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08 October, 2019

How relevant are Gandhi’s teachings today?

BRP Bhaskar





Gandhi
As India and the world mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, which falls on Wednesday, it is not unreasonable to ask how relevant his teachings are today.

He lived an epic life during which he grew from a rather unsuccessful lawyer to an unusual mass leader who electrified his followers to a point where many were willing to die for the cause of freedom and enraged his critics to a point where some of them conspired to kill him.  

When an assassin’s bullets felled Gandhi, Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of his time, said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

Gandhi’s transformation from lawyer to leader began in South Africa, where he had gone to do legal work for an Indian businessman. There he received a rude lesson in racism when he was bundled out of a First Class rail compartment because he wasn’t white.

That experience cured him of the belief that his British education had made a difference to his racial status. But he remained an admirer of Britain and its ways.

He organised Indian immigrants in South Africa and agitated peacefully for a fair deal. In the process, he became conscious of the religious, linguistic and cultural differences among Indians and the need to overcome them for effective joint action.

All through his South African days Gandhi remained an admirer of the West. When a tribe took up arms against the whites, he offered to mobilise an Indian ambulance corps to serve wounded white soldiers.  The South African government told him they already had an ambulance unit but the tribesmen had none and he should help them.

In his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi says he told the tribesmen that it was their good luck that the whites were ruling them!

His unconventional agitations in Africa attracted Western media attention and information about them reached India, winning him many admirers before he returned home in 1915 at the age of 45. On meeting him, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore hailed him as a Mahatma (great soul) and adoring millions endorsed it.

Notwithstanding Gandhi’s lack of sympathy for the aspirations of the blacks, Nelson Mandela in Africa and Martin Luther King Jr in America owned him up as their guide and endeavoured to follow the path of peace and non-violence he had shown.

His faith in Western virtues still intact, the first thing Gandhi did on his return was to aid Britain’s World War I effort by helping in the army’s recruitment drive. He believed when the war ended a grateful Britain will reward India with the status of Dominion, which the white colonies had.  

About 1.3 million Indians saw active service during the war. They were deployed in Europe, Africa and Asia to defend Britain’s imperial interests. About 74,000 of them were killed.

The Indian army played a critical role in Britain’s victory. But India did not become a Dominion. Instead, it saw an unprovoked firing on peaceful protesters in Jallianwala Bagh, near Amritsar, in which about 400 people were killed.

Gandhi called a nationwide strike to protest the massacre. The response it evoked proclaimed the emergence of a leader with an appeal across the country. Less than a decade after his return from Africa, he was the tallest leader of the Indian National Congress, which was spearheading the freedom movement.  

Gandhi gave high priority to Hindu-Muslim amity but reluctantly acquiesced in the partition of the subcontinent. When communal riots broke out he devoted his energies to putting out the flames and restoring peace. That angered a Hindutva group and prompted it to plot his murder.

Gandhi took up the issue of caste discrimination but never rejected the concept of “Chaturvarnya” on which the inhuman system rests. In recent years Dalit groups in India and some black groups in Africa have re-evaluated Gandhi’s record in the light of the principle of equality.

In Gandhi’s time, environmental protection was not a live issue. But one of the popular slogans of the environment movement today is a Gandhi quote:  “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party subscribes to the Hindutva ideology, today often invokes Gandhi’s name in his speeches. He also gives him credit for his government’s Swatch Bharat (Clean India) programme.

Some of Gandhi’s ideas certainly call for re-evaluation. Some others demand re-validation.  These are processes that must go on.

Beneath the simplicity Gandhi projected was a complex personality. There is enough in his legacy for each gneration to find its own Gandhi, depending upon its interests.-n Gulf Today, Sharjah,  September 30, 2019

The blessing and curse of real estate boom

BRP Bhaskar

The blessing and curse of real estate boom
The pace of urbanisation has accelerated with the central and state governments aiding the process. Reuters

The impending demolition of four high-rise buildings with a few hundred posh apartments in the Kerala city of Kochi has brought to the fore the issue of unregulated urban growth across India. In the wake of globalisation, the country has been witnessing explosive growth of its centuries-old metropolitan cities and emergence of new urban conglomerates in many states.

