Monday, July 31, 2017

Conscience vote goes abegging

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

In this space last week, I doubted if the secret ballot system in the presidential and vice-presidential elections could be entirely to the advantage of the BJP-led NDA. The opposition looked like having an ace up its sleeve as its candidate for Presidency, Meira Kumar, was bubbling over for what she thought could be “vote according to conscience”.

It wasn’t. Cross-voting had benefited not Kumar but Ram Nath Kovind, BJP’s victorious candidate. In Gujarat, as a prelude, perhaps, to former chief minister Shankar Sinh Baghela quitting the Congress, at least 11 Congress MLAs ditched Kumar to vote Kovind. In West Bengal, Kovind bagged the votes of 11 MLAs though BJP and its allies could have openly garnered only six MLAs. But its largely some dissidence in Congress & the Left that may have gone in favour of Kovind. Mamata devised a mechanism through which she ensured that there is no cross voting in her party except one MP who is suspended. In Maharashtra, Meira Kumar’s tally was 77, which fell short of her calculation by at least ten. In Uttar Pradesh, eight MLAs had violated their party instructions by voting Kovind; they could be ‘renegades’ from the Akhilesh Singh Yadav-faction of the Samajwadi Party. The numbers in the tiny north-eastern state of Tripura are baffling; in a state with no BJP legislator, Kovind found seven silent supporters. There were opposition reversals in Punjab too, as two of the Aam Aadmi Party’s four MPs are suspected to have for the BJP candidate.

There was a reverse trend as well. In Rajasthan, Meira Kumar was supported by ten more MLAs than her expected tally, a feat which is not possible without some BJP MLAs having been driven by the ‘call of conscience’. But volume-wise, the trend of cross-voting was overwhelmingly dominated by the BJP. Like Kumar, Gopal Gandhi, Opposition’s Vice Presidential candidate,  too has pinned his hope on the electors’ “conscience”.

The failure of the appeal to ‘good sense’ is not a recent phenomenon. In the years between Independence and promulgation of the Constitution in 1950, the so-called idea of India got delineated in the very preamble of the Constitution. It was made on behalf of the “people of India”, which is, by itself, an assertion that the country would make no discrimination on the ground of caste, creed, gender or religion. The preamble defined the Constitution’s four pillars: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. B. R. Ambedkar, the acknowledged architect of the Constitution, said on the last day’s session of the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949: “Political democracy cannot last unless there is at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life”. Ambedkar had also said that these three principles of liberty, equality and fraternity were “not to be treated as separate items in a trinity” because (a) equality without liberty would kill individual initiative, (b) without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many, and (c) without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things…it would require a constable to enforce them”.

I have cited this long passage from one of the most sparkling discourses in Indian politics because it provides, in a sense, the essence of the “conscience” or “good sense” that UPA, the loser, has vainly tried to invoke. Such ideal is embedded in the Constitution and is made explicit in Ambedkar’s radiant prose. As the first to form government, it was the Congress’ turn to follow the principles laid down in the Constitution. But it failed and failed the people of India.

It was during the Congress rule that equality got divorced from liberty by a bizarre quality of government and its myriad rules and regulations. It snuffed out “individual initiative”, exactly as Ambedkar had predicted. Again, it was in the Congress rule that equality of opportunity was denied to the poor while the rich had the liberty to influence policy and get richer. Another Ambedkar prophesy that came true.

However, the absence of fraternity has a long history. The communal holocaust and partition in 1947 itself is a testimony to the dismal fact that the Indian society was revelling in fratricide instead of being fraternal. Nor was the Congress any less divisive than what it accuses Modi of, in its handling of caste and communal issues. From the 1980’s, when infusion of militancy turned Islam into a security threat, successive Congress or Congress-led governments had, instead of promoting fraternity, tried to put the communities into their separate silos. In the Shah Bano case, by refusing to reform the obsolete Muslim marital system, Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi pushed the community back into its medieval isolation. A fraternal approach would have been to help the community to reform itself. On the other hand, the Rajiv administration, by allowing a Hindu group to perform worship of Ram in the Babri mosque, virtually ignited the communal fire which is still blazing. Equality and fraternity became victims of decades of vote-bank politics.

The problem with Congress’ recent and vociferous appeal to people’s conscience is that most people—the new generation, in particular—do not think of BJP’s adversaries as repositories of conscience. Instead, they are seen by the younger Indians as a picture of ineptitude and corruption. Its the loss of credibility on policy and conduct.  It is not that the Congress doesn’t understand it, but it has few options. If it must keep its own conscience clear, it has to snap ties with Lalu Yadav. With that vanishes its toehold on power in Hindi-speaking India.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Astrologers chose Kovind's swearing-in Timing

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Special report

Astrologers chose Kovind's swearing-in Timing

Harish Gupta

New Delhi, July 24
It is well known that astrologers play a key role in the lives of politicians. It is also too well known that prime ministers religiously follow the advice of astrologers when they chose timing of their swearing-in-ceremonies. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took full ten days before taking oath after winning the polls on May 16, 2014.

But Presidents do not have this luxury as the date of taking oath is sacrosanct, July 25 every five years. They need not take any such advice in such matters as everything is virtually pre-decided. The out-going Presidents retire on July 24 and the new President takes oath the next day at the Central Hall of Parliament. The swearing-in-ceremonies of Presidents in the past have been held in the forenoon only on July 25. 

It has been held between 10 am to 12 pm in the past during the past two decades. But President-elect Ram Nath Kovind has decided to take oath at 12.15 pm tomorrow.

