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It’s not just deterioration of environment..!

 

 
The accelerated deterioration in dignity and culture right from politics to society is a matter of serious concern for all of us.The word environment comes from Sanskrit meaning ‘around’. Simply put, whatever is around us, is part of the environment. It is also nature, society, culture and our civilization, too. The real meaning of the protection of environment should be protection of all those elements that are necessary for the Earth’s sustenance and are essential to human civilization.
 
Indian civilization and culture are among handful of those civilizations where the Earth gets the status of mother, where there is the provision for worship of tree, water, air and fire which are considered equivalent to the Almighty. An idea of this vision of our civilization can be gauged from the message: ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakkam’. We believe the whole world is our family. In a country as diverse and plural as ours, when we see the steep fall in the standard of public discourse and the use of indecent language, it is but natural that we should feel hurt. One wonders at the linguistic downfall in the country’s political discourse.
 
Before discussing the political mood and the weather, let’s see what the condition of the Earth is. NASA scientists are telling us that in the last 135 years, the Earth has warmed up by around 0.8°C. And analysis of this data reveals that two-thirds of the heat has grown in the last forty years. So when I look at discernible, a similar trend is visible. Once upon a time, our politics had been more decent than that of any other country in the world. Bapu’s Satyagraha against British imperialism had set an example of decency before the world. Can there be any better example than this in the world?
Those who keep an eye on the pages of time know that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the pioneer of socialism in India Ram Manohar Lohiya were two extreme poles of ideology but had great respect for each other. They never used any undignified word to refer to one other. Atal Behari Vajpayee who was 35 years younger in age to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had great respect for the latter. When Indira Gandhi divided Pakistan and Bangladesh was born Vajpayee called Indira ‘Durga’. Jai Prakash Narayan who sparked the imagination of the country against Indira Gandhi during the Emergency never stooped to the level of mounting personal attack on Indira Gandhi. But when the Janata Party government started making personal attacks on Indira Gandhi, began to torture her, revealing their flippancy, the people of the country overthrew the Janata government in less than three years because the people of this country do not tolerate personal attacks and harassment.
 
I have had the chance to watch politics from very close quarters. My father Babuji Jawaharlal Darda was a freedom fighter and Congress leader but the political leaders from all parties used to come to my house. Despite being politically and ideologically opposed to each other, they maintained decency in their language and respected their feelings. Babuji used to say that there can be differences of opinion but this should not lead to personal acrimony. Any ideology can be criticized, but language should be such that you should speak your mind out without hurting anybody’s feelings.
I was a member of Rajya Sabha for 18 years, and expressed myself on hundreds of issues. I also criticized others. But I do not remember any day when I said a disrespectful thing against anybody. I learnt the lessons in cultural decency from my father.
 
I am gravely concerned at the explosive language used by the current crop of political leaders. It is not just myself, but the entire country is worried that the language of politics, has turned into abuse. There is such a mad rush to expose each other. Such language is being used that I feel ashamed to repeat it here. Every statement from politician stinks! The leaders of Shiv Sena and BSP were known for this kind of language but they are now joined by the others too. The level of language from PM to CMs from the various states has reached a low. Names of political parties are being lampooned, bachelorhood of somebody is being questioned while somebody is questioning others’ mental condition. This is a very strange situation. A person told me that he is a supporter of the BJP but he is distressed by the kind of language that is being used by his party leaders. A gentleman told me that it is a wonderful entertainment. So, enjoy it!
To be fair, the entire political environment looks so polluted. Currently, there is the full scale war of character assassination going on in the social media. Besides political parties, many expert groups are actively engaged in this ugly doing.  Recently, what happened in the Tamil Nadu Assembly can hardly be termed appropriate for healthy democracy. We expect that those whom we select will take the initiative to move the country forward but they have become involved in politics in such way as if they are playing out open hostility. In my view, tearing the shirt of the speaker is great reproach to legislators. Such situations have arisen before and in other states too. What we need now is that all parties sit together and engage in quiet reflection to determine what the level of their language should be. Clarity should not only be in ideas but in working style also.
 
