This is an area of law that’s evolving so fast anything I say will be obsolete by tomorrow. — Professor Joshua Fairfield
A former bank robber Michael, who is on the edge of a breakdown; Trevor, an arms smuggler-cum-drug dealing psychopath; and Franklin, a street gangster who will do anything for money. These are the characters your child gets to play in the second most popular video game of the world — Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and you’re paying for this from your credit card as a parent. The game explores the relationships through a series of robberies, carjackings, felonies and violent fights as they clash with every possible authority and stereotype in a fictional world called San Andreas, based on Southern California.
The good news, however, is that the most-selling video game is a gentle game where players create houses, farms and mines for resources in a blocky, pixelated world. This is Minecraft. In September 2019, The Guardian classified Minecraft as the best video game of the 21st century, and in November 2019, Polygon called the game the “most important game of the decade”.
In December 2019, Forbes gave it a special mention in a list of the best video games of the 2010s; it is also in the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Minecraft teaches positive skills like resource utilisation, teamplay, design of cities and infrastructure.
With the outbreak of Covid-19 across the world and subsequent lockdowns, video gamers in the United States reported that they spent 45% more time than the average playing games. Game sales and downloads have also commensurately skyrocketed. In India $1,698 million would be spent on video games in 2020, with an annual growth rate (CAGR 2020-2025) of 7.7%, resulting in a projected market volume of $2,456 million by 2025. While this is happening, there are serious concerns being raised about the appropriateness of the content of these games. Themes around violence, sexual crimes, inappropriate language usage and stereotypical portrayal of ethnicities and religious groups have raised critical issues about their effect on young and adolescent minds.
Content and concerns
Games have also been criticised for portraying a “white man’s world” as the primary characters and settings are predominantly white-Western. The Bechdel Test, popularised by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, says that appropriate representation of women characters needs to satisfy the following requirements (the game or story, etc):
1. It has to have at least two women in it.
2. Who talk to each other.
3. About something besides a man.
Most games available would not pass the Bechdel Test.
Attempts at localisation of games have led to release of country-specific editions, such as those complying to so-called ‘blood regulation’ in China, where the show of blood or bleeding has been totally banned. Earlier game makers circumvented similar regulations by changing the colour of blood to green or any other colour than red. A
Addiction, violence and psychology
As online gaming continues to grow, it has rekindled worries over gaming’s potential negative effects and thus the need to explore the phenomenon of the socalled addiction of video games. In 2010, Anderson, et al, completed a meta-analysis of the effects of violent video games on aggression, empathy and prosocial behaviour, using international data (Anderson, et al, 2010). Another long-term metaanalysis at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover also yielded similar results in 2017. The Anderson study final sample included 381 effect-size estimates based on 130,296 participants. They came to a conclusion that violent video game exposure had a positive causal correlation with aggressive behaviour, aggression cognition and aggressive affect. They also found out that violent video game exposure was positively associated and causally related to desensitisation, lack of empathy and lack of prosocial behaviour. Thus, the concerns around gaming addiction and other effects are real, and need to be addressed.
Pornography and obscenity laws
India does not have a rating regime for online and video games. This has created a regulatory vacuum where protections applicable in other countries are not available to Indian customers. There are a plethora of general criminal and civil provisions which can be applied on a case by case basis to the game content in question. Publicationdistribution-transmission of any obscene content is a punishable offence in India under Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Information Technology Act, 2008. Any indecent representation of women is prohibited under the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 and is a punishable offence.
Development of video games is a technical process dependent on the development of ideas, software, visuals, testing the game and commercialisation of the game. The video game Inc or game developers or gaming companies need to be careful that such apps are in sync with the legal and regulatory compliances. Another important aspect being privacy principles applied to personal data, especially relating to minors and adolescents. For the video game Inc to keep safe of any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or which may deprave and corrupt persons or would be considered obscene shall understand the parameters such as:
(a) Whether the work taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
(b) Whether the work is patently offensive.
(c) Whether the work depicts any indecent representation of women.
