Policy planners typify mid-course corrections to ensure that a designed policy delivers the desired result. This is as true in the case of higher education as in other realms. They are, however, expected to be progressive rather than retrograde.
A case in point relate to the selection and recruitment of the faculty in higher education at the entry level. They are crucial as they remain in the system for a long period and move up the academic hierarchy, in due course of time, to mid and senior level, and finally feed the leadership channel. They, thus, decide the destiny of higher education.
Until 1989, the minimum qualification for appointment as Lecturer in colleges and universities used to be a Master’s degree with consistently good academic records. People with MPhil or PhD were, however, preferred. Since then, the National Eligibility Test (NET) has been made a mandatory requirement for entry into the academic profession. However, those with PhD were exempted from qualifying NET. People with MPhil or PhD, are, however, given one or three advanced increments respectively.
To be fair, those who had completed their PhD before the introduction of NET were declared exempt from the requirements of NET. Since then, the cut-off date for this exemption was repeatedly extended now and then, on one pretext or the other. Those in academics are witness to the massive rush for registration and award of PhD degrees in universities every time the deadline for exemption was extended. Seemingly, the faculty aspirants felt that it was easier to get a PhD degree than qualifying the NET examination.
Nothing caused more harm to the quality of PhDs produced by Indian universities than this flip flop about the NET exemption for PhD degree holders. So rampant was the proliferation, and consequent deterioration in the quality, that the UGC had to come up with a regulation in 2009, probably for the first time in the 150 years of history of modern higher education in the country and much to the chagrin of many academics.
This regulation made it mandatory for universities to select PhD students based on a rigorous entrance test or from amongst the JRF/NET qualified candidates. It introduced coursework for PhD students which they must qualify before commencing their research work. It also restricted the number of research scholars that a faculty could supervise at any given point in time.
The eligibility conditions for appointment as supervisors were made more stringent and the procedure for the appointment of external examiners was streamlined. Further, it also declared that PhD degree holders would be eligible for exemption from NET only if their degree was awarded per the 2009 regulation.
Continuing the reform, the 2016 regulation of UGC governing the admission and award of PhD degrees made it mandatory for PhD scholars to publish at least one research paper in a peer-reviewed refereed journal, and make a minimum of two presentations in the seminars and conferences to be able to submit their thesis.
Realising that this was leading to spurious publications in poor quality publications and predatory journals, the UGC undertook to specify the list of the approved journals, which is now known as the UGC Consortium for Academic Research Excellence (CARE) List of Journals. Although, the list of journals was revised several times.
It appears that the UGC now feels that these measures have failed to fructify and the quality of PhDs produced in the country has remained poor. Strangely, however, the new measures proposed by the draft UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award of PhD Degree) Regulations, 2022 may end up doing just the opposite of what it purports to do.
Forcing universities to admit only 60% of the PhD students from amongst the JRF/NET qualified candidates and the remaining 40% through the university level entrance test is bound to lower the intake quality of students. Doing away with the obligatory publication requirement of research papers in UGC listed journals would be a double whammy as it would make it easier for the research scholars to get their PhD. It would lead to the mushrooming of non-JRF/non-NET qualified PhD degree holders in the country.
As the UGC is poised to make PhD the minimum eligibility condition for appointment of assistant professors effective from July 2023, it is important to ensure that universities produce PhDs who are adequately trained to be teachers and researchers. The Ease of Doing PhD does not augur well.
Spurious publications, predatory journals, and pay and publish are all genuine concerns and must be addressed urgently. But freeing research scholars from the requirement of published work as a precondition for the award of the PhD may be akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.
The proposed change may have many tangential implications. The same UGC regulation prescribes that no assistant professor can supervise a PhD unless (s)he holds a PhD degree, has a minimum of five years’ experience, and has published at least three research papers in peer-reviewed or refereed journals.
The faculty members are also required to publish for promotion and appointment. Even otherwise, the supervisors and their scholars invariably publish jointly. They are, thus, as much susceptible to the lure of predatory journals. Will the UGC then do away with the publication requirements for the faculty as well?
The solution, thus, lies in propping up the research culture in universities/colleges and in creating an ecosystem where peer pressure promotes pride in publishing high-quality research papers. There is also a dire need to encourage initiatives for publishing high quality non-commercial academic and scientific journals to save researchers from the tyranny of long waits and high rejections and thus falling prey to the predatory practices. Universities, on their part, must, reward quality rather than being contented with counting numbers alone.
