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Punjab Drama: POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AT WORST, By Insaf, 2 October 2021 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 2 October 2021

Punjab Drama

POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AT WORST

By Insaf

 

The political drama unfolding in Punjab relegates the IPL season to the background. Navjot Sidhu’s inconsistent batting in the Congress has queered the pitch for the Grand Old party. Not only has former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh given up his decades-old Congress membership, but jeers are being heard all the way in Delhi, as G-23 starts demanding from Sonia Gandhi a CWC meeting. The events indeed have caught the umpires by surprise. Amarinder is asked to resign as CM and he does, Navjot as PCC President glees and then sulks putting in his resignation after a new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi takes oath. Navjot said he wouldn’t take back his resignation but Channi says he has and all is sorted out with the aim to work together. Amarinder meets Home Minister Amit Shah soon after and the political grapewine says he’s joining the BJP, but as of now no, says the Captain. The meeting it was said was to discuss the prolonged farmer’s agitation.

In all these twists and turns, the Congress central leadership in Delhi remains a silent spectator. However, a group of party leaders who have been seeking organisational reforms, known popularly as G-23, have seized the moment. They are voicing serious concerns over developments in Punjab and elsewhere.“We (G-23 leaders) are not the ones who leave the party and go elsewhere. Ironically. Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal throws a googly,“People who were close to them (party leaders) left and they were nearby. Those who don’t think are gone. They are still standing with them…. We are G-23, not JeeHuzoor 23. It’s very clear. We keep talking. We keep repeating our demands…” Will their demands be heard?  The Assembly elections are not too far and time is running out. AAP is waiting in the wings and already got into a batting mode. Will  the Congress umpire, whoever it is wake up and give a verdict? Set its team in order. 

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Farmers Protest

The farmers’ ongoing protest has the Supreme Court giving the Centre a lesson or two in governance. Questioning how can highways be blocked perpetually, the apex court firmly stated on Thursday last: “We may lay down a law but how to implement the law is your business. The court cannot implement it. It is the executive who has to implement it.” To the question where does this (blockade) end, the Centre’s reply revealed a sense of helplessness as it urged the court to make farmer unions’ party to the petition, wherein a Noida resident had sought removal of the blockades at Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border at UP Gate. The big question is whether the Centre will, as asked, be able to convince the court of the ‘steps taken to resolve their (farmers) grievances’ and how impleading representatives of farmers ‘will help in the resolution of the dispute’? For their seems no resolution in sight as talks have miserably failed with both sides adamant on their positions for the past one year. In fact, the Samyukta Kisan Morchais buoyed with the ‘massive response’ to the Bharat bandh called on Monday last. It was felt most at the centre of the protests--Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, with large pockets of Kerala, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha giving it support, in addition to Rajasthan Jharkhand and Maharashtra. Where lies the solution? Says the SC, it lies in ‘the hands of Centre and concerned State governments. They have to coordinate to find a solution that when a protest takes place, roads are not blocked and traffic is not disrupted to cause inconvenience to the common people.’

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WB To Delhi ?

All eyes will on counting of votes for Bhowanipore by-election on Monday as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee needs to get elected to the Assembly before November to continue in the coveted seat. With ballot boxes sealed on Thursday last, her winning appears a foregone conclusion, but TMC is aiming at the margin, with target of a bigger vote share and beating rival by over 50,000 votes. This will help didi in her vision of catapulting into the national politic arena. Her speeches during an unusual high voltage campaign is a pointer: the voters, a mix of Gujaratis, Sikhs, Marwaris and Biharis, were told ‘every single vote counts…if she can win Bhowanipore, she can win the rest of India… If people want to get rid of BJP government at Centre, then vote for her..’ Plus, the campaign trail included meeting/greeting people in their language, visiting temples/gurdwaras; asking Cabinet ministers, MPs/MLAs to take charge of different wards; stepping up welfare schemes such as Duare Sarkar (Govt at doorstep), etc. The BJP, which put up Priyanka Tibrewal, who lost in Assembly poll, too had lined up 20 star campaigners, including Hardeep Puri and Smriti Irani. And on polling day, it lodged 13-odd complaints on malpractices, guess making a base for the probable loss. Be that as it may, the big question is whether this by-poll will be the next step for Election 2024?  

