Contestation in Delhi(HinduEditorial,Polity)

After a brief respite, hostilities between Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have resumed. The issue this time is the appointment of the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women. Two days after the Aam Aadmi Party government appointed Swati Maliwal, the Lieutenant Governor annulled the appointment, saying it had not been “properly processed”. In a letter to the Chief Minister, he also made the ludicrous claim that he was “the government of Delhi”. Mr. Jung’s latest exercise in overreach comes more than a month after he and Mr. Kejriwal met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and promised to resolve the issues between them amicably. It was then thought that both sides had realised that their game of one-upmanship was damaging the images of both, and affecting the interests of the people of Delhi. Yet, it seems little has changed. By continuing to interfere with the day-to-day affairs of the Delhi government in a brazen manner, Mr. Jung is disrespecting the massive mandate with which the people of Delhi returned the AAP to power; neither is he helping to dispel the notion that he is a puppet acting at the behest of the Central government.
There is now a broader context to the whole confrontation. Soon after taking office, Ms. Maliwal sought an appointment with the Lt. Governor to discuss a brutal incident in Delhi in which a 19-year-old girl was stabbed to death by two youths. Following that incident, the AAP has, by means of a series of emotive radio and television advertisements, ramped up its demand for more control over the Delhi Police. Ms. Maliwal’s appointment to a body that was previously seen as ineffectual is also part of a wider narrative in which the AAP is battling to ensure that the security of women in the national capital is taken more seriously than at present. By blocking the move on bureaucratic grounds, Mr. Jung, and the Union Home Ministry by extension, appear in extremely bad light. Thanks to the AAP’s continuous campaigning on the issue, and the associated drama of their now-regular tussles with the Lieutenant Governor, the issue of full statehood for Delhi has become an important topic of debate. Most Delhi-ites want the issue resolved, if only so that they can have an effective government again, rather than one that is forced to switch to agitation mode periodically. Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors here have worked together amicably earlier within the limitations of their positions, but given the current lack of cooperation on both sides it appears that the only way out of the impasse is a proper consideration of the demand for full statehood for Delhi, or a clearer interpretation of the rules that define power-sharing between the state administration and the Central government.



The Hindu Important Editorial Collection of 2015 and 2014

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Manipur’s dilemma (Hindu Editorial)

The fear of every state with a predominant indigenous population was summed up thus by the Naga leader A.Z. Phizo: “Nagaland cannot accept the Indian excess population [as] our country is too small.” Many of the recent exclusivist outbursts in the northeastern States, including in Manipur, can be attributed to such a fear of losing ancestral land to “outsiders”. Manipur’s crisis intensified four months ago when its Congress-majority Legislative Assembly passed the Manipur Regulation of Visitors, Tenant and Migrant Workers’ Bill, 2015. It was opposed widely, including by women’s and students’ groups, and even by a section of the ruling party. Eventually the Opposition became more united in demanding the withdrawal of the Bill, which failed to address their key concern of protecting the land rights of the original inhabitants. On July 14, the Bill was withdrawn by the Manipur government in a nod to the protesters’ demands. The united Opposition rather underscored the long-standing demand for the imposition of an Inner Line Permit system, as in a few other northeastern States. The ILP regime, introduced by the British to protect tribal populations from encroachment into their areas, but later used to advance commercial interests, involves a system akin to the issue of visas to Indian citizens to enter a State of the Union.

The dilemma of the Indian state over the ILP is understandable. Can the Union afford to introduce a quasi-visa to its citizens to enter one State from another State? The question could be complex for a central party that advocates the removal of all speed-breakers when it comes to citizens’ access to travel and work in her own country. The dilemma of Manipur is perhaps even more severe. The 2001 Census indicated the size of the migrant community was nearly as much as that of the dominant ethnic Meiteis, thus bolstering the demand from Manipur’s erudite civil society to impose curbs on inward movement. But there has also been out-migration of the indigenous people. The demand is sought to be substantiated by citing many examples that indicate how Manipuris are losing land to “extractive” non-Manipuri industries. The leasing out of “one-sixth of the total area” of Manipur for oil exploration and drilling to international oil majors, unthinkable in the other States, is one of many such examples. In this backdrop, a half-baked Bill was passed, that exacerbated the insecurity. The demand, though, is more legitimately a consequence of the hill-valley divide in the State and the congestion in the valley rather than any huge influx of outsiders. The situation is thus complex but not out-of-control. But the State should ensure that alien-investor-driven development does not disrobe its people. After all, they are supposed to benefit from the growth generated out of its own domestic resources.

Keywords: Inner Line Permit, Visitors Tenant and Migrant Workers’ Bill 2015, Northeaster states




Barack Obama’s Indian summer?(IR )

Given the constraints all U.S. Presidents operate under, and given the additional burden Barack Obama carries because of his race, his recent winning streak is both unusual and likely temporary. It would be churlish to grudge him his moment of success.

In India, every now and often, there emerges a passionate debate about the virtues of the Presidential system. Frustrated by coalition governments, hung Parliaments and ineffective Prime Ministers, we look longingly toward what we think of as a dynamic and effective alternative. In our imagination, Presidents can choose their equivalent of our cabinet of ministers from a pool of expert candidates not beholden to the political party of the President, or even involved in politics.

