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

Selected Articles from Various Newspapers & Journals

What it means to be independent (The Hindu)

The independence that we celebrate today was won by the Indian people through a prolonged and hard struggle of epic dimensions, a larger-than-life battle in which ordinary men and women performed heroic roles. It was the culmination of a revolutionary movement which forced the rulers of an empire on which the ‘sun never set’ to surrender power to their ‘subjects’ whom they had exploited for over two centuries. It heralded the beginning of the end of colonialism, a process still called decolonisation by Western academia, to give it the appearance of a voluntary withdrawal. India was the first colony to throw off the imperial yoke, and its example inspired other countries in Asia and Africa, and by the early 1960s, most countries had become independent. The Indian national movement had supported the struggle of all colonised people, and after Independence the new Indian state under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership continued to do so. The non-aligned movement was part of this effort to give the newly independent countries an opportunity to keep out of the Cold War and the two power blocs and assert their independent voice without having to parrot the views of a hegemon.

The hyper-nationalism witnessed in India in recent times is not the nationalism of our freedom struggle. It misuses nationalism, which has a positive connotation in the minds and hearts of the Indian people, to polarise, to divide, and to suppress individual freedoms. How can this be the genuine article? Our nationalism is meant to unite, to harmonise, to guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association. I particularly want to draw attention to the issue of civil liberties, as this is one of the strongest elements in the legacy of the freedom struggle which is under grave threat today. Witness the reckless use of Section 124-A to charge students with sedition, with vigilantes attacking even journalists inside law courts, with books being withdrawn and pulped, with Ministers attempting to terrorise dissenting intellectuals by labelling them as ‘intellectual terrorists’, with gau rakshaks physically attacking those who they think are flouting their diktats, especially if they belong to the Dalit or minority communities. These attacks on freedom of expression, of movement, on freedom to eat and earn your livelihood, bring home to us the urgent necessity of resisting these attacks, and that can only be done by defending civil liberties, by defending this legacy as an integral part of our nationalism, and by declaring these attacks as anti-national.

Much before the formation of the Indian National Congress or other nationalist organisations, nationalist ideas were expressed and spread through the medium of the press, and that too mostly the Indian language or vernacular press. Most of these were papers started by middle class people of nationalist leanings who invested their life’s savings and often their family jewellery in this enterprise. Incensed by the highly critical tone adopted by the press against the administration for their inhuman attitude towards the victims of the famine of 1876-77, the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, decided to strike hard. A draconian law aimed at the Indian language newspapers was planned in secrecy and passed in a single sitting of the Imperial Legislative Council. The infamous Vernacular Press Act 1878, provided for the confiscation of the printing press, paper, and other materials of a newspaper if the government thought that it was publishing seditious material.

It was well known that the newspaper that had most raised the hackles of the government was the Amrita Bazar Patrika , published by the brothers Sisir Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh from Calcutta in Bengali and English, and the plan was to take action against it under the new Act. Imagine the state of British officialdom when they woke up the morning after the passing of the Act to find that the Amrita Bazar Patrika had converted itself overnight into a purely English language newspaper, thus placing itself outside the purview of the Act.

Strong protests broke out against the new Act all over the country. The press itself played a leading part in this campaign. The first big demonstration on a matter of public importance was held at the Town Hall in Calcutta. It is a matter of great significance that the nationalist forces, even before they were formally organised, won a major victory, and that too on the issue of civil liberties. In 1881, in deference to strong public opinion, the Viceroy Lord Ripon repealed the Vernacular Press Act. So this legacy is almost a century and four decades old!

A few years later, in 1883, Surendranath Banerjea, one of the founders of the movement for independence, was sent to jail for two months for contempt of court for an editorial he wrote in his newspaper, the Bengalee , criticising a judgment of the Calcutta High Court in sharp terms. This was seen by political India as an attack on civil liberties. In Calcutta, there was a complete hartal in the Indian part of the city. Students demonstrations outside the high court turned violent and stones were thrown at the police and windows smashed. Among the demonstrators was a future Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, Ashutosh Mukherjee. Demonstrations and meetings in support of Banerjea were held in cities as far away as Lahore, Agra, Amritsar, and Poona. In Calcutta were held many open air mass meetings, a form of protest and expression that was to become the staple and defining feature of the Indian struggle for freedom.

