Although the dates are still to be announced, preparations for the next round of Assembly polls are well and truly underway. The Prime Minister is getting into campaign mode and is expected to hit West Bengal with a blitzkrieg of rallies from next month. Since Mamata Banerjee’s stronghold is the BJP’s next target, expect to see him concentrate here the most, as well as Assam, a state the BJP hopes to retain despite the anti-CAA and NRC protests
In fact, most analysts agree that the CAA and NRC could backfire against the BJP in the Assam polls (hence the delay in framing the rules), but the Congress still has to get its act together post-Tarun Gogoi’s demise. And therein lies political salvation for the BJP. However, unlike West Bengal, the BJP has an able general leading the campaign in the resourceful Hemanta Biswa Sarma and a tried and tested CM face in Sarbanda Sonowal, hence that state is not high on the PM’s in-tray. West Bengal however is.
Which is why we see the Home Minister literally camping in the state, managing the campaign (along with the many defections from the TMC). And the PM is expected to bring the final push with his spate of rallies. However, from all accounts CM Mamata Banerjee is fighting hard and this would not be an easy state to wrest away. The anti-TMC vote too is divided with the Congress and the Left fighting against her. If—and this is a very big ask—the BJP does manage to wrest the state away from her, it won’t be because of a walk over from Didi. A fifteen-year anti-incumbency may however tilt the balance against her.
In Kerala—another state going to the polls, the BJP has a leader but lacks a campaign. With the “Metro Man” joining the BJP and more or less offering himself as the party’s CM face, the saffron party is back in the reckoning, even if it’s only for the benefit of political pundits. Puducherry has already seen an upset for the Congress even before the elections and there is talk that the Modi-led government at the Centre may impose Governor’s rule and delay the elections by another six months.
Which leaves us with Tamil Nadu, a state where the BJP has little presence except as a junior partner to whoever rules the AIADMK. Right now, it is a seesaw between OPS and EPS but with Sasikala’s release and return that dynamics may change but perhaps not in time for the state polls. And with the DMK in the driver’s seat, the fate of the AIADMK may or may not matter in the coming Assembly elections.
So, in the end, amidst all this poll talk—where are the issues that dominated the narrative for all of 2020. I am, of course, referring to Covid, China and the farmers’ protests. The Tikait brothers have said that they will campaign in West Bengal but will it be a poll issue there? Probably not.
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YUDHBIR SINGH DADWAL, THE HANDSOME FACE OF DELHI POLICE
Yudhbir Singh Dadwal, a 1974 batch IPS officer was the 16th Police Commissioner of Delhi who served in this position for over three years. His passing away a few days ago brought back several memories, the earliest being my first meeting with him in 1980 when he was the additional DCP of New Delhi district. This was the period when Pritam Singh Bhindar was the CP and Gurcharan Singh, the DCP of the district. Dadwal was always well turned out and preferred to wear a beret instead of the usual peak cap, which most IPS officers preferred. He would invariably be present at the Boat Club which used to be the designated venue of all demonstrations and protests.
Reporters covering the crime beat would also look after the major demonstrations and thus it was very frequently that one would inter-act with this handsome police officer, whom some of us would refer as the “Boat Club Specialist’’. Of course, SI Sharma who served at the Boat Club police post for over 23 years as well as Pandit Hari Dev, the Parliament Street ACP, would also be always present. Dadwal would crack jokes with the reporters as we waited for the demonstrators to turn up and thus his association with some of us in the media started. His other batchmates—Amod Kanth, Umesh Katna and Shujauddin Sajid— were all making a mark in the police and Dadwal too was embarking on his onward journey. His first independent district posting took him to the East District where a major riot broke out in the Chauhan Bangar area near Seelampur one night.
Unfortunately, Dadwal had to proceed on leave due to some very personal reasons and the riot was quelled by his boss, Surjeet Singh and his colleague, J.P.Singh. Thereafter, one would continue to run into Dadwal at the Police Headquarters and he would always have some interesting anecdote to narrate.
Subsequently, he joined the R&AW and was posted at Rome. Perhaps it was the nature of his job that brought about a change and he inter-acted with very people, I being one of them. When Dr K.K. Paul was about to complete his distinguished career with Delhi Police, there was speculation on who would succeed him. Kiran Bedi was the next in line in terms of seniority (1972 batch) but the Home Ministry seemed interested in someone else other than her. It was at this time, Dadwal would sometimes call up to find out what the developments were since he had emerged as the front-runner. Finally, he was selected. He was extremely helpful and When Hindustan Times, where I was working at that time, organized an AR Rehman event in Rajouri Garden, the permission was held back since clearances had not been obtained. It was Dadwal who helped in resolving the situation and provided vital inputs to get the permissions before instructing his DCP to go out of the way and allow the event. After Delhi Police, he went to the SSB and thereafter met a very few people.
I had not seen him in many years and the news of his sudden demise shocked me as it did everyone else. He would have been 70 next month. However, his friends, well-wishers, colleagues and associates would always remember him as an outstanding person and an able police officer.