As any observer of American politics will attest, the reality is quite otherwise. Hamstrung by a Constitution that —in the words of one of my feisty professors in graduate school — “separated the hell out of the powers”, Presidents of the United States have had to constantly battle the other two branches of government — the judiciary and the legislative — to get anything done, not to mention working a system way more genuinely federal than India’s still centralised polity. Recent decades have seen a constant politics of gridlock as the two main parties have found it impossible to collaborate, and the Republican party, in particular, has moved ideologically so far to the right that bipartisanism is very much the exception than the rule.

Far from the tyrannical majority the founding fathers feared in constructing their elaborate system of checks and balances, it often seems that U.S. politics — and Presidents — are continually stymied by intransigent, but powerful, minority interests. This has been particularly true during the second term of recent Presidents, with neither Mr. Bill Clinton nor Mr. George W. Bush being able to accomplish much of anything as their Presidencies ground towards the end steeped in scandal in one instance and the quagmire of war in the other.

Highlights of a legacy

With over a year remaining in his second term, it seemed very likely that President Barack Obama was headed for a very similar fate. Yet, a fortuitous set of events in recent weeks raises the possibility that he may yet evade that ignominy. First, by a 6-3 vote the Supreme Court struck down an important challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — more commonly referred to as Obamacare by its critics — thus leaving in place a crucial part of the President’s legacy. Second, with the support of Republicans (and despite the desertion of a handful of Democrats), the President’s efforts to create the equivalent of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Pacific Rim countries, and eventually with the European Union, survived passage through Congress. Third, the United States Supreme Court legalised same sex marriage all across the nation. And finally, amidst the tragedy of the church massacre in Charleston, SC — where the first shots of the Civil War were fired over a 150 years ago — Mr. Obama’s eulogy for the slain pastor Clementa Pinckney showed his oratory, intelligence and compassion to stunning effect.

Battle for health care

Passed in March 2010, the ACA came after decades of failed efforts to establish a health-care system that covered most of the population. In its brief tenure, the ACA has provided coverage to 16 million formerly uninsured citizens with the latter dropping from 52 million a few years ago to just over 35 million today. These numbers would have been even more impressive had it not been for another judgment by the Supreme Court back in 2012. That judgment, on the one hand, upheld the Constitutionality of the ACA but, on the other, enabled individual states to block its effective implementation.

As many as 22 states currently are cutting their noses to spite their faces: they are willing to forego billions of dollars in federal funds — funnelled through an expansion of Medicaid — to thwart the ACA. Many of them were part of the slave-owning Confederacy and they would, even today, forego federal monies rather than see health care reach the largely African-American underclass in their own states; 36 states, 29 of them controlled by Republicans, have refused to establish exchanges where their citizens can buy health insurance through the ACA — forcing that burden back on the Federal government.

If these problems of implementation have to do with the persistence of racism and mainly Republican intransigence, the larger problems with the ACA owe to the way capitalism operates in the U.S. Unlike Western Europe or Canada, with their public health-care systems and universal coverage irrespective of means, the U.S. insists that everything be mediated through the private sector. The ACA essentially requires individuals to purchase their health insurance from private providers — but through subsidies provided by the government. Needless to say, the ACA has received the support of the private health insurance industry, whose stocks showed a sharp uptick in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding these subsidies recently.

These same insurance companies, interested as they are in their bottom lines, have high deductibles, deny coverage on many pretexts, and are likely to increase their premiums whenever feasible. The ACA is better than having no health insurance at all, but for all too many poor people, that is not saying very much. This insistence on providing necessary and vital public or collective goods through the private sector — one can think of school vouchers in this context — often ensures outcomes are suboptimal for the consumer even if they are very profitable to corporate America.

Yet, one can argue, as many have, that it’s precisely this government subsidisation of the health insurance providers that enabled the ACA to be passed in the first place, and allowed Mr. Obama to succeed where a long line of Presidents from Truman through Mr. Clinton had failed. It possibly also accounts for why it has been upheld by the Supreme Court, why it evinces the support of corporate America, and why it is likely to survive into the future. The incredibly strong private-sector oriented capitalism of the U.S. exercises a strong restraint on what Presidents can do in domains such as health care.

Free trade pact

In a similar vein, the passage of the TPP is a success only for those who believe in the alleged benefits of free trade and expanded markets. For American workers and corporations worried about the export of jobs and loss of markets to areas with cheaper labour and laxer regulations, the benefits are dubious at best. More importantly, the legislation to pass the TPP (or specifically its eventual expansion to the European Union) introduced a provision that restricted it to companies that do not support BDS — the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction companies and institutions that have any truck with Israel. Some liberal groups are outraged that a trade deal with the EU includes a provision that will benefit Israel and penalise Palestine.

On rights

On the right to same-sex marriage, Mr. Obama was definitely a latecomer, joining that bandwagon in 2012 and even that only after Vice-President Joe Biden forged ahead on the issue. Though the White House was bathed in the rainbow colours signifying gay pride after the Supreme Court’s judgment, the reality is that nearly 2 out of 3 Americans support the rights of gays to same-sex marriage as do a majority of the states. For many of the militant segments of the queer movement, the “victory” represented the triumph of effective lobbying by affluent professionals among gays to gain access to the same benefits and provisions as their straight counterparts in (largely) corporate America. In their view, securing the right to marriage from the government inescapably underwrites conformist and conservative institutions such as government and marriage, and it belies the radical and revolutionary reimagining of society that a genuinely queer perspective ought to entail. Yet, Mr. Obama will undoubtedly get some credit as the Supreme Court legalised the matter during his watch.