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Develop LWE States

A vision is not enough, fast track development is key to wean away youth from the Maoists movement. Oft-heard but reiterated by Home Minister Amit Shah at a meeting with leadership of 10 States affected by Left-Wing Extremism, adding ‘development hasn’t reached there…since independence..” Instead of usual passing the buck, he would do better by heeding to States’ request of raising security-related expenditure and development funds for LWE districts on the principle of ‘cooperative federalism.’ As Jharkhand Chief Minister Soren put it: both Centre and States have to deal with the problem; till now bills of Rs 10,000 crore has been raised against the State and these should be written off; Centre should in future decide not to send such bills to State governments including AP, Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, Bihar, MP, Chhattisgarh and Kerala. Maharashtra demanded Rs 1,200 crore for various measures including more police stations and mobile base stations, better roads, railway network, setting up of banks, developing schools etc. Predictably, no commitment was made, but North Block urged States to conduct ‘joint operations’as Naxals move across borders and DGPs and Central agencies’ officersshould hold review meetings at least once every 3 months.Well meaning alright, but it should set its priority right as this review meeting was held after two years!

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Assam’s ‘Refugees’

Civil society and human rights activists should be seeing red over the misery of 7000-odd  homeless in Dhalpur, Assam. Reports reveal that over a week since the ruthless eviction ordered by Himanta Biswas Sarma government took place in Darrang district, they are ‘living either in makeshift shanties or under open skies.’ Public health experts are said to be worried as crowded conditions, lack of safe water, open defecation could lead to an epidemic in the area. However, district administration claims that toilets and tube-wells have been provided, other than health camps. If that was the case, then why would NGOs, or for that matter the All Assam Minority Students' Union or the All India United Democratic Front reach out with ‘ration, tarpaulin sheets, rice, pulses, mustard oil, salt, sugar and biscuits, sending a medical team etc.’ Shouldn’t the BJP government have planned in advance basic amenities before evicting the people under the ambitious Gorukhuti agriculture project and turning them into ‘refugees’? Perhaps it should give a thought that while it plans to spend Rs 960 crore to implement modern farming and scientific animal rearing practices on the land regained, it would do well to spend some funds on their rehabilitation. Is it asking too much?---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Biden Lauds Indian Press: A PYRRHIC PLEASURE!, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 1 October 2021 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 1 October 2021

Biden Lauds Indian Press

A PYRRHIC PLEASURE!

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC)

 

The United States President Joe Biden in presence of Indian Prime Minister Modi praised the Indian media, “Indian press is much better behaved than the American press.” Expectedly, there have been various reactions from India as well as from the US. The simple truth is that one should take Biden’s remark with a heavy pinch of salt atleast for two reasons. Biden is proving to be more unpredictable and mercurial than his predecessor Donald Trump. Secondly, the comment was perhaps impromptu, not well thought out.

A comparison between Indian and American press is, however, in order since the comment has come from the President of United States which is considered ‘the greatest democracy’ in the world and India, by dint of its size, is the biggest democracy. It is another matter that after the political antics displayed by Donald Trump just before he was demitting office American democracy began to be called a ‘frail democracy’. At the same time, the international organisation called Reporters Without Borders has rated Indian media 142nd in its rankings.

What did Biden say actually and when? Biden was hosting Modi at the Oval office in the White House for the first in-person bilateral meeting after he became the President in January 2021, and significantly in the wake of the pandemic. Remember, Prime Minister Modi was in United States to address the United Nations and participated in the important meeting of Quad.

As soon as they finished the pleasantries Biden alerted Modi, “I think what they are going to do is bring the press. The Indian press is much better behaved than the American press.... and I think, with your permission, we should not answer questions because they would not ask any questions on point”.This would have been almost music to Modi’s ears as he hardly holds any press conference in India. That is why Modi instantly replied to Biden that, “Completely agreed”.

On the comparison, as said, Prime Minister Modi has not held a single press conference except just one in 2019 where he refused to field any questions. Much as it is unprecedented in Indian democracy, Prime Minister Modi has a one way communication with the Indian public. He has a radio programme called ‘Mann Ki Baat’ (Speaking from the Mind); that too to the school children. Second, another unique trait being seen is that, currently, under the present dispensation, the Indian press largely interrogates the Opposition not the government.

