Even teams led by experienced and expert captains suffer from occasional self-goals. These are usually a consequence of the best of intentions, but end up as embarrassments. There was in the recent past a stray statement by a Union Minister that the gallant soldiers of the Indian Army had moved several more times in the direction of the PRC than PLA forces moving in the other direction. The movement of Indian troops, who are and have always been seeking only to safeguard or to re-occupy territory that belongs to India, cannot be compared to the transgressions of the PLA, which is seeking to expand through military means the territory controlled by them, every bit at the expense of India. That remark of a minister, possibly reported out of context, was swiftly used by PRC spin masters to try and spread the falsehood internationally that it was Indian forces and not the PLA who were theaggressors on the LAC.
Fortunately, the world knows the truth, and such deception was not believed except by the usual suspects, such as Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is swift to repeat as gospel whatever gets conveyed from Beijing. The minister who made the earlier (possibly misquoted) remark has distinguished himself for his service both before and after joining the Council of Ministers at the Centre, and has not repeated the earlier remark attributed to him. The movement of Indian troops is to safeguard existing control over land and to recover territory that has been snatched in the past. This can never be compared with the transgressions of the PLA, which has joined hands with GHQ Rawalpindi in the errand of seeking to constrain and damage the growth and stability of India. These need to fail repeatedly, an outcome that can be made possible through strong will and capability on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues. Care needs to be taken to avoid statements that can be used by the other side to obscure facts and to discredit the factual narrative that has been disseminated by India about the situation on the borders.
The armed forces defend the territory of India with zeal when given full support by the government. In several statements and through many actions, Prime Minister Modi has shown his commitment to stand by the courageous men and women in uniform who are tasked with defending the borders of the Republic of India, the most populous democracy on the face of the planet. Moreover, ours is a country that alone in its neighbourhood has remained a democracy and not fallen victim to authoritarian rule of any form, save a brief period of quasi-authoritarian rule during 1975-77 that was swiftly replaced with the holding of elections that led to the replacement of the existing government through the ballot box and to a peaceful and orderly transfer of power from Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai in the PrimeMinister’s Office.
Now another self-goal has been scored, in the form of the remarks of a Union Minister that the power outage in Mumbai was not the consequence of a cyberattack executed by elements in the PRC but was the consequence of “human error”. The statement is reminiscent of several made by other policymakers in the past, when unexplained misfortunes afflicted some of the most potent weapons platforms of different wings of the armed forces. In some cases, entire platforms were rendered inoperable, to great human and material cost, besides causing gaps in defence preparedness. Very quickly, unnamed sources rushed to pin the blame on “human error”, whether these relate to naval personnel or air force pilots. Both risk their lives in defence of the country and have shown an exceptional degree of competence in handling the weapons given to them to operate. The possibility seems to have been ignored of malfunctioning of equipment as a consequence of glitches introduced clandestinely, and which have had the effect of so damaging operational capability that nothing the pilot or seaman did could have rescued the situation.
In the past, there were serial deaths of those associated with the nuclear and missile programme, and the dots were first connected by the Sunday Guardian after having been in the open for several years, in each of which those connected with these key programmes had their number reduced through “accidental” deaths or “suicides”. Circumstances indicated that such hastily reached conclusions were far from accurate. That there was a cyberattack is not a reflection on the Power Ministry but a warning that this is a threat needing much more attention than shown in the past. There are powerful lobbies involved in the import of critical infrastructure equipment from countries that have a record of hostility to India expressed in a kinetic way. Such lobbies should not be given a handle to continue to keep the country vulnerable through dependence on equipment or other services from companies deeply involved with strengthening the offensive capabilities of at least two foreign militaries that have attacked India in the past, and are expected to do so again. There must not be a rush to hasty conclusions and the giving of clean chits to those companies and entities who are transparent in their linkages to enemy forces, including in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, territory that belongs to India and where no other country has a right.
Prime Minister Modi has spoken firmly and often about the dangers facing the country. Among the reasons why the PM is popular is the trust voters have in his ability to defend the nation. That same strength of purpose and determination should be present in each of the members of the government. The country is facing a grave threat, and action is needed to reduce vulnerabilities and to expand capabilities. In such a task, it is all hands-on deck, and an end to remarks by policymakers that may be used by foes of India to paint themselves as innocent of the wrongs that they have flagrantly committed.