Certain sections of the Indian Penal Code and IT Act are of great interest and applicability in this regard, consider Section 292 of the IPC which deals with obscenity, and states that a figure or any object shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interests such as to tend to deprave and corrupt a person. This section also makes it an offence to distribute, import, export, exhibit, advertise, etc, obscene content by means of traditional print media. Also, Section 294 of the IPC makes it an offence to do any obscene acts, or utter obscene words or songs in public places to the annoyance of others. Similarly, sections 67, 67A and 67B of the IT Act prescribe punishment for publishing or transmitting, in electronic form: Obscene material, material containing sexually explicit act, etc, and material depicting children in sexually explicit act, etc, respectively.
Internationally, attempts ranging from a credible self-regulation by the video game industry itself to governmental attempts at effective regulation have been observed. Introduced in 2013, the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) is an initiative aimed at streamlining acquisition of content ratings for video games, from authorities of different countries. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) established in 1994 is an American self-regulatory organisation that assigns age and content ratings to consumer video games. The Australian Classification Board (ACB or CB) established in 1970 is an Australian government statutory body responsible for the classification and censorship of films, video games and publications for exhibition, sale or hire in Australia. The Game Rating and Administration Committee (Geimmul Gwalli-Wiwonhoe; GRAC) is the South Korean video game content rating board. A governmental organisation, the GRAC rates video games to inform customers of the nature of game contents. These regulatory attempts have brought a much-needed sanity to the video game space. In absence of regulation, the arena remains open to wide interpretation in India.
An Indian lawyer has filed a PIL in the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking for a ban on the wildly popular game “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG). He contends that school going children who are losing interest in studies have become addicted to the game and the parents of such children are helpless as children have become aggressive and got into depression. Another PIL filed elsewhere also raises significant questions on the content, sensitivity and impact of these games.
Worldwide, Video and Online Game regulation Policies have attempted to attain three major objectives:
- Policy measures limiting availability of video games (shutdown policy, fatigue system, and parental controls etc).
- Measures aiming to reduce risk and harm (e.g., warning messages).
- Measures taken to provide help services for gamers.
It is time that a mature classification system is evolved in India which engenders responsibility and credibility. Self-regulation by the game makers may not apply to India as the gaming industry is in a nascent stage and game makers may not be wanting to be saddled with curbs on their practices. A wider public consultation involving experts from academia, technology, governance, law and general society at large should be done to formalise norms which would govern the game space without being a hindrance to technology, creativity or business.
Brijesh Singh is author & senior IPS officer. Khushbu Jain is advocate in the Supreme Court & founding partner, Ark legal.
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Analysing the fundamentals of governing a state
In the case of United States vs Wunderlich, 1951 SCC Online US SC 93:96 L Ed 113: 342 US 98 (1951), Justice Douglas (US Supreme Court) observed: “Law has reached its finest moments when it has freed man from the unlimited discretion of some ruler… Where discretion is absolute, man has always suffered.”
Therefore, if any Chief Minister or a Minister in any state leaves no discretion to the senior functionaries of the state and makes a senior bureaucrats, subservient to the ruler of the state, it can easily be said that rule of law in that state has broken down.
Appointing Ministers against whom there are serious allegations of corruption and senior ministers indulging in dharnas where such Ministers are questioned by investigating agencies, is a matter of great concern. It has been observed of late that people who are in power, sit in dharnas and create serious law and order problems for the state.
In the case of K. Prabhakarn vs. P. Jayarajan, the Supreme Court elucidated upon the scope and purport of Section 8(3) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 which provides criteria for disqualification. It was observed that the purpose of enacting disqualification under Section 8(3) of RPA is to prevent the criminalisation of politics and those who break the law should not make the law.
Interestingly, the Constitution bench of Supreme Court, in the case of Manoj Narula vs Union of India Writ Petition (Civil) No.289 of 2005expressed to then Prime Minister “Will any reasonably prudent master leave the keys of his chest with a servant whose integrity is doubted? Corruption is an enemy of the nation. As a trustee of the constitution, the PM is expected not to appoint an unwarranted person as ministers.”
On 1 October 2007, the Supreme Court bench of Justice B.N. Aggarwal and P. Sathasivam pulled up the Dravida Munnerta Kazahagam government in Tamil Nadu for going ahead with a state-sponsored bandh in the state over the Sethusamudram issue and observed that “if there is no compliance with our order, it is complete breakdown of constitutional machinery. If this is the condition, we might then have to direct the government to impose President’s Rule in the state.” But, in a different context where the High Court had passed an order after the government filed an application seeking recusal of the judge stating that he had prejudged the issue even without hearing the government, the Supreme Court, the bench comprising of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian observed the situation as ‘disturbing’ and stayed the operation of the order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court that had castigated the Legislature, the Government, the Chief Minister and lawyers representing the State.
