M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
The Justice Shah Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed by Team Modi on the lines mentioned in a Supreme Court verdict, and has sat several times since the time it was set up. Lawyers, not unexpectedly, usually regard existing or new laws as a panacea for societal ailments, a view embraced with fervour by television anchors, and press reports indicate that the many sittings of the SIT have generated a flurry of recommendations designed to tighten further legal screws on delinquent behaviour. Given the number of laws in India (some of which have their roots in the period when Aurangzeb was ruler of Delhi), many may find it difficult to understand precisely how yet another set of laws would improve the situation, especially those where the onus is on the citizen to prove his or her innocence of charges levied by officials acting at the behest of business or political interests. Certainly, the implementation of the J.S. Verma recommendations, which added to existing laws on violence against women, has not improved the situation, while making it a relatively simple matter to file a case against any male imprudent enough to enter into any form of communication or contact with the opposite sex.
In India, our colonial-era laws are often used to collect bribes in order to fund the education of wards abroad, or to build a residence as opulent as that into which a former Principal Secretary to a former Prime Minister moved after demitting his job, while he had earlier been staying at a modest apartment in Vasant Kunj. His offspring too moved into much grander places of residence, in the way such well-born offspring are frequently known to do, naturally to silence from those government agencies tasked to track precisely such details and penalise those guilty of infringing the maze of law on the subject.
Apart from information which accidentally fell into its hands (and into that of several other governments), thus far the government seems to have come up with little in the way of retrieving moneys illegally placed abroad by citizens of this country. Expecting such individuals to have foreign bank accounts in their own name seems a trifle naive. Almost all those with cash kept abroad would have placed such money in the accounts either of relatives or friends, who have been made NRIs for the purpose, or would have availed of the legal and accountancy services abundant in offshore tax havens to create a chain of nominations for accounts whose secrecy would consequently be close to impossible to penetrate. As for those with accounts in the US, the gap of several months between news of US authorities offering data on the bank accounts of nationals to their respective countries and the actual signing of the protocol with the US government was sufficient to allow such account holders to have cleared out such accounts, thereby ensuring that all that the Government of India will finally come up with as a consequence of the Black Money (in foreign countries) law will be the same as will be dredged up by the Shah SIT, which is a derisory figure. And by levying confiscatory taxes and penalties on the funds disclosed, the government has ensured that the new law's success rate (in bringing back money illegally deposited abroad) will be as meagre as that generated from the sittings of the Shah SIT.
Fortunately, North Block mandarins have already declared that the Black Money law was "not a revenue raising measure". If the purpose was not to raise funds by getting back money illegally kept abroad, perhaps the objective of a law mentioned in this year's Budget speech was to sharpen the drafting skills of the North Block bureaucracy. By the time the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls roll by in 2017 and the Lok Sabha polls two years later, should the moneys brought back by the Government of India be a piffling amount, the impact will be substantial on the political fortunes of Prime Minister Modi, whose party was elected to power because of the confidence of voters that he would succeed in bringing back vast sums of such cash. His success or lack thereof in this will be a major factor in future election campaigns. The problem is that those steeped for decades in the present colonial system of governance may find it difficult to change their ways. As was the case with the British Raj, the "stick" is usually outsize, while the "carrot" is shrivelled and inedible. Take the case of the recent increase in Service Tax, a measure that has had a devastating effect on employment generation in India. Rather than raising the rate even further, lowering it to at least 10% would have increased compliance and therefore collections, a fact that must be known to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose practical approach to governance in Gandhinagar is what has ensured his present stay at 7 Race Course Road. Unless he succeeds in changing the processes of governance in Delhi the way he did in Gujarat, for example, by ensuring the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars back to India from offshore banking havens and from international investors, what took place in Delhi is likely to be repeated elsewhere. More than the Ministry of External Affairs and even the Ministry of Defence in South Block, it is North Block — specifically the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs — which will decide the result of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Who was responsible for the abomination referred to as Section 66A of a revised Information Technology Act which itself has features which belong less to a democracy than to an authoritarian state? It took Justices Chelameshvar and Nariman of the Supreme Court of India to move the legal system in India closer to what it ought to be in a country which claims to be a democracy. A 24-year-old lawyer, Shreya Singhal was the trigger behind the challenge to the Act in the Supreme Court. For after all, it is the young who have the most to lose unless the shackles of the colonial legal and administrative system carefully preserved by Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors gets scrapped and replaced with methods and laws valid for the 21st century. The Information Technology Act 2000 was replaced by an amended version passed without discussion in both Houses of Parliament on December 23 and 24, 2008, coming into force ten months later. It is not coincidental that it is after the amended version has come into force that this country's advantage in Information Technology has been severely challenged by other countries, including the Philippines. The amended Act made any internet-related activity operating out of India a hazardous occupation, because of the ease with which both service providers as well as users of the worldwide web can get tossed into jail, in effect at the whim of an official or the political, commercial or other individual controlling the decisions of such a functionary.