Which brings us to Mr. Obama’s speech in Charleston at Rev. Pinckney’s funeral. With its superb analysis and measured condemnation of America’s legacy and present racism; its careful delineation of the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans, the punitive sentences and murderous police violence visited on them, and the more subtle discriminations in hiring and economic opportunities in general; its exasperation with America’s love affair with guns, and in its celebration of the Christian spirit of grace and forgiveness, the speech oscillated between an excoriating analysis of racism and a careful avoidance of extremism. You can see an extraordinarily intelligent and passionate man rein in every semblance of anger, knowing that change in his country was going to be slow, painfully and excruciatingly slow. Any display of anger by a black President would only prove to be counterproductive and energise the already inflamed lunatic fringe — which is of course worryingly more than just a fringe.

As one weighs Mr. Obama’s accomplishments in recent weeks and months, one has to assess them against what is possible in a society where many states and their governors would rather deny their poor access to health care if it means a lot of African-Americans might benefit; where every government initiative must redound to the benefit of the corporate sector if it has to stand any chance of being passed by Congress or withstand scrutiny in the courts; and where bipartisanship is so uncommon. Given the constraints all U.S. Presidents operate under, and given the additional burden Mr. Obama carries because of his race, his recent winning streak is both unusual and likely temporary. It would be churlish to grudge him his moment of success — so long as one also remembers that his every success is weighed down by the limitations of the society he leads.

(Sankaran Krishna is professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. E-mail: Krishna@hawaii.edu)

Keywords: US President Barack Obama, Obama Indian Summer, health care scheme, Presidential system, European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement, FTP




We don’t want no education…(Hindu,Essay,Education)

Political independence would amount to little if Indians do not have an education that develops cognitive means, an ethical sensibility and a historical understanding. Recent events suggest that the political class does not want such an education for young Indians

Higher education in India is once again in the news, though not for the most attractive of reasons. Recently, the heads of more than one of the country’s best known institutions have either resigned or been sacked following differences with the government. There are reports that the position of a vice chancellor of a prominent university is under threat. However, these instances are no more than shocks to the widespread despondency amidst the public over the state of this branch of Indian society.
Pulapre Balakrishnan
Some time ago, the then Minister for Human Resource Development, Arjun Singh, had announced to a national meeting of vice chancellors that higher education in India was like a “sick child”. That he was partly responsible for its state, having directed it to expand by 50 per cent within three years as part of the Congress Party’s response to the Mandal Committee Report, was perhaps less of a failing on his part than the failure to initiate a diagnosis of the affliction. Were this done at that time, at least some of the subsequent damage could have been averted.
Not world class

One of the deficiencies of higher education in the country, identified by the government itself, is that its colleges are nowhere to be found in the global league tables. While rating need not bother us unduly, we must recognise that absence from the shortlist of Indian universities tells us something about the production of globally recognisable knowledge in this country. Had we chosen to ignore the global pool of knowledge, this would be of no concern. But, we cannot state this to be the case, as we drink deeply at this very pool. The fact is that in the production of knowledge globally, we are mere spectators, admiring the pirouette or applauding the tightrope walk, participating at best as cheerleaders. While I can say little with any confidence about the natural sciences, of economics it can be said that there is very little that is original being done here. Where we can speak of theory and methodology as being relatively independent, it is not only that we rely on theory developed in the anglophone world but even the empirical methods are often outdated, despite the fact that unlike in the past they are now quite easily accessible. Global best-practice methodologies are more accessible today because we are by now a far richer society compared to say the 1950s, and information and the software for processing it are no longer out of reach. Of course, this is very likely not the case in the applied sciences where material resources are still prohibitively expensive. Think “large hadron collider”.
Spending on education

It would be difficult to make the case that higher education in India has been starved of resources in the aggregate. A shift in public expenditure towards higher education had commenced in the 1950s, even though the social returns to primary education were very likely higher than the social returns to the tertiary. By the early 20th century, the ratio of public spending on higher education to that on schooling was by far the highest in India (UNESCO: ‘Global Education Digest’). It is interesting that in Japan, the government spends more per capita on schooling than it does on university education. Yet, Indian academics have migrated even to Japan to carry on their professional life despite the obvious linguistic hurdles. By the late 1960s, Amartya Sen was already writing about the high opportunity cost of starting universities in India and had suggested that higher education in India was being expanded largely only in response to middle-class pressure.
Quality control

