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Enforcing the right to education

The children belong to the state, and it is the paramount constitutional obligation of the state to strive incessantly to provide universal access to quality education to all children regardless of their religion, gender, or community.

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In ‘a sorry state of affairs’ when Parliament ceases to be a forum of enlightening debate and discussion, and when ‘privilege’ is invoked to block scrutiny by a parliamentary committee, it is propitious that the recommendation of the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to bring all minority-run schools under the purview of Right to Education Act (RTE Act) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), has generated a new debate. The NCPCR also backed reservations for students from minority communities in such schools after its survey found a large proportion of non-minority students studying in these schools.

The NCPCR report points out that Christians comprise 11.54 per cent of India’s minority population and run 71.96 per cent of schools and Muslims with 69.18 per cent minority population run 22.75 per cent of the schools of the minorities. Sikhs comprise 9.78 per cent of the minority population and run 1.54 per cent of schools. Buddhists with a 3.83 per cent population run 0.48 per cent of schools, and Jains with 1.9 per cent population run 1.56 per cent of minority schools. The report finds a surge in the number of schools securing Minority Statusafter the 93rd Constitution Amendment, with more than 85% of schools of the total schools securing the certificate in the years 2005-2009. A second surge was seen in 2010-14, after the 2014 judgement of the Supreme Court in Pramati Educational & Cultural Trust v. Union of India making the RTE Act inapplicable to minority schools.

The NCPCR has, therefore, recommended to the GoI to bring all minority schools, including Madrasas under the purview of the RTE Act and SSA and also recommended reservations for students from minority communities in such schools in view of its finding that 74 per cent of students in Christian missionary schools belonged to non-minority communities, and overall, 62.50 per cent of students in such schools belonged to non-minority communities. The report also points out that many schools have registered as minority institutions to thwart the implementation of the RTE Act. Some of the conclusions are contentious, for instance, the number of students studying in Christian schools as against the students of the majority community studying in them. However, let me confine here to the limited questions of bringing the minority-run educational institutions within the ambit of the RTE Act and whether such an action would impinge on the Cultural and Educational Rights of the Minorities. The moot point is, can the minorities, permitted to run educational institutions under the protective umbrella of Article 30, contravene Article 21(A) which protects a child’s fundamental right to education. Another cause of serious worry is after the Pramiti judgement, placing minority schools outside the purview of the RTE Act, there is no compulsion to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds even those belonging to the minority communities.

Under the Indian Constitution, all minorities, whether based on religion or language, have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. Article 29 protects the interests of the minorities by making a provision that any section of citizens residing in the territory of India, having a distinct language, script or culture have the right to conserve the same. It further mandates that no discrimination would be done by the State on the ground of religion, race, caste, language, or any of them for admission in educational institutions maintained by the State. Article 30 guarantees the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and bars the State from discriminating against such institutions on the ground that they are under minority management in the matter of grant in aid. The Parliament inserted Article 21A in the Constitution vide Eighty-sixth Constitution Amendment, making it incumbent that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner, as the State may, by law, determine. The amendment also substituted Article 45 which now reads, “The State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years.” Besides, it inserted clause (k) in Article 51A casting an obligation on the parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or ward between the age of six and fourteen years.

The 93rd Amendment added clause (5) to Article 15, which enables the State to make any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of Article 30. To give effect to the constitutional provisions, the Parliament enacted The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, (RTE Act).

The recommendation of the NCPCR, a statutory body set up under the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2007, has caused anxiety in some sections of the minorities. There is an apprehension that by bringing the minorities-run educational institutions under the ambit of the RTE Act and the SSA, it would violate the fundamental Cultural and Educational Rights of the Minorities guaranteed by Articles 29 and 30. The expression ‘minorities’ in Article 30 is not defined in the Constitution. However, Section 2 (c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 notifies Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jain, and Zoroastrians (Parsis) as minority communities. The question is if the minorities-run educational institutions are brought under the ambit of the RTE Act and the SSA, will it curb, control, or erode the fundamental Cultural and Educational Rights of the minorities. To answer this question, let’s have a closer look at the aims and objects of the RTE Act. Education, being a Concurrent field of legislation under the Constitution, the RTE Act casts an obligation on the appropriate Governments and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance, and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group. The RTE Act also requires all private schools to reserve 25 per cent of seats for children of weaker sections whose stipulated fee would be reimbursed by the State. The Right to Education of Persons with Disabilities until 18 years of age is reinforced by the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, and the SSA. The SSA, launched in 2002-2003 in partnership with the State Governments and Local Self Governments, aims to provide education for all. Now rechristened as Samagra Shiksha, it subsumes the three Schemes of SSA, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and Teacher Education. It is now Government of India’s flagship programme for the achievement of Universalisation of Elementary Education in a time-bound manner in a mission mode, as mandated by the 86th amendment, making free and compulsory education to the Children of 6-14 years age group.

