The Industrial Relations Code Bill was passed last month by both houses of Parliament and received presidential assent on 28 September 2020, thus becoming law, amalgamating, adding, replacing, and updating statutes dating back to, or in some cases preceding, India’s Independence. As is the case with any law, the laws pertaining to industrial disputes were an embodiment of their times. The manifestations of the needs of a society, and ailments impeding the harmony between its business community and workers, evolved over time. Justice was for long being done through amendments to the existing laws, and the courts stepping in through their pronouncements balancing equity, but with almost a 100 years elapsing since the passing of the Trade Unions Act and nearly 75 for the Industrial Disputes Act, the statutes needed an overhaul. The Industrial Relations Code, to widespread acclaim, thus set out to codify into a written law, the developments in practice, thought leadership, and knowledge gained from years of these laws holding the field.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons appended to the new Industrial Relations Code states that the Industrial Relations Code amalgamates the provisions of the provisions of three statutes, the Trade Union Act, passed in 1926, the the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, passed in 1946, and the Industrial Disputes Act, passed in 1947. Basically, the Industrial Relations Code consolidates the provisions of law pertaining to industrial disputes in one statute, thus simplifying a structure for litigants, who would otherwise have to take recourse to different laws and proceedings to obtain relief.
From the perspective of administering the law, one single code avoids the confusion of different definitions and authorities who may well have adjacencies or overlaps of functionality, a significant benefit for the worker who seeks shelter under those. The term Trade Dispute as defined in the Trade Unions Act, 1926, for example, is very similar to the Industrial Disputes definition in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and both definitions have now been merged into a single one in the Industrial Relations Code, permitting even a single worker to raise an industrial dispute with regard to his service issues and wages. It is also worthwhile remembering that changes to one consolidated Industrial Relations Code would require far less time than that necessary for amending three sets of laws.
The breadth of changes to the Industrial Relations Code is visible from the significant changes made to the definitions sections there. The workman and his relationship with his employer are the focal point of any industrial relations, and it is worthwhile to begin with how the Industrial Relations Code defines a worker. The new definition now extends the protection of the industrial code to new categories, i.e., the “working journalist” and “sales promotion employees”. These terms are borrowed by the Industrial Relations Code from existing laws, the working journalist being one who works parttime or full-time in one or more newspapers but does not cover anyone working in a managerial or supervisory capacity.
The sales promotion employee similarly is one who provides sales promotion services in an establishment but like in the case of the working journalist, does not operate in a managerial or supervisory capacity. Carrying this thread further, it is not as if the Industrial Relations Code has a one-size-fits-all approach to such managerial level employees. The Industrial Relations Code expressly understands that there will be managerial staff who earn lesser salaries and who too would need the protection of the Industrial Relations Code in their dealings with the employer. Managerial staff earning up to Rs 15,000 a month therefore fall within the purview of the term workmen and are conferred the benefits of the Industrial Relations Code accordingly. Since over time, as base salaries increase but the need for protection for the managerial staff continues, the lawmakers have presciently retained the right to increase the Rs 15,000 threshold when the need arises.
A much debated concept of what are called fixed-term contracts also saw the light of the day in the Industrial Relations Code. Essentially, fixed-term contracts, as the name suggests, allow an employer to appoint a worker for a specific period of time, agreed between such worker and the employer. These contracts are typically useful for workers looking for seasonal work and engagement, and for employers who have similar requirements for hiring workers for specific periods. Employers, before the passing of the Industrial Relations Code, would typically not hire workers despite a need, just because they would not want to deal with issues of terminating a worker and facing the rigours of law.
By introducing the concept of a fixedterm contract in the law itself, the Industrial Relations Code recognises the fact that the employers and the workers can engage for such period of time as they of their own volition want to, with the Industrial Relations Code mandating the same protection of wages, emoluments, and benefits available to a regular employee at that establishment. The Industrial Relations Code in fact specifically does not include the fixedterm contract within the purview of the term retrenchment, which in effect would mean that a worker cannot claim to have been retrenched once his contract term came to an end. It would be a simply be a case of two entities resolving their issues in terms of their mutual understanding.