A century ago, as he emerged as the tallest leader of the freedom movement, Gandhi said, “India lives in the villages.” He constantly drew attention to the plight of the villagers. He discarded western clothes and wore loincloth to identify himself with them.

The 2001 census, the first of this century, showed India was still predominantly rural with 74 per cent of the people living in more than 600,000 villages. At the next census in 2011, India was still rural, but the village population had come down to 69 per cent. Since then the pace of urbanisation has accelerated with the Central and state governments aiding the process.

In 2015 the Centre announced a plan to build 100 “smart” cities in different states. Since it has provided little information on the progress of the project, it is not clear how many are taking shape and how smart they are.

According to current official projections, the urban population will not exceed the rural population until 2050. However, the next census, due in 2021, may find many small states more urban than rural.

The old cities have suffered enormously due to failure of the authorities to manage the problems of growth.  The new ones are grappling with problems like pollution and poor infrastructure. From the 1970’s, the Centre enacted a series of laws to protect the environment and ensure that air and water are clean. Most states have been tardy in implementing them.

The construction industry expanded rapidly as the breakup of joint families, increasing household income and aspirations of the rising middle class raised the demand for houses. In areas where there was scarcity of land, high-rise buildings started coming up.

In 1994 the Centre made environmental impact assessment and environmental clearance for projects compulsory.

In 2006, the Manmohan Singh government exempted township and area development projects covering less than 500,000 square metres from environmental impact assessment and construction projects of less than 20,000 square metres from environmental clearance.

To speed up economic development, the Narendra Modi government diluted environment regulations further. This, coupled with corruption at the political and official levels, made it possible for unethical businessmen to flout laws with impunity.

The modus operandi of colluding politicians and officials is to grant clearance for a project and issue notices later calling attention to violations of the law. The issue is then taken to the court where it remains long enough for the builders to complete the projects, taking advantage of the absence of orders staying the construction.

In Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and other cities, many constructions were found to be in violation of the law but the authorities allowed the irregularities to be compounded on payment of a fee. Quite often the hardship that innocent flat buyers will suffer is cited to justify the lenient attitude towards offenders.

In one Kerala case, the high court, while holding the construction violated the coastal zone management regulations, let the building stay, saying demolition may pose an even greater danger to the environment.  The Supreme Court upheld the decision.

However, when an identical case from Kerala reached the apex court later, it ordered demolition of the illegal constructions in which some 400 families had bought apartments.

The state government and the apartment owners sought review of the decision but the court remained firm. Observations by the judges during the hearing indicated that their tough stand was based on the assertion by experts that the severe floods that hit Kerala and other states in recent years were a direct consequence of illegal constructions in environmentally sensitive areas.   

 A property brokerage firm which conducted a survey in nine cities found more than 400,000 flats in the “affordable segment” lying unsold. But, with the economy in the doldrums, the government believes it cannot afford to let the real estate sector slacken.

Its market size was $ 120 billion in 2017. Industry spokesmen are looking forward to a new boom.

Builders are reluctant to adopt green technology. Unless the government ensures that the growth target is achieved respecting the laws, the blessing of urban living will come with the curse of environmental degradation. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 8, 2018.

01 October, 2019

How relevant are Gandhi’s teachings today?

BRP Bhaskar


Gandhi
As India and the world mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, which falls on Wednesday, it is not unreasonable to ask how relevant his teachings are today.

He lived an epic life during which he grew from a rather unsuccessful lawyer to an unusual mass leader who electrified his followers to a point where many were willing to die for the cause of freedom and enraged his critics to a point where some of them conspired to kill him.

When an assassin’s bullets felled Gandhi, Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of his time, said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

Gandhi’s transformation from lawyer to leader began in South Africa, where he had gone to do legal work for an Indian businessman. There he received a rude lesson in racism when he was bundled out of a First Class rail compartment because he wasn’t white.

That experience cured him of the belief that his British education had made a difference to his racial status. But he remained an admirer of Britain and its ways.

He organised Indian immigrants in South Africa and agitated peacefully for a fair deal. In the process, he became conscious of the religious, linguistic and cultural differences among Indians and the need to overcome them for effective joint action.

