As the dust settles in five election-bound states and the cows return home, it’s time for somber introspection. Cows never care for any pandemics or wars, burials or cremations, doctors or deaths. They only follow their master and spend time on the ranch. That’s what makes some lives so different during election time. Those who travelled to rallies fell over each other’s shoulders to have a glimpse of majestic leaders from the country’s capital coming to speak to them. Their sloganeering broke the sound barriers as inebriated party workers in a ravenous craving for victory turned legitimate ‘super spreaders’. The coronavirus didn’t have to wait long for its scintillating performance as these rallies, led by the very team that was supposed to control such a viral disaster in our country, made its task easier. The Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority and the Minister of Home Affairs, the offices which coordinated and led the fight against the coronavirus by issuing office memorandums and notifications to update information and resources were commanding the blitzkrieg. Sensing such liberty in the air, people threw away their masks and state governments started winding up their revamped response infrastructure laid out during the first wave. People took warnings from concerned citizens simply as doomsday prophecies. Corona season was over and the election season lighted a new spring of hope.
The Election Commission behind this colossal gaffe went to the Supreme Court for the erasure of the Madras High Court’s ‘murder charge’ against it, which many think is an understatement. It was then told by a worried Court to accept bitter questions raised in the process of judicial scrutiny on matters of public interest such as its oversight of the pandemic’s ruinous spread. In fact, a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court has been holding almost daily video conferences to hear petitions from hospitals invoking the constitutional right to life and it remains overloaded with petitions from concerned citizens and distressed relatives of Covid patients, unprecedented and unparalleled in the country’s courtroom history. This is being attended by officials from the state as well as the Centre. While doctors are breaking down in hospitals on seeing avoidable deaths due to shortage of oxygen, medicines and ventilators, judges are also losing their cool at the mismanagement and allegation-brawls between officials in e-courtrooms. India has lost some of her top minds, leading professionals and committed doctors to the lethal second wave of Covid which most people believe was avoidable if the government had been better prepared.
Such a catastrophe was forewarned as the WHO had already declared during September-November 2020 that a second wave will affect the Mediterranean and European regions for sure. It later expected new variants to affect Canada too. China had taken the warnings seriously and started mass testing and more effective contact tracing through regulated and limited lockdowns to avoid the killer second wave. The British variant had already reached India while the findings on Brazilian and South African variants added to fears. Despite the WHO’S repeated warnings against lowering guards and becoming complacent, the country was made to feel festive with the boisterous IPL at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the declaration of elections on 26 February, and the Kumbh Mela which saw 3.5 million people converging on its first day alone, while in the later days that number increased to more than 4.8 million.
Nature always warns humanity before a catastrophe. A new variant was detected in India in early December last year, following which the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 25 December established a top science research group called the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG). It constituted a grouping of 10 national laboratories to carry out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating the Covid viruses, collecting epidemiological trends with genomic variants. INSACOG found 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) in a total of 10,787 positive samples collected from 18 states across the country. As per the information shared by INSACOG on its website, 736 of the samples were found positive for the British variant, 34 samples were South African variants, and one sample of Brazilian lineage was also detected. India was already seeing a viral bomb and there was no lack in our research institutions to have a deficit of epidemiological information about what India was heading towards, whatever be the explanations later from decision making bodies. INSACOG alerted the National Centre for Disease Control of the Health Ministry on 10 March against a more contagious variant which would spread very fast and infect a large population. There was still ample time to wind up election rallies and take back Kumbh orders. Nevertheless, the government went ahead with its historically long election process in multiple phases and most cabinet ministers, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Disaster Management Authority preferred to keep decisions on hold till the return of top leaders to their offices from highly charged and sufficiently draining election meetings.