In 1922, Mahatma Gandhi was also tried under the same Section 124-A for sedition for articles he wrote in Young India , and the judge told him he was giving him the same punishment that was given to Lokmanya Tilak: six years of imprisonment, but not in exile. The struggle for civil liberties thus entailed much suffering and sacrifice, many suffered long jail terms, others lost their life’s savings, their families paid the cost; the legacy is thereby a precious and hallowed one. A legacy which we cannot allow to be whittled away, as on its defence rests our ability to defend the humane, pluralistic and egalitarian legacy of Indian nationalism.

I conclude with quotes from Gandhiji and Nehru which demonstrate their profound understanding that freedom cannot be diluted. Gandhiji said: “Liberty of speech means that it is unassailed even when the speech hurts. Liberty of the press can be said to be truly respected only when the press can comment in the severest terms upon and even misrepresent matters... Freedom of association is truly respected when assemblies of people can discuss even revolutionary projects.” And: “Civil liberty, consistent with the observance of non-violence is the first step towards Swaraj. It is the breath of political and social life, it is the foundation of freedom. There is no room here for dilution or compromise. It is the water of life.”

End the judicial logjam (The Hindu)

Frustration in the higher echelons of the judiciary appears to be consolidating into anger. Poignant appeals have morphed into indignant warnings. The delay in filling up vacancies in the country’s badly understaffed higher judiciary has reached a flashpoint. When the Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, made an emotional appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April to rescue the judicial system from its enormous work burden and chronic shortage of hands, it was hoped the executive would galvanise itself and expedite the process of appointing more judges, at least in the high courts. As it turns out, Justice Thakur’s appeal has not had the desired effect, and he has now hardened his stand to the point of issuing an overt warning of judicial intervention in what would normally be an administrative matter. The situation is so grim that he has said the government “is now attempting to bring the judiciary to a grinding halt”. With 478 posts out of a sanctioned strength of 1,079 high court judges lying vacant — an unacceptable 44.3 per cent — the CJI’s frustration is understandable. Justice Thakur’s revelation that a list of 74 names sent by the collegium for appointment as high court judges has been stuck in the corridors of power since January would suggest government indifference. The logjam the Chief Justice mentions is an inescapable reality, and the government owes an explanation, if there is any, for its tardiness.

However, one must ask whether the impasse is only about shortage of hands and the burgeoning docket. Is the real reason some specific issue on which the judiciary and the executive are in grave disagreement? It is known that the government wants to incorporate in the memorandum of procedure for appointment of judges the power to reject recommendations from the collegium on the ground of ‘national interest’, whereas the judiciary opposes such a veto clause. It is equally possible that there is no particular reason, and it is just that the lumbering government machinery has been misunderstood. Whether or not there is an underlying cause, it is the NDA government’s duty to dispel the impression that it is deliberately going slow or that it is indirectly giving vent to its own frustration after its plan to establish a National Judicial Appointments Commission was thwarted by the court. The situation is not yet out of hand. Practical solutions can be found if the two branches come together. In a matter that requires a good deal of consultation and cooperation, this incipient confrontation must not be allowed to grow, for that would be as injurious to the public interest as the current crisis facing the judicial system is.

Answering Pakistan’s provocations (The Hindu)

Prime Ministers have often used the Independence Day speech to answer threats and provocations from Pakistan. Atal Bihari Vajpayee famously addressed Pakistanis directly from the ramparts of Red Fort in 1999 when he called on them to realise the folly of the Kargil war and of terrorism being fomented in camps on their soil. During Manmohan Singh’s tenure, the August 15 speech frequently contained references to Pakistan’s policy of promoting terrorism in Kashmir. Even so, Narendra Modi’s reference to Balochistan marks a first, and deliberate, shift in India’s consistent policy of refraining from commenting on the internal affairs of another country, even as he referred to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, which India claims as its own. Mr. Modi’s comments, following up his vow to the all-party meeting on Kashmir to draw international attention to “Pakistan’s atrocities” in Balochistan, came after a series of provocations from Pakistan over Kashmir. In the past few weeks, Pakistan’s government has wilfully abandoned all diplomatic niceties to advocate international intervention in Kashmir. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has led the way, writing to UN organisations, decreeing a “black day” across Pakistan to honour slain Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani, and giving wanted terrorist leaders, such as Hafiz Saeed, a free run to hold protest rallies against India. The atmosphere was visibly vitiated by the Pakistan government’s shabby treatment in Islamabad of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who faced protests during a SAARC meet earlier this month. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Delhi, Abdul Basit, escalated matters by dedicating Pakistan’s Independence Day, on August 14, to fighting “jihad in Kashmir”.