The SSA envisages opening of new schools in those habitations which do not have schooling facilities and strengthening the existing school infrastructure through the provision of additional classrooms, toilets, drinking water, playgrounds, boundary walls, maintenance grant, and school improvement grants. Also, schools with inadequate teacher strength are provided with additional teachers, while the capacity of existing teachers is being strengthened by extensive training, grants for developing teaching-learning materials, and strengthening of the academic support structure at a cluster, block, and district level.

The rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice under Article 30 have become litigious due to misplaced apprehension and fear of interference by the State. Regulations for maintaining academic standards, ensuring proper infrastructure, health, and sanitation, etc. cannot be construed as violative of Article 30 in view of the provisions contained in Articles 19, 21A, and 26. The Pramati judgment failed to notice that besides the 25 per cent quota in Section 12(1)(c), the RTE Act also has provisions on infrastructural norms, pupil-teacher ratio, prohibition on screening tests, and capitation fee and ban on corporal punishment, etc. These provisions benefit both the students and the minority community. Moreover, the judgement did not consider the fact that the government-aided minority schools stand on a different footing from their unaided counterparts, and as such are subject to regulations in order that all children receive free, compulsory, and quality education.

All regulative measures which are not destructive or annihilative of the character of the institution established by the minority, have been held valid by the judiciary. In the Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College case (AIR1975), while considering the importance of teachers in an educational institution, Ray C.J. in his leading judgment observed, “The minority institutions have the right to administer institutions. This right implies the obligation and duty of the minority institutions to render the very best to the students [….] checks and balances in the shape of regulatory measures are required to ensure the appointment of good teachers and their conditions of service.” It was further stated that “regulations which will serve the interests of the teachers are of paramount importance in good administration.”According to Khanna, J., “The regulations have necessarily to be made in the interest of the institution as a minority educational institution. They have to be so designed as to make it an effective vehicle for imparting education”, and “Regulations made in the true interests of efficiency of instruction, discipline, health, sanitation, morality, public order and the like may undoubtedly be imposed.”

Justice Khannaalso cautioned, “The minority institutions cannot be allowed to fall below the standards of excellence expected of educational institutions, or under the guise of exclusive right of management… Balance has, therefore, to be kept between the two objectives, that of ensuring the standard of excellence of the institution and that of preserving the right of the minorities to establish and administer their educational institutions. Regulations which embrace and reconcile the two objectives can be considered to be reasonable.” These observations were quoted, and concurred in, by the Supreme Court in Sk Md. Rafique vs Managing Committee, in their judgement delivered in January, 2020, setting aside the judgement of the Single Judge of the Calcutta High Court, and upholding the West Bengal Madrasah Service Commission Act, 2008. The Supreme Court held that the State has the right to introduce a regulatory regime in the national interest to provide minority educational institutions with well-qualified teachers so that they can achieve excellence in education.

It would be worthwhile to mention that an eminent scholar like Faizan Mustafa has termed the judgement per incuriam, i.e., contrary to law. However, in the light of a catena of judgements of the apex court, minority institutions cannot ignore or contravene the regulations issued by the State which aim to strengthen the reach of quality education to all children. The children belong to the State, regardless of their religion, and it is the paramount constitutional obligation of the State to strive incessantly to provide universal access to quality education to all children regardless of their religion, gender or community. The objective of the successive National Policies on Education has been to provide universal access to quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all. India is a signatory to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), and committed to attaining these goals which are in accord with the philosophy, and specific provisions, of the Constitution. The RTE does not bar the minority-run institutions to choose their own management, appoint teachers and staff subject to their fulfilling the necessary norms and standards of education, admit eligible students, have a reasonable fee structure, and use their properties and assets for their institutional benefit subject to the laws of the land. The provisions of the Constitution have to be construed harmoniously to give to each one of them. It is time to review the Pramati Judgement.

The author is a former Addl Secretary of India and a member of the Delhi Bar Council. Views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

THE HIGH COMMAND STRIKES BACK

Priya Sahgal

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We are seeing the rise of a very centralised High Command both in the Congress and the BJP. Of course, with the BJP this has been firmly in place for the last seven years, ever since Narendra Modi took office as Prime Minister. Hence the shuffling of Chief Ministers, from Karnataka to Uttarakhand to Gujarat did not raise too many eyebrows. It was also very neatly executed with little dissidence from the state leaders.

The Congress is another story. In fact, this is the party that invented the High Command culture (byline goes to Indira Gandhi). But over the years and especially ever since the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle we have seen the Gandhis losing hold of the party. Earlier party dissidents would whisper their dissent off-the-record; now they are writing letters directly to the High Command and releasing them in the media. Dinners are being organised where the Gandhis are not invited but every other opposition leader is present. What is worse, the loyalists who would usually counter the rebels by affirming loyalty to the High Command are now deserting the party for greener pastures. The word was out— the Gandhis were losing control. Something drastic had to be done.

