Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How Modi Sarkar has failed the Indian Economy




The Indian Economy grew at just 7.2% in the first half of the financial year 2015-16, while it grew at 7.3% in the entire financial year of 2014-15. The economic growth remained flat in the 19 months of the Modi Government

There are four key components which contribute to aggregate demand growth-the most visible symptom of economic health – private consumption, private investment, government investment (focusing on government expenditure) and exports. Unlike the boom years 2004-12 where the economy was driven by all four components of demand, the striking difference about this year is that the economy is driven only by private consumption and to an extent by government investment. The two other factors of ‘private investment’ and ‘exports’ have remained sluggish leading to a drag in growth.


Private Consumption:

Private consumption has been the bright spot in the economy. This has been emphasized in the‘Mid-Year Economic Analysis’ recently released by the Ministry of Finance.

“In 2015-16, if oil prices remain at about US$50 per barrel for the Indian basket for the rest of the year, the average oil price decline will be about 40 percent. This positive term of trade shock to the Indian economy would amount roughly to 2.2 percentage points”

Directly (household purchase of petroleum products) and indirectly (higher corporate margins passed on to consumers as lower prices and higher wages and salaries to government officials), about half of this could lead to higher private consumption.

In fact, According to the figures released by Ministry of Petroleum, Global Crude oil price of Indian Basket was US$ 33.33 per bbl (as on December 17, 2015), so going by that logic the positive impact on the Indian economy would be more than just 2.2 percentage points and the private consumption should increase. One important point to ponder is as to whether the real benefits of these lower prices are being passed on to consumers or not?

Private Investment:

Another factor which resulted in the drag of growth was – private investment. Why is the private investment weak? The balance sheets of corporate India have been highly stressed. According to an analysis done by Credit Suisse (which is based on 11000 companies) there is a large debt accumulated by certain corporate groups since 2012.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor, Raghuram Rajan, highlighted the problem almost as soon as he took over in 2014.

Two data points are relevant in this context:

A fifth of the listed non-government, non-financial companies are now categorized as leveraged. These are companies that have a negative net worth or a debt-equity ratio of more than two times. And 15% of these firms fall in the “highly leveraged” category. The proportion of both leveraged and highly leveraged companies has risen between September last year and this year.

In the unlisted universe, data for which is only available till the end of the financial year 2014, about a quarter of the firms (both public limited and private limited) fell into a category defined as “weak”. These are firms that have an interest coverage ratio of 1.

Government Investment:

Although the Government claims that that its investment has been on an upswing, with an increase by about 29%, since the previous 2 quarters, but this supposed positive contribution of public investment, is offset by a combination of lowering of other expenditures and higher tax receipts. This factor has had little effect on the demand in growth.

Exports:

The fourth important factor which impacts the demand of growth is the weakness of exports. Exports from India showed a declining trend for 12 months in a row. Exports during November 2015 stood at $ 20.01 billion, 24.43% lower than $ 26.48 billion during November, 2014 and $21.35 billion in October 2015.

The trade deficit for November 2015 was $9.78 billion, down 39.74% from $16.23 billion in November 2014. The deficit was $9.76 in October 2015.

However, the most recent data suggest that neither India’s exports nor imports have lost any significant global market share till atleast the end of 2014. Thus, declining exports seem to be predominantly determined by a decline in global demand. But this preposition may be considered with a pinch of salt.

So let us now examine some key economic indicators which are driving the Indian economy at this juncture:

Growth:

The first three quarters of the financial year (FY) 2015-16 have shown robust growth both in terms of GVA (Gross Value Addition) and GDP, which at constant market prices has improved. Economic growth, prima facie, too is showing signs of steady recovery. The latest GDP estimates suggest in the first half of 2015-16 it grew at 7.2 percent as compared to 7.5 percent in the first half of FY2015. In contrast, nominal GDP growth declined substantially from 13.5 percent in first quarter of FY2015 to just 7.4 percent in the first quarter of FY2016.





As discussed earlier, private investment and exports are being a drag on the demand of growth. The Mid-Year Economic Review has lowered the growth projections to 7-7.5% in this financial year from 8.1-8.5% projected at the start of the year. Even more importantly, the review’s recommendations on action implicitly suggest that growth next year could further slow down.

The Reserve Bank in its annual financial stability report (FSR), flags “risks arising from erratic climatic conditions, limited policy space, corporate performance…and low investment growth…could pose challenges”

The remarkable thing about 2015-16 growth performance is that it continues to be as strong as it is given the weakness of exports (because of declining world markets) and private investment. In the boom years, exports were adding 1.9 percentage points to demand whereas in 2015-16, export demand has been negative (-1.1 percentage points).

The difference with the boom years, on account of exports is thus 3 percentage points. Similarly, private investment contributed 3.2 percentage points and only 1 percentage point in the current year. These two components of demand should have reduced growth by 5.3 percentage points. And yet, actual growth is only 2-2.5 percentage points less.

Reforms initiatives could provide the stimulus for fresh investment, which should translate into greater private investment.

