The results of the Bihar Assembly elections and several byelections across the country, proved to be good for the Bharatiya Janata Party, with it bagging 41 from among the 59 seats that it contested, apart from winning 74 seats in Bihar, thus coming second to RJD’s 75. Once again, the elections reaffirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuing hold on the voters and that too when the unending Covid crisis is deciding for the worse many political futures worldwide. Complementing the “Modi factor” is the party’s grassroots presence and its smart organisation, turning the BJP into a formidable electoral machine. Even in a “new” territory like Telangana, the BJP appears to be a rising force and is on its way to replace the Congress as the main opposition to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. This was evident from the victory that the BJP pulled off at Dubbaka, an Assembly seat adjacent to Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s Gajwel constituency, and a stronghold of the ruling TRS. And it was again the Modi factor and the BJP’s formidable election machinery that saved the day for the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, which won the state with a simple majority of 125 seats, three more than the majority mark of 122. At 67.27%, BJP’s strike rate in Bihar has been phenomenal. The RJD-led Mahagathbandan won 110 seats.
While a win is a win, the fact is, it was not an easy win, particularly for Nitish Kumar’s JDU which dragged down the alliance’s numbers. There is no denying the huge anti incumbency against Nitish Kumar. There is also no denying that Tejashwi Yadv was able to create a buzz about “real issues” such as jobs and the economy. So close was the fight in several seats that the result could have gone either way. This could be either because of the LJP cutting into JDU’s votes or could have stemmed from the real desire to see the end of Nitish Kumar’s tenure as Chief Minister, or both. The battle for Bihar was so close that in one seat, Hilsa, the JDU scraped through with a margin as thin as 12 votes. As many as seven seats—3 JDU, 1 BJP, 2 RJD and 1 LJP—were decided by a margin of less than 500 votes. Such small numbers matter in a closely contested election. While the Covid crisis may not have affected BJP’s prospects, but it almost finished off Nitish Kumar’s political career. He did a poor job of handling the crisis of the returning migrants during the lockdown, resulting in widespread anger. This was reflected in the polls, especially in rural areas. In fact, the migrant issue became the single biggest poll issue this time. There was also immense anger over prohibition, which has allowed the liquor mafia to thrive in Bihar. And even though Nitish Kumar is likely to return as Chief Minister, he lost a lot in these elections, with his party becoming a junior partner in Bihar with 43 seats.
As for Tejashwi Yadav, while there is no doubt that he ran a spirited campaign by focusing on core issues of the economy including job creation, the anti incumbency was such that he would have become its beneficiary by default even otherwise. Even then his strike rate was around 52.08% (75 out of 144), nowhere near the 80% his father notched up in 2020 (80 out of 101). His inexperience showed in the number of seats that he gave to the Congress—70, of which the Congress won only 19, thus dragging down the Mahagathbandhan with it. Also, BJP proved to be far superior when it came to “last mile finish”. Ironically, while memories of Lalu’s “jungle raj” prevented many voters upset with Nitish to go the RJD’s way, it was also the absence of Lalu Yadav that the RJD felt the most during the campaign.
For the BJP, the Bihar win is a huge shot in its arm ahead of two crucial elections early next year, that of Assam and Bengal, of which Bengal will be the biggest prize for the BJP in 2021 if it can land it. But Mamata Banerjee is a formidable opponent and a street fighter and is unlikely to give the BJP a walkover. But that the BJP is approaching the elections with a lot of seriousness is apparent from Home Minister Amit Shah giving personal attention to Bengal.
All in all, the election results have been satisfying for the BJP, which has now left the Congress behind in becoming India’s “party of governance”. And now what is needed is an improvement in the economic situation of the country.
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G-23 LEADERS SHOULD HAVE WAITED TILL THE ASSEMBLY POLLS
The Congress is fighting two battles, one is the electoral one against the BJP in the oncoming Assembly elections and the other is the battle within as some members of the G-23 fired another salvo from Jammu last week. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a tussle for power.
The Congress high command (read the Gandhi family) has tried to create a wedge in the G-23 by weaning away those it can with party posts and responsibility. That’s also a smart move because it’s always easy to criticise from afar (as is what happened after the Bihar debacle) but not so easy if you are part of the process. For instance, what stopped Kapil Sibal who has been a Rajya Sabha member from Bihar from campaigning in the state during the polls. While he did not campaign, he did criticise the poor showing post polls. In fact, the only leader who campaigned in both Bihar and the Madhya Pradesh bypolls (apart from Rahul Gandhi) was Sachin Pilot. But therein lies another story.
