Hailing the passage of the OBC Bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it underscored his government’s commitment to ensuring dignity, opportunity and justice to the marginalised sections. “Passage of the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021 in both Houses is a landmark moment for our nation. This Bill furthers social empowerment. It also reflects our government’s commitment to ensuring dignity, opportunity and justice to the marginalised sections,” the PM said, in a tweet. The power of States and Union Territories to make their own OBC lists for the purpose of reservation in jobs and educational institutes has been restored. Once the Bill becomes an Act, it will help 671 communities, that in effect tantamount to about one-fifth of the total OBCs in the country, as per reports. Basically,the 127th Amendment Bill seeks to restore powers to States to notify backward classes, bypassing an earlier May 5, 2021 verdict of the Supreme Court which allowed only the Centre to notify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs).
What was the Supreme Court’s May 5, 2021 verdict? In a categorical verdict, while hearing the Maratha quota issue, the Supreme Court had on May 5,2021 upheld the 102nd Constitutional Amendment, saying that the President, based on the recommendations of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), would determine which communities would be included on the State OBC list. The 102nd Amendment Act raised the issue of the single Central list of SEBCs taking away the powers of the States to prepare their own list of OBCs. The Supreme Court, in its categorical ruling on May 5, also directed that following the amendment, states did not have power to identify SEBCs, separately from the Centre. The Central government filed a review petition challenging the top Court’s order, which was dismissed. Eventually, the Centre came up with the bill to undo the Supreme Court ruling.
What is the 102nd Constitutional Amendment? The 102nd Constitution Amendment Act inserted three new articles, namely, 342A, 366 (26C) and 338B, in the Constitution. Of these, 338B deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Classes, and 342A that deals with the powers of the President of India to notify a particular caste as Socially and Educationally Backward Communities (SEBCs) and the power of Parliament to change the list. Article 366 (26C) defines SEBCs. “In the task of identification of SEBCs, the President shall be guided by the Commission set up under Article 338B; its advice shall also be sought by the state in regard to policies that might be framed by it. If the commission prepares a report concerning matters of identification, such a report has to be shared with the state government, which is bound to deal with it, in accordance with provisions of Article 338B. However, the final determination culminates in the exercise undertaken by the President (i.e. the Central Government, under Article 342A (1), by reason of Article 367 read with Section 3 (8) (b) General Clauses Act),” the Apex Court judgment of May 5, 2021, upholding the 102nd Amendment, said.
“The States’ power to make reservations, in favour of particular communities or castes, the quantum of reservations, the nature of benefits and the kind of reservations, and all other matters falling within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16 – except with respect to identification of SEBCs, remains undisturbed,” the May 5, 2021 judgement had further said.
What is the 127th Amendment Bill? Well,following the amendment in Articles 366 (26C) and 338B (9), States will now be able to directly notify OBC and SEBCs without having to refer to the NCBC and the OBC lists prepared by States will be taken out of the domain of the President and can be notified by the Assemblies of concerned States. Nearly 671 OBC communities would have lost access to reservation in educational institutions and in appointments if the State lists had been abolished, as per 102nd Amendment. The 127th Amendment, however, restores power to the States, superseding the 102nd Amendment, thereby displaying, among other things, Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to cooperative federalism. “The legislative intent at the time of passing of the Constitution (One Hundred and Second Amendment) Act, 2018 was that it deals with the central list of the socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). It recognises the fact that even prior to the declaration of the Central List of SEBCs in 1993, many States/Union territories are having their own State List/Union territory List of OBCs,” the statement in the 127th Amendment Bill notes.
The Congress Party that was in government for the longest time at the Centre never cared for the OBCs.The absolutely shoddy treatment meted out to the Kaka Kalelkar Commission by then PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, was repeated with the B.P. Mandal Commission, by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Adhering to Article 340 of the Constitution of India, the First Backward Classes Commission was set up by a Presidential order on 29 January, 1953 under the Chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. Nehru, however, unceremoniously, threw the Kalelkar committee proposals in the bin. The BJP-supported V.P. Singh government at the Centre, implemented the Mandal Commission, which was opposed tooth and nail by Rajiv Gandhi, both inside and outside the Parliament. It is obvious and unfortunate to note that whenever Congress came to power, the Party’s biased and anti-OBC psyche prevented it from strengthening the OBC community. From the political victimization of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, B.P. Mandal, Karpoori Thakur, K. Kamaraj, Devaraj Urs to V.P. Singh, Arjun Singh, Sitaram Kesri and Rajesh Pilot, the Congress Party has an unenviable track record. In fact, an anti-reservation Congress was always opposed to the idea of giving reservation to either SC/STs or OBCs in the all-India quota (AIQ) for medical seats. AIQ in medical seats was introduced in 1986 only on the instructions of the Supreme Court of India.
It is the Narendra Modi-led government again, which gave constitutional status to National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC) in 2018, after almost three decades of the Mandal Commission implementation.
The inclusion of 12 SCs, 8 STs, and 27 OBC ministers in the recent Cabinet reshuffle in July 2021, speaks volumes about the Modi government’s commitment to OBCs.At 35%, OBC representation in the Modi Cabinet today, is the highest ever in post-independent India.