And, then something drastic was done. The sacking of the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was not just limited to state politics. The larger message behind the move was to once again place the Congress’ first family back on the throne. The midnight call for a Congress Legislative Party Meeting, the signature campaign that preceded it, Captain Amarinder’s resignation that followed, and the carte blanche to the High Command to choose his successor was all part of a well-choreographed act. The same Captain whose supporters had refused to give Rahul Gandhi the credit for the party’s 2017 win in Punjab was now ‘humiliated’ in public and forced to resign. Earlier there was a narrative that while the Gandhis may rule over the rest of the Congress, the Republic of Punjab was under the Maharaja’s rule with the MLAs owing personal allegiance to him. In one stroke, their allegiance has been transferred back to the High Command as is obvious by the fact that all of them signed a piece of paper authorising Sonia Gandhi to choose their next leader.

Party sources say that this is not Sonia Gandhi but the work of the Gandhi siblings— Rahul and Priyanka, aided and advised by Prashant Kishor. Whatever the source, one thing is clear that there is now a much more ruthless High Command at the Congress. We can argue whether it was a politically shrewd move to replace the Captain with Navjyot Singh Sidhu (he may not be CM but there is no doubt that Sidhu will be the face of the Congress campaign). But the move has sent a tacit message to other state leaders as well, including Ashok Gehlot. The Rajasthan Chief Minister was one of the first to react, when he reached out to the Captain in a very public tweet, asking him not to do anything drastic. He is probably worried that Rajasthan may be the next focus. So far Gehlot has been defying the High Command’s missive to undertake a cabinet expansion and accommodate some of Sachin Pilot’s team. Will he continue this defiance or play ball post Punjab?

It is also interesting to note that not one Congress leader of note has come out in support of the Captain and taken on the High Command for this action. (The exception being Sanjay Jha, who remains a suspended leader— perhaps for this very reason). The message has been delivered and the Gandhis will be back on the Punjab hoardings (until now Captain enjoyed solo space). Now, it is their turn to perform. Because nothing reaffirms power and authority better than an electoral win. Ask Narendra Modi.

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Opinion

Making a perceptible change in Uttar Pradesh

The Yogi Adityanath-led government has performed admirably in all spheres because the Chief Minister led from the front. Success has not been accidental. He has been a forthright, upfront and a dedicated leader, and his efforts have culminated into deliverables.

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No Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh has arrived at a moment of greater urgency than Yogi Adityanath, at least in recent decades. The man who took that oath of office seemed cut from his predecessors—a math mahant, a firebrand young angry man who became a politician to subsequently be named as the Chief Minister, a prodigious orator from Gorakhpur whose unconventional persona can hardly go unnoticed, is either deeply revered or hated by one and all. Though a politician from Hindi heartland, he believes not in camouflaging his narration, but taking even a wild bull by its horns.

My own first and the only encounter with the Yogi, the Chief Minister, was no less unconventional and fiery. Soon after assuming the reins, he started pursuing the “skeletons” of previous regimes. The sale of sugar mills seven years back was referred to CBI to investigate. Peeved at the politics, rather than facts, driving his decision, I protested at an audience I had sought from him. His blunt response drew an equally blunt response from me. Told him on his face, that as none in the Government had checked the facts before referring to CBI, my team would come out spotless in the agni-pariksha.

This brush with Yogi notwithstanding, his focussed and resolute approach to root out corruption, particularly in government employment and, to check high-profile crimes and criminals has been most impressive and a game-changer.

CRIME AND JUSTICE

At the outset of his term, Yogi Adityanath had declared his intention to make criminal justice reform a substantial part of his legacy. He reiterated his “Zero Tolerance” mantra towards corruption, criminals, and gangsters.

Crackdown on gangsters has been relentless, booking record number of criminals under the Gangster Act and attaching record value of the property. At the same time, as many as 139 hardened criminals were killed in an exchange of fire with police. My in-confidence conversation with some knowledgeable persons confirms the sigh of relief being felt by people of the area.

ECONOMY

Handling of State’s economy by the Monk who became Chie Minister, speaks for itself. The Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of Uttar Pradesh grew at a CAGR of around 8.43% between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to reach Rs. 17.06 trillion (US$ 234.96 billion). The Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) grew at a CAGR of around 8.42% between 2015-16 and 2020-21 to reach Rs. 15.12 trillion ($208.34 billion). It is Yogi’s ambition of powering UP into a $1 trillion economy State, behind organising one of India’s biggest ‘Investors Summit’ in 2018 which attracted 1045 intents with investments worth INR 4.28 lakh Cr.

Four and a half years after occupying the office, the unemployment rate of Uttar Pradesh reached 4.4% which was the lowest it has been in a decade. The current unemployment rate in Uttar Pradesh stands at 7.0 % as per the September 2021 report of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) which is better than Maharashtra, which has 11.8% unemployment rate while Kerala has 7.8% unemployment rate. Before 2017, unemployment was above 18% and with the Yogi’s resolute style of functioning, the figures have remained well below 10%.

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh has emerged as the top investment destination and has received 98 investment proposals worth Rs 13,408.19 crore in the manufacturing sector during the past four years. The state, ranked number 2 in the country for ‘Ease of Doing Business’ has become the hotspot for foreign investors as well. Investment and development projects have become the medium of employment generation on a large scale.

