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Do we need a new Parliament complex?

It would be best not to commission a new and larger Parliament building without anticipating the consequences of a drastically enlarged membership on the functioning of the Houses.

PRIYADARSHI DUTTA

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A new triangle-shaped Parliament building lies at the heart of Modi government’s dream project to redesign the Central Vista in the national capital. Since transparency is not a forte of the redevelopment project, its particulars are not reliably known. There is neither any official website, nor any brochure published by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs containing authentic details. Even the Parliament Questions on the subject elicited only vague replies. This is possibly because its details are still being worked out as Dr Bimal Patel, the chief architect of the project, informed in a presentation before a select audience on 24 January 2020. The presentation titled “Transforming Central Vista, New Delhi” has since then been hosted on YouTube by CEPT University through its official handle.

The project envisages concentration of “all offices of Central Government Secretariat at one place and improve the Central Vista as a world class public place” (Vide reply to Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.762 February 6, 2020). Whether a tighter integration of legislature and executive is desirable from symbolic and strategic points of view is a matter of opinion. Dr Patel, in his presentation and interviews, says that the future expansion (of membership) of the House of People (Lok Sabha) is the principal reason behind commissioning a new Parliament building. The planned building would have a sitting capacity of more than one thousand members of the Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha is likely to be enlarged, in accordance with Article 82 of the Constitution, after the moratorium extended by the Constitution (Eighty Fourth) Amendment Act, 2001 ceases in effect.

The Article 82 entails that the legislative map of India should be redrawn every 10 years based on the result of the decennial Censuses. Since the population of India, on the whole, would increase, the total number of seats would follow suit. However, the relative strengths of states in the House might change every 10 years. In the First Lok Sabha there were 401 parliamentary constituencies, representing 26 Indian states. However, there being some multi-member constituencies the number of elected members were 489. By Sixth Lok Sabha (1977-80), the number of seats has gone up to 542 representing as many constituencies. Thereafter the temporary freeze came into effect with the enforcement of the Constitution (Forty Second) Amendment Act, 1976. There was an increase of a lone elected seat in Eighth Lok Sabha (1984-89), after which there had been a status quo.

As the freeze was about to expire with Census, 2001 the then Vajpayee government responded by enacting the Constitution (Eighty Fourth) Amendment Act, 2001. This legislation extended the moratorium till such times as the results of the first Census taken after the year 2026 were published.

What forced the hands of Vajpayee government was the opinion divide across the Vindhyas. The northern states were perceived to gain seats at the cost of southern states due to their divergent responses to family planning. It was dilemmatic whether the southern states should be penalised for following family planning norms, and northern states rewarded for flouting them. The 84th amendment defused the immediate crisis. There is, however, no reason to believe that it would not resurface whenever the exercise to expand the Lok Sabha is renewed. States obeying family planning norms would be penalised and those ignoring them rewarded. Hence the proportion of seats between states may need to remain constant in accordance with the federal principle.

Any expansion of the Lok Sabha, undertaken after 50 years, might push its membership in the neighbourhood of one thousand. Former President Pranab Mukherjee had actually proposed raising the membership to one thousand at a public event last December. It is true that India’s population has approximately doubled from 68.4 crore (excluding Assam) in 1981 Census to an estimated 137 crore in 2019, whereas the number of seats in the Lok Sabha has remained fixed. In first Lok Sabha, an average MP (LS) represented 7.26 lakh of Indian citizens (1951 Census found population of India to be 36.10 crore and seats in House were 497). In the current 17th Lok Sabha, an average MP (LS) represents 22.29 lakh of Indian citizens (2011 Census put India’s population at 121 crore, whereas the elected seats in the House are 543).

The cost of maintaining one thousand MPs could be prohibitive. Whether the cost of conducting and fighting elections will also escalate is speculative. No doubt, the number of official party candidates will shoot up. However, an increase in the number of LS constituencies will not automatically lead to an increase in the number of aggregate electors or increased requirement of EVM-VVPATs, etc.