In any democracy, the party-in-power, called government is accountable for omission and commission of political acts – policies, ordinances, administration decisions, and so on. The Indian press puts the blame entirely on the Opposition for what they have done years ago when they were in power. To be fair, the Indian press has been very vocal throughout since Independence except during 1975-77 when internal emergency was imposed.

Recall the veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani had famously said, “When the press was asked to bend during emergency, it began to crawl”. Now Advani’s party is in power. It has a subtle way of twisting the arm of the press by selectively patronising them through government advertisements. Those who do not toe the government line, are deprived of the government largesse.

There is also cliques around the management of the press. Only the select few, on the right side of the government get published. Those who have contrarian view do not find any space in the media, whether talk time or in print form. The print media is by and large objective, but it can be perceived to be following an agenda.

On the other hand, American press is highly critical of the government. President Donald Trump ran his entire term by being antagonistic to the press. In 2019, in presence of Modi, interestingly, Trump had similar remark on the Indian press. He had said to Modi, “You have great reporters. I wish I had reporters like this”. He also had said, “You have a friendly press”, during Prime Minister’s visit to the White House. Little did people realise that press being friendly or better behaved is not a compliment to the journalists. It could be snide.

Obviously, both American Presidents in reference here have had lack of knowledge of the Indian press environment as well as their poor ranking in terms of press freedom. And Biden’s remark was out of context and not in line with his attitude towards press. His Press Secretary, Ms. Psaki clarified that Biden has been taking questions from the press all the time and will continue to do so. She asserted, “I think that should speak of his commitment to freedom of press around the world.”

In this visit of Prime Minister Modi, he did not address the press in the United States as well. Unusually, a bureaucrat, Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla held two on the record briefings. Whereas, following the Quad meeting on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press meet at the White House; so did the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

It goes without saying that the press is by far the most important pillar of democracy. It is the press that takes and gives news to the people which help enhance democracy through information sharing and sensitisation. If the press is either manipulated or stifled, democracy suffers. The Indian press is falling short of being impartial and critical.

We might pat our backs on the remark made by Biden. But instead of chest thumping on this superficial praise, it is high time for serious introspection. Indian press has done spectacular and remarkable job in exposing corruption, misdeeds of the governments of all hues, it should continue to do so. If India is being recognised by the world, it is primarily for its diversity of culture and political democracy. In both these national heritages, press has played a significant role, certainly in upholding these.

Since Indian press has been commented upon by two successive Presidents of the United States, the press should sit back, ponder over these comments and make course correction both to secure their credibility and in the interest of the nation. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Indianisation: NATIONAL OBJECTIVITY, By Dr. S. Saraswathi,30 September 2021 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 30 September 2021

Indianisation

NATIONAL OBJECTIVITY

By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

Chief Justice of India, NVRamana, who is keen on judicial reforms by modernising the infrastructure has called for “Indianisation” of justice delivery system to remove the barriers in the way of common people in getting justice. This combination of technological modernisation as the tool and adaptability to local situations in reach has a common objective of benefiting    Indian people from top to bottom. The need for this is not peculiar to the judicial system. It is wanted in  many spheres.

 

By Indianisation, the CJI means the need to adapt to the practical realities of our society and to  localise our justice delivery system, which is based essentially on pre-independence set up. Use of English language and unfamiliar legal terms some of them drawn even from Roman, Persian, ancient Hindu and Mohammedan laws, cumbersome procedures, lengthy judgements clothed in court language understood only by lawyers, and courts at distance are adding to the woes of poor litigants fighting for justice. They need help even for handling procedural matters from the stage of filing petition to understanding the judgement.

 

The CJI is of the view that the “working and style of courts do not sit well with the complexities  of India”, and clarifies that the system, practices, rules of courts were colonial in origin and may not be best suited to the needs of the Indian population.

 

The main concern in this advice is to bring the clientele and the judicial system closer by making the “justice delivery mechanism more people-friendly” so as to ensure that even the most vulnerable sections can hope to exercise their rights. The lofty ideal of people-centric system is now popular in public administration, police, judiciary, healthcare and all such fields directly dealing with people. 