Even though the expansion of higher education had commenced in the 1950s, a difference marks that phase when compared to the past decade or so, when the next major round of expansion — notably the near doubling of the number of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) — was initiated by the Centre and in some States. At the beginning, the human capital necessary to operate the system was not in such short supply as it is today. Quality control was relatively less constrained. But more importantly, there was a recognition that there was no point in expanding education without assuring its quality. Egregious instances of this are the heads of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the atomic energy complex being personally headhunted by Nehru. Today, it is not only that the human capital is in relatively short supply, but the political leadership valorises access at any cost. Expansion has become the raison d’être of the public presence in higher education and the querying of the quality of education is discouraged as elitism. This is no more than sentimentality when it is not disingenuous.
In today’s age, the production of knowledge needs governance exactly as does any other activity with social consequences. If the quality of higher education in India is to improve, the focus of the governance must be on research and learning outcomes. Poor outcomes which are to be identified as poor quality of the education make a mockery of the expansion of higher education whether by the state or the private sector. The state offering poor quality higher education with much fanfare is the moral equivalent of ostentatiously inviting hungry people only to feed them leftovers. The private sector in India is often not far behind in promising the moon but leaving students with little to show. This has been flagged as rampant in so-called professional education. Shailendra Mehta has written a paper titled “Why is Harvard #1?” putting it down entirely to governance. While there is no reason whatsoever for India to emulate Harvard in all its aspects, we may yet want to pay some attention to its governance model if we aspire to ever play in the top league of global knowledge production.
While the consequences for quality of a reckless expansion are quite easily seen, that of another subtle but definite trend is less easily discerned. The latter may have had an important role in killing-off our universities. This is a political development which has two aspects to it, namely the adoption of a corporate-centric approach by governments and the spread of illiberalism within society. The connection between these two developments is far from obvious but one thing is clear. It is that the rise to dominance of a politics incorporating both these elements is not helpful to the pursuit of knowledge. It has led to a sort of “closing of the Indian mind” once open to myriad influences and mindful of the virtues of truth and beauty. Going back a little further, we can see the vestiges of such mindfulness in our spectacular achievements in fields as diverse as philosophy and architecture. One does not have to agree fully with the poet Keats when he had declared that the link between truth and beauty is all there is to know to acknowledge that such an awareness must infuse our higher education enterprise! If you think “truth and beauty” is for the birds, you may want to read the astrophysicist S. Chandrashekar on “Motivation in science”. The severely bureaucratised environment in India’s universities has managed to expunge all creativity from the system.
Politically driven

When social forces act to snuff out a vibrant and free-spirited learning environment, we are largely in the hands of the political class, for it is this class that wields the levers of power that can counteract the reaction. But when the political class abets these very forces, we are left pretty much in the lurch. There is something of this kind at work in India today.
First, for decades now, members of the political class have been very heavily invested in the profitmaking segment of higher education. Private engineering, medicine and management education have offered full-time politicians a happy hunting ground. Naturally, there has been no concern for knowledge creation here. On the other hand, the archipelago of Central higher education institutions has been treated as a handmaiden to advance party-political agendas. This has been the case under both the fronts that have ruled India over the past decade-and-a-half. The initiatives have ranged overmaking an IIM education virtually free, to expanding enrolment without any concern for the consequences.
Almost a century ago, Kalidas Bhattacharya, a philosophy teacher in Calcutta, delivered an address to his students which was published as a tract named “Swaraj in Ideas”. Though the address must itself be seen in the context of the Indian national movement, its message remains as fresh as ever. Bhattacharya had argued that political independence by itself would amount to little if Indians did not have the mental capacity to imagine a world in relation to their own needs. The prerequisite for this is the development of cognitive means, an ethical sensibility and a historical understanding. This alone can be called an education. We watch with shock and awe as everything handed down from Delhi of late suggests that the political class don’t want one for our young. Higher education in India is being throttled by the regulator, and no one is screaming murder.
(Pulapre Balakrishnan can be reached at www.pulaprebalakrishnan.in)
Keywords: Higher education, human capital, Indian universities, education budget, IIT



Foreign Service must remain elitist(PublicAdmin,HinduEditorial)

As the Indian Foreign Service is already a shadow of its former self, India should not fritter away its strengths by diluting its specialised and professional character

Whether at the time of uncertainty over foreign policy before the Lok Sabha elections, or after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reinvigoration of foreign policy, foreign service reforms have focussed on expansion, lateral entry of officers and general dilution of the service’s elitist character. But no attention is given to the fact that the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is already a shadow of its former self, and does not appeal to civil service aspirants. Most of those who join the IFS are those who did not qualify for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). If IFS has to perform effectively, its elitism should be preserved, its attractiveness enhanced, and it should be brought to the centre of international relations as it was originally intended to be.

Partners in foreign policy

Nobody disputes the academic Amitabh Mattoo’s argument that “India’s foreign policy must be seen as a shared partnership across departments within the government of India, and academia and think tanks outside the traditional corridors of power” (“A new foreign policy agenda”, The Hindu, April 8, 2014). But the answer is not to merge the various partners while destroying the identity of each, but to allow each of them to develop in their own spheres and provide inputs to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). No one seems to suggest that the IAS and Indian Police Service should be expanded through lateral entry to improve their performance. The logic of this argument for the IFS seems to defy the need to preserve a specialised and professional foreign service. IFS, it should be noted, is no less professional or specialised than the other services.

Foreign policy is framed by various departments of the government, academia, think tanks and the media. They should all have their own defined roles in drafting foreign policy and must remain independent of each other. The MEA should not absorb them into a monolithic institution that has no diversity. Think tanks and the media should shape foreign policy from outside rather than from within the government. Is the right remedy to recruit media experts into the IFS in order to get their inputs on foreign policy? Would they fit into the bureaucratic milieu with its hierarchical and political constraints?

The usual lament is that the IFS is smaller (900 officers) than Chinese (4,000) and American (20,000) diplomatic services. This number is insufficient to meet the requirements of our 120 missions and 49 consulates. It is a fact that India started off with more missions than it could manage. It is not easy or politically correct to close down missions once they have begun; India, therefore, maintains them with a skeletal staff in marginal posts. Its larger missions are well-endowed and it does not need to be envious of bigger missions maintained by the U.S. or China. The right mix of need and affordability must determine the numbers. The information revolution should lead to a reduction, rather than an increase, in the number of missions abroad. The size of the service should not by itself detract from the efficiency of diplomacy.