There have been demands for creating categories within OBCs to ensure equitable distribution of the quota benefit to all. Some states such as Bihar have experimented with the sub-categorisation and carved the reservation for extremely backward classes within the OBC reservation. In October 2017, the Centre constituted the Rohini commission to examine the sub-categorisation and submit a report within 12 weeks. What has the Draft Rohini Commission recommended? It said, around 2633 castes are covered under the OBC reservation. The States have the flexibility to add castes to the Central list, depending on local deprivation levels determined by local OBC commissions. In February 2021, the Commission proposed to divide the 27% reservation for the castes on the Central list into four sub-categories. While some have welcomed the sub-categorisation, experts believe the idea of sub-categorisation would be a meaningless exercise and could potentially polarise the society along caste lines.Experts believe that sharing the caste data could create more divide in the society and lead to renewed demands for reducing quota for certain castes and increasing it for others. There is also a fear that a repeat of the 1911 caste census could happen, when the so-called upper castes were declared a social minority.
The 1931 census, the last caste-based census, was conducted primarily to identify the ways through which a colonial power could strengthen its stranglehold. The data was used to create a separate vote-bank in the 1980s, by leaders, who emerged from Jai Prakash Narayan’s anti-corruption movement and led to the creation of Janata Dal. Experts believe something similar is being attempted now through the sub-categorisation of the OBC quota. Some opposition parties know that a new caste census can help them to create a new vote-bank of socially and economically deprived sections among the OBCs. At this stage, many experts believe that the social costs of a caste census far outweigh the benefits and a caste census may not be a great idea. States already have enough information at their disposal in any case, which they can use to give targetted benefits of government schemes including reservations to deprived groups. The need for a caste census, therefore, at this stage, stands mitigated to that extent.
The Modi government recently announced a 27% reservation for OBCs and 10% for economically weaker sections (EWS), in medical courses, in various medical courses including MBBS, MD, MS, BDS, MDS and diplomas, from the current academic year.
This showcases PM Modi’s commitment to Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwaas and Sabka Prayaas, in more ways than one. Do note that, there was no reservation in the AIQ scheme until the Supreme Court intervened and introduced a reservation of 15% for SCs and 7.5% for STs in 2007. “When the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act became effective in 2007, providing for uniform 27% reservation to OBCs, the same was implemented in all the Central Educational Institutions viz. Safdarjung Hospital, Lady Harding Medical College, Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University etc. However, this was not extended to the AIQ seats of State medical and dental colleges,” said the Health ministry. Now however, that is possible. According to the Health ministry, nearly 1500 OBC students in MBBS and 2500 OBC students in post graduation and also around 550 EWS students in MBBS and around 1000 EWS students in post graduation, would benefit from the Modi government’s historic decision, every year. The reservation was announced under the all India quota (AIQ) scheme. The AIQ scheme was introduced in 1986 under the directions of the Supreme Court to provide for domicile-free merit-based opportunities to students from any State, who aspire to study in a good medical college located in another State.“All India Quota consists of 15% of total available UG seats and 50% of total available PG seats in government medical colleges,” the Health ministry said in a statement, to this effect.
A moot point to be noted here is that, for decades, political Parties like the SP and BSP simply paid lip service to the cause of OBCs who form a dominant 43-45% of the total population in Uttar Pradesh.OBC sub-groups whether it is non Yadavs, Kurmis, Koeris or others were repeatedly let down by the likes of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. However, the BJP’s acceptance among these “Other non Yadav OBCs” rose three-and-a-half times between 2012 and 2014 (from 17% to 60%).This number is crucial as “Other non-Yadav OBCs” constitute over 25% of UP’s total population. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one-fourth of BJP’s total votes came from this section alone. These numbers have only improved in subsequent elections. Importantly, while the SP only focussed on the Yadavs, the BJP focussed on both Yadav and non-Yadav OBCs without discriminating between the two and it is this politics of inclusivity that helped the BJP to become the dominant political force in UP, which till 2014, had always been driven by a Yadav centric, caste matrix.
During the last seven years, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on science ,education,medicine and innovation, MBBS Seats in the country have increased by 56% from 54348 seats in 2014 to 84649 seats in 2020. The number of PG seats have increased by 80% from 30191 seats in 2014 to 54275 seats in 2020. During the same period, 179 new medical colleges have been established and now India boasts of 558 medical colleges, including 289 government and 269 private colleges. It would be apt to conclude by saying that while successive Congress regimes only paid lip service to the cause of OBCs and the marginalised, it is the Modi government that finally brought to fruition various reforms to ensure that the benefits of inclusivity and development are made accessible to one and all cutting through swathes of divisive rhetoric. “I believe growth should be constant, sustained and inclusive. It is only meaningful if these three things are there. Otherwise, they’re just economic figures”, is a powerful quote by Prime Minister Modi, encompassing the essence of what his government stands for.
The writer is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
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UKRAINE IS NOT AFGHANISTAN, BUT…
Ukraine-crisis is likely to be prolonged with a similar objective responsible for Afghanistan-war lasting for years. Geographically, culturally, histo rically and at numerous other levels, there is no comparison between Afghanistan-wars fought at different periods by United States as well as former Soviet Union and the ongoing Ukraine-war. Ukraine is not Afghanistan. The only similarity is that people have suffered and are suffering the most in both countries. But when superpower and/or major powers’ key interest is their own agenda, why should they be expected to be worry about grievances of common citizens in targeted countries?
