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How PM’s development agenda is bringing J&K to the mainstream

The Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 has ensured stability, market access and predictable laws in the state, to help develop an ecosystem which will give better rewards to the skills, hard work and products of the people in the region.

Sanju Verma

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The Modi government, on 7 January 2020, approved an industrial development scheme worth Rs 28,400 crore for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, to give a fresh thrust to job creation and skill development in the region and attract new investment. Its outlay is until 2037. Smaller units with an investment in plant and machinery up to Rs 50 crore will get a capital incentive up to Rs 7.5 crore and get capital interest subvention at the rate of 6% for a maximum of seven years. What makes the scheme unique is the GST-linked incentive that will ensure less compliance burden without compromising on transparency.

After the abrogation of Article 370, various public outreach programmes have been undertaken with the intent of taking more than fifty Central schemes to all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For decades, the Abdullahs and Muftis have treated this region as their personal fiefdom. The fact that in the recent District Development Council (DDC) elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party, winning 75 seats and making inroads into hitherto impregnable areas like Srinagar, Bandipora and Pulwama, is a clear vindication of PM Modi’s development-oriented politics. The DDC elections, conducted in eight phases, saw an average voter turnout of over 51%, showcasing that there is genuine interest among the people of the Valley to take part in the electoral process because they foresee development and better quality of life for themselves and their future generations. 

Over five years ago, while announcing the ambitious Rs 80,000-crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir on November 7, 2015, at the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, PM Modi had made a passionate mention of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat” which is Kashmiri culture, democracy, and humanity. “Kashmiriyat ke bina Hindustan adhura hai (Without Kashmiriyat, India is incomplete),” he had said. This mega package that was to change the face of the militancy-hit state and draw the disillusioned back into the mainstream has been a resounding success.

On the jobs’ front, over 3,000 jobs were created for Kashmiri migrants. Financial assistance of Rs 578 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was provided to 12,588 displaced families (of the 36,384 families) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Chhamb. Land was acquired for an IIT and an IIM in Jammu and for the two AIIMS in Jammu and Awantipora in Kashmir. Power projects have moved at a fast pace. The Pakal Dul 1,000 MW project and the Srinagar-Leh transmission line are on course. Of the 28 small hydropower projects, estimated to cost a total of Rs 2,000 crore, a number of projects being executed by state-owned JAKEDA have either already been kicked off the ground or are scheduled to do so soon.

The Rs 80,000-crore package consists of 63 major development projects being implemented by 15 Central ministries. More than 79% of the total package has already been sanctioned, over 31% of the development package has been released and well over 25% of the total amount has already been utilised so far.

The Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as the Patnitop or Syama Prasad Mookerjee tunnel, is not only India›s longest highway tunnel, but also Asia›s longest bi-directional highway tunnel. The tunnel, stretching 9.28 km, was inaugurated by PM Modi in April 2017, and is a huge achievement that is set to transform how different regions of India are connected across various terrains. The tunnel has reduced travel time between the winter and summer capitals (Jammu and Srinagar respectively) of Jammu and Kashmir by two to three hours, reducing the distance by 31 km, which in turn is resulting in a huge reduction in the consumption of fuel. The Modi government estimates a reduction of Rs 27 lakhs of fuel consumption per day on an average. Further, the tunnel is impervious to natural calamities such as landslides and avalanches which are common in the region. The core advantage the tunnel offers is permanent connectivity to the Kashmir Valley which had been, hitherto, only intermittently connected.

The fact that Jammu and Kashmir has always been high on the Modi government›s priority list is best amplified by PM Modi›s launch of the Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine (SEHAT) scheme on December 26, 2020. The scheme will cover the remaining one crore population which has not been covered under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. With the launch of the Sehat scheme in Jammu and Kashmir, the Union Territory is among the first in India to achieve universal health coverage. Currently, under the Ayushman Bharat PM Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), which gives eligible beneficiaries a free health cover of Rs 5 lakh, 30 lakh people are already covered in Jammu and Kashmir.

The uneasy calm that had prevailed in the Valley after the revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A has now paved the way for higher business confidence and greater stability, with terrorism and separatism taking a backseat. The abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A have made it possible to implement the 7th Pay Commission recommendations and the Indian Penal Code (IPC), instead of the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which had been in vogue all these years. Under Article 35-A, no outsider could bag a government job. Earlier, companies were forced to hire only locals. The revocation of the above articles has levelled the playing field. No investor was willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institution or private hospital in J&K since he or she could neither buy land or property. Their wards could not get government jobs or admission to colleges. Even after so many decades, there are barely any major national or international chains which have set up hotels in a tourism-centric region like J&K, preventing enrichment, resource generation and job creation. But on 5 August 2019, Prime Minister Modi›s government reset the clock, undoing all the misguided wrongs of the jaded Nehruvian era, with the unprecedented, epoch-making decision of abrogating Articles 370 and 35-A.The rest is history, as they say.