Furqan Qamar, Professor at the Faculty of Management Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia, is former Adviser (Education) in the Planning Commission of India. Views are personal.
Taufeeque Ahmad Siddiqui teaches at the Faculty of Management Studies in Jamia Millia Islamia. Views are personal.
The quality of PhDs produced in the country has remained poor. Strangely, however, the new measures proposed by the draft UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award of PhD Degree) Regulations, 2022 may end up doing just the opposite of what it purports to do. Forcing universities to admit only 60% of the PhD students from among the JRF/NET qualified candidates and the remaining 40% through the university level entrance test is bound to lower the intake quality of students. Doing away with the obligatory publication requirement of research papers in UGC listed journals would be a double whammy as it would make it easier for the research scholars to get their PhD. It would lead to the mushrooming of non-JRF/non-NET qualified PhD degree holders in the country.
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IN A HUGE SETBACK FOR AAP, SIMRANJIT SINGH MANN WINS FROM SANGRUR
Former IPS officer and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader, Simranjit Singh Mann wrested the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat from the Aam Aadmi Party thus paving the way for his entry into Parliament for the third time. The Sangrur constituency was represented earlier by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann, who won from there both in 2014 and 2019. In fact, the loss so soon after the AAP’s massive Assembly victory indicates that there is disillusionment that has set in the State over the style of functioning of the government. S.S. Mann’s victory is being attributed to the perception that the AAP dispensation in the state was being remote controlled from Delhi and the Chief Minister was a mere puppet who had little time for governance but was busy with the campaigning both in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Therefore, it would be very essential for AAP to correct this perception which would go against them in the long run. Punjab has always been a unique province and does not like interference from any quarter. The impression that the government was spending more on publicity rather on core issues is another factor that has contributed to the outcome. Simranjit Singh Mann, who is a maverick politician exploited the sentiments which have emerged in the rural belt over the deaths of both Sidhu Moosewala and Deep Sidhu. He also contested the polls on the plank of getting Sikh prisoners who have been overstaying in jails released. His victory can further be interpreted as the assertion of the Panthic agenda though the Shiromani Akali Dal owing allegiance to the Badals also took up the same issues but this time polled lesser votes than even the BJP candidate, Kewal Singh Dhillon. Simranjit Singh Mann had won his maiden election from Tarn Taran in 1989 after he had been jailed for being a sympathizer of the Khalistan movement and had gone underground after Operation Blue Star and other events of 1984. Simla born Mann is the son of former Punjab Speaker Joginder Singh Mann and is married to Captain Amarinder Singh’s sister-in-law, Geetinder Kaur. An avid follower of western classical music, Simranjit Singh Mann had refused to take oath as the Lok Sabha member in 1989 after being disallowed to go with a sword inside the Parliament house premises. He had won the second time from Sangrur in 1999. Political observers of Punjab were also hoping that his victory would be viewed merely as the rejection of the AAP model of governance and not as the re-emergence of radical politics. The selection of candidates for the seven Rajya Sabha seats in the State has also gone against the AAP and therefore corrective measures to re-set the agenda for the region shall also have to be taken by Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal. Punjab is a border state and its politics has huge ramifications in other parts of the country as well. The outcome has several lessons for the Akalis (Badal), the Congress and the BJP besides AAP. In Sangrur it is not just one Mann replacing another Mann but the narrative appears to be changing.
Gujarat riots: Narendra Modi vindicated
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court with Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and CT Ravikumar, while dismissing the plea,noted that the claim of criminal conspiracy in the Gujarat riots by the then CM of Gujarat (Narendra Modi) and other State functionaries was absolutely false. “The structure of larger criminal conspiracy at the highest level has been erected. The same stands collapsed like a house of cards, after thorough investigation by the SIT,” the bench said,in a landmark judgment that has blown to smithereens, the allegations of those, who driven by nothing but visceral hatred for Narendra Modi, peddled vicious lies and anti-Modi propaganda for 20 long years.During the course of the hearing, Kapil Sibal and others appearing for Jafri, had essentially argued that the special investigation team (SIT) had not conducted a thorough probe into the matter and had ignored crucial evidence including certain sting operations by Tehelka, which suggested a larger conspiracy of complicity in the highest echelons of the Gujarat State’s power structure. Sibal’s frivolous arguments, sans any credible proof, were resoundingly and rightfully dismissed by the top Court. Dismissing the plea filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of Congress leader Ehsaan Jafri, the Court raised questions over the credibility of the petitioner and said, “Appellant in filing the protest petition had the gumption to assert that the list of persons was not exhaustive besides naming new persons as offenders. In the name of protest petition, appellant was also indirectly questioning the decisions rendered by the Courts in other cases, including sub judice matters, for reasons best known to her. She was obviously doing so under dictation of someone. In fact, the sizeable contents of the protest petition are founded on the affidavits filed by those persons, whose versions have been found to be replete with falsehoods,” the Supreme Court bench stated.