It is noteworthy that in the path-breaking judgement of the Supreme Court, in the case of Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225, held that the rule of law is an essential or basic feature of our Constitution.
Another facet of rule of law is its incompatibility with absolute unfettered discretion. This law was laid down by the Supreme Court in Jaisinghani Case S.G. Jaisinghani vs Union of India, AIR 1967 SC 1427: (1967) 2 SCR 703, wherein it was observed, “it is important to emphasise that the absence of arbitrary power is the first essential of the rule of law upon which our whole constitutional system is based. In a system governed by rule of law discretion, when conferred upon executive authorities must be confined within clearly defined limits”
In the case of B.P. Singhal vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No.296 of 2004, the Supreme Court held that an implied limitation was read into the pleasure doctrine concerning the removal of the Governor of a State by the President in terms of Article 156 of the Constitution. It was held that the pleasure doctrine as originally envisaged in England gave unfettered power to the authority at whose pleasure a person held an office. However, where the rule of law prevails, the “fundamentals of constitutionalism” cannot be ignored, meaning thereby that the pleasure doctrine does not enable an unfettered discretion to act arbitrarily, whimsically, or capriciously. It does not dispense with the need for a cause for withdrawal of the pleasure, which can only be for valid reasons.
Recently, the Supreme Court, the bench of Justice R.F. Nariman and Justice S.Ravindra Bhat, invoked its plenary power under Article 142 by removing a Manipur Minister and restrained from entering the legislative assembly of Manipur till further orders.
In few states in India, the situation is not very different but graver. The chief secretary of the state, who is supposed to be in, complete know of, the entire state with regard to damage caused by severe storm “yaas” remained elusive to brief Prime Minister when he especially visits the state to gauge the gravity of the situation, it is totally unheard of and against all rules and protocols of governance. This might lead to disruption of well laid down principles of conducting of public affairs and management of public resources.
The Constitution of India is above any political party or a minister, and even Prime Minister/Chief Minister, and thus, the majesty of the system of governance must be preserved at all cost.
The writer is a senior advocate. Views expressed are his personal.
WILL THERE BE A CABINET RESHUFFLE?
While no one has been able to second guess Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is no denying that the buzz of a reshuffle is certainly in the air. There have been a series of meetings presided over by either the PM himself or Home Minister Amit Shah with various members of the Union ministry. Yes, it could be a routine stock taking on the eve of the Monsoon session but there is no denying that the Council of Ministers is in dire need of a face lift.
Without going into specific names, the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. During his first stint as Prime Minister, the focus was more on building his own team rather than continuing with A.B. Vajpayee’s cabinet. That did ruffle some feathers as seniors like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were marginalised in the now infamous Marg Darshak Mandal, while others like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha turned rebels. Fresh faces like Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Prakash Javadekar and Smriti Irani were drafted in and the general expectation was that they were being groomed to play a heftier role in PM Modi’s second stint. That made sense as Modi wanted to shape his own team rather than inherit one. All of the above-mentioned names have been included in PM Modi’s second term as well.
Yet, there is a perception that the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. The performing ministers remain those inherited from the Vajpayee regime—Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and the late Sushma Swaraj and the late Arun Jaitley. The second generation talent though inducted hasn’t been given much room to manoeuvre. It is still the PMO that takes all the key decisions. Will the PMO decentralise and give ministers more elbow room? If yes, then this can be done even without a reshuffle.
The second concern regards crucial sectors that have seen some ups and downs as a fallout of certain policy decisions taken by the government. Such as agriculture and education. There have also been concerns that in a Covid continuous world there is a need for an able administrator, rather than a medical professional to head the health ministry.
The third compulsion is what any Prime Minister faces, balancing regional compulsions and allies. Ever since the SAD walked out of the government and Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise there has been no ally in the cabinet. It is expected that token concessions will be given to the JD(U) in this regard.
But whether there is a reshuffle or not, the political buzz has certainly distracted the headlines from Covid and China and that itself would have come as a relief for the party’s headline managers!
