Saturday 25 March 2023

PM Modi is fashioning a post-colonial India (The Sunday Guardian)


Criminal defamation ought to be removed from the statute books forthwith, and hopefully Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get this done in his drive to cleanse the IPC and the Criminal Code of colonial-era practices.

The British, being colonial masters who were engaged in the suppression of the population, left behind several laws that have no place in the 21st century, nor indeed in any country where the government is elected by the people. In matters relating to industry, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao removed some of the most irksome regressive laws, such as the IDRA regulations providing for the prosecution of officials in a company, were that entity to function efficiently and in the process, produce beyond its government-mandated capacity. A major culling of colonial era laws has taken place only since Narendra Modi took charge as Prime Minister in 2014. So entrenched is the opposition to such removal of colonial laws within the political and bureaucratic structures that the process has encountered roadblock upon roadblock, each needing to be painstakingly removed. There are several Victorian individuals in India, and among them was a group from a Karnataka town. A week ago, they disrupted and stopped a group of ladies from holding a get-together in a hotel in Doddapete, where there would have been dancing accompanied by disco music. Clearly, having a good time was not saintly. It must be admitted that to those not aficionados of disco music, the decibel level is unpleasantly high. Perhaps a regulation needs to be put in place that permits disco music and dancing to take place only in soundproof portals, as otherwise the noise is less than bearable to those not enjoying the fun. However, was the holding of such an event reason enough to try and use the bludgeon of the law to stop it and seek to shame the ladies who were participating in behaviour that the Bajrang Dal regards as inadmissible? With such moral policing spreading in Karnataka, securing investment from outside or inside the country would get difficult. Fortunately, the local Superintendent of Police did not see anything heinous in a get-together organised by the ladies, and refused to book either them or the hotel management. Unfortunately, far too many SPs act differently, and who therefore wield the lash of colonial-era laws and regulations with zest.
Since his party was ousted from power in 2014, Rahul Gandhi has been talking in locations across continents about the effects of colonial era laws in India, but during the UPA period, he did nothing to protect citizens from them. Now he has been found guilty by a court for defamation relating to a surname. His comments were indeed in bad taste, but is the concept of criminal defamation justified in a democracy? Had some individuals having the same surname that Rahul seems intensely to dislike brought forward a suit of civil defamation and asked for Rahul to pay a fixed sum in compensation to persons with that surname, that may have been a better course to adopt than the criminal route. As this columnist has been pointing out for years, criminal defamation ought to be removed from the statute books forthwith, and hopefully Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get this done in his drive to cleanse the criminal code of colonial-era practices. Talking about the police, there are more than a few former members of the Indian Police Service in the BJP, and many of them have had distinguished careers. The point about recruiting an IPS or IAS retired official into a national political party was to ensure that the vision even of its state leaders remains centred around national needs. So far as the BJP is concerned, securing a third term for Prime Minister Modi in 2024 is essential if the mission he began in 2014 is to be accomplished. In every state, those in the BJP placed in charge of state units need to act in accordance with what is needed in terms of not just that state but the entire country. It was therefore a surprise when a former IPS officer, Tamil Nadu BJP chief K. Annamalai, has been saying that he would quit his post were the BJP to not go solo in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. In particular, he was opposed to an alliance with the AIADMK. Once such in-house criticism of an allied party becomes public, it harms relations between that party and the BJP. Given that the DMK under Chief Minister Stalin is steadfast in his support for the Congress Party, the only significant alliance that the BJP has access to in Tamil Nadu is with the AIADMK. Does BJP state president Annamalai believe that the BJP would be able to secure more seats in the Lok Sabha polls solo? If so, his view of the situation in the state is different from that of many others. In 2004, the BJP lost to the Congress party because both its southern allies, the Telugu Desam and the AIADMK were trounced in the Lok Sabha polls. Given the drift of the public mood in Andhra Pradesh, it seems likely that the TDP would this time around get a fair number of seats in 2024 if allied to the BJP. The BJP leadership will need to take a hard look at what is on offer by prospective allies, for in Andhra Pradesh—unlike in Telangana, where going solo may be a better option—an alliance with one of the two principal regional parties in that state is essential. Every Lok Sabha seat will count in the next Lok Sabha, and state leaders in the BJP need to factor in that reality while discussing options, especially in a manner that becomes public. While Annamalai is justifiably proud of being selected as an IPS officer, he needs to remember that the IPS post-Independence is not expected to behave in the same way as they did while serving a foreign power.
TN BJP chief Annamalai needs to win over his team through his behaviour, and not rely on the fact that he was once in uniform. Next, he needs to understand the national ground realities of the 2024 contest, and frame his responses to possible alliances accordingly. Abusing a friendly party in public weakens the bond with that party and affects both the BJP and the other party at the hustings, as numerous elections have shown. PM Narendra Modi is seeking to fashion a post-colonial India. Every institution, every individual, concerned with governance needs to help rather than hinder this super-heavy task.