The problem the resultant Lok Sabha will face is one of time management. Much thought will need to be directed at managing the enlarged House both in times of order and otherwise. Parliament currently remains in session, non-continuously, for three and half months during a calendar year. Imagine the increased requirement of time to accommodate members of a new Lok Sabha in Question Hour/Short duration discussion/Budget discussion/Passage of Bills/Raising Matters of Public Importance/Calling Attention Motion/Private Members Bills/Issues Raised during Zero Hour, etc. The sessions might extend to five, if not six, months, preventing MPs from attending their own constituencies. The new members, if they had been elected, could not be stopped from participating in the proceedings. At present time restrictions are strictly adhered to only in the matter of Question Hour and Issues Raised under Rule 377. Otherwise whether it is short duration discussion, or passage of a bill, time limits are honoured more in the breach than in observation. In the two last mentioned items time is allocated to political parties rather to individual members. However, long lists of members that parties submit to the Speaker’s office, is like making a tent out of handkerchief. The load on the staff-deficient ministries and departments will also rise due to increased number of Parliament Questions, which are to be replied within 15 days.

An MP (LS) represents people of the constituency as a whole, not any specific collection of individuals. He/ she should pitch in for policies and programmes that benefit the constituency in entirety. Therefore, it is arguable whether number of MPs should increase because population has increased. It might actually lead to more taxation on the masses. There is, therefore, a strong case to make the freeze on standing strength of the Lok Sabha permanent.

The writer is an author and independent researcher based in New Delhi. The views expressed herein are his personal.

Opinion

TIME FOR INDIA TO START FORMALISING RELATIONS WITH TAIWAN

Joyeeta Basu

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The One China policy is a drag. It is India’s interests that should determine its foreign policy and not the burden of history when a non-visionary leader hurriedly put his stamp on One China. Following this policy for seven decades has not helped India develop a stable relationship of mutual cooperation and understanding with China.

Amid unconfirmed reports that India could be pursuing a trade pact with Taiwan, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has asked New Delhi not to forget the “one China principle”, according to which the island nation of Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Beijing also reminded New Delhi that this principle is “the political basis for China to develop ties with other countries”. The statement was the latest in a series of gratuitous “advice” that Beijing has been offering not only to New Delhi but also to the Indian media about Taiwan. This tone is expected to get shriller and threatening once a possible trade pact is taken out of the realm of speculation and given shape. It is hoped that such threats will be ignored, considering India has started thinking of its own interests for a change, instead of worrying about angering China. Any such pact will mark an important step towards formalising relations at the government to government level between India and Taiwan, and could be the meeting ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen’s New Southbound Policy, which aims to enhance trade and cooperation with countries in South East Asia and South Asia. That the two countries have started giving a lot of importance to the relationship is apparent from the senior level appointments that the two have been making at their respective offices in the two countries. Taiwan’s last representative in New Delhi, Tien Chung-kwang, was made Deputy Foreign Minister of his country after his India stint. India-Taiwan relations have a lot of potential since Taiwan is a technological powerhouse, apart from being a good listening post for all that is happening in China. Strategically too, as part of the first island chain, Taiwan is an important line of defence against an expansionist China. Amid this, the One China policy is a drag. It is India’s interests that should determine its foreign policy and not the burden of history when a non-visionary leader hurriedly put his stamp on One China. Following this policy for seven decades has not helped India develop a stable relationship of mutual cooperation and understanding with China. Moreover, accepting One China policy means, by implication, accepting China’s position on Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims to be its own—and now even Ladakh. Who knows where this will stop, especially if, as consensus is building that China is eyeing to control the whole of the Himalayas with the intention of controlling the water there and choking India, so that the latter does not pose any threats to its ambitions in Asia. Being sensitive to China’s concerns has not got India anything except for Doklam and Galwan, apart from the constant threat of war hanging on its head. In fact the kind of aggressive rhetoric emanating from Beijing is bizarre. It’s strange that a world leader of Xi Jinping’s stature will ask his troops to start preparing for war. Which responsible leader uses such rhetoric? But then Xi’s China has got away with murder, literally—the murder of hundreds of thousands of people by unleashing the Wuhan virus on the world. And if the world does not stand up to it, Xi’s China may think it will get away by pushing countries such as India into a war as well.