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WILL PM MODI’S MAGIC WORK ON BIDEN AND HARRIS TOO?
Irrespective of what his diehard detractors might say, PM Narendra Modi has devised his own distinct, characteristic and inimitable charm toolkit which helps him trigger positive vibes in his foreign counterparts and generate personal rapport and chemistry. What can be a more convincing than the fact that he was able to develop strong personal chemistry with two US Presidents, Barak Obama and Donald Trump, who were individuals of such contrasting personalities and different from each other like chalk and cheese. With this background, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Narendra Damodardas Modi and Josheph Robenette Biden Jr will hit off well; though there will be no raucous Rock star like reception in Madison Square Garden as happened before Modi met Obama, nor a carnival like Howdy Modi in Houston where the Indian PM literally owned the stadium and introduced the US President Donald Trump to 50,000 strong Indian Americans.
Biden and Modi have talked on phone and met virtually thrice at the QUAD summit (March 21), Climate Change Summit (April 21) and G-7 Summit in June this year. The US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Secretary of State Antony Blinken have visited India respectively in March and July this year. And keeping pressure on India to announce her Net Zero commitment by 2050, the US Presidential Envoy on Climate Change, John Kerry has visited India in April and September. During his last visit, Kerry launched the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization (CAFM) with India which will focus on: finance mobilization, clean energy and climate adaptation measures.
The US defence exports to India remain on a high .Both have signed three foundation Communication agreements: LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECCA. India has been accorded the major defence partner status bringing her on par with USA’s NATO allies and given SAT-1 status that will facilitate transfer of sensitive American technologies for civilian and defence use. Obviously, India and USA have overcome the hesitation of history and come closer than ever militarily.
There has been extensive sharing of information and satellite images and intelligence inputs to fight international terrorism, cybercrimes and money laundering.
In spite of disruptions caused Covid-19, in 2019-2020 bilateral trade between India & the US was estimated at US$88.75 billion; India’s trade surplus with the US in 2020-21 was US$ 23 billion. The US has replaced Saudi Arabia as the second largest supplier of oil. Nonetheless, the Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goel was quoted to have said recently that a trade agreement with the US wasn’t likely in near future, not even a mini trade deal. The US, focused on addressing its trade issues with China, isn’t interested in signing any trade agreement. The US is believed to be demanding market access for its agri products, a sensitive area for India, and substantial amendments to IPR and laws related to data protection. On its part, India also seeks market access for its automobile parts, engineering and agro product and a relook at the GSP which stands withdrawn, and the long pending demand for a toatalisation agreement. H1B visas issue and certain regulations have impacted Indian tech companies adversely.
After some initial hiccup, the US extended assistance to India on a mission mode in the face of devastation caused by the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. The total US Covid-19 related assistance including contributions from the Indian Americans was worth over US$ 500 million.
Both the Trump and Biden administration have been supportive of India on the issue of Chinese aggression across the LAC. As a matter of fact, increasing Chinese assertiveness and aggressiveness brings India-US nearer though our threat perception of China, which remains in occupation of Indian territory and with which we have an unresolved boundary dispute aren’t identical.
It’s largely the China factor which has led the US to acknowledge India’s salience in the QUAD and Indo-Pacific. It was Donald Trump who introduced a virtual blood transfusion in the QUAD which was lying in limbo since 2007 and redefined its role. He also rechristened the Asian–Pacific into Indo-Pacific underlining India’s relevance. Leaders of QUAD, at their summits, have been stressing that they stand for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific with freedom of navigation and over flights and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes as per the International laws including the UNCLOS. This will be reiterated at the forthcoming QUAD summit as well. Modi might emphasize his concept of SAGAR: Security and Growth for all in the Region.
Notwithstanding the claims of the concerned States to the contrary, China considers both the QUAD and Indo Pacific as primarily anti-China groupings. Interestingly, Russia shares this perception.
To dilute this perceived anti-China slant, at the virtual summit of QUAD in March 21, the leaders identified new areas of cooperation: new technologies, developing alternative supply chains and getting 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine produced mostly in India with financial and logistic support from Japan and Australia. Fighting terrorism, cybercrime, and cooperation in maritime piracy are also likely to be discussed at the forthcoming QUAD summit that might be organized on a hybrid format—that is Biden and Modi attending in person while the Japanese and Australian PMs joining virtually.