Seriously, diplomatic promises, claims, assurances and so forth voiced by any power- which itself cannot claim to be above board in the same area- only sound hollow, including United States as well as Russia. Notwithstanding claims made by US and its allies about former’s aid to Ukraine, helping this country gain an upper edge against Russia, several key factors cannot be side-lined. It is astonishing, US waited for Russian strikes against Ukraine to begin and then started supplying weapons to latter. Weapons and not diplomatic cards have been (and are being) made use of. Secondly, this suggests a motive of Washington was and perhaps is continuance of Russian-Ukraine war. The limited or practically no importance being accorded to diplomatic negotiations for an end to this conflict indicates this. United States is apparently more concerned about continuance of Ukraine-crisis till Russia weakens more. It is equivalent to expecting history to repeat itself. Afghan-ploy was also responsible for collapse of Soviet Union.
Ukraine-crisis, it is feared, spells dangerous signals for other European countries. This refers to plans of Finland and Sweden to backtrack from their policies of military non-alignment and join NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that such a move “would certainly provoke our response.” Notwithstanding diplomatic legitimacy and/or credibility of this stand, what needs greater attention is the havoc that even a minor military move from Russia against these countries can lead to. Chances of American soldiers stepping in to confront Russian soldiers to check such a move may be viewed as non-existent. Those talking of Ukraine-crisis leading to third World War had probably envisaged such a situation, that of American soldiers actually helping Ukraine.
Geographically, terrain of these countries, including Ukraine is different from that of Afghanistan. Besides, spill-over of Afghanistan-war’s negative impact into Pakistan cannot be forgotten. It is difficult to assume that rest of Europe would not be affected by continuance of Ukraine-crisis and if other countries are caught in similar situation. Geographical proximity of Finland and Sweden to Russia cannot be ignored.
Diplomatically, United States is close enough to issue periodic assurances and perhaps also help with weapons. But that’s it. It is high time that European countries judged the situation as per their standing and not as laid out by other powers. Rather than risk facing any war or war-like situation and/or waiting for any external power to decide their diplomatic strategy, it may be more practical of Finland as well as Sweden to have one-to-one talk with Moscow. Waiting for third world countries to help them out may take too long a time and perhaps only worsen the situation.
NATO-diplomacy, inclusion in NATO and other similar diplomatic vibes sound great. But their limitation in spelling peace and relief as well as not permitting conflicts to take place standout by continuation of Ukraine-crisis. Yes, claims have been made by Ukrainian soldiers about having “made it to border” with “enemy state.” Their counter-offensive operations have been described as a “success”. NATO countries are going all out to boost Ukraine’s confidence by appreciating its success against Russia. These are definitely great diplomatic moves but of limited relevance when war is showing no sign of coming to an end. Chances of it spreading further stand out too markedly to be ignored.
Once a war begins between neighbouring countries, prospects of it coming to a quick end may be viewed as remote unless they mutually agree to give greater importance to diplomacy. Ukraine is caught in this trap. United States probably wants this “war,” as suggested earlier, to further weaken Russia, which would according to speculations be viewed by Washington as a major victory. But at what cost?
– Nilofar Suhrawardy
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Why India-Japan relations matter in the 21st century
One should make good people their friends. One who keeps good friends, benefits, and lives in peace. – Rig Veda
Time, when in a span of 15 days (March –April 2022), 11 high-level delegations from foreign countries (including the Chinese foreign minister) visited India, and India is visiting Japan to strengthen the Quad, showing the rise of a new economic coalition or something more or something else?
There have been murmurs on the sidelines about Quad Plus. What about Supply Chain Resilience Initiative? What is this Quad, Quad Plus, and why have Japanese ties become so relevant in recent times under the recent geopolitical environment?
Starting from the historic perspective, relations between India and Japan have been strong for centuries on account of Buddhism which originated in India and spread through entire Japan.
In the last century, in Auust 1942, one of the greatest Indian leaders, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose formed the Indian National Army (INA) with Japanese support and the Japanese-captured Indian prisoners of war.
The offensive from this army (INA) and their grit along with Satyagraha from within led by Mahatma Gandhi, severe losses (suffered by Britishers in WW II), the huge quantum of debt (raised by the UK to fight the war), and the massive cost of maintenance of a plundered nation forced Britishers to give India Independence in 1947.
Just before the Indian Independence in Feb 1946, the soldiers, officers, and personnel who were captured by the Japanese belonging to the Royal Indian Navy (one of the bravest contingents of Indian fighting for Allied forces posing a strong opposition to the Japanese invasion in the Indian Ocean during World War II) and were eventually freed by Japanese (post-WW II) raised a revolt and organized a mutiny to overthrow British.
Indian hearts and Indians’ minds by now were aligned to India and Indian Independence and eventually, Independence came in.
Fast-forward 75 years to the present day, the official reason why the Prime Minister of India visited Japan was to be part of the second physical meeting of Quad. A group of 4 countries, the US, Japan, Australia, and India.
Initiated in 2007 and finally taking shape in 2017, Quad or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue came into existence. Today what is perceived as “Asian NATO” the Core thought process of Quad came into existence in 2004 on account of the Boxing Day Tsunami that killed 2.28 lac people in 14 countries.
From a humble humanitarian helping hand approach Quad has turned now out to be a formidable force to contain the influence of the reign of China in the Asia Pacific region.