Social media is also full of images of the Gandhi siblings with Rahul deployed in the South and Priyanka Gandhi in the north—so far, she has been focusing in Uttar Pradesh, but last week saw her dancing the Jhumur dance with tribals of Assam during her two-day visit to the state. Rahul too was seen doing push ups with college students in Tamil Nadu and jumping into the sea with fishermen in Kerala. The subliminal message is clear—the Gandhi siblings are leading from the front and owning this election campaign. Deputing Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel in charge of Assam has also given the leaderless party a fighting chance to wrest the state away from the astute Hemanta Biswa Sarma because Chhattisgarh is the only Congress-ruled-state that has access to funds.
Given the B+ for effort, perhaps the rebels who met in Jammu should have waited till the Assembly polls were over before declaring open hostilities. That battle is pencilled in on the Congress calendar, for the party’s elections for president are slated post the Assembly results. Maybe that was the time to bring out the divisions within. Why this rush to praise Narendra Modi?
As things stand, the Congress is really fighting a battle to win in Assam and Kerala; in Tamil Nadu, it’s in the role of a supporting actor at best. However, Kerala is important as that’s the state where Rahul Gandhi is now an MP from, that is also a state where he made his now infamous North Vs South comment. It was a gamble and he really needs it to work so he is focusing all his energies in the South, leaving Assam in the hands of the Chhattisgarh CM and some shrewd alliances.
For the BJP the big fight really is in West Bengal and Assam and if the Opposition can somehow stop the saffron party in its tracks here then it could be the turnaround in the fortunes of the Modi government. The onus of stopping the BJP in West Bengal is on Mamata Banerjee, while the Congress is doing its bit in dividing the anti-TMC vote. And all this is happening against the backdrop of the farmers’ protests which is now firmly established as an anti-BJP movement.
Given all this, at a time when the rest of the Opposition, including the Congress, is focusing on stopping the BJP in its tracks, perhaps the dissidents should have waited till the Assembly polls were over before diverting from the agenda.
Why PM Modi can’t be Ronald Reagan
In a country where three-fourths of the population is either facing acute poverty or dependent on agriculture that is contingent upon the grace of rain gods, welfare spending becomes imperative rather than a choice. The lack of an Indian Reagan is partly due to electoral reasons but also partly due to the lack of an intellectual ecosystem that produces Reaganomics.
On the eve of the 2019 elections, Ruchir Sharma, the chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, expressed his disappointment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a New York Times column. According to Sharma, beneath the Modi rhetoric of “minimum government, maximum governance” lay a Bernie Sanders-like socialism including a welfare splurge, which disappointed a free-marketeer like him who expected a Reagansque redux of reform and small state. In a subsequent book, he ascribes Modi’s socialism to electoral exigencies instead of philosophical moorings.
Sharma’s analysis is partly true. In a country where three-fourths of the population is either facing acute poverty or dependent on agriculture that is contingent upon the grace of rain gods, welfare spending becomes imperative rather than a choice. Hence, when American political scientist James Manor asked P.V. Narsimha Rao who his role model was, he intuitively named social democrat Willy Brandt, the German Chancellor whose economics was animated by expanding both private capitalism and welfare spending. Astute politicians like Rao and Modi, both boasting a humble background, understand social welfare as a fait accompli in India. While Modi never publicly espoused the likes of Brandt as his hero, his former chief troubleshooter and strategist, the late Arun Jaitley, alluded to this balance: “Being pro-poor and pro-business are not mutually exclusive.”
But what makes a government pro-business? The Ruchir Sharmas sitting in global capitals are much more ambitious in their ask from what is termed as a right-wing government in India. They can grudgingly countenance an increasing welfare spending so far as reforms remain on track. Lesser taxes, divestment, and minimum state interference start their wish list followed by a range of expectations. Reagan and Thatcher personify their ideas of economic governance, and hence, they sum up their pro-business laundry list by citing these conservative British and American giants.