From the start, this writer has opposed the amended Information Technology (IT) Act, and in the process, sought to ascertain the inspiration behind its origins. What key political insiders claim is that the amended Act was the result of the "advice from UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi that legislation get passed which would assist in preventing the flood of less than complimentary references to her and others close to her in several websites". Both the print as well as the broadcast media have treated Sonia Gandhi with the same elevated degree of reverence as shown by Prime Ministers Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Modi, so it is understandable that the Congress president would have been less than happy at this section of the media being in parts considerably less solicitous of her than the "Establishment" in India and abroad has been over the decades. These insiders say that the UPA chairperson's pressure on the government to deal with uncomplimentary posts by muzzling online freedom of speech was relentless, especially from end-2007 onwards. They claim that it was because of this informal directive from the Congress president that the amended Act was devised and passed in 2008 with the support of the BJP. Although A. Raja's name has been tossed about — most recently by H.R. Bharadwaj — as the prime mover of the amended IT Act, insiders say that "Raja was listened-to only when it suited the Congress leadership". Whenever the Congress leadership was lukewarm towards a Raja proposal, "Sonia Gandhi would speak to Karunanidhi, who would fall in line. Hence, to say that A. Raja was responsible (for the amended IT Act) is laughable". When asked whether Rahul Gandhi was of the same view as Sonia Gandhi in the matter of laws to intensify online policing, the reply was that "Rahul is considerably more liberal than his mother". They claim that "incessant oral complaints were made to the UPA ministers about uncomplimentary posts on Sonia Gandhi, sometimes in very strong language" and that it was largely because of such informal communications from the Congress president that Government of India went ahead with the infamous 2008 amendments to the IT Act of 2000.
As was pointed out by this writer multiple times in the past, the UPA has, numerous times during its decade in office, passed pieces of legislation that would appear to have come after consultations with Kim Jong Un, the boisterous boss of North Korea. In practically every sphere of significant activity and operation, already harsh laws have been tightened, often significantly, so that life has become a minefield for those citizens lacking the billions of rupees needed to afford a top lawyer or the good luck to be related to (and possess a soft corner within the heart of) a politician of influence or a senior official. In such writings, this writer placed the blame for such enactments on Kapil Sibal and Palaniappan Chidambaram, but credible individuals reiterate that the brain behind the incessant intensification of colonial-era laws and administrative practices was Sonia Gandhi, and that Chidambaram and Sibal were merely following her wishes with the fealty and dogged determination both have demonstrated in this regard over the years.