Before I conclude
 
The full credit for the landslide victory of BJP in Zilla Parishad, panchayat samitis and municipal corporation elections in Maharashtra should go to the youngest chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. As chief minister, he has done well and the people have shown approval of his work. Fadnavis framed an excellent strategy in this election and implemented it in the best way. His strategy, planning, effort and hard work paid off. It is thanks to his able leadership that the BJP has shaken the roots of Shiv Sena in Mumbai. During the election the way he attacked the Sena is commendable. This even the Congress could not do when it was in power. BJP could have crossed the figure of 100 but some elements of the party did not like it. These elements also conspired to defeat the BJP. If these elements had not sabotaged, BJP could have easily left Shiv Sena behind. The Shiv Sena helped the Congress at many places to defeat the Shiv Sena so that the votes were split to defeat the BJP. But Sena’s plan did not work. The election saw the emergence of Devendra Fadnavis as a skilled strategist and brilliant leader and he had the full blessing of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, state BJP strongman Nitin Gadkari and state BJP president Raosaheb Danve. These blessings also worked.
This election saw the rout of Congress. But even after a series of electoral reverses, the Congress leaders are not learning the lesson. From Delhi to ‘galli’, they neither have a plan nor a strategy. They are sitting at ease and have no time to come out of factionalism. In a democracy, there must be a strong opposition. Unfortunately, Congress is becoming weaker day by day and there is no visible change in its leaders.
 
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.

 

 

 

Apathy Towards North-East can Prove Dangerous!

 
When something happens in UP, Bihar, Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh or any state in west, north and south India, the entire country is shaken. From print media to electronic media, all are alert but let anything happen in seven northeastern states and nothing happens. There is no scare! I am surprised at this attitude, why? For three and half months in Manipur, United Naga Council has blocked the national highway. Mayhem has broken out. Manipur is in a state of turmoil. Prices of petrol have increased from `200 to `300 a litre. LPG cylinders are not available. Prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and yet there was no buzz anywhere in the media!
 
This is not the first time the national highway has been breached. Such blockade has taken place even in the past and civilians always have to suffer the consequences. The blockade may continue for months and the government seems to be in slumber. Why does this happen? Why is the government’s attitude towards northeast indifferent and insensitive?
I have been maintaining a consistent interaction with senior Congress leader from Manipur Rishang Keishing on this issue. He has been a member of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and three-time chief minister of Manipur and I have been his colleague. I asked him that in the central government there are separate departments to cater to the northeastern states, special provisions of funds, but still substantial problems remain? Why like other state northeastern states of the country are not homogeneous? He agreed with me and enumerated the reasons which I have often stated. In the Rajya Sabha, I have often participated actively in debates on topics of northeastern states. The traffic situation is bad, there is no good means of communication. Means of employment are not enough. 70 years after independence, the whole area is neglected. Despite spending thousands of crores of rupees, Hindi could not be simplified and established in south India. So is the case with the northeast.
 
Now just consider the fact that Manipur is going to the polls on March 4 and 8.  The state with 26 lakh people was ruled for 15 years by the Congress. Okram Ibobi Singh is the chief minister since 2002. Naturally, it is being asked whether the government has kept silent just to fuel anger against the Congress?
Whatever be the reason, the truth is that the attitude of central government towards not only Manipur but the seven states of the northeastern part has always been full of indifference. The Article 371 is in force in many of those states and the governors of those states have been given the additional powers to maintain law and order. However, there are many questions concerning this in view of the fact that there are elected governments there so why this Article is in force and there has been no debate on this Article. It is issued in the name of security of the tribal groups.
As far as turbulence is concerned, none of the northeastern state is an exception. ULFA militants have taken control of the countryside. Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura somehow always remain victims of the unrest.  There is uproar over the issue of police brutality or misuse of special powers given to security forces. Life in most of these states comes to a halt by sunset.
 