Modi masterstrokes: Telecom reforms and ‘bad bank’
Setting up a ‘bad bank’ and undertaking the telecom reforms are only the added dimensions to the long trajectory of structural and process-driven reforms by the Narendra Modi government, and yes, there is more to come.
The Union Cabinet last week cleared big-bang telecom reforms that include, among other things,100% foreign investment through the automatic route. These reforms will usher the telecom industry into a new era, boost investment and reduce the debt burden and ease cash flows. The Cabinet also allowed a four-year moratorium on all dues that telecom operators have to pay to the government, including annual payments of dues arising out of the adjusted gross revenue (AGR) judgement and spectrum purchased in past auctions, excluding the March 2021 auction. The moratorium will start from October 1, 2021. These reforms are deep, broad and structural. They will bring in change today and in the future as well and are revenue-neutral for the government. Moratorium or deferment on due payments of spectrum purchased in past auctions (excluding the auction of 2021) for upto four years, with net present value (NPV) protected at the interest rate stipulated in the respective auctions is a landmark step.
Option to the telecom players to pay the interest amount arising due to the said deferment of dues by way of equity is a huge step too that will drastically bring down the unsustainable debt levels of some players. This will also help various banks having substantial exposure to the telecom sector.
The definition of AGR which had been a major reason for the stress in the sector, has been rationalised by excluding non-telecom revenue of telecom companies from the ambit of AGR, with prospective effect. AGR refers to revenues that are considered for payment of statutory dues. Telecom companies had been asking for a change in definition of AGR since 2005 and it finally happened in 2021, thanks to sweeping, bold reforms by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A four-year moratorium to pay government dues (but with interest) is a welcome step too.
The Modi government has also allowed permission to share scarce airwaves. The scrapping of spectrum usage charge (SUC) for airwaves acquired in future spectrum auctions is again a decisive measure. And though this is with prospective effect, it will lead to massive savings for telecom players, as currently anywhere between 3-5% of AGR is paid as SUC and about 8% of AGR, as license fee. Allocation of spectrum through an auction for a period of 30 years, compared with the 20-year period prevalent at present, is another out-of-the-box move. Also, telecom operators will be allowed to surrender the spectrum that will be acquired in future auctions, after 10 years of the lock-in period. In effect, the recent telecom sector reforms by the Modi government will restore back to health a sector that was repeatedly impaired by successive Congress regimes that squeezed the sector by forcing companies to bid for auctions at ridiculously expensive prices. Thereafter, license fees, SUC, penal taxes, only made the going more difficult for telcos, making even the banks who loaned large sums of money to these telcos saddled with NPAs and bad debts under incompetent Congress dispensations. However, all that will now be a thing of the past as the recent measures will put the sector back on track.
Easing of customer acquisition norms for telecom operators by replacing the need to fill physical forms with digital forms, for instance, shows the minute detailing that went into the relief package announced for telecom players.
In effect, the structural and process reforms in the telecom sector will protect and generate employment opportunities, promote healthy competition, protect interests of consumers, infuse liquidity, encourage investment and reduce regulatory burden on telecom service providers (TSPs). In the backdrop of the outstanding performance of the telecom sector in meeting Covid-19 challenges, with huge surge in data consumption, online education, work from home, interpersonal connect through social media, virtual meetings etc., the reform measures will further boost the proliferation and penetration of broadband and telecom connectivity. The reforms reinforce Prime Minister Modi’s vision of a robust telecom sector, with emphasis on competition, customer choice, antyodaya for inclusive development, bringing the marginalised areas into the mainstream and universal broadband access to connect, the unconnected. The package is also expected to boost 4G proliferation, infuse liquidity and create an enabling environment for investment in 5G networks.
Huge reduction in bank guarantee (BG) requirements (80%) against License Fee (LF) and other similar levies, are an important step too. Henceforth there will be no requirement for multiple BGs in different licenced service areas (LSAs) regions in the country. Instead, one BG will be enough. Also, from 1st October, 2021, delayed payments of License fee (LF)/spectrum usage charge (SUC) will attract interest rate of SBI’s marginal cost of lending rate (MCLR) plus 2%, instead of MCLR plus 4%, which will give huge breathing space to telcos. Interest will be compounded annually instead of monthly, with penalty and interest on penalty removed. For auctions held henceforth, no BGs will be required to secure instalment payments, as industry has matured and the past practice of BG is no longer required. Additional SUC of 0.5% for spectrum sharing has been removed.
Ease of doing business is being promoted, with cumbersome requirement of licenses under the 1953 customs notification for wireless equipment, removed. Self-kyc (App based) has been permitted. E-kycrate has been revised to only one rupee. Shifting from prepaid to post-paid and vice-versa will not require fresh kyc. Paper customer acquisition forms (CAF) will be replaced by digital storage of data. Nearly 300-400 crore paper CAFs lying in various warehouses of TSPs, will not be required. Warehouse audit of CAF will not be required. SACFA clearance for telecom towers has been eased. DoT will accept data on a portal based on self declaration basis. Portals of other agencies (such as civil aviation) will be linked with DoT Portal.