Saturday 18 March 2023

Modi and Kishida must supercharge India-Japan ties (The Sunday Guardian)


Few remember that in 1868, once the reforms consequent to the Meiji Restoration got under way, India was the largest source of raw materials to Japan.

When Fumio Kishida took over as the Prime Minister of Japan in 2021, a widespread perception both in Japan and elsewhere was that he was much less aware of the present-day threats facing Japan than was his predecessor, Shinzo Abe. Since then, Kishida has shown through many of his actions that he too is focused on the manner in which the PRC under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping is leveraging the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in order to wrest concessions from several countries while threatening others. Abe made good relations with India a high priority, and gave precedence to the Indo-Pacific rather than to the primary theatre of the 20th century, the Atlantic. While mostly going along with his western partners in the way they have sought to use Ukraine in their longstanding quest to weaken Russia, Kishida has continued with the Sakhalin 1 project, in which Japanese and Indian companies are partnering with each other. As a consequence, not only is Japan getting the benefit of oil from the project, but Tokyo refused to join in the initial chorus of loud disapproval that emanated from Washington, London and Berlin in particular (not to mention Kiev) at India’s realistic stance that a cutting off of purchases from a country that comprises half of the land area of the Eurasian continent was an exercise in self-harm. In this, Japan is different from Taiwan and South Korea, both being countries that have joined with Germany and other NATO powers in seeking a complete cutoff of purchases from Russia. It was clear to the Japanese that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was acting in the national self-interest by ramping up rather than shutting down oil imports from the Russian Federation since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in early 2022. The way in which western nations are dealing with the war is not just harming their economic futures, but their goodwill in the Global South in particular, no matter what the voting figures in the UN General Assembly show.
It is a sign of the times that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ostentatiously chose Beijing as the capital in which to sign a peace agreement with Iran. Had Riyadh sought to do so in Washington, policymakers in that capital of inflated egos would have made the acceptance by Iran of conditions plainly unacceptable to its government as the price for the privilege of signing the Saudi-Iranian accord in Camp David. A lot has changed since the 1990s, but it appears as though the hangover of that unipolar decade in world history is continuing in the US and in some of its Atlanticist partners. This when fewer and fewer countries regard good relations with the US in particular to be a priority, a situation caused not only by many of the self-goals made by successive Atlanticist capitals but by efforts (many very much in the open) by the Sino-Russian alliance to wean away as many countries as they can from partnering with the US and its allies. In Asia, not a small continent, only South Korea, Taiwan and Japan have adopted the NATO policy of shunning Russia, and among these three, Japan has made pragmatic exceptions such as the refusal to walk away from the Sakhalin 1 project.
India and Japan have long been partners. Few remember that in 1868, once the reforms consequent to the Meiji Restoration got under way, India was the largest source of raw materials to Japan. In 1883, there was an active shipping route from Mumbai to Kobe, while in 1915, the primary export market of Japan was India. Since Prime Minister Narasimha Rao brought in economic reforms in 1992, South Korea has far outpaced Japan in establishing commercial linkages with India, although under Prime Ministers Modi and Abe, the Japanese appeared to be catching up. Were restrictions on the use of human resources from India reduced in Japan, that country would be able to price Chinese ships in particular out of most markets. Another field where India could be helpful would be in the provision of carers for the elderly in Japan, a demographic that is rising substantially. A promising field is that of nuclear power, where both countries could collaborate in safer, cheaper alternatives to present nuclear power systems. Another is cooperation in setting up cyber defences, and in developing Artificial Intelligence in ways that could blunt the use of AI in non-conventional warfare by a power hostile to both the leading democracies of Asia. What is needed by Japan is the spirit and ambition of Shinzo Abe, and Fumio Kishida. The Japanese PM could, together with Narendra Modi, bring back India-Japan commercial relations to the level they attained a century ago, before World War II and later Cold War 1.0 blighted such progress.