One of the interesting departures from the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 is the deletion of the phrase “public utility services”. Public utility covered services like railways, ports, power, water, sanitation and posts and telegraphs, for which the old Act had a special place and specific protection, and a number of its provisions such as those related to conciliation were targeted at them. The most significant of these was that a worker in a public utility service could not go on strike without providing a notice for such strike. The Industrial Relations Code has now extended this for all establishments, and a worker now must provide notice before going on strike, irrespective of whether he works in a public utility service or not. The Old Industrial Disputes Act provided that no employer in a public utility service could lock out his workers without providing notice. This obligation to provide notice now applies to the employer in a non-public utility service as well, the benefit accorded earlier only to a public utility service now broad-based across industry.
The decades-old definition of the word “strike” also took a modification from practice. The Industrial Relations Code specifically considers 50% of the workmen collectively applying for and staying away from work by resorting to mass casual leave on a given day as a strike, and the Industrial Relations Code becomes applicable to such an event as well.
The Industrial Relations Code obviously incorporates a lot more changes than what has been discussed above. Its importance lies in the fact that it seeks to codify years of labour law practice and also seeks to address concerns of both the worker and the employer, thus taking a holistic and a balanced view of their respective rights and obligations. The Industrial Relations Code will obviously undergo changes as practitioners put it to use and test its robustness, and also when new situations seeking redressal arise. To the extent it simplifies the law today, compliance of law should be a big gain for the country.
Joydev Sengupta is a practising lawyer, specialising in laws relating to supply chain financing, digital lending and payment systems. The views expressed are personal.
BIHAR MAY THROW UP A SURPRISE
Before the start of the Bihar elections, the view from New Delhi was that the incumbent alliance would make a comeback, more so with the Opposition in its usual state of disarray. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav had not been able to lead his party to a convincing showing in the 2019 general elections; the party was in disarray with Lalu Prasad Yadav behind bars and his heirs squabbling over who is in-charge. There were also some very high-profile defections from the RJD to the JD(U). And most important, while Nitish Kumar had bungled over the way he handled the reverse migration of workers returning to their home state during lockdown, Tejashwi had done little for them either. In fact, he was largely missing from the scene of action with some claiming he was in Delhi during lockdown. All in all, it did seem as if Nitish had the upper hand.
But then something changed. One only has to look at the large crowds that Tejashwi is drawing to figure out that this election is not going to be business as usual. The buzz and the on-ground enthusiasm make it clear that this is not a manufactured crowd. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this will be translated to votes or not. But what Tejashwi is trying to do is move away from the old combinations and voting patterns. For one, he was the first to talk about jobs, forcing even the BJP to do the same. It was Tejashwi who promised 10 lakh jobs annually in his manifesto. First, the BJP scoffed at it and later when it realised this was boomeranging, upped his offer by promising to create 19 lakh jobs annually. Even Tejashwi came up with a counter, telling the public how he planned to deliver on the 10-lakh figure by pointing out that four and a half lakh jobs for engineers, teachers, doctors are already lying vacant in the state so he has to create five and half lakh more to make good his promise. How does the BJP plan to deliver on its promise? So far there are no answers, only announcements. In addition, the BJP’s promise of free vaccines for all has boomeranged with the Opposition wondering whether Bihar would get priority over the rest of the country? The problem here is the BJP is treating the vaccine as a sop aimed at a particular region or demographic, not realising perhaps that the vaccine is a global necessity that has to be distributed keeping a host of other compulsions in mind not just electoral ones.