The reason why Samsung moved its large display unit from China to Noida, why the footwear giant Von Wellx shifted production from China to Agra, and why Adani shut its logistics park in Punjab and is now investing in Noida’s data centre is not difficult to understand.

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

‘Women’s empowerment’ has been a quintessential subject in Yogi’s development agenda since he took office in 2017. Women are seen as the catalysts for development and it is for the same reason the state government launched its ‘Mission Shakti’ programme last year to create awareness about women empowerment and rights and to ensure their safety, dignity, and self-reliance.

Yogi government started ‘Kanya Sumangala Yojana’ as part of which a sum of Rs 15,000 is deposited at the time of the birth of a girl child under this programme. The initiative has benefited over 9.91 lakh girls in Uttar Pradesh through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT).

EMPLOYMENT

Yogi-led government has so far given jobs to over 4.5 lakh youths under its own aegis and by the end of the government’s present term, the number will cross five lakh. More importantly, these government jobs are free from any corruption charges which were rampant earlier and more often than not, were dragged to Courts of law and matter of criminal investigation.

Building a world-class transportation system (expressways, metros) is part of what has made Uttar Pradesh such a formidable force. Uttar Pradesh, earlier known for poor infrastructure is now accelerating towards expressway success by building India’s longest expressway network (approx 1,321 kilometers network). The UP’s road network and its wider transport infrastructure are crucial in the state’s efforts to foster connectivity and they generate massive employment.

Yogi Adityanath has tasked Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) to build four expressways— 340 km Purvanchal, 296 km Bundelkhand, 91 km Gorakhpur Link, and 594 km Ganga. These expressways will bring existing production centres or the ones to come up now, within a few hours’ distance of major consumption centres or industrial hubs far away; paving way for cascading economic development of even remote areas of the State.

TRANSPARENCY

Transparency is central to good governance and the Yogi government has made it a cardinal rule. The state government has set a record in timely procurement of cane and payment to sugarcane farmers besides taking a big step in giving slips to the farmers from the information technology (IT) centres. This was possible because the government had decided to set up IT Centres at all the 145 Sugarcane Cooperative Societies of the state to provide sugarcane slips to the sugarcane farmers in a timely and systematic manner which has given a big relief to 4.5 crore farmers selling sugarcane to sugar mills.

This was another endeavour of the government to connect farmers with modern technology towards a larger goal of doubling their income. The issuance of slips online has been one achievement in the sugarcane industry that has brought transparency in the system to a great deal.

All the money transfers are taking via Direct Benefit Transfer leaving no scope for any leakages. The state government also implemented an online single window system ‘Nivesh Mitra’in Feb-2018 to facilitate digital clearances to start and operate a business in the State.

As a result, in the last 3 years, more than 345 services of 27 State Departments are being provided through its online platform. With the number of services and licenses applications, Nivesh Mitra has become one of the largest single window systems currently available in India. It has been developed as a complete end-to-end online system eliminating the requirement of any human interface between applicants and departments.

The State Government has performed admirably in all spheres because Yogi led from the front. Success has not been accidental. He has toured the State most intensively. His visits have not been ceremonial. Ask any officer in districts that he visits, to know how sharply he dissects and how well he knows all about their subject.

The writer is the former Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal.

The Yogi government has so far given jobs to over 4.5 lakh youths under its own aegis and by the end of the government’s present term, the number will cross five lakh. More importantly, these government jobs are free from any corruption charges which were rampant earlier and more often than not, were dragged to courts of law and matter of criminal investigation.

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Opinion

INDIA MUST SHED RETICENCE ABOUT QUAD AS A SECURITY ALLIANCE

Joyeeta Basu

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Beijing is angry that the first in-person Quad summit among the leaders of India, United States, Japan and Australia is taking place this week in Washington, on 24 September, Friday. Beijing is unnerved at the possibility of the Quad taking a formal shape and is calling it a grouping based on Cold War ideology and thus “detrimental to the international order”. Ahead of the meeting, a significant defence and intelligence sharing pact was announced among the US, UK and Australia. Clearly directed at countering People’s Republic of China, AUKUS introduces an element of security in the Indo-Pacific construct, where Australia is provided with nuclear submarine technology by the US. AUKUS, being described as one of the biggest defence pacts for Australia, also covers AI and other technologies—all of which will likely go a long way in countering China. It goes without saying that China is livid at this latest development and has described AUKUS as a reflection of a “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice” apart from being “extremely irresponsible”. Almost in the same breath Chinese commentators are describing AUKUS as a case of US snubbing India and Japan by selecting Australia to be its “watchdog”—a term used by the PRC propaganda rag, Global Times—in the Indo-Pacific. Also according to GT, AUKUS has inflicted a “psychological blow on Japan and India” (as Quad members), which “will last for a period of time”. In fact, much of the Chinese commentary is now revolving around how Quad has lost relevance because of AUKUS and why India has taken a hit.