There is a perception that the Modi cabinet lacks bench strength. The performing ministers remain those inherited from the Vajpayee regime—Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and the late Sushma Swaraj and the late Arun Jaitley. The second generation talent though inducted hasn’t been given much room to manoeuvre.
A WELCOME DECISION TO DOCUMENT WAR OPERATIONS, HISTORIES
At a time when India is facing a hostile power on its northern border, it is crucial to have precise knowledge of what has happened during the previous confrontations. It is particularly vital for the defence personnel who are supposed to study wars and conflicts, during their training at military academies or colleges.
It is rare to come across good news during these difficult times. It is understandable as the government is kept busy handling the fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic and does not have time to undertake in-depth changes or reforms.
A few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised to read a PBI communiqué announcing that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had approved a new policy “on archiving, declassification and compilation/publication of war/operations histories by the Ministry of Defence.”
The release added: “The policy envisages that each organisation under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) …will transfer the records, including war diaries, letters of proceedings & operational record books, to the History Division of Ministry of Defence for proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories.”
Further, for the first time, the Government agrees to follow the law (and not to have a few babus sailing above the rules under usual pretexts such as protecting ‘national security’, putting a blanket ban on declassification). The communiqué clearly mentioned: “The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997. According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years. Records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives of India.” Today, hardly any transfer takes place to the National Archives and India is paying a price for it by not studying her own history.
This will be a significant shift the day India will be able to become a ‘normal’ modern State, functioning under the law; the newly created History Division will be responsible “for coordination with various departments while compiling, seeking approval and publishing of war/operations histories.” The new scheme caters to a committee headed by the Joint Secretary, MoD, and comprising of representatives of the Services, and other ministries and organisations.
This move is important for several reasons. At a time India is facing a hostile power on its Northern border, it is crucial to have precise knowledge of what has happened during the previous confrontations. It is particularly vital for the defence personnel who are supposed to study wars and conflicts, during their training at military academies or colleges.
Today’s officers and soldiers need to know why India fared well (in 1971 for example) or less well (in particularly in 1962 against China) and learn from the victories as well as the defeats— it is a fact of life that one always learns more from routs than triumphs.
In this perspective, it will be necessary to have a holistic approach to the studies of wars and conflicts, and consequently, other ministries will have to be taken on board.
To give an example, the official History of the Conflict with China (1962) published by the Ministry of Defence, did not get any inputs from the Ministry of External Affairs or other agencies, while it is a known fact that BN Mallick the Intelligence Bureau Chief had his fingers in many pies before the war and misled the government on every front.
One of the first tasks of the Historical Division will be to declassify existing reports such as the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat Report.
The report prepared by Lt Gen Henderson-Brooks and Brig (later Lt Gen) Prem Bhagat deals with some of the reasons for the defeat of the Indian Army in 1962. Discussed in Parliament in 1963, the report has since then been unnecessarily kept under wraps.
In 2012, Sandeep Unnithan wrote in India Today: ‘Officials who have read it say this is because the report squarely indicts senior army generals for the country’s worst-ever military defeat…’
The crux of the report is said to a 40-page summary by Gen Chaudhary, the Army Chief after the war, who observed that the Army gave “a better account of itself in the Ladakh sector by resisting the Chinese advance, because of better leadership.”
According to the same source, the three main findings of the report were the failure of the Army’s higher command, the organisation of the Army, and finally the appointment of “the glib but militarily unsound corps commander Lt Gen Brij Mohan Kaul.” Only two copies of the report are said to exist: one is with the defence secretary; the other deep in a vault at the directorate general of military operations.
It is not the only ‘secret’ report to remain in the drawers of the ministries of defence or external affairs. Perhaps more crucial for the present tense northern borders is the Himmatsinghji Committee Report of 1951. This committee, known as the North and North East Border Defence Committee, sent its findings in two parts. The interesting aspect of the committee was that all the branches of the Indian State dealing with the borders were represented.
Besides Maj Gen. Himmatsinghji, Deputy Minister of Defence (Chairman), it included Lt Gen. Kulwant Singh, K. Zakaria, head of the MEA’s Historical Division, S.N Haksar, Joint secretary, MEA, Group Capt. M. Chaturvedi from the Indian Air Force, and Waryam Singh, deputy director of the Intelligence Bureau, the Committee was initiated by Sardar Patel before he passed away on December 15, 1950.