All this was happening in the midst of a fatal surge of Covid-19 cases. The total number of cases across the country swelled during the period of intensive election conglomerations across the country (roughly 1 March to 1 May) and specifically in election-bound states. The country-wide numbers surged from around 12,000 cases and 30 deaths to 3,71,041 cases and 3,319 deaths. In the five states where election rallies were held, a huge convergence of people in the open, mostly without masks, happened. In West Bengal, where the Prime Minister alone held more than 18 meetings with a crowd exceeding hundreds of thousands in each, Covid cases surged from 201 with 2 deaths to 17,512 and 103 deaths. The Tamil Nadu story was worse as cases increased from a mere 470 to 19,588 and deaths increased by 25 times. During the same period, Assam and Puducherry, where deaths were limited to 23 and 19 saw a deadly rise by 130 and 17 times, respectively. Kerala, despite its much superior healthcare and hospital system, also saw a surge from 3,496 to 32,805 cases and from 5 to 48 deaths. Much of the election crowd either returned to Delhi and Mumbai or passed through these two states leaving behind a trail of infections which in the face of an unresourced government brought a deadly collapse of record proportions. The country which had held its head high by exporting 66 million vaccines to 95 countries till 16 April, including necessary drugs such as paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), was now seeking the same from other countries. India has some of the best doctors in the world and one of the largest vaccine production capacities, but nothing helped as the health system collapsed in a heartbreaking scenario of desperation, despondency and death.
What went wrong with the leadership whose slogans such as ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’ (Possibility, thy name is Modi) and ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (participatory and inclusive development) were being relished so well? Do administrators have a constitutional responsibility to act in time without waiting for directions from their political masters? Can our country reclaim a responsible and responsive administrative system which remains less influenced by the whims of political masters? The Supreme Court in 2013 had given a clear verdict in a writ petition of TSR Subramaniam and others v. Union of India where ten retired civil servants had invoked Article 32 of the Constitution, highlighting the necessity of various reforms for the preservation of integrity, fearlessness and independence of civil servants at the Centre and state levels in the country. Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan had issued certain directions to shield administrators from political influence based on the principles recognized by Rule 3(3)(ii)(iii) of the All India Service Conduct Rules, 1968 and as implicitly recognized by the Santhanam Committee Report, 1962 (Section 6, sub-para 33[iii]). To keep the bureaucracy free from ideological sycophancy, the Parliament was directed to immediately enact a Civil Services Act, setting up an independent Civil Services Board for the Union Government under Article 309 of the Constitution. Strong Prime Ministers always reduce administrative initiatives and gradually get clogged by a non-meritorious scum of officers around them. One could go on to name a long list of institutions in this country where bureaucracy has unquestionably succumbed to the tide of a strong regime even in the past. The catastrophe which follows has taken its deadliest toll this time in the country and should act as a wakeup call to bring reforms.
Three suggestions which can prevent the recurrence of such a disaster in the future have to do with systemic reforms in governance. First, the flow of information should not be blocked at any point and individual responsibility should be fixed on officials identified for doing it. Second, every institution should be governed through an increasing decentralization of authority at the Secretary, Joint Secretary and Director levels so that points of delay are detected and addressed in time. Third, the NDMA should reclaim its independence from the Home Ministry and work as a professional body of experts which is open to quick decisions on collaborations, information sharing and issuing early warnings against impending disasters. The world is changing faster than the hold of amateur political masters and one can definitely carve a brighter future if the government incorporates the suggested changes in the system. People can be better safeguarded even if they drop hopes of Arcadian bliss!
The author is President, NDRG and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU.
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BEIJING IS WATCHING BIDEN-PUTIN MEETING
It’s quite telling that the communiqué issued by Nato heads of state and government at the end of the summit in Brussels on Monday, 14 June, made around 10 references to China, and around 60 references to Russia, primarily in negative terms. One paragraph in the communiqué read: “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all… China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.” This can be interpreted as Nato striving hard to stay focused on the “Russian threat”—the raison d’être of the North Atlantic alliance—at a time when it is actually China that is trying to rewrite the international order with Chinese Communist characteristics that are essentially malign in nature. Even though the centre of gravity of geopolitics has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indo-Pacific, Nato countries, all of whom have deep economic ties with China, and are aware of China’s imperialistic ambitions, would rather talk about Russia.