This is indicative of the focus that the Chinese are devoting to Quad, while simultaneously trying to run it down. In this is hidden PRC’s fear of Quad’s potential—the fear of Quad metamorphosing into a formal alliance of like-minded democracies that are not willing to see the world fall prey to PRC’s cannibalism.

However, will the Quad ever reach its potential? It is ironic that this question is being asked in the week when the first meeting of the Quad leaders is taking place. But there is reason to be sceptical about the summit, given the Quad’s currently diffused focus. It is almost certain that the summit will speak of issues such as vaccine manufacturing and climate change, supply chain resilience and free and open Indo-Pacific, but there is no indication that the Quad, even if it is formalized, will take the dragon by its tail by metamorphosing into a security alliance. And that is the only way to contain China—forming a security alliance. AUKUS came into existence with lightning speed. The Quad has been dragging on for years. How much longer will this continue?

There is no reason to believe that AUKUS makes Quad irrelevant or that it is a snub to India and Japan. Rather, AUKUS ought to be seen as a force multiplier for the democracies, and as some analysts have been saying, it can also be regarded as an extension of the Quad, where there is a convergence of interests, with countering China being the focus. Also, India’s relevance for any anti-China grouping can never diminish, courtesy it being China’s immediate neighbour, sharing a land border of 3,000 kilometres, apart from its economic and military might. No one understands this better than China, whatever be the public posturing by Chinese analysts.

But all that talk about the Quad developing into a Nato-like security alliance prevalent during Donald Trump’s presidency somehow has fizzled out. So much so that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made it clear during his visit to India in July that the Quad was not a security alliance, but a means “to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, stability in the region”. Although he did not explain what all those military exercises among the Quad countries are about.

So what is the Quad? An alliance of do-gooders? A pressure group? But when the power to be contained is China, a country that has made grabbing a neighbour’s territory its state policy, and which is trying to overthrow the established order by trying to Sinicise the world in a toxic manner, can pressure groups without a formal security pact deliver the desired results? There is a view that India’s insistence on multilaterism—the latest avatar of the old and discarded nonalignment—is preventing the Quad from becoming a “sword arm” of the free world. India is good at fence-sitting in the name of multilateralism and strategic autonomy, although these two aspects need not be in conflict with any security alliance that may come into existence. India will have to shed its reticence and factor in the security aspect in the Quad construct, as else the Quad is not going anywhere.

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Time’s 100 list: PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed

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One would be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not figure in any list prepared by any select people in the list of influential global leaders. But equally surprising is the opinion of CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria wherein he has said that PM Modi “has pushed the country (India) away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism”.

Time’s list in itself is not very objective since it is based on opinion and recommendations of its international staff and alumni numbering 100. This is not based on an international anonymous poll and is an opinion of a select few elite. For credibility’s sake, they can’t ignore certain leaders but inclusion of Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar raises eyebrows.

The bias is clear in Zakaria’s description. One can imagine that America’s biggest debacle will need to be assuaged by Western media by projecting Baradar as a more presentable face of the Taliban. It is also a way to tell the Taliban who is acceptable to the West. Not that the Taliban are bothered.

Most interesting is the description of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She is described as “the face of fierceness in Indian politics”. “Of Banerjee, it is said, she does not lead her party, the Trinamool Congress, she is the party. The street fighter spirit, and self-made life in a patriarchal culture set her apart.”

One wonders why this description was not given in 2012 when she appeared in the same Time’s list. Banerjee was then described as a “mercurial oddball and a shrieking street fighter”, however, what she has proved to be is a “consummate politician”. “Banerjee, 57, spent years struggling on the margins, her Trinamool Congress party a feisty rabble compared with the leviathan of West Bengal’s communists…”

It did not mention her mesmerising spell on the electorate that uprooted the Left Front’s 34 year of misrule in West Bengal in 2011. Time’s list in 2011 had come a month before election results. So, in 2012, it definitely merited a strong mention which was sadly missing.

Banerjee is hugely popular no doubt, but not for the right reasons. She has adopted the technique of the Left Front to stay in power and has adopted minority appeasement and violence to intimidate adversaries. One wonders whether the West has this as the ideal type for their society.

Although the Left and the Congress bundled themselves out to enable a Trinamool victory in West Bengal in May, they together failed to prevent the BJP from becoming the single largest Opposition in the state with victory on 77 seats, a remarkable improvement from its tally of three in 2016. The BJP secured a vote percentage of 41 per cent which was a mere three per cent less than that of the Trinamool Congress.

And to say that she stood out despite a patriarchal culture is a feat she achieved a long time back. In fact, the US took a long time to field a woman—Hillary Clinton—as a presidential nominee. In India, there is a rich culture of women rulers and leaders who have etched their names in history despite patriarchy. Razia Sultan, Rani Lakshmibai and Rani Gaidinliu—historical figures—are household names.

Suchita Kriplani, the first woman chief minister of any Indian state (Uttar Pradesh), Indira Gandhi, Mayawati are examples who have made their mark in politics by dint of their hard work. And we should not forget the late J. Jayalalithaa who held sway over Tamil Nadu politics for quite a long time. Patriarchy never came in their way.