 

The advice is given mainly for justice delivery and not the contents of law. Justice-seeker must remain the focal point and the system should be “transparent, accessible, and effective”.

 

Law-making in democracies is the right and responsibility of the legislative bodies. Where traditions and customs have to undergo changes to suit current needs and democratic principles of liberty, rights, and equality, and contemporary concepts of social justice, human rights, and  inclusiveness, judiciary has to support innovations provided these do not violate the basic law of  the land. Every system and institution has to and is evolving in free societies to adjust to societal changes.

 

In the background of CJI’s advice is survival of several social practices and institutions that   lack legal sanction, some of these even contradicting laws such as the katta panchayats (kangroo courts) and outdated patriarchal values. 

 

The term “Indianisation” is being used in different contexts for various purposes. Towards the close of the 19th century, British colonial bureaucracy in India at the highest level was opened to Indians by allowing them to take Indian Civil Service Examination (ICS) thus starting   Indianisation of civil services till then restricted to the Europeans.

 

Indianisation of law-making during British rule began in the 1920s when dyarchic system of government was introduced in the provinces. The Executive consisted of two parts – one called  “Reserved” consisting of law and order, justice, police, land revenue, and irrigation, and the other “transferred”, which comprised local self-government, education, public health, public works, agriculture, forests, and fisheries which were transferred to elected Indian members of  the Executive responsible to the legislature. In this period of Indianisation, the scheme of communal representation in public services and government control over Hindu religious institutions were introduced in Madras Presidency, which provided an idea about future.

 

The term “Indianisation” is used also to refer to the spread of cultural practices of the Indian sub-continent particularly in South-East Asian countries. South Indian languages, arts and architecture, religions and places of worship such as temples in this region are evidence of strong influence of Indian link among people of these countries. Central Asian and East Asian countries also came under the influence of Indianisation.

 

The Indian Penal Code, a British gift, came into force 160 years ago to bring a common criminal code across India. The legal system and judicial structure established by the British went a long  way in furthering the basic intention and scheme of the colonial rulers “to create a class of persons Indian in blood and colours, but English in tastes, in morals, in opinion, and in intellect”.

 

This code has been amended nearly 80 times. New offences and punishments have been added   following adoption of reformatory laws against dowry, rape, sexual molestation at workplace, sex determination test, female infanticide, etc. These are part of the process of Indianisation of law necessitated by Indian social conditions. Cognisable crimes are broadly classified under two categories – those falling under IPC and those under Special and Local laws which number over 50. 

 

However, new laws have to conform to the fundamental principles of criminal law like presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, equality in application of law, proportionality in treating offences.

 

Abolition of the jury system in criminal law in 1973 may be considered as a major change towards Indianisation of the criminal procedure brought about after the criminal case involving the naval commander Nanavati. The then judge in the Allahabad High Court said that there was not “sufficient number of right class of people to serve as jurors”. M C Setalvad, the first AttorneyGeneral was of the opinion that Indian people were “temperamentally ill-suited to act as jurors”. The system, peculiar to common law and English temperament had“failed to acclimatise and grow in India”. It was a case of Indianisation of the judicial system.

 

Law relating to the procedure to be followed in civil courts is governed by the Civil Procedure Code made in 1859. It introduced uniform procedure to ensure fair justice and has undergone several amendments.

 

Adoption of Hindu Code, which represents civil law reforms for Hindus in the place of  the body of Hindu personal law is a great step forward in “Indianising” in the sense of promoting  democratic ideals and uniformity in law. The process can be completed as a national objective if and when uniform civil code is adopted to benefit people of all religions.

 

Indianisation of education is being pursued vigorously. Indian languages are replacing English as medium of instruction. Scholars are coming forward to rewrite history from Indian perspective.   Civics is being taught with country’s needs in mind. Value education is being included as part of learning. Vocational stream is integrated with general education. Classroom teaching is adopting new methods to suit new generations of learners. Yoga is introduced in several schools as physical fitness programme. Indigenous and rural sports are encouraged and forgotten songs, dance forms, and drama are being revived.

