%).

Worse is the criminal content in States. Rough estimates aver that in any State election 20% candidates are criminals. In UP 143 (36%) of 403-MLAs, Bihar 142 (58%) of 243 MLAs face criminal charges of whom 70 (49%) have already been charge-sheeted. Arguably, with such legislators, how can we expect to remove crime from the country?

With power translating into a numbers game Parties field mafia dons as they convert their muscle power into votes at gun point with illicit funds and emerge victorious than candidates with a clean record. The arrangement works on a quid-pro-quo. Parties get unlimited funds to fight elections and criminals protection from law.

Why do mafia dons invest large sums in getting a neta’s tag? It is a ticket to continue extortions using political power, gain influence and ensure that cases against them are dropped. Besides, the returns on political investments are so high and profitable that criminals are disinclined to invest in anything else.

From criminalisation of politics to politicisation of crime, India has come full circle. Yesterday’s mafia dons are today Right Honourables a law unto themselves and all-powerful. Bringing things to such a pass that our jan sevaks dance to the tune of their underworld benefactors at the cost of the people, democratic ethos and good governance boxing democracy in the mafia box, cartridge box and ballot box!

Mafia dons have been elected from prisons, some MPs continue to hold durbars in jail with home comforts and rule their empire, issuing diktats that few dare disobey. Not a few take anticipatory bail to avoid arrest, others simply abscond only to "surrender" when ready, a la former Union Ministers Shibhu Soren and Jai Nishad.

On the obverse when good men like Manmohan Singh stand for elections they lose their deposits. Raising a moot point: Does the electorate really want an honest politician and a squeaky clean Government? True, an honest person can promise to fight the system and reform it, but voters prefer venal fixers who flex muscle, terrorise their constituents to keep them in check or provide protection, ration and Government jobs. For this, he gets votes. 

Scandalously, criminal are crowding out honest candidates at the national and State level. According to a recent report 45.5% ‘criminal’ candidates win against 24.7% with a clean background. Thus, in this self perpetuating system the growing Indian middle class is not averse to electing criminals if they can become their patrons and deliver goods.

As a former Chief Minister argued when quizzed about having 22 Ministers in his Cabinet with criminal antecedents, "I don't bother about the Ministers' past. After joining the Government, they are not indulging in crimes and are ready to help suppress criminal activities. Ask the people why they have elected them.” How do you rebut this logic?

Consequently, the country is suffering from want of a “few good men” in politics as some rulers think and act for political gains and vote bank politics wasting taxpayers’ money by announcing outlandish schemes and subsidies whereby the country can go to hell. More. They change Parties at a drop of a hat to remain in power, lie without batting an eyelid, are shameless, defame others with false accusations and if caught apologise, indulge in theatrics to attract attention and manipulate to achieve their selfish interests and amass wealth.

One could have dismissed politico-criminalisation as a passing phase but the tragedy is that our democratic system has been usurped by criminals. Lamented a former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee “You do not deserve one paisa of public money…I hope all of you are defeated in the election.”

Bluntly, we have forsaked honesty and morality wherein crime is now politics which ensures victory. Be it a petty thug, dus numeriya or a mafia don. The only thing that matters is on whose side the criminal MP/MLA is. His or ours? They are all the same. Only the degrees differ. Akin to an angry man telling an American official that the man the US was championing abroad was "a son of a bitch"! Pat came the response, "Yes; but he’s our son of a bitch"!

It is this mutual benefit and camaraderie between the criminal-Party nexus which is the cause célèbre for our netagan. In a milieu wherein our Parliamentary system has buried quality leaders and has now been hijacked by politico-criminals where mafia dons get away like escape artists, the aam aadmi is naturally cynical.

Most distressing it doesn’t strike any chord. With every election, the phenomenon of criminals- politicos no longer shocks, an accepted norm. Curse all, but when push comes to shove the majority willingly lumps it. Shrugged, as a price one pays for democracy. Simply, there aren’t any option. One Party’s candidate is a murderer, the next a rapist etc leaving one to choose the lesser evil and elect a robber!