It is in this context that the Wednesday meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva has to be seen. It’s interesting, that in spite of all that focus on Russia, the President of the most important Nato nation chose to sit down with Nato’s biggest “enemy”—in fact a “killer” as Joe Biden described Vladimir Putin not too long ago. Globally, eyes are focused on how this meeting will revive US-Russia relations, and the talk is all about Putin’s alleged interference in US elections, his annexation of Crimea, his Syrian adventure, the treatment meted out to Alexei Navalny, etc. But these are crucial but more legacy issues than anything else, considering the long history of animosity between the US and Russia. But there is another way of interpreting the meeting—a feeble, or perhaps not so feeble, attempt to wean Russia away from China. Biden’s instincts seem to be right, in that he realizes that it’s better to mend ties with Putin than shove him into China’s lap, when the question is about confronting China. That Putin too decided to meet Biden could be an indicator of the willingness to mend fences, reeling as his country is from western sanctions, one of the reasons why he has been driven into China’s arms. As this writer has pointed out earlier too, China is gradually taking over Russia. Shunned by the West, Russia is funds starved and has no option but to be dependent on China. This level of dependency is obvious from the fact that China alone accounted for over 15% of Russia’s total trade in 2018, while Russia accounted for less than 1% of China’s total trade. The Chinese have flooded Russia with their technology; Russia’s manufacturing is coming under the control of the Chinese; Russia is going for Huawei for its 5G rollout; their defence ties are burgeoning. However, in spite of the apparent bonhomie between Russia and China, there have been hiccups in the relationship over China claiming Vladivostok or getting active in Central Asia, which Russia considers to be its area of influence, or by “carving” out a Polar Silk Route. There is a belief that Russia, one of the two most important global powers during the Cold War—the other being of course the US—does not like being a Chinese appendage. Hence, this meeting can perhaps be interpreted as Putin opening a door, however partially to “overtures” from the US. But then the burden of history sometimes can be too big to bear and there is too much trust deficit between the two enemies. For every step that President Putin takes, President Biden will have to walk two steps if he is serious about mending ties with Russia. If the Geneva meeting leads to a thaw in US-Russia ties, then geopolitics may take a new turn, which may not be to China’s liking. There is no doubt that Beijing is watching the meeting intently.
World needs more ‘no-meat’ days
Around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year. And to keep this savage business running, most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry.
On reading my friend’s latest article in a leading national newspaper, ‘Food Choice in Crisis: Forced Vegetarianism in Gurugram’, I felt a bit sympathetic towards people demanding access to whatever they wish to eat. The argument given against a Tuesday ban on meat supply to markets was that a religious argument should not be pushed to obstruct choice of those who wish to consume meat. Fair enough, if religion comes to the rescue of animals even if it is for a day. Enlightened people exposed to global discourses on slaughterhouse cruelties and climate change imperatives should welcome this move and not refurbish their armoury unnecessarily. The better side of all religions is to gradually do away with all forms of cruelties on the weak and create an Arcadian Bliss where all species are able to live in harmony with nature.
An insistence on ‘food choice’ comes from an overfed population controlling markets of opulence. Growing up in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where denying a culinary star meat dish was almost heretical in the early decades, most meat eaters would mock such intruders to a dining table as ‘grass-eating people’. My father, on an official tour with Jawaharlal Nehru to China and Burma, had to live on a potato diet for almost a month or more. He was often mocked by his fellow officials on his irrelevance for these tours, but Nehru was relatively respectful and would never forget to sympathetically ask him if he got something to eat. It was in 1971 when the book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé first appeared to answer many such arguments on food choice. By this time almost 15% of the Amazon forest had already been replaced by pastures for cattle which had prodigiously increased from 5 million to 80 million in factory farming for British and American food companies such as McDonald and Big Boy companies. The rare Andean Amazonian rainforest ecosystems from eastern to southern Brazilian Amazon covering its key states of Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Rondônia including the high value rainforest ecosystems of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were bulldozed for meat industry. This area gradually acquired the title of the dreadful ‘Arc of deforestation’ ready to push the planet into many improbable disasters. However, these countries supplied meat to foreign markets but back home witnessed the worst hunger as the food animals munched all their grains.
I must confess that many of us are encumbered by the power of endurance of so many animals, minced and grilled in the food industry where technical advancement for meat shredding and de-robing pretty birds goes on without guilt just to serve their bodies on plates as this is considered progressive. Ecology offers us a new way of thinking. Most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry. Almost 70% of human consumption of water takes place in the global agriculture sector including the agri-meat industry. To produce one kg of wheat only 1,500 litres of water is consumed, while it takes ten times more to produce the same amount of beef. For making 20-30 chapatis or a kilogramme of rice only 2,497 litres or less of water is used but for producing the same amount of beef 15,415 litres and for chicken meat 4,500 litres of water is used. One hamburger alone sucks 212 litres of water and by that standard an average American who consumes around 280 lbs of meat in a year may require 232,000 litres of water per year just to eat a hamburger.