Others view such placing of the blame on Sonia Gandhi as unfair, pointing out that she has been vocal on multiple occasions in expressing her love for the common man and the underprivileged, and has shown a partiality towards known campaigners for citizens' rights such as Aruna Roy, who mentored Arvind Kejriwal during that period when the Chief Minister of Delhi was not yet being informed by his key supporters that he was born to save India from sloth and poverty, and that the most effective way of ensuring success in such a task would be to expel or marginalise from the Aam Aadmi Party all except those holding a similar view. As for Chidambaram and Sibal, the duo have modern views and intellects considerably above the average, which indeed was why it was particularly disappointing that they ensured that Manmohan Singh would enter history as the Prime Minister who in his time created a system of laws, practices and regulations which sought to enslave the people of India as comprehensively as the British did in their time, and which marked a shameful retreat from the low levels of "reform" practised since Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister of India in 1992. Those who defend Sonia Gandhi claim that such measures were actually the result of the combined efforts of Chidambaram and Sibal, encouraged by Manmohan Singh (who seems to believe that the citizens of India need to be constrained and foreign interests liberated from the regulations imposed on locals). They say that this triumvirate was constantly looking for ways of tightening the control of state agencies over the citizen. They add that Sonia Gandhi is in fact "liberal", as evidenced by the fact that the Congress Party (of course, in a way which had zero practical effect) endorsed the repeal of the Queen Victoria-era law on homosexuality, and asked for the waiver of the death penalty in the case of a lady who was part of the plot to murder Rajiv Gandhi.
Despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared his intention to transform the structure of governance in India in a 21st century manner, elements in his government somehow ignored this objective and followed the standard (19th century) practice of the Delhi establishment and justified in court even Section 66A of the amended IT Act rather than get it repealed, as several BJP leaders had promised before coming to power. Now that the Supreme Court of India has reminded the government that Article 19(1)a of the Constitution of India (despite a significant watering down of the provision by Nehru in subsequent years) stands at the core of the democratic process, hopefully, the magnificent judgement of Chelameshvar and Nariman will be followed by other SC decisions which go towards ensuring that India morphs into a country where it is civil society which rules, rather than (as in North Korea), the state machinery. What the NDA needs to do is to repeal the entire amended Act and bring back with some small modifications the original Information Technology Act 2000 passed by Prime Minister Vajpayee.
Prime Minister Modi needs to continue repealing several of the odious enactments that have the simultaneous effect of slowing down progress, while increasing the quantum of bribes collected. Hopefully, sometime in the future, enough of the records hoarded in secrecy by successive governments will get released, so that it becomes known as to whether it was Sonia Gandhi who was the prime mover behind the UPA's flurry of Pyongyang-style laws and regulations, or the triumvirate of Manmohan Singh, Kapil Sibal and Palaniappan Chidambaram who were responsible for giving the state powers over the citizen that are contrary to any definition of democracy.
M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
Why not set up a ‘Civil Society Investigation’ team with those having a record of battling graft, individuals of the mettle of E.A.S. Sarma or S. Gurumurthy?
Ranjit Sinha is among the numerous appointees of the Manmohan Singh government who are either serving the current dispensation or who have retired with honour. Mr Sinha's qualifications for the top slot at CBI were obvious: he was the officer who looked into the soul of Lalu Yadav and saw a blameless soul, even while the uncharitable were metaphorically throwing gobs of fodder at the poor man. Almost every night of the week, the then CBI director was gracious enough to meet at his official residence those who his organisation was investigating. It would be churlish to claim that such meetings were born out of a desire to negotiate a satisfactory conclusion to the probes against them. The Sinhas were probably discussing the Indian team's prowess at the IPL matches, or were engaged in conversation about how the rate of growth of the Indian economy could get pushed up to the double digit figures, needed to eliminate poverty in India within a generation?
After all, the targets of CBI probes could very well be authorities on these and other subjects of interest to the Sinhas. Is Ranjit Sinha blameless of the allegations made against him, despite his odd choice of visitors to spend a quiet evening with, now that a government elected to office on the promise of accountability and clean governance has allowed him to serve out his full term, rather than suspend him and launch proceedings against him?
The BJP secured an absolute majority of Lok Sabha seats ten months ago, entirely because a significant number of voters believed in the efficiency and probity of Narendra Modi. Since 26 May last year, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat is the Prime Minister of the country, and therefore in effective charge of the CBI, the ED, the DRI, the Income-Tax Department and other investigative wings of the gargantuan governance mechanism in India. In view of his stand against corruption, especially the vow that neither would he indulge in "eating" up funds or allow any other leader to do so, citizens are awaiting the promised period of accountability, when government begins to initiate action against the many VIPs and VVIPs guilty of having enriched themselves illegally through misuse of their office during the preceding two decades. Narendra Modi will be judged by two criteria, first his success in inflicting punishment on those guilty of large-scale corruption, and next, in boosting economic growth to two digits. Such a process would get speeded up and made more comprehensive were Civil Society to be brought into the cleansing act and not just the Civil Service.