J&K›s special status had thus far shielded it even from the applicability of Article 3 of the Constitution, which provides for redrawing state boundaries or the creation of a new state/UT. But all that is in the past now, as Jammu and Kashmir, which is a UT now, is at the cusp of a sharp economic turnaround.

Remember, Articles 370 and 35-A empowered J&K to be a near autonomous state since it limited the Centre›s authority to just external affairs, defence, finance and communication. This provision also allowed J&K to have a “Sadar-e-Riyasat” for the governor and prime minister in place of a chief minister till 1965 as well as its own flag and constitution. Hence, revoking Article 370, which was, in any case, always been temporary and transitional, as per Part XXI of the Constitution, was long overdue. Before the revocation, the Union government needed the concurrence of the State government to even declare a financial emergency in the state under Article 360.

As per the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019, in place of this special status, all the provisions of the Indian Constitution will henceforth be applicable, which will help in mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35-A, which comes under Article 370, proscribed and prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the state, buying immovable property, acquiring land, applying for government jobs or any kind of scholarships, aids as well as other public welfare projects. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will now be treated as one, with no discrimination between permanent residents and non-permanent ones.

Article 35-A, also referred to as the Permanent Residents Law, had thus far barred a woman (belonging to the state) from any property rights if she married a person from outside the state. The provision also extended to the children of such women as they did not have any succession rights over the property. The revoking of this Article ended this age-old discrimination against women of J&K who chose to marry outsiders.

The Modi government›s decision to revoke Article 370 has ensured stability, market access, and predictable laws in the state, to help develop an ecosystem which will give better rewards to the skills, hard work and products of the people in the region. “In today’s world, economic growth cannot happen in a closed environment. Open minds and open markets will ensure that the youth of the region will put it on the path of greater progress. The integration gives a boost to investment, innovation and incomes,” PM Modi had said post the revocation of the discriminatory articles.

“Better connectivity, better linkages and better investment will help products of the region to reach across the country and the world, leading to a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity to the common man,” PM Modi had further said. And with the slew of infrastructure projects underway in the region, that is precisely what is happening. It needs to be mentioned here that Jammu and Kashmir had received 10% of all Central grants given to states over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only 1% of the country’s population.

In contrast, Uttar Pradesh, making up about 13% of India›s population, received only 8.2% of Central grants in 2000-16. That means J&K, with a population of 12.55 million, according to the 2011 Census, received Rs 91,300 per person over the sixteen year period between 2000 and 2016, while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs 4,300 per person over the same period. Why did J&K not see any substantive development despite receiving a disproportionate amount of Central assistance? Well, because funds alone cannot guarantee good governance, if political will is lacking and an enabling ecosystem is missing. In one historic fell sweep, PM Modi, on 5 August 2019, by mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, ensured that the region could prosper like any other, without being beholden to a corrupt and conniving political class represented by the Abdullahs and Muftis, who had used the special status of J&K to only accord special privileges unto themselves.

The fact that the Modi government truly abides by the dictum of «Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas aur Sabka Vishwaas» can be gauged from the inauguration of mega hydro power projects in Jammu on 3 January 2021. Memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed with National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to attract Rs 35,000 crore of investments, besides ensuring 24-hour power supply in the UT. January 3 was a historic day as mega hydro power projects to make J&K a power surplus region in the country were inked. MoUs were signed for the implementation of 850 MW Ratle HEP and 930 MW Kirthai-II HEP, the execution of Sawalkot HEP (1856 MW), Uri-I (Stage-II) (240 MW) and Dulhasti (Stage-II) (258 MW), which will transform the economic landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. In the last 70 odd years, J&K was able to generate only 3504 MW energy. But in the next four years, the UT will generate 3,498 MW of additional electricity to ensure energy security of the region, all thanks to the vision of PM Modi.

The 19 distribution and transmission projects inaugurated on 3 January 2021 would also enhance ease of living in the region, in addition to raising per capita incomes, industrialisation and employment generation in J&K. The national average of electricity in rural areas is 20 hours and in urban areas is 22-23 hours across India. J&K too will reach that milestone if the pace of development is kept steady. With locals to be trained and given employment in NHPC ventures, J&K will see a new dawn of energy sufficiency and thereby inclusive development.

Indeed, J&K is taking a quantum leap from being power deficit to power surplus in the next four years. Clean, affordable and reliable energy is the key for industries, businesses and society to grow. The Modi government has a well laid out plan to effectively harness the hydro energy resources of J&K, with a goal to double the energy generation by 2024. Moreover, the construction work on the Ring Road project, the widening of the National Highway from Pathankot to Jammu to make it six-lane from four-lane as well as the acquisition of land for the landmark Katra-Delhi Expressway road corridor has started in the Jammu region. Out of seven centrally funded medical colleges, Jammu has received four and Kashmir, three. As for recruitment to government jobs, hereafter, selection will be done purely on the basis of written tests, without an interview.