The land statistics of meat consumption may also be disconcerting to many. It takes 1.8 acres to feed a cow for a year. The size of an average landholding in India is 3.7 acre per family which suggests that their inclination for rearing animals for the meat market may divert food and water from family members to the animal. Yet, there is another argument on slaughterhouse animals as sentient beings. As Peter Singer the legendary author on planetary ethics, questions, ‘Why the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests be arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species?’ It has been a powerful world of meat eaters since meat was power, sophistication and opulence. In 1990, I was exposed to a new direction of arguments from Carol J. Adams whom I met at a women’s conference at Hunter College of New York. She had already gained a huge following from students and intellectuals from many countries and most people were walking around with her much in demand book The Sexual Politics of Meat. During those five days of this global meet I was introduced to a male language of meat eating in which vegetable becomes a symbol of feminine passivity and meat of patriarchy. Her provocative feminist-vegetarian critical theory found ‘the rape of animals and the butchering of women’ synonymous with crimes as products of power hierarchies. In India an ideal subservient vegetarian wife would still be expected to cook, serve and feed meat to her husband and son to increase their masculine sturdiness and she in turn expects the same from her son’s wife.
Lately, Indian television media is going berserk on advertisements from meat companies. These ads get on to prime time popular slots to show disturbing images of animal bodies as delicious food products. For this reprehensible display which blatantly disparages smaller species is aggressively splashed through popular Bollywood stars. These advertising companies hurt sentiments of animal respecting people with brazen thoughtlessness as if the world was all theirs and a rampant demonstration of animal bodies carelessly put on fire was an ideal planetary ethics with men in driving seats. In reality, it is this brute force of a callous Anthropocene which has disturbed the balance of life on our planet.
Who are these animal respecting people (ARP)? Adams’ curt response that the world is divided into intellectually superior meat eaters and inferior plant eaters account for conquering other cultures such as the rice-eating Hindu and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish peasant by a well-fed beef eating English. Russell Baker’s account of the second World War highlights what he calls the ‘beef madness’ when American soldiers were force fed richly fatted beef to win the war. The result is everyone’s knowledge. This has also been a pet argument to promote meat by markets across the benign plant-based agrarian communities. The decades of 1960s and 1970s had shown animal respecting people as aggressive animal liberators who would break through laboratory cages or slaughterhouses to liberate suffering animals and that’s when in 1975 Peter Singer’s formidable Animal Liberation, a true story of slaughterhouses, was published. This book had many editions but in 2009 the author was still found face to face with the untold cruelties in slaughterhouses. He begins the new edition with the story of an undercover video on evening news reported from the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in California that shocked Americans. The world watched in horror as cattle too sick to even walk were being kicked, shocked with electric prods, jabbed in the eye with a baton and pushed around with a forklift all so that they could be driven near enough to the ‘kill box’ to be slaughtered and processed into meat. Yet, people can still cry for their right to eat Kebabs from their choice shops.
Ironically, the liberation movement for animals did not come from religious communities across the world spread around the Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist terrains but from the Western educated scientifically trained professional communities in the Western world. A realisation was writ large on the rising new generation that compassion cannot be left to the mercy of scientists in labs or those high tech 40 categories of butcher knives to dig out intestines of a dying animal in slaughterhouses. The meat eaters were now restraining themselves from mocking plant eaters at least in public. The KFC and McDonald ads on American TV showing a meek half-starved vegetarian playing his sad violin in the midst of energetic, smart and happy meat eating youngsters were being withdrawn silently. This movement was led by the People for Animals group of Maneka Gandhi in India. It picked up intimidating personalities such as former Chief Election Commissioner late T.N. Sheshan for his tough and straightforward administrative leadership reflecting high integrity. Sheshan would brutally cut a carrot between his teeth to say he does the same to the corrupt, was an act which brought a brilliant change of image for vegetarians who could come out from their self-proclaimed guilt of not being the mainstream people. I was also handed over a stupefying video film by animal activist Camelia Satija in 1992, shot by much driven braveheart animal activists in India›s best known slaughterhouses. This film was then shown in an exhibition organised at Kamala Nehru College and animal activists from St Stephens in Delhi, titled by students as ‘Leave Meat, Be Compassionate to Animals’. The impact was a series of street plays and a massive number of students taking public pledge to follow a vegetarian path.