All through his South African days Gandhi remained an admirer of the West. When a tribe took up arms against the whites, he offered to mobilise an Indian ambulance corps to serve wounded white soldiers.  The South African government told him they already had an ambulance unit but the tribesmen had none and he should help them.

In his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi says he told the tribesmen that it was their good luck that the whites were ruling them!

His unconventional agitations in Africa attracted Western media attention and information about them reached India, winning him many admirers before he returned home in 1915 at the age of 45. On meeting him, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore hailed him as a Mahatma (great soul) and adoring millions endorsed it.

Notwithstanding Gandhi’s lack of sympathy for the aspirations of the blacks, Nelson Mandela in Africa and Martin Luther King Jr in America owned him up as their guide and endeavoured to follow the path of peace and non-violence he had shown.

His faith in Western virtues still intact, the first thing Gandhi did on his return was to aid Britain’s World War I effort by helping in the army’s recruitment drive. He believed when the war ended a grateful Britain will reward India with the status of Dominion, which the white colonies had.

About 1.3 million Indians saw active service during the war. They were deployed in Europe, Africa and Asia to defend Britain’s imperial interests. About 74,000 of them were killed.

The Indian army played a critical role in Britain’s victory. But India did not become a Dominion. Instead, it saw an unprovoked firing on peaceful protesters in Jallianwala Bagh, near Amritsar, in which about 400 people were killed.

Gandhi called a nationwide strike to protest the massacre. The response it evoked proclaimed the emergence of a leader with an appeal across the country. Less than a decade after his return from Africa, he was the tallest leader of the Indian National Congress, which was spearheading the freedom movement.

Gandhi gave high priority to Hindu-Muslim amity but reluctantly acquiesced in the partition of the subcontinent. When communal riots broke out he devoted his energies to putting out the flames and restoring peace. That angered a Hindutva group and prompted it to plot his murder.

Gandhi took up the issue of caste discrimination but never rejected the concept of “Chaturvarnya” on which the inhuman system rests. In recent years Dalit groups in India and some black groups in Africa have re-evaluated Gandhi’s record in the light of the principle of equality.

In Gandhi’s time, environmental protection was not a live issue. But one of the popular slogans of the environment movement today is a Gandhi quote:  “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party subscribes to the Hindutva ideology, today often invokes Gandhi’s name in his speeches. He also gives him credit for his government’s Swatch Bharat (Clean India) programme.

Some of Gandhi’s ideas certainly call for re-evaluation. Some others demand re-validation.  These are processes that must go on.

Beneath the simplicity Gandhi projected was a complex personality. There is enough in his legacy for each generation to find its own Gandhi, depending upon its interests. --Gulf Today, October 1, 2019.o


24 September, 2019

Modi begins US visit with a PR victory


BRP Bhaskar

Trump-Modi
Donald Trump participates in the "Howdy Modi" event with Narendra Modi in Houston, Texas, US. Reuters

The United States figures high up in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheme of things for more than one reason. Many Indian prime ministers began their term with a visit to the US with a view to improving bilateral relations which have been uneasy since the days of Non-alignment.

An early cold-war era Secretary of State had called Non-alignment immoral. For Modi there was a very personal reason too. Years ago he had spent some time in the US, without attracting much attention, cultivating the rising Indian American community as a representative of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party.  Today the RSS and its associates are the Indian NGOs that get the largest remittances from the US.

After Modi became the Chief Minister of Gujarat and attracted widespread criticism for the anti-Muslim riots that rocked the state, the US refused him a visa. His 2014 visit as the Prime Minister was thus as much an occasion to live down a disrepute as one to work out a personal equation with the US leadership.

He quickly made friends with President Barack Obama and was reputedly on first-name terms with him. Public relations experts of the two sides, working in tandem, pulled off a media coup and an op-ed under the joint byline of Barak Obama and Narendra Modi in a leading US newspaper.

A highlight of that visit was a widely publicised rally at New York’s Madison Square where the Indian community gave him a tumultuous welcome. That set the pace for a new phase in Indo-American relations.

Then came Donald Trump with whom Modi could relate more easily than with Obama. Apart from planned bilateral meetings the two had several opportunities to interact on the sidelines of multilateral meetings.

