Source: By DN Sahaya: The Statesman
24 May, marks the 50th anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising. On that day in 1967, a police inspector was killed by an arrow that came from a crowd of farmers. The police retaliated the next day, fire on another crowd, killing eleven people, including eight women and two infants. At a recent meeting with the Chief Ministers, District Magistrates, and SPs of 35 sensitive districts, Home Minister Rajnath Singh called for a ‘smart and aggressive strategy’ to tackle Maoist activity. His concern was genuine as Maoism is now the biggest threat to internal security.
The awesome phenomenon began as a peasant movement called ‘Spring Thunder’ in Naxalbari in May 1967. Within 50 years, left-wing extremism has graduated to an armed movement, affecting 106 districts across the country, against 50 in the 1990s. It has surged from Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh) to Nepal spanning the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar... and to a lesser extent West Bengal. The Red Corridor extremists targeted the regions that were in a geographical trap, inhospitable forested hilly terrain, remote habitations, the poverty belt with socio-economic-physical deficiencies, dysfunctional governance, rampant corruption, exploitative, asymetrical social order, disconnect between policy and delivery, alienation of the tribals from their lands and denial of forest rights. This explains the energence of leftwing extremism (LWE) in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha (KBK ~ Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput), Jharkhand and Bihar.
The Centre and the governments in these states are yet to contain LWE although the counter-offensive may have been partially effective. Deaths in LWE action and counter-action between 2005 and 2017 (up to April) totalled 7477 civilians, 1910 security forces, and 2572 Maoists. The trend in the current year is not particularly reassuring.
Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division, the hub of LWE, continues to be on the boil despite the presence of central and state security forces, numbering 70,000. Between 2005 and 2017 (till April) the break-up of casualties was: civilians 753, security forces 954 and Maoists 919 (total 2626). Bastar was on the radar of LWE since the 1980s, but till 2003 it was fully under control with just one company of CRPF and six busloads of state armed policemen. The Maoists were subdued for a while. The situation deteriorated after 2004 and it reached a flashpoint in 2005 with the emergence of the state-backed Salwa Judum. To launch a dubious outfit in the periphery of liberated zones was in itself a misadventure. It was like the proverbial red rag to the bull and Maoists struck in a big way. Matters have only aggravated since then.
Jharkhand was another focal point of LWE violence. But in recent months the security forces have tightened their grip. LWE activists have surrendered and explosives have been seized. There has been a marked improvement in the situation. Odisha contends with Maoist violence in predominantly tribal areas as the tribals have lost their land, which has been acquired for industrial and mining projects. The trend is distressing.
Bihar, which was the first state in the country to fall in line with Charu Mazumdar’s Naxalite movement in 1967, has been able to keep Maoist violence under control through effective raids, arrests and recovery of arms. The state, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at the helm, has initiated a raft of development schemes. The intervention covers governance of Maoistaffected areas, modulated counter-offensives, zero tolerance to violation of human rights, and a human face of the security forces. Nitish Kumar’s visionary and innovative micro-level governance ~ Apki Sarkar, Apke Dwar ~ has helped curb Maoist violence. As he told a national magazine, “Maoists cannot be finished off through force alone, when the government fails to deliver all kinds of force.”
The Maoist armed struggle reflected the philosophy of the ‘Red Book’ which expounded the start of a revolution and a fight against social and economic injustices, land-related issues, damage to infrastructure, to foment hatred against the establishment, attack the enemy forces and seize power. Violence was thus at the core of the Maoist doctrine. The objective was to create a vacuum in politics and governance and thus coerce the local population to join the movement. Maoists sought to achieve their objective through the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) or Jan Militia (estimated strength around 4000). PLGA was a structured entity, well-trained, equipped with the latest weapons, gadgets, explosives and an effective communication system. The “killer instinct” was of course the dominant compulsion. The activists were familiar with the local dialect and terrain, were efficient in the tactics of guerrilla warfare, and were able to forge an emotional bond with the local populace. In contrast, the Central forces and the state police have not been able to familiarise themselves with local conditions. They tend to get stressed out in course of prolonged deputation. This has largely accounted for setbacks against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Andhra Pradesh has overcome the deficiencies with its motivated and highly skilled force called ‘Grey Hound’.
Counter-offensives generally took the form of conflict management with a law and order orientation in order to achieve immediate gains, which were neither enduring nor sustainable as the extremists retreated temporarily, resurfaced before long, and were back in action. Arguably, a better method would be conflict resolution which was evolved in a spirit of goodwill and understanding and would, therefore, be lasting and sustainable. Conflict resolution subsumed confidence-building measures, an aggressive and accelerated impetus towards development, its trickle-down effect, and most importantly, the psychological interventions aimed at correcting the negative perception of the state. The dynamics could involve the media, intellectuals, seminars, educational institutions, interaction with the community and civil organizations, and civic action programmes of the central forces. Tripura in its fight against insurgency tried this mechanism with success.
The crackdown on LWE or insurgents ought not to be an obsession with ‘crackdown first, development later syndrome’ and must of necessity proceed in a synergetic relationship. The dynamics must also involve a modulated counter operation and obtrusive watch over the conduct of forces against any excesses in course of the operation. Chhattisgarh was accused of blatant violation of human rights. Tripura, while containing the three-decade-old insurgency, ensured that no excess was committed. This also helped to prevent any negative perception of the state.
A bullish, hawkish, trigger happy, indiscriminate and militaristic counter-offensive proved unproductive as it alienated the people. A positive mindset, the right vision, sincere intent, nuanced multidimensional strategy, modulated combat operations blended with an aggressive and accelerated development push, governance, grievance redressal mechanism, confidence building measures, backroom channel for dialogue with Maoists, psychological interventions to change the psyche of turbulent minds and, last but not least, a paradigm shift from hawkishness to a thrust on socio-economic infrastructure could be the script to douse the fire of Maoism.
Source: By Govind Bhattacharjee: The Statesman
Sensing the direction of the wind, the AIMPLB has now changed tack. In a desperate attempt to protect its monopoly, it is now advocating that the nikah-nama, which is a contract for marriage between consenting adults can have clauses for invoking the triple talaq by both husband and wife. Apart from the question of how many Qazis in the country would abide by this diktat, it also brings out the tenuous nature of their argument about triple talaq being fundamental to Islam.
Even the analogy of Muslim majority countries, which have abolished triple talaq, might not be valid and appropriate in the Indian situation in view of the fundamental rights to equality before law (Article 14), right against discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex (Article 15), and right to life and personal liberty (Article 21) guaranteed in our Constitution. But we may still draw some very useful lessons. The objective of equality and gender justice are perhaps best served by the Tunisian law, the Tunisian Code of Personal Status, 1956, under which a husband cannot unilaterally divorce his wife through verbal pronouncements; he has to first consult a judge and convince him. Marriage and divorce are controlled by the State, and all divorce proceedings must be held before a judge, with a court directed effort at reconciliation being mandatory.
Each party has the right to ask for divorce, but each has to convince the judge about the reasons thereof. The judge can order a compensation to be paid by either the husband or the wife, depending on which party has been harmed by the other. Iraq was one of the first Arab countries to replace shariah courts with government-run Personal Status Courts in 1959. According to Iraq’s Personal Status Law, three verbal or gestural repudiations pronounced at once will count as only one divorce, but both husband and wife can ask for separation which is to be decided by the court. Sri Lanka, a Buddhist nation, has also enacted a law for the minority Muslims that allows divorce through talaq by the husband only, after notifying a Muslim judge (Qazi) and after 30 days to allow for reconciliation attempts by relatives and elders.
In Pakistan, the husband must pronounce talaq in three successive menstrual cycles, not in a single sitting. Most Muslim nations, including Bangladesh, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar have adopted a similar law on triple talaq, which is based on the interpretation of the 13th century Egyptian scholar Ibn Taimmiyah. In Pakistan, the husband must first give notice to a Government appointed council that will attempt reconciliation before the divorce becomes valid. The wife does not have the power to seek separation, but can remarry her ex-husband after divorce. By allowing a similar system, the harshness of the existing practice in India can surely be minimised, and some sections of the clergy can perhaps be brought around, but that will fall short of the needs of gender justice and fundamental rights.
The fact of the matter is that talaq is inherently discriminatory against women and denies them not only their rights but dignity as well. Tahir Mahmood in his book, Introduction to Islamic Law, co-authored with Saif Mahmood, had quoted the Deobandi theologian Ashraf Ali Thanvi (1863-1943) ~ “A man pronounces a revocable talaq. He reconciles and resumes cohabitation. A few years later, under some provocation he pronounces a revocable talaq once again. On recovering from the provocation, he again resumes cohabitation. Now two talaqs are over. Thereafter whenever he pronounces a talaq it will be counted as the third talaq which will dissolve the marriage forthwith.”
The right is absolute for men; women will always be at the receiving end, whether they receive the three talaqs in a single or three separate sittings. The logical inference is only a uniform civil code, as mandated in Article 44 of the Constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy, which says that the State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. This can resolve all the contradictions that will arise from substitution of the present system with any other system that derives its sustenance and sanctity primarily from religion. A commendable example is Turkey, which under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had adopted the Swiss Civil Code in 1926, discarding the Islamic laws governing divorce and marriage. The code was revised in 1980, but still remains insulated from religious footprints. We have to bite the bullet and recognize unapologetically that religion here is at the root of the problem.
As long as we give primacy to religious considerations in matters of marriage, women will continue to suffer from inequality and discrimination, and the ostrich-like mentality of the AIMPLB will continue to rule the roost. In fact, that is how it came into existence in the first place, by exploiting the persecution complex among members of the minority community. In the early 1970s, Indira Gandhi had tried to control the dominance of the Sharia Law of 1937 applicable to Indian Muslims, and the then law minister H R Gokhale introduced the Adoption Bill in Parliament declaring it as “the first step towards the Uniform Civil Code”.