The top Court also noted that the SIT had formed its opinion after considering all the materials collated during the investigation. “The question of further investigation would have arisen only on the availability of new material/information in connection with the allegation of larger conspiracy at the highest level, which is not forthcoming in this case,” the Supreme Court order read. “We uphold the decision of the Magistrate in accepting the final report dated 08.02.2012 submitted by the SIT as it is, rejecting the protest petition filed by the appellant (Zakia Jafri). We don’t countenance the submission of the appellant regarding infraction of rule of law regarding investigation and the approach of the Magistrate and the High Court in dealing with the final report. Accordingly, we hold the appeal is devoid of merits and deserves to be dismissed in aforementioned terms” – with those words, the Supreme Court of India put paid to yet another sinister plan of PM Narendra Modi’s detractors & persecutors to fix him in what is famously known as Gujarat riots’ case.
Leaders like Narendra Modi are born once in a millennium. The Supreme Court upholding the clean chit given to Modi by the SIT, brings to an end the vicious propaganda of the Congress and it’s family retainers, the durbaari Lutyens’ media, the corrupt, Leftist ecosystem, the Modi hating self styled NGOs and an entire battery of national and international players, who tried their level best to halt Modi’s politically meteoric rise, but failed completely. PM Modi deserves unabashed applause because he bore every insult, every canard, every humiliation with a stoic dignity, that is rare. Not once did his faith in India’s judicial process waver or falter. Not once did he use State power to defeat his detractors. Not once did BJP karyakartas take to the streets to protest against the probe against Modi.
This is in sharp contrast to the shameful vandalism and thuggery that was on display, with Congress workers taking to the streets, when jaded Congress scion, Rahul Gandhi was being probed by the enforcement directorate (ED), recently, for his reported involvement in the National Herald related scam. Modi, like any law abiding citizen, allowed the law of the land for almost two decades,to take its course, without once using his status, power or privilege to stymie the judicial process. And do not forget that Modi has wielded unparalleled clout, after having been CM and then PM, in the last 20 years. They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But in the case of Narendra Modi, the power that the electorate bestowed on him repeatedly and relentlessly was never abused or misused and that is essentially what separates Modi, the karmayogi, from the routine paraphernalia of Opposition leaders who have allowed success to get the better of them. Today, Modi stands vindicated, with the legal process finally giving him an unconditional clean chit,leaving his detractors exposed, shamed, pulverized and marginalised.
The ceaseless persecution of PM Narendra Modi, initiated at the behest of Congress and its ecosystem saw more than 60 investigations by government appointed commissions, self-proclaimed activists’ headed tribunals, media bodies, various national and international NGOs and Supreme Court appointed SIT. While every impartial probe gave clean chit to Modi, the Modi-hating lobby opposed to him didn’t stop trying–not even when he is into the 9th year of his tenure as Prime Minister of India,after spending more than 12 years as Gujarat’s Chief Minister. No wonder the Supreme Court was forced to make an observation that, “the proceedings have been pursued for the last 16 years to keep the pot boiling, obviously for ulterior design.” Going a step further, the Supreme Court held that “all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”
It is said revenge is a dish, best served cold. Well, in Modi’s case, his exoneration by the highest Court of the land, is surely sweet revenge against an entire “Congressi-fied” ecosystem that was served a damning indictment by the Supreme Court, which called out the bluff of this anti-Modi lobby. In its severe indictment of the petitioner (Zakia Jafri) and her backers, India’s top Court said, “it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others, was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge.” This observation of the top Court is evident in the way malicious proceedings were initiated against Narendra Modi in 2002 by vested interest groups like Teesta Setalvad, Rahul Sharma & Mukul Sinha and with active financial and institutional backing provided by the UPA government headed by the Congress Party, then. It is important to mention here that Zakia Jafri became a petitioner in the Gujarat riots’ case for the first time in 2005-06, three to four years after Gujarat riots. The Supreme Court had appointed an SIT for investigation into the Gujarat riots much earlier, in 2003-04 and this SIT was submitting periodic reports to the top Court.