Those who argue for expansion and lateral entry seem unaware of the fact that in most of India’s important missions, the IFS is in a minority, as it is staffed by officers of other Ministries. Many Ministries have preserved positions in the name of specialisation, but most of them are IAS officers, who may have been recruited specifically for assignments abroad. They may not even have gained experience in the concerned Ministries before being posted abroad. When there is such a practice, there should be no need to induct them into the foreign service itself. Moreover, Ministries such as Commerce, Finance, Industry, Environment, Science and Technology, Atomic Energy, Space and the Cabinet Secretariat have officers who specialise in various international negotiations. The missions are merely asked to service these delegations; even the heads of mission receive only a courtesy call and a cursory report. These officers function, in effect, as diplomats, and they should be added to the strength of the IFS when functional requirements are taken into account. In other words, we have more diplomats in action internationally than the strength of the IFS indicates.

If officers who claim their seniority on the basis of their services in totally unrelated areas enter the IFS laterally, this would only dilute the service’s quality. Past experience has shown that such entrants do not leave the service after a term or two, but remain to claim higher positions, spending their whole careers in diplomacy. If there is a need to induct officers from outside, the procedures available should be used rather than induct those who had once spurned the IFS. The expectations of advancement in the IFS should not be belied.

The MEA has already begun to recruit more officers every year, and that is the only way that such a specialised service should be expanded. If necessary, there are retired officers with proven ability, to fill the gaps without claiming high positions and salaries.

Reforms needed

The suggestion here is not that reform of the diplomatic service is unnecessary. First, it should be made more attractive so that the best candidates are chosen. Like Jawaharlal Nehru did, the aptitude and readiness of the selected candidates should be ascertained before they are chosen. It is patently wrong to take in officers who qualify without English proficiency. No amount of language training after entry into the service would equip them for the rigours of the work abroad. The recruitment of a large number of doctors and engineers is by no means negative, particularly in the context of the growth of technology. Some of India’s best diplomats have come from the medical profession. But we should not lose sight of the recent trend in management to deploy more graduates of social sciences and humanities. Training should be constantly revamped to equip officers to deal with different regions.

The present practice of posting on an ad hoc basis should cease. Officers should develop expertise in countries and regions. Multilateral postings should not be meant for rotational blessings, but for those who have the talent and experience. Instead of rotating officers so that they retire comfortably, we should give them other incentives to stay in tough assignments. Those in difficult places must be compensated financially. Postings, an art at present, should be made a science, with a clear criteria. There should be no vagaries of political influence or acceptability.

The real shortage of officers is not in missions abroad, but at the headquarters. Many heads of divisions cover whole continents with very little support. Temporary deputation of officers from various disciplines can strengthen the headquarters till we have a sufficient number of IFS officers to return. The style of the present Prime Minister seems to be to rely on a small number of people to work intensively on issues; this method could be developed into a system.

The role and relevance of the policy planning and historical divisions are often exaggerated. Policy planning cannot be done in a vacuum; it is the territorial divisions which can help formulate policy. The historical division should be a service unit, helping policymakers, as it is functioning right now. Nothing prevents the Ministry from drawing on the experience and wisdom of people from other fields, without absorbing them into the Ministry.

Many youngsters who aspire to the IFS have begun to believe that it really does not call the shots in foreign policymaking, as decision-making has passed on to the technical Ministries. They believe that the MEA has been reduced to a post office. Unless this impression is removed by concrete action, real talent cannot be attracted to the Videsh Bhawan. Foreign services are elitist in most countries, and India should not fritter away its strengths by diluting its specialised and professional character.

(T.P. Sreenivasan is an IFS officer of the 1967 batch. He is former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA.)

Keywords: foreign policymaking, India foreign policy, Indian Foreign Service, IFS, External Affairs Ministry,




Mastering the drill of democracy(Essay,HInduEditorial)

The Emergency is a distant memory today because the nation’s collective spine did not bend, the media stayed unbent and the judiciary remained independent. Yet we have to be wary of the robotisation of our minds into a ‘yogic’ acceptance of one drill — majoritarianism

The human mind connects the seemingly unconnected but, as one invariably discovers, tellingly.

When I saw and read reports of our Prime Minister heading the great Yoga Day assemblage on what used to be called King’s Way, now Rajpath, in our national capital, I thought of two ‘unconnected’ persons. The first was Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855). And the second was Indira Gandhi. Both were ‘strong’ personalities credited with ‘an iron will’, exemplars of dogged determination, single-minded purpose. But the similarities did not end there. Both disliked dissent and suppressed it.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi
But why did the yoga procedures of that day remind me of them? Tsar Nicholas had faced a revolt the very day he ascended the throne. He crushed it ruthlessly but also set up, reflexively, the largest and most insidious system of spies and informers Russia had known. He also developed another very particular fascination. This was for things martial, for watching and enjoying drills. “It was specially at large-scale military reviews,” says his biographer Riasanovsky, “that Nicholas I experienced rapture, almost ecstasy.” Nicholas I is said to have been a handsome man, attentive to physical fitness and to how he appeared, in terms of looks and attire, to others. Quite logically for him, the Tsar regularly, almost compulsively, arranged for parades by uniformed men standing in chessboard order, moving and marching in brassy orchestration. Tsar Nicholas came, in fact, to be called ‘drill-master’. The size of his empire grew with the shape of his army, though he suffered serious reverses, and economic stagnation. This did not trouble him, for he could get in the drills he saw, his ‘ecstasy’.

