Thursday, March 31, 2016

Namo's Cooperative Federalism - Biggest casualty of President's Rule in Uttarakhand

The state of Uttarakhand was placed under President's Rule. The Modi government has done it within two months since it dismissed and imposed central rule in Arunachal Pradesh on January 26. The imposition of President's Rule dismissing Harish Rawat regime in Dehradun is yet another addition to the catalogue of constitutional steps/sins - as one sees it - committed in exercise of the Article 356.

The provisions of the Article 356 - giving sweeping powers to the central government - are essentially aimed at restoring constitutional propriety after breakdown of the same, said V R Krishna Iyer once. 

And certainly it cannot be used to settle partisan scores.
But the obvious actions from the Modi government in two Congress-ruled states suggest New Delhi has tried to trample over the state autonomy. 

 By doing so, Modi has followed the footsteps of the Congress reign while in power. Yet, he had promised a different kind of polity.
Abuse of Article 356, though, is nothing new in Indian politics. A few BJP leaders have tried to build up an argument that the Congress had no business to talk about constitutional decorum as the grand old party had several times dismissed non-Congress governments across the country.
"Congress is forgetting how many state governments it has dismissed in the last 60 years," Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP leader, said.
In 1992-93, the PV Narasimha Rao government at the Centre dismissed four BJP governments – in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh following the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December.
After the Rao regime dismissed the Nagaland government led by Vamuzo in 1992, the chief minister said that the imposition of President’s Rule did not surprise him. “After all, the Congress has always considered itself as imperial power and treated the states as colonies,” the late Vamuzo had said. In 2005, during Manmohan Singh’s regime, Goa Chief Minister Manohor Parrikar – now the Defence Minister – was dismissed by Governor SC Jamir.
Incidentally in 1990, Jamir, then Nagaland Chief Minister, was himself dismissed by Governor MM Thomas after 12 ruling Congress legislators defected from the Congress camp.
Like Rawat, Jamir had demanded trial of strength in the assembly and had managed the backing of the Speaker, late TN Ngullie.
However, Governor Thomas, during the VP Singh regime at the Centre, did not summon the assembly and had even declined to meet two Congress observers, Rajesh Pilot and SS Ahluwalia, saying the views of Congress MPs were not required on a political situation in Nagaland.                                                           
 Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat addresses a press conference in Dehradun. (Photo: IANS)

Even government led by hardcore socialist Chandrashekhar was no different. It had dismissed DMK ministry of Karunanidhi despite no adverse reports from the state Governor S S Barnala in 1990 when Chandrashekhar survived on Rajiv Gandhi's support and the latter (Rajiv) wanted to win over powerful Jayalalitha in the southern state.

Ironically, Congress party is now at the receiving end of imperial character of the central government. "Murder of democracy" being the refrain! These only bring us to the debate on the merits of Governor’s office and certain discretionary powers vested in him. Secondly, whether Article 356-357 that allows Centre the power to dismiss the state government or dissolve a state assembly or both should be deleted also needs a closer look.

A clear vindictiveness if not pettiness was the hallmark of the final decision by the BJP-led NDA on March 26-27 which not long ago has been screaming about "cooperative federalism". Logic is a major casualty in the process as also the implications of developments in Arunachal and Uttarakhand must be weighed in properly.

Not only the Modi Sarkar has put the other Congress governments like Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Karnataka on notice; it also continues with a bad precedent started by Congress long ago.
Modi-Rajnath ought to remember their election pledge

Friday, March 18, 2016

Neta-Babu nexus: Politicisation of public services - A Challenge

“If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent. If you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe”. – Lord Salisbury

So what about Indian bureaucracy and more precisely the now famous Neta-Babu nexus. What happens if you trust them?

The instances of former Delhi police commissioner B S Bassi allegedly playing into political tune or former top babus like G.K Pillai coming forward turning the tables on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's known detractor 
P Chidambaram vis-a-vis Ishrat Jahan case is a point in case," he says.

The political class seems to agree about the rot.
If G K Pillai had an issue with the affidavit on Ishrat case, he should have complained then, said many of them.

In 2011, a bizarre episode reflecting muscle-flexing by bureaucracy had come to light when a parliamentary panel probing the 2G scam found that former Telecom Secretary A. V. Gokak had "overruled" then Prime Minister I K Gujral in 1997 and referred the study on licensee fees to other fora instead of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as directed by the then prime minister.
"This was a major lacuna. This should not have happened. Prime Minister is the highest authority and any order from him should have been implemented in letter and spirit," then Joint Parliamentary Committee chairman P C Chako had said.