The word vegetarian is a bit out of place as a visibly different lot of people. This word did not even exist till 1847 when the English Vegetarian Society was inducing moral and philosophical arguments to life. The Oxford English Dictionary was comfortable with the idea that the word represented centuries of protest against the killing of animals. The world currently has around two billion vegetarians by choice, a number that is growing gradually with increasing affluence combined with education and realisation. The other 1.5 billion are vegetarians of necessity. They will start to eat meat as soon as they can afford it or if health permits. Rising incomes in this latter group which lacks appropriate exposure to global environmental or political discourses adds numbers to meat eaters. India tops the number of vegetarians by choice to be around 40% or more, with Mexico following it with 20%. It is interesting to note that the percentage of vegetarians in UK, Brazil, Israel and Australia is fast rising to go beyond 15% but to add to this, countries which knew little beyond meat in their food like Scandinavian countries, Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan and Germany also show a rising graph of people with complete ‘no meat food’ simply as a response to anti-cruelty movements.
This meat industry as any other market encounters problems of demand and supply management. While around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year, almost 30% of them are wasted for lack of demand. This suggests that like any other capitalistic market the cumulative surplus comes from animals’ lives butchered unnecessarily. Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology scholar, had indicated in her 2009 writings that those who work in slaughterhouses are much more vulnerable to violent crimes, arrests for rape and other sex offenses in comparison with other industries. Mind is dreadfully affected as workers are hired to kill animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs and cows that are largely tender and gentle creatures. A disconnect with suffering and with pleading eyes of a helpless creature deadens their behaviour as they become numb towards domestic violence, rape, killing on trifling incidents, alcohol abuse and are easily pushed sometimes to devilish outbursts.
It’s our moving away from plant-based diets that a bowl of food today needs ten times more energy for its production than it did in the 1960s. As India moves towards the 2030 deadline for achieving sustainable development goals and also commitments made under the Paris Pact for energy sustainability, governments may have to inspire, encourage and motivate populations to reduce consumption of animal-based diets. It is not the right time for aggressive advertising of meat products as above arguments establish that a ‘food choice’ is not absolute as it is limited by the carrying capacity of planet earth and the rights of animal respecting people.
So what is the harm if the much sullied side of human life, as described by Tillie Olsen in Yonnondio, ‘Geared, meshed: the kill room: knockers, shakles, pritcher-uppers, stickers, headers, rippers, leg breakers, breast and aitch sawyers, caul pullers, fell cutters, rumpers, splitters, vat dippers, skinners, gutters, pluckers’, are all sent on a one-day holiday to rest so that vibrations on the earth’s atmosphere are not disrupted by the loud and deafening screams of animals from slaughterhouses. Hope environmentalists and animal-respecting people should demand more ‘no-meat’ days in cities.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
Analysing the fundamentals of governing a state
In the case of United States vs Wunderlich, 1951 SCC Online US SC 93:96 L Ed 113: 342 US 98 (1951), Justice Douglas (US Supreme Court) observed: “Law has reached its finest moments when it has freed man from the unlimited discretion of some ruler… Where discretion is absolute, man has always suffered.”
Therefore, if any Chief Minister or a Minister in any state leaves no discretion to the senior functionaries of the state and makes a senior bureaucrats, subservient to the ruler of the state, it can easily be said that rule of law in that state has broken down.
Appointing Ministers against whom there are serious allegations of corruption and senior ministers indulging in dharnas where such Ministers are questioned by investigating agencies, is a matter of great concern. It has been observed of late that people who are in power, sit in dharnas and create serious law and order problems for the state.
In the case of K. Prabhakarn vs. P. Jayarajan, the Supreme Court elucidated upon the scope and purport of Section 8(3) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 which provides criteria for disqualification. It was observed that the purpose of enacting disqualification under Section 8(3) of RPA is to prevent the criminalisation of politics and those who break the law should not make the law.
Interestingly, the Constitution bench of Supreme Court, in the case of Manoj Narula vs Union of India Writ Petition (Civil) No.289 of 2005expressed to then Prime Minister “Will any reasonably prudent master leave the keys of his chest with a servant whose integrity is doubted? Corruption is an enemy of the nation. As a trustee of the constitution, the PM is expected not to appoint an unwarranted person as ministers.”
On 1 October 2007, the Supreme Court bench of Justice B.N. Aggarwal and P. Sathasivam pulled up the Dravida Munnerta Kazahagam government in Tamil Nadu for going ahead with a state-sponsored bandh in the state over the Sethusamudram issue and observed that “if there is no compliance with our order, it is complete breakdown of constitutional machinery. If this is the condition, we might then have to direct the government to impose President’s Rule in the state.” But, in a different context where the High Court had passed an order after the government filed an application seeking recusal of the judge stating that he had prejudged the issue even without hearing the government, the Supreme Court, the bench comprising of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian observed the situation as ‘disturbing’ and stayed the operation of the order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court that had castigated the Legislature, the Government, the Chief Minister and lawyers representing the State.
