The Environment Day arrives again on 5 June bringing increased sensitivity and heightened anxiety on continuing failure of the state in preventing environmental crimes such as pollution, deforestation, mining and poaching of wild animals. One would ritually attend a number of colloquiums and seminars discussing ineffective laws and leadership in environment protection to expedite environmental justice and fix penalties for crimes. The day might again miss its focus from a much-needed attention to a most prodigious, remorseless and legitimised environmental crime that has been in the forefront to scrap, scar and scorch our one and the only planet we venerate as ‘mother earth’.
World War II introduced our planet to a new form of heinous nuclear crime when two B-29 bombers turned to ashes within seconds the complete flora and fauna of two flourishing Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their water bodies dried out, agriculture and infrastructure disappeared. More than a lakh people died within those first few minutes but exposure to nuclear radiation continues to kill the rest of the world even today. Earth is not stationary; it revolves and rotates subjecting every other nation including the aberrant to radiation-related diseases, incapacity, lack of productivity and death.
The Vietnam War was another apocalypse to a pristine evergreen habitat with enormous biodiversity. As America sprayed Agent Orange and Napalm over a dense canopy of forests to de-foliage trees, those 166 species of mammals such as tigers, rhinoceros, elephants, deer and enigmatic khting-vor were devastated notwithstanding thousand other non-mammals like porcupines, rabbits, lizards, snakes and around 400 species of birds, as per the IUCN records, who were nesting on those trees. This part of the Asian habitat is a rare instance of a non-montane ecoregion having an intact habitat suitable for a longer survival of both plant and animal species. More than 16 million tons of munitions which were used in the war left land infertile due to burning top soil, bomb-released sharp metal scraps called shrapnel which brutally sliced off not only the enemy forces but a very large number of wildlife. Thus war made the task of poachers and loggers easier who further benefited due to an increasing war-led fragmentation of erstwhile intact habitat. Phenomenal number of species was lost within those years and those remaining faced enormous vulnerability.
The persistent armed conflict of overt and covert nature has damaged the beautiful valley of Jammu and Kashmir called ‘a paradise on earth’. The Siachen Glacier located at a height of 5,400m in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalayas has been holding more than 216,000 tons of load of Army and its weaponry and this excludes a ton of human waste added every day. Due to constant shelling many glaciers are shrinking faster. The main source of water for Kashmir’s biggest river Jhelum is the Kolahoi glacier which has already shrunk by 23% since 1962 and its subsequent impact on local agriculture has been so severe that it has decreased its productivity by 39%. A 2020 study by earth scientists of the University of Kashmir and Nichols College, USA, has indicated a relatively larger damage to glaciers in Kashmir region as compared to the rest of Himalayas. Besides, an inability to prevent easy access to small weapons, machine guns and light bombs to militants in armed encounters prevent and even close down a large number of conservation programmes in the Valley. The story of critically endangered Hangul conservation in the Dachigam National Park is well known as this beautiful deer which once roamed free in large numbers from Chamba in Himachal Pradesh to Kashmir Valley is on the way to extinction.
In the recent war over Gaza and also the previous one in 2014 the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) Rapid Assessment Survey had warned about a severe depletion of water table, top soil, and food crisis. To this be added an increasing number of permanently disabled and orphaned children, sexually abused left alone women and injured elderly leave behind a trail of environment-humanitarian crisis which makes recovery difficult. These wars, however short in duration, always leave behind explosive remnants of war (EWR), polluting permanently the land that produces food and water. These EWRs include carpets of non-exploded tank shells, missiles, aircraft bombs, rockets, bullets, shrapnel, fuses, gas canisters and flechettes. Humanity has still not been able to remove or rectify the impact of World War II global military trash, half-sunken ships, excavated mines and bombed cities and forests. When the USSR was disintegrating and détente was being achieved after a long period of Cold War hostilities, there were still more than 48 small wars going around the region. Yugoslavia disappeared as Serbia and Croatia bitterly fought for their nationhood. The Chechnya war in which 48,000 soldiers and 2 lakh civilians were killed was called a victory in the Khasavyurt Accord Treaty of Moscow and Russian federal troops had to withdraw. Will this victory have any meaning to victims of war crimes, sexual violence, flesh traded children and scattered families which threw vulnerable populations to bloodbath just to claim a nationalist victory. These fights for small terrain of lands such as for the Gaza where million plus children require psychosocial and prosthetic support to live their future is a human carnage much bigger than that of climate change.