Trump and Modi have been eager to raise the level of Indo-US strategic partnership to a new high. To give New Delhi a feeling that it has a high stake in its Asia Pacific pivot, Washington renamed the region Indo-Pacific. Modi has taken India closer to the US than ever before. But inherent clashes of interest and historical baggage have prevented the two leaders from moving as fast as they would like to.

Recently a new hurdle came up in the form of a trade dispute. Officials burnt midnight oil to put it out of the way before Modi landed in the US. But it is not clear to what extent they succeeded.

Since the Madison Square rally, spectacular Indian diaspora events have been a feature of Modi’s foreign travels. Visuals of the events transmitted home are used to boost his image.

The Modi team planned for an audience of 50,000 Indians at the Houston event, named Howdy Modi. Trump’s presence enhanced its publicity value for Modi. Some foreign media reports said Trump played second fiddle to Modi at the event.

For Trump, who is to seek re-election next year it provided an opportunity to appeal directly to the estimated 4.4 million people of Indian origin in the US. Modi and Trump, in their speeches, conveyed the impression that on the issue of terrorism they are on the same page. That there has been a convergence of their ideas on the issue in the recent past is not in doubt but it is too early to proclaim an identity of interests. 

While the event was on in Houston, in that city as well as several others there were protests by groups concerned over the unprecedented human rights violations in Kashmir. The media brouhaha over the Houston show enabled it to draw more public attention than the three major events at the United Nations which are what brought the Prime Minister to the US for a week.

Apart from the annual UN General Assembly session, he is due to attend the Climate Action Summit and the Universal Healthcare meet, both convened by the UN Secretary General.

Some reports have put the cost of the Houston extravaganza at Rs 1,400 billion. This huge investment brings no tangible benefit to either India or the US, unless the political dividends that will flow to Modi and Trump are treated as national gains.

Writing on India’s warped priorities, the Washington Post observed that Modi, who admires the achievements of Indian Americans, has failed to grasp the basis of their success. It said they have thrived in America because it encourages free enterprise, embraces diversity and has a meritocratic culture. Under Modi, India had regressed on all three fronts, it added. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 24, 2019.

17 September, 2019

More stimuli for growth, but it is still not enough

BRP Bhaskar

Nirmala-Sitharaman
Nirmala Sitharaman arraives at the Indian Parliament. File/ AFP

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman came up last weekend with a new stimulus package to arrest the worrisome slowdown of India’s economy. It was her third package in as many weeks.

These packages testify to her determination to accelerate the growth rate to a level high enough to achieve the government’s ambitious goal of a $5 trillion economy by 2024. But is she on the right track?

Corporate India cheers every stimulus package but economic analysts remain sceptical about the adequacy of the measures announced so far. The first stimulus package aimed at reviving the automobile industry, which has been going through a slack period, and improving the investment climate.

The second package was designed to strengthen the banking sector which has been labouring under the weight of bad loans and gross mismanagement. It provided for merger of state-owned banks.

The new package contains a set of measures to boost exports and help revive the real estate sector which has been in the doldrums for some time. It envisages allocation of Rs 360 billion to Rs 680 billion as export credit to the priority sector.

The measures to help the real estate sector include relaxation of the guidelines regarding external commercial borrowing and allocation of Rs100 billion for what the Minister described as “last-mile funding”.

The government estimates that the latter scheme will help complete nearly 350,000 dwelling units in incomplete projects. Projects involved in bad loan cases or insolvency proceedings will not come under the scheme. This means a large number of middle income people who put in hard-earned money in such projects will not get the benefit of the scheme.

Like the earlier packages the latest one too has been formulated without taking into account the factors that led to the present situation. Many of the current ills of the economy are direct consequences of two decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his first term: demonetisation of high value currency notes and introduction of a goods and service tax regime.

Demonetisation was announced ignoring warnings by experts. From day one problems cropped up and the government found it necessary to amend the original notification repeatedly. It caused much personal hardship to ordinary people. Worse still, it ruined small and medium industries across the country.

The new GST regime was something that could not be put off indefinitely. The previous Congress-led government, headed by Manmohan Singh, was going slow on it in view of anticipated difficulties. Eager to impress all concerned with his zeal for reform Modi pushed the scheme through. It added to the woes of small and medium businesses.