It is noteworthy that in the path-breaking judgement of the Supreme Court, in the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225, held that the rule of law is an essential or basic feature of our Constitution.
Another facet of rule of law is its incompatibility with absolute unfettered discretion. This law was laid down by the Supreme Court in Jaisinghani Case S.G. Jaisinghani vs Union of India, AIR 1967 SC 1427: (1967) 2 SCR 703, wherein it was observed, “it is important to emphasise that the absence of arbitrary power is the first essential of the rule of law upon which our whole constitutional system is based. In a system governed by rule of law discretion, when conferred upon executive authorities must be confined within clearly defined limits”
In the case of B.P. Singhal vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No.296 of 2004, the Supreme Court held that an implied limitation was read into the pleasure doctrine concerning the removal of the Governor of a State by the President in terms of Article 156 of the Constitution. It was held that the pleasure doctrine as originally envisaged in England gave unfettered power to the authority at whose pleasure a person held an office. However, where the rule of law prevails, the “fundamentals of constitutionalism” cannot be ignored, meaning thereby that the pleasure doctrine does not enable an unfettered discretion to act arbitrarily, whimsically, or capriciously. It does not dispense with the need for a cause for withdrawal of the pleasure, which can only be for valid reasons.
Recently, the Supreme Court, the bench of Justice R.F. Nariman and Justice S.Ravindra Bhat, invoked its plenary power under Article 142 by removing a Manipur Minister and restrained from entering the legislative assembly of Manipur till further orders.
In few states in India, the situation is not very different but graver. The chief secretary of the state, who is supposed to be in, complete know of, the entire state with regard to damage caused by severe storm “yaas” remained elusive to brief Prime Minister when he especially visits the state to gauge the gravity of the situation, it is totally unheard of and against all rules and protocols of governance. This might lead to disruption of well laid down principles of conducting of public affairs and management of public resources.
The Constitution of India is above any political party or a minister, and even Prime Minister/Chief Minister, and thus, the majesty of the system of governance must be preserved at all cost.
The writer is a senior advocate. Views expressed are his personal.
WILL THERE BE A CABINET RESHUFFLE?
While no one has been able to second guess Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is no denying that the buzz of a reshuffle is certainly in the air. There have been a series of meetings presided over by either the PM himself or Home Minister Amit Shah with various members of the Union ministry. Yes, it could be a routine stock taking on the eve of the Monsoon session but there is no denying that the Council of Ministers is in dire need of a face lift.
Without going into specific names, the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. During his first stint as Prime Minister, the focus was more on building his own team rather than continuing with A.B. Vajpayee’s cabinet. That did ruffle some feathers as seniors like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were marginalised in the now infamous Marg Darshak Mandal, while others like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha turned rebels. Fresh faces like Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar and Smriti Irani were drafted in and the general expectation was that they were being groomed to play a heftier role in PM Modi’s second stint. That made sense as Modi wanted to shape his own team rather than inherit one. All of the above-mentioned names have been included in PM Modi’s second term as well.
Yet, there is a perception that the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. The performing ministers remain those inherited from the Vajpayee regime—Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and the late Sushma Swaraj and the late Arun Jaitley. The second generation talent though inducted hasn’t been given much room to manoeuvre. It is still the PMO that takes all the key decisions. Will the PMO decentralise and give ministers more elbow room? If yes, then this can be done even without a reshuffle.
The second concern regards crucial sectors that have seen some ups and downs as a fallout of certain policy decisions taken by the government. Such as agriculture and education. There have also been concerns that in a Covid continuous world there is a need for an able administrator, rather than a medical professional to head the health ministry.
The third compulsion is what any Prime Minister faces, balancing regional compulsions and allies. Ever since the SAD walked out of the government and Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise there has been no ally in the cabinet. It is expected that token concessions will be given to the JD(U) in this regard.
But whether there is a reshuffle or not, the political buzz has certainly distracted the headlines from Covid and China and that itself would have come as a relief for the party’s headline managers!