Those, including the Gupkar Alliance, who are raising a hue and cry against the revocation of Article 370 are merely habitual pessimists with rapidly declining political relevance. Prime Minister Modi’s aspirational and inclusive brand of politics is set to herald the winds of change in Jammu and Kashmir, so that everyone has a shot at growth with a better quality of life.

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’.

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Opinion

The fault, dear Bollywood, is not in our stars, but in our content

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The performance at the box office of both Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha and Akshay Kumar’s Raksha Bandhan has been underwhelming to say the least. Producers, distributors, actors, cinema owners, everyone connected to the film industry in one way or the other are lamenting the successive box office failures of Bollywood productions. Star power seems not to matter anymore. A little while ago Ranveer Singh’s Jayeshbhai Zordar, Ranbir Kapoor’s Shamshera, and even Tiger Shroff’s Heropanti all fell by the wayside.

If you stop to think of it though, in a way, this could be a long overdue and very good lesson for the film industry because it must learn that in order to survive it has perforce to improve its content and not rely unduly on star power. Content in cinema includes choreography, screenplay, dialogue, direction, editing, proper casting and many other things, but what really matters can perhaps be summed up in one word: storytelling.

Nasiruddin Shah’s wife, the actor Ratna Pathak spoke last month, in an interview published in the Hindustan Times about the star system as it had existed in the seventies. According to her it was an obnoxious system ‘where the content of films was driven by the star involved and not by the idea of telling a story.’ She also spoke of how many stars were poor performers but were nonetheless cruising along. In an earlier era, directors like Bimal Roy and Mehboob Khan had held sway who saw a movie star as the carrier of a story and not the other way around.

Now we see the star system crumbling, slowly but surely. Actor Salman Khan also interviewed recently stated that he had been hearing talk about the collapse of the star system for decades now, but it wasn’t something that was going to happen. Stars, he maintained, would always exist. That may be so, but they will hereafter no longer command the kind of position in cinema that they have commanded till now. Some sort of balance will need to be restored if Bollywood is to survive. In Salman’s own case his inclusion in a film by no means guarantees box office success. In fact, his films have bombed time and again the most recent one being the unwatchable Dabangg 3.

In terms of timing, it is perhaps no coincidence that the actor Ranveer Singh decided to take off all his clothes and do a shoot in the nude last month. He went the Full Monty and although those pictures were not put on social media as they would offend censorship guidelines, apparently the fully nude pictures were circulating on WhatsApp.

When you reach a certain kind of stardom, it is easy enough to get people to endorse whatever you do. Praise came from various quarters about how Ranveer is entitled to do whatever it is he wishes to do as part of his creative self-expression. Wife Deepika Padukone too approved his decision, as his spouse and possibly also in the light of her own revealing performance in her latest film Gehrayian.

The fact that he has done a shoot in the nude now, and not some other time, may have something to do with the fact that his most recent film Jayesh Bhai Jordar went phuss at the box office. So Ranveer, tossing and turning from the snide remarks and taunts that would have inevitably followed, needed to do something to erase public memory of that flop and replace it with something else more noteworthy. A nude photo-shoot may have, to him, appeared to be the simplest and easiest thing to do.

Why was this lesson not taught to Bollywood earlier? One way of analysing this is to say that all of us in India need an entertainment fix once a week and till a few years ago there was no alternative to the big screen. Marx said famously that religion was the opium of the masses, which may well be true, but in India cinema also qualified as an alternative escape from the humdrum monotony of daily life. Everyone in the world knows of India’s obsession with cricket and the movies.

There was television of course, but it wasn’t really such an immersive experience and moreover most serials targeted the housewife with ‘saas bahu’ conflicts, not such an engaging subject matter for a male audience. What changed over the past few years, especially after corona, was the arrival of the OTT platform with its numerous web series, docudramas and cinema made for exclusive release on Netfix, Sony Liv, Zee 5, Voot or some such channel.

As a consequence, the cinema watching audience became more discerning and more demanding. It took the star struck Indian audience some time to get used to better content, but once that happened it wasn’t so easy to lure them back to the cinema halls. For one thing it would take an hour to drive to the movie hall in the traffic and sometimes as much time to find parking. A middle-class man realises that quite apart from spending money on movie tickets, he may need to spend over a thousand rupees on snacks such as popcorn, nachos, burgers what have you, for himself and his family. No, if it wasn’t good cinema, it was better to stay at home, watch the cricket or a Netflix series or film and get the wife or cook to rustle up some fritters or pakoras. What’s not to like there?

Will Bollywood change? Can Bollywood change? No question, it can and it will. Money talks as nothing else can. Star power itself was built on the making of money, and that power will lessen and dissipate once it is clear, as it should be, by now, that star power alone cannot make a movie succeed at the box office anymore. The times, they are a changing, as Bob Dylan sang.