This being the situation, it is heartening to see winds of change blowing through the corridors of India’s rather circumspect foreign policy establishment. It appears to be acquiring the much needed edge, keeping with the requirements of the time. If it were business as usual, Australia would not have got the invitation to participate in the Malabar Exercise, much to the chagrin of China. It is hoped, now that Mike Pompeo is visiting India a week ahead of the Presidential election in the United States, substantial progress will be made in the signing of the third and final foundational agreement needed for deeper India-US military cooperation—Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which has been forever in the making. It is also hoped that some movement will be made towards the formalisation of the Quad. It’s only a united world that can tackle the Chinese Communist bully. India seems to have woken up to this reality—as long as it does not flatter to deceive.

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Why India fails to have an industrial renaissance

Most of our graduates are becoming coders for the software industry. Even our ITI-trained turners and fitters refuse to work on the shop floor. Should we blame them? No, not as long as a stock broker earns more than an engineer, typing code is mistaken for technology and governments do not amend antique labour and land laws.

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In a country which invests barely 3% of its GDP in education, we have education departments buying smartboards, tablets and smartphones, when they can’t even pay salaries to their teachers. Why do we need tutoring apps for children? With different types of tutoring, education will no longer be a means for upward social mobility. True education has to be through personal interaction and we are being stupid falling prey to these apps, which can prepare students for examinations and tests but not for life. 

A large portion of our economic growth in the last four decades has been in the services sector, predominantly the IT sector. Barring some of the large companies, most IT startups are platforms for aggregation of services, which essentially produce nothing. Their claim to bring in efficiency and provide services at cheaper rates actually pushes down the earnings and wages of the workers, forcing them to work on inhuman terms, while at the same time cutting into the profit margins of enterprises engaged in real, physical economic activity. The question here is: Who are these cheaper prices for? Is it really for the people who can afford to pay more, even at the cost of fair wages and humane working conditions for the deprived? It is the latter who need more money, to buy more and kick-start the economy. A little redundancy is actually good. It not only generates jobs, but it also ensures better conditions for our working people.

Do we know who bears the cost of frauds in the banking sector? While financial institutions aim to cut their transaction costs by employing less people, the cost of frauds is transferred to the customers who end up paying larger processing charges and get lower rates of interest on their deposits. Once again, we are pushing more money into the hands of those who have enough and grabbing it from the smaller man whose job has been taken away under the guise of technology. Worse, there is a whole new breed of criminal entrepreneurs who make insane amounts of money by compromising sensitive data and communications. In the US, companies are now quietly paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars to organisations that trace, negotiate and settle stolen money. Security frameworks are becoming more difficult with cloud services bringing in enormous complexity and security challenges. It has become a scary war of wits between nation states and crime syndicates playing for big bucks. The criminals invest unimaginable amounts of money in finding vulnerabilities and writing algorithms to break passwords and even compromise OTPs.

In a country which invests barely 3% of its GDP in education, we have education departments buying smartboards, tablets and smartphones, when they can’t even pay salaries to their teachers. Why do we need tutoring apps for children? With different types of tutoring, education will no longer be a means for upward social mobility. True education has to be through personal interaction and we are being stupid falling prey to these apps, which can prepare students for examinations and tests but not for life. 

Am I against technology? No, I am only saying that we have to be awake and clear about our priorities. Our priority today is to create jobs for millions, not to bring in technology to enrich a few. Yes, we must master the latest technology but also use it judiciously for high-end research and innovation, not for reducing jobs and making people poorer.