Environmental destruction due to wars begins much earlier before actual warfare. The whipping of hatred, stirring up divisive feelings of nationalism, patriotism and glory to a race are the first step to retarding progress as it diverts resources from the welfare of the poor to the factories of warfare. Citizens are asked to sacrifice their today for national victories which war would bring to them. The interests of a dominant political party is carried forward by its spokespersons who never sacrifice for wars except their time on TV channels to repudiate truths about neighbourhood policies which sometimes generate artificial conflicts to serve atavistic instincts in a society. The real sacrifice is that of communities where large numbers of their most courageous and healthy young men are slaughtered in battlefields to provide an illusion of victory to others. As wars progress, anxiety, grief, fear and horror of losing husbands, sons and brothers loom over families. As a school kid I was exasperated to hear and see a large number of women wailing, crying and running after the three-ton Army trucks carrying soldiers from Bareilly Cantonment to the fronts during the 1971 war. Most of these women knew that they were gone. Only politicians and hate disseminators told them shamefully that they sacrificed their lives for their nation.
Enmity springs from our limited exposure to global environmental realities within which we live and find love, bonding and togetherness beyond national, religious and racist territories. Our blindness to such therapeutic human existence is our own drawback not anaemia of geo-political solutions which are in plenty if politicians apply the cardinally mature principles of political governance.
Wars, as George Bernard Shaw expressed, ‘do not decide on who is right but who is left’. The shrinking options over planet earth consummated by the current pandemic has led us to tough decisions such as ‘who shall live, when not all can live’. These prophetic words by James E. Childress in 1970 were written in the background of problems faced by doctors while they have to select patients for scarce life-saving resources on grounds of ‘social worth’. This suggests that shrinking resources of earth may make our governments more regulatory, more despotic and increasingly pro-rich. The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” The strongest environmental movement to save this planet must begin through the generation of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity which exposes them to their across the boundary fellow-humans.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
The Vietnam War was an apocalypse to a pristine evergreen habitat with enormous biodiversity. As America sprayed Agent Orange and Napalm over a dense canopy of forests to de-foliage trees (see photo below), those 166 species of mammals such as tigers, rhinoceros, elephants, deer and enigmatic khting-vor were devastated notwithstanding thousand other non-mammals like porcupines, rabbits, lizards, snakes and around 400 species of birds, as per the IUCN records, who were nesting on those trees (photo above).
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BEIJING IS WATCHING BIDEN-PUTIN MEETING
It’s quite telling that the communiqué issued by Nato heads of state and government at the end of the summit in Brussels on Monday, 14 June, made around 10 references to China, and around 60 references to Russia, primarily in negative terms. One paragraph in the communiqué read: “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all… China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. We will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.” This can be interpreted as Nato striving hard to stay focused on the “Russian threat”—the raison d’être of the North Atlantic alliance—at a time when it is actually China that is trying to rewrite the international order with Chinese Communist characteristics that are essentially malign in nature. Even though the centre of gravity of geopolitics has shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indo-Pacific, Nato countries, all of whom have deep economic ties with China, and are aware of China’s imperialistic ambitions, would rather talk about Russia.