If you ask a person like Fareed Zakaria to write a profile, you don’t expect him to hide his bias. In fact, this suits the narrative Western media tries to peddle to feed vested interests. PM Modi is in the Time’s list but something must be given to Islamists and Leftists who may not like this. Zakaria has done just that. He has tried to cater to those who dominate the media and policy making and tries to see India in a particular way.

In April 2012, Zakaria had predicted that Narendra Modi would not become a national leader in India. Modi could never become the face of India, he had asserted. He keeps looking at opportunities to hurl punches at Modi without trying to get into details. His credibility as an impartial observer is very low, except among so-called secular journalists, because of his Congress links and also because of intellectual dishonesty. You cannot form an opinion based on a few reports here and there. The India of today definitely thinks differently than Lutyens’ elite.

Even credible international agencies make their reports on India not based on facts but perceptions after talking to a few individuals favourably inclined. There are media persons who are paid handsomely to write against the Modi government. An organisation wanted to hire a journalist who would be anti-Modi. Only such narratives suit the West that try to paint India in a bad light.

Let us try to analyse Zakaria’s specific criticisms: “Pushing India away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism” and mishandling of Covid-19. A Prime Minister who worked over time to ensure that cryogenic tankers were imported from wherever possible and liquified medical oxygen filled cylinders were supplied to various Indian states using oxygen express trains cannot be spoken so loosely. Zakaria is speaking like Indian Opposition parties who have to criticise to score a political point and live for another day.

Such irresponsible writing is not expected from a journalist who would like to call spade a spade. His bias is there even when he describes Indian media as servile to the government and cannot show mirror to the ruling dispensation. The same media publishes or broadcasts his interview freely and nobody objects.

In the second wave, because of insistence by states, the management of Covid was handed over to the states. The role of the Centre was limited to setting protocols and providing resources and advisories. A real assessment would emerge only if someone prepares an unbiased, objective and fact-based narrative of what happened in those two months—April and May 2021—that appeared like dark clouds and took toll on even the most empowered houses. Needless to point out that Zakaria in an interview to CNN News in May had spoken about why a nationwide second lockdown was not possible.

On secularism, the entire country is debating what should be described as secularism—appeasement of minorities or equal opportunities to all. If you say that India is being pushed away from secularism, you are holding something that is beholden to you and you have reasons to lament. Are you talking of secularism that existed in India before the word “secularism” was inserted in the constitution’s Preamble by the 42nd amendment in 1976? First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and chairman of the Constitution drafting committee Dr B.R. Ambedkar decided after due debate to keep the word out of the Preamble because the word was a Western evolution and not suited to Indian context. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi thought otherwise and she even amended the vision enshrined in the Preamble.  

There are no concrete examples to demonstrate Zakaria’s views even if the criticism is taken at face value. The Minority Ministry is working remarkably well. Crores of scholarships have been allocated for students from the minority community for “secular” education and not madrasa-type education. Due to the introduction of biometric Aadhaar cards (that was opposed by secularists) so many bogus names have been taken out of the fake enrollment list of students in many States. This has happened in the case of ration cards and also other lists that get subsidies from the government.

Zakaria has special abhorrence for the CAA legislation as evidenced in his quoting a tweet from another secularist Shashi Tharoor. On 15 December 2019 Zakaria tweeted: “India’s new citizenship law is just the latest evidence that under PM Narendra Modi, the country is departing from its founding principles as a secular, open democracy, says opposition MP @ShashiTharoor”. Is his profile analysis a reflection of this tweet? Can he prove that CAA legislation is anyway opposed to Indian Muslims, or is in any way taking away any rights of any community? It is a legislation that confers citizenship on original Indian subjects residing in neighbouring countries but are persecuted due to Islamic radicalisation.

Saying that the country is being pushed to Hindu nationalism is baffling? It sounds like an Indian Leftist or Islamist bewailing unity of people for national cause. There used to be a time when it was fashionable among secular analysts of Indian affairs to see Hindus in terms of caste divides and Muslims as one monolithic entity. Their phraseology and understanding stemmed from that. By that count 14 per cent Muslims would be bigger than any caste Hindu grouping. Even the Jatavs (SC caste) constitute only about 14 per cent. Hence some of the caste Hindus who have their own community practice would fall in the category of minorities.

When there is nothing to unite people here, they vote on caste lines or other issues of mass mobilisation. At times they have risen to speak as one despite differences. When people have dreams of a strong India through the vision of PM Modi, they have reasons to vote for the country. This explains why social divisions don’t come in the way of a new national polity. They all want India to play its role in the world.

India cannot be India if it is divested of its rich cultural heritage. For example, yoga, which the world has accepted as one of the best ways for wholesome health. Even followers of Islam follow their traditional roots. For anything rich is Islamic culture, people would look towards other countries that are Islamic and have a serious history to claim a unique place. For example, Saudi Arabia. Where 80 per cent of the population is Hindus, one cannot grudge if they feel glorified and have started taking pride in their cultural roots.