However, the result of the indifference of the central government is that the people of North-East regions are angry. They feel that the government has discriminated against them. When a Manipuri group visiting the Taj Mahal is asked what country they come from their anger is natural. When the girl from northeastern India is molested on Delhi roads, their anger is natural. It is because of this kind of conduct that there is very little knowledge about the northeastern states in other parts of the country whereas these states are full of diversity and cultural plurality.
 
If there is widespread anger among the people of these states against the Union, it is a situation of grave danger because China is maintaining a hawk’s eye on the area. It had captured Tawang territory in Arunachal Pradesh in 1962 war. However, it backed off and Tawang is still with us but China still considers Arunachal Pradesh to be part of that country. If we want to win the psychological war or strategic war with China, it is important to win loyalty among the people of North-East as is the responsibility of the citizens of any other state in India. One more important thing: If there is a direct way for the Islamic State to penetrate India and it could be from this region. If you see the world map they can reach India and Bangladesh via the Middle East through the sea. Islamic State’s mouthpiece Dabik has announced its intention that also includes province of Bengal. It is important to hear the alarm bells. With full readiness and integrity, India should focus itself on the subject and should win the hearts of the people of North-East. Our vision should be sensitive.
 
Before I conclude
 
We shall never forget a dear friend and beloved son of Vidarbha Bhau Jambuwantrao Dhote! I’ve seen him in every shade of life. Where can you see such combination of diversity as mirrored in his life? He has practised politics with great dramatics. His politics, his life in every way carried human touch. No interest, no desire! I’ve always found a child in him. Such detachment  can be found only in a child. I will badly miss you, Bhau..!

 

 

 

Make or Break Elections for All

The stakes are high for each political party in the elections to the five states. For instance in the Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance is battling a two-term anti-incumbency in the face of a two-pronged challenge from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. The Congress chief ministerial candidate Amarinder Singh has declared that this would his be last election. So, he is contesting from two seats, his traditional Patiala seat and the SAD chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s turf, Lambi. He has to do this to dispel the notion as alleged by the AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. It also shows that the Aap was running a tough campaign which the Congress could not ignore.

In the coastal state of Goa with just 40 seats, the Congress seems to have an upper hand vis-a-vis the BJP as the incumbent ruling party is marked with challenges from its alliance partners. Then there is the persona of the Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar. He has not been able to come to terms with his move to Delhi and is really itching to go back to Goa capital. But in a dynamic political situation, things have changed on ground for Parrikar. Besides, AAP has also made its presence felt during the Goa campaign. For the Congress revival plans ahead of 2019 would make sense only if the party registers big wins in Punjab and Goa. Electoral setbacks in these two states would certainly take the shine off the Congress, make Rahul Gandhi look like a lessor leader.

However, the toughest and the most crucial battle of all states is being fought in the Hindi region of Uttar Pradesh. It is worth remembering that this most populous state with the largest number of seats 403 up for grabs. One logic for those polls, is that you do not stretch yourself too much when you have solid data from the past. In 2014, the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls bagging 73 out of the 80 seats and this translates into 365 seats. Pollsters argue that even if there is a ten percent decline in the BJP’s vote share it is assured of convenient majority. But others argue that this logic does not hold valid due to the changing dynamics of the political situation and the fact that the conditions that are applicable to one state election are not necessarily true for the parliamentary elections in the same state. It is this factor that makes an alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress an exciting affair. The Congress has just 8 per cent vote in the state, but when added to the Samajwadi vote share it can work a magic figure as victory margins in four-cornered contests are usually in the range of 5,000-10,000 votes. The Bahujan Samaj Party is also in the fray banking on its solid Dalit vote and hoping to get enough Muslim votes that would change the game. This approach did seem workable as long as the SP-Congress alliance was not in place but after that this idea is a non-starter as the Muslims would solidly back the alliance.

So, ahead of 2019 polls the parties that do well in 2017 should be rationally considered as strongly positioned for the next general elections. As a mature leader, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav is not interested in jumping the gun and making all kinds of statements about the future. For him everything that matters is 2017.