The “Teesta” gang used Zakia Jafri as cannon fodder, exploiting her emotionally and using her as a pliable tool for their nefarious designs against Modi. Teesta and her husband Javed Anand claim to be social activists but it is now widely known how this duo used their NGO to funnel funds for illegitimate purposes. Money raised for victims of Gulbarg society were used by Teesta and Javed to fund the duo’s foreign vacations and to buy expensive champagne and lingerie. What can be more shameful than usurping money meant for riot victims and then splurging it on hairdos at beautysalons,which is precisely what Teesta did. The dubious antecedents and mala-fide motives of the highly corrupt Teesta Setalvad are in the public domain and not based on hearsay. In fact,the apex Court has castigated Teesta in no uncertain terms, on how she used Zakia Jafri to abuse the judicial process, only because she wanted to hit back at Modi. The long arm of the law finally caught up with this devious, repeat offender, Teesta, with the Gujarat ATS arresting her on June 25,2022. Teesta’s case will be investigated by ATS DIG of Gujarat, Deepan Bhadran.
Teesta has done it all–from embezzling funds meant for charity, to raising foreign funds for her NGO CJP,by flouting FCRA norms, to using Zakia Jafri as cannon fodder,for her ulterior designs. Former IPS officer RB Sreekumar, arrested by Gujarat Police too on June 25,2022, for fake and misleading information on post-Godhra Gujarat violence, was also involved in framing scientist Nambi Narayanan in the fake ‘ISRO spy case’. RB Sreekumar, Sanjiv Bhatt and Teesta Setalvad have been booked under sections 468, 471, 194, 211, 218, and 120B of the IPC, for various criminal offences including forgery, perjury and wilfully lying under oath. Congress Party’s unbridled support for Teesta is evident from the fact that she was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna award in 2002 and with a Padma Shri, no less, in 2007.Tainted former cop Sanjiv Bhatt was directed to undergo life-imprisonment by a Sessions Court in Jamnagar in June 2019 for involvement in custodial death of Jamjodhpur resident, Prabhudas Vaishnani in November 1990.It does not take much to realise that Teesta,Bhatt, Sreekumar and others like them are all people who were propped up by the Congress leadership at 10 Janpath and all these dubious characters are either in prison or facing a probe as they sought to derail and abuse India’s judicial system, in their hatred for one man–Narendra Modi. And the common glue that binds all these criminal elements is that they were generously gratified by the Congress, in lieu of their ceaseless hate propaganda against Modi.
The Godhra train burning occurred on the morning of 27 February 2002, in which 59 Hindu pilgrims and karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, were set on fire by a frenzied Muslim inside the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station in Gujarat,as noted in the joint report of former High Court judge K.G Shah and former Supreme Court judge, G.T.Nanavati. It is shameful that ex judge U C.Banerjee ( a Lalu Yadav acolyte) had the gall to call the Godhra train murder of 59 innocent people as just another accident. Taking a cue from Banerjee, till this day, the very lobby that has used every trick in the book to sully,malign and demonise PM Modi,did not have the basic decency and humanity to even express regret and remorse about the horrific Godhra train burning. And then these selfish, Leftist lobbies and urban naxals have the audacity to call themselves human right activists! The Godhra train burning incident set in motion the Gujarat riots. Violence can never be a solution. Retributive justice cannot be rationalised, but to demonize Hindus and a CM who later became PM and to brazenly ignore that 59 Hindus were burnt alive by a deracinated, Muslim mob, needed to be called out. And the Supreme Court’s historic judgement of June 24,2002,did precisely that.
Amidst extremely provocative and open calls for treating Modi like a pariah by the likes of Siddharth Varadarajan, Modi, exhibiting a rare degree of boldness, courage, transparency and faith in rule of law, appeared before SIT for 9 hours, without so much as a whimper. Varadarajan repeatedly exhorted the international diaspora to cancel out Modi and Modi was even denied a US visa. But as they say, Karma always comes a full circle. In a befitting reply to the likes of Rajdeep, Burkha and Varadarajan and all his nefarious naysayers, after Modi became PM in 2014,since then he has not only addressed quite a few joint session the US Congress, but has been awarded with some of the highest civilian awards from a large array of countries across the globe. While 5 other Indian PMs before Modi also addressed US Congress in their stints abroad, PM Narendra Modi has the highly rare honour of getting 9 standing ovations and 33 applauses during his 48-minute-long speech, to the US Congress, in June 2016.