The lack of an Indian Reagan is partly due to electoral reasons but also partly due to the lack of an intellectual ecosystem that produces Reaganomics. President Reagan enacted policies that incubated in the American conservative movement for decades. The likes of the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation prepared the fine print that was impregnated with political will before those policies were finally conceived. Reagan was a heavy consumer of Friedmanite worldview even before he considered running for the presidency. However, it was The Heritage Foundation, headed by Edwin Feulner, that injected conservative principles and policies through a 1000-odd pages prescription-laden manual, which encompassed a potential policy outlook for all major US cabinet departments and federal agencies. To see these policies through, the Foundation manned key political appointments with suitable conservatives.
Thatcher’s story is no different. Her two steady sources of prescriptions were the Institute of Economic Affairs and then-inchoate Center for Policy Studies. Sir Keith Joseph, another Friedmanite and founder of CPS, is considered the most significant influence on Thatcher while she was in office. He chose to be the Secretary of State for Industry in the Thatcher administration and kicked off the divestment program in Britain on an unprecedented scale.
Coming back home, where are Modi’s Edwin Feulner and Keith Joseph? Where are BJP’s Heritage Foundation and Center for Policy Studies? Surely, Sangh has affiliate organisations working on economic policies—Swadeshi Jagran Manch (focuses on indigenous economic development), Bharatiya Vitta Salhakar Samiti (for finance and taxation professional), Laghu Udyog Bharati (for small and medium enterprises), and Sahkar Bharati (for cooperatives). These organizations, more than producing an economic canon that defines the Indian right, have mostly served as a feedback loop for RSS and BJP. Something that comes closest to a CPS is Vivekanda International Foundation in terms of personnel, but its impact on policy is not that evident.
Economics, it seems, is barely on the mind of even modern Hindutva ideologues. For example, BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta in his book Awakening Bharat Mata curated two dozen essays by the pantheon Indian right would like to venerate. From historian R.C. Majumdar to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and current Sangh ideologue S. Gurumurthy, it features the writings of who’s who. The anthology attempts to collate and create a philosophical canon sans a single essay on economic thought.
Another BJP MP, Subramanian Swamy, now a little sidelined politically, produced his version of ‘constitutional Hindutva’ in his book The Ideology of India’s Modern Right outlining five dimensions that suggest how Hindutva can exist within a constitutional framework. To his credit, Swamy, an old free-market warhorse and professional economist, sporadically mentions minimalist state as a governance desideratum. His subsequent work Reset makes a modest attempt to add to his earlier work using the framework of Integral Humanism of Pandit Dindayal Upadhyaya but falls short of adumbrating a complete economic program.
The illustrations of two oft-visible ideologues broach the lack of clarity and focus on economic thought in the broader Hindutva intellectual imagination. Their relevance to and influence on policy, if at all, remain questionable. Somehow, the Indian right, too preoccupied to parry itself from secular salvos, have failed to produce an ecosystem that can moor itself in a coherent economic philosophy. Such an ecosystem has to function outside of the party in the quiet, away from the rough and tumble of incessant elections.
Finally, such an intellectual ecosystem not only incubates policies but reconciles economics with other priorities of the movement. When Tory Brexiteers faced the challenge of squaring business interests with their Euroscepticism, the policy ecosystem outside the party salvaged them. Through its extensive outreach, it also brought on board scores of businesses who otherwise saw Brexit as detrimental to their trade.
Ruchir Sharma is correct to predict that India would never have its Reagan or Thatcher. In toto import of Western economic conservatism would be both unsuitable and undesirable. Given electoral exigencies, an occupant of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg would never be able to sign-up for it either. India would need a cocktail of Sanders and Reagan is a given. The Reagan part of it still remains undefined, and to an extent, unimagined. It is high time for this intellectual vacuum to be filled by the Indian right drawing from two ancient ideals: Sarve sukhinah santuh (prosperity for all) and making India vishwaguru (a leading major economy).
Chirayu Thakkar is a Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, Washington DC. The views expressed are personal.
Ruchir Sharma is correct to predict that India would never have its Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. In toto import of Western economic conservatism would be both unsuitable and undesirable. Given electoral exigencies, an occupant of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg would never be able to sign-up for it either. India would need a cocktail of Sanders and Reagan is a given.
