Selected Articles from Various News Paper: Civil Services Mentor Magazine - January 2016

Selected Articles from Various Newspapers & Journals

Where the mind is without fear

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing Indian-origin professionals in Silicon Valley, argued that this is brain gain, as millions of successful Indians in the U.S. bring back knowledge to India. There is truth to this assertion. India should then cherish the dramatic increase in the number of Indian students in the U.S., from 31,743 in 1995 to more than 1,02,000. The discussion of brain gain versus brain drain misses something potentially far more important, however: the issue of a domestic brain trap. Brain trap is a result of the archaic educational, social, and economic systems that stifle most young minds from blossoming into creative thinkers and highly productive citizens. One could argue that the millions of successful Indians in the U.S. would not have achieved much success if they had remained in India. This includes me. Unlocking the enormous domestic brainpower will trump any brain gain.

There are many plausible reasons for brain trap. One important reason is the process by which an individual’s inquisitiveness is repeatedly snubbed from childhood. Often this is a result of strict adherence to social norms at home and is carried over to schools and workplaces. Case in point: In a gathering that I attended, a spiritual leader said, “Indian culture is the greatest in the world.” In response, a 6-year-old child innocently asked, “Why?” Obviously stumped by the question, the leader said, “Children in Indian culture respect elders and do not disagree or talk back.” The child nodded her head in acceptance.

Unfortunately, the damage begins there. Obedience is valued more than the child’s inquisitiveness. We assume disagreeing is disrespectful and obedience is a greater trait than inquisitiveness. Deeply held beliefs are blindly transferred to children. This obedience gets amplified in schools. Fear is embedded in the psyche of the student both at home and school and the ability to think beyond the norms is curtailed from childhood. Fear manifests itself in many forms and one is that of academic stress due to hyper-competition.

Teachers play an extraordinary role in shaping students. If India wants to unlock the brain trap, then it must invest massively in teachers and teacher training. That begins by acknowledging the importance of creativity, introducing teaching and testing methods that encourage inquisitiveness, and rewarding teaching innovations. In India, professors are expected and incentivised to get PhDs. But, it is unclear if there is any greater focus on creativity or academic research in most places. Professors who emphasise research and publish papers with students should be recognised and rewarded.

The business leaders and industry associations like NASSCOM lament the lack of soft skills or critical thinking among graduating students. Often critical thinking skills are equated with math or science-related fields, while placing very little emphasis on critical thinking skills rooted in economics or the liberal arts education. Both are essential.

Despite recommendations, there has been little meaningful progress. It is well understood that students develop leadership skills when they are exposed to societal and economic problems. There are numerous assumptions, biases, inconsistencies, incomplete information, and counter arguments that can cloud judgment. Therefore, to make informed decisions, students need to learn to make logical arguments, provide evidence and identify limitations, recognise different viewpoints, develop skills to disagree respectfully, and to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, engineering and science do not always promote this kind of critical thinking.

Mainstreaming a nuclear Pakistan

What should New Delhi’s response be to a potential nuclear deal between the United States and Pakistan that could eventually mainstream the latter into the global nuclear order? New Delhi’s initial reactions to media reports about a possible deal indicate that it would unambiguously resist any such move by the United States. In a recent Washington Post column, David Ignatius wrote that “the United States might support an eventual waiver for Pakistan by the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which the United States is a member… the issue is being discussed quietly in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington on October 22".

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly responded to what Mr. Ignatius called a potential U.S.-Pak “diplomatic blockbuster” in the following words: “We’ve seen these reports and it is not for the first time this issue has surfaced. Whosoever is examining that particular dossier should be well-aware of Pakistan’s track record in the area of proliferation. When India got this particular deal it was on the basis of our own impeccable non-proliferation track record. That is the reason the U.S. gave us 123 Agreement in 2005 and that is why we got a NSG waiver in 2008. Pakistan’s track record is completely different, so we hope that will be taken into account in making any such decision”.