Inflation:

Inflation has continued to moderate steadily. Consumer price inflation has declined from 5.4 percent in February 2015 to 5 percent in October 2015. The WPI has been in negative territory for 12 months since November 2014 and is in negative at (-) 3.8 percent in October 2015. In an irony of sorts, the Government perhaps takes pride that Rural wage growth and minimum support price increases—important determinants of inflation—have remained muted.

The recent decline in WPI inflation was broad-based and mainly due to falling fuel prices. As fuel has proportionately larger weightage in WPI, the decline in fuel prices led to a sharper fall in WPI as compared to CPI. Fuel and manufactured products account for the bulk of decline in WPI. Inflation based on Consumer Price Index which remained sticky around 9-10 per cent during 2012-14 moderated to 5.9 percent in 2014-15 and further to 4.6 percent in 2015-16 (April-October)

This striking wedge between the two has been rising steadily and reached unprecedented high of 8.5percentage points in the second quarter of FY2016. 




Price Rise in Pulses

Inflation in pulses has seen a phenomenal rising trend in the current year although general inflation has declined. WPI and CPI inflation in pulses which was low at -10.7 and 0.6 per cent respectively in October 2013 increased to 53 per cent and 42.2 per cent respectively in October 2015. The contribution of pulses to CPI inflation also increased to 19.4 per cent in October 2015 from a low of 0.1 per cent in October 2013.

While overall sowing of pulses is more than last year, that’s not the case for crucial crops such as Tur (Arhar) because of dry spells in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, which are the key growing areas. The most affected crops are Tur (Arhar), Jowar and Soybean.

Pulses, production has suffered due to lower output in 2014, damages due to unseasonal rains and hail storms in March 2015 and shortfall in sowing (especially Tur) this year. As a result, inflation in pulses stands at an average 20% this year so far, with August inflation crossing 25%and surging to 42% for Tur. It surged to 160% in September and 201% in first week of October.


Fiscal Deficit:

The country has witnessed robust growth, low inflation, manageable current account deficit and prudent fiscal management in the first half of the current year. However, low inflation has also meant that the GDP growth in nominal terms is lower than what was projected at the time of  preparing the Budget. This, along with lower than expected receipts from disinvestment proceeds, could make the achievement of fiscal targets challenging.

Though the fiscal sector registered some notable successes, it is also true that the decline in nominal GDP growth relative to the budget assumption will pose a challenge for meeting the fiscal deficit target of 3.9 per cent of GDP. Slower-than-anticipated nominal GDP growth (8.2 percent versus budget estimate of 11.5) will itself raise the deficit target by 0.2 percent of GDP. The anticipated shortfall in disinvestment receipts, owing to adverse market conditions for a portfolio that largely comprises commodity stocks, will add to the challenge.


Infrastructure and Industry:

As per the latest national accounts estimates of GDP for the second quarter (July-September) of 2015-16 indicated earlier, manufacturing registered a growth of 9.3 per cent compared to 7.9 per cent in the corresponding quarter of the previous year. This revival in the overall growth of the economy is reflected in the growth of index of industrial production (IIP) as well. While there are better and more reliable indicators of industrial activity available, it is the IIP with its limitations, which is available on a monthly basis with a lag of 42 days and as such is useful in indicating the broad trends.


The eight core infrastructure supportive industries, with an overall weight of 37.9 per cent in IIP, registered a year on year growth of 2.3 per cent during April-September, 2015-16 as against the growth of 5.1 per cent during the corresponding period of the previous financial year

The decrease in growth rate during April-September, 2015 can be attributed to lower growth in electricity, coal and cement sectors and negative growth in steel and natural gas sectors.

Refinery products registered positive growth, crude oil sector has shown marginal increase in growth and fertilizers sector has shown an impressive growth in April-September, 2015 as compared to the corresponding period of the last year.

The major listed mining companies in the private corporate sector grew by 8 per cent and 5.4 per cent respectively at current prices in quarter one (Q1) and quarter two (Q2) of 2015-16.

The key constituents of mining sector, namely, production of coal, crude oil and natural gas grew by 0.9 per cent, 1.7 per cent and 0.5 per cent during Q2 2015-16. Coal had grown by 7.3 per cent in Q1 2015-16. The mining sector, thus, needs to gain momentum to keep pace with the increasing requirements of the economy.



Conclusion

The state of the economy is a matter of grave national concern.The GDP growth has been almost flat; investment sentiment is poor as apparent from virtual non creation of Capital Assets, and there has been a sharp escalation in the Debt to GDP Ratio.

Despite benign rate of inflation and achievable fiscal targets, there has to be a word of caution for the growth trajectory, which is evident from the fact that growth figures have been downgraded to 7-7.5% now, even in the Government’s official Mid-Year Review. The initial optimism of the Economic Survey which was presented in the beginning of the year has faded. Even the World Bank has indicated that it will have to relook at India’s macro-economic estimates and probably downgrade the growth figures

For 12 continuous months the merchandise exports have been in a free fall resulting in loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the Manufacturing Sector. A Government that had come to power promising 2 Crore jobs annually has led us to a situation, which is characterized by mounting job losses and abject failure to reinvigorate economic growth. This has led to despair and despondency amongst the youth.