RISE OF ABBAS SIDDIQUI WILL POLARISE BENGAL FURTHER
On Sunday, a show of strength was organised in Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground by the CPM and the Congress, along with the newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) of cleric Abbas Siddiqui. Reports suggest that the huge crowd was not mobilized by either CPM or Congress, but primarily by Abbas Siddiqui. He is the pirzada of Furfura Sharif, a religious shrine venerated by Muslims and thus may have a major influence on that community. Let’s make no mistake, in spite of the name of Siddiqui’s outfit, there is nothing remotely “secular” about ISF. Its whole politics is premised on religious identity; and it is representative of a particular minority community. ISF hopes to tap into their grievances and raise their demands at relevant levels, and find political representation in the process. From all accounts, the young Siddiqui already has got a fan following among the youth of his community and may play a decisive role in certain minority dominated seats in the Assembly elections starting on 27 March. In fact, this minority vote bank has a decisive say in at least around a hundred seats in Bengal’s 294-seat Assembly. This has to be seen in the context of the fact that it was the en bloc voting by the minority community that helped Mamata Banerjee come to power in 2011 and return with a landslide in 2016. This vote bank was created by the CPM-led Left Front and it was only when it shifted to Mamata that she managed to defeat the CPM, which should explain her party’s pronounced tilt towards this particular community; and she is quite open about it. In fact, even Congress’ pockets of influence in certain minority dominated districts such as Malda and Murshidabad are because of this particular community. However, there is major grievance in this community that the so-called secular parties have always used them as a vote bank, but have done nothing for them. Siddiqui hopes to tap into this grievance, while at least talking about broad-basing his “movement” by giving a voice to the marginalized in general.
The Communists, who have become irrelevant in Bengal politics with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, are hoping to piggyback on Siddiqui’s ISF and get a chunk of Muslim votes and with that a few seats. Hence, CPM is going for a seat-sharing arrangement with ISF and is likely to give it around 30-40 seats to fight from. However, CPM’s ally Congress, or rather Adhir Chowdhury—MP and president of Congress’ Bengal unit—is not keen to join hands with ISF, in spite of what is believed to be pressure from the party high command in Delhi. This is primarily because, in the long run, Chowdhury’s minority vote bank in Murshidabad district may get dented with the entry of the cleric from Furfura Sharif. The state Congress under him is apparently unwilling to give the ISF even one seat in Murshidabad. Whether that part of the “secular” alliance works out or not, what is certain is that Siddiqui and CPM together have the potential to damage Mamata Banerjee in her stronghold in South 24 Parganas district in particular, where there is a substantial presence of minority voters. Until recently, the cleric from Furfura Sharif was seeking to be in alliance with Mamata Banerjee, but did not get any response from her. However, if Sunday’s show of strength by him is any indication, and if he manages to take away a chunk of Trinamool Congress’ Muslim voters, then sooner or later Mamata Banerjee may have to give space to Abbas Siddiqui, or else face an existential crisis, as her party’s political fortunes are totally dependent on this particular vote bank.
In the meantime, the rise of Siddiqui and the political legitimacy being given to him by the communists will further polarize, along religious lines, an already polarized state and deepen the divide in society. Whether this helps the BJP or not, will depend on the extent of minority consolidation for Mamata Banerjee and the counter consolidation of the majority in favour of the BJP. The other possibility of a hung verdict will depend on how far the CPM-led “front” can eat into the TMC’s and BJP’s respective votes. However, if there is a hung verdict, there is every possibility of the CPM, Congress, ISF and TMC coming together to form government in the name of keeping “communal BJP” out. In other words, BJP will have to sweep Bengal to come to power. Nothing short of that will do.
As for the rise of Abbas Siddiqui, only time will tell how his politics of religious identity will play out in Bengal.
Same-sex marriage: Undermining the bedrock of Indian society
The social unit of the family is the foundation of Indian society. Since ‘the Indian family system presupposes a biological man as a husband and a biological woman as a wife and the children born out of the union between the two’—as the Union government has argued—legalising same-sex marriages might turn the existing social order upside down and open a can of worms.
The demand for the recognition of same-sex marriage has opened up a Pandora’s box of issues which question the very foundation of the institutions of marriage and family as building blocks of social, cultural and political life. The Delhi High Court is seized with the matter and the Union government has submitted its arguments on why it is opposed to the proposal.
When the Supreme Court was considering the issue of the validity of Section 377 of the IPC, which made homosexuality a criminal offence, the Union government had refused to give its opinion on the issue and left the matter entirely up to the Supreme Court. The apex court decriminalised homosexuality between two consenting adults. At that time, the government’s stand had been guided primarily by the argument that the government should not interfere in deciding the sexual preferences of people. There had also been many complaints before that about the law being misused to harass same-sex partners living together.