Over the last 2 decades with the rise of China, there has been a steep fall in allies China. All 4 founding or Core members of Quad have or continue to have challenging relations with China.
AUSTRALIA, INDIA & CHINA
Starting with Australia. Australia’s largest trading partner is China, Australia is the largest exporter to China (37%) by a mile (the second largest being Japan with 11% exports) and now Australia wishes to reduce its export dependence on China.
Why this change in mind, change in alignment, change in future strategy?
In May 2020, Australia called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, infuriating China. In April 2021, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne cancels two MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) signed by the state of Victoria in 2018 and 2019 with China’s National Development and Reform Commission on Chinese participation in infrastructure projects under China’s Belt and Road initiatives.
In April 2022, Australian Minister for Defence Peter Dutton accused China of paying bribes to win international deals. Why this distrust, mistrust, and unease between Australia and China, When Australia’s largest output is absorbed by China?
It’s a long story in itself and it all started with espionage by Huawei – the largest manufacturer of telecom, equipment, smart devices, and consumer electronic items. On the recommendation from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) concerned with cyber security & espionage, in 2010, Australia’s National Broadband Network quietly rejected Huawei’s bids for the creation of the national broadband network. In 2018 Huawei and ZTE (Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer) were banned from constructing Australia’s 5G network and the saga started.
Once a friend, now a foe, seeking more de-alignment. Somebody’s loss is always somebody’s gain. As Australia was looking to de-align itself from China, India emerged as a formidable, credible, ethical, all-weather partner to Australia.
Swiftly, in April 2022, India strengthened its ties & alliance with Australia by signing the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) that aims at doubling bilateral trade in the next five years to USD 45-50 billion from USD 27 billion as of FY 22.
Presently India is Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner, Australia wants India to be top three export markets by 2035. ECTA was historic in the way that tariffs were removed on more than 85% of Australian goods exported to India. In return, Australia agreed to Indian terms of 96% of Indian goods arriving in Australia to be duty-free.
On the Oil side, India is tying deeply with UAE giving UAE companies equivalent status as compared to Indian businesses for sourcing done by the Indian government on the other hand, with Australia India is finding an ally that shares common insecurity & challenges with another Asian giant China.
Australia on an ongoing basis has backed the US, stating that there is ‘no legal basis to several Chinese claims in the disputed South China sea.
THE UNITED STATES, INDIA & CHINA
The US (United States of America), the second formidable partner in Quad wishes to control its trading partner China’s might and influence in the Asia Pacific region by Quad. Also, the US is an ally of Taiwan and in case of aggression by China to annex Taiwan which China believes is part of the People’s Republic of China will need assistance from Quad allies.
To make the geo-political situation a little more chaotic, a latest news coverage by a reputed publication suggested that the Chinese President, aged 68, is suffering from a cerebral aneurysm, a condition when a bulge forms in one of the blood vessels in the brain with a 50% probability of mortality and Chinese President publicly vowed in 2019 that Taiwan must and will be reunited with China and that China reserves the right to use the force. In such a scenario, the US finds India’s largest military as a natural ally against the largest military in the world.
India welcomed its way into the Quad as it enabled India both in terms of economic ties as well as a forging formidable force in case of aggression. India had in the past and recently witnessed conflicts with China (in 2020) in the Galwan Valley, the Eastern region of Ladakh. For decades, India continues to fight and reclaim its rights and control over parts of Aksai Chin, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, and Ladakh that are illegally controlled and occupied by China.
On the economic front, India had an import of 100 billion USD from China with India’s trade deficit with China clocking a whooping USD 69.38 billion in 2021. India surely wishes to replace this as quickly as it can. Quad surely can do wonders.
JAPAN, INDIA & CHINA
The next pillar of Quad, Japan has been India’s oldest ally in development, and both have deep social as well as historic links as covered in the earlier part of the note.
The Japanese investments in India touched USD 32 billion between 2000 and 2019, across all core sectors including automobile, electrical equipment, telecommunications, chemical, insurance, pharmaceutical, etc. What was done in 19 years, nearly one-third more (USD 42 billion) will be done in the next 5 years as investments by Japan in India (Intent & actions remain so)?
In 2014, India and Japan entered into a strategic global partnership, a unique and first of its kind in the world whereby it was agreed (other things as well) that in a specific period of the next 5 years Japan’s foreign direct investment and the number of Japanese companies operating in India to double and the target was met.
As India is important to Japan for its slow or DE growing economy with an aged population to rely on the huge market like India, India is dependent on Japan for its cheap capital to build infrastructure to grow its economy on a fast track and provide large scale employment to Indian Youth who need jobs to sustain the family and country.
China remains Japan’s largest trading partner but the conflict continues with China despite economic ties. The conflict started in 2012, when Japan nationalized the Senkaku islands (the Senkaku Islands are a group of uninhabited islands in the East), sparking widespread protests across China. Since then, China has affected a strategy of active non-acquiescence to Japan’s occupation of the islands.
Though Quad was largely formulated and constituted before Covid, Covid expedited the Vaccination diplomacy, Where Russia (not in the context of Quad) China, India, and the US-led the vaccine manufacturing largely.