When it comes to innovation, my first observation is that all the major inventions and discoveries like electricity, telephony, the internal combustion engine, thermionic valve, transistor, LCD, LED, etc, had been made before the 1960s came to an end. Since then, the game has been to scale up processor speeds and integration to keep increasing computing power. New research is expensive and time-consuming and, with state funding drying up, meaningful research has taken the back seat. The result is that we are seeing more applications than inventions and discoveries. 

There is also the growing realisation that these technologies, if you can call them that, are playing havoc with social equilibrium. Countries are concerned over the concentration of power in the hands of companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. What is also worrisome is that IT and social networking are perpetuating stereotypes, reinforcing perceptions and prejudices, instead of challenging them. Emerging infotech is fuelling global inequality, while increasing social tension and dividing humans into hostile camps. They are doing a tremendous disservice by pushing people into pigeonholes where they can be classified and controlled. 

It is sad to see that many of our bright engineers can only think of apps when considering ideas for startups. The super efficiency promised by these apps is a chimera—it is bad for society. Can we use human-scale technology, in sync with nature, without being obsessed with efficiency? Fair wages for employees, humane working conditions, social security, education, health and shelter for the families have to be a part of the human cost, not forgetting a component of leisure, recreation and upgrading of skills. Check why American farmers are increasingly opting for old-fashioned tractors, like the John Deere Model D of 1923, instead of modern fuel-efficient models. They want machines which are simpler to maintain with no proprietary software and expensive spares. Also, we can no longer shut our eyes to the ecological damage, destruction of biodiversity, fatal addictions, malnutrition, organ damage, violent conflicts, inhuman working conditions, suppression of wages and profiteering which are being normalised by many oil companies, pharmaceuticals, fast food chains, armaments, financial institutions and rating agencies.

We have world-class technology institutes. They should be leading an industrial renaissance. But instead of that, 80% of our graduates are becoming coders for the software industry. Even our ITI-trained turners and fitters refuse to work on the shop floor. Should we blame them? No, not as long as a stock broker earns more than an engineer, typing code is mistaken for technology and governments do not amend antique labour and land laws. A correction here can be a game-changer. I am reminded of how Bajaj Auto emerged as a world leader in building the 100-cc engine motorcycle. They started by offering more attractive packages than the software-wallahs to suitable students from good engineering colleges. These were students with a passion for engineering. Bajaj Auto built a formidable R&D capability with these engineers and, together with TVS and Hero, they are now global leaders in the motorcycle market. We also saw how Sundram Fasteners became one of the top ancillary manufacturers for General Motors and Mukand became a major stainless steel manufacturer. There are many such stories of what can be achieved if leaders in positions of authority can get the big picture. Let us do it now.

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 third of a five-part series that will appear over a period of time.

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Opinion

The crisis of credibility facing Indian media

The phenomenal growth of the media in India, including the unregulated arena of social media, has brought with it a significant decline in accountability and reliability. A solution to this lies perhaps in the setting up of a new Media Commission.

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The media in India is facing an unprecedented crisis of credibility. Its exponential growth coupled with diminishing accountability has underlined the urgent need to draw up an agenda in the current scenario for the media to fulfil its constitutional obligations.

The media has a crucial role in promoting democratic and social values, waging a crusade against aberrations and imperfections in the polity and strengthening the edifice of democracy and ensuring good governance.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression, empowers the media to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner. But the moot question in today’s context is about who will define the “public interest” and whether the media can be goaded to follow any selective interpretation of this phrase.

The government and regulatory mechanisms like the Press Council of India (PCI) think it imperative that the media learn to differentiate between matters of “interest to the public” and “those in public interest”, remaining unbiased not only in covering latest developments in political, social and economic fields but also in highlighting the real issues agitating the masses, such as economic disparities, social discrimination, gender inequalities, child abuse, sanitation, environment, poverty, unemployment, education and healthcare, rather than thriving on non-issues.

But this “imperative” too can’t be enforced either by law or through an executive order. The right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) is limited by the “reasonable restrictions” contained under Article 19(2) on eight vital grounds on which laws can be made. But Article 19(2) in no way takes away the right of the media to promote its own interests within these reasonable restrictions, especially in this era of liberalisation.

In Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India, the Supreme Court held that freedom of press entitles the media to achieve any volume of circulation and freedom, both in its circulation and content.

In the landmark case of Sakal Papers v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution permits the imposition of reasonable restrictions only within the grounds expressly stated within Article 19(2). These include security of state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; decency or morality; contempt of court; defamation; incitement to an offence; and sovereignty and integrity of India.

The apex court opined that if a law does not fall within these grounds and abridges the right to freedom of speech and expression, then it is liable to be declared void.

Several professional bodies, including the Editors’ Guild of India, are seriously concerned about the behaviour of a section of the media and the inevitable fall out of all this is that “others” now seek to regulate. The media industry too is not oblivious of the tremendous pressures to self-regulate and set its house in order.

The NDA government has been adopting a very cautious approach in dealing with the highly sensitive Indian media. So far it appears to favour persuasion rather than the imposition of statutory regulation in any form. Even the previous UPA government had been unhappy about a “free-for-all” in the name of free media.

Lord Denning, a famous British judge, in his famous book, Road to Justice, observed that the “press is the watchdog and that even the watchdog may sometimes break loose and has to be punished for misbehaviour”.

The government, which sometimes appears eager to rein in the media, may like to study the report of the Lord Justice Leveson public inquiry which was set up by then British Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the infamous phone hacking scandal. The Justice Leveson public inquiry was asked to look into phone hacking and police bribery by the News of the World. It alsoconsidered the culture, practices and ethics of the wider British media. The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World was found involved in the phone hacking scandal, which rocked the British government and jolted public opinion across the world. Several high-profile heads rolled when the story behind the scandal unfolded. The Justice Leveson inquiry recommended a statutory independent regulatory mechanism with powers to enforce its decisions on the media in all its manifestations. The report castigated the British media for its behaviour which it said often “wreaked havoc” in the lives of innocent people. 

The Indian media has also often drawn flak from various quarters for “sensationalism” and “trivialisation”. Intemperate language used by some politicians and social activists reflecting their gender and community bias has invariably underlined the need for the media to scrupulously avoid devoting precious time and space to “non-issues” which may be of interest to certain segments of the society but do not serve the public interest.

Several professional media bodies have been pressing for the setting up of a Media Commission on the lines of the First Press Commission and the Second Press Commission for an extensive review of the entire media industry. The proposed Media Commission may recommend, among other things, the setting up of a Media Council of India, replacing the existing Press Council, which has the mandate to regulate only print media. The jurisdiction of the proposed Media Council may include all types of media—print, electronic and the Internet/social media. But the idea has failed to take off in the face of stiff resistance from the industry.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), a private association of different current affairs and news television broadcasters in India, and the Indian Newspapers Society (INS), representing the print media industry, for long have enjoyed considerable clout in the corridors of power. Together they have been lobbying hard against the setting up of a Media Commission which may review the functioning of all segments of the media and address other important issues including cross-media ownership, paid news syndrome, press-politician relationship, monopolistic TV rating points, concentration of advertisement, the wage structure for employees in the media industry, etc.

The first Press Commission set up by the Nehru government in 1952 looked into the control, management and ownership, the financial structure as well as other aspects of the newspaper industry. It recommended the appointment of the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), setting up of a Press Council of India and the enactment of the Working Journalists’ Act, besides other things. The Second Press Commission was set up by the Janata Party government, headed by Morarji Desai, in 1978. The Commission in its report wanted the media to play a responsible role in the development process. The Press Council of India was reconstituted as per recommendations of the Second Press Commission.

The media industry, both electronic and print, would like us to believe that the question as to how the media can and should focus its enormous strength and reach on developmental reporting and positive news interests could be addressed only through self-regulation. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is India’s apex organization of television broadcasters. It promotes the interests of the Indian television industry and provides a meeting ground to ensure that its members work in consensus to achieve common goals and have a common platform to air grievances and arrive at solutions. The IBF has adopted a programme code. It has empowered the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) to impose fines on TV channels found violating the programme code.