The Modi government is also laying down the framework for incorporation of a “Bad Bank” with all the regulatory approvals in place.
The high level of provisioning by public sector banks (PSBs), of their stressed assets calls for measures to clean up the bank books. An asset reconstruction company limited (ARCL) and asset management company (AMC) is being set up to consolidate and take over the existing stressed debt and then manage and dispose the assets to alternate investment funds (AIFs) and other potential investors for eventual value realization. The incorporation of the national asset reconstruction company limited (NARCL) was registered with the registrar of companies (RoC) on 7th July, 2021. Paving the way for a major clean-up of bad loans in the banking system, the Modi government last week cleared a Rs 30,600 crore guarantee programme for securities to be issued by the newly incorporated ‘Bad Bank’ for taking over and resolving non-performing assets (NPAs) amounting to Rs 2 lakh crore.
The Reserve Bank of India is in the process of granting a licence for the National Asset Reconstruction Company Limited (NARCL), following which toxic assets worth Rs 90,000 crore that banks have already fully provided for, will move to the NARCL. The Cabinet’s decision to extend a five-year guarantee for NARCL-issued security receipts to banks completed the entire cycle of cleaning up India’s banking system, that began with the recognition of the extent of bad loans in 2015. The erstwhile Congress led UPA never fully provided for bad loans. Instead,the Congress ran the banking system like a private fiefdom by spending good money, after bad. NPAs were not fully recognised during the UPA era and banks were forced to lend money to fraudulent companies, so that they could simply repay the earlier loans availed from banks, by these companies. In effect, the erstwhile Congress regime ran a huge “ponzi scheme”, with banks being made unwilling and often, willing accomplices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s zero tolerance for corruption, rewrote the rules of the game in the last seven years, with banks being restored back to health.
Under the new proposed mechanism, the NARCL will acquire assets by making an offer to the lead bank. Private sector asset reconstruction (ARCs) firms may also be allowed to outbid the NARCL. Separately, public and private lenders will combine forces to set up an India Debt Resolution Company (IDRC) that will manage these assets and try to raise their value for final resolution. The Modi government has completely overhauled the banking system by tightening prudential norms and recognising bad assets. A 15% cash payment would be made to the banks based on objective valuation and the rest 84% will be given as security receipts (SRs). For those to hold on and have their value intact, there is a need for the government to give a back-stop arrangement and that is why Rs 30,600 crore has been cleared by the Modi government.
Once the NARCL and the IDRC have finally resolved the bad assets, preferably as a going concern and not through liquidation proceedings, the balance 85% held as security receipts would be given to the banks. The government back-stop of Rs 30,600 crore will come in only as much as to pay the gap between the realised value and the face value of those receipts and, this will hold good for only five years. While there are 28 ARCs in the private sector, they did not take up big ticket resolutions, so a need was felt for government-backed security receipts and the NARCL. The whole idea is to ensure that value that is locked in the assets is realised and comes back to the banks; Banks then use it as “Growth Capital” and the banking system becomes more robust. The five-year limit on the guarantee, with an increase in the fees charged for the guarantee every year, is an incentive for the resolution process to be completed at the earliest. The Modi government has addressed the issues facing the banking system in totality, that in 2015 was a major challenge for the economy. The twin balance sheet problem which caused a lot of stress has been resolved in a holistic way. The government guarantee for the proposed security receipts is a positive stepping stone for unlocking stressed assets. The upfront cash payment by the NARCL to banks will immediately be accretive for the profitability and capital of the banks. The ability of the NARCL to resolve these assets in a time-bound manner will be critical for future provision writeback by banks and that is precisely what the NARCL will look to do.
Public sector banks will have a 51% ownership in the NARCL, while their shareholding along with that of public sector financial institutions will be capped at 49% for the IDRC, with private lenders bringing in the rest of the equity capital. About 16 banks, including private players, would put up about Rs 6000 crore as equity for the NARCL. These are some pertinent lines spoken by PM Modi,at the CII conference in August 2021: “Our government is ready to take the biggest risk in the interest of the nation. GST was stuck for so many years only because those who earlier in the government could not muster up the courage to take political risks. We not only implemented GST but today we are witnessing record GST collection. Recently, we decided to scrap retrospective tax which was praised by the industry. It will strengthen the bond between the government and industry.” Well, setting up a “Bad Bank” and the telecom reforms, are only an added dimension to the long trajectory of structural and process driven reforms by the Modi government and yes, there is more to come.
The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.
WILL PM MODI’S MAGIC WORK ON BIDEN AND HARRIS TOO?