And one must know that it is the Hindu culture and not the police or state that guarantees the safety of minorities in this country. The culture that has allowed experiment and does not consider anything blasphemous—even sage Charvaka who advocated bohemian existence was considered a saint—has given shelter to world religions. While separatists are trying to inject virus of communalism, the second largest Muslim population of the world lives in India in perfect peace and harmony. One needs to be truly Indian to appreciate this and not ones who try to judge India from Western stereotypes. Modi rising has scripted an India rising story. Doomsayers would be proved wrong. PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed.

The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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Opinion

CONGRESS GAMBLES ON SIDHU-CHANNI COMBINATION IN PUNJAB

Pankaj Vohra

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By naming Charanjit Singh Channi, a third time MLA from Chamkaur Saheb and a former minister as the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab, the Congress High Command has got into a damage control exercise following the dramatic resignation of Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday. In fact, the central leadership arrived at the decision after examining the claims of several top leaders including Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Partap Singh Bajwa, Sunil Jakhar and also Navjot Singh Sidhu. Late last night, the High Command appeared to have made up its mind to send Ambika Soni as Amarinder’s successor after ascertaining that she was the only one who enjoyed the support of every faction in the party. The Captain is understood to have called her twice to express his support for her candidacy as did Sidhu subsequently. However, resisting temptation and holding on to her conviction, Ambika declined the offer and stated that only a Sikh should be the State’s Chief Minister. Taken aback by her polite no to the Central leadership, Rahul Gandhi apparently commented that she was perhaps the first leader in the party who had declined a powerful position.

Being the senior most politician from Punjab by virtue of being elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1976 during the tenure of Giani Zail Singh, the only non Jat CM since reorganization of the State, she decided to withdraw from the race of which she never was a part. She informed the Interim president, Sonia Gandhi that her conscience did not permit her to accept the coveted position which should go to a Sikh. Throughout Sunday, the Central party observers obtained the views of MLAs and gave their report to the High Command. Charanjit Singh Channi’s name cropped up and he was finally chosen to head the government which would also have two deputy CMs in Brahm Mohindra and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. Although, Channi was one of the four senior leaders (others being Tript Bajwa, Randhawa and Sidhu) from the state who started the uprising against the Captain, the former Chief Minister is unlikely to put up any resistance to his appointment.

Had Sidhu been named, Amarinder would have stepped out openly to oppose him tooth and nail. There are 32 percent Dalit votes in Punjab and the Congress decision has attempted to factor the Jat Sikh-Dalit combination to win the Assembly polls next year. The move is also to counter the Akali Dal tie up with the Bahujan Samaj Party. However, in the process, the day witnessed many squabbles amongst the Jat Sikhs, who seemed uncomfortable if anyone other than themselves was promoted. There were reports that Sidhu felt peeved and insecure if Randhawa, his close friend was promoted. The two faces of the party would now be Sidhu and Channi. The flip side of the Jat Sikhs being denied the position is that one of them or more can switch to AAP which desperately needs a face in Punjab. The Captain who had in the most uncharacteristic manner granted interviews to TV channels to hit out at Sidhu, seemed to have mellowed down on Sunday. Many of his detractors accused him of using the BJP political idiom to attack Sidhu and the Pradesh president’s strategic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa took to twitter to warn the Captain that his description of anti-national against Sidhu was uncalled for and he should desist from using such language since there would be retaliation. The BJP attempted to drag in the Gandhis by asking them as to why were they silent on Amarinder’s allegations.

A senior Congress leader said that it was below their dignity to respond to the BJP. With Amarinder declaring that he was keeping all his options open, there is speculation that he could float his own party. This appears unlikely at this juncture since the Captain spoke to Sonia multiple times since Saturday. His decision to quit seemed to have been taken on an impulse as undoubtedly, he continues to be a leader whose stature was above the rest. Senior leaders including Salman Khurshid, his friend is now trying to pacify him and the Congress general secretary, Harish Rawat has praised his tenure as the CM in order to placate him. Punjab politics may see many more developments in the next few months.

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Opinion

India urgently needs a thorough Himalayan policy

The time for philosophy and romanticism is over; the Chinese have built more than 600 villages near India’s borders. Something needs to be done, and done now.

Claude Arpi

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Since a few years, the authorities in Tibet have started implementing Xi Jinping’s theory: “To govern the nation, govern the borders; to govern the borders, strengthen the development of border regions.”

The formula can be found in every speech of the local satraps posted in Tibet; they repeat parrot-like that the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.”

The slogan has taken a concrete shape with the building of 604 ‘model’ villages on the Tibetan side of the Indian border, mainly north of Arunachal Pradesh, but also in Himachal and Ladakh. Officially, the scheme is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.

In the meanwhile, on the Indian side, the border villages are quickly getting empty.

According to a RTI, more than 5 lakh people have migrated from Uttarakhand in the last 10 years. It is said that more than one lakh has permanently migrated out of their villages (not to return), while 3,83,726 people, who have left in search of work and a better life, keep visiting their native places. The RTI also mentions 3,946 villages from where people have ‘permanently’ left land and home; these villages are being termed ‘ghost villages’.