Pakistan-watchers in Washington do not think that the proposal for a nuclear deal for Pakistan would fructify anytime soon, and even if it does materialise, it will come with a number of conditionalities, many of them unacceptable to the Pakistan Army, the custodian of the country’s nuclear arsenal. Moreover, even if the negotiation process between the U.S. and Pakistan eventually leads to a civilian nuclear deal, there is absolutely no reason for New Delhi to lose sleep over it, unless, of course, New Delhi wants to get back at Islamabad for crying foul when the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was being negotiated over a decade ago.

Critics of the U.S.-Pakistan deal advance a number of arguments why Pakistan should not be offered a nuclear deal by the United States. One, they point out that Pakistan has a terrible track record of nuclear proliferation and that a nuclear deal would be seen as rewarding such irresponsible behaviour. Two, the argue that it would enable Pakistan to enhance its nuclear arsenal which, of course, is directed against India, making the latter more insecure. Third, they feel a U.S.-Pakistan nuclear deal will hyphenate India and Pakistan once again in the international discourse, something New Delhi viscerally detests.

First of all, Pakistan’s admission to the global nuclear order is good news for the international non-proliferation regime. An isolated nuclear Pakistan would not be in the interest of the international community or India. Critics of the deal would argue that given Pakistan’s well-known history of engaging in external nuclear proliferation, we should be wary of inviting it to be part of the global normative framework. To me, that is precisely the reason Pakistan should be mainstreamed rather than kept out. I am not sure having a terror-infested nuclear-armed state for a neighbour — operating outside the reach and supervision of the global nuclear institutions — is in India’s best interests.

Second, it is in India’s interest to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is under international safeguards, if not control. It is indeed better for the international community to be in the know of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as far as possible, than having absolutely no clue about what it is doing with its nuclear material and technology. The only nuclear relationship that Pakistan has today is with China. How can such an exclusive and obscure nuclear partnership be better for India than having a Pakistan whose nuclear programme is under continuous international supervision?

The international community will place a number of demands on Pakistan, given the latter’s negligent nuclear history and the offensive nuclear posture today. For one, it would have to separate its civilian and military facilities, like India did, as part of a potential deal with the IAEA, leading to a less feverish production of fissile material by Pakistan, thereby producing fewer nuclear warheads. Second, it may be asked to accept restrictions on its weapons programme, materially and doctrinally — such as giving up the policy of early use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict with India. Third, Pakistan will have to give up its opposition to FMCT negotiations as a precondition for the deal.

New Delhi should therefore, offer conditional support to Pakistan’s inclusion in the global nuclear order. We must, however, ask the U.S. and other stakeholders to press Islamabad to stop stalling the FMCT negotiations, and agree to a nuclear ‘No-first-use’ agreement with India, which is already part of the Indian doctrine. Firm commitments should also be sought from Pakistan on clamping down on terrorism in the country in order to reduce the likelihood of nuclear terrorism in the region. Moreover, India should insist that Pakistan, as part of the deal, should be asked to negotiate nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) with India without linking them to conventional arms control.

Breaking the bonds of rural poverty

World Food Day, the world has a lot to celebrate. As a global community, we’ve made real progress in fighting global hunger and poverty in recent decades. A majority of the countries monitored by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation — 72 out of the 129 — have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment in their populations by 2015. Meanwhile, the share of people in developing regions who live in extreme poverty has come down significantly, too — from 43 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent this year. But progress has been uneven. Globally, some 800 million people continue to suffer from chronic hunger. Almost one billion remain trapped in extreme poverty. So despite major strides, hunger and poverty have stayed with us — even in times of plenty. Economic growth, especially in agriculture, has been essential to driving down rates of hunger and poverty, yes. But it is not enough, because all too often, it is not inclusive.

Most of the world’s poor and hungry belong to rural families who depend on agriculture for their daily meals and their very livelihoods. These family farmers and rural labourers, understandably, are focussed on survival in the here-and-now. They adopt low-risk, low-return approaches to income-generation, underinvest in the education and health of their children, and are often forced to adopt negative coping strategies such as selling off meagre assets, putting their children to work, or reducing food intake to cut expenses. They become trapped in survival mode. Poverty and hunger become intergenerational — and seemingly inescapable.