Coming back to Teesta, the Supreme Court on June 24,2022,made an observation that the SIT which gave a clean chit to PM Modi in 2010-11 had “fully exposed the falsity of the appellant’s claims after a thorough investigation. Terming Zakia/Teesta’’s submission as “far-fetched and an attempt to undo and undermine the industry of the SIT”,SC called it “questioning the wisdom of the Supreme Court,” in a scathing reply to Zakia, Teesta and her cronies on how they had wilfully abused the judicial process, simply to target Modi.
It is clear from the events of past 20 years and latest SC judgment that the endless saga of Narendra Modi’s persecution by his detractors to propagate Gujarat riot falsehoods as truth and continue their tirade against Modi, not only hardened his personal resolve, but also helped unmask the ugly game of Gujarat riots’ cottage industry anchored by the Congress. But what is bizarre is that the alibi of delivering justice for the riot victims of 2002 got transmogrified into the pursuit for political vengeance against Modi. The whole saga is a tell-tale commentary of how anti-Modi NGO activism by Leftists, Leftist academia, urban naxals and Leftist media has sustained itself as an industry for over a decade, with help from notorious elements both at home and abroad.
The naked attempt to internationalize Gujarat riot was already on but victimization of Narendra Modi began on March 19, 2005, when Shabnam Hashmi wrote an email on behalf of her NGO, ANHAD, to a broader ecosystem of Leftist activists and NGOs across the globe to mount a signature campaign against Modi, then sitting CM of Gujarat. More than 8 years on, Shabnam Hashmi on August 24, 2013, wrote on her facebook page about the launch of a website to expose alleged ‘lies’ of Narendra Modi. In the intervening period is a saga of how a well networked group of Leftist activists in India and spread across the globe have obsessed over every minutiae to do with Narendra Modi in their pursuit of political retribution against him for the 2002 riots, while showing little faith in the Indian Courts. and an Indian Court ordered Investigation. So blatant was the internationalization of Modi’s victimization that, the SC in January 2011, reprimanded activists and NGO lobbies for their report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the proceedings of the 10 cases related to the Gujarat riots, being monitored by the Supreme Court. The lobbies didn’t stop at merely writing reports and emails but they even lobbied with multilateral bodies and brought Christof Hendrik Heyns, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution, to Gujarat for investigations. They even ran a signature campaign to petition Obama for continuance of visa ban on Modi.
In the final analysis, going by the historic Supreme Court verdict of June 24,2002, there was no State sponsored pogrom in 2002,as claimed by many. Period. Not just Muslims, but Hindus too lost their lives in the 2002 Gujarat riots and hence to paint the 2002 riots as a pogrom against Muslims is nothing but divisive politics that was played brazenly by the then Congress led UPA government. The good part is, truth has finally prevailed and desperate attempts by the Congress, Leftists and the Lutyens’ establishment to tarnish the image of Narendra Modi, have flopped and failed miserably. PM Modi was earlier exonerated by the SIT, Magistrate’s Court, Metropolitan Court, Gujarat High Court and even by the Supreme Court on two earlier occasions.
“We hasten to add that it is only because of the ultra-sensational revelation projected by Mr Sanjiv Bhatt and Mr Haren Pandya, who unabashedly claimed to be privy to the utterances made by the then Chief Minister in an official meeting, the constitutional functionaries and this Court was required to move into action, taking serious note of the same. But, after thorough investigation by the SIT, the falsity of such claim has been fully exposed on the basis of credible indisputable materials collated by the SIT during the investigation in that regard,” the Court noted,
in a damning indictment of both Zakia Jafri and those like Teesta Setalvad who had been instigating Jafri in petition after petition, to frame false charges against Modi.
The latest judgment by the Supreme Court – that came in the 9th year of Modi’s tenure as Indian Prime Minister, is not the first time; various Courts in India gave Narendra Modi the clean chit in the past 20 years too, even when he served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. No leader anywhere in the world has been subjected to so much scrutiny, so much public glare, so many false allegations, so much unwanted, baseless and needless criticism for actions that were never his to start with and yet emerged taller, stronger, more confident and more invincible than ever before. Modi’s integrity has been validated by India’s highest Court–the Supreme Court. The top Court’s judgment on June 24, 2002,giving a clean chit to the indefatigable Modi, is also a validation of India’s judicial system and the democratic ethos of this great nation.