Another interesting factor about Tejashwi’s campaign is that the RJD posters do not show pictures of either Lalu Yadav or Rabri Devi, two former chief ministers of the state. There is a reason for this. With as much as 58 percent of its population below 40 years, the youth in Bihar is more than the national average. If we talk of voters between 18 and 40, then their number comes to around 2.5 crore. Even if we just focus on the first-time voter, i.e. those between 18 and 23 years, then it’s a sizable 75 lakhs. This is a post-JP era generation, one that has not seen the Lalu raaj and will not be swayed by any emotional reminiscences. This generation is looking for jobs, stability and some may also vote along caste lines. This is the voter that Tejashwi is reaching out to. Which is also one reason he keeps harping on the 69-year-old Nitish Kumar’s age and asking about his retirement plans. As Archis Mohan, political commentator, pointed out on the NewsX show Roundtable recently, if you add both Chirag Paswan and Tejashwi Yadav’s combined age, you get 69.
Which brings me to the next question: Can the two combine their fortunes politically as well? We have heard speculation about Chirag tying up with the BJP to keep Nitish out. But if the numbers fall Tejashwi’s way, will Chirag tie up with the RJD? Certainly, both Chirag and Tejashwi have a cordial equation; can the two combine on a political platform? Well, there is a strong possibility that the real politicking will begin well after the ballot has been cast.
How India can break free of its shackles
India is like a big ship, where we have to ensure that all systems and sub-systems are in sync, i.e. institutions have been primed and public opinion prepared, before we start making any significant course correction.
So how do we break free of the many shackles created by vested interests and propagated by institutions controlled by them? How do we give power back to the masses and create an egalitarian society? Since the problems and setbacks are many, we will need to prioritise. The top priority has to be health, education, shelter and sanitation. These should be directly taken over by the governments, both at the Centre and in the states. Budgetary allocation must go up and the prevalent laissez faire must stop. These areas are not for ‘for profit’ ventures. The private sector can play a role, but under absolute control of the governments. There is no doubt that there are many genuine people who want to contribute in nation building. They must be provided space and due recognition. We, however, can no longer close our eyes to the misuse of opportunity by many others, which has been disastrous.
Simultaneously, we need to address the twin problems of reviving the economy and creating jobs. We need meaningful and productive jobs—jobs which provide self-worth. The way ahead is to integrate the masses with the mid and micro level enterprises, which should be seeded by the government, but run by small entrepreneurs, or the workers themselves. But this has failed in the past? No, it hasn’t. It was just not allowed to take root. Powerful trader lobbies saw more money in cheap imports rather than domestic manufacture. Legal frameworks and trade regulations were weak and failed to shield small entrepreneurs. We need to pursue this as a matter of state policy, working around obligations under WTO, etc. The private sector and captains of industry should be encouraged to play their pivotal role as prime movers of the economy but monopolies should be broken up. Remember how strongly it was argued that government monopoly in the airlines and telecom sector, to name just two, was hampering growth and efficiency? Well, we opened our skies and air waves and the results are for all to see. We either have NPAs and tycoons becoming fugitives, or cut-throat price wars moving towards creating new monopolies. The difference between making profit and profiteering is simple. The latter has to be rejected by law.
Let us bring in some more clarity. Production, which includes manufacturing, agriculture and construction, as well as education and healthcare, is the key to development. A handful of people have taken control of these functions by scaling up their activity to a level where common people have lost all control. Instead of catering to a segment of the population which is teaching itself how to disengage from reality, we need to focus on the masses whose basic needs are being denied? What are their needs? Apart from food, they need shelter, clothing, health, education, safe drinking water, electricity and connectivity. But they need money to buy these goods and services, which inevitably means that the deprived masses have to be integrated with the production process, so that they have disposable incomes to raise their standards of living. We have to think of projects at that level. We need to think of technology which can be operated by rural people to fulfil their own needs, without becoming dependent on urban based enterprises, which apart from destroying the environment, dehumanise the workers and expose them to exploitation. The time has come for us to relook at Gandhi’s concept of ‘trusteeship’. It has potential. We also need to look into works of thinkers like Ernst Friedrich Schumacher,who wrote his famous book Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as is People Mattered, were he talked of decentralised production and appropriate technology suited to the needs of the people who operate it.