In a couple of meetings virtually in 2020, South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand, Brazil, and Israel, most of which are allies of the US took part and there have been murmurs of having these other nations, which share common anxiety against China can be brought in the group known as Quad Plus.
Covid was handled by all countries differently as per their capacity and wisdom and unique amongst it was and are China, where one witnessed zero-tolerance policy on something which is beyond human control.
Thus world which is largely dependent on China across most goods & services found India as a strong ally and thus came China + 1 policy for the world.
Witnessing the disruptions in the Supply chain caused by Covid and to handle any other equivalent situation better and reduce vulnerability and dependence on China, thus came the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) is a trilateral agreement that was led by Japan, Australia, and India. The core idea of this initiative was to create a “virtuous cycle” of strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth throughout the Indo-Pacific region by sharing best practices, investment promotion, and buyer-seller matching events for supply chain diversification.
Quad, Quad Plus, SCRI are some of the reasons why India visited Japan, but more importantly, to, strengthen ties to fast-track cheap capital flows into India from Japan so that India can continue to remain the Engine of growth for the World, clocking CAGR of 8% real GDP growth.
Interestingly Japan chose India from thousands of miles away as a partner for growth and a friend, and India relied upon a nation far away instead of its neighbours.
As one says, one cannot choose neighbours but surely can choose whom one remains friends with.
Siddhartha Rastogi, Managing Director & COO, Asset Management Vertical of a leading full-service Investment Bank. (The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official view or position of any company or sister concerns or Group company where the Author is presently employed.)
RED LINES IN THE AGE OF TECH
Last week the India Foundation held a conclave on the MetaVerse. Speaking at the event which had a robot as a co-compere, Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Minister of Civil Aviation quipped that soon they would not be needing him to come and address the gathering, as there will come a time when a robot could come and deliver his speech. Taking up this train of thought, RSS leader Ram Madhav commented that since we are heading towards a world of Artificial General Intelligence there is a cause for worry as there is one crucial difference between robots and humans and this is intelligence with a heart. He commented that already there are cases of AI outguessing human intelligence, citing the example of Alpha Zero a chess engine developed by Deep Mind & Google search engines, that claims to defeat any chess player that ever lived. Hence there is a need to put checks and balances in place and draw some red lines. Madhav is right otherwise we could well be living in a world where we are shaped by tech instead of the other way around. (In fact, some would say, we are already halfway there).
Also speaking at the India Foundation conclave K Ananth Krishnan (TCS) pointed out that there are more smartphone owners in India than toothbrush owners. We are already in a dependent and needy (toxic is a better word) relationship with technology. In their book, The Art of Bitfulness, Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani, quote a December 2020 survey of 2000 smartphone users revealed that on an average users spent 6.9 hours on their phones every day; and most (46 %) pick up their phones at least five times in an hour-long conversation with friends. 84 % say they check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up.
It would be fair to state that the digital world has our undivided attention. And beckoning from the horizon is the Metaverse, a collective virtual shared space that we can inhabit by creating avatars or our virtual counterparts. By inhabit, they mean everything, from socialising to attending business meetings to even shopping. You can even experience the physical intimacy of a virtual hug or a handshake. You can also buy land and space on this metaverse that is being cultivated by tech giants such as FaceBook and Microsoft (only the latter calls its metaverse Mesh).
All this is very well but where does that leave our human avatars? What kind of discourse will we have where all our conversation will be governed by algorithms. Already with twitter replacing the physical townhall as the preferred forum for debate, we are in the danger of living in an algorithm bubble where we are shown only those posts that match our ideological beliefs. Facebook and Twitter have us wrapped in a bubble where we are shown only those posts that the algorithm thinks are best suited for us. We have already outsourced our search engine to them. Any further dependence will only be detrimental to our capacity for independent and free-thinking.
Digital platforms can also be misused to propagate a certain kind of narrative. If Facebook doesn’t want you to read a particular article it will simply set its algorithm in a way that will make the article harder to find on its search engine. Ditto for YouTube. Twitter can simply ban your account. So for better or (meta) worse, one must approach technology with all the trepidation and enthusiasm of handling a two-edged sword.
Gyanvapi sets Indian politics on a new course
It may be the beginning of a new judicial process that unravels the murky medieval Indian history marked by many demolitions of temples, atrocities, and killings.
A chance test case for Shringar Gauri puja outside, the survey for it, and the surprise discovery of Shivalinga— supposedly the creator and destructor at the old temple of Lord Vishwanath or Gyanvapi— is changing the political scenario with a religious fervor possibly giving a boost to the preparation for 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Would it make the Congress effort at Udaipur futile and boost up the votary of Hindutva for a new stretch of political success? It definitely would firm up the religious thrust of Indian politics.
Varanasi is the city of Shiv. Adages are there that Shiv used to visit this city from his Himalayan home every year. None possibly expected that he would be found in the ablution tank in all his manifestation to energise his devotees. Nobody yet knows whether it is the lingam or not, but it has charged up the political atmosphere.
