Current Public Administration Magazine (OCTOBER 2021)

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

1.Accountability & Responsibility

  • The Democratic Road to Despotism

Millions around the world are today asking questions of grave importance: What’s happening to democracy, a way of governing and living that until recently was said to have enjoyed a global victory? Why is it reckoned to be in retreat everywhere or facing extinction? How come the Joe Biden administration is hosting a Democracy Summit this week in support of “global democratic renewal”? They’re surely right to wonder.
Three decades ago, democracy seemed blessed. People power mattered. Public resistance to arbitrary rule changed the world. Military dictatorships collapsed. Apartheid was toppled. The Soviet empire imploded. There were velvet revolutions, followed by tulip, rose and orange revolutions.

Now things are different. In Belarus, Bolivia, Myanmar, Hong Kong and elsewhere, citizens are arrested, imprisoned, beaten and executed. Elsewhere, democrats are on the back foot, gripped by feelings that our times are weirdly unhinged, and troubled by worries that big-league democracies such as India, the United States, Britain, South Africa and Brazil are sliding towards a precipice, dragged down by worsening social inequality, citizen disaffection and the rot of unresponsive governing institutions.

That’s not all. The gloom is compounded by increasing awareness that power-sharing, monitory democracies are now facing a new global competitor: Despotic regimes, such as Turkey, Russia, the UAE, Iran and China, whose top-down political architecture and cunning efforts to win the loyalty of their subjects are unlike anything known to the earlier modern world.

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2. Indian Government and Politics

  • Repealing AFSPA will not weaken, only strengthen Constitution

It should not have taken the senseless massacre of 14 civilians and the death of one soldier in Nagaland to remind us that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is a constitutional abomination that should have been repealed a long time ago.

The Act grants extraordinarily sweeping powers to the armed forces of search, seizure, arrest, the right to shoot to kill and conduct operations in ways that make a mockery of individual rights and dignity. Admittedly, moral and legal judgment on the conduct of security forces in the face of palpable violence, insurgency and terrorism is a tricky matter and should not be the subject of easy moralising. The physical and psychological costs to the armed forces are immense and they create pressures for providing legal protection. But even if you concede that caveat, there is no denying that AFSPA is a moral abomination, arguably the single biggest legal blot on the Indian state. The repeal of AFSPA is necessary not just for restoring constitutional sanity, but also as a way of acknowledging the brutally dark history of our conduct in Nagaland.

If the moral case for repealing AFSPA is strong, the political case points in the same direction as well. India’s handling of the Naga insurgency has been a mixture of brutal repression, accommodation, betrayal, negotiation and bribery. Despite repeated accords, most recently the supposed framework agreement of 2015, a final political settlement has eluded us. But over the last few years, violence had palpably come down.

The deep scars of violence and memories remain. But there was also a deepening modus vivendi, more acceptance and collaboration with the Indian state, and the emergence in Nagaland of what one of India’s most brilliant anthropologists G Kanato Chophy once called the emergence of “constitutional Indians,” fiercely proud of their traditions but willing to make common constitutional cause with all citizens.

But the lynchpin of this common cause has to be the protection of individual rights and dignity. The political incorporation of Nagaland (and all other areas where this law applies) will be set back if the guarantees of individual dignity of the Indian Constitution are not extended. These killings will also, inevitably, reopen the unaddressed traumas of past violence.

3.  Social Administration

  • Before criticizing AFSPA, a full probe is necessary

What happened in Nagaland recently was a tragedy. The Indian Army, in an operation on December 4 that went horribly wrong, killed 14 civilians in Mon district inhabited by the Konyak tribe, who have generally been supportive of the government. The Army has set up a court of inquiry headed by a Major General to probe the circumstances under which the botched operation by the 21 para-special forces took place. The state government has also set up a special investigation team, which has been directed to complete its work within one month. Meanwhile, the Home Minister, in a statement before Parliament, expressed the Government of India’s regret over the killing of civilians in a case of mistaken identity, calling it “unfortunate”, and offered the government’s deepest condolences to the bereaved families.