A few channels have already been faced with financial penalty for screening obscene content and directed to tender an on-screen apology for violating the programme code. The BCCC has also been regularly issuing advisories to TV channels cautioning them about their content, particularly depicting victims of incidents of rape and acid attacks on women and girls, stereotyping of women in general and the portrayal of minority communities. But all these measures on self-regulation appear “clumsy” and the paradigm of self-regulation needs to be strengthened by reviewing this model.

It is a catch-22 situation. Self-regulation without a statutory binding to enforce it among all the players of the game will be a half-hearted attempt to make the TV channels accountable to the people. And any legal framework would be rejected by the industry as violating the right to freedom of speech and expression. A way out has to be found for an effective and smooth functioning of the media as a potent weapon to strengthen Indian democracy. And then there is the phenomenal growth of the unregulated social media with the potential to breach privacy, create social disorder and pose a threat to national security.

An answer lies perhaps in the setting up of a Media Commission (another Press Commission) for a fresh look at the whole gamut of media functioning in India. It is the need of the hour. It may be headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court of India and its findings binding on all the stakeholders. The proposed Media Commission may recommend a truly representative statutory Media Council in place of the existing Press Council. The proposed Media Council may encompass the media in all its dimensions with adequate provisions to enforce strict vigilance and discipline.

It may be possible sooner than later. What is required is a powerful public opinion in its favour and a strong political will on the part of our lawmakers.

The writer is a senior journalist and currently a part-time member of the Prasar Bharati Board. The views expressed are personal.

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IT’S NOT JUST POLITICAL, IT’S ALSO PERSONAL

Priya Sahgal

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The state of Bihar is all set to go to the polls next month but equally there is another interesting battle that will take place around the same time. This is the slew of bypolls slated for 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh where the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government rules with a wafer-thin majority. Of these 28 seats the BJP needs 9 seats to cross the halfway mark on its own; and just two seats to continue in government with the help of its current allies: Currently, the BJP has 107 seats in the 230-strong Assembly. It also has the support of four Independents, two BSP MLAs and one suspended SP MLA. Since these are fickle allies who will switch sides with anyone who has the numbers, the BJP is keen to get a simple majority on its own and is targeting nine seats at the very least. For a government in the saddle, that is not too difficult an ask.

But the Opposition led by former CM Kamal Nath seems surprisingly confident, though the Congress has a much more difficult task. After Jyotiraditya Scindia defected to the BJP with his faction, the party is now reduced to 88 seats. Ideally it should win all 28 to cross the halfway mark, but even if it wins around 20 odd seats, it is confident of wooing away some of the smaller allies and independent MLAs from the BJP to wrest back the government.

However, this is not the twist in the tale for until now this is just a fight between an incumbent and a former Chief Minister. The story gets interesting when you add Scindia into the mix, for unlike Chauhan versus Nath which is a straightforward electoral battle, the Scindia versus Nath fight is very personal. Even before Scindia destabilised the Nath government, the two were rivals, for the former always saw himself as the rightful claimant to the CM’s chair while both Nath and Digviijaya Singh saw his as a bit of a pretender who whiled away his time in Delhi and only showed up to claim the prize. This interestingly is a turf war that dates back to Jyotiraditya’s father, the late Madhavrao Scindia’s time when Nath backed Digvijaya’s candidature as Chief Minister over Scindia senior’s claims in 1993.

These bypolls are as crucial for Jyotiraditya as they are for Shivraj and Kamal Nath. As many as 16 of the 28 bypoll seats are from the Gwalior-Chambal region, which is touted as his stronghold. The BJP tickets have been given to the Congress rebels who switched sides with him, thereby upsetting the BJP leaders in the area. Most of the thwarted BJP candidates have been accommodated by Nath, either within the Congress or they have his support as independents. According to senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai, “Nath has deputed a party worker for every 20 voters, he has a band of two lakh fifty thousand workers for these 28 bypolls.” This is the same formula he had used to win the 2018 state polls as well, taking on Amit Shah’s panna pramukh model with his own.