With most of the world’s poor and hungry still living in the countryside and still dependent on agriculture, twinning social protection with agricultural development programmes makes compelling sense. This is why FAO chose social protection and agriculture as the theme of World Food Day this year. But knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. To break the age-old bonds of rural poverty once and for all, the world needs to act with more urgency — and more decisively. Political commitment, adequate funding, partnerships, and complementary actions in health and education will be key elements in transforming this vision into reality. Policy and planning frameworks for rural development, poverty reduction, food security and nutrition need to promote the joint role of agriculture and social protection in fighting poverty and hunger, together with a broader set of interventions, notably in health and education.

An assertion of primacy

It is extraordinary that there should be near-unanimity in the country that the present system of judicial appointments that was put in place in 1993 is deeply unsatisfactory, and yet the most significant legislative effort to reform it should fail before the Supreme Court. It is no surprise that a five-judge Bench has struck down the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, 2014, by which the government established a National Judicial Appointments Commission to select members of the higher judiciary. There were doubts whether the composition of the NJAC, especially the inclusion in it of the Union Law Minister and two “eminent persons” appointed by the government, would survive judicial scrutiny. For, the law also gave any two members a veto over all decisions, raising the question whether the judicial members could be overruled by the executive representatives. The Attorney General could not convince the court that the amendment, along with the NJAC Act, was aimed at restoring the system of checks and balances which, according to the government, was lost after the Supreme Court created the collegium scheme of appointments. The core question was whether the new institutional mechanism to appoint judges impinged on the independence of the judiciary, a basic feature of the Constitution. The court has ruled that it does. Justice J.S. Khehar, writing the main judgment, has held that the clauses provided in the amendment are inadequate to preserve the primacy of the judiciary. The inclusion of the Law Minister in the body impinged on both the independence of the judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers.

Nobody on either side of the debate disagrees that the judiciary should be insulated from political interference. Yet, should the judiciary retain its primacy, or should the executive have a say in order that flawed choices do not erode the institution’s credibility? Justice Khehar has said the conduct of the political executive showed it tended to reward favourites in many fields. Preserving the primacy of the judiciary was a safe way to shield the institution from “the regime of the spoils system”. Justice J. Chelameswar, in his dissenting opinion, is candid in questioning the lack of transparency in the collegium system. Even while restoring this system, the majority has invited suggestions to improve it so that it is more responsive to the expectations of civil society. While to some it may appear that striking down a Constitution amendment passed unanimously in both Houses of Parliament and ratified by 20 State Assemblies amounts to negating the people’s will, it cannot be forgotten that the judiciary remains the sole authority to decide whether a law violates the basic structure of the Constitution. What the situation indicates is that India is still struggling to put together a transparent appointment system not vitiated by executive patronage or judicial nepotism.

Judging the Judge-maker

Till 1993, judges were appointed by the executive in consultation with the judiciary. In good times, consultation with the judiciary went beyond seeking of opinion to attempt a consensus. However, the judicial voice was often neither dominant nor decisive. In bad times, however, governments made calls for a “committed judiciary”, attempted to court-pack and sometimes indulged in rank favouritism. The situation prompted Ram Jethmalani to famously remark, “There are two kinds of judges, those who know the law and those who know the law minister.

It was in this backdrop, in 1993 during Narasimha Rao’s minority government, with Mandal, mandir and economic liberalisation simultaneously boiling, that a quiet declaration of judicial independence occurred. Justice J.S. Verma’s judgment in the Supreme Court Advocates on Record case, gave the Chief Justice and senior judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts the power of making almost binding recommendations, for future appointments of judges in the constitutional courts.

Whenever a vacancy arose in the brotherhood, it would be filled by someone pre-approved by the judges and the executive could only demur in the appointment if cogent grounds existed. If, despite executive demur, the judges insisted on the appointment, the executive would have to confirm it. The Indian judiciary managed to create, by constitutional interpretation, a self-appointing elite. Within that elite, the power to recommend appointments belonged to a super-elite called the collegium.