The BJP of course has higher stakes in Uttar Pradesh. In the first place they have to secure an absolute majority in UP in order to keep the credibility of their claims in 2019 alive. This is directly related to prime minister Narendra Modi’s credibility. He is the campaigner in chief and it is on his shoulders that the BJP has notched up successive electoral victories. A dent did appear when the BJP lost to AAP in Delhi and the grand alliance in Bihar. But now Modi has the surgical strikes and demonetisation issues to pulverise the opposition. The fact that people have continued to show faith in Modi’s leadership despite the pain of demonetisation should be an asset for him in these elections. But the question now is how much an issue would demonetisation remain in Uttar Pradesh by the time people go to vote?

The other two states are Uttarakhand and Manipur which have Congress-ruled dispensations. In case the Congress manages to retain both these states it shall get a morale booster ahead of 2019. As things stand, the Congress is on a weak wicket in Uttarakhand, and reasonably well placed in Manipur. But the campaign can make a difference.

These regular elections-every year in a few states, are a gentle reminder of the accountability process. The ruling party at the Centre, will always claim that the state elections are not a referendum on any central decision or policy matter, but the fact is that when more than 20 crore people vote on an issue it does become a referendum some way. Anyway, it is a matter of political convenience, if the ruling party wins the state elections then it does not mind if the contest is billed as a referendum.

The frequent reality checks for the party in power as well as for those in opposition are a welcome route to assessing their popularity among the masses. Of course the governments to run the states are also elected but that is now becoming the secondary concern. In all these elections, the main concern would be: who wins in Uttar Pradesh - BJP or the SP-Congress alliance; in Punjab either the Congress or AAP; likewise in Goa either the Congress or a hung Assembly trying to cobble a majority. The high stakes political games would continue irrespective of the outcome. It is India’s most fascinating spectacle sport. It is one in which the interest never goes down. As long as we have elections, then irrespective of their level, the interest in their outcomes shall continue.

 Before I conclude

In this year’s railway budget which is now a part of the general budget, Union railways minister Suresh Prabhu has been reportedly very generous in his allocations for pending projects in the state. He has allocated Rs 5,958 crores for various projects with the Nagar-Beed-Parli section getting Rs780 crores and the Wardha-Yavatmal-Nanded section getting Rs 738 crores. With these allocations, the issues of time and cost over-runs for public projects and their resultant impact on the people’s lives comes under sharper focus.

 

 

 

What Brings Karnans in Judicial System?

It is a routine procedure for the courts to serve a notice of contempt of court to a common citizen, a political leader or a government officer. But the serving of such notice to a senior sitting judge is a newsworthy event.

The Madras High Court judge Justice C S Karnan wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in January 2017, stating: “Though your decision of demonetisation has reduced corruption in other sectors, it is still rampant in the judiciary”. Besides, he attached to it a list of 20 judges who were allegedly involved in corrupt practices. Around this time, he dashed off a letter to the Chief Justice of India Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and the Central government wherein he made several allegations against the chief justice.

The very act of a sitting judge writing such letters to the Prime Minister and any other officer in the government is wrong and illegal. The one reason for Karnan to indulge in such an act could be attributed to the eccentric trait in his personality.

Consequently, the Supreme Court served a show-cause notice to him. He has to reply to the show-cause notice to the Supreme Court by February 13. At the same time, the Supreme Court constituted a seven-member special committee under the Chief Justice of India and carried out a detailed probe into the conduct of Karnan. On recommendations of this committee, Karnan was transferred from Madras High Court to Calcutta High Court. But Karnan proved to be a tough cookie and stayed the transfer order himself by exercising his judicial powers. When he subsequently realised that his conduct was wrong, he expressed regrets about that and left Madras for Kolkata. But while doing so, he left all the papers and documents pertaining to judicial work at home and kept them locked in his chamber. The attorney general of India Mukul Rohatgi filed a complaint in the Supreme Court stating that the conduct of Karnan was an insult to the dignity of court and an impediment in the working of judicial system and urged the court to issue an order to Karnan to deposit all his documents with the Madras High Court. On this, the Chief Justice of India ordered that Karnan should be divested of all the powers. At the same time, Chief Justice of India also barred Karnan from working. Now Karnan has to submit to the Supreme Court clarifications for his conduct, contempt of Supreme Court and staying his own transfer. In his comment on the case, Justice Khehar has noted that such an event of utter frivolity and illegal conduct never took place in the judicial history of the country and hence this case needs to be taken seriously.