Irrespective of what his diehard detractors might say, PM Narendra Modi has devised his own distinct, characteristic and inimitable charm toolkit which helps him trigger positive vibes in his foreign counterparts and generate personal rapport and chemistry. What can be a more convincing than the fact that he was able to develop strong personal chemistry with two US Presidents, Barak Obama and Donald Trump, who were individuals of such contrasting personalities and different from each other like chalk and cheese. With this background, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Narendra Damodardas Modi and Josheph Robenette Biden Jr will hit off well; though there will be no raucous Rock star like reception in Madison Square Garden as happened before Modi met Obama, nor a carnival like Howdy Modi in Houston where the Indian PM literally owned the stadium and introduced the US President Donald Trump to 50,000 strong Indian Americans.
Biden and Modi have talked on phone and met virtually thrice at the QUAD summit (March 21), Climate Change Summit (April 21) and G-7 Summit in June this year. The US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Secretary of State Antony Blinken have visited India respectively in March and July this year. And keeping pressure on India to announce her Net Zero commitment by 2050, the US Presidential Envoy on Climate Change, John Kerry has visited India in April and September. During his last visit, Kerry launched the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization (CAFM) with India which will focus on: finance mobilization, clean energy and climate adaptation measures.
The US defence exports to India remain on a high .Both have signed three foundation Communication agreements: LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECCA. India has been accorded the major defence partner status bringing her on par with USA’s NATO allies and given SAT-1 status that will facilitate transfer of sensitive American technologies for civilian and defence use. Obviously, India and USA have overcome the hesitation of history and come closer than ever militarily.
There has been extensive sharing of information and satellite images and intelligence inputs to fight international terrorism, cybercrimes and money laundering.
In spite of disruptions caused Covid-19, in 2019-2020 bilateral trade between India & the US was estimated at US$88.75 billion; India’s trade surplus with the US in 2020-21 was US$ 23 billion. The US has replaced Saudi Arabia as the second largest supplier of oil. Nonetheless, the Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goel was quoted to have said recently that a trade agreement with the US wasn’t likely in near future, not even a mini trade deal. The US, focused on addressing its trade issues with China, isn’t interested in signing any trade agreement. The US is believed to be demanding market access for its agri products, a sensitive area for India, and substantial amendments to IPR and laws related to data protection. On its part, India also seeks market access for its automobile parts, engineering and agro product and a relook at the GSP which stands withdrawn, and the long pending demand for a toatalisation agreement. H1B visas issue and certain regulations have impacted Indian tech companies adversely.
After some initial hiccup, the US extended assistance to India on a mission mode in the face of devastation caused by the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. The total US Covid-19 related assistance including contributions from the Indian Americans was worth over US$ 500 million.
Both the Trump and Biden administration have been supportive of India on the issue of Chinese aggression across the LAC. As a matter of fact, increasing Chinese assertiveness and aggressiveness brings India-US nearer though our threat perception of China, which remains in occupation of Indian territory and with which we have an unresolved boundary dispute aren’t identical.
It’s largely the China factor which has led the US to acknowledge India’s salience in the QUAD and Indo-Pacific. It was Donald Trump who introduced a virtual blood transfusion in the QUAD which was lying in limbo since 2007 and redefined its role. He also rechristened the Asian–Pacific into Indo-Pacific underlining India’s relevance. Leaders of QUAD, at their summits, have been stressing that they stand for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific with freedom of navigation and over flights and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes as per the International laws including the UNCLOS. This will be reiterated at the forthcoming QUAD summit as well. Modi might emphasize his concept of SAGAR: Security and Growth for all in the Region.
Notwithstanding the claims of the concerned States to the contrary, China considers both the QUAD and Indo Pacific as primarily anti-China groupings. Interestingly, Russia shares this perception.
To dilute this perceived anti-China slant, at the virtual summit of QUAD in March 21, the leaders identified new areas of cooperation: new technologies, developing alternative supply chains and getting 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine produced mostly in India with financial and logistic support from Japan and Australia. Fighting terrorism, cybercrime, and cooperation in maritime piracy are also likely to be discussed at the forthcoming QUAD summit that might be organized on a hybrid format—that is Biden and Modi attending in person while the Japanese and Australian PMs joining virtually.
The announcement of the formation of a trilateral Security partnership between the US, the UK and Australia (AUKUS) ostensibly to confront China and USA’s decision to help Australia develop nuclear Powered submarines has not only enraged China and provoked France to recall it’s ambassadors from Washington and Canberra but also cast a spell on the future of QUAD.
On the first visit to US in Sept 2014,PM Modi publicly advised Obama in his speech at the Council of Foreign Affairs not to withdraw from Afghanistan in hurry. The same sage advice was conveyed to Trump. India went on repeating that there is nothing called good Taliban or bad Taliban, they are the same and essentially bad. But the war weary US, desperate to get out, assiduously courted the Taliban with Pakistani and Qatari help and signed an agreement in Doha in March 21 which was a total surrender to Taliban. American withdrawal was humiliating; it left Afghan people, especially women at the mercy of an undemocratic regime. Regrettably, the US showed utter disregard to possible spike in security challenges of India posed by the Taliban Government comprising of 14 internationally wanted terrorists.