Government, on a presidential reference, the Court defined the collegium thus: “The opinion of the Chief Justice of India ...has to be formed in consultation with a collegium of Judges. Presently, and for a long time now, that collegium consists of the two seniormost puisne Judges of the Supreme Court. ...The principal objective of the collegium is to ensure that the best available talent is brought to the Supreme Court bench.”
The judgment also went on to increase the size of the collegium by holding that “we think it is desirable that the collegium should consist of the Chief Justice of India and the four seniormost puisne Judges of the Supreme Court…” Separate Collegiums of three senior judges were provided for the appointment of High Court judges.

The resultant appointments by the collegium, can largely be described as middle-of-the-road, with the elimination of most outliers. Thus, brilliance often got mistaken for unsteadiness and vice versa. Seniority became an indispensable shibboleth. Equally, while a reputation for corruption was a disqualifier, lesser evils like tardiness or sloth often got glossed over. Most importantly, decisions on appointments were hugely delayed, as judges resorted to politicking.

But the collegium also ensured that judges were not beholden to any politician. A bold judgment could end up unseating the most powerful of politicians or irretrievably damaging them.Politicians of all hues yearned for the early years of strong governments with huge parliamentary majorities, where judges were sometimes seen, but rarely heard of.

Towards the end of the UPA regime, the government sought to tame judges by demolishing the collegium. It brought in a constitutional amendment to provide for the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) — an independent commission with three senior judges, two eminent outsiders and the Law Minister. Petitions were filed challenging the constitutional amendment. Going by earlier experiences of judicial standoffs, many men of law expected that a constitutional amendment, almost unanimously passed by Parliament, would be rubber-stamped by the Court. Some were hopeful of judicial creativity finding a via-media which, while upholding the amendment, limited governmental interference. When the judgment was delivered on October 15, 2015, it was a decisive blow. The Court by a 4-1 majority, struck down the 99th Amendment. Justice Kehar’s judgment concluded that the NJAC did “not provide an adequate representation, to the judicial component” and that “clauses (a) and (b) of Article 124A(1) are insufficient to preserve the primacy of the judiciary in the matter of selection and appointment of Judges” It further held that “Article 124A(1) is ultra vires the provisions of the Constitution, because of the inclusion of the Union Minister in charge of Law and Justice as an ex officio Member of the NJAC.” The clause it was held, impinged upon the principles of “independence of the judiciary”, as well as, “separation of powers”. The clause which provided for the inclusion of two “eminent persons” as Members of the NJAC was held ultra vires the provisions of the Constitution, for a variety of reasons.

Justice Chellameshwar’s dissenting judgment, has, with strong logic, beautifully worded, upheld the constitutional amendment which scrapped the collegium. Like all dissents, his judgment is an appeal to the future and the powerful brooding spirit of the law. He ended his dissent quoting Macaulay’s dictum, “Reform that you may preserve.” The Court has now opted to take the path to reform, rather than change to an altogether new road created by Parliament. It is to be hoped that the court’s choice leads not to the dreary desert sands of dead habit, but into ever widening thought and action.

Engaging with an aspirational Africa

The views of most Indians, including the educated ones, about Africa are still largely trapped in stereotypes. The episodic reportage in the media perpetuates some myths: Africa is still the land of jungle safaris; the place of Mahatma Gandhi’s first satyagraha ; the continent of Ebola, HIV and tribal conflicts; the home-place of both Idi Amin and Nelson Mandela. We also see news items on Nigerian students peddling drugs and the hosting of fancy wedding ceremonies for India’s nouveau riche in South Africa. In short, a ‘dark continent’ with some bright spots. Some new stereotypes have also come to shape contemporary views of Africa — it is a growing market for Indian companies but the Chinese have stolen a march over the Indians.

The success of the Africa-India Summit being hosted this month in New Delhi will have to be measured by the extent to which it challenges these stereotypes and encourages greater people-to-people contact between the neighbouring continents. Can India’s ‘sub-continental drift’, so to speak, away from, what can be called, its ‘Mother Continent’, be reversed?