A power machine

Indira, as a child, loved organising ‘armies’ which grew from a home-game to serious proportions when, still an adolescent, she ‘founded’ the Bal Charkha Sangh and the Vanar Sena to ‘help’ the Congress’s campaigns in Allahabad. Decades later, in 1962, when her noble father — too noble, some may say — as Prime Minister was still coming to terms with the Chinese action, she was at embattled Tezpur, right among Indian jawans, offering them and the people of the area, solidarity and practical help — a semi-military initiative of compelling significance. She was being a ‘drill-master’ too. The moment was epiphanic. But the ‘drill-master’ in her had another dimension. She believed in bringing whatever she had control over into a certain ‘order’, her order. Almost from the day she became Prime Minister, she sensed dissent among senior Congressmen which she proceeded to crush, systematically. She set up an intricate web of informers, political and professional, who helped her retain and tighten her order, her control. The government of India under her became much more than a constitutional entity; it turned into a power-machine, with all its ramifications, particularly the military, the para military set-ups, the police and her network of informants and spies functioning like well-oiled, well-keyed, robots. A great rise took place in the eminence of ‘pure’ and applied science accompanied by a somewhat hush-hush mutuality between the government’s science laboratories and its defence strategists. The spectacular military intervention in East Pakistan leading to the birth of Bangladesh and Pokhran I leading to India’s nuclear weaponisation, had to happen under Indira, the drill-master.

As also, 40 years ago this day, the National Emergency. Paranoia has an ally in megalomania.

But to return, for a moment, to yoga and to last week’s drill-mastering of that ancient science of self-healing.

I do not wish to go as far back as Vivekananda but we do know that Gandhi practised the shavasana and Nehru the sirsasana. Both spoke of the efficacy of the two methods but neither made a shibboleth of it, much less expound it for mass adoption. Baba Ramdev’s public and televised dissemination of yoga turned what was essentially a personal health regime practised by millions in the privacy of their homes or learning institutions into a commodity for mega-consumption, with actual ‘yoga’ products for sale on the sides. The Yoga Day exposition on Rajpath has taken the Baba’s commercial potting of it beyond commodification to what can be called a political massification. Why ‘political’?

Retrieving Bharat

The question takes us back to Nicholas I and Indira Gandhi. Like those two historical figures, Prime Minister Modi has a sense of ‘order’. He backs that up with an attentiveness to his own fitness, punctuality, ‘turnout’. By personally leading, like an adept instructor, the phalanx gathered on the Rajpath lawns, he has choreographed yoga into an opera of mass power. But not just of power as in wholesome personal strength. Rather, power as in a collective mission, a mass drill that goes beyond personal well-being into a national nostrum, a national mission that bears an unmistakable family resemblance to the drills by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And what is the mission’s message?

Quite simply, this: ‘We have been a weak nation, a nation of do-gooders and pacifists, of men who are afraid of the noise of crackers, the smell of smoke. Men of withered wills and sunken chests. It is time we built up our sinews, physical and mental, time we toned up our tissues, tightened our tendons. We must retrieve Bharat from the shambles that our so-called liberal leaders of the last six decades have left us…They were not leaders but mis-leaders who tell us that being muscled-up is mean, being belligerent is bullying. In fact such peacemakers and liberals are dangerous anarchists. Let us march, not saunter, stand and sit in neat rows, not haphazardly, observe mauna rather than chatter away and if we have to speak, let us speak on the glory of Bharat Mata…’

Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Periyar, Jayaprakash Narayan would have recoiled from the message. They would have seen it as macho, aggressive. And because of the unmistakable Hindutva rhetoric concealed in it, deeply divisive. But Indira Gandhi, I suspect, would have seen it as clever. He is tapping India’s sentiments, tapping them into action, hand it to the man!

Emergency’s script

Forty years ago, the Emergency spoke the same script. Jayaprakash Narayan, campaigning against despotism and corruption, was vilified as an anarchist. His movement was dubbed as anti-national, anti-progress. Dissent became treason, opposition became heresy. And overnight, posters came up: ‘Batein kum, kam ziyadah’ (Speak less, work more). And an old Sanskrit word was set flying on a new political string: Anushasan, discipline. The ‘call of the hour’ was anushasan, with Acharya Vinoba Bhave getting roped into the act to describe the period as ‘Anushasan Parva’, the Discipline Moment. Inevitably, newspapers fell silent, All India Radio became a trumpet. Spies crept out of woodrot to belittle, walls acquired hi-fi ears to betray truth-tellers, corners found whispering tongues. A kind of ‘yoga’ was unleashed — bhayayoga, the yoga of multiple fears in which mauna (silence), sushupti (willed stupor), and savata (immobility) featured strong. And a divinity was ideationally superimposed on pictorial blitzes of the nation’s ‘saviour’, Indira Gandhi.

There were no Yoga Day type drills organised at the time but ‘spontaneous’ rallies were called to hail the proclamation, hail the Emancipator. Even as mass leaders were jailed, sections of the middle class welcomed a sudden improvement in the punctuality of train movements, attendance in government offices, the check on profiteering that followed. ‘Honesty’ at shopfloors and workplaces became visible. But all ‘for the present’, because it was imposed by fiat, monitored by fiat, by fear, by bhayayoga.