This Government, has managed to achieve the dubious distinction of messing the economy despite the fact, that it has got the unprecedented and windfall advantage of a historic low in the prices of international crude. However, leave apart passing the benefits of these low prices to the consumers of the country, the Government has increased the central excise on petroleum products seven times to fill its coffers.


Overall, the Narendra Modi Government has failed the nation's expectations when it comes to its economy. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Why Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy is hardly innovative


The Bharatiya Janata Party’s approach towards Pakistan swings like a wild pendulum. They make hawkish statements when out of power and cuddle the neighbour with an impromptu hug when in power- without imagining the repercussions of either. The recent ‘sudden’ halt by the Prime Minister in Lahore while coming back from Kabul is another such addition to the motion of this swinging pendulum. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has hailed this ‘stop-over’ by the PM as an example of “innovative diplomacy” and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has called the PM ‘statesman like”. But hardly of the two are true.

Flashback June 2015, when the Foreign Minister on record stated that there will be no talks with Pakistan as long as Zaki-ur-rehman Lakhvi or Hafiz Sayeed (both master minds of the Mumbai 26/11 attack) remain free. Then come July and the BJP’s spokespersons were claiming victory after the Ufa talks of the ‘big breakthrough’ on terror related talks. This was nothing new. In a Joint Statement, way back in September, 2006 after a Summit bilateral in Havana between Dr ManmohanSingh and the then Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan not only “agreed that terrorism is a scourge that needs to be effectively dealt with” but also “decided to put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations”

Similarly, in the Joint Statement issued after a bilateral meeting between the then Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan on September 8, 2012, Pakistan had not only agreed to “fight terrorism in an effective and comprehensive manner, so as to eliminate the scourge  in allits forms and manifestations” , but alsocommitted to “bring all the perpetratorsof the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously”

A series of events preceded the much hyped Ufa talks:-

1. The Prime Minister in a dramatic move invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan for his swearing in ceremony on May 26, 2014. This was followed by the now infamous ‘Saari-Shawl’ and mango diplomacy.

2. This was followed by again a much touted declaration of Foreign Secretary level talks between the two countries on July 23, 2014

3. Even as this bonhomie was being touted, Pakistan continued its violation of the Indian borders and intensified firings and shelling manifold. Its High Commissioner in India dared us by audaciously meeting the Shabir Shah, a leading Kashmiri separatist to discuss Kashmir.

4. Amidst severe criticism the Government then decided to withdraw from the Foreign Secretary talks on August 18, 2014.

5. This flip flop was followed by Pakistani courts first granting bail to and then releasing the dreaded terrorist and prime accused in the Mumbai 26/11 attack Zaki-ur-rehmanLakhvi in absence of the Pakistan Government providing ample prosecution evidence.

6. Even as Modi’s Government and his Minister Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore were undiplomatically celebrating covert counter terrorist operations in Myanmar, the Pakistan Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan on June 10, 2015, ‘threatened and warned’ India.

7. On July 8, 2015, the Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif threatened India with a Nuclear attack.

8. Even while the Prime Minister was preparing for his talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Pakistan shamelessly violated the LoC in Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir killing two Jawans and injuring one over July 8th and 9th

Then comes August 2015 – The Udhampur terror attack on BSF convoy and the Gurdaspur terror attack followed. In a blatant show of aggression, Heavily Armed Terrorists using Chinese made grenades from Pakistan walked into Gurdaspur unhindered and killed 10 civilians and 7 security personnel including a Superintendent of Punjab Police.

In September, Modi Government in another about-face of sorts called of the much publicized National Security Advisor level talks. Much drama was created by both sides and Modi’s spokespersons emphasized the need of having a dialogue on terror while Pakistan pushed for the K-word. At the end the entire theatrics ended in calling off the NSA level talks. Modi Government’s unpreparedness and lack of backchannel talks with Pakistan was thoroughly exposed in this disaster of sorts.

Before coming to the present, let us rewind into the BJP’s record viz-a-viz terror and Pakistan. Let us recall the Vajpayee-Nawaz Sharif era. To understand BJP’s foreign policy, it is very essential to look back at three most important events- Kargil, Parliament attack and Operation Parakram.

After testing a Nuclear Bomb, a month after assuming office- certainly prepared by the previous Narasimha Rao Government, Atal Behari Vajpayee shook hands with Nawaz Sharif and inaugurated the Lahore Bus. Vajpayee wanted to be statesmen, and certainly for every Indian Prime Minister (barring few exceptions like Indira Gandhi) peace with Pakistan certainly means etching their name in history.



The bus to Lahore went nowhere and Kargil happened. Vajpayee and the entire BJP Government and administration were caught snoozing when Pakistan attacked India with the help of Kashmiri militants.

Some contrarian views suggest that Atal Behari Vajpayee knew about the Kargil infiltration long back, but he did nothing in time, and more than 500 lives of army men were lost. The intelligence failure leading to Kargil is pardonable and is of lesser relevance here. The only reason that India lost so many precious soldiers, was because Vajpayee restrained the army from crossing the LoC (Line of Control).