Earlier, it was signaled that the swearing-in-ceremony will be held at 10.15 am tomorrow. Now it transpires that timing was changed, perhaps at the instance of the astrologers. It was said that the Abhijeet Nakshtra begins after 12.14 pm. The most auspicious time will be 12.15 pm. According to senior BJP MP Prabhat Jha, this is the most auspicious time as Lord Rama was born in the Abhijit Nakshtra. 

It is learnt that changes have been made in the program and the two houses of Parliament will meet first at 11 am and then adjourn at 11.30 pm so that M.P.s move towards the Central Hall. The ceremony is likely to last for about 30 minutes and thereafter, Kovind will accompany the out-going President Pranab Mukherjee to his new residence, 10 Rajaji Marg. Union Finance & Defence Minister Arun Jaitley will then accompany the President, Ram Nath Kovind to the Rashtrapati Bhawan from 10 Rajaji Marg.

Kovind who is presently residing at 10 Akbar Road, will leave for the Rashtrapati Bhawan and will come to the Parliament House for swearing-in-ceremony along with Pranab Mukherjee.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kung-Fu master's Indian friends

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

The US civil society is riled no end by the alleged Russian intervention in last year’s presidential election, with an eye on seeing Hillary Clinton defeated. The fact that she lost the election, and Donald Trump won, is read by a good section of the American media and public as the outcome of machinations by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

If true, it is unprecedented for the world’s biggest power to have its internal affairs remote-controlled by another country. However, for India, an even larger democracy than America, the “foreign hand” nudging domestic policy is an old chestnut. India under the late Indira Gandhi was regarded as ‘client state’ of the former USSR, with the government orchestrating its domestic and foreign policy in step with Moscow’s diktat. Similarly, there were tell-tale signs of American intervention in several key events in the nation’s life that shaped its destiny, like the allegedly CIA-sponsored air crash leading to the death of Homi J. Bhabha, father of India’s nuclear programme. If he were alive, India would possibly have achieved its present nuclear capabilities several decades earlier, with cheap power triggering Asia’s industrial revolution not on the eastern coast of China but on Indian soil.

And now, it seems to be China’s turn to do its bit. In this space last week, I described China as  India’s “dangerous” neighbour. Dangerous, because it poses serious security risk. It is building roads that can bring its artillery right up to the border of the Indian state of Sikkim, with its bulldozers that were at work in the territory of Bhutan, a tiny mountainous country that depends on India for its foreign relations and external security. In China’s perception, India is a weakling, a perception born out of its 1962 experience, yet India cuts a profile high enough for a hit on it to reverberate across the world as a demonstration of the Dragon’s might. 

However, China, like America and Russia in the past, has also emerged as a player on the chequerboard of India’s internal politics. Apparently, it is rattled by the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the global stage, as a decisive leader of India’s 130 million people who carries no ideological baggage that hamstrung the country’s previous rulers. And, like the USSR in the past, it has kept a close watch not just on Modi but the entire political spectrum, and must have observed the extent of antipathy towards him that some of the opposition leaders, notably the top leaders of the Congress party, harbour against him. There are reasons for China to be soft towards the Congress as, under its leadership, India resolutely desisted from crossing the red line in response to various urgings from America to be a party to the mission to contain China.

But India under Modi has shown more spunk than what makes Beijing’s tolerance limit. It has joined in strategic partnership with Japan, Australia, Vietnam and the US—countries that are worried by China’s flexing of naval muscle on the maritime rights of all over South China Sea. In 2008, the US gave India the legal right to build on its civilian nuclear capabilities despite being a nuclear nation and a non-signatory to NPT. But it was an ineffective largesse as India was not a member of the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG); without its nod, it is not possible to obtain either nuclear fuel or technology. For over two years now, China, as an NSG member, has made it its mission to stall India’s entry into the all-important nuclear marketplace.

Differences arose even on issues related to terror as China, as member of the 15-strong UNSC, flatly refused to ban Masood Azhar, head of terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad, which had attacked Indian parliament in 2001 and the Air Force base at Pathankot in 2016. It was China’s gift to Pakistan in exchange of the latter’s help in mobilising members of the Organisation of Islamic Nations (OIC) in support of China. And of course for gleefully offering China land to build rail and road communication from Kashgar, the oasis city in Xinjiang, to Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Baluchistan. Interestingly, the more Modi sought to befriend the US, the more China began putting pressure on him. It multiplied as Modi’s global image got enlarged, the latest being his historic red-carpet reception in Israel as the first Indian PM in that country. The irritation of his critics at home rose in direct proportion to China’s hostility. It was as if some of them were enjoying India’s humiliation. This is enigmatic, because Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Congress PM, was a victim of China's deliberate betrayal: he had taken China as friend, but was betrayed by an aggression of unmatched ferocity. Unable to bear the shock, he died within two years. However, in what remains of his family, there are elements making money by exporting handicraft and other objects to China against unrealistically high invoice, and some party leaders close to the family have strong Chinese links.

It is likely that the recent Chinese hostility north of Sikkim had a bearing on the Congress-led move to unite the opposition parties in India against Modi. And, as the opposition unity effort tends to fizzle out, it is a Chinese gambit that looks like having gone for a toss. The stand off in the Doklam area, therefore, may end sooner than expected. No wonder Modi and Chinese president X Jinping, in their meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg last Friday, held a brief talk on the side line, disproving Beijing’s hawkish bureaucrats who’d discounted the chance of a meeting. But everyone was happy as they shook hands. The only unhappy soul was Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi who snarled: “Why is Modi silent on China?”