SanjuVerma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.
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DROUPADI MURMU POISED TO BE THE PRESIDENT AFTER BJP CHOOSES HER
It is virtually certain that Droupadi Murmu, former Jharkhand Governor and Odissha’s Ex-Minister is going to be the next President of India after she became the unanimous choice of the NDA constituents as also some regional parties such as Biju Janata Dal and YSR Congress. The lady would also be the first tribal and the second woman to be the Head of the State and thus the country’s first citizen. Although the Opposition parties have fielded former Finance Minister and veteran politician Yashwant Sinha for the coveted post, it is most unlikely that the highly competent member of the Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Cabinet stands a chance given that it is all about the numbers game and they are heavily stacked against him. There is no doubt that Sinha would have been a very capable President but in choosing Droupadi Murmu, the BJP has made sure that the message of the Saffron Brigade’s commitment towards the tribals and economically depressed sections was reiterated. The tribals in large parts of the country have been voting for the BJP but under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the party has learnt the art of consolidating its support base. It would have been an ideal situation if the next President had been chosen through a consensus instead of a symbolic fight that would ensue. Yashwant Sinha has been a part of the BJP and may have many admirers in his previous party. However, it is not expected that any of his erstwhile colleagues would vote in his favour and even his son and former Union Minister, Jayant Sinha, the sitting MP from Hazaribagh, has made it clear that he would be voting as a member of his party and not in any other capacity. Droupadi Murmu would no doubt be the next President in the current scenario but she will have to face enormous challenges which could be very new to her. The President is the supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and is also a part of the Parliament in our system. She would have a large set of advisers to see her through difficult times, but in the end, it would be her own discretion and understanding of the entire system that shall stand by her at all junctures. Many Opposition leaders are apprehensive about her capacity to deliver and are unfairly undermining her choice. However, they must understand that in a democratic set up like ours, everyone has the right to aspire and occupy the highest office of the land. She is not being foisted but shall be duly elected by members of the legislatures and Parliament. Therefore, her rise to the esteemed position would be completely legitimate and it would be totally unnecessary to find any kind of fault in her. In fact, once she gets elected, the entire Nation should solidly back her and wish her well for a promising tenure. It would have been unthinkable many years ago that a tribal would ever be the President but if the BJP and its allies are making it possible, it is a tribute to their vision and acceptance of the need to promote economically depressed and socially deprived sections of our society.
The endemic of gun violence: An American tragedy
The Senate passed a bill on Thursday aiming at overhauling the existing laws on firearms.
The debate over the unimaginable carnage due to gun violence and privation of stricter gun control laws in the United States has grown and faded over the years and gets stirred frequently by incidents of gun violence. Last month the mass shootings at the Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, again reignited the fierce debate over gun control legislation in the country. Amidst the political divisions over how to address gun violence, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to strike down a New York Law limiting gun-carrying rights of American citizens has expanded the existing gun rights in the United States. President Joe Biden was extremely disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, as it “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should trouble us all”.
Guns have been woven into the fabric of American culture and politics since the Second Amendment (1791) to the U.S. Constitution affirmed that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”. Gun legislations in the United States are built on the judicial interpretations of the Constitution and it was on the grounds of the Second and Fourteenth Amendments (1868) that in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court, in its landmark decision, declared the ban on handguns as unconstitutional, therefore, reaffirming the individual right to possess firearms and use them for self-defence.
According to the National Firearms Survey of 2021, more than 81.4 million Americans above the age of 18 years own firearms, which makes up for almost 32 per cent of the adult American population. But the actual numbers are believed to be much higher as the prerequisite for a permit or registration to purchase guns is not a necessary requirement in all American states. America’s problem with gun violence is not limited to mass shootings, although the use of firearms is disproportionately higher in incidents of mass shootings compared to other forms of shootings, they are still relatively rare. In 2021, mass shootings accounted for less than 2 per cent of the nearly 40,000 fatalities resulting from gun violence in cases of homicides, police shooting, domestic violence, accidents and suicides which make up the highest number of gun-related deaths in the country.