The government bungled before the war broke out. India's military and intelligence establishments erred in assessing the indicators.

It came as a shock for the Kargil Review Committee (headed by defense analyst K Subrahmanyam) when a lady officer at Army Headquarters told it that General Ved Prakash Malik, then chief of army staff, got a report of intrusions by Pakistanis a day before he was to leave for Poland on an official visit. General Malik instructed his office not to forward the report until his return.

The Vajpayee Government’s naivety caused the loss of atleast 527 Indian soldiers and 1363 soldiers were left wounded. They were busy with “peace fever”. Across the board there was a craving for friendship with Pakistan. Military and intelligence personnel neglected all indicators about General Pervez Musharraf's duplicity.

Kargil also showed our military leaders in poor light. Even when they started getting reports of the intrusion, they underplayed it, at high cost. Defence Minister George Fernandes termed it, initially, a 'small intrusion.' Even a cursory look at the newspapers of April-May 1999 makes the government's attempt to underplay the event evident.

Although we should salute the brave men who made supreme sacrifices and India won the war, but it further exposed the pusillanimity of the BJP Government

First came the Lahore Bus ride, then Kargil, then a ceasefire, then calls for a final war (aar-paar ki ladaai) with Pakistan and finally the much-trumpeted thaw in Indo-Pak relations. All through the BJP Government made attempts at peace and war, innocent Indian citizens continue to be slaughtered. India’s symbols of Democracy, the Red Fort and the Parliament, have not been spared while the Prime Minister oscillates between playing a dove and a hawk.

In December 2001, Parliament attack followed. To avenge the Parliament attack, the BJP led Vajpayee Government again made a terrible mistake in which hundreds of our soldiers lost their lives without even fighting Pakistan at the border.

Perhaps the biggest and the most lesser known failures of the Vajpayee Government was Operation Parakaram. Vajpayee Government in its zeal to counter Pakistan’s hand in the Parliament attack began mobilization of troops at the Indo-Pak border. This resulted in a 10 month standoff between the two countries.

The Kargil conflict led to the death of 527 Indian soldiers while heroically taking back heights occupied by Pakistanis in 1999. Shockingly, without going to war, 1874 Indian Soldiers died!

Usually extremely tight-lipped about casualty figures, the defence minister George Fernandes had to disclose them in the Rajya Sabha. "The number of Army personnel killed or wounded in Jammu and Kashmir and the western sector during the mobilisation, Operation Parakram, from December 19, 2001 to October 16, 2002, was 1,874," said Defence Minister George Fernandes on April 30, 2003

This, by any benchmark, is a truly staggering figure for a 10-month period, even if the counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir are taken into account.

In the initial phase of Operation Parakram itself, after the December 2001 Parliament attack, over 100 soldiers were killed and 250 injured during mine-laying operations. 
Vehicle accidents, artillery duels with Pakistan and other incidents led to many more casualties.

Relentless counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir are also, of course, exacting a heavy toll on the soldiers, with over 1,000 being killed in terrorist activity between 2000-2003

So the “Nationalist” BJP is not only responsible for killing 527 soldiers in Kargil, it is also responsible for killing 1874 more soldiers due of this humongous misadventure!

The cost of sustaining Operation Parakram was reported to be have been pegged by India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) at Rs 7 crore a day. This works out to approximately Rs 2,100 crore over 10 months

Let us now again come back to the events which preceded Narendra Modi’s much talked about sudden visit to Pakistan.

Sushma Swaraj went to Islamabad for the ‘Heart of Asia Summit’ which was multinational exercise in which she met Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. This was all a calculated exercise after the noise of the NSA talk disaster was over. All was good. But even before that something unusual happened on the sidelines of the November 2014 SAARC Summit.

Certain sections of the media had today reported that the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi met his Pakistan counterpart, Shri Nawaz Sharif and held extensive talks utilizing the good offices of a private industrialist as a mediator. This meeting, if it happened, took place despite categorical denial on part of the Government about many having been planned, leave apart, a meeting having taken place.

Infact it was underlined and publicly stated in the media that "While the PM had bilateral meetings with all other 5 heads of government's on the side lines of the SAARC summit", none happened with Pakistan. The Government then said, Prime Minister Shri  Narendra Modi held bilateral talks with all Heads of Government and State attending the 18th SAARC Summit in November 2014 with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the only conspicuous exemption.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, "It was decided earlier that there will be no structured talks as no requests had come... I said it before we are ready for a meaningful bilateral dialogue. When circumstances are there, we will have that dialogue. Nothing else....We are ready when they are ready."

Asked whether Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan will exchange pleasantries at the dinner or at the retreat tomorrow, he only said "when a senior Indian leader and senior Pakistani leader come face to face, they exchange courtesies.