Solutions to all our ills is to rely on the talents of our indigenous experts and entrust power to educated people, who should formulate policy under constant gaze of the people, either in committees or town hall style meetings or debates on media and finally of course in Parliament. If they take recourse to jargon and can’t explain themselves in simple terms, or take questions from the layman, they are not experts. No decisions should be taken behind closed doors. The people and institutions entrusted with powers will have to be watched constantly.
We need to ensure that jobs in production get the highest salaries, so that the best of our young population moves to these sectors. The services and allied sector—banking, finance, IT, law, media, entertainment, sports, accounting etc—should not be more remunerative than the production sector. Unless we set this right, we will keep on seeing engineers and doctors, and other highly trained professionals, being wasted in generalist or managerial jobs.
Let me wind up by pointing out a huge anomaly in our policy regarding terms of service, including salaries, of various sectors across our economic life. The solution to most of our problems could lie here. Let us divide all jobs into specialist jobs and generalist jobs. Thus engineers, doctors, educationists, agriculturists, scientists, etc, would fall in the first category while managers and administrators would come under the second. Professionals under the first category are the prime movers of economic activity and the second category is to service their activity. There is no role or need for the service sector unless we have robust and dynamic physical economic activity in the country. Once we accept this, we see that the remuneration systems are just up-side-down—jobs in the service sector provide better pay and perks than the production sectors. We need to ensure that jobs in production get the highest salaries, so that the best of our young population moves to these sectors. The services and allied sector—banking, finance, IT, law, media, entertainment, sports, accounting etc—should not be more remunerative than the production sector. Unless we set this right, we will keep on seeing engineers and doctors, and other highly trained professionals, being wasted in generalist or managerial jobs.
Finally, we should understand that change is a process and not an event. Witness how a speed boat is manoeuvred as compared to how a big ship changes course. India is like a big ship, where we have to ensure that all systems and sub-systems are in sync, i.e. institutions have been primed and public opinion prepared, before we start making any significant course correction. Think of someone turning a big ship fast and imagine the consequences.
The writer is an Indian civil servant and a former Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The views expressed are personal. This is the concluding article of the five-part series.
For real estate players there might be opportunity in the pandemic: Abdullah Hussain, Director, Amaltas India Limited
In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special segment NewsX A-list, Abdullah Hussain, Director of Amaltas India Limited talks about the real estate sector, business insights and his journey so far.
Talking about the key challenges for the real estate sector foreseen in a post COVID world, Hussain said “Right now we are sitting at post lockdown stage and not post COVID stage. So, the lockdown has its own impact on the real estate industry which will take its own time to recover. Firstly, we’ll talk about the financial bodies involved in this, and the need of time, for the real estate sector. For example, I would say that the moratorium period given by the financial institutions was not enough, the real estate demanded for at least 12 months of moratorium period. And unfortunately, the loan restart restructurings did not take place as they were.”
Other than the financial front Hussain shares about how the pandemic affected the sector, “There is a shift of new launches, even in our company, we had five or six projects which were to be launched in FY 20 but now we have shifted them in second half of FY 21. So, this is a very deep issue. We are disposing off our ready to move in properties at very low prices to sustain and manage this crisis. It is breaking the whole cash flow cycle.”
Hussain also addresses the issue of labour shortage and recovery, “the labour and shortage of construction material in this sector has also affected it adversely. So, these all issues combined have adversely affected real estate which would further take a lot of time to recover.”
The Amaltas Group is Bhopal’s premier real estate developer and Hussain throws light on some of the biggest opportunities for this sector in a post COVID world too. “For a few real estate players that might be opportunity time for them because there are lands and very cheap rates and there are many different opportunities like the demand and supply ratio. I feel it will accelerate post-COVID-19 because there is a sense of having a shifting from a rented property to having your own home. So there is a feeling of being more secure and that feeling of safety, developing and growing and everyone’s mind, so that will accelerate the real estate sector.”