Rajesh Talwar is the author of 34 books across multiple genres. He has worked for the United Nations for over two decades across three continents in numerous countries.

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A LONG ROAD AHEAD FOR CONGRESS BEFORE 2024

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The All India Congress has been aggressively pursuing its agenda against the Centre particularly on price rise. The party has been staging protests on the issue at the block level. There is a scheduled national-level rally on the issue on 28 August. Protesting against price rise is fine since the issue is of concern to the common man. But the big question is would the Congress be able to effectively use the issue against the Modi government.

Congress has raised such issues earlier too, but it has failed to take its campaigns on those issues to a logical conclusion. In not too distant a past, for instance, the party staged protests across many states against the three farm laws, which now stand repealed. In fact, it was the Congress which began protests against the farm laws, with Rahul Gandhi hitting the streets. However, the party lost the plot and the movement was hijacked and party found itself sidelined.

Now coming back to the price rise, the Congress has not raised the issue the first time. Eight months back, the party organised a national-level rally at Jaipur on 12 December 2021. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot put in all efforts to make the rally a success. If the huge crowds the rally drew were any yardstick, the rally was undoubtedly successful. Addressing the rally, Rahul Gandhi slammed the BJP saying that he was a Hindu but not a Hindutvavadi. His comments put the party in a tight spot as the BJP launched an all-out offensive on Hindutva, relegating the issue of inflation to irrelevance. The Saffron brigade won assembly elections in four states hands down. The party has once again made inflation a major issue to corner the BJP government at the centre. But nobody can deny the fact that Congress raked the issue, perforce, again to deflect the attention from the investigation in the National Herald money laundering case by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), in which the ED had summoned both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia for interrogation. The Congress staged country-wide protests against the ED interrogating the Gandhis. However, the party realised that it may boomerang on it, as the BJP retaliated by attacking the party on parivarvad (familial nepotism) and corruption. The party, however, managed to deflect the criticism by invoking issues like price rise and unemployment and putting them on its agenda in a forceful manner.

By bringing issues of nepotism and corruption back in public discourse in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already set the agenda without naming the Gandhi family. It is clear that the BJP would once again take on the Opposition on these twin planks in coming elections. It is also clear from what Modi said that whosoever is involved in corruption will have to face the consequences. This stance may be worrisome not only for the Congress but also for leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Tejaswi Yadav, for nobody knows when the ED would come knocking on their doors.

But there is a silver lining for the Congress. It has been able to put pressure on the BJP government on an issue like inflation, which affects the commoners like nothing. The Congress was also able to put up a united front while staging protests against price rise and unemployment. The Gandhis hit the streets to lead party workers and leaders from the front. Encouraged by the response it has got from workers across the states, the party has drawn an ambitious plan to reach out to the people. The party will begin its “Bharat Jodo Yatra” on 7 September the success of which will depend on the support it receives from the common people. But if the party keeps pressing the issues it has been championing in recent times it is bound to find popular support among the masses, which may help catapult the Congress to become a force to reckon with in 2024.

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Nitish’s move lacks credibility

Many have tried to depict Nitish Kumar’s as a result of the BJP’s alleged attempts to divide the Janata Dal United (JDU). But this is far from the truth. Nitish was guided by his own vaulting ambition to take a final shot at the top slot-the Prime Minister of India.

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Nitish Kumar

Nitish Kumar’s move to jettison trusted ally, the BJP, and align with forces he till recently considered inimical to the interest of Bihar, shows the new low in political gerrymandering. He has demonstrated to one and all that he cannot be trusted with words and his self-interest would govern his actions.

His opportunistic swing between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) reminds one of the hilarious Aaaya Ram Gaya Ram phenomenon that happened in 1960s and showed how personal interest guides political moves. Nitish is being described by many as ‘Paltu Ram’ of Indian politics which refers to a person known for changing sides without the slightest of moral compunctions.

At the first assembly election in Haryana in 1967, Gaya Ram had won as an independent candidate. Immediately after the results were out, he joined the Congress but within few hours he joined the United Front. The same day by the evening, he rejoined the Congress. Within nine hours he shifted loyalty thrice. Congress leader Rao Birendra Singh while addressing the media said, “Gaya Ram Ab Aaya Ram hai”.

Ever since then, frequent shift of political loyalty had become a joke for those who could not be trusted. The anti-defection law that seeks to prevent political defections is silent on the situation created by Nitish Kumar. This sobriquet of Paltu Ram for Nitish Kumar was given by none other than Lalu Prasad Yadav when Kumar walked out of the JDU-RJD alliance in 2017 on the issue of corruption by RJD leaders, particularly Tejashwi Yadav. “He has neither principles nor ideology but only greed for power”, Prasad had said.