The dilly dallying on an issue as sensitive and detrimental like our relations with Pakistan has been visible ever since Shri Modi's Government assumed office. Be it the posturing at the swearing in of Shri Modi, invitation to Kashmiri separatists by the Pakistan High Commission, subsequent bail and release of accused of Mumbai 26/11, unprecedented violations by Pakistan from across the borders, declaration and then cancellation of NSA talks on two occasions, blatant disregard of Ufa joint statement by Pakistan or Pakistan raking up Kashmir and third party mediation at UN, the nation's Pakistan policy has been nothing but disastrous flip flops.

A 160 second animated meeting between the two Prime Ministers were followed up in Paris on December 1, 2015. Winter was covering South-Asia, but the ice between India and Pakistan now seemed to be breaking.

After being a mute spectator to more than 900 ceasefire violations from across the border ,death of 78 security personnel since June 2014 and 25% increase in cross border infiltration this year,  Narendra Modi Government was now shifting from his hawkish mode to the ‘dove’ mode. The same Government which cancelled the NSA level talks in September held an NSA level talk in a third country- Thailand, just four months after their stand that Kashmir and all outstanding issues won’t be discussed. In Bangkok, a framework for a comprehensive dialogue for every, yes each and every outstanding issue including Kashmir was made between the two NSA’s who met secretly. This was done when the Indian Parliament was underway, and the Prime Minister or his Foreign Minister did not even bother to inform the lawmakers of the country about such a thing taking place at a neutral venue.

With such blunders in the Government's show case, the people of India were then told that NSA talks happened in Bangkok as a continuation of the talks between PM and his Pakistani counterpart.


Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has often said that “we can choose our friends, but we have no choice with regard to our neighbors”

Let us not be hypocritical of our stand with Pakistan. Every Indian wants a meaningful, result oriented dialogue with Pakistan, but not at the behest of our dead bodies. Narendra Modi with all his political rhetoric during the Lok Sabha elections on Pakistan, failed to keep his word. His self proclaimed ’56-inch’ chest seemed to have vanished. Posturing is all very well when it comes to foreign affairs, but pragmatism is the need of the hour.

Narendra Modi’s so called halt in Lahore is being termed as ‘innovative diplomacy’, but he seems to be now only following the pragmatic diplomacy of Dr Manmohan Singh who kept his word on Pakistan and never visited the country only for self publicity and optics. Instead he concentrated on deliverables and always preferred dialogue and result oriented talks with Pakistan, whether back channel or otherwise. It is said he and Pakistan almost came to closing a dispute. This he did on his own principles.

The section of the media who is hailing Modi’s Pakistan policy right now is again falling into the Vajpayee-Lahore-Kargil-Agra trap. It is high time we bring some maturity and gravitas to our foreign policy. Especially when we cannot choose our neighbours.


For meaningful talks to take place, India’s stand should always be consistent -certain core issues with regards to unjustified belligerence on part of Pakistan involving cross border terrorism, violation of ceasefire line and application of due process of law to the accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks have to be put in place. Full Stop.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why the National Herald Case is a clear cut case of Political Vendetta

“A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind”


The National Herald Case is a vicious cocktail of political vendetta, assault on institutions and subverting federalism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term ‘Vendetta’ as “a very long and violent fight between two families or groups” or “a series of acts done by someone over a long period of time to cause harm to a disliked person or group”. 

Political vendetta, simply put is a fight between two political parties. It is no secret that when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat he made sure that anyone who raised a voice against him be crushed- be it his own party men like Keshubhai Patel or Haren Pandya or Sanjay Joshi; or be it the opposition. He even did not spare the constituents of his own Sangh Parivar like VHP’s Praveen Togadia.

There is a legal aspect to the National Herald, but more importantly there is a deeper political aspect which has not been clearly understood as yet. There is no iota of doubt that the case was filed by Mr Subramanian Swamy way back in 2012, when he was not even a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Arun Jaitley in his latest blog calls him a ‘private citizen’, but this is hardly true. He has been consistently supportive of the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and later merged his miniscule Janata party with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2013. He is now the member of BJP’s Central Committee. Between August 15, 2015 to August 31 2015, Swamy addressed atleast 15 meetings in the United States and sang eulogies in favour of Mr. Modi.  
It is important to note that ED Director Mr Rajan S Katoch who was handling the case and had contended to close the case was unceremoniously removed overnight. Mr. Swamy then claimed that the ED Director was removed on his complain.

It is important to note how BJP former Union Minister & Spokesperson, Shri Shahnawaz Hussain held a press conference in BJP headquarter in Delhi minutes after the High Court ruling when the judgment itself had not been released by the Delhi Court till then? (It was finally released at 6.30 PM on 7th December, 2015). This, too, smacks of perverse enthusiasm of BJP in support of Subramanian Swamy as also in politicizing a High Court order.

Mr Arun Jaitley, who now calls the Congress to find an exit of their own created ‘Chakravyuh’ himself in a TV interview, in August 2014 itself that the case was ‘prima facie strong’ If there was no intention of any kind of vendetta then why did the Finance Minister made such a statement? He himself claims that the ED has not sent any notices, yet he proclaims Congress prima facie guilty?