For example, why should it be the just CBI which has been entrusted with a government-initiated probe into the death of D.K. Ravi, the IAS officer from Karnataka? Why could not have a "Civil Society Investigation Team" been set up with the inclusion of those having a record of battling graft, individuals of the mettle of E.A.S. Sarma or S. Gurumurthy? Why not empower such non-official probe teams so that they can record evidence and examine both records as well as personnel? Why not SITs of such individuals rather than officials and retired or serving judges? Why not appoint to the Election Commission at least a few individuals who have actually fought an election, so that practical experience is brought to bear, besides length of service within the administration? Why not appoint as information commissioners those with a record of seeking transparency, rather than merely confine such choices to officials, who for decades have resisted precisely the sort of openness which the 21st century demands of all but a few processes of government? Why not go ahead with appointing direct recruits from Civil Society to fill at least a quarter of Civil Service posts? Indeed, even posts as vital to good governance as that of principal secretary to the PM or other posts within the PMO and other ministries could in future get filled by those from professions outside government with a proven record of overcoming obstacles to progress in a country still bound by a colonial system of governance.
At the same time, those in the Central services should be encouraged to spend stints outside government, in think tanks, in universities and in the corporate sector. In this way, the two sectors will seed each other rather than remain separated by a colonial-style wall.
Prime Minister Modi exemplified the promise of change, a transformation introduced at a speed closer to the way in which technologies and mindsets are changing in this century than the bullock cart pace of our colonial administration. Calling on a fusion of Civil Society and the Civil Service in more of the essential tasks of governance would represent a welcome initiative by Prime Minister Modi in the necessary process of changing the governance system from its longstanding colonial and people-smothering mode into a mix that is democratic and people-empowering.
The Ranaghat atrocity, where a 72-year-old Catholic nun was violated by three young men, was carried out through an extremist organisation based in Khulna in Bangladesh, say analysts based within the territories of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The organisation "used recruits from two different faiths for the operation, and arranged their return to Bangladesh within hours of the atrocity", thereby making it problematic that the actual perpetrators would ever get apprehended. More disturbingly, these sources allege that a section of the local police in the vicinity of the seminary "was aware of the planned operation, and agreed to ensure safe passage" to the perpetrators. They, however, denied that any political party had a role to play in the heinous crime, which has traumatised the peaceful and progressive Christian community throughout India. "Elements in the local police ensured that the follow-up action (after the rape) was first delayed and then taken in such a fashion that evidence got destroyed" and that "even though the extremist youth shown on the CCTV cameras were moving around in the neighbourhood for six days before the assault, the local police failed to bring in residents of the area who could have identified them". They claim that after such a botch-up of the initial leads in the case, "only the usual suspects will get rounded up by the CBI, which is relying on the local police for assistance in solving a crime that the latter allowed to take place", and hence that "the actual planners and facilitators of the attack will escape".
The speedy finger-pointing over the Ranaghat atrocity has to be seen in the context of efforts by numerous international organisations to characterise the Narendra Modi-led NDA government as a fanatic band of majoritarians dedicated to the submission of the minorities to their will. GCC-based analysts say that since the Narendra Modi-led NDA government came to power at the Centre on 26 May 2014, Pakistan's ISI has increased its budget by six times for "operation equal blame", designed to ensure that India and Pakistan share the same brackets on issues of human rights highlighted by the "international community" (the usual shorthand for NATO member-states). According to these GCC-based analysts, who track the activities in Bangladesh and Nepal of the ISI and its associated groups internationally, the organisation has since 2011 set up a budget to fund attacks on Christian organisations and priests in India, so as to ensure that the international media report India in the same way as they do Pakistan, a country where the Christian community has been discriminated against since the 1980s and where members of the community are routinely killed or converted through threats. Such activity has been sharply stepped up since the middle of last year.