Both the BJP and the JDU had contested elections in alliance in 2020 and Nitish became chief minister even when he had much fewer seats (43) than the BJP that had won 74 assembly seats. He has sunk and the alliance and joined forces with adversaries- the RJD and others. This cannot by any stretch of imagination be described as something that people of the State would want. People know that the mandate for the NDA was largely due to image and massive campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the personal guarantee he gave about Bihar witnessing unprecedented development under double Engine NDA Government.

Many critics and analysts have tried to depict Kumar’s exit from the NDA as a result of the BJP’s alleged attempts to divide the Janata Dal United (JDU) or create trouble for the chief minister. But these are far from the truth. Nitish was guided by his own vaulting ambition to play a larger role in Indian politics and to take a final shot at the top slot- the Prime Minister of India in 2024.

One should not forget that he had similar ambition in 2013. On 16 June he had snapped ties with the BJP when the party made Narendra Modi its campaign chief for 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Nitish had given the most venomous statement when Modi was subsequently named the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. “People of the country will not tolerate or accept a leader whose idea and policy is divisive” Kumar had said.

At the back of his mind somewhere, Kumar may have imagined that the BJP wound not get a majority and a hung parliament could throw up a possibility of someone else (read Nitish) to become the Prime Minister. If wishes had wings horses could fly. The entire country witnessed Modi’s personal charisma and trust translate into massive majority for the BJP. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.

This happens if one stays on one post (here chief minister) for a long time and is unable to do much for development of the State. You cannot blame others if the State has failed to catch up with other more developed States of India. With nothing challenging to do, one gets bored and starts looking for a new role. This is more so when you are on the wrong side of age. He will be 73 when the country would witness Lok Sabha elections.

Anyone in Nitish Kumar’s situation would sense a great opportunity since the Congress is in disarray and regional leaders such as Ms Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, or other players such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader, Sharad Pawar or other leaders are not taken seriously as a national player. Nitish Kumar who has won his image of ‘Sushashan Babu’ in alliance with the BJP may rake up Bihari pride to try to win most of the 40 Lok Sabha seats of the State.

Till now Nitish Kumar’s political moves in Bihar have paid dividends to him at the personal level. He has dumped allies with impunity and has retained his chief minister’s chair. But to try to judge Kumar from the prism of political morality would be wrong. He has created his own morality which is wherever he goes is the winning side and whatever justification he gives is the new morality in politically polarised Bihar.

Thus far so good, but no further. Nitish has played his last gamble. He has dumped a trusted partner that did not stake claim to the chief minister’s post despite winning more seats than the JDU. If Nitish had any sense of political morality he would not have become the chief minister and asked the BJP to nominate its own candidate. This is greatness of Modi that he forgot the personal angst of Kumar against him and supported his cause when he left the RJD alliance in 2017 on the issue of corruption and later when the JDU got less number of seats in 2020.

There are some who say that the BJP asked Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan to field candidates against the JDU to give the BJP a decisive edge. While the results may be true, it is a far-fetched conclusion that there was any such understanding between the two parties. The BJP did not share dais or any political platform with Chirag Paswan and even after he lost the polls in Bihar, he was not accommodated in the NDA government at the Centre. Kumar should look at his own reasons to know why Chirag opposed him so bitterly. The BJP did not change tack and stuck to its commitment that Nitish Kumar would be the chief minister.

Some critics often compare the situation with Maharashtra and argue that Nitish feared that the BJP would engineer the fall of his government. This is ridiculous. In Maharashtra the mandate in 2019 was for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance to form the Government. The alliance had won 161 assembly seats in a house of 288 of which the BJP had won on 105 seats, the Shiv Sena on 56. Other seats were won by the National Congress Party (54) and the Congress (44). If people’s verdict was to be honoured Devendra Fadnavis should have become the chief minister.

But Shiv Sena ditched the mandate and refused to be in the alliance unless it was given the post of the chief minister. After a long stalemate, the Shiv Sena formed an alliance government with the NCP and the Congress. The BJP called it betrayal of the mandate but could not do anything. Later, many Shiv Sainiks realized the folly of the decision and they took command of the Shiv Sena and came back to the BJP. The BJP’s decision to keep the alliance was obvious when it gave the chief minister’s post to Eknath Shinde and asked Fadnavis to become the Deputy. There was nothing unethical in it. The original mandate was for this alliance and political opportunists had made an unholy alliance that lacked ideological coherence. So far as Shinde is concerned, the Shiv Sena would decide who is their leader and not the BJP.

One can argue why the BJP supported Nitish Kumar when it split with partners with whom it had contested polls in alliance. The case of Bihar is completely different. Nitish came to be known as ‘Sushashan Babu’ in the company of the BJP. The vote in 2015 was largely in the name of Nitish Kumar and his image even when he contested against the BJP. So when he decided to part ways with the RJD on the issue of corruption, the BJP had few choices than to support him in the name of stability and good governance.