Some years back, the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court had stayed the verdict of a judge of Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court and hence that judge served the notice of contempt on the chief justice. Not stopping at that, he had ordered the police department to produce the chief justice before him. At that point in time the Supreme Court intervened and put an end to what could have been a laughable and contemptuous incident.

I will not say that the Indian judiciary is totally flawless and efficient. There are over three crore cases pending before the various courts in the country and hence an evil-like corruption is bound to sneak into it. Besides, there is deep rooted suspicion about the entire process of recruitment in this field. Howsoever clean and transparent the persons might be while entering the profession, who will guarantee that they will not get spoilt in the course of time? That is why such posts have been occupied by many eccentric and questionable characters. We are aware of the judge who passed the order lifting the ban on dance bars in Mumbai on the eve of retirement or the chief justice in Delhi who bought a mansion for Rs 100 crore a day prior to his retirement. A probe is underway at present into the illegal assets amassed by two retired chief justices in the country. Adv Prashant Bhushan filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that half of those who occupied the post of chief justices of India were corrupt. Just imagine the state of affairs in the state and district courts if the Supreme Court itself is in such a mess. Good jurists are not willing to be appointed as judges to the high courts and Supreme Court, Adv M C Setalvad had told the country in his judicial inquiry report in 1960.

Karnan’s conduct is not exceptional. Visit the Bar room of any court and you will get to hear about the stories of such eccentric and bizarre judges. It will be a significant achievement if such an eccentric behaviour of Karnan awakens the authorities concerned on the need to undertake speedy reform in the judicial system. To remove a judge, an impeachment process has to be conducted and it has to be approved by two-third majority in both the Houses of Parliament. It is more difficult than removing the Prime Minister. May be that is the reason why the judges like Karnan feel reassured about their security of job. They can not be removed, can not be criticised and there is no discussion on them in the Parliament and even the media has to keep its mouth shut. Such circumstances can make any judge a Karnan and hence the urgent need for reform is felt.

In 1993, impeachment proceeding was initiated against Justice Ramaswamy. But because he hailed from the southern part of the country, the MPs from south India came together in his defence. When the impeachment process was initiated against the Calcutta High Court judge Justice Soumitra Sen, I myself participated in the proceedings. But when he realised that the impeachment motion would get through in the Parliament, Justice Sen tendered his resignation. Notably, as many as 64 judges have been impeached in the US so far. The appointment of judges should be done in a transparent manner through the collegium system which is in place. At the same time, a powerful mechanism should be established to verify the validity of their judgements. Similarly, a strong mechanism with the authority to question the conduct of senior judges should also be established. Such a mechanism already existed in England and America. The matter of fact to be noted here is that the persons accountable to none are more likely to go berserk.

Justice is the fundamental right of the people and to ensure that the judicial system should not only be clean and transparent but seen to be so too.

 

 

When soldiers perish under snow

Vijay DardaOf late, while extolling the virtues of nationalism and patriotism, and asking common citizens to make sacrifices for these causes, the valiant soldiers guarding the borders under perhaps the most testing circumstances in the world have been invoked a great deal. It stands beyond every element of doubt that our soldiers are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice whenever they are called upon to join battle against the enemy. It is also understandable when they lay down their lives and achieve martyrdom in combat. But when soldiers perish underan avalanche of snow the situation is not just tragic, it is somehow unacceptable. It causes not just a lot of pain, but leads to a great deal of anguish.