It is in this context that the Wednesday meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva has to be seen. It’s interesting, that in spite of all that focus on Russia, the President of the most important Nato nation chose to sit down with Nato’s biggest “enemy”—in fact a “killer” as Joe Biden described Vladimir Putin not too long ago. Globally, eyes are focused on how this meeting will revive US-Russia relations, and the talk is all about Putin’s alleged interference in US elections, his annexation of Crimea, his Syrian adventure, the treatment meted out to Alexei Navalny, etc. But these are crucial but more legacy issues than anything else, considering the long history of animosity between the US and Russia. But there is another way of interpreting the meeting—a feeble, or perhaps not so feeble, attempt to wean Russia away from China. Biden’s instincts seem to be right, in that he realizes that it’s better to mend ties with Putin than shove him into China’s lap, when the question is about confronting China. That Putin too decided to meet Biden could be an indicator of the willingness to mend fences, reeling as his country is from western sanctions, one of the reasons why he has been driven into China’s arms. As this writer has pointed out earlier too, China is gradually taking over Russia. Shunned by the West, Russia is funds starved and has no option but to be dependent on China. This level of dependency is obvious from the fact that China alone accounted for over 15% of Russia’s total trade in 2018, while Russia accounted for less than 1% of China’s total trade. The Chinese have flooded Russia with their technology; Russia’s manufacturing is coming under the control of the Chinese; Russia is going for Huawei for its 5G rollout; their defence ties are burgeoning. However, in spite of the apparent bonhomie between Russia and China, there have been hiccups in the relationship over China claiming Vladivostok or getting active in Central Asia, which Russia considers to be its area of influence, or by “carving” out a Polar Silk Route. There is a belief that Russia, one of the two most important global powers during the Cold War—the other being of course the US—does not like being a Chinese appendage. Hence, this meeting can perhaps be interpreted as Putin opening a door, however partially to “overtures” from the US. But then the burden of history sometimes can be too big to bear and there is too much trust deficit between the two enemies. For every step that President Putin takes, President Biden will have to walk two steps if he is serious about mending ties with Russia. If the Geneva meeting leads to a thaw in US-Russia ties, then geopolitics may take a new turn, which may not be to China’s liking. There is no doubt that Beijing is watching the meeting intently.
World needs more ‘no-meat’ days
Around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year. And to keep this savage business running, most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry.
On reading my friend’s latest article in a leading national newspaper, ‘Food Choice in Crisis: Forced Vegetarianism in Gurugram’, I felt a bit sympathetic towards people demanding access to whatever they wish to eat. The argument given against a Tuesday ban on meat supply to markets was that a religious argument should not be pushed to obstruct choice of those who wish to consume meat. Fair enough, if religion comes to the rescue of animals even if it is for a day. Enlightened people exposed to global discourses on slaughterhouse cruelties and climate change imperatives should welcome this move and not refurbish their armoury unnecessarily. The better side of all religions is to gradually do away with all forms of cruelties on the weak and create an Arcadian Bliss where all species are able to live in harmony with nature.
An insistence on ‘food choice’ comes from an overfed population controlling markets of opulence. Growing up in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where denying a culinary star meat dish was almost heretical in the early decades, most meat eaters would mock such intruders to a dining table as ‘grass-eating people’. My father, on an official tour with Jawaharlal Nehru to China and Burma, had to live on a potato diet for almost a month or more. He was often mocked by his fellow officials on his irrelevance for these tours, but Nehru was relatively respectful and would never forget to sympathetically ask him if he got something to eat. It was in 1971 when the book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé first appeared to answer many such arguments on food choice. By this time almost 15% of the Amazon forest had already been replaced by pastures for cattle which had prodigiously increased from 5 million to 80 million in factory farming for British and American food companies such as McDonald and Big Boy companies. The rare Andean Amazonian rainforest ecosystems from eastern to southern Brazilian Amazon covering its key states of Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins, Mato Grosso and Rondônia including the high value rainforest ecosystems of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were bulldozed for meat industry. This area gradually acquired the title of the dreadful ‘Arc of deforestation’ ready to push the planet into many improbable disasters. However, these countries supplied meat to foreign markets but back home witnessed the worst hunger as the food animals munched all their grains.