Over the years, the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), the US gun rights advocacy group has played a big role in pushing forward the idea that guns are necessary for self-defence. They believe that owning a gun is a basic right similar to their right to free speech, and gun control legislation is an effort to deprive law-abiding American citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves. The NRA continues to oppose any effort to implement gun control policies and initiatives that override constitutional due process protections. It has shifted the narrative of gun politics where gun ownership is paralleled to patriotism and has become a political identity. Gun violence has taken more lives than any other public crisis in the US. Compared to other western countries, the US does not have an overall crime problem, but it certainly does have more lethal violence attributable to the prevalence of guns.
Over the years, the subject of gun rights has become an intensely partisan issue, with the Republicans voting in favor of protecting the gun rights and the Democrats voting against them and placing more importance on gun regulations. There are federal gun laws that apply uniformly across the whole United States, which ban convicted felons, people with mental illness and kids under the age of 18 years from buying guns. But the gun laws are not uniform across all states as there are state laws, and each state law has its own leeway to enforce their own regulations that are wildly at variance with one another. For instance, in Massachusetts which is a strong Democratic state, police permit and a background check to buy a gun is a legal requirement, whereas in Texas with a strong Republican state, there are laws that permit citizens to carry concealed hand guns without any permit. There are more than 20 states that do not require any permit for purchasing firearms. These differences reflect the underlying partisan divide which has grown wider in the last three decades and is the greatest political and ideological split between the Republicans and the Democrats compared to any other issue in the American political life.
The US Congress has repeatedly failed to pass tougher gun laws and legislative reforms even as public opinion strongly pushes for it, but the issue of gun control is a political battle than it is a public opinion battle. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2021, only 52 per cent of the Americans believed in making stricter gun laws, a drop from 67 per cent in 2018. The United States is vastly divided on political partisan lines and gun ownership and these two divisions have created barriers making it difficult to move forward and overcome policy change at a national level.
President Biden considers gun violence as a public health epidemic and his plans to tackle gun control include investing in evidence-based community violence interventions to address the root causes of gun violence. After the mass shootings in Uvalde, the Biden Administration wants to toughen guns laws and make sure the ones that already exist are actually applied including zero tolerance policy for gun dealers who flout the rules. He also called for stricter laws to be imposed on ghost guns as these weapons are sold in parts and without a serial number so they cannot be traced. These are easily available kits which can be purchased online without a background check and can be turned into a fully functional firearm. Biden also wants to bring back the ban on assault weapons, mostly used in mass shootings. He himself authored the assault-weapons ban, which was in place for a decade until 2004.
Given the political climate and a divided Senate, President Biden has few realistic avenues to pursue gun control legislation without congressional action. The Democratic push for more gun control and regulation is often met with voters and politicians in Congress who believe that guns are not the problem and perceive it as an attack on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. There is always a promising consensus on potential legislation, but usually the prospects of a bipartisan action on gun control fades within weeks of mass shootings. The Senate on Thursday (23 June) passed a Bipartisan Gun Control Bill in a 65–33 vote, which will next have to clear through the House of Representatives before going to President Biden’s for his signature. The bill is considered to be an important legislation as it revises the measures such as expanding background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 years and offering funding to states that have emergency programmes in place to seize guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge. But as the Senate worked towards this gun safety legislation, the Supreme Court overturned a handgun restriction.
Through the influences of culture and politics, the United States has a very powerful gun-centric movement where both gun rights and gun regulations have been respected, but at the moment gun violence is a public health issue. Gun homicides are number one cause of deaths for all youth in America, the No. 1 cause of deaths for Black men and the highest rate of firearms deaths among the world’s wealthy nations. Mass shootings in other western countries like New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada and UK have prompted these nations to enact gun reforms by imposing measures such as bans on semiautomatic firearms, stricter background checks and national registry requirement. To tackle the tragedy of America’s accelerating epidemic of gun violence there is need to address the divide on gun control regulation and find a common ground between Democrats and Republicans for a bipartisan outcome, which respects the Second Amendment, makes a significant headway into preventing gun crimes, ensures public safety and earns a wide support in the Senate.
The author is a doctoral candidate at the centre of Canadian, US and Latin American Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Reforms needed to overcome ills of representative democracy
The first basic question is how many of us understand the difference between representative democracy and participatory/direct democracy? For the record, we are a representative democracy where selected representatives are expected to debate, provide inputs from their constituencies and enable passing of legislations that push India into the next century.