But decriminalising homosexuality is not the same thing as allowing marriage between people who identify as homosexual. The government in its affidavit has told the court that any change, such as recognising same-sex marriages, would create havoc in the delicate balance of personal laws in the country. “The Indian family system presupposes a biological man as a husband and a biological woman as a wife and the children born out of the union between the two,” it has argued.
The government has also argued that the registration of same-sex marriages would result in the violation of existing personal as well as codified law provisions such as the degree of prohibited relations, ceremonial and ritual requirement, etc. Decriminalising consensual homosexual relations in 2018 was “neither intended to, nor did it, in fact, legitimise the human conduct in question,” the affidavit has argued. It has also argued that any such change should be left to the legislature.
What is the purpose of marriage in society? Let us try to understand this without getting religion-specific since every religion has a particular way of looking at the family and they invariably sanction only heterosexual relationships. The purpose of marriage is not sex alone but the procreation of children who would become healthy citizens. If sex was the purpose, then society has many outlets, including the one provided by the amended Section 377.
For Mahatma Gandhi, marriage was exclusively for the procreation of children. British philosopher Bertrand Russell had said, “It is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognisance of by a legal institution.” If culture, religion, tradition, societal mores, etc. shape constitutional laws, then these cannot be ignored without endangering the very foundation of society.
Heterosexual biological parents have a different kind of attachment to the offspring, as various sociological studies have shown. It is no wonder paternity leave is now being allowed to the father to feel equally responsible towards parenthood and does not leave things to the mother alone. Mother’s milk is scientifically the best for children since it helps boost immunity and the biological process makes a woman produce milk after she gives birth to the child. But homosexual couples cannot have their biological children and hence they may adopt children, but can they give the same love and affection and security which biological parents can?
It is argued that those heterosexual couples who fail to procreate either adopt children or undergo artificial insemination. Why can’t the same right be given to same-sex couples? But what is the guarantee that the children adopted would not become objects of exploitation? This can be true for even heterosexual couples, but the existence of a father and mother ensures that the adopted child is not subjected to exploitation. The web of relationships that marriage brings with it in the Indian context ensures that there are checks and balances.
Many sociological studies have shown that a child adopted by a single father or mother longs for the affection of the other parent. If the tender care of a mother is needed for the overall growth of the child, the careful guardianship of a father is needed too for the security and discipline it provides. The Indian family system is the smallest social unit. It has withstood the test of time. Cultural norms and values are imbibed in new members through the process of socialization in which not just parents but other relatives also take part.
Same-sex couples in the West have often argued that they don’t get respect from society. Homosexuality is a deviant behaviour. One can make laws to decriminalise it but can’t force society to change its orientation.
Aping the West would not do our society good. In most Western societies, people have become more and more individualistic and family norms are breaking. This is not true of the Indian society. Despite rising cases of divorce and conflicts in marriages, the institution has proved to be useful. Legislations have given a cushion to ensure that people who divorce each other are not exploited by one another.
‘Once gay, always gay’ is not true and there are many cases where a gay person has walked out of it and married in a normal way and lived happily. How do you ensure marriage and divorce laws for these people? There are chances that same-sex marriages may break after sometime and the couple may decide to live a normal family life. There are also chances that the prospect of a person marrying many times would increase. In the possibility of such instability, will the adoption and rearing of children in a healthy way survive?
It is not an issue of ‘liberals vs conservatives’ which we often see in the West. It is an issue of what these gay rights activists want to achieve. You want a share in property, but that can be achieved through mutual agreement. You want healthcare facilities, which are easily available to individuals. The right to be treated with dignity as a citizen belongs to all. You wish to bequeath your property to someone, you can do so. You can do the same with your insurance and other related issues. You can give the property you earn to anyone under secular laws. If you inherit your part of property from your parents, you can do the same once you inherit it. There is absolutely no problem.
And the biggest issue is that you cannot proclaim yourself to belong to a particular religion and then claim that the marriage granted by that religion should be applicable to you as well for same-sex marriage. This means you want to change entire religious beliefs. In Hinduism in particular, marriage is not a contract but a sacrament with associated notions of spirituality, commitment and responsibility. During many religious functions, the husband and the wife have to be together to perform the rituals.