The official version is that, based on intelligence inputs about the movement of insurgents, the Army laid an ambush. An approaching vehicle was signalled to stop but it tried to flee, which aroused suspicion. The Army personnel thereupon opened fire, which resulted in the death of eight persons. The villagers, thereafter, reportedly surrounded the Army unit and attacked them with daos and firearms. The forces again opened fire — this time in self-defence — killing six more civilians. Army personnel also suffered injuries and their officer is said to be in ICU.

It is a heart-rending incident for all right-thinking persons. For those sympathetic to the rebel Nagas, however, it is an opportunity to tarnish the image of the Army, demand its withdrawal from the area, and push their agenda to demand a separate Constitution and a separate flag for the Naga separatists. It must be remembered that the security forces are performing an extremely difficult and complicated task in the midst of multiple insurgencies in the Northeast. In fact, they are paying the price for our political mis-management and blunders since the mid-Fifties when trouble erupted in the Naga Hills.

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4. Current Topic

  • Why Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation has no basis in law or religion

A Sri Lankan manager was brutally beaten and burnt alive by a mob of religious fanatics in Sialkot recently. Prime Minister Imran Khan promptly termed the incident a “horrific, vigilante attack” and “a day of shame for Pakistan”. Within hours, as many as a hundred arrests were made. But if Imran Khan is really interested in meaningful reform, he must muster the courage to initiate a fair debate on the country’s controversial blasphemy law. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have doubtful legitimacy, both in terms of Islam as well as modern notions of criminal justice.

Blasphemy was punishable in ancient Greece — speaking ill of the gods, disturbing the peace and dishonouring the principle of government. Monotheism greatly contributed to the notion since the Biblical state of Israel considered blasphemy as the cornerstone of Jewish identity. The Council of Nicea in 325 AD invented heresy for the Christian world and, for centuries, Christian society behaved like a “persecuting society”. By the 13th century, blasphemy evolved as a crime separate from heresy. Soon, the challenge to the supremacy of God was theorised as damaging all secular authorities. British Chief Justice Sir Mathew Hale in 1675, while pronouncing punishment on John Taylor, held that attacks upon religions were attacks upon the law. In 1699, two young members of the Swedish Royal Navy were executed for having substituted the words “I have the devil in my heart” for “I have Jesus in my heart” whilst singing hymns. After the Enlightenment, due to the recognition of individual rights, the state started retreating from blasphemy. Yet, today, 71 countries, including India, have blasphemy laws even though these have a chilling effect on free speech and, ideally, should be replaced with hate speech laws.

5.  Indian Administration

  • Across India, minorities are overrepresented in jails

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports show that in almost all the states of the Indian Union, irrespective of the party holding office, religious minorities are over-represented in jail.

Muslims are a case in point. During UPA II, they represented 21 to 22.5 per cent of the “undertrials” and under NDA II (from 2014 to 2019) 19 to 21 per cent. But law and order being a state subject, this question needs to be scrutinised at this level. Muslims are (and were) over-represented among jail inmates in almost all the Hindu-majority states: In Assam, Muslims, according to the 2011 census, are 34 per cent of the population and they represent 43 to 47.5 per cent of the “undertrials”; in Gujarat, Muslims are 10 per cent of the population and since 2017, they have been about 25 to 27 per cent of the “undertrials” (they were 24 per cent in 2013); in Karnataka, Muslims are 13 per cent of the population and they are 19 to 22 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2018 (they were 13 to 14 per cent in 2013-2017); in Kerala, they are 26.5 per cent of the population and 28 to 30 per cent of the “undertrials”; in MP, Muslims are 6.5 per cent and 12 to 15 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2017 (they were already 13 per cent in 2013); in Maharashtra, Muslims are 11.5 per cent of the population, and their percentage among the “undertrials” peaked at 36.5 per cent in 2012 (it went back to its 2009 level, 30 per cent, in 2015); in Rajasthan, Muslims are 9 per cent and they represent 18 to 23 per cent of the “undertrials” (they were 17 per cent in 2013); in Tamil Nadu, Muslims are 6 per cent, and 11 per cent of the undertrials since 2017; in Uttar Pradesh, Muslims are 19 per cent of the population, and 26 to 29 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2012; in West Bengal, Muslims are 27 per cent of the population, and they represent more than 36 per cent of the “undertrials” since 2017. The only major state where Muslims have been under-represented among the “undertrials” is Bihar, where the latter are 15 per cent when Muslims constitute 17 per cent of the population.

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