I must confess that many of us are encumbered by the power of endurance of so many animals, minced and grilled in the food industry where technical advancement for meat shredding and de-robing pretty birds goes on without guilt just to serve their bodies on plates as this is considered progressive. Ecology offers us a new way of thinking. Most of the precious primary resources of the environment such as water and land are diverted in bulk to the meat industry. Almost 70% of human consumption of water takes place in the global agriculture sector including the agri-meat industry. To produce one kg of wheat only 1,500 litres of water is consumed, while it takes ten times more to produce the same amount of beef. For making 20-30 chapatis or a kilogramme of rice only 2,497 litres or less of water is used but for producing the same amount of beef 15,415 litres and for chicken meat 4,500 litres of water is used. One hamburger alone sucks 212 litres of water and by that standard an average American who consumes around 280 lbs of meat in a year may require 232,000 litres of water per year just to eat a hamburger.
The land statistics of meat consumption may also be disconcerting to many. It takes 1.8 acres to feed a cow for a year. The size of an average landholding in India is 3.7 acre per family which suggests that their inclination for rearing animals for the meat market may divert food and water from family members to the animal. Yet, there is another argument on slaughterhouse animals as sentient beings. As Peter Singer the legendary author on planetary ethics, questions, ‘Why the basic moral principle of equal consideration of interests be arbitrarily restricted to members of our own species?’ It has been a powerful world of meat eaters since meat was power, sophistication and opulence. In 1990, I was exposed to a new direction of arguments from Carol J. Adams whom I met at a women’s conference at Hunter College of New York. She had already gained a huge following from students and intellectuals from many countries and most people were walking around with her much in demand book The Sexual Politics of Meat. During those five days of this global meet I was introduced to a male language of meat eating in which vegetable becomes a symbol of feminine passivity and meat of patriarchy. Her provocative feminist-vegetarian critical theory found ‘the rape of animals and the butchering of women’ synonymous with crimes as products of power hierarchies. In India an ideal subservient vegetarian wife would still be expected to cook, serve and feed meat to her husband and son to increase their masculine sturdiness and she in turn expects the same from her son’s wife.
Lately, Indian television media is going berserk on advertisements from meat companies. These ads get on to prime time popular slots to show disturbing images of animal bodies as delicious food products. For this reprehensible display which blatantly disparages smaller species is aggressively splashed through popular Bollywood stars. These advertising companies hurt sentiments of animal respecting people with brazen thoughtlessness as if the world was all theirs and a rampant demonstration of animal bodies carelessly put on fire was an ideal planetary ethics with men in driving seats. In reality, it is this brute force of a callous Anthropocene which has disturbed the balance of life on our planet.
Who are these animal respecting people (ARP)? Adams’ curt response that the world is divided into intellectually superior meat eaters and inferior plant eaters account for conquering other cultures such as the rice-eating Hindu and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish peasant by a well-fed beef eating English. Russell Baker’s account of the second World War highlights what he calls the ‘beef madness’ when American soldiers were force fed richly fatted beef to win the war. The result is everyone’s knowledge. This has also been a pet argument to promote meat by markets across the benign plant-based agrarian communities. The decades of 1960s and 1970s had shown animal respecting people as aggressive animal liberators who would break through laboratory cages or slaughterhouses to liberate suffering animals and that’s when in 1975 Peter Singer’s formidable Animal Liberation, a true story of slaughterhouses, was published. This book had many editions but in 2009 the author was still found face to face with the untold cruelties in slaughterhouses. He begins the new edition with the story of an undercover video on evening news reported from the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in California that shocked Americans. The world watched in horror as cattle too sick to even walk were being kicked, shocked with electric prods, jabbed in the eye with a baton and pushed around with a forklift all so that they could be driven near enough to the ‘kill box’ to be slaughtered and processed into meat. Yet, people can still cry for their right to eat Kebabs from their choice shops.