Bureaucrats most often understand politicians and the factors those make or mar the political class better than many politicians themselves do. But Indian bureaucracy is also known as a class in itself for its efficacy in concealing their own thoughts. Post-retirement and in certain gubernatorial assignments, they do open up. 

I have been reading a new book 'Safeguarding India - Essays on Governance and Security' by N. N. Vohra, a former Home Secretary in the central government and incumbent Jammu and Kashmir Governor. It makes a few good points. 

Probably created few decades back, the 'Neta-Babu' nexus as an expression has a polemic sting. Therefore the chapter in the book ‘The Rustling Steel Frame’ obviously makes interesting read. 

The pages talk about “extra-constitutional pulls and pressures” and how political interference has “negated the scope of orderly functioning”. The book, however, does not make any big revelation or breaking news as the buzz word these days is. But it goes without saying that the bureaucrat-turned-author had certain access to key issues and policy lapses concerning national security. These would thus add to the merits of the book.

All these coming from a former Home Secretary to the government of India and also someone who has in 1990s authored a report on criminal-politicians nexus make the book relevant in the contemporary setting. It is a collection of essays penned by Vohra and published in country’s leading newspapers and periodicals from 1996-97 onward and a few select lectures delivered by him on important subjects.

"The politicisation of public services, with money and muscle power playing an increasing role, has negated the scope of orderly functioning," says the book.
"To remain in power at any cost, the political executives consciously select pliable officers," says Vohra, who in 1993 authored the famous Vohra (Committee) Report on the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India.
"Over the years, governance through known policies, systems, rules and procedures has been vitiated by political interference and all kinds of extra-constitutional pulls and pressure," says the book (published by Harper Collins Publishers).

Serving officials, on the condition of anonymity, agree to most of what Vohra says with a few stating that mostly the political class and hidden ambitions of the babus are to be blamed for the loss of credibility of Indian steel frame.
The latest instances suggest politicians of all hues believe in using and abusing the bureaucracy, said an office-bearer of IAS Association in West Bengal.
Governance: A mirage?

On this occasion one remembers, former Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan, known for his maverick style and who had acidly coined a phrase "I am sorry" for the abbreviation of IAS.
But complexities in Neta-Babu relations is nothing new as there have been several such instances of bonhomie and at times political arm twisting as well as kowtowing of the steel frame in front of the political class. Under Manmohan Singh, several babus and former military men thrived in post-retirement careers.
Top brass in intelligence M K Narayanan was accommodated first as National Security Advisor and then as Governor of West Bengal. The likes of P C Haldar and R S Pandey were assigned as negotiators to deal with ultras in the northeast.

But as weather for UPA dispensation looked cloudy, Pandey joined BJP. So did R K Singh, another former Home Secretary, and now MP. Mumbai former police commissioner Satya Pal Singh also is in the saffron party these days.  

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his own opinion about bureaucracy. In fact, on March 3 during his reply to the debate on President Pranab Mukherjee's address to Parliament, he made terse remarks on babus in the Lok Sabha and said, "arbo-kharbo ka tankha ja raha hae (Crores are being given as salary of government servants)".

True, Indian bureaucracy, known for its huge numerical strengths and peculiarity in performance, has grown from 1,232 in 1951 to over 5,000 in 1996.
By 2011, according to officials in the Ministry of Personnel, total sanctioned strength of IAS officers as on January 1 was 6,077 and of these 4,488 were in position, thereby making a shortage of 1,589.

The problems for babus mount once good work yields reprimand.
O P Sharma was appointed Governor of Nagaland by H D Deve Gowda government after the former Punjab cop fell out with Congress dispensation in his state.
"I know of former Punjab DGP O P Sharma who worked in tandem with KPS Gill to curb the spinal cord of Punjab militancy. But once government changed in the state, he was hounded out by the Brar government," says a Punjab cadre official.

In his book, Vohra does not deal with a single theme but good governance seems to a common thread for all the articles as in the preface he talks about the quality of governance and the need to evolve “courses of action” for dealing with problems arising from the failures of governance and security management.