It may be the beginning of a new judicial process that unravels the murky medieval Indian history marked by many demolitions of temples, atrocities, and killings. The Gyanvapi can have an impact on at least ten different places, where the medieval rulers had taken recourse to the extreme brutality of converting religious structures and killing thousands. These are: Kashi Vishvanath (Gyanvapi) in the oldest living city of Varanasi; Krishna Janmabhoomi (Shahi Idgah); Rudra Mahalay in Patan, Gujarat; Bhojshala Saraswati Mandir (Kamal Maula mosque) at Bhoshala in MP; Adinath Temple (Adina mosque) at Pandua, West Bengal; Bhadra Kali Temple (Jama Masjid) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat; Vijay Temple (Bijamandal mosque) at Vidisha, MP; 27 Hindu and Jain temples (Quawwatal- ul- Islam) Qutb Minar complex; and Somnath and Ramjanmabhoomi temples that are now restored.
The Gyanvapi re-ignites the issue of what was supposed to have been settled with the judgment of the Ramjanmabhoomi temple by the Supreme Court. The five Supreme Court judges took note of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 that laid down that all shrines will be preserved as inherited by independent India on 15 August 1947. The law made an exception for Ayodhya as it was already an ongoing dispute. Nothing else was deserving of an exception, nor was it legally or constitutionally possible, the judges wrote.
The quick scenario change in the Gyanvapi incident may raise the question of the validity of the enactment of the Places of Worship Act by the Narasimha Rao government. Sentiments are high not only in Varanasi but all over. Seeming non-partisan people like PK Roy, former executive director, Airports authority of India in Kolkata; Lalima Aneja Dang, a senior radio producer; Priyadarshi Dutt, author, commentator; former editor of Doordarshan Prabhat Dabral are all charged and advising that it is prudent to settle and not react on this emotive issue. Former Vice Chancellor of Nagpur University SN Pathan and another Vice Chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed have appealed to the minorities to correct the steps and maintain harmony. Left-leaning Dabral says minorities must rethink despots like Aurangjeb and instead have consideration for the nation and sort it out.
The one common question the non-political elite ask is how could someone treat the revered Shivlinga with such contempt that they established the wash-tank above that. It is difficult to say whether it would have the same manifestation and feelings till elections or not. The sentiments expressed speak volumes of the hurt feelings.
The nation may recall that since 1949, the Babri structure in all purposes was a Ram temple. Emotive issues are not forgotten. That led to the demolition of the structure in 1992. The way now the Gyanvapi is flaring up with a non-issue on the plea for the right to worship Shringar Gauri images sculpted on the outer wall of the Gyanvapi, to the appointment of commissioners to the survey of the premises, and discovery of Shivlinga indicates that the issue of demolition by Aurangzeb on Sept 2, 1669, can widely impact the course of Indian politics.
The Hindutva-oriented parties will have ease in accessing the voters. Those not would have to find out the new political peg to remain relevant and vibrant.
It may start with Hyderabad’s Bhagyalakshmi temple. The TRS Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao may have to take a stand on the crucial Bhagyalakshmi temple in the Charminar complex. Rao facing a pincer attack by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Amit Shah will have to steer with deftness. The others and even MIM may pitch in to make the Telangana assembly elections interesting.
Whether Gujarat would like to rake up the Bhadrakali and Rudra Mahalaya issues, Madhya Pradesh ignites Vidisha and Bhojshala or not the development of the ensuing days would reveal. Maybe in MP and Gujarat, BJP might try to keep it on low fire but the opposition, also keen on proving loyalty to Hindus, can try sailing on it as BJP may look for a chance in Bengal to peg on Adinath, Pandua.
Alok Kumar, president of VHP, an eminent lawyer, is categorical: “There has been no change in the status of the religious structure since 1947, and Hindus have always performed puja at the site” calling it Gyanvyapi Mandir. VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal said the faces of those who were trying to “hide the truth” have been “painted black” with the “finding”.
The Congress two days back at the Udaipur Chintan meet supported the 1947 law regarding Gyanvapi. So far it has not come out with a similar supportive statement.
In the BJP only, Sangeet Som has threatened a replay of the 1992 ‘Babri demolition’. But the BJP is happy with the Varanasi court developments giving it time, to extend the restrictions at the Gyan Vapi. They being the rulers in UP are acting with caution so that the gains take them to the logical conclusion. Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath is personally observing each of the developments.
J&K PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti slammed the BJP for stoking the fire. It is simple. MIM leader Owaisi says he is ‘pained’.
The Gyanvapi will decide the religious fervor of Indian politics. The parties not aligned with BJP’s views have the challenge to tailor new strategies. The minorities are in dilemma. They are not keen on sailing with it or giving up but the voices within are advising not to get into another confrontation and solve it prudently.
Howsoever it develops, it would keep the Indian politics warm and parties would have to stir cautiously to chart their way to 2024 Lok Sabha and many assembly elections before that.
The churning continues and the nation hopes that solution would emerge for a prosperous, peaceful country.
It may start with Hyderabad’s Bhagyalakshmi temple. The Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao may have to take a stand on the crucial Bhagyalakshmi temple in the Charminar complex. Rao, facing a pincer attack by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Amit Shah, will have to steer with deftness.