Since Scindia has not yet been accommodated in the Modi cabinet, a lot will depend on how he performs at the ground level. The cabinet reshuffle at the Centre is slated to take place after the Bihar and MP elections. And apart from Nath, he also has to take on the discontent within the state BJP which is not too happy to have ‘Maharajah’ thrusted upon them. Both the PM and the Home Minister are staying out of the bypolls, preferring to focus their energies on the Bihar elections. This leaves the field clear for the state BJP which recently came out with a star campaigners list that had Jyotiraditya as low as Number 10 with others like V.D. Sharma (state BJP chief) and Narender Singh Tomar above him. The message is not lost on those who recall that when he was with the Congress, Scindia headed the campaign committee. Equally telling is the fact that Scindia’s face is not there amongst the official BJP posters.

For Nath too, the stakes are high. This could be his last shot at relevance for one is not sure if the Congress would project him as the CM candidate in the next state elections due in 2023. He knows this and has been working hard throughout the lockdown. His team seems confident of winning at least twenty of these bypolls. and though there are WhatsApp videos being circulated by the Scindia camp to show the empty seats at Nath’s rallies, the latter’s supporters point out that these are seats at the fag-end of the tent and that too during corona times. They instead talk of his confident body language and the fact that he is leading the campaign from the front. And there are also WhatsApp videos of Scindia being greeted with Murdabad cries that are in circulation, only one is not sure whether these are from the Congress or sent by his newfound BJP colleagues.

And so while the media focus is on the Bihar polls, there is an equally interesting and high voltage battle being fought in Madhya Pradesh with the theatre of action being the Gwalior-Chambal region

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A Requiem for a daughter !

Surendra Kumar

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Satyameva Jayate! Truth alone triumphs! This line is inscribed on the national emblem. It means what it says. But is this true today? Which is the real truth? The one seen by us, the bystanders? The truth captured by cameras? The truth as experienced by the victim? The truth as narrated by the perpetrators? Or the truth as manufactured by the authorities? The truth as presented by the spin doctors to save the guilty? Are there multiple versions of truths on account of play of Maya? Why should truth be wrapped in mystery? Why should it unravel in so many facets as the murder in Kurosawa’s masterpiece Rasoman? Or truth is like an onion, as one peels off layers after layers; one inhales pungent smell and gets tears in eyes but find nothing! Or truth is like an elephant that eight blind persons try to describe by touching different parts?

Well, truth is always one.Those who want to present it, describe it as they see it: seeing is believing! But those who want to hide it for their own reasons, obfuscate facts; rather manufacture facts to weaken the case of the victim and strengthen the case of the perpetrator!

A rape is the most heinous crime against women. It’s humiliating and traumatizing beyond words. Dalit women are raped in rural India at will and left to die as they are most vulnerable. Their complaints aren’t registered in normal course, they are pressured & threatened of dire consequences including harm to their families which are intimidated, manipulated and offered monetary swap for hushing the case. The men in khaki and other investigating agencies have no interest in getting to the bottom of a case; unearth the truth and getting the culprits punished .Their modus operandi and whole narrative unfolds as per the directives of their Puppeteers: Political masters.

And political masters’ entire endeavour is to protect their supporters, save their skin, save their kursi and save the image of their party and garner political mileage  even out of a rape case. Finding truth is farthest from their minds.

A rape is not a rape as there is no evidence. Advocates of this theory disregard the known reality that vaginal evidence of rape can’t be found after 12 days. Dying declaration is deliberately ignored. All chances of recovery of any forensic evidence are burnt in wee hour cremation of the dead body of the rape victim. What could be crueler than stopping a wailing mother from seeing the face of her dead daughter?

Political leaders who could do nothing to save the rape victim descend at her village, squat on the ground with family, shed some crocodile tears, mouth some practiced platitudes demand the dismissal of the Govt of the state. Those who show much stronger solidarity are booked under draconian laws and accused of receiving funds from abroad and hob knobbing with the enemies of the nation & declared anti-national!