There are several instances of the Modi Government targeting Congress leaders, Modi government raided the premises of Leader of Opposition & Narendra Modi’s bete noire, Shankar Sinh Vaghela, purely with a view to humiliate him. Senior most Chief Minister in India, Himachal Chief Minister – Virbhadra Singh was raided by CBI at a time when his daughter was getting married. When nothing was found, a second case by Enforcement Directorate has been registered against him. Similarly, a case was heaped upon Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Chief, Sachin Pilot as also former Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot as a counter blast to the ‘Modigate’ Scandal and ‘Mining Scam’ of Rajasthan. Similar FIRs were lodged by CBI in Haryana and Chhattishgarh against Congress leaders. Even other opponents of Modi government were not spared. 

At least, three dozen cases including sedition have been registered against Hardik Patel in Gujarat. Over 20,000 criminal cases have been registered against Patidars in Gujarat. Other political parties and other opposition leaders have been similarly targeted in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu etc.

The Modi Government has seemed to adopt a two pronged strategy to target the opposition. First, target the opposition ruled states especially the Congress ones. Secondly, do not co-operate with them.

 The Congress party governs 5 North Eastern states. There has been a consistent effort on the part of the Modi Government to reduce funds and scrapping special schemes meant for them. North-East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy 2007 was scrapped by the Government. The Government has also scrapped the ‘special category status’ to hill states. 7 out of 11 such states are Congress governed states. The Backward Regions Grant Fund (BGRF) has also been scrapped. Half the country is reeling under drought; Maharashtra and Karnataka are facing severe crises. In Bundelkhand, people are living on grass. The Karnataka Chief Minister and the Agriculture Minister had atleast 6 meetings with the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, yet there Centre has not released a single penny. Union Minister Radha Mohan Singh in Parliament contended that there have been many teams which have visited such states, but Centre is yet to release funds.

Modi Government trumpets a lot about ‘co-operative federalism’, yet in several opposition government states it is adopting the policy of non-co-operation. Until the Bihar elections, there was a public tussle between the AAP Government in Delhi and Centre on virtually every issue. Even after the formation of the new Government in Bihar, stories in the media suggest that adequate funds for road construction and development works have not been released by the Centre.

Assault on independent institution is the third ingredient of the vicious cocktail of political vendetta which this Government has unleashed on the opposition. The Government had the gumption to publically challenge the decision of the division bench of the Supreme Court by describing it as ‘tyranny of the unelected’. None less than the Finance Minister of the Government did so. One of the first salvos of the Modi Government after coming to power was on the Judiciary when the National Judicial Appointment Commission was not established.

When the Honourable Supreme Court of India pronounced the Judgement on the NJAC- the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that this judgement was based on ‘erroneous logic’. “Indian democracy cannot be a tyranny of the unelected and if the elected are undermined, democracy itself would be in danger. Are not institutions like the Election Commission and the CAG  credible enough even though they are appointed by elected governments?” Mr. Jaitley asked.

The appointment of reputed lawyer, Gopal Subramanium to Supreme Court was stalled because he had once appeared against BJP President and Shri Modi’s key aide Shri Amit Shah. This was a sheer obstructive attempt to undermine the independence of judiciary by the Modi Government.

Prime Minister again warned the judiciary to be not influenced by five star activists bringing into question the most important innovation in judicial history i.e. Public Interest Litigation by spirited citizens in public interest.

This systematic denigration to brow beat judiciary does not bode well for democracy.

The Bihar elections acted as a catalyst for the Modi Government to gradually fulfill its dream of ‘Vipaksh Mukt Bharat’- but the people of India are more intelligent.







Tuesday, November 3, 2015

“My Father Let My Country Awake”


Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit ~ Mahatma Gandhi


There is a raging debate about rising intolerance in the country. The Prime Minister has finally spoken on it, but only to target his political opponents. The Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley called PM Modi the biggest victim of ideological intolerance. More than 400 artists have signed a strongly worded statement against rising intolerance, A scientist has returned his Padma Bhushan, 54 writers have returned awards, 12 filmmakers have returned their national awards. 3 top scientific academies have criticised the Government’s approach towards rationality and imposing mythology on science. 135 scientists have return to the President against it. 

The President of India, himself has spoken atleast twice on this issue. Now even film stars have joined in. Strongly outspoken Shah Rukh Khan has brought the debate in the mainstream. He said the biggest crime a patriot can commit is not following the ethos of Secularism. Strong words indeed. 

The Modi Government was elected on the promise of economic progress, but when someone as adept as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw or Narayana Murthy starts speaking their mind against the Government, then there is a cause of concern. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has expressed concern on ‘bans’ being imposed. Ratings agencies, central bankers and corporate titans have now begun to speak directly of intolerance and of the connection between insecure minorities and India's growth prospects. This should send the alarm bells ringing in the Modi establishment. 

There has been retaliation from the Government’s side too. Union Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari has gone on record to state that the state is capable of ‘silencing them’ (dissent). Arun Jaitley has termed it a ‘manufactured revolt’, while other ministers and BJP leaders have decried terming it as ‘politically motivated’. Some voices like Anupam Kher and Chetan Bhagat have minced no words to mock this kind of protest and questioned why didn’t the ‘so called conscience keepers’ didn’t protest when incidents like Emergency, exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, 1984 Riots happened? 