The first part of the main Report consisting of recommendations regarding Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA, and the Eastern frontier bordering Burma was submitted in April 1951. The second part, submitted in September 1951, pertained to Ladakh and the frontier regions of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Nepal.
Based in the findings of the first Report, the takeover of Tawang by Maj Bob Khathing was ordered in February 1951. Nobody can access this report today.
Apart from these inaccessible reports, the massive loss of the Sikkim Papers, pertaining to the Office of the Political Officer (1890-1975) which recorded the entire history of India’s relations with the Himalayas, particularly Tibet and Bhutan, is a great tragedy. Four lakhs of vital files concerning India’s Northern borders have been misplaced between South Block and North Block; since then, they are MIA (‘missing in action’ to use a military term).
The MoD move is also important because it will hopefully trigger a similar move in other important ministries, first and foremost the Ministry of External Affairs, which for decades had a Historical Division before it was closed in the 1990s by a bright diplomat who thought he could dispense with the nitty-gritty of history— or more probably to bury forever some of South Block’s ‘errors of judgments’.
But errors, blunders, or mistakes are part of history and need to be studied, analysed, and discussed to avoid those unwelcome situations occur again.
A first step has been made by the MOD, let us hope that the good intentions will not be lost in the bureaucratic corridors.
Incidentally, it would be good if the Joint Secretary in charge of the new Division, is a lover of history, not just a passing bureaucrat.
The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.
FARMERS NEED TO SEE THROUGH THEIR LEADERS, END PROTEST
Seven-eight months on, some of Delhi’s borders are still blocked by groups of farmers sitting in protest against the three farm laws passed by Parliament following due legislative process and with a majority vote. Much has happened in these months, including the deadly second wave of the coronavirus that has left thousands dead and hundreds and thousands infected and often battling with post-infection complications. Amid this, these farmers have defied every Covid protocol including social distancing and masking, while staying put on Delhi’s borders. Allegations are that these gatherings have proved to be super-spreader events, with the farmers taking back the infection to their villages whenever visiting home, which has resulted in certain areas in states neighbouring Delhi becoming corona hotspots. But obviously, such has been the level of misinformation and disinformation spread about the farm laws that the protesting farmers are ready to put their and their loved ones’ lives at risk to try and put pressure on the government to repeal the farm laws.
Also in these months, what was initially proclaimed to be a non-political protest fighting for the rights of farmers has shed the fig leaf of being above politics. The fundamental premise of the protest was always political—to turn the Narendra Modi government into a lame-duck one by making it repeal the farm laws and thus not allowing it to undertake any reform-oriented activities. The only difference now is that the leaders of the protest have taken clearly partisan positions and are openly hobnobbing with opposition parties, a case in point being Rakesh Tikait, the leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union. Tikait is an ambitious man and does not believe in staying confined to Delhi’s borders and so travelled all the way to West Bengal ahead of the Assembly elections there to campaign against the Bharatiya Janata Party. And now he believes he can play a role in the formation of a second/third political front in the Lok Sabha elections of 2024 against the BJP.
Recently, he again travelled to Kolkata and if media reports are to be believed, offered West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the Prime Minister’s post if any such political formation comes to power in 2024. It’s a different matter though that Tikait’s immediate focus is on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections that are scheduled to be held around February-March 2022. Ahead of that, whether he is working to establish himself as a Jat leader in the Jat belt of western Uttar Pradesh, or is working in tandem with opposition parties, particularly the late Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, or both, is a matter of speculation. But what is more than apparent is that he is enjoying the national limelight and has no intention of calling off the protests in the near future—not at least up to the UP elections.
However, whether or not these protests have an impact on the elections next year will depend not so much on what Rakesh Tikait and fellow farmer leaders do, but on what both the Central and state governments do in terms of reaching the benefits of their schemes and their development work to the people, apart from of course ensuring the revival of the economy in a post-Covid situation. Also, healthcare infrastructure has to be kept in top shape so that India does not pay a high price in terms of either human or economic terms in case a possible third wave proves to be as virulent as the second one. For this vaccination has to be ramped up, while also giving a booster dose to the public health system in terms of infrastructure.