The announcement of the formation of a trilateral Security partnership between the US, the UK and Australia (AUKUS) ostensibly to confront China and USA’s decision to help Australia develop nuclear Powered submarines has not only enraged China and provoked France to recall it’s ambassadors from Washington and Canberra but also cast a spell on the future of QUAD.
On the first visit to US in Sept 2014,PM Modi publicly advised Obama in his speech at the Council of Foreign Affairs not to withdraw from Afghanistan in hurry. The same sage advice was conveyed to Trump. India went on repeating that there is nothing called good Taliban or bad Taliban, they are the same and essentially bad. But the war weary US, desperate to get out, assiduously courted the Taliban with Pakistani and Qatari help and signed an agreement in Doha in March 21 which was a total surrender to Taliban. American withdrawal was humiliating; it left Afghan people, especially women at the mercy of an undemocratic regime. Regrettably, the US showed utter disregard to possible spike in security challenges of India posed by the Taliban Government comprising of 14 internationally wanted terrorists.
With Vice President Kamla Harris and Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal in the background, Joe Biden might flag reports of increase in alleged violations of freedom of expression and religious tolerance in India. His soaring speech in the UN might cover fight against the unprecedented pandemic, Climate change, international terrorism, and underline the need of strengthening the UN, WTO, and WHO and might allude to the negative role being played by some countries like China and Pakistan.
PM Modi’s dynamic leadership and the global re-ordering
In the global re-ordering that is now in the offing and in the unmistakable shift eastward, the compass also points India-ward. As PM Modi embarks on his US tour, the first since the re-ordering began, these dimensions are emerging with certainty.
As Prime Minister Modi embarks on his UN and US visit, it is interesting to see how he has pushed the Indian narrative of crisis management and handling over the last two years. Modi’s politics is not the politics of resentment, he does not speak of the rise of India as being propelled by the narrative of humiliation. When he speaks of India’s rise, he speaks of a benevolent rise, a rise with responsibility. Since March 2020, amidst many a dire prediction of India reaching the nadir in her struggle with the pandemic, Modi’s politics of aspiration, of India’s benevolent rise has triumphed. This has been attracting global recognition.
Public intellectual, S. Gurumurthy has argued that now, ‘India’s stature has altered to its advantage and the global structure and its perception about India too have changed…The investment India has made in its democratic institutions and rule of law is now both a matter of global attention and attraction.’ This rule of law, under Modi, has not been a coercive right denying approach, it has based itself on a sense of duty rather than being only a clamour for rights.
It is interesting to note, that much before some of the leading global minds discussed the effects of the pandemic and its impact on a global re-ordering Modi had already articulated India’s position. At a time when the pandemic had hit, when confusion prevailed globally on how to handle it and when the narrative of isolationism and disconnectedness hit the stands India’s position was perhaps the most nuanced and farseeing. Prime Minister Modi had said, that the pandemic ‘does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking’ and that ‘our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.’ Modi argued that ‘unlike previous moments in history, when countries or societies faced off against each other, today we are together facing a common challenge. The future will be about togetherness and resilience.’ It is instructive to understand this against the canvas of the ongoing global discourse on re-ordering.
PM Modi’s emphasis on the need to put human beings at the centre of the vision for global prosperity, his insistence that there should be a free and ‘open sharing of the benefits of medical research and development, of the need to develop adaptive, responsive and humane health care systems, evolve new crisis management protocols and procedures for an interconnected global village’ and the need for reforming intergovernmental organisations like WHO, was the first such a clear articulation of the future re-ordering, the world after the pandemic-inflexion point. It was also becoming clear that the East had performed better in terms of handling the pandemic and addressing the multi-dimensional complexities arising from it. After this stand was articulated, one saw thinkers like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Nye take a similar line. While Nye spoke of the need for the United States to ‘launch a massive COVID-19 aid program— a medical version of the Marshall Plan, Kissinger argued that leaders must choose a path of cooperation that ‘leads towards international resilience’ against such global crises in the present and in the future. Nye also spoke of the need for leaders to articulate ‘the importance of power with rather than over others and set up bilateral and multilateral frameworks to enhance cooperation. In Nye’s framework a ‘cooperative and soft-power enhancing policies’ could create a ‘geopolitical path to a better world.’ India’s insistence, since the early days of the pandemic, had already been this— the need for a cooperative, soft-power enhancing, multilateral, synergized and resilient framework.