The present move of Nitish is not backed by sound logic. The BJP leadership was in touch with him and he had apparently given assurance that everything was all right. The BJP could not have disturbed its own government. Nitish had complete backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There was no justification and no provocation. If you reject the possibilities, the only possible reason is Kumar’s ambition to take a shot at the top job by exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition.

Besides the fact that Modi is going to be there for a long time to come and that he is the most popular leader in the country, Kumar has been exposed badly. The RJD has no love lost for him and when their parting had taken place in 2017 it had turned bitter with all members of Lalu Prasad’s family abusing Kumar for back-stabbing the RJD.

The Machiavellian brand of politics that Kumar has specialized makes strange bedfellows. Enemies become friends and friends become enemies with both showing that they are ready to forget the past and keen to rewrite a new future but none forgets. One point of time, the RJD was symbolic of the jungle raj in Bihar. It is clear that Kumar is no longer worried about people of Bihar. People would be scared of this alliance and may not bite the dust.

So far as the BJP is concerned, it has got a golden opportunity to strengthen its organisation and go to the people for a full mandate. This is likely to bring new energy to the party that has been working tirelessly to give representation to all sections of the society. This is a redefining moment for Bihar politics.

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INDIA’S TRYST WITH DESTINY CONTINUES 75 YEARS AFTER INDEPENDENCE

A grateful Nation should recall the services of millions of freedom fighters and leaders who participated in movements of various kinds, some peaceful and some not so peaceful. They had only one objective that was to see their country free.

Pankaj Vohra

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The time has once again come to renew the pledges made by our freedom fighters as the country celebrates the 75th year of our independence on Monday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi shall address the Nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort. India has come a long way since Jawaharlal Nehru gave his passionate speech, `the tryst with destiny’ to mark the end of the British rule. Thereafter many Prime Ministers have used the occasion to present their vision of the way ahead and each one of them has contributed in some form or the other to take us forward. It is also a time to remember the martyrs such as Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and many more, who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives so that they could break the shackles of slavery. The immense contribution of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his Azad Hind Fauj as also the manner in which those who started the Sepoy revolt in 1857 even though they paid a heavy price, can never be forgotten and should never be forgotten either. There are always lessons in History also in every struggle. One of the speeches I remember was made by Indira Gandhi who said that till the time there was poverty, hunger and disease, real Independence cannot be achieved. This continues to be a daunting task and though the present government appears to be doing the right things regarding development, a lot more needs to be done in this huge and vast country where people have aspirations and hope from those who govern them. Am reminded of Khalil Gibran, who wrote that they say that if you see a slave sleeping, do not wake him, lest he is dreaming of freedom. I say that if you see a slave sleeping, wake him and explain to him the meaning of freedom’’. A grateful Nation should recall the services of millions of freedom fighters and leaders who participated in movements of various kinds, some peaceful and some not so peaceful. They had only one objective that was to see their country free. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation provided direction to the masses when they needed it the most though he died shortly after Independence, a victim of hate politics. It was a time when the country was also trying to come to terms with the unfortunate Partition brought about by ambitious politicians who helped the British to divide the Nation. This partition could have easily been avoided had our leaders stood their ground without allowing Mohmmad Ali Jinnah to have his sinister way. India is today fortunate that it is a democracy like many other great countries and has an elected government by the ordinary people. This is in contrast with dictatorial regimes in many parts of the world or monarchies where freedom of every kind is curtailed and crushed by insecure rulers. Therefore, we must all count our blessings and think positively. John Kennedy’s famous words, often repeated by Nehru come to my mind, “Do not ask what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country’’. Jai hind.

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25 years of Vishakha Guideline: Still a long way to go

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On 13 August 1997, the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice JS Verma, Justices Sujata V. Manohar and Justice B.N. Kirpal, pointed out the ‘Legal Vacuum’ and thus the lack of rule of law when it comes to protecting a woman at the workplace, which is still predominantly patriarchal in nature. The social milieu still promotes a culture of silence among women. The bench gave the historical judgment “Vishakha v State of Rajasthan” (AIR 1997 SC 3011), famously known as the Vishakha Guideline.

The historical judgement is a landmark on various counts. First, it made the International Convention, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as the basis for national legislations paving the way for progressive laws and state accountability towards the international commitments. Second, it recognised specific vulnerability of women at workplace and the gap in existing laws, which it termed as “legal vacuum”. Third, the bench did not restrict itself but creatively used the powers conferred on the Supreme Court under Article 141 and 142 and laid down elaborate guidelines to deal with the menace of sexual harassment against women at workplaces.