RAHUL’S IDEAS FOR INDIA ARE NOT WELL FORMED
Among the many comments that Rahul Gandhi made about India’s socio-political situation at a conclave called “Ideas for India” in England recently, a few shook up the political, media and social media space, particularly when he said that “India is not in a good place”, that it has been soaked in kerosene by the BJP and all it needs is a spark to ignite the whole country. Another gem was about how the Indian foreign policy establishment has become arrogant and does not listen to the Europeans—something apparently a European bureaucrat had complained to him. Then there was the reiteration of one of his pet theories, which he has voiced in India as well: that India is not a nation but a union of states; that “India didn’t develop top down but almost emerged bottom up”, with the model being developed by Mahatma Gandhi. “All these states—Maharashtra, Assam, Tamil Nadu—they got together and created a negotiated peace,” Mr Gandhi said. Apparently, the Constitution does not mention India as a nation. He also said that in India there was an attack on institutions, on the election system, and that states were no longer able to negotiate and talk. He used the term “negotiation” repeatedly in the speech. Then he talked about waging a “national ideological battle” where India has to be rescued from “the deep state” that is “chewing the Indian state, much like what happened in Pakistan”. Supporting the concern of a section in the US and the West about the apparent slide of democracy in India, Rahul Gandhi added that “Democracy in India is a global public good… If it collapses it will cause a problem for planet and that is what USA is realising.” His oft repeated charge that the BJP caters to only a handful of the rich was also mentioned. He also said his party will have to launch mass movements on unemployment and state level issues in coordination with “opposition friends”. He pitched his party as the first among equals, by saying that the fight is actually between “the national vision of the RSS and the national vision of the Congress”. When asked why the Congress was not winning elections when the country’s ruling party was so bad, Rahul’s answer was, it’s because of “polarization and the total control of the media”. Apparently, the media does not allow any Opposition voices to be heard. He also confidently predicted a massive level of social problem, and a mass upsurge, something like in Sri Lanka, unless the Opposition handled the situation. He also seemed suitably impressed by China’s “vision”, while saying that both India and the US lacked a vision.
It is not known which history book the former president of the Congress party has studied, but the books that the rest of the country has studied do not mention Maharashtra, Assam or Tamil Nadu negotiating peace with the Centre to form India. Last read, Maharashtra came into existence in 1960 and Tamil Nadu in 1969 and all these divisions were linguistic in nature and decided by the Centre. In fact, not only does the Preamble of the Indian Constitution mention the word nation, B.R. Ambedkar in 1948 was categorical about the drafting of the Constitution: “The Drafting Committee wanted to make it clear that though India was to be a federation, the Federation was not the result of an agreement by the States to join in a Federation and that the Federation not being the result of an agreement no State has the right to secede from it. The Federation is a Union because it is indestructible.” In other words, India’s nationhood is non-negotiable. So to suggest that there is some sort of a contract between the Centre and the states, which may get frayed over a period of time is dangerous. It is almost as if Rahul Gandhi has been schooled into India’s “non nationhood” by the ultra-left. And therein lies the problem. It is difficult to dismiss such statements as stemming from ignorance; instead it seems to have stemmed from a belief system that has spread a lot of anarchy globally through the decades. If the idea is to pander to some sort of sub-nationalism in the name of federalism, then it amounts to stoking a very divisive fire. This is already happening in states such as Bengal and Tamil Nadu, among others. “Federalism” is being used as an excuse by some state governments to run their own writ, sometimes in defiance of Central rules. As a result, every decision taken by the state government is being challenged in court and then overturned, West Bengal being a case in point.
Also, it is but natural that Opposition parties will criticise the ruling party. A strong Opposition is the hallmark of a strong democracy. But Opposition must be constructive too. Portraying India as a cauldron of hatred, where things are about to go up in flames, comes across as an obvious attempt to scare foreign investors away; and feeding into the confirmation bias of the West about India. Does Rahul Gandhi seriously not understand that such statements end up hurting his own country? Also, why blame the Indian media—which thrives on the cacophony of the Indian political space—and India’s institutions for your lack of electoral success, when your own party members, some of your closest colleagues, are deserting you accusing you of being non-serious about your party’s political future?
As for his views on Indian diplomacy, it is bizarre that a man who wants to be Prime Minister of a sovereign nation, thinks being subservient to Western interests is great foreign policy.
And now we hear that Rahul Gandhi is hobnobbing with leftist groups in Britain and holding closed door meetings in Cambridge to devise means and ways to dislodge the Central government. It is not known how Rahul Gandhi can devise a strategy to win India sitting in Britain, unless the grand plan emerging from such sessions is to ensure that India hurts as much as Sri Lanka has, so that the streets rise up in protest to get rid of the government.
PM Modi’s Jaipur challenge to Opposition
The Prime Minister knows that the BJP’s biggest asset is its dedicated workers who have been trained with the vision of a strong country. It’s only when they become lethargic or disinterested that the party would lose its shine.
By panning out its strategy to stay in power for a long time, the Jaipur meet of the BJP has thrown a very big challenge to the opposition. The only challenge before the party is to keep its cadre and support base in tact by telling them the work the Government has been able to do for the poor and the needy and the fact that the Government has lived up to the mandate.
A corollary to that is an embarrassing question before the opposition, mainly the Congress. Can they rediscover themselves, give an alternative to the BJP by a more trustworthy nationalist ideology inspired by development and good governance, an ideology to fight corruption and jettison the baggage of the dynasty?