Audi alteram partem (Hear The Other Side) is ever a good principle. So, be it said that the Emergency saw a set of wholesome developments, all for reasons of Realpolitik. It made poverty eradication central to our national discourse. It made good governance seem actually realisable. It reset certain governmental priorities. Of which protection of the natural environment was significant. And it made national security a matter of everyone’s, not just the military’s, concern.

But its real legacy has been wholly unintended. It has made India conscious, as never before, of civil liberties, of the right to freedom of expression. The Emergency, by robbing India awhile of the soul of Republicanism, has made it a truer Republic than it was before 1975.

If today we can talk about the Emergency in the past tense, it is because the nation’s collective spine did not go into a forward-bending dhanurasana (bow-position) and because the ‘media vertebra’ , despite censorship, stayed particularly unbent. And because the judiciary, despite the demoralising judgment in ADM Jabalpur v/s S S Shukla retained its core independence, thanks to the conscience-keeping Justice H.R. Khanna.

A person who has recovered from a stroke values the faculties of motor ability, mental comprehension and speech more than one who never lost it.

The Constitution as amended in 1978 has made a proclamation of the 1975 type National Emergency impossible. What we have to be wary of is something as bad — the robotisation of our minds into a ‘yogic’ acceptance of one drill — majoritarianism — and its masterful drill-master.

(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is Distinguished Professor of History and Politics, Ashoka University.)

Keywords: Emergency, Indira Gandhi, Tsar Nicholas I, Narendra Modi, International Day of Yoga, Indian Constitution, majoritarianism, Rajpath, Republicanism




Looking to the Supreme Court(TheHindu,Law)

The Special Leave Petition filed by the Karnataka government in the Supreme Court against the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is not just the appeal of an aggrieved party on merits. It is also a commentary on the quality of the High Court verdict in the ‘disproportionate assets’ case. Apart from the undoubted public interest in the outcome of a case that will decide the fortunes of a prominent political leader, the appeal has brought the focus on how exactly courts deal with politically sensitive cases. The crux of the Karnataka government’s contention is this: if the trial verdict of Special Judge John Michael D’Cunha was noted for its elaborate evaluation of the evidence and the reasoning behind his conclusions, the appellate judge, Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy’s order overturning it is ‘cryptic,’ ‘lacking in reasoning’ and ‘illogical’. Especially requiring a second look are the High Court’s reliance on the ‘less-than-10-per-cent’ theory that allows a public servant to hold unexplained assets up to 10 per cent in excess of what she can account for. The points of divergence between the trial court verdict and the High Court’s judgment are now well-known. The divergence is of such magnitude that every reasonable person would favour an authoritative pronouncement from the highest court on these aspects of the case. Karnataka has sought to focus on what many see as flaws in the High Court order, not least in importance being some glaring mathematical errors.

It cannot be forgotten that when a public servant is charged with possessing assets disproportionate to her known sources of income and which she is unable to explain satisfactorily, the court must strictly go by the established quantum of wealth possessed, the expenditure incurred during a given period in office and the income known to have been received in the same period. This basically requires flawless computation and, where precise figures are unavailable, an objective means to evaluate the value of the assets. Any failure in making a precise computation will naturally result in a miscarriage of justice. By using different means, the prosecution, the defence and the two courts have so far arrived at different figures on income, expenditure and the consequent quantum of ‘disproportionate assets’. This fact also contributes to the need for a full re-examination. As for the political context, the appeal has been filed at a time when Ms. Jayalalithaa is contesting a by-election that will send her back to the Legislative Assembly. Karnataka has sought interim relief by way of a stay of the High Court judgment; if granted, this may have the effect of restoring Ms. Jayalalithaa’s disqualification from being a legislator. The stage is set for the last round of this 18-year-long legal battle. Ordinary citizens look to the Supreme Court for an authoritative pronouncement on this crucial matter of defining the dos and don’ts for persons in high public office.

Keywords: Jayalalithaa, disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa acquittal, Karnataka government




Indian Army chasing pipe dreams forever(HinduEditorial,Defense)

Overambitious norms in Qualitative Requirements are largely responsible for the alarming equipment shortage that the forces face today.

The Indian Army recently dispatched a global Request for Information (RfI) for a multi-purpose Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV), which has generated much mirth in military-industrial circles, for its sheer ridiculousness and operational folly.
The Army’s request is for an FRCV that will not only serve as a ‘medium’-sized main battle tank to replace the Army’s ageing fleet of licence-built Russian T-72s but also as a ‘light-tracked and wheeled tank’, built on the same platform. In layman terms, this is like asking for a Humvee and a Maruti 800 on the same platform. Hopefully, the document will be either withdrawn or amended before its July 31 deadline.
Surely, the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces at Army Headquarters, responsible for issuing the request, realises the irony and irrationality of drawing up such absurd general staff qualitative requirements (GSQRs), which are technologically impossible for any manufacturer to fulfil.
What is all the more surprising is that such QRs are formulated after extensive discussion, not only by the division concerned — in this case, the Mechanised Forces — but finally approved by the Army’s Deputy Chief (Planning & Systems), who is responsible for acquisitions. His office, as are those involved in formulating the requests and the subsequent proposals, or tenders, is purportedly staffed by competent scientific and technical advisers.
Senior Army officers concede that such over-ambitious and flawed requests for information, leading to equally over-stretched, faulty and diluted tenders, are largely responsible for the alarming equipment shortage that the forces face today. The shortfall includes small arms, howitzers, assorted helicopters, armour with night-fighting capacity, air defence capability and varied ordnance, among other things. Although Army Headquarters blames the hidebound and ill-informed Ministry of Defence (MoD) bureaucrats for this, it also has largely itself to blame for the glaring deficiencies.