Saturday 11 March 2023

Rahul, please do not trash the India Story (The Sunday Guardian)


On his annual sojourns to other countries in the 21st century Anglosphere, Rahul ought not to come across as having a visible and visceral dislike not just for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but for the Republic of India itself.

This columnist confesses to a bias in favour of the two children of one of the nicest individuals he has ever encountered, Rajiv Ratan Birjees Gandhi. Before his mindspace being taken over by both the Congress Party as well as the official bureaucracy that began during 1983 and was complete by 1985, Rajiv sought to free India from a rut that dated back not just to the British period but even sooner. Among the achievements of this interlude of relative freedom from control by the politico-official machine, Rajiv sought to adopt Mani Shankar Aiyar’s plan to broadbase governance in India by strengthening the panchayat system, a move that the Mahatma would have approved of. Satyen Pitroda helped ensure that our country’s first steps towards a communications revolution took place, and there were a few other transformative moves as well. In a way, Rajiv’s backing away through the Muslim Women’s Bill from Arif Mohammad Khan’s desire that the Supreme Court verdict giving justice to Shah Bano be affirmed marked the moment when things started going sour for him. No longer was Rajiv seen as a harbinger of change, instead he was seen as having been co-opted into the pit of the status quo. The tragically shortened political and administrative career of Rajiv Gandhi, which began with another tragedy, the death of his brother Sanjay in an air crash in 1980, ought to have been the foundation of the political education of Rahul Gandhi, who is clearly the choice of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi for the role of Prime Minister of India, to form for the family a quartet together with his great-grandfather, grandmother and father.
The advice given to Rahul seems not to include the imbibing the lessons from the trajectory of the three Nehru family Prime Ministers of India mentioned earlier. On his annual sojourns to other countries in the 21st century Anglosphere such as the UK and the US, Rahul ought not to come across as having a visible and visceral dislike not just for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but for the Republic of India itself. It is for him not just Modi who needs to change, but the whole of India. It’s always the refrain of India being in a deep moral, even existential, crisis because voters in 2014 chose the BJP led by Narendra Modi rather than the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi to rule. Even in a matter as consequential for a country that our leaders in 1947 allowed to be partitioned on the grounds of faith, Rahul appears to many to question the very meaning of the Union of India by giving the impression of believing that the model he favours for the country is that of the European Union, where independent countries have formed a loose confederation. To Rahul, present-day India appears as a dystopian hell, ruled by an all-powerful autocrat who was presumably therefore responsible even for ordering that the BJP lose 17 state elections and counting since 2014. A Prime Minister who in Rahul’s words has choked to suffocation democracy in India, such that the country has become what Italy or Spain was in the first half of the previous century, a fascist state. Certainly the BJP has overreacted in some matters, such as in its blocking of a tawdry cut and paste BBC hit job on not just Modi but the whole of India, or in the way in which punitive laws capable of being applied in myriad ways to deprive a citizen of his or her liberty continue being used by officials in the manner they have been for the past 75 years. However, India is very far from being what Rahul daily describes it to be during sojourns in countries where the well-heeled send their children to study and themselves to settle down in.