Modi has also been repeatedly speaking of the Asian century. One had heard of the rise of the East, or narrative of the Asian century, in the past, when vast tracts of Asia were under colonial subjection, material exploitation and cultural subjugation. PM Modi’s reference to the 21st century being the Asian century, in the present context, needs to be read against the backdrop of Asia on the verge of a major shift eastward post pandemic.
Francis Fukuyama, for instance, has spoken of the continuing shift of the ‘global distribution of power’ eastward, since ‘East Asia had done better at managing the situation than Europe and Asia.’ Diplomat scholar Kishore Mahbubani, for instance, argued that the ‘deference to Western societies, which was the norm in the 19th and 20th centuries’ will be replaced by ‘a growing respect and admiration for East Asian ones.’ As Gurumurthy too has argued, ‘Covid 19 has exposed the hollowness of assumptions of the world order based on Western experiences which were experimented on the Rest from 1990s.’ Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hseing Loon has also joined PM Modi in speaking of an ‘Asian century.’ The pandemic, Mahbubani, argues, could ‘mark the start of the Asian century.’ In a post Covid order, Asia will be looked upon as a role model, he observes, ‘not only for how to handle a pandemic but how to govern more generally.’
That governance was carried on with and not just managed, despite gargantuan pressures of a once-in-a-century pandemic, was best seen in an India under its onslaught. Economic recovery, mega infrastructural push, the ushering in of a futuristic and transformative national education policy, the time-bound development of a vaccine and the humongous effort to administer it to a massive and varied population, the handling of the oxygen supply dimension, among other things, perfectly demonstrated Asian resilience and one-pointedness in times of acute crisis. Ultimately the examples that will define and represent the Asian century will be examples that have been successful and transformative in an inherently and unshakably democratic environment, driven by synergy, national cohesion and inspiration, brought forth by the sense of collective duty and shorn of any hectoring and coerciveness. In all of these India is bound to stand out. Among the eastern countries, India’s handling of pandemic, in a most varied and complex setting, her reaching out to countries across the region and developing a web of cooperation, is another dimension that stands out.
American journalist and author, James Traub, for instance, argued that Asian democracies show that ‘citizens can surrender some’ of their ‘freedom without sacrificing fundamental political rights.’ In India’s handling of the pandemic, freedom remained intact, and the sense of civic responsibility and commitment grew, while fundamental political rights remained undiluted and protected. Those who have peddled the ‘dictator’ Modi narrative, directly or indirectly, or had thought that the pandemic would offer an ‘ideal’ opportunity to prove their thesis right, were disappointed. In their unrelenting opposition to Modi, they failed to spot the actual dictators, the failing democracies and the faltering republics.
In the global re-ordering that is now in the offing and in the unmistakable shift eastward, the compass also points India-ward. As PM Modi embarks on his US tour, the first since the re-ordering began, these dimensions are emerging with certainty.
Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
PM Modi has also been repeatedly speaking of the Asian century. One had heard of the rise of the East, or narrative of the Asian century, in the past, when vast tracts of Asia were under colonial subjection, material exploitation and cultural subjugation. PM Modi’s reference to the 21st century being the Asian century, in the present context, needs to be read against the backdrop of Asia on the verge of a major shift eastward post pandemic.
INDIA SHOULD TAKE RECIPROCAL ACTION AGAINST THE BRITISH BULLY
It would have been amusing to see the United Kingdom flexing its muscles over allowing entry to fully vaccinated Indians—considered unvaccinated by the UK—but for the price Indian students and others have to pay for taking expensive Covid tests, apart from the inconvenience of quarantining for 10 days. Amusing because it’s a case of a has-been world power, which became rich by siphoning off India’s wealth, and is now trying to stay relevant holding on to the coattails of President Joe Biden—the New Atlantic Charter being a case in point; even AUKUS is more about Australia than about Britain—daring to challenge a rising nation, which is running one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world. The UK did some damage control on Wednesday after triggering an uproar by not recognising Covishield as a valid vaccine, even though it is the same Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured with a different name in India. It issued a new travel advisory, recognising the India manufactured vaccine, but with a catch. Indians vaccinated with Covishield are now “less vaccinated—or “unvaccinated”—than nationalities who have been administered the Indian Covishield, and will have to take Covid tests and quarantine after reaching the UK.