With Vice President Kamla Harris and Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal in the background, Joe Biden might flag reports of increase in alleged violations of freedom of expression and religious tolerance in India. His soaring speech in the UN might cover fight against the unprecedented pandemic, Climate change, international terrorism, and underline the need of strengthening the UN, WTO, and WHO and might allude to the negative role being played by some countries like China and Pakistan.
PM Modi’s dynamic leadership and the global re-ordering
In the global re-ordering that is now in the offing and in the unmistakable shift eastward, the compass also points India-ward. As PM Modi embarks on his US tour, the first since the re-ordering began, these dimensions are emerging with certainty.
As Prime Minister Modi embarks on his UN and US visit, it is interesting to see how he has pushed the Indian narrative of crisis management and handling over the last two years. Modi’s politics is not the politics of resentment, he does not speak of the rise of India as being propelled by the narrative of humiliation. When he speaks of India’s rise, he speaks of a benevolent rise, a rise with responsibility. Since March 2020, amidst many a dire prediction of India reaching the nadir in her struggle with the pandemic, Modi’s politics of aspiration, of India’s benevolent rise has triumphed. This has been attracting global recognition.
Public intellectual, S. Gurumurthy has argued that now, ‘India’s stature has altered to its advantage and the global structure and its perception about India too have changed…The investment India has made in its democratic institutions and rule of law is now both a matter of global attention and attraction.’ This rule of law, under Modi, has not been a coercive right denying approach, it has based itself on a sense of duty rather than being only a clamour for rights.
It is interesting to note, that much before some of the leading global minds discussed the effects of the pandemic and its impact on a global re-ordering Modi had already articulated India’s position. At a time when the pandemic had hit, when confusion prevailed globally on how to handle it and when the narrative of isolationism and disconnectedness hit the stands India’s position was perhaps the most nuanced and farseeing. Prime Minister Modi had said, that the pandemic ‘does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking’ and that ‘our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.’ Modi argued that ‘unlike previous moments in history, when countries or societies faced off against each other, today we are together facing a common challenge. The future will be about togetherness and resilience.’ It is instructive to understand this against the canvas of the ongoing global discourse on re-ordering.
PM Modi’s emphasis on the need to put human beings at the centre of the vision for global prosperity, his insistence that there should be a free and ‘open sharing of the benefits of medical research and development, of the need to develop adaptive, responsive and humane health care systems, evolve new crisis management protocols and procedures for an interconnected global village’ and the need for reforming intergovernmental organisations like WHO, was the first such a clear articulation of the future re-ordering, the world after the pandemic-inflexion point. It was also becoming clear that the East had performed better in terms of handling the pandemic and addressing the multi-dimensional complexities arising from it. After this stand was articulated, one saw thinkers like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Nye take a similar line. While Nye spoke of the need for the United States to ‘launch a massive COVID-19 aid program— a medical version of the Marshall Plan, Kissinger argued that leaders must choose a path of cooperation that ‘leads towards international resilience’ against such global crises in the present and in the future. Nye also spoke of the need for leaders to articulate ‘the importance of power with rather than over others and set up bilateral and multilateral frameworks to enhance cooperation. In Nye’s framework a ‘cooperative and soft-power enhancing policies’ could create a ‘geopolitical path to a better world.’ India’s insistence, since the early days of the pandemic, had already been this— the need for a cooperative, soft-power enhancing, multilateral, synergized and resilient framework.
Modi has also been repeatedly speaking of the Asian century. One had heard of the rise of the East, or narrative of the Asian century, in the past, when vast tracts of Asia were under colonial subjection, material exploitation and cultural subjugation. PM Modi’s reference to the 21st century being the Asian century, in the present context, needs to be read against the backdrop of Asia on the verge of a major shift eastward post pandemic.
Francis Fukuyama, for instance, has spoken of the continuing shift of the ‘global distribution of power’ eastward, since ‘East Asia had done better at managing the situation than Europe and Asia.’ Diplomat scholar Kishore Mahbubani, for instance, argued that the ‘deference to Western societies, which was the norm in the 19th and 20th centuries’ will be replaced by ‘a growing respect and admiration for East Asian ones.’ As Gurumurthy too has argued, ‘Covid 19 has exposed the hollowness of assumptions of the world order based on Western experiences which were experimented on the Rest from 1990s.’ Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hseing Loon has also joined PM Modi in speaking of an ‘Asian century.’ The pandemic, Mahbubani, argues, could ‘mark the start of the Asian century.’ In a post Covid order, Asia will be looked upon as a role model, he observes, ‘not only for how to handle a pandemic but how to govern more generally.’