The proclaimed objective of demonetisation was unearthing of black money believed to be held in high denomination notes. But it failed to reveal any huge stocks of hoarded money. The new GST regime was expected to raise tax collections substantially. This, too, did not materialise.

These sad experiences do not seem to have persuaded the government to approach issues realistically. Typical of the superficial approach of the decision-makers is the Finance Minister’s attribution of the ills of the automobile industry to the millenials taking to online car hire operators.

According to the skewed official data, the annual GDP growth rate is now five per cent and it needs to be pushed up to eight per cent to reach the target set for 2024. No one takes the official figures seriously any longer. Independent studies indicate the actual growth rate may be between three and four and a half per cent.

In that event the growth rate will have to be pushed up to at least ten per cent for Modi to end his second term with the image of the builder of a $5 trillion economy. Such growth as has been achieved has come without creating commensurate employment.

At best the stimulus packages will help arrest loss of existing jobs. They will not create new jobs. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has been warning for at least a year that India is headed for mass unemployment. So far the warning has fallen on deaf years.

It is time for the government to go deep into the causes of the economic slowdown and devise measures that go beyond meeting the immediate needs of businessmen in distress. -Gulf Today, Sharjaah, September 17, 2019.

10 September, 2019

Early signs of canker in constitutional system

BRP Bhaskar

India Supreme Court
A man walks past the Supreme Court of India's building in New Delhi. Reuters

The recent resignations of a few judges and bureaucrats deserve serious attention. They are early intimations of a canker in India’s constitutional order. Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilani reportedly put in her papers after the Supreme Court collegium rejected her plea to reconsider the decision to shift her to the Meghalaya High Court.

The Madras court is one of the oldest and largest and the Meghalaya court one of the youngest and smallest.

The transfer does not involve demotion as the job title and the emoluments remain the same. However, in public perception conditioned by notions of hierarchy, it is a punishment as well as an insult.

The bureaucrats who resigned are young Indian Administrative Service officers Kannan Gopinathan and Sasikanth Senthil.

In interactions with the media, both cited curbs on freedoms as the reason for quitting. Kannan Gopinathan pointedly referred to the Kashmir situation. “There is a clear fascist onslaught,” said Sasikanth Senthil. The message they are sending out is: all is not well with the constitutional system.

Justice Tahilramani’s exit turns the spotlight once again on the working of the collegiums of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, comprising the Chief Justices and the four seniormost judges.

The collegiums are bodies not provided for in the Constitution. They were created by the apex court through judgments which materially altered the original scheme for appointment and transfer of judges of superior courts. The judgments shifted primacy in matters of appointments and transfers from the Executive to the Judiciary.

Soon after coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed through Parliament a law to create a judicial commission to select judges. The Supreme Court struck it down.

Subsequently, judicial appointments became a matter of contention with the Government asking the SC collegium to reconsider some of its recommendations. In most cases, the collegium reiterated its recommendations but in a few cases it revised them.

The collegiums are opaque bodies whose decisions are not backed by recorded reasons.

Justice Tahilramani was a judge of the Bombay High Court for 17 years during which she also acted as its Chief Justice. She was appointed Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in August last year.

What prompted the SC collegium, which considered her suitable for the Madras post last year, to think of sending her to a much small court remains a mystery. Court-watchers have not been able to come up with anything which can even remotely cast doubts on her ability to head a large court.

The only possible reason that anyone has been able to find is her 2017 judgment in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. It was one of the cases arising from the communal riots that rocked Gujarat when Modi was the Chief Minister.  The Supreme Court had transferred it to Mumbai in the interests of fair trial.

The trial court awarded life sentences to 11 persons on rape charges but acquitted five police officers and two doctors who were charged with destroying evidence. On appeal, a bench headed by Justice Tahilramani confirmed the life sentences and overturned the acquittals.

If Justice Tahilramani’s transfer is indeed connected with the Bilkis Bano verdict she is the second judge paying the price for the judgment in a Modi-era Gujarat case. The first was Justice Jayant Patel who resigned after two transfers within a year.