Ironically, the liberation movement for animals did not come from religious communities across the world spread around the Hindu, Jain and the Buddhist terrains but from the Western educated scientifically trained professional communities in the Western world. A realisation was writ large on the rising new generation that compassion cannot be left to the mercy of scientists in labs or those high tech 40 categories of butcher knives to dig out intestines of a dying animal in slaughterhouses. The meat eaters were now restraining themselves from mocking plant eaters at least in public. The KFC and McDonald ads on American TV showing a meek half-starved vegetarian playing his sad violin in the midst of energetic, smart and happy meat eating youngsters were being withdrawn silently. This movement was led by the People for Animals group of Maneka Gandhi in India. It picked up intimidating personalities such as former Chief Election Commissioner late T.N. Sheshan for his tough and straightforward administrative leadership reflecting high integrity. Sheshan would brutally cut a carrot between his teeth to say he does the same to the corrupt, was an act which brought a brilliant change of image for vegetarians who could come out from their self-proclaimed guilt of not being the mainstream people. I was also handed over a stupefying video film by animal activist Camelia Satija in 1992, shot by much driven braveheart animal activists in India›s best known slaughterhouses. This film was then shown in an exhibition organised at Kamala Nehru College and animal activists from St Stephens in Delhi, titled by students as ‘Leave Meat, Be Compassionate to Animals’. The impact was a series of street plays and a massive number of students taking public pledge to follow a vegetarian path.
The word vegetarian is a bit out of place as a visibly different lot of people. This word did not even exist till 1847 when the English Vegetarian Society was inducing moral and philosophical arguments to life. The Oxford English Dictionary was comfortable with the idea that the word represented centuries of protest against the killing of animals. The world currently has around two billion vegetarians by choice, a number that is growing gradually with increasing affluence combined with education and realisation. The other 1.5 billion are vegetarians of necessity. They will start to eat meat as soon as they can afford it or if health permits. Rising incomes in this latter group which lacks appropriate exposure to global environmental or political discourses adds numbers to meat eaters. India tops the number of vegetarians by choice to be around 40% or more, with Mexico following it with 20%. It is interesting to note that the percentage of vegetarians in UK, Brazil, Israel and Australia is fast rising to go beyond 15% but to add to this, countries which knew little beyond meat in their food like Scandinavian countries, Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan and Germany also show a rising graph of people with complete ‘no meat food’ simply as a response to anti-cruelty movements.
This meat industry as any other market encounters problems of demand and supply management. While around 80 billion animals are slaughtered for food in a year, almost 30% of them are wasted for lack of demand. This suggests that like any other capitalistic market the cumulative surplus comes from animals’ lives butchered unnecessarily. Amy Fitzgerald, a criminology scholar, had indicated in her 2009 writings that those who work in slaughterhouses are much more vulnerable to violent crimes, arrests for rape and other sex offenses in comparison with other industries. Mind is dreadfully affected as workers are hired to kill animals, such as sheep, goats, pigs and cows that are largely tender and gentle creatures. A disconnect with suffering and with pleading eyes of a helpless creature deadens their behaviour as they become numb towards domestic violence, rape, killing on trifling incidents, alcohol abuse and are easily pushed sometimes to devilish outbursts.
It’s our moving away from plant-based diets that a bowl of food today needs ten times more energy for its production than it did in the 1960s. As India moves towards the 2030 deadline for achieving sustainable development goals and also commitments made under the Paris Pact for energy sustainability, governments may have to inspire, encourage and motivate populations to reduce consumption of animal-based diets. It is not the right time for aggressive advertising of meat products as above arguments establish that a ‘food choice’ is not absolute as it is limited by the carrying capacity of planet earth and the rights of animal respecting people.
So what is the harm if the much sullied side of human life, as described by Tillie Olsen in Yonnondio, ‘Geared, meshed: the kill room: knockers, shakles, pritcher-uppers, stickers, headers, rippers, leg breakers, breast and aitch sawyers, caul pullers, fell cutters, rumpers, splitters, vat dippers, skinners, gutters, pluckers’, are all sent on a one-day holiday to rest so that vibrations on the earth’s atmosphere are not disrupted by the loud and deafening screams of animals from slaughterhouses. Hope environmentalists and animal-respecting people should demand more ‘no-meat’ days in cities.
The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
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.
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