The judgment remains to be a landmark as it elaborated the beauty of the Indian Constitution towards protecting the rights of individuals under Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21, and the responsibility on the Indian State underArticles 51(c), 73, 253 and Seventh Schedule.. The apex court referred to the above provisions which envisage judicial intervention for eradication of this social evil and pronounced the following,

“In view of the above, and the absence of enacted law to provide for the effective enforcement of the basic human right of gender equality and guarantee against sexual harassment and abuse, more particularly against sexual harassment at work places, we lay down the guidelines and norms specified hereinafter for due observance at all work places or other institutions, until a legislation is enacted for the purpose. This is done in exercise of the power available under Article 32 of the Constitution for enforcement of the fundamental rights and it is further emphasised that this would be treated as the law declared by this Court under Article 141 of the Constitution.”

The guidelines were quite elaborate and specifically dealt with the following: duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places and other institutions; definition especially as to what constitute sexual harassment; preventive steps; criminal proceedings; disciplinary action; complaint mechanism; complaints committee; workers’ initiative; awareness; and where sexual harassment occurs as a result of an act or omission by any third party or outsider. It also stated that the Central/state governments are requested to consider adopting suitable measures including legislation to ensure that the guidelines laid down by this order are also observed by the employers in private sector.

However, it took almost 15 years for the Parliament to convert the guidelines into a law, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, in 2013. The moot question is why the legislature took so long to frame the law. Why is it that issues of gender continue to be given least priority by the Parliament even in times of an awakened human rights global world? Another illustrative example of the lethargy in legislating is seen evidently in the case of sexual crime victims of child marriage. The 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court in the matter, Independent Thought vs. Union of India [(2017) 10 SCC 800], where the top Court read down the Exception 2 of Section 375, Indian Penal Code (IPC), raising the age of Consent from 15 years to 18 years even for married girls at par with other girls. The same needs a formal amendment in the IPC, but even 5 years later the Government of India has not demonstrated any intent to make these changes. This is more so when the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was tabled in the Parliament, making corresponding changes in various laws, the required amendment in IPC was missing.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013or the POSH law has indisputably come as an empowering tool for several working women and has strengthened the confidence in the ‘second sex’ to fearlessly voice her concerns with dignity. Since 2013, there has been a paradigm shift in the cloud of shame shifting from the complainant woman to the male accused of this act. The 2013 law mandates each organization with more than 10 employees to have an internal committee and a policy on prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment at workplace for women. Further the Ministry of Corporate Affairs through the Companies (Accounts) Amendment Rules, 2018, makes ‘Disclosure of compliance under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in the annual reports of private companies as mandatory. The businesses must be made accountable for ensuring adherence to human rights principles and these are must for an equitable growth and achieving the sustainable development goals 2030.

With 25 years of the law in place, it is time to fully recognise the issue at hand as a human rights issue and not one of gender. Prevention, as they say, is always better than cure and what best to practise this than now, after two and a half decades of the law in place.

Vikram Srivastava is an advocate and founder of Independent Thought and Leena Prasad is an advocate and Associate Director, Advocacy, Research, and Training. Udayan Care.

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Opinion

India at 75: The empowered woman

Women are a reflection of ethics, loyalty, decisiveness and leadership, says PM Narendra Modi.

Sanju Verma

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Among the many progressive measures by Prime Minister Modi, one that stands out for its sheer scale, size, reach and of course the manner in which it has revolutionized the lives of millions of Indian women, is the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY).Since inception, about 35 crore people have benefitted from total loans sanctioned, in excess of Rs 19 lakh crore. Of this 35 crore, over 70% of the beneficiaries are women, especially those belonging to the marginalised sections of the society. Similarly, cooking food,using a gas connection may not be a big deal for many but for the “eight crore-th” beneficiary of Modi’s Ujjwala scheme from Maharashtra, Ayesha Shaikh, getting a gas cylinder was nothing short of a major milestone.For this daily wager, Ayesha, who is a mother of five, from Ajanta village, the days of fetching dry wood from nearby areas for cooking on a humble ‘chulha’, billowing toxic smoke, are over.

India under PM Modi,has fully endorsed the United Nations in its “think equal, build smart, innovate for change’, motto, with regard to women empowerment. Now women have an opportunity to have permanent employment in the Indian Army and Indian Navy, something that was unthinkable earlier.

But if there is one thing that stirred the imagination of 1.4 billion people, more than anything else, it was PM Modi’s unabashed acknowledgement from the ramparts of the Red Fort, two years back,of how over 8000 Jan Aushadhi Kendras had provided around 5 crore sanitary pads at Re 1, to poor women in rural India. For Modi, an international leader of towering repute, to openly embrace and mainstream the issue of women hygiene,(menstruation) is not mere symbolism. By doing what he did, Modi sent a strong message,that for him, good governance is all about walking the talk, with no ifs and buts whatsoever.