A typical flaw with the same-sex marriage argument in India is that it seeks an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act and the Special Marriage Act but does not talk of other religious practices. Can you change the law of the book? Are we prepared to say that there would be no personal laws since these violate the fundamental right to be treated equally? Can courts impose monogamy on the Muslim community in India? Why did policymakers in India work for the secularisation of Hindu laws but not for Islam? Why should the law say that polygamous marriage is prohibited for Hindus but allowed in Islam?
Gay activists have taken the right to be treated equally to ridiculous proportions. The law treats men and women based on biological differences and not on a subjective understanding of one’s sexual drive or orientation. It may also be a matter of conditioning as some studies have revealed more so in case of impressionable youths. Impressed by this conditioning, some have even gone for sex changes.
While it may have worked in some countries where people are more homogenous or where religion does not ordain secular life, it may create an explosive situation in India where religion plays a significant part in secular life as well. Religion is the source of morality, respect for each other’s lives, and values that define existence.
You cannot undermine an important social institution that has evolved over a period of time not because of law or legislation but because of its usefulness to society. Many aspects of law emanate from the concept of family. While trying to recognize same-sex marriage, there is surely going to be a disturbance of the very foundation of Indian social life. I am talking about all religionists residing in India since they come from the same stock and share the same culture despite their personal laws.
The next argument which is increasingly being made is the person acting as the female in a same-sex partnership would demand to be treated as a woman for participation in sports. If one’s right to be treated as a female is granted then biological reasons should not become a stumbling block for their right to be treated as a female. This can have disastrous consequences for society.
LGBT activists were right when they demanded that laws should not be used against them to suppress their freedom. Decriminalisation of homosexuality should be seen in that context. If there are other genuine concerns that should also be looked into, a legal framework should be provided to protect their rights. But this can happen even without legalizing same-sex marriages. In trying to be liberal and progressive, we are not going to turn everything upside down.
The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.
It is not an issue of ‘liberals vs conservatives’ which we often see in the West. It is an issue of what these gay rights activists want to achieve. You want a share in property, but that can be achieved through mutual agreement. You want healthcare facilities, which are easily available to individuals. The right to be treated with dignity as a citizen belongs to all.
AMOD KANTH RELIVES THE TROUBLED DECADE IN THE CAPITAL
Amod Kanth has without any doubt been one of the most outstanding IPS officers, who served in the capital. Although, he could not become the Commissioner of Police, yet his professional achievements have been exemplary. In Khaki in Dust Storm, his maiden book on his tenure in Delhi, he has attempted to recreate some of the most horrific cases (from 1980 to 1991) which included the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two bodyguards and the anti-Sikh riots that followed. He was also associated as a key figure in the investigation of Rajiv Gandhi’s tragic killing by a suicide bomber in Sriperumbudur and helped the Special Investigation Team constituted under D.R. Karthikeyan, to unearth the conspiracy.
Having covered the crime beat very closely for multiple newspapers including the Times of India and The Hindu, I have followed Amod Kanth’s career very closely. Therefore, it is with some authority that I can speak about his various accomplishments. He has been candid while admitting in his book that he was greatly influenced by iconic seniors such as Ved Marwah, K.P.S. Gill, Vijay Karan and Mukund Kaushal. He goes on to recall what Kaushal had told him once that if you are indispensable, then you are a bad manager. However, if you create a system, it shall even function without you. This is an important management principle. The celebrated police officer has been modest about his role which was very pronounced when Marwah was confirmed as the Commissioner. The Centre had sent S.S. Jog as Commissioner, following the Sikh carnage but the upright officer due to personal reasons wanted to return to Maharashtra, his parent cadre. It was then decided that Julio Ribeiro would be the next commissioner. Ribeiro’s name plate had been fixed outside the Commissioner’s earmarked residence on Alipur Road in the Civil Lines area. However, on 10 May 1985, a series of Transistor bomb blasts took place in parts of north India including Delhi. These terrorist acts were to avenge the anti-Sikh riots. However, within 48 hours, the Delhi Police which had Marwah as the acting Chief and Amod Kanth as the DCP, Central, worked out the case following the arrest of three prime suspects, Kartar Singh Narang, Mohinder Singh Oberoi and Mohinder Singh Khalsa. This was sufficient to make the Centre review its decision and Marwah, a legendary officer in his own right, was confirmed as the new Delhi Police chief.