What of the future? Will we continue to put a premium on criminality? Allow criminals to become netas? Basically, is it good for our democracy to have scoundrels represent voters? How many murder charges are required before one is considered unfit to represent people? Are there no honest and capable leaders? How do we get leaders to shift from “fixing” the system to reforming it?

Clearly, when those who are supposed to lead become saboteurs, it is time to call a spade a spade. We need to put correctives in place as no longer will legalistic response suffice. The answer lies in getting ethical, decisive, courageous, visionary, transparent leaders who can provide good governance for the common good. 

Our polity needs to be courageous to end this. More voices must be raised against criminalisation of politics and ways found to reverse this malaise. Above all, we need politicians who are men of conscience, integrity and credibility. Not comrades in crime wherein today’s criminal king-makers might become tomorrow’s kings! ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New MV Act:NEEDS RETHINK, by Shivaji Sarkar, 5 August 2019 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 5 August 2019

New MV Act

DRACONIAN, NEEDS RETINK

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019 is draconian. Worse, it is passed at a time when the automobile industry is in crisis and may be a severe deterrent to its progress. Thus, it calls for an immediate review. Like the Delhi rent control act that was passed over decades ago in a jiffy, it needs reconsideration. The new law needs to be sent back to the Standing Committee for detailed review. It should also follow a public debate.

 

Some provisions of the law, such as enhancement of compensation for road victims, protecting good Samaritans, fixing responsibility of contractors and road safety boards are in public interest. Some of these may of course have cumbersome process.

 

Another problem is with the insurance. As per law it is already a compulsion. The new provisions have not taken into account that insurance charges have been increased manifold. Higher the charges, higher would be the default. The rates must be affordable and the law must ensure it.

 

The new law also has peculiar provisions on penalising guardians of juveniles and even putting them in jail, cancellation of registration and suspension of driving licence. These are not only superfluous but also against the basic concept of empowering citizens. This apart, it would mostly be used as coercive extortive tactics by the law-enforcement agencies. Instead of solving the problem, it only adds to it.

 

Even today all over the country, millions of impounded vehicles are parked at every police station. These have become junk. Neither the owner is prepared to take these back nor can authorities dispose these off being case properties and thus these are tremendous wastage of wealth.

 

The law has not respected the concept that a car is a private property and the State cannot on any ground, except severe criminal culpability impound it. Moreover, impounding of vehicles only compounds the problem. Unnecessary provisions need to be scrapped.

 

Then levying fines for over-speeding have been increased from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000. This too is heavy. Most drivers are fined for driving 2 to 4 km above the 60 km limit. This should better be given up as in normal circumstances even a speed of 80 km is safe. More so, as it has not taken into account that modern vehicles zoom to 60 to 80 km even without pressing the accelerator.

 

Rash driving is a total different issue. It entails a fine of Rs 5000 and the question is whether it would halt such driving. Besides, it has been observed that these rash drivers often skip notice and are not are prosecuted, whereas a sober driver crossing the limit by a km is penalised!

 

Overall, the basic tenet of the law is not adhered to while drafting and enacting it. Mere inducing of fear among people by imposition of severe penalties is not a solution. It does not reduce incidence of violation but empowers the enforcers to coerce and extort. The law is apparently a creation of such people.

 

While enacting this kind of law one forgets the adage that more stringent a law more is the corruption. The powerful are not subjected to the law. They skip with their clout. Others skip it if they can grease the palms. But could any lawmaker tell the nation how many have the capacity to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 or more?

 

Why a fine of Rs 100 to 500 has to be increased ten-fold increase? The rationale has neither been explained nor have the social conditions been taken into account. Jumping a signal costs Rs 5000. The premise seems to be that a vehicle owner is the richest person and he has no respect for the basics and must be subjected to the highest level of extortion. The truth is no average citizen can do without a vehicle as public transport does not exist.