From defining the nation’s first menstrual hygiene protocol, amending the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act of 1971,giving women reproductive rights over their bodies and increasing the fetal gestation period from 20 to 24 weeks, welcoming more women recruits in the NCC, which will now be extended to border and coastal areas, to criminalising the inhuman and unconstitutional practice of instant triple talaq and decision to increase marriageable age from 18 to 21 years for women, the Modi government has truly exhibited a bold, women friendly approach which is both mature and modern,and something,which no other government in post Independent India can dare boast of.

Banning commercial surrogacy which had led to mushrooming of illegal IVF and surrogacy clinics, was yet another bold move by the Modi government. According to the new laws, only married Indian couples, who have been together for a minimum of five years and have been deemed medically unfit by a doctor or practitioner to conceive children naturally,will be allowed to depend on a surrogate.

Women empowerment is not just about gender equality and gender justice. It also means more jobs, equal opportunities for growth and entrepreneurship. If there is one leader who has recognized women for what they are and who they are, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Whether it is providing free cooking gas via the famous PM Ujjwala Yojana ,or financial inclusion via PM Jan Dhan Yojana,or enabling women to leverage technology, a slew of schemes have been launched in recent years to empower women on the path of self reliance. Speaking of women empowerment, Mahila-E-Haat,a portal featuring 2000 products, is a bilingual online marketing platform that leverages technology to help aspiring women entrepreneurs, self-help groups (SHGs) and NGOs, to showcase their products and services.Among the many services provided by Mahila-E-Haat are, facilitating direct contact between the vendors and buyers and it is open to all Indian women above the age of 18.

The Modi government also launched the Mahila Shakti Kendra with presence in over 115 districts, to empower rural women with opportunities for skill development, employment, digital literacy, health and nutrition. The Modi government, few years back, also launched affordable “Working Women Hostels”, on a war footing, to ensure availability of safe and convenient accommodation for working women and single mothers, along with day-care facilities for their children, wherever possible in urban, semi-urban and rural areas.

Again, the Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP) scheme,is intended to benefit women who are in the age group of 16 years and above, across the country. The skills imparted include, but are not limited to, agriculture, horticulture, food processing, handlooms, tailoring, stitching, embroidery, zari, handicrafts, computers & IT-enabled services. Also,the Modi government’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative, is so much more than being just a mission statement, best exemplified by the surge in the sex ratio at birth (SRB) in Haryana, from 871 in 2015,to 914 in 2017, with districts like Panipat and Yamunanagar reporting SRB of 945 and 943 for every 1000 males. The increase in overall sex ratio is a combination of increased life expectancy of women and improvement in the sex ratio at birth or the number of female births for every 1000 male births. While the SRB last year rose to 929,the overall sex ratio stood at 1020 females for every 1000 males, with number of females exceeding number of males, for the first time ever. That again is a good sign. To cut a long story short, on every conceivable parameter, girls in India are far safer today than they were, say eight years back. Modi, is a truly progressive statesman with a liberated mindset; modern, sensitive, a thinking leader, who has uplifted scores of women by strengthening policy making tools, to deliver, where it matters most.

Sweeping amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act of 2015, lowers the trial age for heinous crimes like rape and murder from 18 years, to 16 years. A 16-year-old will now be treated and punished like any other adult as per due process of law, under Sections 376 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which bodes well for young girls who are victims of sexual assault. Leftist cheerleaders who have been mocking the Beti Bachao campaign, would do well to know that the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, to facilitate the education of the girl child, has already reached out to more than 4 crore aspirational young women. Unarguably, however, the landmark achievement of the BJP government to further the cause of “Beti Bachao”, has been the over 11 crore toilets built in rural India under the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, scheme.

Again, India has over 73,000 startups, with at least 45% of them having women entrepreneurs. Over 15% of India’s 105 Unicorns have women as the founders and that number is rapidly growing. Out of 78 ministers post the cabinet expansion in July 2021, 11 in Modi’s cabinet today, are women. This is the highest number of women in the Union Council of Ministers in the last 17 years.

“Women empowerment is crucial to India’s growth. Days of seeing women as just ‘home makers’ have gone, we have to see women as nation builders”, is something Narendra Modi tweeted in January 2014,even before he became the PM and that tweet sums up the progressive mindset of the Modi government, in more ways than one.Most importantly,India’s 15th President, Droupadi Murmu,is the embodiment of how “naari shakti” in Modi’s India, is essentially about the ability to dream, the willingness to work hard and the determination to succeed, unwaveringly and undeterred. That Murmu is also the first tribal leader who is now India’s First Citizen, as India celebrates 75 years of independence, makes Murmu’s achievements even more notable. Suffice to conclude by saying that in Modi’s India,a Santhali woman from a remote village in Mayurbhanj district in Odisha,is today the proud occupant of Raisina Hill. That inspiring journey of Droupadi Murmu is also an ode to the farsightedness and astute vision of PM Modi,who remains one of the most popular leaders globally and for good reason.

Ms Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson for BJP and Bestselling Author of “The Modi Gambit”.

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