As for the farmers, it is time they looked after their own interests. As the government has been saying repeatedly, neither would MSP go nor the mandi system. The new laws offer the farmers certain choices, but do not scrap the old system. The protesting farmers need to realise that the “leaders” who are instigating these protests are driven by self-interest—political interest or financial interest or both. They are not driven by the farmers’ interests. The poor farmers are allowing themselves to be exploited by these leaders. It is time they returned home and took another look at the farm laws.
DIGVIJAYA SINGH’S GOOGLY TO ENTICE MUSLIM VOTERS MAY BOOMERANG
Those who say that Digvijaya Singh is a loudmouth must understand that his remarks over Article 370 abrogations were not off-the-cuff or personal opinions of a senior Congress leader. This is a part of the design to fan trouble in the Valley and give credence to those who seek to internationalise the issue.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh has come out with a fig-leaf defence after his clubhouse chats, wherein he had spoken about the Congress considering revoking Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir if it came to power at the Centre, became public. It is not an innocuous statement. Whatever he said is a part of the Congress’ design to influence elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress may try everything in its arsenal to attract Muslim voters.
Let us first know what exactly Digvijaya Singh said so that misinterpretation is ruled out. While answering a query from a Pakistani journalist in clubhouse audio chat, he said: “…therefore, the decision of revoking Article 370 and reducing the statehood of J&K is an extremely, I would say, sad decision and the Congress party will certainly have a relook on this issue.” His defence after the statement got leaked was: “Those who are uneducated perhaps do not understand the difference between shall and consider.”
But there was never any confusion in his statement based on the nuance of ‘shall’ and ‘consider’. He had stressed that “the Congress party will certainly have a relook”. The senior Congress leader has bowled a googly that any person in the country would term anti-national.
Not only he has allowed anti-India vested groups to keep the issue alive, but he has also gone against the combined wisdom of Parliament that endorsed the decision. Indian democracy thrives because you raise your concerns in Parliament but once the decision has been taken, you bow before the combined wisdom of the House. Whatever was done on 5 August 2019 was done constitutionally.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had committed a similar faux pas during a debate on the issue in Lok Sabha in August 2019 when he spoke of the UN resolution on Kashmir and questioned the Kashmir issue being described as India’s matter. While it did not deter the Indian Government, such reckless statements did give fodder to those seeking to internalize the issue.
Those who say that Digvijaya Singh is loud mouth must understand that it was not an off-the-cuff remark or personal opinion of a senior Congress leader. This is a part of the design to fan trouble in the valley and give credence to those who seek to internationalize the issue. Such statements coming from the opposition would be used by those opposing abrogation even if the Government’s decision has a finality attached to this.
Not that there is any chance of the BJP under Narendra Modi losing power in 2024, but even if one theoretically concedes the possibility, no political party can dare to change the decision. This is a different India and not the one immediately after post-Independence that allowed separate status for Jammu and Kashmir. That time there was euphoria after Independence and people thought the decision taken by their flamboyant beloved first Prime Minister was temporary and would get resolved soon. This was the promise made but it never happened and Pakistan occupied that part of Kashmir that rightfully belongs to India.
Adopting the policy of giving a thousand cuts to India, Pakistan launched full-scale wars but got defeated summarily. When it realized that it would not be able to defeat India in any conventional war, Pakistan adopted the policy of proxy war by sending terrorists from across the borders and organizing ethnic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir. Indians have paid a heavy price for that decision of Nehru and we have lost the lives of many brave soldiers and civilians in Pakistan’s proxy war. From day one the BJP or its earlier incarnation, Jan Sangh had opposed special status to the State. The decision to abrogate Article 370 corrected the historical blunder and called the bluff of those who used to argue that the provision had become a permanent arrangement.
Ever since the abrogation of Article 370, more militants have been liquidated compared to the pre-2019 period and there had been a drastic reduction in the terror incidents. The militant outfits are not able to get enough youths to carry their flags. According to Northern Area Commander of Indian Army, Lieutenant General Yogesh Kumar Joshi: “Last year, there were 192 misguided youths who got recruited, this year there have only been 39 so far.” Youths are now getting engaged in constructive activities that would give them jobs and increase their professional competence.
“Lot of opportunities have been provided to the youth. Many educational organizations have been opened such as Super-30 for Medical and Super-50 for Engineering, to keep the youth engaged and away from the gun culture that they were exposed to all these years,” he told a major national TV channel.