In comparison to this lengthy list, Mr. Modi’s taunt appears mild. Yet, by raising the Balochistan issue, he may have given in to the provocations in a manner Islamabad would have wanted, and thereby deflected India’s very real concerns over Pakistani actions in Kashmir. It gives rise to the perception that rather than being two countries with very different track records on terrorism, India and Pakistan are instead bound in a “tit-for-tat” exchange. Moreover, that India intends to raise Balochistan’s freedom struggle, much the way Pakistan invokes Kashmir. The truth is that raising the issue of Balochistan will not solve India’s domestic challenge in Jammu and Kashmir, of failing to humanely control the protests over the past month. Nor will it change Pakistan’s consistent instigation of violence in J&K. The current war of words sets back hopes for the bilateral talks Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif had sought to restart. And equally, it takes India and Pakistan further away from the task Mr. Modi referred to on Independence Day: that of tackling the common enemy of poverty.

The Beijing balancing act Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s August 11-13 visit to India was closely watched for clues on the current state of India-China relations and the outlook going forward. There are two forthcoming multilateral summits, the G-20 summit hosted by China in September and the BRICS summit hosted by India in November. Neither country would like the summit it is hosting to be overshadowed by bilateral differences. Therefore, at the very least, both need to downplay their differences and seek to create a positive ambience for the forthcoming summits in whose success each has a stake as host country. Mr. Wang’s visit does appear to have achieved that.

On the vexed issue of China’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), it was agreed that a focussed dialogue take place between the Indian Joint Secretary dealing with disarmament and international security and China’s Director-General of Arms Control and Disarmament. On other issues having a bearing on bilateral relations, another mechanism has been established between the Indian Foreign Secretary and his Chinese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui. This appears to be in addition to the existing annual Strategic Dialogue at the Foreign Secretary level and the regular Special Representatives dialogue which, in the past, has gone beyond the mandate of border negotiations.

China is faced with a complex and deteriorating political and security situation in its Asia-Pacific periphery. The categorical and entirely negative arbitration award against China over its claim to the South China Sea — handed in July by a tribunal constituted under the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — is a major setback for Beijing. Its relations with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are now under unprecedented strain. To add to its woes, the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile defence system by the U.S. in South Korea has led to a worsening of relations with a neighbour with which China has, over the years, assiduously nurtured close political, economic, commercial and even cultural relations.

There is anxiety that India may move closer to the U.S. and participate in security arrangements more directly challenging China in the South China Sea. Beijing has cautioned that India should avoid getting “entangled” in the South China Sea issue, but there is also an expectation that it will continue to adhere to its stated policy of strategic autonomy. In fact, India’s reaction to the tribunal award has been measured, calling for utmost respect for the UNCLOS but also stressing the need for resolving differences through peaceful dialogue. It is reported that Mr. Wang did not raise the South China Sea issue in Delhi. This appears to confirm the view that China’s current preoccupation is to prevent India from escalating its stand on this issue. China expects that at the forthcoming G-20 summit at Hangzhou, the U.S. and its western allies and Japan may raise the South China Sea issue and embarrass the host country. India’s role could prove to be significant in this regard.

In dealing with China, India has to be conscious of the fact that in terms of both economic and military capabilities, the asymmetry between the two countries continues to expand. China’s economy is five times as large as India’s and even with slower rates of growth China will be adding more muscle from a larger base while India will have to grow much faster over a longer period of time to begin to narrow the gap. There are only two ways to deal with this power asymmetry; one is to acquire and deploy capabilities which will make any aggressive military move by China a risky proposition. The other is to enmesh oneself more tightly in the U.S.-led countervailing coalition targeting China. The latter does run counter to India’s view of itself as an independent power but there is a steady creep in that direction.

In terms of developing asymmetrical capabilities, my sense is that we are not quite there and remain vulnerable. This vulnerability increases if there is a coordinated move by China and Pakistan. In previous India-Pakistan wars, post-1962, China supported Pakistan politically and with supplies but refrained from attacking India across the border. This reassuring pattern of behaviour needs to be under our constant review and assessment. China’s willingness to stand alone in blocking India’s membership of the NSG on behalf of Pakistan, and in shielding it from international pressures consequent upon its use of cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India, point to an enhanced strategic role for Pakistan in Chinese regional and global calculations.

The setting for managing India-China relations has become more complex and risky. Over the past several years, leaders of both countries have seen it in their mutual interest to keep relations on an even keel despite their essentially adversarial nature. A careful balance has been maintained between the competitive and cooperative components of the relationship. This has just got much harder to deliver.

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Courtesy: Various News Paper