This predictably sparked an outcry among the Muslim clergy who started whipping up passion over what it called the Government’s attempt to “subvert shariah law applicable to Indian Muslims through parallel legislation”. The first meeting of several Muslim organisations to ‘save the shariah’ was convened at Deoband at the initiative of Hazrat Maulana Syed Shah Minnatullah Rahmani and others, followed by a convention at Mumbai in December 1972, which unanimously decided to create the AIMPLB.
It was finally set up in April 1973, and ever since, it has consistently asserted that Sharia is beyond reach and scope of India’s courts of law, including the Supreme Court, as in its opinion, secular courts do not have the authority to either interpret or apply Sharia, which is based on the Quran and the Hadith, which are above any man-made law. In its self-appointed role as the sole arbiter of Muslim destiny in secular, democratic India, the AIMPLB may have taken upon itself the onerous task of saving the minority Indian Muslims from the persecution of majority Indian Hindus.
The point is, once you remove the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’, only Indians remain ~ with no majority or minority ~ but equal in every respect before law (today they are guided by different sets of laws) enjoying equal rights and privileges under the Constitution. That can happen once the Shariah is no longer allowed to control the lives of Indian Muslims and their freedom to worship and follow their religious practices are left to individuals, as in most religions. AIMPLB cannot allow it to happen, since it then loses its raisond’etre. In no other religion and perhaps in no other country, least of all in any democracy, are the clergy or the mullahs allowed to wield so much power by the State? At the time of Independence, the plight of Hindu women was no different from the plight of Muslim women today; in many respects, it was worse.
They suffered from various forms of discrimination and inequality ~ in marriage, divorce, inheritance, widow remarriage, abortion, dowry, job opportunities etc. But legal reforms initiated in 1955 and 1956 had removed most of these inequalities in respect of Hindu, Sikh and Parsi women. Of course, legislation alone cannot be effective in addressing gender disparity in a predominantly agrarian society, in which women are ignorant of their rights and continue to suffer from deeply entrenched patriarchal practices and mindset. Traditional beliefs shaped by religion still restrict the growth and liberty of women from all religions in rural India. But a beginning at least has been made for other communities, while for Muslim women, time has stood still.
The Shah Bano case has been distressing enough; it has been an indelible blot on our secular credentials and the proclamations on equality are hollow. Let us try to redeem ourselves this one last time. Let us not shy away from demanding a uniform civil code for all. The BJP with its electoral power can bring this about. Then there will be no need to enact a separate law for Muslim divorce, in case the Court annuls triple talaq not only as something that is not integral to the practice of Islam, but also as something that violates the Indian Constitution. And the BJP will still have an assured vote-bank of most of the 84 million Muslim women living in India.
Source: By Govind Bhattacharjee: The Statesman
The discord over triple talaq and rights that Muslim women have been fighting for has now boiled down to a single point whether three talaqs uttered in a single sitting should be treated as a single talaq. This has been the thrust of arguments so far proffered before the Supreme Court, and it appears that settled justice will be done and will be seen to have been done by all parties. The learned judges of course know best, but the questions concerning the equality of Muslim women in respect of marital rights and discriminatory marital practices against them appear to have receded into the background. Whether that is also an issue the judges will consider while deciding on the core issue of the validity of triple talaq is not known.
But since fundamental rights, which are integral to the basic structure of the Constitution, are involved here, it can be expected that the wisdom of the Court would encompass all related issues and will not be limited merely to a part of it. The petitioning Muslim women and Muslim women’s organisations are fighting for their rights of gender equality while those opposing them are contesting to deny them these rights under the pretext of protecting their so called religious freedom. The Constitution Bench of the Court that is adjudicating the issue has five judges from five different faiths ~ four from minority communities and only one from the majority community. This was probably done to ward off possible criticism of imposition of majority view on a minority community, given the sensitive nature of the matter and also to limit the scope of whipping up religious passions by a determined clergy, aided by an unruly media, especially electronic.
The Bench had initially taken a stand to delink the questions of nikah-halala and polygamy from its purview, and to limit itself only to examine whether triple talaq is fundamental to Islam. However, immediately afterwards, they had to reverse their stand and clarify that they had not closed the window on the two linked and contentious issues of polygamy and nikah halala, and that the decision on triple talaq may or may not have a bearing on the other two issues. They made it clear that they had kept nikah halala and polygamy outside their radar only for want of adequate time during the current six-daylong hearing. It reinforces the belief that the Court will not allow its judgment to be constrained and will deal with the matter holistically for the sake of justice.
From the way the arguments have been preceding, nobody seems to have been able to demonstrate convincingly why triple talaq should be considered as fundamental to religion, especially since many Islamic countries have prohibited the practice. Nobody can doubt that the belief in the oneness of God is a fundamental tenet of Islam, but can triple talaq be considered equally fundamental? Or is there a hierarchy of fundamental elements in Islam? Where would triple talaq fit then, since it is not mentioned in the Quran, and especially when divorce itself has been described as ‘sinful’ and abghaz-ul-mubahat indallah ~ most detestable in the sight of God ~ as pointed out by Tahir Mahmood, a former member of the Law Commission and a scholar?
The argument has now veered to the question whether three talaqs uttered on three separate occasions spaced out by a month each to facilitate efforts for reconciliation would serve the needs of justice, even without curtailing the husband’s unilateral right to seek divorce. This argument militates directly against the fundamental Constitutional rights to equality and freedom, as enshrined in Articles 13, 14, 15 and 21. A practice like triple talaq under Muslim personal law, even without having a legislative origin, has acquired the force of law through custom and usage which contradicts the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Such a practice should automatically be rendered null and void under Article 13 of the Constitution, as affirmed by several existing court judgments.
Further, the right to freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 is not an absolute right; like all other fundamental rights, this is also subject to reasonable restrictions. By no stretch of the imagination can this right to freedom of religion be said to supersede other fundamental rights, including the rights to equality and freedom. Personal laws cannot have the same standing as fundamental rights, if the exercise of triple talaq as per “The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937” violated fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Then it is not the fundamental right that should be compromised for the sake of personal law of a religious community, but the personal law, practice or custom in question that must make way. Also, as the Attorney General has pointed out, the right to freedom of religion operates within the precincts of religious establishments, while fundamental rights operate everywhere without any boundary.
The lawyer and veteran Congress MP, Mr Kapil Sibal, engaged by the defendants, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), has proffered some untenable arguments in trying to defend the indefensible ~ "Triple talaq is there since 637. Who are we to say that this is unIslamic? Muslims are practising it for the last 1400 years. It is a matter of faith. Hence, there was no question of constitutional morality and equity." By that logic, all customs, howsoever monstrous and repugnant they might be, could be justified, including many of the abhorrent practices which have since been abolished by law, like sati, untouchability, caste discrimination etc.
Indeed, the list of now-extinct social and religious practices, which existed for a long time and are universally condemned today, would be endless. If we didn’t dump these abhorrent practices to the dustbin of history, human society would not have progressed beyond its primitive stage. It would have remained stranded in a time-warp, where clearly the AIMPLB, an enterprise of mullahs who have vested themselves with absolute powers as guardians of Muslim personal law, wants Indian Muslims to languish so that they can exercise their powers to control them, interpreting religious laws according to their convenience, and protecting vested interests of the mullahs who still have an overwhelming sway over the community.
The AIMPLB, a body that believes that men have superior judgment and decision-making powers than women and had stated as much in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, had earlier conducted a systematic misinformation campaign in favour of triple talaq. In response to a March 2015 survey by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), one of the petitioners in the instant case, in which 97 per cent of women respondents had said they were opposed to triple talaq, polygamy and nikah halala, the AIMPLB conducted a countrywide signature campaign to garner support for triple talaq, taking advantage of the congregational nature of worshippers in mosques where an Imam can exhort them to act in any particular manner and claim overwhelming support from a majority of Muslim women.
Finally, it announced 'social boycott' of those misusing the provisions of marriage annulment under Islamic law. If anyone is in need of social boycott, it is this body of clerics with a medieval mindset. As Mr Julio Ribeiro pointed out in a recent article, these clerics had appropriated all the powers and benefits given to the minority community by successive governments, while the rest of the community had continued to wallow in the mire of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation.
How nations defied them
Source: By Bhopinder Singh: Deccan Herald
Nations have unique foundational narratives, governing instincts and moral scruples that drive them to respond varyingly to international verdicts and advisories. The verdicts, advisories or opinions of the International Court of Justice at Hague, which adjudicates over international legal disputes, are a test of the intrinsic morality of the sovereign, as the same gets tested by the way the affected nations internalises, rationalises and honours the same. As the judicial branch of the United Nations, all 193 UN-member nations automatically become party to the court's statutes - though, the element of mutual consent to resolve disputes through the ICJ intervention, affords moral implications on complying with the ultimate verdict, irrespective of favourability.
The complexities, intrigues and unsettled positions of the Indo-Pakistan saga have ensured that the ICJ has been invoked four times (including, the recent Kulbhushan Jadhav case where India obtained a stay against the execution orders, by the questionable Military Martial Court in Pakistan). Interestingly, while India initiated the recent proceeding by invoking the Vienna Conventions of 1961, the previous three cases before the ICJ were initiated by Pakistan.