Creative people are basically very emotionally attached to society. They draw, write, and compose their reflections of the society and life. They are the first observers of what is going on in the socio-political life of a Nation. They are close to life and their work often reflects the voice of people. When creative minds are questioned, then the there is a danger of anarchy. Democracy loses its space. When creative minds are taunted of launching a ‘manufactured revolt’ by the state, which the people have voted to the power by democratic means, then the state plunges into authoritarianism. 

India is the largest and most vibrant democracies in the world. However, cliché, it may sound but India exists because of its diversity. Since 5000 years, India is the land of tolerance- of Buddha, Asoka and Mahatma Gandhi. 

It is a matter of grave concern, when writers, thinkers and rationalists are attacked because of their views. A county devoid of artists is a soulless abandoned island. The deeper concern is that this tolerance has taken a violent form. From attacks on rationalists like MM Kulbargi, Dabholkar and Pansare, the lynching of an innocent man in Dadri, to several incidents of hate crime against minorities, recently the country has witnessed a lot of unabated violence. 

The debate is not why these creative minds did or did not speak in the past where incidents of intolerance happened, the point is while they are protesting now, the Government and its acolytes are busy foul mouthing them. There are ways to protest and creative minds are gifted and innovative enough to choose their form of protest. 

Was it a manufactured dissent when Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood and Mahatma Gandhi his returned Kaiser-i-Hind medal in protest against Jallianwala Bagh? When noted writer Khushwant Singh returned his Padma Bhushan because of Operation Bluestar, did the Government of the day termed it as ‘Intolerance’ against the Prime Minister? 

India is a young country. Indians by and large are argumentative in nature; they have a habit of taking sides. But in recent times, the ‘Argumentative Indian’ is gradually becoming an ‘Intolerant Indian’. They have started taking sides and they refuse to respect the views of the other person. Every good conversation starts with good listening. One has to be open-minded enough to listen to the other person. One has to unprejudiced enough so as to respect what the other person eats, writes, expresses or wears! 

A new political hypocrisy has emerged centre-stage: make all the constitutionally correct statements on freedom, liberty, secular fabric, tolerance but keep quiet or dilute or take no action against those who blatantly violate both spirit of the constitution and the rule of law. A citizen almost does not have a fundamental right to life, freedom etc. You can live or be free if they allow you to be so.
Respecting personal liberty of the other person is the most essential part of tolerance. We can only build a progressive India, when there are progressive views. When we learn to respect each other’s ‘freedom of choice’. Only then we can build a progressive nation. 
If there is no compassion, no love, no respect or liberty for our people, then there won’t be any development. Progressive nations are built through consensus and conversations. The world has often emulated India’s progressive thoughts in spiritualism, religion, culture, plurality, custom, cuisine, language and crafts. As Rabindranath Tagore famously wrote: 

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic wallsWhere words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.




Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ban the Ban



‘Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance’- Laurie Halse Anderson. 


There is a growing trend in the socio-political landscape of this country to impose restrictions, supress voices and ban freedom. The present spate on bans of different kinds is slowly making India –the Republic of Bans! Growing intolerance and the tendency to mainstream the fringe is at the heart of the debate.

It is not the first time the state is telling us what to read, view or even eat. Although the Constitution of India, has given ‘We the people’, the ‘Right to Freedom and Speech’, yet since time immemorial, bans have been imposed in this country. However, this tendency has seen a growth in recent times.

In a diverse country like India, the people may or may not take these ‘Bans’ or ‘Fatwas’ seriously, but argumentative Indians and particularly the media takes sadistic pleasure in order to play up these restrictions. To an extent, the media reflects the society. It mirrors what is happening in and around us, they are right too in doing so. The difficulty comes in when the media deliberately pumps up these fringe elements which are not representative of the larger opinion in the society. The danger is to mainstream each and every such occasion and make an issue out of it which only helps vested interests.

Let us be very clear, nothing should be suppressed, banned or muzzled. If we ban something, it only shows are own shame.

As Oscar Wilde beautifully puts it, “ The books that world calls immoral are the books that shows the world its own shame”.

There are many such books in India. There are many such films in India. There are many such bans in India.

'Rama Retold'by Aubery Menen was struck down in 1955, the spoof on Ramayana was one of the first books to be banned in independent India

'An Area of Darkness' by V S Naipaaul was banned in 1965 for its negative potrayal of India and its people.

'Who Killed Gandhi' by Lourenco De Salvador was banned in 1979, the book was considered inflammatory and ill-researched.

Perhaps the most famous case of banning a book in India was the ban on 'Satanic Verses' by Salman Rushdie. The universally controversial book was 'banned' in India in 1988, for its 'blasphemous content'.

'Lajja' by Taslima Nasreen was set against the backdrop of anti-Hindu riots in Bangladesh as a reaction to the demolition of Babri Masjid banned in 1993.


'Three Hundred Ramayans' by A K Ramanujan - a famous essay was banned by Delhi university in 2011 under pressure from right-wing groups.