Why did Digvijaya Singh issue such a statement that does not match with the national consensus? He was pandering to the Pakistani establishment and those sections there that might still believe that they can foment trouble in Kashmir. Also, some Congress leaders, in particular, go overboard when they interact with Pakistani media. Otherwise, any sane person would have said this is the decision of Parliament and we would rate the decision based on whether it has helped the State to gain on development parameters.
But such statements need Statesmanship and not narrow-minded political brinkmanship that is sure to produce disaster. But you cannot expect such political maturity from the Congress which has put its own survival before the interest of the country. On Kashmir, the entire country needs to be one since it has a bad political legacy that has acted as fodder to international media.
A party that is headed by a person of foreign origin and has leaders of questionable integrity and affiliations needs to wear nationalism up its sleeves. But whether it is the issue of two surgical strikes on Pakistan, purchase of Rafale fighter aircrafts, dealings with China, or relations with Pakistan, the Congress has gone against the nation’s mood. This explains why it is criticized as being ‘anti-national’. Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar admitted on a Pakistani Television Channel in 2018 that the Congress could not prove charges on Rafale but it had managed to dent the image of the Government.
Aiyar had committed a Digvijaya Singh kind of hara-kiri during his visit to Pakistan in 2015. While participating during a panel discussion on a Pakistani News Channel Duniya TV he said that the only way to improve relations between India and Pakistan was to dethrone Modi and bring the Congress in power.
This is what he had said during the discussion: “First remove Modi, otherwise there would be no movement forward. And whenever talks progress…” the TV anchor interrupted him and asked: “Who are you referring to when you say remove Modi? Are you telling this to the ISI?”
Aiyar said: “I want to say that we will have to wait for four more years. These panelists are very optimistic that both India and Pakistan can improve bilateral relations under Modi, but I don’t feel so.”
When asked by the anchor what was the way out, Aiyar retorted: “Bring us in and remove him.” Duniya TV anchor commented: “Only you can remove him,” to which Aiyar replied, “you will have to wait till then.”
Aiyar who had said that Narendra Modi would never become the Prime Minister but could sell tea at the Congress headquarter was miffed and felt humiliated when he could not prevent the Modi juggernaut. So, he gave vent to his frustrations in Pakistan. But he had crossed the Lakshman Rekha of not speaking out of turn on foreign policy. Relations between countries are not dependent on which party is in power. The entire nation speaks as one. Aiyar had actually sought help in Pakistan to remove the Indian Prime Minister. No sane person would do so.
But insanity becomes a design if more people do a similar act. His party colleague and former foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid praised Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at an event in Islamabad in 2015 and criticized the Modi Government for not responding to ‘Pakistan’s overtures for peace in South Asia the way it should have.’ This was shocking since he knew the niceties of international diplomacy and the stand of India. The Congress appeared to be determined to paint itself as a saviour and the Modi Government a villain in Indo-Pak relations.
Digvijaya Singh’s statement is clearly aimed at polarizing Muslims on the eve of elections in Uttar Pradesh. There are two main contenders of Muslim votes in the State— the Bashujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party. Congress has become a marginal force. Getting Muslim votes might bring votes from some others as well could be the calculations of the Congress.
The Congress assumption might be based on the understanding that most Indian Muslims would oppose the scrapping of Article 370 and most of them want better relations with Pakistan and they have not appreciated surgical strikes or snapping off ties between the two countries. If it is so, it is a serious issue and shows the way Congress looks towards Muslims— that they will oppose strong India or that their loyalties lie elsewhere. It is the same thinking that persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to support the Khilafat Movement in the 1920s in exchange for the support of Muslim leaders for the Non-Cooperation Movement against the British. This clearly stated that a Muslim’s extra-territorial loyalty must be appreciated and respected.
The Congress of today is desperate for political revival and compromising national interest is a small price to be paid for this. The biggest test lies in Uttar Pradesh, and the party may like to use its much-hyped leader Priyanka Vadra— who would project herself as a Brahmin face despite confusion about her true religious calling. She wears Cross and the Hindu symbols with aplomb, depending on the political necessity. There is nothing wrong if one can be a Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindu at the same time. Nobody should have objections. But when one wishes to use identity politics on road to political recovery such questions are bound to arise.