The first was in 1971 when Pakistan alleged that India had violated the International Civil Aviation Convention and the International Air Services Transit Agreement (India's initial appeal that Organisation's Council had no jurisdiction to decide was dismissed in Pakistan's favour - though, the matter was mutually dropped in 1976 after the creation of Bangladesh, as the issue of overflight became irrelevant).
Similarly, the second case involving the fate of 195 Pakistani Prisoners-of-War was again mutually withdrawn with the signing of the bilateral New Delhi Agreement in 1973 that encompassed the issue. However, it was the 1999 shooting down of the Pakistani Navy patrol and reconnaissance Atlantique plane over the Indian airspace, with 16 people on board, that made Pakistan seek reparations of $60 million in the ICJ for compensation to the victims' families. Soli Sorabjee, India's then attorney general, won the day with the essential plea that the International Court had no jurisdiction on disputes covered by multilateral treaties or by disputes between India and the Commonwealth countries, besides the fact that Pakistan had violated a 1991 bilateral treaty prohibiting the flying combat planes within 10 km of each other's airspace, including Air Defence Identification Zone.
The thumping endorsement of the bench decision, with a score of 14-2, was in favour of India - the two dissenting judges were Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh from Jordan and Justice Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada (who along with India's former SC judge B P Jeevan Reddy, co-opted into the bench as ad-hoc judges). Pakistan's frustrations in its first three failed attempts at the ICJ were accentuated by the fourth debacle in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. Unsurprisingly, a jarring note of disrespect emanated from the official spokesperson of Pakistani Foreign Office Nafees Zakaria, who unequivocally stated, "Pakistan doesn't accept ICJ's jurisdiction in Jadhav's case", after the negative verdict.
Now, a glaring contrast to the Pakistani response to the recent ICJ judgement is the India-Bangladesh dispute regarding the delimitation of the maritime boundary. This five- year-long arbitration case under the UN Convention on Law of Sea (UNCLOS) resulted in the tribunal awarding Bangladesh 19,467 sq km of 25,602 sq km sea area of Bay of Bengal. However, the unambiguously negative verdict against India did not manifest in any nationalistic bravado or refusal, instead the Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson stated, "We are committed to abiding by the outcome of that process." Adhering and respecting the binding nature of the ICJ orders, given the voluntary acceptance of allowing the case to be tried in the ICJ, is a logical expression and expectation of any 'moral state.'
Like Pakistan, its 'all-weather-friend' China exhibited a similar instinct to that of Pakistan's, when it lost an arbitration case against Philippines in 2016, where the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China's claim to historic rights on the region and its creative interpretation of territorial limits via the 'nine-dash-line' approach. Chinese President Xi Jinping then stated, "China will never accept any claim or action based on those awards", eerily reminiscent of the recent Pakistani intransigence. The question of a 'moral state' were poked by the US State Department spokesman John Kirby who said, "The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be, and the responsible power that it professes itself to be."
The onus of 'responsible' international behaviour is realistically self-mandated on nations as the mechanism for enforcement are essentially weak and susceptible to the subsequent angularities of the five UN Permanent Security Council members, who can veto any proposal. However, even countries like the US are often guilty of dishonouring ICJ verdicts owing to technicalities and legislative escape-vents that belie the spirit of legality and morality.
The restive perceptions between the US and some Latin American countries can be explained by the US' frequent unwillingness to submit to the plenary authority of the ICJ, especially when the verdict in a dispute is adverse to US positions. The US brazenly refused to participate in the proceedings in the merits of the case initiated by Nicaragua in 1984 and later withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction - the optics of such irresponsible sovereign behaviour militate against efforts towards international justice.
Islamabad has its own political compulsions and existential intrigues that routinely vitiate against the expected standards of a 'moral state'. The often interchangeable terms like 'rogue nations' (currently the US considers North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria), 'pariah states', 'states of concern' or 'state sponsor of terrorism' are typified by a certain irresponsible sovereign behaviour towards international law, undemocratic internal frameworks and dubious intents towards other nations. Herein, disrespecting an international verdict of an independent court of law is a sure-sign of a 'non-moral' state. Pakistan has an increasingly inglorious reputation of harbouring the 'terror nurseries' of the world and the emerging optics of defiance to the ICJ verdict are worrisome pointers of a flawed national nar- rative, aspiration and ultimately destiny.
Under US shadow
Source: By Ravi Joshi: Deccan Herald
Our relations with Iran can be clearly divided into two phases in the new millennium. The pre-'Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal' period (up to June 2005) and the 'post-2005 period'. Before 2005, India and Iran dealt with each other as sovereign nations, independent of their relations with any other country. India imported large quantities of crude oil from Iran as it did not want to be solely dependent on any one source from the Gulf. Though our imports of crude were largest from Saudi Arabia, Iran was our second largest supplier accounting to an annual bill of $12 billion to $14 billion at its peak.
Our civil nuclear deal with the US changed all that. We were now clearly seen as US allies for good or bad. One of our first acts after the agreement was to vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference of September 2005, an act that went against all our previous votes but helped send the Iran dossier to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for failure to comply with the IAEA inspections regime of its nuclear activities. That was the beginning of the rift.
Soon after, India started soft-pedalling on the Iran-Pakistan-India oil pipeline. That pipeline hardly had any prospect of materialising as it was to traverse much of its route through a terrorist-infested territory in Pakistan but our message to Iran was clear. Subsequently, as the then Obama administration tightened the sanctions on Iran in the fall of 2011, we gradually reduced our imports of Iranian oil to less than $4 billion per year by around 2014. What really hurt our relations with Iran was our inability to pay for the oil imports in US dollars. The US Treasury systematically shut out all our banking options, first a German bank and then a Turkish bank. Later, we worked out part payment in Indian rupee and part in credit to Iran's payments to a third country.
It must be said, however, to the credit of Obama that he never gave up his efforts for a negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue with Iran. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries on January 16, 2016 was to begin a new era of peace for Iran but the much-promised prosperity is yet to come. India began to reap the benefits of the West's rapprochement with Iran and soon our oil imports started to rise. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government renewed the stalled Chahbahar project and began a series of visits by our ministers. This was capped by a visit of Modi to Tehran in May 2016.
That gave a significant push to our bilateral relations as India decided to commit billions of dollars in the Chabahar Free Trade Zone (FTZ) to set up industries ranging from aluminium smelters to urea plants. Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari declared on the occasion that India's investments could go up to "over Rs 1 lakh crore" in the Chabahar FTZ. Iran too returned the favour by granting us the Farzad B gas fields to the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation-led consortium for exploration.
Phase of uncertainty
Now, with President Donald Trump in the White House, a new phase of uncertainty has emerged in India's relationship with Iran. Trump, during his campaign days, had threatened to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran calling it a 'bad deal'. Now that he is in office, he seems to have been advised that 'tearing up the deal' is not such a good idea as the other signatories to the deal (UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) may not do the same. Nevertheless, the US Senate passed a legislation to halt the sale of Boeing and Airbus commercial planes to Iran, and then went on to renew the 'Iran Sanctions Act' for another 10 years.
On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order titled 'Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists' and placed Iran in a list of seven countries whose nationals were banned entry into the US. The Trump administration imposed a fresh set of sanctions on Iran on February 3, 2017, for test firing a ballistic missile in a clear message that Iran has not really entered a 'post-sanctions era' and that he was not going to be as 'kind' as former president Obama.
Soon after Trump was sworn-in in January 2017, India's foreign secretary and national security adviser were quick to meet their US counterparts and a few Republican senators. On March 26, NSA Ajit Doval went to the US and met his new counterpart H R McMaster. He also had a meeting with the new Defence Secretary John Mattis, who had threatened Iran not to provoke the Trump administration with any more missile tests, as Michael Flynn (the earlier NSA who lasted a month in his job) declared Iran 'has been put on notice'.
Surprisingly, soon after the NSA's return to Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) asked the departments concerned to go slow on the projects planned for the Chabahar FTZ. The MEA asked the Fertiliser Department to instruct the state-run Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers to go slow in selecting an Iranian partner for the proposed urea plant. A similar message was sent to the National Aluminium Company for the proposed $3 billion investment in the aluminium smelter plant.
While this decision has been taken on the possibility of Indian investments getting caught in the crossfire of US sanctions on Iran, what is striking is the inability to protect and defend our bilateral relationships from becoming hostage to the arbitrariness of American policies. Certainly if Russia and China could do business with Iran, we should be able to do too.
Advice and dissent on India’s fiscal path
Source: By Indira Rajaraman: Mint
The report of the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) review committee (chaired by N.K. Singh) was made public in mid-April 2017, three months after submission to the government at the Centre. The report prescribes a fiscal path over a six-year period of fairly severe fiscal tightening going up to the year 2023. What it prescribes for the period beyond is a bit unclear, and is one of the issues raised in a detailed note of dissent by a key member of the committee, the chief economic adviser (CEA). The rejoinder to the dissent note by the committee does not clarify matters. The other members of the committee included important functionaries like the serving governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
The report carries a draft Bill in an annexed. In a section of the Bill headed “Debt target”, there is a commitment that the outstanding debt of general government in India, summing across Centre and states, will not exceed 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2023, and that the Central component of this will not cross 40% of GDP. It then commits to maintaining these targets thereafter, which presumably means that the ceilings will continue to hold. The steady state level of public debt towards which the Indian economy will converge is left unspecified, other than that it will, by implication, lie below the ceiling. The steady state level will be a function of the operating target for the general government fiscal deficit (FD). But since the Bill prescribes the FD path only for the Centre, and only up to 2022-23, it does not in fact carry a fiscal vision going beyond six years.