That governance was carried on with and not just managed, despite gargantuan pressures of a once-in-a-century pandemic, was best seen in an India under its onslaught. Economic recovery, mega infrastructural push, the ushering in of a futuristic and transformative national education policy, the time-bound development of a vaccine and the humongous effort to administer it to a massive and varied population, the handling of the oxygen supply dimension, among other things, perfectly demonstrated Asian resilience and one-pointedness in times of acute crisis. Ultimately the examples that will define and represent the Asian century will be examples that have been successful and transformative in an inherently and unshakably democratic environment, driven by synergy, national cohesion and inspiration, brought forth by the sense of collective duty and shorn of any hectoring and coerciveness. In all of these India is bound to stand out. Among the eastern countries, India’s handling of pandemic, in a most varied and complex setting, her reaching out to countries across the region and developing a web of cooperation, is another dimension that stands out.
American journalist and author, James Traub, for instance, argued that Asian democracies show that ‘citizens can surrender some’ of their ‘freedom without sacrificing fundamental political rights.’ In India’s handling of the pandemic, freedom remained intact, and the sense of civic responsibility and commitment grew, while fundamental political rights remained undiluted and protected. Those who have peddled the ‘dictator’ Modi narrative, directly or indirectly, or had thought that the pandemic would offer an ‘ideal’ opportunity to prove their thesis right, were disappointed. In their unrelenting opposition to Modi, they failed to spot the actual dictators, the failing democracies and the faltering republics.
In the global re-ordering that is now in the offing and in the unmistakable shift eastward, the compass also points India-ward. As PM Modi embarks on his US tour, the first since the re-ordering began, these dimensions are emerging with certainty.
Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
PM Modi has also been repeatedly speaking of the Asian century. One had heard of the rise of the East, or narrative of the Asian century, in the past, when vast tracts of Asia were under colonial subjection, material exploitation and cultural subjugation. PM Modi’s reference to the 21st century being the Asian century, in the present context, needs to be read against the backdrop of Asia on the verge of a major shift eastward post pandemic.
INDIA SHOULD TAKE RECIPROCAL ACTION AGAINST THE BRITISH BULLY
It would have been amusing to see the United Kingdom flexing its muscles over allowing entry to fully vaccinated Indians—considered unvaccinated by the UK—but for the price Indian students and others have to pay for taking expensive Covid tests, apart from the inconvenience of quarantining for 10 days. Amusing because it’s a case of a has-been world power, which became rich by siphoning off India’s wealth, and is now trying to stay relevant holding on to the coattails of President Joe Biden—the New Atlantic Charter being a case in point; even AUKUS is more about Australia than about Britain—daring to challenge a rising nation, which is running one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world. The UK did some damage control on Wednesday after triggering an uproar by not recognising Covishield as a valid vaccine, even though it is the same Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured with a different name in India. It issued a new travel advisory, recognising the India manufactured vaccine, but with a catch. Indians vaccinated with Covishield are now “less vaccinated—or “unvaccinated”—than nationalities who have been administered the Indian Covishield, and will have to take Covid tests and quarantine after reaching the UK.
The British high commission in India clarified UK’s position by saying, “We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India.” So effectively, the British ended up casting aspersions on India’s vaccination process and the vaccination certificate given by Co-Win. It is not known which “irrelevant” public health body in India is administering vaccines to Indian citizens, for the British to issue a statement like this. Last heard, there was no “relevant public health body” higher than the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in charge of India’s vaccination programme. Also, apparently unbeknownst to the British, India’s Co-Win certificate is taken as a valid proof of vaccination by most countries, including in the European Union; apart from the fact that several countries are lining up to seek Indian assistance to set up a system similar to Co-Win. One of the most fool-proof systems, Co-Win is QR code based, with layers of security checks and is linked to a person’s Aadhaar and passport numbers. It’s not like the vaccine cards given by the United States that can be tampered with easily. If the UK has a problem with Co-Win, it’s not based on any empirical evidence, but on the UK’s perception about India as a “third world” country. It’s a case of implying that India’s vaccination system is inefficient and corruption ridden, without any proof.
Coming from a country with one of the worst records of handling Covid-19 and a lethargic vaccination drive, this is a bit rich. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, UK’s case fatality ratio is 203.18 per 100,000 population, compared to India’s 32.62. UK’s total vaccination is around 9.31 crore till date, compared to India’s 83.27 crore. In other words, there is no comparison. So, the more one looks at it, it appears to be a case of racism and colonial hangover, which is rather ironic given the Indian students UK is planning to fleece in the name of Covid tests are also the ones their universities are wooing by holding education fairs and the like in India.
Also, despite Indian origin people ruling the roost in that country and Indian companies having substantial business interests there, UK media has always peddled a toxic anti-India narrative, which adds to the negative perception about India. This was amplified during India’s second wave, when pure canard was spread about India by the British media to impact public opinion. Some of this found their way into their political debates as well. Hence, one should not be surprised if domestic political considerations too played a part in the decision to quarantine Indians.
In a world where the Indo-Pacific is at the centre of geopolitical gravity, with China being the clear threat, it takes a very generous President Joe Biden of the US to keep the Atlantic alliance (Nato) against Russia alive for the sake of old times. The New Atlantic Charter between the US and UK is a reflection of that make-believe world. The UK may be trying to navigate the waters of the Indo-Pacific as an exercise in great-power projection, but it does not really matter if it is in that region or not. That is a bitter truth, which the UK will have to come to terms with. It has long ceased to be a great power and behaving like a petty bully does not bring back the glory days of the British empire. The Indian government should carry out its threat of taking reciprocal action against the bully.