 

Changes are being made in several disciplines -- Sociology and Social Work which are primarily American in coverage. Social science research seriously started a scheme of indigenisation  (different label for Indianisation) in the 1980s. 

 

In healthcare, revival of indigenous system of medicine is receiving encouragement along with native dietary and health practices. Nutritious qualities of old culinary items are remembered. In sum, Indianisation is a national objective best suited to a plural society.

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

WHO Revises Guidelines: IMPROVE AIR, SAVE LIVES, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 29 September 2021 Print E-mail

 

Open Forum

New Delhi, 29 September 2021

WHO Revises Guidelines

IMPROVE AIR, SAVE LIVES

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The high pollution levels in metros and big cities due to deteriorating air quality area great cause of concern. In a country like India where a significant percentage of the population lives in slums, squatter settlements and even on pavements, besides railway tracks, air pollution has a disastrous effect on their health as they are worst exposed.

The WHO has recently revised its air quality guidelines for six key pollutants, including extremely hazardous particulate matters, PM2.5 and PM10, making these stringent compared with earlier standards set in 2005.  “Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in lowand middle-income countries the hardest,” says its Director General, adding the new guidelines are ‘evidence-based and practical tool for improving quality of air.’He urged all countries to put them to use ‘to reduce suffering and save lives.’

Over seven million deaths worldwide annually are currently linked to exposure to these pollutants! The new standards mean 90% of global population and nearly 100% of people in South Asia, including India, live in areas that exceed the pollution threshold. Even at the current relaxed standard of 40 ug/m3 for annual PM2.5 averages in India versus WHO 2005 annual limit of 10 ug/m3, most Indian cities failed to meet these levels. Under National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), India has a target to reduce 20-30% of PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations by 2024 from 2017 levels. 

The global environment action group, Greenpeace, has observed that the Indian national standard remains far more relaxed, allowing release of higher pollutants. Annual average of PM2.5 at 40ug/m3 is eight times less stringent than WHO’s and the 24-hour average standard is four times less stringent. Even at the current relaxed standards of 40ug/m3 for annual PM2.5 average in India versus WHO’s 2005 annual limit of 10ug/m3, most Indian cities failed to meet the requirement.

Recently, Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) has been developed by Energy Policy Institute at University of Chicago, which is a pollution index that translates particulate air pollution into its impact on life expectancy. The report revealed that pollution in not limited to Indo-Gangetic plains but has increased geographically with States such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh seeing people lose an additional 2.5 to 2.9 years of life expectancy. People in northern India are still the most impacted by air pollution with around 510 million residents, losing an average of 8.5 years of their life.

Delhi is still the most impacted with an average person losing 9.7 years of his/her life in comparison to average life expectancy if WHO standards are being met. Uttar Pradesh is second in position, 9.5 years. Among the metros, Kolkata, has the second highest life expectancy loss after Delhi at 7.3 years. The study, which analysed air pollution data from 1998 till 2019 also found that while Delhi overall ranks as the worst, UP has most polluted cities with PM 2.5 concentration in Allahabad and Lucknow, 12 times that of WHO guidelines.

The AQLI report says South Asia is home to the most polluted countries on earth with Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan accounting for nearly a quarter of global population and consistently ranking among the top five most populated countries in the world though governments in the region are now beginning to respond. India’s northern part experiences extreme levels of air pollution. 

Clean energy is obviously the alternative to curb air pollution. In a recent development India and the US have launched a joint platform, Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD), which would help both countries move towards decarburizing economies in sync with their respective commitments to deal with the challenges of climate change. Joining the International Solar Alliance in due course would be a next step for the US to drive the world towards a clean energy transition. The Dialogue is one of the two main tracks of the ‘India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership’, announced by Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden in April at the leaders’ summit on climate change.