 

The country has been going through some improper narratives so far as vehicle owning is concerned. The lawmakers have not taken into account that in this country a large number of businesses are conducted from the vehicles at roadsides or weekly markets called peths.

 

It has also not taken into account the chaotic roads that many cities have, including Noida and Bengaluru. In Noida, driving safe through zig-zag roads is itself a problem and in Bengaluru escaping jams is impossible. Nobody wants to stop an ambulance, but can anyone do it in a jam-packed road? And for such traffic mess should a driver alone be penalized?

 

The entire effort seems to be revenue realisation for an administration that is crying hoarse of its increasing expenses and shortfall in revenue. The practice is to extort the maximum from the common man even to his ruin. This is a prescription for disaster.  

 

The nation forgets that one improper environmental dictum ushered by the National Green Tribunals of junking ten-year-old working vehicles is playing havoc. The NGT’s quixotic order has put a brake on car sales, new and old. Many had alleged that the NGT had issued such orders to boost car sales.

 

It is also an example of NGT’s concern for the environment! It does not apparently know that manufacturing a new car is more pollutant than the one in use. The US and the West encourage the buying of one-year old cars and pushes resale as a new car pollutes more and allows these to ply for 40 years.

 

But here the resale industry is in jeopardy. Since resale is difficult, new car sales are affected. The reduced demand is affecting the automobile sector. Sales have come down drastically by over 30 per cent or more. The new MV Act would add to the problem.

 

Additionally, both transporters and bus operators do not find the law to be practical. Why should having an extra passenger in a taxi be penalized? The taxi aggregators have reason to worry. They would be levied fines of Rs 25,000 to Rs 100,000 – a sure prescription for closure. There are many such arbitrary levies.

 

The bill seems to create more problems than solving it. It was aimed at weeding out corruption and improving road safety, but is likely to do the contrary. The Yamuna-type expressways are badly designed where tyre bursts are common due to faulty grid-marks. The loops are also inappropriate. But instead of the road operator, drivers are being penalised.

 

Let the nation and the lawmakers rethink. The need is for a simpler law imposing more responsibility and least fear. Such laws should not be designed for revenue generation.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

The New Foreign Minister:Diplomatic Deftness Vs Political Acumen, By Dr D.K. Giri, 2 August 2019 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 2 August 2019

The New Foreign Minister

Diplomatic Deftness Vs Political Acumen

By Dr D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

 

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been the ‘most surprise’ choice of our Prime Minister, as the Foreign Minister, in Modi 2:0 Cabinet. By now, we all know that Modi is capable of springing surprises every now and then, in policy making, government formation, and appointment to other key positions and so on. No problem there. But if some surprises militate against the fundamental organising principle of democracy, we may have to worry about its long-term consequences.

 

Let me share the source of my discomfiture and apprehension that prompted me to do this piece. It was the remark of a senior politician, who rose from grassroots to be an MLA for 20- odd years, a Cabinet Minister in the State for 15 plus years, Chief Minister for a year and Member of Parliament now in his fourth term. He made a serious point on democracy, in passing, as I assist him with research support in his parliamentary works. He said, “Dr. Giri, you, as an intellectual could be my advisor, a sounding-board, you cannot be my leader, as you are not elected by the people”. I grudged a bit as my instant but quiet reaction was that merit may not get due recognition if election becomes the sole criterion.

 

This is exactly what is being cited and commended: ‘Modi chooses merit over other considerations’ in the appointment of Dr. Jaishankar, the former Foreign Secretary. But, as a student of politics, I saw the veteran politician’s point, and he was spot on, that in democracy what comes first is people’s mandate. It is another matter that due to various practical distortions and structural anomalies in our electoral system, not-so-desirable candidates get elected.

 

Surely, we cannot throw the baby (democratic norms) with the bath water (unwanted winners). Can we? Our leaders seem to be doing the same. As they do not find talented leaders, they are drafting them from other professions, beyond the electoral (democratic) process. The late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi started this process, and the present Prime Minister is copying him.