When a Nirbhaya is raped in Delhi, it shakes the whole nation, a slew of laws are enacted .The courts continue their proceedings at snail’s speed; the Rapists are eventually punished after 12 years! But the rapists of the Dalit Nirbahya of Hathras might never be punished as there was allegedly no rape! Even if it was proved, who cares? After all, she was a Dalit !

In the meanwhile, we continue shouting from the roof top: Vasudhaiva kutumbkam!  Mera Bharat Mahan!

Beti bachao! beti padao! 

The author, a former Ambassador, writes on political and strategic affairs.

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Partisan talk by MPs internationally not helping

Joyeeta Basu

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Members of Parliament, when they are speaking at international platforms, should paint a fair picture of their country to an audience that is unlikely to know much about the ground reality. This applies to even Opposition MPs, who should try to appear impartial, instead of coming across as partisan and intent on scoring points against the government of the day. As else, in the process, they may go on to denigrate their own country. When an MP from the world’s most populous democracy addresses an international audience, he or she adds legitimacy to the claims he/she is making. The problem starts when such claims are outrageous, divisive and may instigate the gullible into taking action. 

Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, who is MP from Hyderabad, was recently reported to have made wild charges of pogrom of Muslims in India at a conference named “The Stories of Muslims Lynched and Oppressed under the Hindutva Regime”, organised by an Islamist outfit, Islamic Society of North America. So an Indian lawmaker claimed of minority oppression in his country from an Islamist platform and added muscle to the narrative of “oppressive” India, without bothering about the effect this might have on the radicalised, who may take it as a cue to take to arms and disturb peace in this country. 

Moreover, the sub-text of such a message was in keeping with Jinnah’s Two-Nation theory— that Hindus and Muslims cannot stay together and that Muslims need a separate nation to survive. In fact, this divisive message was at the core of the Thiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor’s recent speech to a Pakistani audience as well. His language may not have been as “intemperate” as Owaisi’s, but to claim on a Pakistani platform that the Tablighi Jamaat “super spreader” event was used as a means “to justify open bigotry and discrimination against Muslims”, is not only to speak a blatant untruth, but also sends out a subliminal message justifying the partition of India and creation of Pakistan— that the Muslim community cannot be safe in a Hindu majority country.

 Ever since the Narendra Modi government has come to power, first in 2014 and then again in 2019, the forces arrayed against it have stitched up a narrative of intolerant India, with selective outrage over incidents of reprehensible violence against the minority community, thus trying to prove such incidents as the rule and not aberrations, which they are. This narrative has been sold globally by forces from within the country, so much so that USCIRF, in an outrageous move, has branded the world’s largest democracy as a “country of particular concern”, along with authoritarian powers and sham democracies such as China, North Korea and Pakistan. The intention of such propaganda is clear: to create enough doubts about India under PM Modi, so that it ultimately creates uncertainty and brings the country under attack at different fora—apart from hurting its prospect of attracting investments. 

The idea also is to scare the minorities with the propaganda that their existence is under threat, and thus create unrest, the way it happened after the passage of the CAA. It is in this context that Tharoor’s use of words such as “bigotry” and “discrimination” has to be seen—they are part of the larger narrative that the outof-power has been building. However, the flippant use of such words is best avoided, for they do not reflect the reality on the ground. It is also ironic that these words were uttered on a Pakistani platform—a country whose minorities have almost ceased to exist, unlike in India, where their population is burgeoning. 

Parliamentarians are expected to show better sense than this, and this applies to both sides of the political divide. In this context, a quick mention must be made of Farooq Abdullah. It is sad to see a veteran Parliamentarian, a former Cabinet Minister with Government of India and a former Chief Minister of an Indian state screaming “China” from the rooftops, seeking its intervention in the matter of Article 370! Surely someone like him can be more responsible in what he says. Words have repercussions and should be uttered with care.

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