Though politicians are vocal about controlling emissions, the reality is the government has double standards, as per environmentalists who say resources earmarked for environment are terribly limited. In terms of per capita emissions, the US is the largest with China a middling second and India the last. India and China have repeatedly claimed that the major burden of reduction of carbon emissions will have to be borne by rich nations,an obvious fact. However, India’s real position is more fragile than what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated. The country has been clearing forests to mine diamonds while it has ambitious plans for expanding solar power usage though  has grave inefficient electricity infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in a new stringent rating system, the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) byGerman based non-profit group, ‘Climate Analytics and Research’ of New Climate Institute,downgraded the country’s overall rating. Released on September 16, it factored in several parameters including updates on climate action targets such as mid-century ‘net zero emission and 1.5 degrees Celsius’ compatibility measures. Among 37 countries, the CAT rated the UK, Germany, Japan, US, Nepal and 12 other countries above India in either ‘almost sufficient’ and ‘insufficient’ categories due to upgradation of their respective climate action goals and other measures.

The question being debated is what policies are being adopted to combat air pollution and global warming? The most popular options the world over are an emission trading system and a national carbon tax. Emission trading is more common in Europe, China and New Zealand while carbon tax has been introduced by Japan, Mexico, Bolivia and Chile. A number of cities have adopted renewable electricity targets, including Oslo, Auckland, Brasilia and Nairobi while many cities in China, the US and Canada have introduced emission trading system.

The UN estimated the entire world has to achieve net-zero emission by 2050 to stay under two-degree Celsius warning at the pre-industrial level and India is under tremendous pressure to announce its own net-zero year. This year is being seen as vital for the global climate debate. 2021-end, policymakers from various countries will meet and are expected to come to the table with new or enhanced pledges under the Paris Agreement.

India’s Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC)requires it to achieve three main goals, including increasing cumulative electricity generation installed capacity from non-fossil sources of energy to 40% by 2030, which currently stands at around 38%; lower emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030 and create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes through additional forest and tree cover. Within this is included a commitment to install 175GW of renewable energy by 2022 comprising 100GW of solar, 60GW of wind, and 10GW of bio-energy, and 5GW of small hydropower projects.

Given India’s present positionregarding human development and other social indicators, the debate is whether it should pledge any target year for its net-zero or not. It would be advisable for the country to implement the above pledges for future and evolve a mechanism to decide what action is needed today. India’s present commitments are not driven by climate mitigation but by domestic concerns of job creation, providing enough electricity, lighting-up homes etc. which, too are important, but the goal must balance development with environmental concerns.---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


 

Culture Of Protests: WILL GRIPE REAP DIVIDEND?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 28 September 2021 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 28 September 2021

Culture Of Protests

WILL GRIPE REAP DIVIDEND?

By Poonam I Kaushish

In this silly political season where Governments are busy indulging in symbolism of ‘my Dalit Chief Minister in Punjab vs ‘my Brahmin-OBC Cabinet in UP,’ why should farmers be behind?   Curse all you want but India thrives on tu-tu-mein-mein aka protests. The voice of resistance. The voice that says, enough is enough, which has perfected the saying “jiski laathi uski bhains”!

It is all about registering ones dissent, the louder the better. Success is measured in terms of causing maximum dislocation and discomfiture. And over the last 10 years we see this voice raised aloud. India has witnessed number of protests cutting across cities, classes and communities, from farmers, students, Dalits, Muslims to women.

From the Anna Hazare protest 2007 down Nirbhaya 2012, Citizenship Amendment Act December 2019 to Monday’s Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s Bharat Bandh marking one year since President Kovind assented three controversial farm laws and 10 months since thousands of farmers set camp at Delhi's Singhu border to voice their protest.

Life in Haryana, Punjab and western UP was disrupted with protesters blocking highways, key roads, squatting on railway tracks et al. West Bengal too saw protests backed by the Left Front. In Guwahati Socialist Unity Centre of India activists took out a protest march. In Andhra, YSR Congress-led Government extended support.

In Odisha Nirman Sramika Sangha blocked roads in Bhubaneswar. In Karnataka, a ‘Rasta Roko’ led to disruption in vehicular movement in Bengaluru and several other parts. Public transport was hit in Kerala thanks to both the ruling LDF and opposition Congress-led UDF support. Parties too joined the melee. Besides the Congress, Left, AAP, Samajwadi, BSP, YSR Congress, TDP and Swaraj India. Perhaps to score brownie points.

Raising a moot point: What role do protests/ bandhs play in our functioning representative democracy? Are strikes actually expression of freedom or are they means of suppressing fundamental rights in a democracy? Why do protestors resort to this measure?  Is the cause valid? Is the State being unjust or unreasonable?