Rahul needs to get a tutorial from the maestro in the use of colonial-era penal laws, Palaniappan Chidambaram, the Home Minister who sent Anna Hazare to jail in 2011 and whose tenure, among other things, saw the wrecking of a thriving domestic exchange that had gone global, to the relief of another exchange familiar to Chidambaram that was feeling the heat of competition from the felled rival. Not to mention the energetic use during successive governments including the UPA of the very agencies that Rahul claims are being used solely to harass individuals that include Abhishek Banerjee, Lalu Yadav and others, most of whom remain unknown. Does Rahul believe that none of the HNI targets of the CBI or the ED have made a rupee more than what they get as salaries. Of course, he would be aware that some of his relatives in Italy saw massive changes in their lifestyle beginning with the 1980s although of course, this must have been a phenomenon entirely unrelated to a hugely influential relative of theirs long resident in India. Unlike Modi, who as PM has eliminated more than half of colonial era restrictive laws, the ten years of the UPA saw the frequent use of such laws without any discernible request emanating from Rahul that such laws and practices be abandoned. There definitely remain more than a few dystopian features to the post-colonial structure of governance in India, but almost all of them were around during 2004-14, the period when Rahul Gandhi had a somewhat greater influence over the workings of government than he does these days.
In 2014, and then in 2019, his family would have been delighted to see Rahul ascend to the Prime Ministership, a view of his capabilities that he does not appear to strongly disagree with. Which is probably why he is working so hard to challenge Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, KCR and Tejashwi Yadav in being the politician who is the most vocally dismissive of Modi’s achievements. Unlike Rahul, however, the others have not so far thrown out the baby that is their country from the bathwater that is their differences with Prime Minister Modi. In an era where India bids fair to drain away a lot of the investment flowing away from China, the verbal interventions of Rahul Gandhi seem aimed, perhaps inadvertently, to prevent tens of billions of dollars of investment needed for jobs and higher incomes from relocating from China into India, rather than going only to Vietnam, Indonesia or Thailand. Fortunately, while his audiences enjoy the repartee and the barbs so frequently flung by Rahul at not just Modi but in effect the country of which both the Prime Minister and the MP from Kalpetta are citizens, much fewer take his opinions as gospel. Many know India better, and despite (or perhaps because of) the clearly Hinduphobic hysteria spewed by the BBC, CNN, NYT or the Manchester Guardian about India, people across the globe sense that this is India’s time. Please don’t try and stop that bus, Rahul, but hop onto it. The India Story is real.

Saturday 4 March 2023

75 years on, time for an accelerated transformation (The Sunday Guardian)


2023 should become a year of accelerated transformation towards a system where anomalies and injustices get uncovered and rectified seamlessly.