‘Blinkered views’

“The whole process is carried out with limited knowledge and blinkered views,” said former Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman, the Army’s leading authority on acquisitions and offsets. Poorly conceived, formulated and drafted QRs create confusion and delays, resulting in the entire process being aborted much later, he said. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence concurs.
In its report tabled in Parliament on April 30, 2012, the Committee declared that as many as 41 of the Army’s proposals for diverse equipment in recent years were withdrawn or terminated. The reasons included faulty or over-ambitious qualitative requirements. The Committee report unambiguously pinned responsibility on the Army. The MoD and attendant financial advisers had no role in framing weapon QRs. Service Headquarters consult with the largely uniformed Directorate General Quality Assurance (DGQA), sometimes with inputs from the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
The typical process is this: all available literature on the equipment is gathered and its multiple characteristics collated. The idea is to include as many features as possible to demonstrate how exhaustively the task has been performed. Thereafter, as the draft travels up the chain of command, it gathers additional parameters, as each officer feels compelled to suggest more improvements. “The final QR takes the shape of a well-compiled wish list of utopian dimensions, which simply do not exist,” stated Gen. Suman.
For instance, in 2004, the Army issued a tender for 168 light utility helicopters to replace the obsolete fleet of Cheetahs and Chetaks inducted into service in the mid-60s. The proposal required the chopper to hover uninterruptedly for 30 minutes, a capability no helicopter in the world possessed at the time. The maximum hover time then available, with a U.S. helicopter, was seven minutes. The Army was forced to withdraw the tender soon after.
Similarly, a tender to upgrade FH-77B 155mm/39 calibre howitzers, acquired in the 1980s, had to be scrapped twice, first in 2006 and again in 2009, as the QRs drawn up by the Artillery Directorate were unworkable. A BAE Systems official associated with the upgrade at the time said that the requirements were ‘unrealistic’ for these old guns, expecting more capability than even new howitzers.
In 2013, the request sent to at least five overseas vendors to replace the Army’s obsolete Bofors 40mm L-70 and Soviet ZU-23mm 2B air defence guns had to be scrapped. All five vendors declared the requirements to be unreasonable, as they demanded a firing rate of 500 rounds per minute, a capability no gun in the world possessed.
The same has applied to tenders for tank fire control systems, long range observation systems and for different ammunition types, all terminated over the years on grounds of overreach and unrealism. It would appear that the Indian Army’s search for matchless, and globally unavailable, equipment and capabilities triumphs over and over again.
(Rahul Bedi is a defence analyst.)
Keywords: Indian Army, Future Ready Combat Vehicle, defence procurements, defence equipments, Army equipments, arms import



The Taliban challenge(hinduEditorial, World News)

Monday’s attack on the Afghan Parliament building demonstrated the Taliban’s unshaken capability to strike at even the most fortified of complexes in Kabul. This fits into its strategy of staging high-profile assaults aimed at gaining asymmetric superiority in the Afghan war. In the past they had attacked the Presidential Palace, the U.S. and Indian embassies and the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. The Parliament attack coincided with a vote in the House to endorse a new Defence Minister. The Taliban have been on the offensive since most of the foreign troops, some 14,000 of them from 40 countries at the peak of war, withdrew late last year. The Taliban’s actions have often been exposing the vulnerabilities of Afghanistan’s fledgling army. If the Taliban are allowed to return to power, it would be catastrophic for the Afghan people, particularly for millions of its women who were deprived of even basic human rights under its erstwhile regime. Given the tribal politics and lawlessness in Afghanistan’s rural areas, and the Taliban’s geopolitical relevance in the extremely complex South and Central Asian theatre, it will prove difficult for any anti-Taliban strategy to gain immediate traction. If the past 14 years of war in Afghanistan offers any definite lessons to the actors involved, it is that insurgency cannot be defeated only by military means. One of the grave mistakes the American-led troops committed was their excessive emphasis on a military solution, while reconstruction and creation of infrastructure, and building of institutions, were pushed to the back seat.
President Ashraf Ghani, who took power in September 2014, had promised to fix the vital issues. But his performance has not been impressive either. That Afghanistan, which has been at war for years, does not have a Defence Minister for the last nine months, itself speaks volumes about the state of its political affairs. What Afghanistan needs is a multi-pronged strategy, supported by the international community, focussing on nation-building and security challenges as well as regional diplomacy. First, the government has to establish itself as a credible, service-delivering and security-providing institution to gain the trust of its people. It should focus on taking the social ground away from the Taliban, at the same time bolstering its own security resources. The international community has an obligation to help this strategy, both economically and diplomatically. It is worth noting that after the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan in 1989, it took just three years for the Mohammad Najibullah regime to fall, plunging the country into a deadly civil war from which the Taliban rose to power. It is the responsibility of both Kabul and its backers abroad to make sure history doesn’t repeat here.
Keywords: Afghan Parliament attack, Taliban, Sediq Sediqqi