Courtroom’s visionary indigence on professional women
Answers to myriad perplexing questions which are profoundly significant in the interest of justice rather emerge in the minds of judges and not the law books. Judges can make an effort to combine legal pluralism with litigation theory in laws for women empowerment.
Women’s issues never die out of news like patriarchy which remains an inexhaustible product of human creation. On one hand the UN’s gender equality and empowerment organisation publishes a feminist roadmap to tackle triple crisis of jobs, care and climate on the other a leading national party of India embraces a #MeToo accused as a leader of a prominent state in India. Do our legislators irrespective of being man or a woman even believe in the laws they formulate? Apparently, the deficiencies embedded in women’s laws which has disturbed social equilibrium by putting men and women as two blood thirsty enemy states, armed with gross vengeance derails enforcement by shedding off respect, relationship or responsibility so integral to man-woman relationship. Nonetheless, worry for policy makers is that despite the plethora of laws women may suffer decreasing work participation and their own advancement since laws offer little when they are reduced as Gustav Hugo a German legal philosopher wrote, “into an algebra of legal concepts.”
How would a judge expect a woman seeking redressal from a bad marriage to look like in a courtroom? Definitely women of rank and stature or who are brave, forthright and speaking for themselves without tears or a choking throat ever walk out with a just verdict from the judge’s desk. This perception exists irrespective of male or female judges. In an appeal filed in the Case of Rajesh Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh 2017,the court had to see whether any directions are called for to prevent the misuse of sec 498A.While the court submitted that Sec 498A was enacted to check unconscionable demands by greedy husbands and their families which at times result in cruelty to women and also suicides it also indicated a growing tendency to abuse the said provision. Almost any relative from the man’s family including parents of advanced age, minor children, siblings, grand-parents and uncles become accused on the strength of vague and exaggerated allegations without there being any verifiable evidence of physical or mental harm or injury. The judges referred to the Reports of National Crime Record Bureau which brought out that in 2005, out of a total 58,319 cases reported under Sec 498A, 6,141 cases were declared false and in 2009 for a total 89,546 cases reported, 8,352 cases were declared false on account of mistake of fact or law. In 2012 and 2013 an exponential rise of 93.6% cases occurred under sec 498A but the conviction rate was low at 14.4% only and in 2017-2019 a 21.3% increase occurred but conviction rate stood at 15% only. The two states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh which bring the highest number of reported cases still nurture a justice system which is attuned to treat women either as a deity or a slave. This data does prove the misuse of law but not its irrelevance in providing protection to women since only one tenth of the filed cases were found false. In many other sections of IPC this number of false cases is much higher,to name a few such as unlawful assembly(Sec 141), Sec 146 (rioting), Sec 171 E(bribery), Sec 302 (murder), Sec 306(abetment of suicide). The Court decided that all State governments must instruct their police officers not to automatically arrest under sec 498A complaints but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down for police officers along with Sec 41 of CrPC. So the Court handed over Sec 498A cases to the police which is well known for its patriarchal approach will now wear additional power of prima facie investigations.
Courts are governed by a bad perception about a deserted wife seeking justice in divorce and maintenance as the object of the provisions for grant of maintenance becomes a charitable act rather than a just distribution of assets, liabilities in physical and emotional spheres. Courts provide speedy remedy towards a supply of food, clothing and shelter to the deserted wife and to prevent vagrancy and destitution. In Pratibha Rani case of 1985, Justice Fazl Ali described the case as a ‘sad story of a helpless married woman who, having been turned out by her husband without returning her ornaments, money and clothes despite repeated demands…’ So the Courtroom perspective about women seeking justice in a broken marriage is that she “should be suffering and in destitution, penury, vagrancy, impecuniosity and appear emotionally fractured.” This leaves away a large majority of modern, professionally qualified and emotionally confident women from receiving any legitimate attention from courts. The judiciary’s repeated commitment to treat maintenance as a basic right to life enshrined in Art 21 of the Constitution of India since the 1980 Case of Hussainara Khatoon v.HS Bihar has failed to provide justice to this modern class of women who are still looked as privileged even though their struggles post divorce stifle their livehood as even a basic primary necessity of getting a house on rent becomes an impossible act for a single women who is potentially looked as a danger to any residential locality.