Since taking over as the Prime Minister of India in 2014, Narendra Damodardas Modi managed to consign to the dustbin more than 30,000 laws and regulations that had not simply been preserved but added on to since 1947. Equal justice under the law is at the core of the democratic process, else the essence of “one man, one vote” would approach the status of a nullity. Over the course of decades in journalism, encounters multiply, such as with a family where the spouse of a smallholder attracted the lascivious attention of the son of a big landholder, who was moreover the village moneylender. Being an only son with four sisters, every wish of the brat was akin to a royal command where his parents were concerned. When monetary inducements failed to tempt the smallholder or his wife to barter away the virtue of the latter, it was child’s play (or in this case, the desire to play of a youth) to ensure that an obsequious policeman from a nearby police station locked up the husband of the woman who was being sought for the pleasure of the youngster, on the basis of an oral complaint made by a nearby landlord who had never actually ever been in contact with the accused, and who had been given a complaint scrawled by the policeman to sign. Subsequently, the wife was told that the only way her husband would be released from the lockup (where he was being daily subjected to kicks and blows by the policeman and his colleagues) would be to succumb to the demands of the big landholder’s son. All that needs to be said is that once the couple were together again, they left behind their patch of land and shifted to a city, where a job in a store was secured on account of the smallholder being more than merely literate. Given the relatively very low bar required for taking away in practice the liberty of an individual in India, such accounts of the misuse of colonial era laws in order to intimidate and harass others are often too numerous to recount even in a village, leave alone a panchayat. Fortunately, the High Courts and the Supreme Court often step in to rectify the abuses of the legal process that come to their attention, but these must only be a small fraction of the many acts of misuse of the law that take place. Even in cases where an obvious miscarriage of justice has been discovered further up the judicial ladder, the penalty for those guilty is not always more than a possible verbal slap on the wrist. As a consequence of the lingering miasma of colonialism that continues to exude its reek of injustice, in too many instances, even those guilty of serially being responsible for deliberate falsification of charges and wrongful arrest seldom get subjected to anything other than a notional penalty. There has been an uproar among some at the way in which the homes of mafiosi are being bulldozed in parts of the country. If such critics were made to encounter the victims, male and female, of the predators that mafiosi are, they would understand why political parties that shelter and defend such criminal elements are losing ground electorally to those that call for stringent punishment for the guilty.
The Indian Police Act (IPA) was promulgated in 1860 and is still in force. There has been much talk of police reform, and certainly this is needed, to prevent a force intended for public good to morph into an instrument rewarding private greed. More than a few who have had distinguished careers in the police service have pointed to changes in the IPA designed to give freedom to the police from political interference. The problem comes when what gets sought is not just avoiding interference but political oversight. With all its faults, the electoral system ensures a check on politicians, and every election and byelection shows how the voter in India has become more aware of the power inherent in exercising the right to vote. Freeing any wing of the wings of government from oversight would create conditions for misuse of those powers rather than ending such an evil. What is needed is to ensure that transparency multiplies, and in the fulfillment of such an objective, technology has become a factor delivering substantial assistance. While such capabilities could be and sometimes are misused, the fact that a smartphone can serve as a video or audio recording would assist in documenting misdeeds, including by the use of the threat of one or the other provision of some colonial era law or regulation to intimidate an individual into submission. The Supreme Court has acted in a welcome manner by permitting the live streaming of proceedings, and a similar facility needs to be introduced in every court in the country. During the days when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi once spoke to a visitor, an academic who dabbles in journalism, that his effort was to ensure that there would be online public tracking of every file, so that delays would immediately become evident. Another task would be to reduce the number of stages that a file has to go through before a final decision gets recorded. Since Modi took over the Prime Ministership in 2014, there has indeed been substantial progress in such a direction, and the expectation is that such an ameliorative process will continue. In an era when opacity was the norm, files would inexplicably get piled up at the desk of a particular official or minister, and rapidly diminish were the right visitors to pay him or her a call. Online tracking of the progress of files is becoming the practice in a rising number of operations, and that is indeed a welcome trend. Even in matters as routine, but in so many instances as important, as the delivery of a letter, the sender of a letter by courier or speed post is able to track its progress. The Indian postal service has been doing a lot more than the credit it gets, and the introduction of online tracking is among its practices that need to be generalised across the field of administration.
Consigning to the wastebasket regulations intended only for generating visits from those armed with a packet stuffed with currency notes, or ensuring the online tracking of files on matters of importance to the citizen, are some of the ways in which India can overtake its peers to be an economic and political model for the rest of the world. Others are the courts, which need to ensure that the delivery of justice does not get clogged not just for months or years, but often for decades. In the 75th year of India’s freedom from colonial control, the task of those in charge of the various wings of governance is to ensure that 2023 becomes a year of accelerated transformation towards a system where anomalies and injustices get uncovered and rectified seamlessly.