"There is a perception that the ISI recruits only Muslims, when the fact is that in India, more than a third of active and dupe recruits (i.e. those unaware that they are working for the Pakistan-based espionage agency) are Hindus and even a few from other communities", an analyst based in an Abu Dhabi agency revealed, adding that "it does not take much money or persuasion to ensure that acts of violence get committed in a country where poverty is rife".
Over the past four years, the ISI has liaised through its associates with NGOs and individuals worldwide to "facilitate the preparation of reports which seek to show that India is a country where Christians and Muslims are grossly discriminated against", said a US-based analyst, who pointed out that the effort is to ensure that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) succeeds in lobbying the US government to place India in the same bracket as Pakistan when the Obama administration makes public its report on international religious freedom by end-April. NGOs such as Amnesty International have lately been bracketing India in the same category as Iraq and Nigeria, where the treatment of minorities is concerned, periodically briefing policymakers within the NATO bloc about events in India. In this context, it has relied on reports such as a "300 Days" report card of the Modi government, which claims that there have been 600 egregious attacks on minorities during this period, 450 against Muslims and the rest against Christians. What goes unmentioned is that much higher figures exist for attacks against Hindus in the same period, or that in previous 300-day periods when the UPA was in office, the figures were much higher. "From New York to Geneva to London, squads from the ISI have been active in ensuring that a stream of misinformation reaches policymakers about the situation in India", a process in which they have been aided by several well-intentioned individuals and groups who have jumped onto the "India is fascist" bandwagon being propelled by some politicians in India eager to discredit the Modi government.
When President Barack Obama visited India for the 26 January Republic Day parade, he flagged five concerns of his government: religious freedom, status of Dalits, slavery, violence against women and overall human rights. Not accidentally, an international campaign is now on to show that India is deficient on all five counts, with the US House of Representatives passing for the first time a resolution on the status of Dalits in India (HR 566, 113th Congress) in a context where the EU has since 2006 passed six resolutions against India on the same subject. Recently, a documentary by a filmmaker linked to an NGO, which sought to show India as a country where rape was commonplace (when the statistics show the country to be safer than the US or several of its European allies), was shown on the BBC. The NDA government's clumsy reaction of banning the filming in India ensured global publicity for the documentary, thereby playing into the hands of the traducers of India. Not surprisingly, there have been several high-profile screenings of the "banned" BBC documentary in various NATO capitals and metropolitan centres, in a context where the US House of Representatives on 6 March and the US Senate on 11 March discussed the subject of violence against women in India in very critical language, a precursor of condemnations to come on this and the subject of "slavery", i.e. child labour in India. Interestingly, a child labour campaigner in India has won last year's Nobel Peace Prize, joining a list of winners that includes Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger, but excludes Mahatma Gandhi.
Ominously, efforts are on by some NGOs and their patrons to ensure a mammoth march of farmers to Delhi in May, this time with a view towards ensuring physical clashes with law enforcement officials. Two earlier marches have taken place, the last a few days ago, on the issue of pollution in the Yamuna river. NGOs, trade unions and farmers organisations are meeting with political and other elements in order to launch a coordinated campaign against the Narendra Modi government in the coming weeks, both nationally as well as internationally.
All that can be said with certainty is that those who indulge in violence which could get interpreted as a hate crime, such as the recent attacks on Christian institutions across India, are playing to a tune which promotes the ISI's "operation equal blame", thereby assisting that organisation to succeed in portraying India in international fora as being as much of a serial abuser of the rights of the minorities as Pakistan, when the reality is very different.
M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.
The Modi reforms will begin to manifest themselves in earnest in 2015, reach reasonable maturity in 2017 and ensure double digit growth from around 2019.