The British high commission in India clarified UK’s position by saying, “We are engaging with the Government of India to explore how we could expand UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India.” So effectively, the British ended up casting aspersions on India’s vaccination process and the vaccination certificate given by Co-Win. It is not known which “irrelevant” public health body in India is administering vaccines to Indian citizens, for the British to issue a statement like this. Last heard, there was no “relevant public health body” higher than the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in charge of India’s vaccination programme. Also, apparently unbeknownst to the British, India’s Co-Win certificate is taken as a valid proof of vaccination by most countries, including in the European Union; apart from the fact that several countries are lining up to seek Indian assistance to set up a system similar to Co-Win. One of the most fool-proof systems, Co-Win is QR code based, with layers of security checks and is linked to a person’s Aadhaar and passport numbers. It’s not like the vaccine cards given by the United States that can be tampered with easily. If the UK has a problem with Co-Win, it’s not based on any empirical evidence, but on the UK’s perception about India as a “third world” country. It’s a case of implying that India’s vaccination system is inefficient and corruption ridden, without any proof.
Coming from a country with one of the worst records of handling Covid-19 and a lethargic vaccination drive, this is a bit rich. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, UK’s case fatality ratio is 203.18 per 100,000 population, compared to India’s 32.62. UK’s total vaccination is around 9.31 crore till date, compared to India’s 83.27 crore. In other words, there is no comparison. So, the more one looks at it, it appears to be a case of racism and colonial hangover, which is rather ironic given the Indian students UK is planning to fleece in the name of Covid tests are also the ones their universities are wooing by holding education fairs and the like in India.
Also, despite Indian origin people ruling the roost in that country and Indian companies having substantial business interests there, UK media has always peddled a toxic anti-India narrative, which adds to the negative perception about India. This was amplified during India’s second wave, when pure canard was spread about India by the British media to impact public opinion. Some of this found their way into their political debates as well. Hence, one should not be surprised if domestic political considerations too played a part in the decision to quarantine Indians.
In a world where the Indo-Pacific is at the centre of geopolitical gravity, with China being the clear threat, it takes a very generous President Joe Biden of the US to keep the Atlantic alliance (Nato) against Russia alive for the sake of old times. The New Atlantic Charter between the US and UK is a reflection of that make-believe world. The UK may be trying to navigate the waters of the Indo-Pacific as an exercise in great-power projection, but it does not really matter if it is in that region or not. That is a bitter truth, which the UK will have to come to terms with. It has long ceased to be a great power and behaving like a petty bully does not bring back the glory days of the British empire. The Indian government should carry out its threat of taking reciprocal action against the bully.
Courtroom’s visionary indigence on professional women
Answers to myriad perplexing questions which are profoundly significant in the interest of justice rather emerge in the minds of judges and not the law books. Judges can make an effort to combine legal pluralism with litigation theory in laws for women empowerment.
Women’s issues never die out of news like patriarchy which remains an inexhaustible product of human creation. On one hand the UN’s gender equality and empowerment organisation publishes a feminist roadmap to tackle triple crisis of jobs, care and climate on the other a leading national party of India embraces a #MeToo accused as a leader of a prominent state in India. Do our legislators irrespective of being man or a woman even believe in the laws they formulate? Apparently, the deficiencies embedded in women’s laws which has disturbed social equilibrium by putting men and women as two blood thirsty enemy states, armed with gross vengeance derails enforcement by shedding off respect, relationship or responsibility so integral to man-woman relationship. Nonetheless, worry for policy makers is that despite the plethora of laws women may suffer decreasing work participation and their own advancement since laws offer little when they are reduced as Gustav Hugo a German legal philosopher wrote, “into an algebra of legal concepts.”