2010 McKinsey report, entitled “Lions on the Move”, found that in the first decade of the 21st century, growing consumer spending contributed more to the growth of African economies than the commodities boom of that decade. This is one reason the World Bank and other institutions still remain optimistic about Africa’s economic rise despite the end of the ‘commodities super cycle’— the long-term decline in commodity prices, especially oil.
Despite the perpetuation of stereotypes at home, Indian businesses have been betting big on Africa’s rise. Many big Indian companies have already invested in opportunities presented by Africa and, contrary to the widespread perceptions, India is ahead of China at least in terms of private corporate investment. Greenfield projects involving investments from India are twice the number of such projects funded by investment from China, according to a recent report of the African Development Bank.

Investment from India accounted for six per cent — compared to three per cent from China — of all greenfield projects in Africa in the period 2009-14. While Europe and North America continue to dominate investment into the continent and still account for over 50 per cent of such projects, their share has been declining over the years while that of China and India has been rising. Mr. Swaniker attributes Africa’s economic rise to five factors: an improving political governance; a rapidly growing population; urbanisation; a better-educated and skilled workforce; and, global demographics that will enable Africa, like India, to remain a young continent in an ageing world. Clearly, these factors mimic the Indian development experience.

There is one other key similarity between Africa and India — regional diversity. If India is a sum of its diversities, so is Africa, in every sense of the term. Equally, it too is marked by geo-economic diversity. Just as coastal India is more developed than the landlocked regions, coastal Africa is more developed than inland Africa, except where nature has blessed it with oil and other valuable commodities. It may have been a good move for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invite a mix of State Chief Ministers to interact with the African heads of government because the continent-to-continent dialogue is in fact conducted at the level of nations and States.
On the other hand, despite the fall in oil prices and civil strife within, Nigeria has gained in regional and global stature on account of the successful democratic transition and the new government’s battle against corruption and sectarianism. Given the rise of several other countries in Africa, and Egypt’s stabilisation, it is now not clear which African country would join the Group of Four (G4) — Brazil, Germany, India and Japan — in seeking UNSC membership. This explains Africa’s absence at the recent G4 Summit.

New chapter with Nepal

By inviting Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa to New Delhi, India has chosen wisely to begin a fresh chapter with its neighbour with a view to ending the mistrust that has marked the relationship in the past two months. By all accounts, the talks between Mr. Thapa and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is known for her diplomatic abilities in the neighbourhood, took off on the right note. Two short-term objectives — of ending the pile-up of trucks at the border in Bihar that Nepal terms an unofficial blockade, and of bringing the new Prime Minister, K.P. Sharma Oli, to Delhi for talks — could soon be reached. In the longer term, the task for the government is to help Nepal build on its Constitution to assuage the anger of the people of the Terai, without India further antagonising the people of the hills. This is a balance the government seems not to have achieved in the past few months; it has come across instead as a bully to one side of the Nepali divide and a champion to the other. If India must have a role in the constitutional conflict, it must be that of uniting the political spectrum and encouraging talks — a role it has traditionally had since 1951. The visit by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar in the last minute to try and convince the Nepal leadership to postpone the promulgation of the Constitution, and conversations in New Delhi that seemed to favour Sushil Koirala over Mr. Oli as the new Prime Minister, didn’t help the situation. It was sad to see crowds in Kathmandu that only last year filled the roads to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now burning effigies and the tricolor. While such anger was unjustified, as India’s wish has only been to push for a more inclusive foundational document for Nepal, it is necessary to undo the perception that New Delhi is interfering in the neighbour’s internal processes, and worse, ‘punishing’ Nepal for not acceding to its wishes.

In the past week, however, in both New Delhi and Kathmandu the tone has changed. In an interview to this newspaper, Prime Minister Oli reached out with Vijaya Dasami wishes and a message of reconciliation, while officials in Delhi noted with satisfaction that the new government has a “willingness to address” the issue of the neglect of Madhesi groups. Above all, it is time to turn attention to the struggles of the ordinary citizen of Nepal, a country that has been battered by an earthquake and ruptured by internal divisions and brutal clashes. It is suffering without electricity, food and essential medicines. A small start at rebuilding trust may be achieved by moving swiftly on the 41-km-long Raxaul-Amlekhgunj oil pipeline. That could remove all doubt that India wishes to squeeze its land-locked neighbour. The two countries should meanwhile work to remove mutual mistrust on all other issues as well.

Courtesy: Various News Papers

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