Notwithstanding, maintenance being treated as basic human right by Courts, the wedge against modern professional women is clear in the delivery of justice when courts made them pay maintenance to their unemployed husbands and his family. In a 2011 case of Rani Sethi v. Sunil Sethi,a trial court in Delhi directed the wife to pay maintenance of Rs. 20,000 per month, and Rs.10,000 as litigation expenses along with a Zen Car to the husband. In a 2020 case a family Court of Mujaffarnagar ordered a wife who retired from Army to pay a monthly maintenance from her pension to her husband Kishori Lal Sohankar a tea shop worker. However, sermons sometimes are hard to satiate and the judges on their own inadvertently reflected upon the true path of law regarding professionally employed women. While pronouncing judgement in Bhuwan Mohan v.Meena 2014 the Supreme Court in an emotionally charged judgement strongly condemned delays and denials of maintenance as “frustrating to the hope of wife and children who are deprived of adequate livelihood , whose aspirations perish like mushroom and possibly the brief candle of sustenance joins the marathon race of extinction.” The Court came up with a dictum which it probably had no idea would become its own biggest trial. It ingeminated that Sec 125 CrPC was conceived to ameliorate the agony, anguish, financial suffering of a woman but simply ‘sustenance does not necessarily mean to lead the life of an animal, feel like an unperson to be thrown away from grace and roam for her basic maintenance somewhere else’. The Court said that “a woman is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband,” that is where the status and strata come into play vis a vis obligations of a husband. Yet, Courts have considered qualified status of a wife as a shortcoming and have denied grant of maintenance to her.
However, this justice as fairness was attempted by the bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and R Subhash Reddy in Rajnesh v.Neha case 2020 while laying guidelines to determining quantum of maintenance. The guidelines raised questions related to the status of the parties, reasonable needs and the applicant’s education and professional qualifications. It later turned out that this was being queried to limit the amount of maintenance and lessen burden upon men. These guidelines further endorsed an extremely unjustified and illogical stand taken by Justice Bhanumathi and and M M Santanagoudar in Kalyan Dey Chowdhury v. Rita Dey Chowdhury case of 2017 when the court put a cap of 25% on the ex-husband’s net salary for maintenance to be provided to wife and children.The court interestingly considered ex-husband’s remarriage and increased expenses as a reason for capping maintenance for ex-wife. The Courts have however been closed to problems of an employed and professionally qualified woman who may still have to find a new house in a decent locality, contest social stigmatization and compromise her earning ability for child care needs. This is where an interesting concept of ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’ (betel box expenses) is found in Mohammedan law which operated in families of rank.The husband or his father on divorce would pay to the wife a personal allowance for continuance of a lifestyle need. In 1910, Nawab Khwaja Muhammad Khan was made to pay Rs. 500 per month to Nawab Husaini Begam from Moradabad as her ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’. In another Allahabad High Court case, a Lambardar (Zamindar estate owner) paid Rs.25 as ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’ to his estranged wife Mojiz Fatima Begam. The relevance of this law amongst the rich and powerful in a community reflects upon the fact that certain habits of luxury are acknowledged even in law. When Justice Deepak Mishra in Bhuwan Mohan Case of 2014 had observed that “a woman is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband”, little did he know if he could also include ‘Kharcha-e-Paandaan’? Even rich women bear burden of a differential impact of divorce upon their lives and judges including women judges as above, have always failed to address remedies to ameliorate this additional burden borne by women of rank, status and position.When The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act 2019 was brought in two years ago on 19th September, Court had once again absolved itself of addressing maintenance of a divorced wife once the sacred task of reclaiming her honour was achieved. Criminalization of divorce and subsequent homelessness without measures for restorative justice kills a law. A differential impact of a broken marriage upon women is far more injurious but laws need to understand an underlying world view of the problem they address.
Due to social narratives which surround marriage in current times, faith in it as a social institution is breaking down. One would be shocked to hear that in agriculture dominant states like Punjab and Haryana divorce rate in the last 10 years has increased by 150% while it has risen to 350% or more in the most professionally superior states of Kerala or the metropolis of Delhi, Bangalore,Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. Apparently, as per the 2011 Census, more Muslim women (3.7 per thousand)than Hindu women (2 per thousand)are divorced every year. The Times Report’s shocking revelations about Chinese society found 850,000 Chinese couples applying for divorce within the first six months of 2010. Their courts were dealing with a staggering 4,600 divorce cases per day. The divorce rate in Sweden and USA is the world’s highest at around 58%.
The burden of dissolution or aftermath of marriage is so complicated that more women prefer to stay single. In the 2011 Census of India there was a 39% increase to 71.4 million single women or 12% of total population of women. Out of this, around 12.3 million single women reported as never married. Research surveys reveal that this is only going to increase as divorce rates shoot up in coming times. Any rushed and regressive reaction that thwarts the noble intentions behind women’s laws is dangerous to the voice of feminist jurisprudence in India.
The young believe and have resigned to the idea that marriages are neither ‘made in heaven’ nor a destination beyond which ‘one can live happily ever after’. It may involve immense litigation at the cost of their professional life. Marriage as an institution is irretrievably breaking down as patriarchy advances from homes to work spaces and gets legitimized in Court rooms. Answers to many of these perplexing questions which are profoundly significant in the interest of justice rather emerge in the minds of judges and not the law books. Judges can make an effort to combine legal pluralism with litigation theory in laws for women empowerment.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
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