Arunachal Pradesh is facing a similar situation.

Following a meeting of several legislators in Itanagar, an Indo-China Border Development Legislators Forum of Arunachal Pradesh (ICBDLFAP) has recently been constituted to formulate plans and strategies to curb the migration of people from the border villages to urban areas.

India.com reported that MLAs representing constituencies along the India-China border have started this forum to prevent the exodus of border residents by speeding up the development of the 1,080 km frontier with China.

State Assembly Speaker PD Sona, who represents the Mechuka assembly constituency, observed: “The villagers along the international borders are still lacking basic amenities due to which they migrate to urban areas in search of better life and livelihoods.”

The Forum suggested modifying the guidelines of the existing Border Areas Development Plan: “The inhabitants of the border villages are considered India’s first line of defence. They have never failed in reporting transgressions by the Chinese troops. …Basically the border areas remained backward owing to topographical factors and inaccessibility.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately) India is not China, where a word from the Emperor suffices to put a scheme on rail; India nevertheless badly needs a Himalaya Policy, based on a close collaboration between the Center and the States bordering China.

Twelve years ago, on October 30, 2009, the Himachal Pradesh Government organized the first ever Himalayan Chief Ministers Conclave on ‘’Indian Himalaya: Glaciers, Climate Change & Livelihoods’’ in Simla.

The main objective was to discuss the issues of environment degradation, climate change and its impact on the livelihood of local inhabitants of Himalayan region.

The Chief Ministers’ Conclave, attended amongst others by Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and representatives of other Himalayan States, took place and a ‘Simla Declaration’ was agreed upon.

Unfortunately, ‘migration’ was not specifically mentioned and in any case, there was no follow up; this is happening all too often in India.

In Spring 2022, a national workshop is to be organized by NITI Aayog on the development of the Indian Himalayan region; it has been announced: “Central Ministries, State Government agencies, research institutions, NGOs, and other stakeholders will be part of the workshop. It will provide a national platform for sharing best practices on the science, governance, and field-work aspects of spring revival. The workshop will conclude with a roundtable discussion on the way ahead.”

Once again something more holistic and radical is required, because in most of these cases, the security issues so crucial today, are omitted, like it was decades ago, when Verrier Elwin’s romantic ‘Philosophy of NEFA’, became the Gospel for those dealing the borders. It resulted in a War with China.

The times for philosophy and romanticism are over; the Chinese have built more than 600 villages at India’s doors. Something needs to be done, and done now.

What is today required is a coordinated policy between the different stakeholders, including the defence forces.

A Department of Himalayan Affairs (DHA) needs to be created.

In view of the individualistic tendencies of the Indian bureaucracy, coordination will be a crucial element; it will need to be manned with (or in coordination with) officers of the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Education, Home, Culture, Environment as well as officers of the Indian Army, other border defense forces and intelligence agencies.

Without proper coordination, it will be just one more futile policy.

The DHA should work under the Prime Minister’s Office because if a ‘coordinator’ were to work under one of the above agencies only, he/she will not be in a position to coordinate and implement the holistic Government policy. A DHA should be headed by a Secretary, preferably with an Army/Security background.

In the 1950s and 1960s, an officer category called SOFA (Special Officer of Frontiers Affairs) existed; the scope of the SOFA’s responsibilities was limited due to the fact it was functioning under the MEA only; it was however manned by (excellent) officers, who were professionally looking after border areas.

It needs not being replicated as the situation has changed, though the DHA would have to keep in mind the welfare and the customs of the local population; this would include measures to stop the migration of the local populations towards the big cities; the building of infrastructure, the relations between the defence forces and the local population, the border trade and eventually trans-border pilgrimages.

The DHA could be supported by an Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS). In the 1950s, IFAS officers did a great job on India’s northern borders and in Tibet; most of them had sacrificed their careers to join the Service; all were remarkable personalities. Even though the cadre does not exist anymore, their lives should be role models for young officers posted on the borders. Detailed studies should be undertaken about the fascinating achievements of those daring IFAS officers; a similar Service needs to be recreated for the welfare of the Himalayan population and a sound strategic development of India’s Northern borders.

The DHA will also have the responsibility to write the History of the Indian Borders, this will be important to lay the foundation of a solid long-term policy for the Himalaya.

Finally, let us not deny that the Chinese President has a valid point: “to govern a nation, it is necessary to govern the borders…”

The Government will have to be bold to bypass the babus, but it is the pressing need of the hour; China is often moving its pawns faster; but with the right moves, Delhi could win a great Himalayan battle, and show Xi Jinping the advantages of democracy over totalitarianism.

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

A Department of Himalayan Affairs needs to be created.In view of the individualistic tendencies of the Indian bureaucracy, coordination will be a crucial element; it will need to be manned with (or in coordination with) officers of the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Education, Home, Culture, Environment as well as officers of the Indian Army, other border defence forces and intelligence agencies.Without proper coordination, it will be just one more futile policy.

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