 The two situations may not be comparable, but the same angst prevails when the terrorists from across the border manage to sneak in andattack Army camps. All these unsavoury events raise disturbingquestions, as precious human lives are lost, and we seem to remain  almost helpless. The basic question that haunts is when shall we be free from these tragic incidents? Or will we just keep on regretting and condoling such incidents? It is a question that cast a long shadowon our international image and prestige as a nation. We are seen asweak and vulnerable, and this is unacceptable.

Recently, there have been several incidents of our soldiers getting buried under an avalanche of snow. The biggest incident took place in Gurez were 15 soldiers were killed in two separate avalanches, but seven soldiers were rescued. The other incident came two days later when five soldiers were rescued from under the snow in Kupwara area. As Kashmir witnesses one of the more severe winters with temperatures dropping below minus 7 degree Celsius such episodes are likely to happen but it also signals the failures of the advance warning systems. It is not that there is no mechanism in place for such warnings, in fact a Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) has been functioning under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at Manali since 1969, and it does issue such warnings occasionally. But clearly, this time the warnings were either not there or not effective and soldiers perished under the snow.In fact, the avalanche deaths are a sad commentary on the state of defence preparedness. These show the wide gap that exists between the rhetoric our leadership relishes about the status of our nation vis-a-vis our international rivals and the reality on the ground. Indeed, when it comes to vulnerability from natural disasters there is hardly any difference between the civilian population and the military soldiers. It is worth recalling that when a massive two-day flood paralysed Mumbai city in 2005, and took a heavy toll of life and property a decision was taken to install a Doppler radar and 22 other automatic weather forecasting stations, but so far the BMC has not even allotted the land for the site of installing the Doppler. The most important commercial city in the country thus remains vulnerable.In this era of climate change, every country remains vulnerable to such flash floods, droughts or the type of destruction that was witnessed in Uttarakhand a few years ago. There is no getting away from such onslaughts of the nature. The essence of the national spirit and commitment lies in making sure that we learn the right lessons from such tragedies and are better prepared for the future. Our problem lies in the fact that we remain high on rhetoric and plans but have very little to show in terms of preparations on the ground. This is not a case of playing the blame game, every government has its ownshare of failings.

The only way out of this situation is determined action in which all the state agencies cooperate. As the authority with resources and power it is for the central government to step in and ensure that all the other agencies fall in line. The red tape at every bureaucratic level must be cut mercilessly and decisions must be taken within deadlines. It is the failure to take appropriate decisions on time that is largely responsible for the overall mess that we are in, and it is also one of the main reasons as to why we lag behind in the world index for ease of doing business. When Narendra Modi was promising a change in the run-up to the 2014 elections, the people were anticipating that with his image as a doer in Gujarat, he would usher in this change. But once again, even in office as prime minister he has made promises galore without commensurate action on the ground.Take his latest demonetisation decision that was hailed as the boldest political initiative by any prime minister in independent India and was to unearth black money. We are yet to know as to how much black
money has been recovered and how many persons have faced action on this count.  The nation was in the dark about the roadmap when demonetisation was announced, and even now post-demonetisation it has no idea about the government’s follow-up road map. The point is not about black money. There is the larger national issue. Can we afford to drift from one issue to another without a consistent national agenda?

Our pre-occupation with several sentimental issues that have a tendency to inflame passions is also yet another debilitating factorin our national affairs. For instance, pray what purpose is served bythe play ‘Mi Nathuram boltoy’ in this age and time. We do have respectfor creativity and freedom of expression, but then the overall needsof the society also have to be considered. This problem getsexacerbated when the minds that orchestrate these activities are awarethat the establishment would take a benign view of their activities.It is for the government of the day to take a call on the overall roleof such minds.

Before I conclude

The violence unleashed on the sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmavati’ in Jaipur needs to be condemned without any reservations.The Karni Sena can protest about the film, but it cannot indulge in violence. We have seen that filmmakers are high value soft targets for such senas. However, there is no need to give into their pressure tactics. Bhansali should produce his film as per his own creative understanding of the character and should make no concessions.