The question that repeatedly haunts us is what is wrong with India when there is so much The question that repeatedly haunts us is what is wrong with India when there is so much right happening around us. Why are path breaking reforms that were pending for decades, resisted after they are legislated? The back lash to the most recent much needed Military reforms, preceded by farmers bill, labour reforms etc. are perhaps symptoms of a disease that is yet to be fully understood.Its contours are obliquely discussed in debates both in print and social media.
The first basic question is how many of us understand the difference between representative democracy and participatory /direct democracy? For the record, we are a representative democracy where the elected representatives are expected to debate, provide inputs from their constituencies and enable passing of legislations that push India into the next century. That the Parliament does not function and that all political parties play to the gallery are there for all to see. But there is no angst, peaceful marches or even vandalism to show our rejection of petty politics on display. But repeatedly one hears seasoned journalists, academics and the educated commentators state that not enough consultations with the people have been done and hence the backlash. Really? On a variety of complex social, economic, industrial, military legislations or executive decisions, can we have open consultations with a billion people-largely uninformed due to literacy/education related constraints? No.
That is why we have a representational form of democracy. Here lies the next challenge. Due to the very nature of politics right from independence, sane, educated, well meaning and knowledgeable citizens do not wish to be in the money-muscle power driven elections. Even the most talented, patriotic, and affluent citizen cannot hope to win an election. Criminals and those who impress the poor with material or political promises of freebies will ensure that outstanding technocrats never succeed.Hence the preferred route of Rajya Sabha for the truly deserving.
Now, coming to “we the people.”Those of us who are educated, comfortable and well-endowed while participating incessantly on the social media and rarely in print, do not bother to vote, The only means to eliminate criminals and frauds from being elected is to participate with the EC to stem the tide of self-serving, corrupt or even dynastic politicians.Holding the political party accountable for noncompliance with manifestos and rejecting freebies with severe fiscal and financial liabilities on much needed public funds are essential features for reforms at the people’s end. We have a responsibility that we have will fully shunned, as we the people do not necessarily wish to participate in the process of finding the right people to represent us. The media does not believe in exposing our politicians to well informed debates.
The latest reform concerning the Military are being debated with elected representatives who neither know the ranks and structure of the Military nor even the difference between recruitment of soldiers and the selection process of officers. Just recently an educated politician referred to the former Army Chief Gen JJ Singh as Major. But he vaxed eloquent on the reforms per se.
Veterans who participate in debates are guilty of indirectly accusing the present military Veterans who participate in debates are guilty of indirectly accusing the present military leadership (who are the only accountable people for operations), of the most elementary consequences of such reforms: as if the knowledge resides only in them. By so doing in public, they are casting aspersions on the competence of the serving community. For the record they all begin their argument with how timely such a bold reform is. But……and this is precisely the first red flag for creating confusion that could affect the morale of the serving community, when the serving Chiefs have repeatedly assured that they will plug loop holes as they progress.
That the Parliament does not function and that all political parties play to the gallery are there for all to see. But there is no angst, peaceful marches or even vandalism to show our rejection of petty politics on display. But repeatedly, one hears seasoned journalists, academics and the educated commentators state that not enough consultations with the people have been done and hence the backlash. Really? On a variety of complex social, economic, industrial, military legislations or executive decisions, can we have open consultations with a billion people-largely uninformed due to literacy/education related constraints? No.
Perhaps such senior veterans were too busy in their careers and forgot to mentor and train their subordinates who now occupy decision making positions. You reap as you sow.
The most important lesson is that, when a decision is taken, after consultations with stake holders and the details are not available with the veterans, the best way is to communicate with the current military leadership directly. That would be of immense value than debating with an anchor on a TRP hunt and a panel of bumbling politicians.
Mr K Subramanyam, the doyen of the strategic community till the 1990s and the Chairman of the Kargil Review Committee, once said, “ the politician enjoys power without responsibility. The bureaucrat wields power without accountability and the Military assumes responsibility without direction.”
The recommendations of the Arun Singh committee report were to specifically address this lacuna by integrating the services with the MOD and creating a single point adviser to the RM/PM on matters military through CDS. It took 18 years to begin the process and create structures. We must learn to be patient with this new born set up. The new CDS is likely to assume duty soon. We are moving along the right path.
But India needs major reforms in administration, police and judicial sectors, along with labour, land and agriculture to to take her to the next level of eminence in international politics. There are enough lessons learnt to attempt all of these, if there a will.
Vice Admiral SCS Bangara, PVSM, AVSM (Retd.)
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