The major point (of several) in the CEA’s dissent note, which is totally valid, is that the medium-term debt and FD targets have to be specified, and the consistency requirement between the two formally upheld, since debt is the accumulation of fiscal deficits over time, mediated by the nominal rate of GDP growth. For example, the Maastricht treaty operating target for the FD at 3% of GDP was consistent with an eventual debt target of 60% of GDP in an economy growing at a nominal rate of 5.26%, which was judged feasible for the European Union member states. Exactly like a slide in a children’s park, the fixed FD moves the economy asymptotically towards the steady state debt level targeted. The assumed growth rate can also be worked backwards from the ratio of the targets for debt and FD, which was 20 in the Maastricht case (but is not a simple reciprocal).
The FRBM committee’s target for the general government FD, not stated in the Bill but specified in chapter 4, is set at 5% of GDP (there is some confusion about how the FD target will be split between the Centre and states, with chapter 4 saying 2.5% each, but chapter 5 showing states going down to 2% by 2023, and further down to 1.7% by 2025). The nominal GDP growth rate assumed is 11.5%. Staying with general government for the moment, an FD held steady at 5% will move the economy at that nominal GDP growth rate towards a resting debt level of 48.5% of GDP. So is 48.5% of GDP the eventual debt target visualized by the committee? If so, that is at odds with chapter 4, which strenuously strives to establish 60% as the prudent level for debt—as a target, not just as a ceiling.
Another issue correctly flagged by the CEA is that the FD target of 5%, through a back-of-the-envelope calculation first used by the 12th Finance Commission, is based on very uncertain estimates of the household financial savings rate. Most of all, there was no need whatever for this independent path towards defining an FD target. The report claims that the entire exercise was anchored on debt. With a debt anchor, and an assumed nominal GDP growth rate, the required FD would have emerged automatically out of the relevant equation.
The CEA then goes on to recommend the primary deficit (PD, obtained by subtracting interest on the public debt from the FD), as the appropriate operating target towards any prescribed debt destination, but here I disagree. Fiscal rules in terms of the primary deficit call for projection not merely of GDP growth, but also the rate of interest on public debt. To invoke the growth theory expectation that these two rates will be equal in the long run is to ignore medium-term realities and the frequent experience in many countries of cross-over between the two. The FD is the best operating target, since it in effect folds in the required adjustment in the primary deficit when unanticipated changes happen in the relative positioning of growth and interest rates.
The national debt target of 60% is split into 40% for the Centre, 20% for states. The states’ debt target has been set (roughly) at where their debt level currently stands. State borrowing through securities is under the operational control of the Centre, but the report alleges instances of off-budget borrowing beyond approved limits through parastatals, not adding to outstanding state debt, but serviced through the budget. These points to shocking failure on the part of state-level auditors. States were also, with full official sanction, permitted (even pressured) to borrow beyond routine limits so as to enable them to take over the debt of power utilities over a two-year window, 2015-17, under the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (Uday) scheme. The report has disappointingly little to say about the response to Uday, which was an optional scheme—an important issue, since Uday provides a template for resolving all parastatal debt in ways similar to that attempted for power utilities. The FRBM committee is to be commended for having unearthed state-level malpractices, but without taking on board the impact of resolution of all parastatal debt, the stable debt path projected for states seems more a hope than a realistic vision.
The debt target of 40% for the Centre is arrived at through an econometric exercise, unfortunately modelled on a long-discredited 2010 paper by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. The damage done by that paper went beyond its computational problems. It assigned causality running from debt levels (beyond an estimated threshold) to growth, when in fact reverse causality running from slowing growth to a rise in debt is more plausible, both as a mechanical outcome and as a result of rising expenditure on social safety nets at times of distress.
The report’s final defence of its general government 60% debt target (yes, as a target, not a ceiling) is that a fan around it based on risk under various stress scenarios keeps the upper band just within a danger mark of 85%. Quantifying that danger point poses the same problem as that which afflicts target setting with respect to the PD instead of the FD. It requires projections of the relative values of interest rates on public debt and growth, which is virtually impossible at the best of times.
But I don’t need the danger mark. I have no problem whatever with the debt target of 60% (unlike the CEA, who finds it not just arbitrary but too low), provided the general government FD target is consistent with it at the assumed nominal growth rate. But I don’t see the need to rush pell-mell towards 60% by 2023. A slide towards a steady state 60% at an FD target consistent with it (6.2%), will serve us fine. Financial markets reward steadiness in fiscal targets, not necessarily a rush to correction which may well prove unsustainable.
On the revenue deficit (RD), the committee prescribes a target of 0.8% of GDP for the Centre, but the CEA’s dissent note sees no need for a separate RD limit. Dual limits on the FD and RD were adopted in India so as to protect capital expenditure, given by the difference between the FD and the RD. But unless the maintenance (revenue) implications of capital expenditure are fully worked into the projections, the capital structures themselves will become in fructuous over time. Unless formal budgetary procedures develop an organic relationship between budgeted capital expenditure, and its incremental maintenance impact on revenue expenditure, there exists an information vacuum in which it becomes difficult to either justify, or find fault with, an RD target.
The key element in the terms of reference given to the committee was counter-cyclicality in fiscal targeting, which is particularly difficult in India, given the timing of release of growth estimates. In the just concluded year 2016-17, for instance, the extent of the growth slowdown became known only when, along with the revised advance estimates for 2016-17 issued at the end of February, the growth figures for the previous year 2015-16 were also revised sharply upwards. This will be the problem every year, since the budget exercise will not have at hand revised estimates for the year just concluding, nor a reliable growth forecast for the forthcoming year. The committee, in all fairness, did not know the growth slowdown in its fullness either. But their front-loaded sharp reduction of the FD for 2017-18 from 3.5% to 3.0%, even as a blind correction, sits uncomfortably beside their prescribed incremental growth trigger of 3% for so high a correction of the FD in a single year (in the event, the budgeted deficit for 2017-18 was set a bit higher, at 3.2%).
But why not shift calibration from growth to rainfall? Rainfall deficiency has so far been treated fiscally in the disaster relief category. It is that too, but calls for much more. Unless the frequency of rainfall deficiency in the south of India is addressed through capital enhancement for preservation of precipitation and recovery from wastewater, the human (and growth) consequences in an otherwise dynamic region will be unimaginable. The drought this year in Tamil Nadu and neighbouring states has to be addressed through a national war effort—which necessarily calls for fiscal accommodation.
Complete assessment vital
Source: By M K Sridhar: Deccan Herald
The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (Naac) is a flagship quality assurance council for higher education in India. Established in 1994 by the University Grants Commission (UGC), it has been actively engaged in the performance evaluation and implementation of quality sustenance procedures in universities and colleges.
It has so far accredited 297 universities and 6,772 colleges as of January, 2017. It evaluates the quality performance with reference to seven criteria. They are curricular aspects; teaching-learning and evaluation; research, consultancy and extension; infrastructure and learning resources; student support and progression; governance, leadership and management; and, innovations and best practices. They are sub-classified into 32 key aspects and 202 assessment indicators. The Naac has laid down a process and procedure for the assessment. Thus, the most significant contribution of Naac is the evolution of criterion for measuring quality as well as the development of accreditation culture among higher educational institutions.
Such a criterion has been evolved over a period of time considering international best practices and the Indian context. It is also the result of continuous and consistent review/revision of their criteria, manuals and guidelines. Some of the changes made since inception of Naac include formulation of value framework, uploading of self study report on the institution's website, videography of on-sight visit, automation of off-site process, revision of grading system and mandatory submission of annual quality assurance reports. It is learnt that Naac is in the process of review once again. Hence, it is appropriate to flag few issues.
The Naac has been following a uniform criterion for all institutions but for minor variations in weightages, key aspects and assessment indicators among the criteria and between types of institutions. This is, generally the case with many countries irrespective of the diversity of climate, conditions, constraints and challenges of educational institutions. Such a diversity is an important feature of educational institutions in India as a result of which accreditation based only on uniform criteria poses a challenge.
The availability of human and material resource is not same in all institutions. The governance mechanism of the government, aided and unaided institutions are not uniform in all regions. There is a huge variation in the fees collected from students of government and private institutions. Starting an educational institution in a remote place itself is a quality dimension. Giving admission to backward students and ensuring their success is more qualitative than placement with higher salary. Availability of teachers becomes more critical than their publications considering the remoteness and inaccessibility of institutions. Minimum infrastructure itself is a luxury for many.
Consider some of these figures which are self- explanatory. A total of 64% of colleges are unaided and only 22% belong to the government. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of our country is 24.5% whereas it is 19.9% for the scheduled castes and 14.2% in case of scheduled tribes. Geographical variations in GER are noteworthy. The GER of Tamil Nadu is 44% and that of Bihar is 14%. Another diversity is the variations in pupil-teacher ratio. All India is 1:21 and it is 1:50+ in Delhi, Bihar and Jharkhand. The AISHE report of 2015-16 reveals that 60% of total colleges are located in rural areas.
The challenges of rural institutions are not same as that of urban counterparts. These qualitative and quantitative dimensions reveal the extent of diversity in higher education. Further, quality also depends upon promoter, process of evolution, socio-economic conditions, culture and composition of the team, community around, stakeholder support etc. There are many factors which are beyond the control of institution.
As a result, they cannot perform well in spite of their unique characteristics, which are critical for them in their context. In this way, every institution loses its score for unique characteristic feature. Then, the entire process of accreditation and assessment is incomplete. The Naac has taken a safe stand of having uniform criteria till now. This has done a great disservice to those institutions which are strong on a criterion which does not fall under the Naac framework.