As acting Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court in 2011, Justice Patel had ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the 2004 killing of Ishrat Jehan, a teenage girl from Mumbai, and three men who the state police alleged were sent by Lashkar-e-Taiba to kill Modi.

The CBI found no evidence to link Ishrat with LeT. It charged several top police officers with killing the four in a fake encounter.

Another name which came up in that case was that of Amit Shah, who was a Minister in Modi’s Gujarat Cabinet. In May 2014, a few days ahead of Modi’s swearing-in as the Prime Minister, the CBI cleared Shah’s name. Subsequently the policemen were also discharged one after another.  

Currently Union Home Minister and President of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Shah is the second most powerful man in India’s political establishment.

There is no material in the public realm to justify the transfers of Justices Tahilramani and Jayant Patel in violation of guidelines laid down by the apex court in judgments previously.

There is also no material to explain the curious coincidence of the collegium picking judges who have presumably incurred the political establishment’s displeasure for such transfers. `` Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 10, 2019.

03 September, 2019

Kashmir: No light at the end of the tunnel

BRP Bhaskar

India-Kashmir
Protesters clash with police in Srinagar. File/ A

Tomorrow, September 4, Jammu and Kashmir completes one agonising month under the unprecedented lockdown imposed by the Centre to scotch protests against abrogation of the state’s special status under the Constitution and division into two Union Territories.

Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Home Minister Amit Shah, who piloted the legislative measures to give effect to the government’s decision, now mentions Kashmir in public utterances. They seem to believe the issue, which has aroused grave concern in India and abroad, will go away if they remain silent about it.

The Governor, Sat Pal Malik, who does the talking, comes up with inane remarks. J&K leaders in detention can get political mileage by staying in jail, he said last week. Currently J&K is in a limbo. It has practically ceased to be a state but the two proposed UTs will come into being only on October 31.

The administration has become a laughing stock, making claims that run counter to known facts. On several occasions it announced relaxation of restrictions only to reimpose them quickly as the situation threatened to get out of control. 

The national media, especially TV channels, have been accepting the administration’s claims unquestioningly and publicising them. But nuggets from local reporters working for foreign media from behind the Iron Curtain indicate that the valley is once again going through days of stone-throwing by boys and firing of pellets by security personnel. Reports of torture have also surfaced.

Initially the administration said the lockdown had put an end to terrorism. Later it admitted there had been a couple of encounters between militants and security forces. Complaints by the family of a soldier from Tamil Nadu, who was killed in an encounter, suggest that, contrary to recent practice, bodies are not being sent home.

Casualties among combatants and civilians are not heavy. But the clampdown on information leaves the field open for rumour-mongers. The worst part of the prolonged lockdown, without a parallel even in the valley’s chequered history, is the enormous hardship caused by lack of food and medicine.

Kashmiris living elsewhere have complained that they are unable to contact parents or children who are in the valley. Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, while speaking at an event last week, referred to the communication blackout and said when people stored everything in their hearts and were unable to tell anyone “it is the biggest punishment”.

His statement raises the question whether the repressive measures also involve psychological warfare against the people.

Doctors at Srinagar’s main hospital have reported a spate of cases of anxiety, resulting from panic attacks. The worst-affected are children. The lockdown had a huge impact on their psyche, and it could turn them into persons with a negative mindset, a doctor said.

There are reports of security personnel picking up children from homes in midnight raids and leaving them a few days later as there was no evidence of their involvement in protests. The police routinely detain political leaders flying into Srinagar and pack them off by the next available flight. Obviously the administration does not want them to meet people and get firsthand information on the situation in the valley. 

The Centre appears to have lost its plot. The steps it took have no doubt strengthened its macho image among Hindutva elements. But it is unable to take any meaningful step to restore normalcy, and there is no sign of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Hopes are now centred on the Supreme Court, which has before it more than a dozen petitions seeking restoration of the constitutional system in the state. The petitioners include political parties or their leaders as well as concerned citizens.

When the first petitions came, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said he was inclined to give the government time to restore normalcy. Last week the court admitted a petition by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of the Kashmir Times, challenging the curbs on the media. It asked the Centre and the state to respond within a week.

The court allowed Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to visit his party colleague and former J&K legislator Yusuf Tarigami, about whose safety he had voiced concern.