The essay ‘Beyond Pokhran and Chagai’ originally published in August 1998 – about five months after nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan – make an impatient plea for resolution of outstanding problems between the two countries.

“It will indeed be a historical blunder if, compelled by the nuclear capability syndrome, they (both India and Pakistan) further delay devoting attention to the resolution of problems which stand between two countries,” he writes.  
Hopefully the cautioning lines Vohra draws should ring alarm bells in the ears of those who matter.

That Vohra himself is an incumbent Governor of a key state like Jammu and Kashmir only makes it obvious that he has the ears of those who are at the helm of affairs in the country. The important point is, are they all listening?


Monday, March 14, 2016

Take Away from World Fest: Emergence of India as a Soft Power

The polarization of India’s intellectual class is so deep that it is difficult to express an opinion and that would still be considered an objective one. If one writes with a few laudatory words and phrases while trying to pour in an element of understanding, he is in the danger of being called a communal or bought over by Narendra Modi’s charm and machinations. 
On the other hand, if one takes a critical stand as against his government’s active cooperation with the just concluded Art of Living’s World Culture Festival, one cab easily accused of distortion and charged with trying to lampoon at own culture. 
Well, none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave credence to this argument when he told the inaugural session of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s cultural extravaganza that "We can make contribution (of India’s soft power) only when we ourselves feel proud of our culture. But if we continue to curse ourselves, then how will the world look towards us.The world is not only united by concerns of economic growth, but also by human values and India can play a vital role in it".
As one ponders about analyzing the three-day fest, a western maxim comes in mind, “Obedient sheep are not known for their creativity”.
Both PM Modi and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one likes them or not, defy definitions and in their own wisdom declined to play obedient sheep. This shakes the foundation of the established Indian intelligentsia’s faith in itself. A mixture of distorted principles of Marxism, Nehruvian secularism and the western style of democracy pose a kind of challenge for guiding India’s future.
Actually, we stand with neither of these virtues. To top it, an emphasis on individual liberties and often in an unreasonable manner has been perhaps also playing little part or as a negative catalysis in India’s transformation. 
At the end of three-day event, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s cultural bonanza has to be admitted as some kind of success as it has evoked certain positive vibes at least about the values and importance of unification of the various civilizations of the world. It may not achieve any miracle though.
British Prime Minister David Cameron invited Ravi Shankar to address the House of Commons and sent in a powerful message saying, "People say that no one can change the world but Sri Sri had made a good start. We are seeing a ray of hope.
The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who could not attend, invited Sri Sri through his message hold the next festival in his country while Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos also sent a message.
On the home front, brushing aside their political differences Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP) and leaders from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shared dais.
What do these laudatory words and actions suggest?
One, amid the big debate the media had plunged into to the support pro-environment brigade and discredit Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s show was just not doing the job effectively. They were far from telling the whole truth. Or they did not know that Prime Minister was backing Sri Sri to the hilt? 
Secondly, a question remains whether they played into anti-Modi and anti-Ravi Shankar lobbies and thus deliberately or otherwise became a party to spread a message that the festival would come a cropper. And thirdly, the basics, has media lost its job of playing a mirror’s role and instead fall prey to interpreative and sensationalism in journalism.
Next question that demands scrutiny is: what’s the real power of India getting its hold as a “soft power” in global context?
Prime Minister Modi had merits in his argument when he told the gathering at sprawling Yamuna bank that world unity is not solely dependent on economic necessities. We know it does not depend on the mite of military vis-à-vis the need to fight global terror, as the United States has often batted for. 
Blogger's daughter: Extreme left at World Fest

In fact, Modi’s stress on “human values” would be a lasting India’s strength and in it India can actually manage to enlist the support of other oriental powers including China.
This could mean – time to wake up the foreign policy community to the realization that in days to come the traditional diplomatic game could change fundamentally. On the Asian front, it will give a message to Pakistan that civilisational and cultural prisms too could prove to be effective tools in the changed world order.
So what’s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar upto? 
The big picture message is - the international game can be no longer about pushing a single-agenda item. Soft power game also means persuasive diplomacy. It may be out of the box, but not something out of the blue.  

Life is often like standing in the dusk. It is all about optimism. Optimism leads to patience. The storm would pass off eventually no matter, how long it is. This is the take away from Ravi Shankar’s fest. That’s the essence of India’s civilisational “soft power” strength.