Unique quality dimensions
Further, uniformity of criterion also ignores the strength, competency, uniqueness and the efforts put in over a period of time. In fact, every institution has something good or unique. By ensuring uniformity, one is belittling or even dismissing the genuine efforts put in by them. They have slogged over a period of time. Recognising their strength or competency would act as an incentive to the institution.
While advocating the issue of diversity, it is impossible for Naac to develop a framework which considers all possible unique quality dimensions of all institutions. Grading and calculating Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) will be a daunting task because of variable criteria. Accreditation and assessment becomes a very complex and complicated exercise. It can also amount to going against the international practices, which one cannot afford to in the present circumstances. At the same time, these arguments do not wish away the issue of diversity or uniqueness.
The way out is to introduce an open criterion with small weightage to start with, on which the institution has to make a choice along with developing key aspects and assessment indicators. The institution concerned has to develop its own criteria, its concept, operational measurement etc. The self-study report has to incorporate their performance during the period under review on all eight criteria (seven of Naac and one of the institution) under various key aspects and indicators.
The peer committee would examine this criterion at the time of on-site visit. Such a provision provides a genuine opportunity to the institution to showcase its unique quality dimension which differentiates them from others. This method could also add many dimensions to quality, which are India-centric beyond the imagination of the concerned. The performance of institutions could, further, be analysed in terms of regions, duration, culture, relevance, gender etc, with the help of the data generated from such an exercise. This would augur well for the quality movement in higher education in India.
The great game in Afghanistan
Source: By Harsha Kakar: The Statesman
Afghanistan’s geo-strategic importance is well established. It borders nations of the Central Asian Republics (CAR), Iran, Pakistan and China. Iran and Turkmenistan (part of CAR) have the second and third largest reserves of natural gas, which the West seeks to tap. Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and fierce tribal loyalties ensured that it was never completely subdued by any power. Among those who tried was Alexander the Great, Britain, Russia and the US. Afghanistan thus gained the moniker ‘graveyard of empires’.
The US entered the country to avenge 9/11. The defeat of the Taliban under the aegis of a US-led offensive was thought to be a turning point for the country. However, it was not to be. The Taliban received support and sanctuary in Pakistan and continued to battle the US-led coalition. Despite having remained ensconced for over 15 years, the US still cannot claim victory and withdraw with honour. Unable to defeat the Taliban and knowing success is unlikely with financial costs burgeoning, it planned a tactical withdrawal. It presently maintains a force with a larger training element and limited operational role.
The US’ relationship with Pakistan since its entry into Afghanistan has witnessed ups and downs. Perceptions in the US vary from continuing to engage Pakistan in the hope that it would ultimately curb the Haqqani network and the Taliban, to employing economic and diplomatic leverage to compel it to act.
Pakistan on the other hand has always considered Afghanistan as its backyard and resented any Indian involvement there. Further, with an anti-Pak government in Kabul, its strategic leverage cannot exist. None of the US strategies have so far worked. Both terror groups still possess safe sanctuaries and get support from the ‘deep state’. Recently a group of US think tanks strongly recommended that the US administration be more firm with Pakistan, if it wishes to witness a sense of peace in the region.
The war in West Asia led to the expansion of the ISIS into Afghanistan. It began enhancing its cadre strength by inducting disgruntled members of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) and nationals returning from Syria belonging to CAR and Russia. To further complicate the issue, Taliban declared war on the ISIS. This decision compelled powers in the region to change their perception and consider the Taliban as the lesser of the two evils, simply because it remains focused only on Afghanistan, without any territorial ambitions, and counters the ISIS. Individual national interests of major powers have begun to dominate the security situation in Afghanistan.
Russia, Pakistan and China, formed an alliance and held discussions on Afghanistan’s future, ignoring the nation itself and other stake holders. They preferred supporting the Taliban to the extent of even considering removing some of its leaders from the UN’s designated list of terrorists. Their latest conference in Moscow included India, Iran and Afghanistan, ignoring the US, which continues to operate in the country. The conference aimed at seeking options to counter the ISIS threat. Of the group of six, four (China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran) consider Taliban as the lesser evil and are in parleys with them. Such interference in Afghanistan has converted it into the latest international playground.
Afghanistan and the US has no option but to battle both Taliban and ISIS to ensure survival of the nation state. Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran are willing to let Taliban control part of the country or be a part of the government so long as it keeps ISIS at bay. For India, Taliban is the larger threat, as it has Pakistan’s support. Further, it would never permit India to play a dominant role in the country. India is presently secure from the ISIS threat with Pakistan remaining a buffer state.
For Russia, ISIS expansion in Afghanistan, if unchecked, would threaten it and CAR countries as there are Chechen, Uzbek, Tajik and Kazakh fighters operating as part of it. History is also known to repeat itself. Russia was compelled to withdraw from Afghanistan because of support provided to the Taliban and al Qaida by the US and Pakistan. Presently by supporting the Taliban, possibly even with weapons, it highlights a similar bleak future for the US.
China is concerned with the presence of East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighters in the ISIS, who could enhance the ongoing militancy in Xinjiang province. Thus, it is willing to support the Taliban, if it continues to oppose the presence of the ISIS. Iran has its own reasons for supporting the Taliban. It is insecure with an ISIS build up close to its borders and keen to counter US presence in the region. Playing a strategic game, it supports Kabul with development funds as also the Taliban, thus ensuring whichever government occupies the seat in Kabul, it would remain Iran friendly. Simplistically put, individual perceptions dominate the Afghan scenario.
The West, India and Afghanistan would never support this initiative as it goes against their principles. Europe is facing the brunt of Afghan refugees and adhering to this concept would only enhance their problems and increase internal differences. Therefore, the thinking of this grouping is doomed to fail in the international fora. However, nothing can prevent individual nations from continuing their parleys with the Taliban for securing their own national interests.
The sudden interference in internal matters of Afghanistan by powerful nations would only embolden Pakistan to continue with its support to the Haqqani network and the Taliban. It would also justify their policy of ‘good versus bad terror’ groups. Further, as the 2017 summer offensive of the Taliban is expected to get underway in coming months, it would be Pakistan’s population that would face the brunt.
It is now upto the Trump administration to adopt a firm policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan as also reach an agreement with Russia to ensure the degradation of the Taliban first and ISIS later. It has been decades since the Afghan turmoil began and it is time for the nation to witness a semblance of peace and stability.
Understanding NITI Aayog’s action agenda
Source: By Pravin Krishna: Mint
NITI Aayog released its Three Year Action Agenda document, a comprehensive framework for proposed policy changes to be implemented in the short term in India. The Agenda is wide-ranging: It covers the different sectors of the economy—agriculture, industry and manufacturing—discusses the policies necessary for urban and rural transformation and a range of growth-enabling ingredients such as transport, digital connectivity and entrepreneurship.
As such, the Action Agenda forms part of a larger Vision Document which spans a seven-year strategy and a 15-year vision till fiscal year 2031-32. Let us recall the context. As of the end of the last fiscal year, the 12th Five-Year Plan breathed its last gasp, and as of 1 April, India is no longer officially a planned economy, with the old distinction between “Plan” and “non-Plan” expenditure, which lent the erstwhile Planning Commission its fearsome power, now relegated to the dustbin of history.
No longer do state chief ministers come to the imposing Yojana Bhawan on Parliament Street in Delhi cap in hand, but as equal partners in the development project in a new federalist conception. In short, India is now on the road to becoming a full-fledged market economy, with the legacy of planning behind us. But all governments need to look forward, if not explicitly to “plan” in the sense of the rubbished Stalinist five-year plans, but to set priorities and develop instrumentalities to achieve those priorities. That is the rationale for NITI Aayog’s approach.
A framework document of this scope could run the risk of saying something about everything, while offering nothing specific or actionable about anything. Contrary to the carping of some critics, this document pleasantly surprises. In just over 200 pages, it manages to inform, reason, and offer a distilled sense of priorities for policy reform.
The agenda describes well the fundamental dilemma concerning economic transformation of India: Roughly 50% of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture, which contributes only 15% of output. On the one hand, that suggests that workers should be moved away from this relatively low-productivity activity. On the other, it also requires that productivity in agriculture itself be improved to increase yields and benefit those workers who remain in the sector.
Equally, the service sector and manufacturing jobs that await workers exiting the agricultural sector are not always high-productivity jobs. Firms with less than 20 workers employ 72% of the manufacturing workforce and produce merely 12% of the manufacturing output. And nearly 40% of the services output is produced by merely 2% of the service sector workers, employed in the largest services firms. These facts in themselves point to the urgent need for productivity-enhancing reforms—in agriculture, manufacturing as well as services. How can productivity be enhanced?
The Agenda offers a number of compelling proposals ranging from the use of high-yield seeds to improved irrigation techniques to the removal of the infamous tariff inversion problem (where the high level of trade barriers on intermediate inputs relative to final goods disincentivizes domestic production). In laying out these proposals, it also underscores the critical need to enhance the scale of production in each of the sectors: Landholdings in India are typically too small, the average manufacturing firm is small and under-productive, as are firms in the services sector.
On the issue of scale, a few proposals are especially noteworthy. To deal with small and fragmented landholdings, the document proposes the use of a modern land-leasing law that balances and protects the rights of the tenant and landowners as a potential solution. For manufacturing, the document proposes the development of a few Coastal Economic Zones (CEZs) operating under a liberal economic environment (for instance, without the restrictive labour laws that bedevil the rest of the economy) and with an abundance of land—much as in China, where large firms, operating in its special economic zones, sometimes each employ hundreds of thousands of workers.