The court directed the government to allow Yechury to meet Tarigami. The police picked up Yechury from Srinagar airport and took him straight to Tarigami, who is detained in his own house. He was not allowed to contact anyone else during the visit.

The court later said a five-judge constitution bench will take up the petitions challenging abolition of the state’s special status in October. That means Kashmir may have no relief for another month. --Gulf Today,  Sharjah, September 3, 2019.

20 August, 2019

Modi’s population control talk raises concern

BRP Bhaskar

Modi’s population control talk raises concern
Narendra Modi
On Independence Day Prime Minister Narendra Modi caused eyebrows to rise by stating in his address that the rate of growth of the country’s population is worrisome.

At the last count in 2011 India’s population was about 1.25 billion. Modi’s foreboding is out of tune with the optimistic note of the Economic Survey his government placed before Parliament. It said population in the 0-19 age group had peaked and the total fertility rate was expected to fall below the replacement level by 2021.

India had launched a family planning programme in the 1950s when there was acute food shortage and the population was growing at a higher rate than the economy.

On a visit to Tokyo in 1969 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told her Japanese counterpart Eisaku Sato about the efforts to check population growth. “I do not know if you are doing the right thing,” he said.  “After the War we undertook a very successful birth control programme. We are now experiencing severe labour shortage.”

The two leaders were looking at population from different angles. For Mrs Gandhi, saddled with a struggling economy, people meant mouths to feed. For Saito, presiding over a booming economy, people meant hands to work.

Except for a brief period during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, when her son, Sanjay, functioning as an extra-constitutional authority, promoted forced sterilisation, India’s population control programme, unlike China’s, was voluntary and did not involve penal provisions. 

Once India became self-sufficient in food production, population control lost its sense of urgency. Successive governments cut budget allocations for family planning or diverted the funds to other programmes.

Census data testifies to a steady fall in the rate of growth of the population from 2.21 per cent a year in 1971-81 to 2.16 per cent in 1981-91, 1.97 per cent in 1991-2001 and 1.64 per cent in 2001-11. The next census is due only in 2021. But, in this year’s State of the World Population report, the UN said India’s growth rate fell to 1.2 per cent during 2010-2019.

Studies across the globe have established that population growth declines as education spreads and economic conditions improve. India’s own experience confirms this.

With a large young population, resulting from the high growth rate of earlier decades, India is said to be in a position to get a demographic dividend in the current phase of speedy growth.

The Prime Minister’s harking back to the population problem even as he talks of building a $5 trillion economy, therefore, came as a surprise.

One possible explanation is that the source of his worry is the inability to create jobs for the new entrants to the workforce. Currently the country is experiencing jobless growth.

Another possibility is that, coming after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the population issue is a bogey raised to set the stage for the next part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu rashtra (nation) project.

Modi spoke of population growth without mentioning any religious group. But the Shiv Sena, the BJP ally which shares its Hindutva ideology, immediately linked it to the growth of the Muslim population. Hindutva votaries have often kindled fears of the Muslim minority becoming the majority community in order to promote Hindu consolidation. 

The 2011 census indicated that during the previous decade the Muslim population grew at 2.2 per cent a year and the Hindu population at 1.55 per cent.  During this period the Hindu population fell from 80.45 per cent to 79.8 per cent and the Muslim population rose from 13.4 per cent to 14.2 per cent.

Citing these figures, some argued that eventually India will have a Muslim majority. They conveniently overlooked the fact that the Muslim growth rate was falling faster than the Hindu growth rate. Projections based on current trends indicate that, far from Muslims outnumbering Hindus, the Hindu and Muslim populations will stabilise in the 4:1 ratio by the middle of the century.

Speculative reports that Modi is planning legislation to enforce population control have engendered fears that, like Sanjay Gandhi’s Emergency exercise, it will be directed primarily against the minority community.

The southern states have already lowered the growth rate drastically. Kerala’s population growth during the 2001-11 decade was less than five per cent as against the national average of 17.7 per cent.

Any genuine population control programme must focus on the large Hindi heartland states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, all of which recorded decadal growth rates above 20 per cent. ---Gulf Today, Sharjah, Augusr 20, 2019.