There is a perception that the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. The performing ministers remain those inherited from the Vajpayee regime—Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and the late Sushma Swaraj and the late Arun Jaitley. The second generation talent though inducted hasn’t been given much room to manoeuvre.
A WELCOME DECISION TO DOCUMENT WAR OPERATIONS, HISTORIES
At a time when India is facing a hostile power on its northern border, it is crucial to have precise knowledge of what has happened during the previous confrontations. It is particularly vital for the defence personnel who are supposed to study wars and conflicts, during their training at military academies or colleges.
It is rare to come across good news during these difficult times. It is understandable as the government is kept busy handling the fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic and does not have time to undertake in-depth changes or reforms.
A few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised to read a PBI communiqué announcing that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had approved a new policy “on archiving, declassification and compilation/publication of war/operations histories by the Ministry of Defence.”
The release added: “The policy envisages that each organisation under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) …will transfer the records, including war diaries, letters of proceedings & operational record books, to the History Division of Ministry of Defence for proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories.”
Further, for the first time, the Government agrees to follow the law (and not to have a few babus sailing above the rules under usual pretexts such as protecting ‘national security’, putting a blanket ban on declassification). The communiqué clearly mentioned: “The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997. According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years. Records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives of India.” Today, hardly any transfer takes place to the National Archives and India is paying a price for it by not studying her own history.
This will be a significant shift the day India will be able to become a ‘normal’ modern State, functioning under the law; the newly created History Division will be responsible “for coordination with various departments while compiling, seeking approval and publishing of war/operations histories.” The new scheme caters to a committee headed by the Joint Secretary, MoD, and comprising of representatives of the Services, and other ministries and organisations.
This move is important for several reasons. At a time India is facing a hostile power on its Northern border, it is crucial to have precise knowledge of what has happened during the previous confrontations. It is particularly vital for the defence personnel who are supposed to study wars and conflicts, during their training at military academies or colleges.
Today’s officers and soldiers need to know why India fared well (in 1971 for example) or less well (in particularly in 1962 against China) and learn from the victories as well as the defeats— it is a fact of life that one always learns more from routs than triumphs.
In this perspective, it will be necessary to have a holistic approach to the studies of wars and conflicts, and consequently, other ministries will have to be taken on board.
To give an example, the official History of the Conflict with China (1962) published by the Ministry of Defence, did not get any inputs from the Ministry of External Affairs or other agencies, while it is a known fact that BN Mallick the Intelligence Bureau Chief had his fingers in many pies before the war and misled the government on every front.
One of the first tasks of the Historical Division will be to declassify existing reports such as the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat Report.
The report prepared by Lt Gen Henderson-Brooks and Brig (later Lt Gen) Prem Bhagat deals with some of the reasons for the defeat of the Indian Army in 1962. Discussed in Parliament in 1963, the report has since then been unnecessarily kept under wraps.
In 2012, Sandeep Unnithan wrote in India Today: ‘Officials who have read it say this is because the report squarely indicts senior army generals for the country’s worst-ever military defeat…’
The crux of the report is said to a 40-page summary by Gen Chaudhary, the Army Chief after the war, who observed that the Army gave “a better account of itself in the Ladakh sector by resisting the Chinese advance, because of better leadership.”
According to the same source, the three main findings of the report were the failure of the Army’s higher command, the organisation of the Army, and finally the appointment of “the glib but militarily unsound corps commander Lt Gen Brij Mohan Kaul.” Only two copies of the report are said to exist: one is with the defence secretary; the other deep in a vault at the directorate general of military operations.
It is not the only ‘secret’ report to remain in the drawers of the ministries of defence or external affairs. Perhaps more crucial for the present tense northern borders is the Himmatsinghji Committee Report of 1951. This committee, known as the North and North East Border Defence Committee, sent its findings in two parts. The interesting aspect of the committee was that all the branches of the Indian State dealing with the borders were represented.
Besides Maj Gen. Himmatsinghji, Deputy Minister of Defence (Chairman), it included Lt Gen. Kulwant Singh, K. Zakaria, head of the MEA’s Historical Division, S.N Haksar, Joint secretary, MEA, Group Capt. M. Chaturvedi from the Indian Air Force, and Waryam Singh, deputy director of the Intelligence Bureau, the Committee was initiated by Sardar Patel before he passed away on December 15, 1950.
The first part of the main Report consisting of recommendations regarding Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA, and the Eastern frontier bordering Burma was submitted in April 1951. The second part, submitted in September 1951, pertained to Ladakh and the frontier regions of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Nepal.