The document’s chapters on transport and physical connectivity, as also on digital connectivity, offer a detailed picture of the existing infrastructure framework, with many specific proposals on improving efficiency and closing gaps in coverage. The government’s desire to leverage technology to improve efficacy, while laudable, requires a strong digital network and an ability to provide reliable end-to-end e-services. There is considerable unevenness across the country in access to the digital network and in the ability to benefit from such services. The Agenda highlights priorities in this area and offers its thoughts on how these gaps might be bridged.
The analysis and proposals provided in the Three Year Action Agenda range from the actionable to the aspirational. We shall, in the fullness of time, see how many of its proposals are taken up and implemented. Be that as it may, we believe that its primary contribution will be in serving as a base of knowledge and analysis to support any future discussions on policy reform; it should be welcomed.
New military doctrine
Source: By Harsha Kakar: The Statesman
The Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Admiral Sunil Lanba, recently released the new military doctrine in the presence of the other two service chiefs. This doctrine proposes joint training, a unified command and control structure and a triservice approach for modernisation. It also mentions a framework for joint operations across all domains, land, air, sea, space and cyber space. The doctrine would remain a piece of paper, unless the government implements major changes in ‘management of defence’, pending since the Kargil conflict. Implementing joint warfare in its true sense would imply total integration of the three services HQs and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). This has been held up mainly due to regional and historical reasons.
Pakistan has had regular coups and the deep state maintains its stranglehold over the political leadership, proved again when the army spokesperson rejected the PMO’s formal orders in a tweet on Dawn newspaper’s report. In Myanmar, the military junta continues to be in total control while the army plays a dominant role in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lankan politics. Hence doubts remain in the eyes of the Indian polity. These have been compounded by the bureaucracy and some illinformed strategic thinkers claiming that the Indian military cannot be trusted, as thoughts of coup always exist in minds of its apex leadership. Most politicians find military leadership daunting due to the uniform and continuing disdain in attitude and behaviour. The mere presence of five unarmed army personnel at a toll tax plaza, near the state secretariat in Kolkata, had the chief minister screaming about a coup in the state.
This distrust is also historical as pre-independence, the military was an instrument in British hands for supressing the freedom struggle. Hence immediately on attaining independence, the government scrapped the office of the Commander in Chief, an equivalent to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and made the services independent. Distrust only built further on both sides with the military take-over in Pakistan. The political leadership which had participated in the freedom struggle considered the military a legacy of the British era and the military maintained a disdain for politicians. This mindset has resulted in immense delays in bringing about essential reforms in management of defence as also involving the military as part of any apex body tasked with national security strategy, planning and implementation. Post the recent Sukma ambush of the CRPF, all meetings of the Home Ministry should have had representatives from the army due to their experience in handling such adverse environments. Further, the military should have been part of any committee tasked to investigate causes for the lapse and suggesting remedial action. However, attendees were bureaucrats or Indian Police Service officers, with almost no experience of either the environment nor thoughts of remedial measures which could be adopted.
The fact that the army has been ignored at this crucial juncture, especially when an incident has occurred with a security force in an insurgencyaffected area indicates the gap which still exists in the minds of the polity and bureaucracy. There are reports that the CRPF would finally induct army officers, possibly those who have finished their terms of engagement to lead their battalions in counter-insurgency operations.
Despite numerous promises and statements made by the Prime Minister and former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, the CDS has still to be appointed, the MoD and the service headquarters have yet to be amalgamated and hence the military has miles to go before it becomes a joint force in operations, planning and procurement, despite claims made in the new doctrine.
This is one government which does not need to seek political consensus as it has the requisite majority; yet it hesitates. The perception in the polity and top bureaucracy, that a divided military ensures safety to democracy and enables easier control has still to change. This lop-sided view harms national security and pushes the military back in enhancing joint capabilities. The polity fails to realize that all future wars would only succeed if they are jointly planned and conducted. This myopic view must change, if the full potential of the military has to be exploited.
With no incident since independence even remotely hinting at such thoughts, the latent fear refuses to die down. Most writings against the appointment of a CDS and integration of the services have been by retired bureaucrats or armchair strategists. The major reason for regular raising of the issue is possibly not solely the fear of a coup, but the aspect of control over the military, civil or political. Realistically, the national leadership irrespective of the party or coalition in power has been unable to garner either the courage or support from its allies in bringing about this essential change. The UPA government throughout its ten-year tenure continued to maintain that it was seeking a consensus on the issue.
By ensuring that the MoD remains divorced from the three-service headquarters, the government reduces the military’s involvement in decision making. Most governments have failed to realise that the military is the only service where everyone commences from the bottoms up with no lateral intake. Hence anyone not having served in it would only possess knowledge partaken from literature or discussions.
This does not imply that the nation adopts the model or avenue chosen by Donald Trump where most of his senior advisors are retired or serving military officers. While wrong in many ways, however, Trump easily won approval of the Senate and the nation in making these appointments. It also does not imply that serving and retired military personnel in India are the only experts in strategic security planning, but they would always make capable advisors. At the same time, changes in ‘management of defence’ must be ushered in, as early as of yesterday, ensuring better integration of the full combat potential of the three services. We face increasing security challenges and seek more bangs for the buck in days of rising financial curtailments.
The bad bank route
Source: By Sanjay Mehta: The Financial Express
India must prepare to tackle the NPAs issue by following up Asset Quality Review with pragmatic appraisal and effective implementation of possible new solutions. RBI carrying out deep surgery with AQR-led clean-up of banks’ balance-sheets is bold and praiseworthy. However, with the country’s stressed assets at 12.3% of total outstanding loans—the highest among major emerging markets—decisive solutions to resurrect the banking sector are needed. The surge in NPAs has taken an immense toll on credit growth, now at a multi-decades low. With concentration of NPAs in industry, banks (particularly public sector ones) are grappling with deteriorating capital base, and have materially squeezed lending portfolios.
The rise of NPAs and a continuous decline in non-food bank credit over the past few years is a worrying trend. Several studies establish a strong correlation between growth and bank credit. As per CARE Ratings, between 1953 and 2014, the degree of correlation was 0.30. It increased consistently to 0.49 for the last 30 years, and to 0.65 for the last 10 years. RBI Deputy Governor S S Mundra, in a speech in September 2016, pointed out that bank credit growth between 2000 and 2014 averaged 1.6 times the GDP growth. A basic extrapolation of this number leads us to a required credit growth of ~13% to achieve a GDP growth of 8%. In India’s banks-dominated financial sector, revival of corporate investments hinges largely on a robust uptick in credit growth. Banks’ failure to address NPAs has choked fresh loans to industry.
Adding to the woes of banks in effecting a turnaround in the NPAs cycle, numerous loan restructuring programmes and schemes like Corporate Debt Restructuring, Strategic Debt Restructuring, Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets, etc, did not yield desired results. Most of these schemes either had loopholes that gave companies escape routes or were ambiguous about certain crucial aspects. Banks cherry-picked certain aspects in order to hide the stress on their balance-sheets and further exacerbated the problem.
While the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code should help unlock NPA resolution, potentially releasing an estimated Rs 25,000 crore worth of capital in five years, it alone will not be sufficient to tackle the mountain of NPAs. It could, at best, address NPAs in the future. Moreover, it can’t address the failings of PSBs, where the management is resistant to book a loss on stressed loans due to the fear of investigating agencies.
After years of exploring several possible solutions, RBI recognises that the progress of several resolution mechanisms and frameworks offered has not been successful. In a recent speech, RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya drilled down on the subject and pointed out plausible solutions—a Private Asset Management Company (PAMC) and a quasi-governmental National Asset Management Company (NAMC). These prospective solutions deserve careful examination and stakeholders’ consultation to realise their potential in addressing the NPA woes.
The PAMC route is suggested for sectors where stressed assets have economic value in the short-run with moderate level of debt forgiveness, such as metals, EPC, telecom and textiles. The framework proposes calling upon asset-specific, time-bound resolution plans from turnaround specialists and investors, laying out sustainable debt and debt-for-equity conversions for banks and providing for cash-flow prospects. After rating of assets under each plan by at least two credit-rating agencies, banks can choose feasible plans that improve rating of the asset with maximum efficiency. The model strikes a balance between restructuring-plan approval and an oversight mechanism, haircut provisions for banks and incentives for new managing investors that can help discover a fair clearing price for stressed assets.
The NAMC model, mirroring the Economic Survey’s Public Sector Asset Rehabilitation Agency, is for sectors that have excess capacity, and a lot of economically unviable assets in the short- to medium-term, e.g., power and infrastructure. NAMC will raise debt for its financing needs, possibly also pay off banks at a haircut, keep a minority equity stake for the government, and bring in asset managers such as ARCs and private equity to turn around the assets, individually or as a portfolio.
A distinct feature of the proposed structures is the shift away from the ‘bad bank’ approach as both these models assume the form of asset management companies (AMCs) which would not be allowed to become banks. Learning from the experiences of advanced economies, these models ensure no mission creep over time. The models share many features with approaches taken by a number of developed as well as developing countries, including the US, Spain, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. While such approaches have worked for many countries in the past, the demand for similar structures is gaining firm ground in Europe, to deal with the 1-trillion-euro toxic-loan pile. Officials at the European Banking Authority have proposed creating a publicly-funded, pan-European ‘bad bank’.
While global experiences offers important learning, the model India selects should have simple structures with an enabling policy and regulatory environment. With significant convergence emerging in the thinking of RBI and the finance ministry over dealing with NPAs, it is reasonable to expect that the proposed asset resolution agency structures could offer potent new solutions to de-stress the banking sector. After all, an effective stressed asset resolution framework is imperative for India to unlock productive capacities, spur job creation and realise its potential growth rate.