Hussain also elaborated on affordable housing as a plus point, “Affordable housing might boom because the middle-aged and middle-class people already have their own home. So, this might make the youngsters to come up with an idea of having their own home and investing in affordable housing, rather than spending on their lifestyles and apart from that We have also got some relaxation home loans and reduction of interest rates, so this will again boost the real estate sector as the overall player essential role to uplift this sector.”
Hussain talks about his own brand and their multi ventures along with key products, “It is a very diversified form of business which is commodity as well as FMCG business. We came up with the idea of this amongst us about multi ventures in 2017. Our vision was that the market was booming at that time and we were doing quite well in Madhya Pradesh. The basic idea was to be in every household, and deliver our quality in every household so we have a variety of products. We have diversified things in terms of categories where we have home care and personal care as well as healthcare.”
On a concluding note, Hussain talks about his company’s role during the lockdown and Modi’s Make in India vision, “Our CSR team has done a lot in terms of distributing masks, sanitisers and food packets. There was a very patriotic feeling starting this company at that time. PM Narendra Modi Ji had a vision of Make in India and one more idea of which we had in mind, was to compete with international players with our brands. We are taking that venture while expanding our name with quality and helping people by generating more and more employment, and being more patriotic.”
COVID-19 DAMAGED CRICKET BUT THANK GOD FOR IPL: DAVE CAMERON
In an exclusive conversation with NewsX, the former president of the West Indies Cricket Board shares his insights about cricket, his journey, and what the sport endured during this pandemic.
Former president of the West Indies Cricket Board, Dave Cameron, assessed the effects of the global lockdown on cricket and said that the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) is a huge plus for cricket after six months of the pandemic.
About the damage, he said, “It’s been tremendous and enormous but, interestingly, cricket has weathered better than some other sports. England was able to play the National series, New Zealand will too shortly, but West Indies haven’t started any since the start of the pandemic, so that is damaging their finances and I suspect the same for South Africa and some of the smaller countries.” He continued, “Cricket has been damaged quite a bit but, thank God for the IPL. We are watching some excellent cricket, and I think it’s excellent because you have the best players in the world to play again.” Cameron mentioned that he expects to see India and Pakistan find a way to have Pakistani players playing the IPL too because they are some of the best in the world.
Talking about the status quo that cricket has been accustomed to in the last few decades and the kinds of changes needed, Cameron said, “What cricket needs is for the governing body to be the governing body and set rules and create opportunities for private investments. IPL is the brainchild of the BCCI and really flourishing because of all the private attendees who came because of the resources. They attract the best cricketers around the world.”
Sharing what he would do if he took on the mantle of ICC president, the former WICB president said, “Cricket must grow quicker around the world and the big countries should develop cricket alongside the smaller countries and be able to have their players and coaches make the biggest leagues around the world. That’s how we’re going to grow. We need to get the United States and those with huge markets on board, with private investors.”
Talking about the notion that most of the money that comes into cricket is only from a few countries, Cameron said that West Indies hasn’t gotten a single dollar for the particular tournaments mentioned and elaborated on his plan to change that. “Well, I don’t think things can change overnight. It will continue to come from the big countries with the big economies. For example, Europe can contribute to our coffers. The United States is a massive contributor to tournaments. I’m not advocating anything, but I believe these other tournaments in Europe are never going to smaller countries. The West is producing the kind of income simply because of the size of their economy. We should be able to see cricket, and not be paying massive retainers or international players. But I don’t. So, it is something that the board needs to sit down for. It’s not something I can walk in and get done overnight. Discussions should grow to this point,” he said.
Responding to how he would tackle allegations about Test cricket being sacrificed at the altar of T20, he said, “That is not anybody’s doing. It’s Generation Z which doesn’t want to take five days to consume the game. Again, I believe that there are certain countries’ geographies and they should just continue to play Tests. England, Australia, India, Bangladesh can play. But a Test match in the West Indies is a dead robot. There is not enough revenue or advertising sponsorships behind it to make this,” said Cameroon.