Can Congress disown Digvijaya Singh and take a bold stand on Article 370? A clear answer is no, since this would confuse Rahul Gandhi’s target voters. And the prime focus is not the 2024 Lok Sabha elections but the 2022 elections in Uttar Pradesh. In November 2020, Congress had become a part of the GUPKAR alliance in Jammu and Kashmir that demanded the restoration of Article 370. It did not criticize Dr. Farooq Abdullah for saying that he would take China’s support for restoration.
The Congress’ approach emanates from the traditional understanding that Caste Hindus will vote for their castes. The Congress calculates that it has spread enough lies to malign the BJP and its leaders. But Rahul Gandhi would do well to remember that the issue of nationalism has over-shadowed caste differences in many elections. The optics created by the Congress and other opposition parties might create confusion among voters in the short run, but when they go out to vote they would find it extremely tough to vote the BJP out and bring in forces that are inimical to strong India. The BJP does not have extra-territorial loyalty. People may criticize the BJP or even abuse it if angry but they won’t sink the boat in favour of untrustworthy parties or their leaders. For them, the BJP is a part of the family.
The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.
DELHI UNIVERSITY UNDER A CLOUD IN ITS CENTENARY YEAR
The country’s premier university, Delhi University, in its centenary year, is in the grip of a major crisis resulting from apparently “illegal and questionable actions” of the ministry for Human Resources Development. The major contentious issue is that the university has a person functioning as the acting Vice Chancellor without the requisite approval of the Visitor, in this case the President of India. Prof P.C. Joshi was appointed as the VC by the ministry following the superannuation of Prof Yogesh Tyagi, who spent the last few months of his tenure under suspension. The objection of those well conversant with the Delhi University Act, its Statutes and Ordinances is that the ministry could not have unilaterally appointed Prof Joshi to serve, even in an acting capacity, without the matter getting the Visitor’s nod.
Here too, there are some alarming serious views that emerge. The Vice Chancellor usually appoints his team of the PVC, the Dean of colleges and the Director, South Campus, soon after assuming office. Prof Tyagi had himself not followed many conventions and established practices in the university and when during the last year of his tenure appointed Prof Joshi as his PVC, he did not obtain the approval of even the Executive Council, which was merely informed, and also the appointment was done without the consent of the Visitor. In Delhi University, the practice has been that once the tenure of the VC ends, those appointed by him to assist him also have to go. In other words, their tenure is co-terminus with the office of the VC. Prof Tyagi retired on 9 March without being reinstated which itself raises many questions, and Prof Joshi was asked by the ministry to continue till such period, a new VC was appointed. In fact, his tenure would have automatically ended with that of Prof Tyagi and in that case, the Registrar should have convened a meeting of the EC to take stock of the situation and to seek the final advice from the Visitor in this regard.
As per knowledgable sources, the Registrar or the senior-most Professor of the university should have been asked to take over for the interim period or whoever the Visitor deemed fit to discharge the functions. Instead, Prof Joshi continued to perform the functions of the VC. The second problem that has arisen is that Prof Joshi also superannuated as professor in the university on 31 May, thus his continuation becomes questionable even on the above grounds. A PVC is appointed from among the professors in the university and if the person ceases to be a professor, how can he be the PVC or the acting VC. To make matters worse, the HRD ministry has not sent any file regarding the DU VC’s position and even the Search Committee has yet to be fully constituted for the appointment of a regular Vice Chancellor.
The DU Executive Council in its meeting had suggested a panel of seven names from which two were picked up by the Dean of Colleges; P.C. Joshi declared that he would not preside over the meeting since he was himself a candidate. The two names—Yogendra Narayan, former Defence Secretary and Secretary General of Rajya Sabha, and Prof Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor of the Punjab University—exist only in a file that has not been sent to the Visitor to enable him to nominate his own nominee to make the search committee complete. This inordinate delay is on account of the ministry sitting over the DU issue deliberately or inadvertently.
Delhi University certainly does not need to be treated in such a shabby manner in its centenary year where the actions of the acting Vice Chancellor could be legally challenged. There are nearly 20 odd universities which do not have regular VCs and it is high time that the Prime Minister’s Office should intervene and get the matters sorted out. There are more than half-a-dozen ministers in the present government who are the alumnus of this prestigious institution which is crying for help.
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