Ugly side of war
Source: By Kuldip Nayar: Deccan Herald
War is ugly. It becomes uglier when it is between two inveterate neighbours. They go to any extent to harm and humiliate each other. Pakistan has mutilated and killed two Indian soldiers when they are said to have crossed the Line of Control (LoC). Understandably, India has retaliated and destroyed Pakistan's posts on the border.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has condemned the reprehensible and inhuman act saying that "such acts don't take place even during war. It is an extreme form of barbarism. The whole country has full faith in our armed forces which will react appropriately. The sacrifice of these soldiers will not go in vain." Condemning the despicable act, army chief Bipin Rawat has vowed an "appropriate" response.
This has come close on the heels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion that multilateral dialogue on Kashmir was the solution to end the impasse between India and Pakistan. New Delhi is opposed to his view because it believes that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and it should be solved by the two countries while sitting across the table.
Beheading soldiers is nothing new. The army on both sides is said to have indulged in it before. What is annoying is Pakistan's flat denial of the incident. Unfortunately, there was no regret, no grief. The UN probe to verify facts could have been a possibility. But since New Delhi has stopped the International Court at The Hague from taking up a Pakistan complaint against India on the plea that the two countries settle their disputes bilaterally, it cannot not allow a third party.
However, the current incident is too serious to be left at that. During the earlier incidents, India had evidence to prove that Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, who has been placed under house arrest now, was at the border before the clashes. But Pakistan, on its part, had failed to order a probe. Maybe, it is the doing of irregulars who, regretfully, seem to constitute a part of Islamabad's combative force. The country is already experiencing violence from within.
When there is unabated domestic violence and when Pakistan is fighting against the Taliban in the Federal Administrative Tribal Area, it is not understandable why it should open a front with India. In fact, Islamabad has withdrawn some forces from the Indian border to fight on the west. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has declared publicly that it would concentrate on the threat posed by internal forces instead of engaging India. Therefore, there is no question of unnecessary hype.
New Delhi should realise that Pakistan is its front state. If it ever goes under, India would be directly threatened by the Taliban and face the danger of destablisation. The policy should be how to retrieve Pakistan from the hopeless situation it is in. A weak Pakistan is a threat to India, which is powerful enough.
Any escalation in tension or a suitable retaliation at an appropriate time would only aggravate the situation. Dialogue is the only way to improve relations and it should never be suspended or downgraded. There is no alternative for talks. But I am surprised at some irresponsible statements emanating from Pakistan that dialogue between the countries should go on despite skirmishes on the border.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has shown restraint and maturity and has not commented anything adversely. But the government's decision to keep the new positive visa policy on hold will only lessen people-to-people contact which is essential for better understanding. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement that business with Pakistan cannot be as usual is understandable and his ordering surgical strikes earlier have had the desired effect.
Yet my experience shows that Islamabad resiles from its rigid stand if and when New Delhi steps back and reflects. We have to learn how to live with an intransigent Pakistan. I recall what Director General of Trade Ismail Khan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir had said a couple of years ago. He said that trade and travel across the ceasefire line would remain suspended until the skirmishes subsided. This was an unwise step which must have hurt Pakistan as much as it did to India.
For some reasons, former military officers on both sides have turned out to be more hawkish. Some years ago, I was shocked to hear Admiral Iqbal of the Pakistan Navy reminding India about the Muslim rule in the country for 1,000 years. Equally jingoistic was the suggestion by a retired army major general that the solution to India's problems with Pakistan was through military action. Both should realise that the engagement of the two countries would not be a street brawl. They have nuclear weapons and worst can happen.
Civil societies in both the countries have proved to be disappointing. Instead of analysing the situation dispassionately, they have supported the stand of their country. Regretfully, civil society is always on the side of the establishment whenever there is a clash on the border or when a dispute assumes dangerous proportions. Were the two civil societies to put their weight behind peace and call a spade a spade, their voice would be heard.
New Delhi's estimate that the ceasefire violations were meant to give cover to terrorists to sneak into Kashmir may be true. But the security forces in the Valley are strong enough to chastise them. The fallout of tension affects the people in Kashmir. They feel more insecure and fear the worst. The separatists, including Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah, do not realise that they are increasingly becoming irrelevant. The same is the case with the Hurriyat.
I wish the establishments in the two countries consider the ceasefire line sacred. This has been converted into LoC through the Shimla Agreement. Then prime minister Z A Bhutto, hailed it as the "line of peace" in an interview to me. And it has been seldom violated for the last three decades. Blood at the border has unnecessarily disturbed the status quo. The two sides should realise that some agreement is necessary.
Pak's dependence on CPEC
Source: By Anand Kumar: Deccan Herald
For a slowly sinking Pakistan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is seen as a saviour. Some describe it as a game changer as it is likely to create new jobs and bring economic prosperity for the Pakistani people. The CPEC may not dramatically change the fortunes of Pakistan but it has definitely exposed its nefarious designs in Kashmir.
Since 1947 when both India and Pakistan became independent, Pakistan has been eyeing Jammu and Kashmir. Though Kashmir has legally acceded to India in 1947, Pakistan has not reconciled itself to this fact. What is worse, it sees a Muslim majority province staying with India as a threat to the basic ideology on which Pakistan is founded. Hence, it has tried several methods since 1947 to capture Kashmir. It has waged a number of wars against India and used terrorists. It has intensified the proxy war since 1989. All along, it has claimed that it is providing only moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris to achieve their right of self-determination.
But the false narrative that Pakistan has so assiduously built has been exposed by its decision to change the status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), which is also known as Northern Areas. Islamabad now plans to change its status by making it the fifth province of Pakistan. So far, Pakistan has only four states - Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Pakistan's minister for inter-province coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada says that his government now plans to bring in a bill to amend the constitution of Pakistan in the National Assembly to give GB the status of fifth province of Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief's special powers can also be used for that purpose. Whatever be the modus-operandi, the important thing is that Pakistan has decided to change the status of GB, which borders PoK. It also means that Pakistan no longer considers GB as part of J&K.
Pakistan has been calling the occupied areas of J&K as autonomous territories. It has been federally ruling these areas with puppet regional governments. Over the years, it has tried to integrate these areas in to Pakistan by settling Pakistani population there. Some people of Gilgit - Baltistan have been working in other parts of Pakistan including its military. Still, this area is disturbed and has seen frequent ethnic conflicts. The Pak government has tried to subsume the ethnic identity of people of the region by spreading extremist religious ideology. In this effort, so far it has not been very successful. At the same time, it has not given up this approach to consolidate its hold over GB.
Ideally, Pakistan would like to continue with the present status of GB for some more time. But it is facing pressure from China which is investing nearly $51 billion in the CPEC project. The CPEC is not just a road project, it also includes energy, infrastructure, ports and industry related projects. This project has created great hope in Pakistan which is otherwise in turmoil. A significant section of Pakistanis now thinks that the successful implementation of the CPEC would help the country come out of the morass it finds itself in. But the Chinese corporations which are investing billions of dollars in CPEC want security for their investment. Besides the law and order problem, there is no clarity on the constitutional status of GB.
The CPEC is the first chapter of Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan which is in recent times also called as the Belt Road Initiative (BRI). This is the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping who thinks that through OBOR, China can achieve its next stage of development. A number of Chinese policymakers think that they are facing the problem of `middle income trap' and see OBOR as a way out of it.
Access to Indian Ocean
The successful implementation of the CPEC also makes China an ocean power. Besides, having access to the Pacific Ocean, the CPEC will also give it access to the vital Indian Ocean. The dependence of China on the Malacca Straits also creates a dilemma for them. They hope to overcome this by the CPEC. But the disputed status of the GB once again creates another dilemma for the Chinese.
The Chinese see the Indian opposition to the CPEC as a major hurdle in the implementation of the OBOR. Hence, they have now also invited India to join the CPEC. They have also stated that the mega project does not change the status of Kashmir. They are still repeating that India and Pakistan should try to resolve Kashmir issue through dialogue. They have likened it to Taiwan and say that as Taiwan is free to develop its economic relationship with other countries, similarly Kashmir should be allowed to do so and reap the benefit of economic developments that CPEC is likely to bring to the region. China also argues that successful implementation of the CPEC would bring regional stability.
However, there is an important difference between the situation prevailing in Taiwan and Kashmir. Kashmir is facing continuous proxy war from Pakistani side. The present Pakistani game plan appears to be to incorporate GB as another province of Pakistan while keeping the remaining territory of Kashmir disputed by continuously waging proxy war through terrorists.
Though Syed Salahuddin of the United Jehad Council and Hurriyat leaders have opposed Pakistan's plan, another tool in the Pakistani hand Zakir Rashid Bhat (alias Musa) of Hizbul Mujahideen has criticised the so called Kashmiri nationalism and urged them to be part of an Islamic caliphate. He also wants them to implement Sharia. Pakistan now seems to be working for closer integration of areas of J&K under its control while India, unfortunately, still debates the intricacies of its own constitution which stops the state from being mainstreamed.
Diaspora & development
Source: By Saumitra Mohan: The Statesman
Diasporas have emerged as an important component in the process of globalisation, which has created a global village connecting people of various regions, socio-economic, political and cultural backgrounds. Today, international relations denote inter-connectedness among populations of different countries. In recent years where governments are becoming increasingly people-centric, it is the people who represent one of the crucial agents of diplomacy. This has made the diaspora an important agent of diplomacy.
The Indian diaspora has emerged as an important factor in foreign policy, economic development and knowledge transfer. With over $ 60 billion worth of remittances, overseas Indians play an important role in the country’s economy and management of its foreign exchange. The success of Indians in the developed world, particularly in knowledge industries and professions like medicine and academia, has also helped transform the country’s image.