Based in the findings of the first Report, the takeover of Tawang by Maj Bob Khathing was ordered in February 1951. Nobody can access this report today.
Apart from these inaccessible reports, the massive loss of the Sikkim Papers, pertaining to the Office of the Political Officer (1890-1975) which recorded the entire history of India’s relations with the Himalayas, particularly Tibet and Bhutan, is a great tragedy. Four lakhs of vital files concerning India’s Northern borders have been misplaced between South Block and North Block; since then, they are MIA (‘missing in action’ to use a military term).
The MoD move is also important because it will hopefully trigger a similar move in other important ministries, first and foremost the Ministry of External Affairs, which for decades had a Historical Division before it was closed in the 1990s by a bright diplomat who thought he could dispense with the nitty-gritty of history— or more probably to bury forever some of South Block’s ‘errors of judgments’.
But errors, blunders, or mistakes are part of history and need to be studied, analysed, and discussed to avoid those unwelcome situations occur again.
A first step has been made by the MOD, let us hope that the good intentions will not be lost in the bureaucratic corridors.
Incidentally, it would be good if the Joint Secretary in charge of the new Division, is a lover of history, not just a passing bureaucrat.
The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.
FARMERS NEED TO SEE THROUGH THEIR LEADERS, END PROTEST
Seven-eight months on, some of Delhi’s borders are still blocked by groups of farmers sitting in protest against the three farm laws passed by Parliament following due legislative process and with a majority vote. Much has happened in these months, including the deadly second wave of the coronavirus that has left thousands dead and hundreds and thousands infected and often battling with post-infection complications. Amid this, these farmers have defied every Covid protocol including social distancing and masking, while staying put on Delhi’s borders. Allegations are that these gatherings have proved to be super-spreader events, with the farmers taking back the infection to their villages whenever visiting home, which has resulted in certain areas in states neighbouring Delhi becoming corona hotspots. But obviously, such has been the level of misinformation and disinformation spread about the farm laws that the protesting farmers are ready to put their and their loved ones’ lives at risk to try and put pressure on the government to repeal the farm laws.
Also in these months, what was initially proclaimed to be a non-political protest fighting for the rights of farmers has shed the fig leaf of being above politics. The fundamental premise of the protest was always political—to turn the Narendra Modi government into a lame-duck one by making it repeal the farm laws and thus not allowing it to undertake any reform-oriented activities. The only difference now is that the leaders of the protest have taken clearly partisan positions and are openly hobnobbing with opposition parties, a case in point being Rakesh Tikait, the leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union. Tikait is an ambitious man and does not believe in staying confined to Delhi’s borders and so travelled all the way to West Bengal ahead of the Assembly elections there to campaign against the Bharatiya Janata Party. And now he believes he can play a role in the formation of a second/third political front in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 against the BJP.
Recently, he again travelled to Kolkata and if media reports are to be believed, offered West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the Prime Minister’s post if any such political formation comes to power in 2024. It’s a different matter though that Tikait’s immediate focus is on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections that are scheduled to be held around February-March 2022. Ahead of that, whether he is working to establish himself as a Jat leader in the Jat belt of western Uttar Pradesh, or is working in tandem with opposition parties, particularly the late Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, or both, is a matter of speculation. But what is more than apparent is that he is enjoying the national limelight and has no intention of calling off the protests in the near future—not at least up to the UP elections.
However, whether or not these protests have an impact on the elections next year will depend not so much on what Rakesh Tikait and fellow farmer leaders do, but on what both the Central and state governments do in terms of reaching the benefits of their schemes and their development work to the people, apart from of course ensuring the revival of the economy in a post-Covid situation. Also, healthcare infrastructure has to be kept in top shape so that India does not pay a high price in terms of either human or economic terms in case a possible third wave proves to be as virulent as the second one. For this vaccination has to be ramped up, while also giving a booster dose to the public health system in terms of infrastructure.
As for the farmers, it is time they looked after their own interests. As the government has been saying repeatedly, neither would MSP go nor the mandi system. The new laws offer the farmers certain choices, but do not scrap the old system. The protesting farmers need to realise that the “leaders” who are instigating these protests are driven by self-interest—political interest or financial interest or both. They are not driven by the farmers’ interests. The poor farmers are allowing themselves to be exploited by these leaders. It is time they returned home and took another look at the farm laws.
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