Why did the inhabitants of a small island off the coast of France conquer three-fourths of the globe, ensuring that English became the international link language, now spoken in some form or the other by over a billion people? It was not the Monarchy, which was responsible for such success so much as the lack of control of that institution over so great a part of the life of the ordinary citizen. A millennium ago, the people of what is now known as the United Kingdom clawed back from their rulers a significant slice of liberty from the control of the aristocracy, so much so that since the 15th century, individuals regarded themselves as free to explore the globe and more often than not, ensure their control over diverse parts of it, always in the name of the Sovereign. More than any other characteristic of governance in the UK, it was the personal liberty and initiative enjoyed by its citizens which propelled them to individual acts of scientific, literary and geographical discovery. What a contrast to the European Union, where the eurocrats in Brussels seek to codify and to control. But for the fact that potential competitors such as China and India have regimes even more restrictive of initiative than the EU, that grouping would be heading down the growth ladder even faster than is the case at present.
The people of Gujarat are among the most entrepreneurial in Asia, and in Chief Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi they found a CEO, who allowed them to be, and who sought to facilitate rather than to control. A recent issue of a well regarded magazine carries several lengthy essays on why the expected "Modi Revolution" will take place in slow motion, if at all, by arguing that sloth, rather than speed, is in the nature and chemistry of the Indian people. Among the essays was a debunking of perceptions of Modi as a downsizer of governmental power, arguing instead that what was needed were still greater powers to the state. As for changes in the mechanics of governance, these should be at the periphery and never at the core. Should the magazine be correct in its assessment of Prime Minister Modi's system of governance, it will be safe to predict that the BJP would be lucky to get 150 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, besides losing in both Bihar in 2015 and UP in 2017. The reason is that the type of society which the authors of the magazine's essayists claim is in India, no longer exists. Both young and old wish to see substantial changes, and rapidly rather than over decades, the way the gradualist school assumes. The BJP secured a majority on the promise of substantial change effected with despatch, and voters warmed to Modi on the premise that he could deliver on both.
This columnist regards himself as having a viewpoint independent of party fixations, but from 2006 has seen Modi as the individual best suited to overcome and indeed remove the disabilities of the colonial system of governance in India. The Gujarat politician gives every sign of appreciating the fact that not simply the people of Gujarat but the population of the entire country has within it the genes of entrepreneurship and imagination needed to transform India, if only the dead hand of the bureaucracy were removed from their backs. Unlike the essayists in the magazine cited, he took seriously Narendra Modi's promise of "Minimum Government and Maximum Governance", and sees the 365-day period till 25 May 2015 as a learning experience for the Prime Minister, before he finally begins to turn his energies towards the dismantling of the colonial system of governance, which reduced the share of the subcontinent from 24% of global GDP to 1% within 150 years of 1820. If this view be correct, then the Modi reforms will begin to manifest themselves in earnest in 2015, reach reasonable maturity in 2017 and ensure double digit growth from around 2019, the year when the BJP should get 350 Lok Sabha seats (if Modi runs the government as Modi). In contrast, were the gradualist and incrementalist school to have its way, the tally would fall to the vicinity of 150. Those who fail to understand the magnitude of the change in attitudes of the Indian people over the past two decades continue to talk and act in a gradualist manner may unwittingly be setting the stage for an electoral meltdown.
In contrast, most are confident that PM Modi will function in the same innovative and brisk way as CM Modi did, because he understands that the times call for transparency in governance and for a ruthless pruning of the powers of the national capital over state projects, and that of the state capitals over district projects. Why should every power plant or even institution of excellence, not to mention environment approvals, necessitate frequent visits to Delhi? Why should those elected to zilla parishads have to come to state capitals to get sanctioned projects that they are best equipped to understand and to handle? And why should there be 10,001 ways of sending a citizen to jail rather than just 101?
Why should only those who were once or who are still in government be given positions of responsibility rather than the broader society, which in contrast to government is registering success rather than failure? Let it be admitted that this columnist is firmly in the company of those who believe that in the months and years ahead, the tribune of change, Narendra Modi rather than the predicted gradualist will emerge, a Prime Minister who through the changes he effects will free the people from the coils of red tape so that this country can once again be by 2024 at the latest what it was in 1980, the equal of China in GDP.