Indians were initially brought in as indentured labourers to develop plantation economies, construct railway networks and to serve as soldiers in the imperial military establishments in far-flung parts of the empire in the nineteenth century. More than two million Indians fought on behalf of the empire in several wars, including the Boer War and the two World Wars, and some remained behind to claim the land on which they had fought as their own.
These workers and soldiers were often accompanied and followed by a large number of Indian traders and professionals under the free passage system. Presently, there are about five million Indians in the Gulf countries. Meanwhile, in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, Indians have made their presence felt in different professions. The migration of Indians as professionals, labourers and traders to various countries is a continuing saga. Rapid economic growth and expansion of technical education, particularly in IT, have accentuated the process. The USA and Australia have received a large number of Indian students, many of whom settle down after completing their studies.
If there is one issue on which all political parties agree, it is the imperative to include overseas Indians in the country’s economic development and to take care of their needs and aspirations. Successive governments have given more and more concessions to them as an acknowledgment of their contribution by way of remittances, investment, lobbying for India, promoting Indian culture abroad and for building a good image of their country through intelligence and industry. The Indian diaspora constitutes an important, and in some respects a unique force in world culture. The Government of India has formulated multiple schemes to cater to the cognitive needs of this segment by acquainting them with the schemes and incentives that are offered to them.
After India and the overseas Indians rediscovered each other under Rajiv Gandhi, there came a host of measures such as a separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) Card, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, Overseas Citizen of India Card, NRI funds and voting rights for Indian citizens abroad. While some were introduced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, others were unveiled by the National Democratic Alliance dipensations. The response of the diaspora was varied as these affected different categories of Indians in different ways.
India carried out a major reorientation of its economic and foreign policy in the wake of the major foreign exchange crisis, the end of the Cold War, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The technology-driven growth of the 1980s and Nineties and the achievements of professionals have catapulted the Indian diaspora to a very prominent position in the USA. Gujarati migrants from Africa have become major players in the UK.
India was initially sensitive to the possibility that promoting the cause of overseas Indians might offend the host countries, which ought to be fully responsible for their welfare and security. The Indian community and our diplomatic missions interacted on national occasions, but “diaspora diplomacy” was important. However, it started yielding dividend with increasing engagements with the Indian diaspora across the world.
Several parliamentarians from the UK, the US and Canada take considerable interest in Indian politics because of the large presence of Indians in their constituencies. Various groups in India also make use of the diaspora for promoting their interests. The domestic reaction to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka highlights the implications of the diaspora as an important factor in our external relations. The LTTE and the separatist movement in Punjab illustrate the impact of the diaspora on national security.
For the Indian nationals in the Gulf and elsewhere, welfare measures and resettlement facilities were more important, while the prosperous communities in the West, who were clamouring for dual citizenship, felt short-changed. But, on the whole, they were energised into espousing Indian causes in the US. Of course, their support for Indian interests was not automatic and they often urged the Government here to modify its policies to suit American sensitivities. Indian-Americans contributed little by way of remittances or investments, but the establishment of the India Caucus in the House of Representatives and the turning around of hesitant legislators into voting for the India-US nuclear deal were major accomplishments.
The achievements of the diaspora and India’s policy of economic liberalization and globalization have created the ideal environment for a mutually beneficial engagement. In the wake of the foreign exchange crisis of 1991, the government leveraged the financial resources of the diaspora who contributed substantially contributed to the India Development Bond and Millennium Bond. The exodus of highly-skilled talent creates a very real “brain drain” in the economy, particularly in such sectors as engineering and bio-technology. A poor education system with insufficient capacity combined with the outflow of skilled professionals creates a shortage of skilled labour and inflates wages relative to other low-cost countries ... thereby making India less competitive in these spheres.
Poor governance and other systemic issues impact the business environment and drive away business, investment and high-quality jobs, thereby creating a vicious cycle which India cannot afford. The challenge for India goes beyond just determining how to leverage the many successful Indians abroad. It needs to provide an attractive ecosystem to study and work in if it wants to retain its best and brightest, and in order to ensure that Indian businesses and foreign investors continue to invest in India.
Further, Indian banks offer a high rate of interest on deposit accounts overseas whenever there is a financial crisis, but there is no systematic programme in place to attract investment from the diaspora. In order to attract its diaspora, its capital and know-how back to its shores on the scale required and to retain its current pool of talent, it will need to develop a comprehensive strategy that provides sufficient incentives to make the move attractive, given the opportunities the diaspora has abroad.
The nature of engagement with the diaspora has changed according to the needs of the time. Because of extraordinary diversity and geographical spread, the policy of engagement has to be flexible and tailor-made to suit every segment of the diaspora. The approach towards the workers in the Gulf is primarily oriented towards welfare and remittance. Engagement with the diaspora in the developed world has to be multifaceted and aimed at making India a knowledge-power. Their strengths have to be leveraged for political lobbying, image projection and economic development.
The communication and transportation revolution and the global reach of the media have brought about a major change in the nature of the relationship between the diaspora and their country of origin. India must follow a robust and flexible policy in order to leverage the strengths of the diaspora and minimise the possibility of negative fallout. The diaspora can play an important role in India’s quest to be a knowledge-power and a developed country.
Discovery of Bharat-II
Source: By Ashok Kapur: The Statesman
The unknown British officer promptly collected samples of broken bricks and sent these to the National Test House in London. There was no test house in Bharat then, as the Industrial Revolution had quietly bypassed this country. He was stunned at the results advanced by the Test House. The samples were parts of regular bricks that were fired in furnaces at around 4,000 degrees Celsius. And these were around 5,000 years old. Lo and behold, to the amazement of the whole world, the oldest civilization with meticulously planned urban centres stood excavated before them.
Did someone congratulate the present government on the ‘smart city’ concept? Several Ashoka pillars were standing erect for centuries all over the sub-continent, delineating the boundaries of the first welfare state in history, a federal setup as if holding up a model to follow for the present Indian state designed by independent India’s Constitution. The pillars have priceless inscriptions engraved on them for good government and public welfare which could be the envy of a modern civilian democracy.
The pillars were widely spread out so that the populace in far corners of the empire could read and observe, and public exhortations for his Royal officials to follow and comply. Sir James Princep, a young British civilian landed in Calcutta in the early 19th century for a job with the East India Company. He was an ordinary civilian. As Master of the government mint, he was not mandated to chronicle the story of the Indian civilisation. But like his other peers, he was trained in history and motivated to explore and discover his ‘adopted’ land. He was amazed to notice the ‘anonymous’ pillars with fine inscriptions scattered all over the land. Shockingly, the ‘native’ had no clue. Obviously, history ~ evens their very own ~ was no one’s concern.
Sir James learnt the language of the inscriptions ~ Bhrahmi ~ which was the lingua franca of the masses in ancient India. The language was long dead in Bharat, and no ‘native’ contemporary of Sir James could enlighten him. He was not deterred, and deciphered the inscriptions on his own. He discovered that the author was none other than the Great King Devanampia ~ ‘Beloved of the Gods’. But none of the pillars or rock edicts identified the Emperor or the time of his reign. Apart from history, Sir James was trained in the classical languages, pre-eminently Greek. He returned to London Museum, and studied contemporary records of Greek travellers and scholars during the reign of Devanampia.
He deciphered that Devanampia was King Ashoka the Great, who belonged to the Mauryan dynasty, circa 3rd century BC. By this single effort of great exertion, Sir James discovered Indian history, which was manifest all over the subcontinent, waiting to be decoded. Recorded Indian history began with this discovery. Likewise, the paintings of Ajanta and Ellora were waiting to be discovered in the forests of Aurangabad for more than 2,000 years. As in other parts of Bharat, countless generations of ‘natives’ just walked past our ‘past’, without venturing into the forest. Apparently, they were too busy with their daily chores when not delving into deep questions of profound philosophy affecting humankind.
These caves were spread over a vast area, and lay uncared for and neglected for centuries. As in other parts of Bharat, the local dynasties were too busy fighting other kingdoms, to waste their time on such mundane things as history... even if it were their own. In the 19th century, a British Administrator was in charge of Aurangabad. Like most of his counterparts, he was ever so ready to explore, discover and document. Incidentally, this is how history begins. He organized a ‘shoot’ in the local forest for tigers, which were legion in his area. With the approach of the hunting party, the tigers would disappear.
The Administrator was transferred but, according to standard practice, he left behind a detailed portrait of his area for the benefit of his successor. It was another British invention. The successor was equally intrigued by the notings on the vanishing tigers. He organized a ‘shoot’, and this time cordoned off the forest to ensure that the tigers would not simply vanish. It is then that he made another amazing discovery. The tigers sought refuge in the deep caves of Ajanta, whose walls and ceilings were adorned with paintings of breathless beauty.
The Administrator was aghast at the centuries of neglect and indifference. The paintings were faded and the paint was peeling off. He wrote to London. A painter was sent by ship so that each of the paintings was replicated and shipped to London Museum, to be kept as a permanent record. Only thereafter were the paintings cleaned and restored. There are few instances of such dedicated and thoughtful action among the several hundred British administrators who ruled India with distinction in their adopted ‘home away from home’.
Thanks entirely to the efforts of the anonymous civil servant; the site has been declared a heritage site by UNESCO. These are just a few instances of the pioneering work done by largely anonymous British civilians. There are hundreds of such examples all over the sub-continent where these administrators virtually discovered our rich civilization for us, ranging from the translation of Chanakya’s Arthashastra to compiling the first dictionary of Sanskrit, and the study of ‘Flora and Fauna’ of India. The advent of the British transformed a largely undiscovered Bharat into an India that is today justifiably proud of its unique civilisational heritage.