How would a judge expect a woman seeking redressal from a bad marriage to look like in a courtroom? Definitely women of rank and stature or who are brave, forthright and speaking for themselves without tears or a choking throat ever walk out with a just verdict from the judge’s desk. This perception exists irrespective of male or female judges. In an appeal filed in the Case of Rajesh Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh 2017,the court had to see whether any directions are called for to prevent the misuse of sec 498A.While the court submitted that Sec 498A was enacted to check unconscionable demands by greedy husbands and their families which at times result in cruelty to women and also suicides it also indicated a growing tendency to abuse the said provision. Almost any relative from the man’s family including parents of advanced age, minor children, siblings, grand-parents and uncles become accused on the strength of vague and exaggerated allegations without there being any verifiable evidence of physical or mental harm or injury. The judges referred to the Reports of National Crime Record Bureau which brought out that in 2005, out of a total 58,319 cases reported under Sec 498A, 6,141 cases were declared false and in 2009 for a total 89,546 cases reported, 8,352 cases were declared false on account of mistake of fact or law. In 2012 and 2013 an exponential rise of 93.6% cases occurred under sec 498A but the conviction rate was low at 14.4% only and in 2017-2019 a 21.3% increase occurred but conviction rate stood at 15% only. The two states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh which bring the highest number of reported cases still nurture a justice system which is attuned to treat women either as a deity or a slave. This data does prove the misuse of law but not its irrelevance in providing protection to women since only one tenth of the filed cases were found false. In many other sections of IPC this number of false cases is much higher,to name a few such as unlawful assembly(Sec 141), Sec 146 (rioting), Sec 171 E(bribery), Sec 302 (murder), Sec 306(abetment of suicide). The Court decided that all State governments must instruct their police officers not to automatically arrest under sec 498A complaints but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters laid down for police officers along with Sec 41 of CrPC. So the Court handed over Sec 498A cases to the police which is well known for its patriarchal approach will now wear additional power of prima facie investigations.
Courts are governed by a bad perception about a deserted wife seeking justice in divorce and maintenance as the object of the provisions for grant of maintenance becomes a charitable act rather than a just distribution of assets, liabilities in physical and emotional spheres. Courts provide speedy remedy towards a supply of food, clothing and shelter to the deserted wife and to prevent vagrancy and destitution. In Pratibha Rani case of 1985, Justice Fazl Ali described the case as a ‘sad story of a helpless married woman who, having been turned out by her husband without returning her ornaments, money and clothes despite repeated demands…’ So the Courtroom perspective about women seeking justice in a broken marriage is that she “should be suffering and in destitution, penury, vagrancy, impecuniosity and appear emotionally fractured.” This leaves away a large majority of modern, professionally qualified and emotionally confident women from receiving any legitimate attention from courts. The judiciary’s repeated commitment to treat maintenance as a basic right to life enshrined in Art 21 of the Constitution of India since the 1980 Case of Hussainara Khatoon v.HS Bihar has failed to provide justice to this modern class of women who are still looked as privileged even though their struggles post divorce stifle their livehood as even a basic primary necessity of getting a house on rent becomes an impossible act for a single women who is potentially looked as a danger to any residential locality.
Notwithstanding, maintenance being treated as basic human right by Courts, the wedge against modern professional women is clear in the delivery of justice when courts made them pay maintenance to their unemployed husbands and his family. In a 2011 case of Rani Sethi v. Sunil Sethi,a trial court in Delhi directed the wife to pay maintenance of Rs. 20,000 per month, and Rs.10,000 as litigation expenses along with a Zen Car to the husband. In a 2020 case a family Court of Mujaffarnagar ordered a wife who retired from Army to pay a monthly maintenance from her pension to her husband Kishori Lal Sohankar a tea shop worker. However, sermons sometimes are hard to satiate and the judges on their own inadvertently reflected upon the true path of law regarding professionally employed women. While pronouncing judgement in Bhuwan Mohan v.Meena 2014 the Supreme Court in an emotionally charged judgement strongly condemned delays and denials of maintenance as “frustrating to the hope of wife and children who are deprived of adequate livelihood , whose aspirations perish like mushroom and possibly the brief candle of sustenance joins the marathon race of extinction.” The Court came up with a dictum which it probably had no idea would become its own biggest trial. It ingeminated that Sec 125 CrPC was conceived to ameliorate the agony, anguish, financial suffering of a woman but simply ‘sustenance does not necessarily mean to lead the life of an animal, feel like an unperson to be thrown away from grace and roam for her basic maintenance somewhere else’. The Court said that “a woman is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband,” that is where the status and strata come into play vis a vis obligations of a husband. Yet, Courts have considered qualified status of a wife as a shortcoming and have denied grant of maintenance to her.