Amod Kanth has also written at length about the murders of Congress leaders Lalit Maken and Arjun Dass as they were perceived by militants as amongst the people responsible for the Sikh genocide. The two murders were also linked to the assassination of General Vaidya in Pune as the missions were executed by Harjinder Singh Jinda. In fact, Jinda was first arrested by the Delhi Police team under Amod Kanth but escaped when his custody was handed over to the Gujarat police. He was again re-arrested by Amod and his men on a tip off provided by Ajit Doval, then working for the Intelligence Bureau. If Amod was inspired by some of his seniors, he also influenced a whole generation of his junior colleagues. Udai Vir Singh Rathi, then a Sub Inspector, was awarded the Gallantry Medal for his daring act of challenging members of the Ravi Subhash Gang on the Yamuna Pushta. It was a do or die situation and Rathi escaped unhurt after shooting Bharat Bhushan, a gang member. The Delhi Police had come under massive criticism for its inaction during the 1984 genocide. Amod Kanth was amongst the few officers who brought the situation under control in several areas of his district and for his efforts was awarded the gallantry medal along with the then Paharganj SHO, S.S. Manan.
My first meeting with this officer took place in 1980 when Dr Patole, a resident doctor of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, committed suicide which led to an extremely tense situation. Fortunately, he and his colleagues were able to defuse this volatile matter. After that I covered him extensively when he was the DCP of West District and Central District and also of the Crime Branch. In the book, he has referred to an incident where his superior officer tried to shield looters who had attacked the Sikhs in the Karol Bagh area at the behest of two Congress leaders.
Amod’s book is a must read because it provides perspective on how the police function. However, there are many other of his professional exploits which do not find any mention. It appears that he has reserved them for his second book. Other than police, he has distinguished himself as someone who worked against child trafficking and drug abuse through Prayas, his NGO. Amod continues to be revered by his police colleagues.
Long-standing issues and imperatives in higher education
Indian higher education provided in its majority of institutions needs a boost in its quality. Some of the important factors influencing quality are infrastructure, teachers and the teaching-learning process.
School education and higher education have a symbiotic relationship as the former is the basis for influencing the quality of the latter. Higher education in real sense is the basis of social, cultural, political and economic transformation of the country. The role of the universities thus becomes of paramount importance. We need to emphasise that universities are not only for dissemination of knowledge, they have an onerous responsibility to create new knowledge in all domains as this is the perspective which is at the heart of the idea of a university.
The idea has been beautifully expressed in the Report of a Committee on “Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education” chaired by Prof Yash Pal, where it states: “A university is a place where new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall and sturdy. It is a unique space, which covers the entire universe of knowledge. It is a place where creative minds converge, interact with each other and construct visions of new realities. Established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge”. This vision of a university needs to be embedded into the thought process of the academic faculty and the students alike.
The annual growth rate of enrolment in higher education in India was frustratingly elusive until the mid-sixties. It showed some sign of improvement in the seventies when it registered an annual growth rate of about 2.5%. It remained in the commando crawl phase for a long time registering an annual growth rate of about 4-5% until 2005-06. Thereafter, it registered a sudden spike in 2012 crossing the Gross Enrolment Ratio of 20%. It was great but short-lived. Since then the annual growth rate has not maintained the same tempo, though the GER has crossed the 26.7% mark.
The current position reveals that the gender and social gaps seem to be narrowing down. Though the expansion process has accelerated during this century, it is still low for the country to become globally competitive. Therefore, there is a need to expand the system. It is also important to further pro-actively address the concerns of social and regional equity in higher education, as its futuristic agenda. This will require continued special support to historically disadvantaged groups for their faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth and enhanced effort to improve enrolment ratios and reduce drop-out rates, especially for girls among Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minorities.
The expansion of higher education in India is accompanied by widening disparities across different regions, genders and social groups. The inter-state disparities in enrollment have increased over a period of time. Though the social disparities continue to be large, the disparities between gender groups are narrowing down. The state policies need to focus not only on expansion but also on equity in expansion. Some of the states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, etc, need to accord greater priority to higher education in the coming years.
In spite of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, a large number of differently-abled persons continue to exist on the margins of the society and have yet to fully benefit from participation in higher education. Initiation of special action plans in consultation with the stakeholders need to be ensured so that their concerns are adequately met.
Indian higher education provided in its majority of institutions needs a boost in its quality. Some of the important factors influencing quality are infrastructure, teachers and the teaching-learning process. Many universities and affiliated colleges have poor infrastructural facilities and face severe shortage of qualified teachers. In general, around 40% of the teaching positions remain vacant in many institutions which is a cause of concern. Scaling of teachers in the university system should become a priority agenda for the country.