BE HONEST AND MOVE TOWARDS SOMETHING MEANINGFUL: MOHIT CHOBEY
Business leader and author Mohit Chobey joins NewsX for a special segment to talk about his journey and experience.
Mohit Chobey is a business leader, TEDx speaker, a competitor in the Ironman competition, and the writer of “1000 KMs to Leadership”. Starting with the story about his writing, he shared, “I have been informally writing, in terms of blogs, but I think the formal process of getting into authorship happened pretty recently. I had a plethora of writings, in which I had put together many of the experiences in terms of how I saw myself evolve as an individual, a human being, and the process of becoming an endurance athlete.”
Elaborating more on that experience, he said, “One of the most impactful events which happened to me was when I undertook this journey to South Africa, and participated in something called the Comrades Marathon. It’s more than 100 years old and the largest and possibly the biggest ultramarathon in the world with 90 km of distance (covered) over 12 hours.” “During the process, the way I evolved, I think the articulation of those feelings was something very difficult. Over the years, I kind of put together my thoughts, and eventually, it forced me to come out with a book—it is actually a series of three, this is just the first in the trilogy—called “1000 KMs to Leadership.”
Mohit comes from an Army background and reflects their resilience. “I think genetics always plays a role. The environment in which you’re brought up makes a difference for me too, since my father donned the uniform for 38 years, and I’ve been to some very interesting escapades and adventures along with him. He was a national-level hockey player and I think to that extent, at least, the athleticism and the sports element was ingrained in me. Very early in my life, sports became an integral part of me. So, it will be apt to say that it was part of my upbringing, which helped me become an athlete,” he shared.
Chobey added, “Some other traits which also developed because of the fact that I resided in different cities and went to different schools. That allows a certain amount of versatility and adaptability. And I think that helped me become a much better and stronger business leader and be able to manage situations much better.”
Thus, while growing up, Mohit Chobey was able to soak in the metropolises of India as well as get an insight into what rural India or Bharat is all about. Talking about the same, he said, “My first few years in the corporate world were with FMCG companies and they further ensured that my understanding of India was not limited to the metropolis, but to the last mile, to the hinterland and the villages. And it is a matter of fact, that this entity, this nation of ours, is actually a conglomeration of different aspects. You have to dive deep into it, dwell into it, to really get a holistic understanding of the nation. And I think, early in my career, that’s something which happened to me. I’m very grateful for that.”
Not too many knew of the Ironman competition before Milind Soman completed it. Involving a 3.8-kilometre swim, typically in open water, followed by a 180-kilometre bike ride and culminating in a full marathon of 42.2 kilometres, the challenge covers an overall distance of 226 kms, in anywhere between 15 and a half to 17 hours, depending on the terrain. “For me, I think the trigger point came after I became a fairly serious endurance athlete in the running space. I was exposed to the idea of Ironman and, as I believe challenges help us evolve as individuals, this is something which I was really looking forward to. I knew it was not really my domain, because swimming in the open water takes you into a different level altogether. I’ve tried to capture some elements of it in my second book, but the challenge is something which I thrive on,” said Mohit.
Mohit Chobey is also a business leader and has been a TEDx speaker too. He also ended up writing an article on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “It’s called ‘Opportunity in Adversity’. Too many times we end up getting so overwhelmed by the change in fortunes and situations that we do not see the opportunity which it presents. To put it into perspective, I could come up with my book because of Covid. I’m not undermining the kind of global impact it has had. The fact of the matter is: It created a certain time availability,” he shared.
WHAT’S UNDERMINING BUREAUCRACY AND MEDIA?