Importantly, will sit-ins on roads be the new grammar of Naya Bharat’s protests? Is it the new political paradigm of dissent? To keep its flock together? Ignominy of becoming irrelevant?  Or political considerations? Why are they allowed, despite innumerable court rulings banning them?

Sure, protest is an exciting word, the sustenance of democracy and a catchphrase for free speech. It connotes peaceful march against issues from the mundane to dastardly, injustice meted out by authorities, against a law, aggression by the police, inaction by those in authority and what is perceives as encroaching on their freedom.

Over the decades each protest sowed hope that the gripe would reap dividend. Yet one thing that stands clear is people are ready to take to the streets to defend their rights as well as the integrity of the Constitution against all attacks, even from the Government. True, some laws were changed, some repealed, some guilty punished, some systems established, on some the Government refused to budge.

Gone are the days when it took months or days to plan a protest. In today’s digital media world, it is easy to organize dissent. Remember Nirbhaya outpourings started with a SMS or Hazare’s dharna reflection of “people power" who came out in droves against the endemic corruption during the UPA II regime.

Besides, it is easy to identify classic protestors who believe in the cause but there are others who join as they have nothing better to do and not a few who join the free ride as it is ‘fashionable’. While not a few are interested in “épater la bourgeoisie" (shock the bourgeoisie) than in coming up with viable solution for the cause they are protesting against.

Further, some simply shrug off protests as “sab chalta hai attitude, this is Mera Bharat Mahan at its rudest and crassest best.”  Many assert “ki pharak painda hai.” Indeed, India has travelled a long way from Lokmanya Tilak’s “Swaraj is my birth right” to “protest is my birth right.” Today, every other section of the society plans strikes as a matter of routine to stall anything that spells change from the set routine. 

As India marches ahead, are protests the right recourse? Certainly, the Constitution guarantees one the right to protest, but it does not guarantee one the right to infringe upon others rights. Unfortunately, our strikers fail to realize that strikes negate the basic concept of democracy. These are just a camouflage for non-performance, self-glorification, to flex their might and muscle, to gain sympathy or wriggle out of working hard.

Remember, democracy is neither mobocracy nor a license to create bedlam. It is a fine balance between rights and duties, liberties and responsibilities. One’s freedom pre-supposes another’s responsibilities and liberty. Importantly, protests cannot set things right and at the same time it cannot create any psychological impact or pressure on the minds of those people who are sitting at the helm of affairs.

Unless protesters have a viable alternative to offer, continuing a strike could lead to chaos and tyranny of the mob. Alongside, losses in terms of human casualties and damage to the economy and businesses. Paralysing the State, black-mailing corporates, industries to get attention and policy reversals only exasperates the public and inconveniences them, cuts off the money flow, shoos off investors and endangers their own jobs.

Undeniably, there is no harm in peaceful protests. Yet unending dissent just to muscle the Government to bend only threatens to undermine the legitimacy of Indian democracy: For, it offers no viable alternative and only the chilling prospect of chaos alongside, losses in human casualties, damage to economy and businesses.

Clearly, the time has come to take a leaf from out the US law, wherein there is no Constitutional right to make a speech on a highway or near about, so as to cause a crowd to gather and obstruct the highway. The right to assembly is to be so exercised as not to conflict with other lawful rights, interests and comfort of the individual or the public and public order.

In the UK, the Public Order Act, 1935 makes it an offence for any person in uniform to attend any public meeting, signifying his association with any political organization.  The Prevention of Crime Act, 1953, makes it an offence to carry any weapon in any ‘public place’ without lawful authority.  The Seditious Meetings Act, 1817 prohibits meetings of more than 50 persons within a mile of Westminster Hall during the sittings of Parliament. 

We need to remember India is a civilized democracy, a fine balance between rights and duties, liberties and responsibilities. Whereby, a citizen’s right is paramount. One’s freedom pre-supposes another’s responsibilities and liberty. Alongside one’s freedom ends where another’s nose begins!

The question we all need to ask is: Can we afford protests at all, leave aside for what purpose it may have been called? At some point we have to stand up and bellow, “Bandh karo ye bandh!

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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