The UGC established External Quality Assurance (EQA) mechanisms to carry out accreditation through the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in 1994, and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) by the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in the same year. Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) mechanisms have also been established at the institutional level. However, the progress in accrediting institutions is very slow in India and a majority of institutions are yet to be accredited. Recently, the UGC has stipulated regulations that accreditation is a pre-condition to become eligible for funds. Similarly, the AICTE has made accreditation by NBA mandatory for all technical institutions. The ministry has also introduced another quality initiative in September 2015 in the name of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). This framework is used for ranking universities and institutions based on nine broad parameters. Efforts need to be intensified to meet the expectations in this regard as a significant input towards qualitative transformation of education.
Quality of higher education basically determines the level at which our university system is functioning. It sets a basic benchmark for ensuring the quality of mind of the youth coming out of the university system and their capacity to generate knowledge commensurate with developments taking place globally. In addition, it also has to ensure parity with international systems of higher learning. There is a need to move through the milestones which still have to be covered in bringing us closer to the coveted achievements in higher education.
Curriculum reform is at the heart of what happens to the young minds in enriching them with knowledge and values and inculcates in them a spirit of inquiry, courage to question, creativity, objectivity, problem solving skills, decision making skills and aesthetic sensibility. Updating of curricula in different subjects was undertaken in 2013 in Central universities but this exercise needs to be attended to periodically so that our students do not learn things which may have to be unlearnt later. It may be helpful in reviewing some basic concerns, namely: Do our curricula in different subjects match indigenous expectations and also match requirements of international competitiveness? Do our assessment and evaluation procedures go beyond recall of information embodied as content of different disciplines? To what extent have we become at home with Choice Based Credit System (CBCS)? What curriculum transactional approaches will shift the focus from only teaching to ensuring learning?
Good teaching is as important as good research. Proverbially, we have focused on assessment of performance of our academic faculty largely in terms of their research publications. The result of this has been that faculty and students develop greater interest in increasing the number of publications unmindful of what the publications contribute to knowledge. It has added to sub-standard research. There has to be much greater focus of the faculty to produce quality research which meaningfully contributes to the body of knowledge.
While research is important as a prime function of a university, it is no less important that the primacy to excellence in teaching is also catapulted to its place of rightful dignity. Good research has a symbiotic relationship with good teaching. Academics who have established their credentials as good pedagogues should also be treated at the same level as good researchers. Therefore, some fresh thinking is called for, namely: Should there be incentives for good teaching as for research? What parameters will assess it? Should we move to student assessment of teachers? Should publications of faculty on innovations in teaching not have parity with research publications?
Patents of innovations, based on research accomplished in the universities, have not received the attention they deserve. Multi- and interdisciplinary research, cutting across disciplines and the departments of a university, is confined only to a few islands in the university system. How do we ensure that interdisciplinary research takes firm roots in the culture of our universities? Can individual universities undertake substantive research initiatives to address issues of critical national importance like renewable energy, community health, climate change and disaster management? We have been talking about the university-industry interface to give a boost to research and development (R&D) for long, but there is not much headway. How this interface works in other countries could be studied so that we can adopt/adapt international best practices to strengthen this interface in our national context.
Creating Global Alliance for Institutes for Research, Innovation and Technology Development needs serious attention. It is admitted that establishing global alliance is more feasible among institutions operating at the same frequency of intellectual productivity as their counterparts in other parts of the globe. The issues of raising standards of research, innovation and technology development within the country would require to be addressed at various levels to improve the possibility of their becoming partners of a global alliance. Institutions that have had a long and reasonably good academic culture of research and innovations too have been facing serious procedural problems such as lack of administrative support, delay in clearance of research proposals, timely release of funds and institutional monitoring of research needs. Most of our universities need to strengthen the support for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) related initiatives in order to encourage successful patenting as well as innovation in teaching and research. The problems which impede the intellectual output of the university system need to be mitigated for enhancing global partnership in higher education.
These are the long-standing concerns that have repeatedly been raised, debated and investigated in piecemeal manner with no end to problems faced by the ambivalent university system. The time is running out when the yesteryears’ fail-safe approach needs to be replaced by a shared understanding of the issues and the strategies to resolve them.
The writer is former chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.
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