If the political and the corporate system are not delivering, what about the permanent civil service? The biggest strength of the bureaucracy is that it comes through a transparent selection process and has amongst the best minds in the country. Bureaucrats have a secure working span of 30 to 35 years and can therefore think in the long term. All of them, when they appeared before the UPSC, professed a desire to serve the people. They claimed that their motivation to join the government was to take the benefits of development to the poorest. Some of them could have lied but certainly not all. The bureaucracy runs the government and has the executive powers to enforce the law. They are not just for programme implementation, regulation and compliance but are also mandated to protect the interests of the weakest—who are undeniably an equal owner of the country’s natural resources. They have to build and sustain public institutions, not mindlessly support outsourcing. They should be working on capacity building, improving the quality of products and services in the MSME sector, setting up technology incubation centres, skilling, re-skilling and strengthening the health, education, sanitation and training infrastructure to energise small industrial units. Instead we see that even the regulatory role of the bureaucracy is getting compromised.
What is undermining the bureaucracy? I am not getting into the subject of administrative and police reforms, etc. Here the question is why bureaucracy alone is targeted for corruption? True, we have seen how corruption undermines peoples’ trust in the bureaucracy and it has to be put down. The mechanisms to do so are available; we need the will to go forth. There are checks which work. All government decisions are subject to oversight by Parliament and statutory audit by an autonomous constitutionally mandated CAG; RTI queries, public disclosure and judicial review are other powerful deterrents. While petty corruption has continued as always, the last few decades have seen big corruption at higher levels. All these cases are linked to corporate entities, which have thrived under opaque decision making. They waste shareholder wealth on lavish lifestyles, questionable deals and hide behind an audit system which is on their own pay rolls. Their business decisions are vetted by an amorphous body of shareholders, financial institutions and promoters, who steam roll decisions in their personal interest. Notice how all cases of big corporate corruption were unearthed only when public servants and public financial institutions were probed. It was the oversight in the public sector which exposed the rot in the private sector, even leading to the recent fall of a government. The message is clear if we want to root out corruption, we must subject the private sector to the same kind of scrutiny as the public sector. All decisions, except on matters of national security, should, by law, be open to public scrutiny. Let us bite the bullet and see the dawn of a new India.
Talking of media, a lot has been written about their falling standards and there is no point dwelling further on the same. The crux of the matter is that information and questioning are the basis of democracy. The stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Only intelligent people can ask questions, while the others can be led like sheep through fake news and propaganda. Educated people are a threat to totalitarian regimes. Bhagat Singh, before he went to the gallows in his mid-twenties, was reading the works of Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Upton Sinclair, Friedrich Engels, Louis Tennyson and Rabindranath Tagore while in Jail. Apart from his daring exploits, it will not be wrong to believe that his intellect was considered a greater threat by the colonialists, even when he was so young? Therein lies the role of media.
Propaganda and fake news have traditionally been considered to be tools of non-conventional warfare. You use it in adversary nations to exploit their fault lines, to sow dissension and create confusion with the objective of undermining unfriendly regimes. You never ever use it within your own country. The final prey of propaganda, if used within a country, is always the regime itself which starts believing its own fake claims and loses touch with reality. It is like setting up terror groups to wage war against unlawful organisations inside the country. The groups eventually turn on the creator. Let us also remember that if the media becomes too compliant and keeps projecting the regime’s version for too long, it eventually loses credibility and then there is no vehicle left to carry the truth. The way to correct wrong perceptions of the past is through informed debate and not through fake claims. Intelligent people on either side have to establish their claims through facts and reason—that has been our tradition of shastrarth. Pushing false narratives to a gullible and poorly educated public is not in the long-term interest of the nation. We need thinking people, not compliant masses.
News is now dictated by interests of the promoters and handouts by interested parties are published without even the minimum effort to check their veracity. Having said all this, it remains a fact that some of the brightest and most well-read men and women are connected to this field. Some may have ideological reasons, but most can easily discern what is happening around them. We have seen some senior columnists make a course correction in their analytical writings. Truth purifies the soul and gives the opportunity to start again. The idea is not to start ranting where you were fawning but to bring public discourse back to the reality. While professional bodies can exercise checks on their members, the longer-term solution is to have a mandatory disclosure of ownership and funding of all media enterprises.
The writer is an Indian civil servant and a former Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The views expressed are personal. This is the fourth of a five-part series that will appear over a period of time.
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