Unless the Congress and the opposition mend their ways and resort to constructive politics, they would become irrelevant in Indian politics at least for the near future. The disintegration of the Congress is on auto-mode and other parties cannot match a pan-India party like the BJP since they are inspired more by regional aspirations and may not have the desire or wherewithal to play a larger national role.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the BJP office bearers’ meeting in Jaipur was significant in many ways. While Modi spoke of the vision and work of the Government to fill party leaders and workers with confidence, he also threw a big challenge to the opposition. The message was: the BJP is in power for a long haul. He urged party workers to work as per a 25-year vision without bothering much about opposition criticisms. “Har ghar Bhajpa, har Garib ka Kalyan” (BJP in every house and welfare of every poor) is the new guiding mantra.
As casteist, communal and corrupt forces are trying to join hands to put up some semblance of challenge to the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the prime most question the country would consider is whether people would forget and forgive these forces for their acts of omissions and commissions. Lutyens’ Delhi and vested media is, perhaps, ready since they were the beneficiaries of the rot in the system and they would like to throw out any government that does not co-opt them. But they have been grossly outnumbered by those who want to see Modi come back again and again to deliver good governance the country has witnessed after a long time. No media manipulation or divisive agenda can derail the Government’s performance.
These opposition parties have failed to identify even one instance of corruption associated with the Government. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tried to make a big issue out of Rafale deal but he got eggs on his face since facts proved that the Modi government had worked exclusively for national interest in getting such a fantastic deal. Transparency and accountability are the hallmarks of this Government that has used Information Technology to make these possible.
A strange phenomenon has been witnessed. Opposition leaders are making a lot of hue and cry about the economic situation in the country and the media is trying to complement that without looking into the basics. But this is not finding traction among people who have been cushioned by Modi’s welfare measures to absorb the temporary disruptions.
War in Ukraine has caused lots of disturbances in the supply chain and economic life of even many advanced countries have suffered. The US, the UK, Germany and many other countries are facing the brunt according to former chief economic advisor KV Subramaniam. But critics here are ready to lynch the Modi government for saving the country. India’s record on the inflation front is much better. Despite hiccups the Modi Government is doing well and people appreciate this. We are a robust economy and we would pass this period with remarkable success.
When opposition is bereft of substantial issues, they raise issues that can disrupt the life of the nation. But people are mature and do not support disruptive agendas. We have seen what happened during the anti-CAA protest all across the country. We have seen how farmers were given spurious arguments to oppose the three farm bills. At times they have raised the issue of language issue and at times the issue of Hindu-Muslim divide.
When the Prime Minister was talking to BJP leaders in Jaipur, he was precisely referring to these debates where opposition would try to provoke the BJP and engage into a meaningless interaction. The verbal war and the divisive debates lead to waste of constructive energy. Instead of that there is a need for party workers to address more serious issues.
Modi has given a higher vision to the party for the country and that is to work on developmental road map for the next 25 years. This needs that party workers must work assiduously at the ground level, associate with problems of people and use the platform of the party and the Government to get them addressed. All ministries of the government have been instructed to work with a missionary zeal to work for development and transform society.
The loss of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2004 to a weak Congress was beyond anyone’s belief. The opposition may be hoping this would repeat and catch Modi unaware. But they should not commit the mistake of underestimating Modi. There would be no complacency in 2024 because he has been the Prime Minister for two consecutive terms. He knows exactly what would find favour with the people who are happy at the fast pace of development in all spheres of economic activities. Such unprecedented development efforts at such a fast pace was never undertaken before.
Modi knows the tricks opposition would apply during elections. He knows the answers to their barbs but would reply only during elections. He had said once that the Government would be in functioning mode for four and a half years. It is only during the last six months that the functionaries of the Government would come into election mode.
The Prime Minister knows that the BJP’s biggest asset is its dedicated workers who have been trained with the vision of a strong country. It’s only when they become lethargic or disinterested that the party would lose its shine. There is, therefore, a need to keep party’s ideological spine upfront and bind them with one thread.
A case in point is the last assembly elections in Jharkhand. The party lost not because the opposition was strong. It lost because some party workers had become disinterested and did not campaign enough or worked harder to bring voters out on the voting day. Despite undertaking massive development initiatives by the Raghubar Das Government, the party lost.
It is in this context that Modi’s message to party’s workers on working for welfare of people should be seen. He reminded that when the Jan Sangh was formed, workers used to get inspired by the vision of a strong country. At that time none had imagined that the party would one day come to power on its own strength and implement the vision they lived by.
Now that the party is in power, the task of workers is to ensure that the work of the Government reaches every section of the society. The welfare measures taken by the Government must reach the beneficiaries. People must know their rights and how to access government schemes. Party workers play a very significant role here since bureaucracy has limitations.
The Jaipur meeting was a resolve that people would develop stakes in this Government’s continuation if they know that it is working for them. As for example the Ayushman Bharat scheme has provided free medical care to even common people but even now not all are aware. The farmers are getting the benefits in terms of regular money from the Government, reliable and controlled inputs such as health of soil, hybrid seeds, neem coated urea etc. Schemes meant for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and Women are reaching them directly. The challenge is 100 per cent coverage and the Government is planning just that.
If the party is able to just make people aware of the tasks undertaken by the Government to take care of the poor and the needy and the way the country is marching forward on the development roadmap, the task would not be tough. The Opposition would refuse to listen since they can’t imagine that empowerment can be biggest vote mobiliser. They would harp on caste and communal divide and would not be able to match up to the challenge thrown by Modi.
The writer is the author of “Narendra Modi: the GameChanger”. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.
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