 

Rajiv Gandhi brought in quite a few individuals and made them Ministers. Prominent among them is Dr. Manmohan Singh, who went to become the Prime Minister for 10 years, two consecutive terms, without winning any election. He is, indubitably, one of the most qualified persons, was the most educated Prime Ministers of the world. But look at his leadership as the PM, it leaves a lot to desire. He was “an accidental Prime Minister”, said his media advisor, in a book, and many commentators regarded him as a lame-duck Prime Minister.

 

Is the present situation or appointment comparable? Will Jaishankar prove to be a weakling of the Prime Minister? As a civil servant he was a policy wonk, an astute thinker, a talented diplomat. He has had a great personal equation with Modi. When he was an ambassador in China, Modi visited the country to apprise himself of Chinese model of growth and development. Modi was in USA as the Prime Minister after his visa ban, and Jaishankar was then the Ambassador in Washington DC.

 

Then he was brought as a Foreign Secretary by Modi in supersession of his senior in the Foreign Service. He served ably for three years including an extension of one year. After his retirement, he was heading the global affairs department of Tata until Modi won a bigger victory in Parliament elections and called Jaishankar back as the Minister for External Affairs. Observers point out that it has not happened for the first time. K. Natwar Singh was MoS in the same Ministry. He too was a career diplomat. Anyway, Natwar Singh’s stint as a Minister was not so commendable; he left the party afterwards and spilled the beans about the 1st family of the Congress, namely Sonia Gandhi. Not a happy ending to his political career.

 

At any rate, why do I pick Jaishankar when Modi has five Ministers in the Cabinet with bureaucratic background? Jaishankar comes from my alma mater, in-news Jawaharlal Nehru University; from an able bureaucratic family; his father was an IAS officer with deep knowledge of defence matters, headed Indian Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis for 13 years or so. While I wish Jaishankar well in his new position and tasks, I am taking him as a case in point for two reasons.

 

First, he is individually and professionally highly competent, and second, foreign affairs is considered to be ‘high politics’, too sophisticated to be comprehended by traditional politicians. These two reasons would perhaps have prompted Modi to choose Jaishankar to be the Minister of External Affairs, and thereby a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

 

Again these two points are contentious, seen from a political-democratic perspective. When a Minister is chosen by a party-in-government, the individual should have embraced the ethos, ideology, perspectives and policies of the party. This is a simple, universally accepted political parameter, which a politically astute Prime Minister Modi should not miss. Having said that and disappointed to see that, in competitive electoral, majoritarian politics, the numbers matter.

 

So even BJP, ‘a party with a difference’ is accommodating anybody into the party regardless of any party political scruples. This is ‘compulsion of numbers’, as Manmohan Singh reckoned with ‘coalition compulsion’ in compromising with things that he perhaps did not want to. Without such political grooming and grounding, even a fine diplomat like Jaishankar may dither.

 

Let me illustrate this point. In Raisina Dialogue in 2018, the former US General David Petraeus said, “India has to decide; India has to take side, in the new world order shaped by rising China and resurgent Russia”. Jaishankar is said to have replied, “India indeed must take a side -- its own one”. Here is the moot point. Is this BJP-led government’s position? Such a stand reminds one of non-alignment, neutrality, etc.

 

From an anti-colonialism, then non-alignment, then engagement, and now to taking positions,

India’s foreign policy has evolved. Jaishankar has worked with the BJP-led governments for 10 years and 30 years with non-BJP (mostly Congress) governments.

 

The other reason is the so-called high politics of foreign affairs, what are the objectives of our foreign policy. They are to promote our national interest, ensure our security, safeguard our sovereignty, contribute to our growth and prosperity, enhance our stature, influence, and role in the comity of nations. These are aspirations that can be articulated by those who have lived through conditions obtaining across the country. These are experiential wisdom and aspirations which can be gained only from the ground where democracy rests. One wonders, if bureaucrats who leaf through files and spend all their time in conferences and meetings can imbibe these people’s aspirations. I would like to be wrong. But am I?---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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