However, this justice as fairness was attempted by the bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and R Subhash Reddy in Rajnesh v.Neha case 2020 while laying guidelines to determining quantum of maintenance. The guidelines raised questions related to the status of the parties, reasonable needs and the applicant’s education and professional qualifications. It later turned out that this was being queried to limit the amount of maintenance and lessen burden upon men. These guidelines further endorsed an extremely unjustified and illogical stand taken by Justice Bhanumathi and and M M Santanagoudar in Kalyan Dey Chowdhury v. Rita Dey Chowdhury case of 2017 when the court put a cap of 25% on the ex-husband’s net salary for maintenance to be provided to wife and children.The court interestingly considered ex-husband’s remarriage and increased expenses as a reason for capping maintenance for ex-wife. The Courts have however been closed to problems of an employed and professionally qualified woman who may still have to find a new house in a decent locality, contest social stigmatization and compromise her earning ability for child care needs. This is where an interesting concept of ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’ (betel box expenses) is found in Mohammedan law which operated in families of rank.The husband or his father on divorce would pay to the wife a personal allowance for continuance of a lifestyle need. In 1910, Nawab Khwaja Muhammad Khan was made to pay Rs. 500 per month to Nawab Husaini Begam from Moradabad as her ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’. In another Allahabad High Court case, a Lambardar (Zamindar estate owner) paid Rs.25 as ‘Kharcha-e-Paandan’ to his estranged wife Mojiz Fatima Begam. The relevance of this law amongst the rich and powerful in a community reflects upon the fact that certain habits of luxury are acknowledged even in law. When Justice Deepak Mishra in Bhuwan Mohan Case of 2014 had observed that “a woman is entitled in law to lead a life in the similar manner as she would have lived in the house of her husband”, little did he know if he could also include ‘Kharcha-e-Paandaan’? Even rich women bear burden of a differential impact of divorce upon their lives and judges including women judges as above, have always failed to address remedies to ameliorate this additional burden borne by women of rank, status and position.When The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act 2019 was brought in two years ago on 19th September, Court had once again absolved itself of addressing maintenance of a divorced wife once the sacred task of reclaiming her honour was achieved. Criminalization of divorce and subsequent homelessness without measures for restorative justice kills a law. A differential impact of a broken marriage upon women is far more injurious but laws need to understand an underlying world view of the problem they address.
Due to social narratives which surround marriage in current times, faith in it as a social institution is breaking down. One would be shocked to hear that in agriculture dominant states like Punjab and Haryana divorce rate in the last 10 years has increased by 150% while it has risen to 350% or more in the most professionally superior states of Kerala or the metropolis of Delhi, Bangalore,Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. Apparently, as per the 2011 Census, more Muslim women (3.7 per thousand)than Hindu women (2 per thousand)are divorced every year. The Times Report’s shocking revelations about Chinese society found 850,000 Chinese couples applying for divorce within the first six months of 2010. Their courts were dealing with a staggering 4,600 divorce cases per day. The divorce rate in Sweden and USA is the world’s highest at around 58%.
The burden of dissolution or aftermath of marriage is so complicated that more women prefer to stay single. In the 2011 Census of India there was a 39% increase to 71.4 million single women or 12% of total population of women. Out of this, around 12.3 million single women reported as never married. Research surveys reveal that this is only going to increase as divorce rates shoot up in coming times. Any rushed and regressive reaction that thwarts the noble intentions behind women’s laws is dangerous to the voice of feminist jurisprudence in India.
The young believe and have resigned to the idea that marriages are neither ‘made in heaven’ nor a destination beyond which ‘one can live happily ever after’. It may involve immense litigation at the cost of their professional life. Marriage as an institution is irretrievably breaking down as patriarchy advances from homes to work spaces and gets legitimized in Court rooms. Answers to many of these perplexing questions which are profoundly significant in the interest of justice rather emerge in the minds of judges and not the law books. Judges can make an effort to combine legal pluralism with litigation theory in laws for women empowerment.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
THE HIGH COMMAND STRIKES BACK
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.
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.
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.
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’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).
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 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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