'Bhakta Vidur' - the movie came right after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Rowlatt Act and a character was moulded on Mahatma Gandhi's personality. It was banned in 1921. This was the first Indian film to face a ban.

Recently, this phenomenon has taken a new trend. Not only we are told what to what watch and read now, but what to eat, what to wear.

Rajasthan and Gujarat traditionally disallow sale of meat during the nine days of the Jain festival of Paryushan. This year Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Haryana ordered bans on meat sale during the festival. Chhattisgarh extended the ban by further 4 days. On September 17. In some cases the ban extended to as many as 8 days. Reports of demands on ban of meat have also come from groups in states like West Bengal.

The mindless incident of a Shiva Sena, Member of Parliament force feeding a Muslim man in Maharashtra Sadan, during Ramazan has not faded in our memories, yet.
Then, there is the lunacy of the other side.

Recently, Mumbai-based Sunni Muslim group, Raza Academy issued a fatwa against Oscar-winning musician AR Rahman and renowned Iranian filmmaker, Majid Majidi for their involvement in Muhammad: Messenger of God, a movie on Prophet Muhammed. Said to be Iran's most expensive movie, it opened nationwide in the Shiite Islamic republic last week. The movie depicts the prophet on screen, an act that is prohibited in Sunni Islam.  

The right wing fringe across religions is having a field day with active collusion of the BJP and its governments. The diktat to actor Rajnikant to not act in a film on Tipu Sultan and the Fatwa on AR Rahman to not compose music for a film on the Prophet are nothing but the fringes working in collusion to keep the divisive agenda alive and the ruling party continues to tacitly look away so as to help them.

As if attacks by fringe groups on TV channels and newspaper offices was not enough, attempts at officially muzzling the media- the fourth pillar of our democracy- has reached unprecedented levels

After having served notices to selectively targeted News Channels for reporting on the Yakub Memom execution, the I&B Ministry has served a notice to Gujarat based GSTV for saying that the Mahatma did not wear suits worth Rs 9 Lakh and moves in expensive cars, while some leaders today are

In May, the UP government banned Nestle’s Maggi after tests showed presence of MSG and lead beyond permissible limits. Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and others followed suit. On June 5, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ordered recall of all Maggi stock, forcing Nestle India to halt production. Bombay HC was critical of FSSAI for singling out Maggi for testing.

Alcohol, meat and fish are permanently banned in parts of Palitana in Gujarat, a Jain pilgrim centre, and in the Hindu spiritual hubs of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. In Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, meat shops on the routes taken by Kanwarias during the annual pilgrimage to Haridwar are banned.

In June, Madhya Pradesh banned eggs in mid-day meals for schoolchildren.
Gujarat has been under prohibition since 1960. A ban on mahua-based liquor is in force in Jharkhand for over two decades now. Liquor sale disallowed by underground militants in Manipur and Nagaland since the early 1990s.
In Kerala, no hotels, except those classified as five star, are allowed to sell liquor. Most of the 300 hotels that used to sell liquor before the ban imposed in April this year, have turned into beer and wine parlours.

Mumbai University dropped Rohinton Mistry’s book ‘Such A Long Journey’ from its reading list at the behest of the Shiv Sena, which protested that the book was derisive of it. Mistry’s book, set in India in the 1970s, was shortlisted for the Booker.
‘Charandas Chor’ by playwright and social activist Habib Tanvir cannot be read in Madhya Pradesh since 2009.

In Gujarat, BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s book ‘Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence’ was banned in 2009 for “tarnishing the image” of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The state government has also proscribed ‘Great Soul’, a biography of Mahatma Gandhi, by former New York Times editor Joseph Lelyveld.

In Uttar Pradesh, you cannot own a copy of or read ‘Jati Raj’ by former provincial civil services officer Lakshmi Kant Shukla, ‘Udayiman Bhartiya Samaj me Shikshak’ by Dr Karan Singh, ‘Nehru Gandhi Parivar - Secular’ or ‘Varn Sankar’ by Hari Ram Gupta and ‘Rani’, a biography of Rani Laxmibai, by Jaishree Misra.
In Tamil Nadu, Vaasanthi’s ‘Jayalalithaa: A Portrait’ has been banned since 2012, and two have faced trouble this year, Perumal Murugan’s ‘Mathorubagan’ and Puliyur Murugesan’s ‘Balachandran Enra Peyarum Enakkundu’.

In March, a BBC documentary on Nirbhaya, the girl brutally gangraped in December 2012, made by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin was proscribed in India. Comments about the incidents and women by Mukesh Singh, one of the accused in the gangrape and murder of Nirbhaya, in an interview in the film led to outrage.

Telecom ministry ordered ISPs to block access to 857 websites hosting pornographic content in August. Scaled down order after outrage. The same month, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was refused certification by the Central Board of Film Certification. The film was effectively banned in India because no film can be publicly exhibited without clearance.

The UP government banned Yash Chopra’s ‘Aaja Nachle’, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ and Prakash Jha’s ‘Aarakshan’. In 2009, the Lucknow administration denied permission to a Pakistani theatre group to stage “Jinne Lahore Nahin Vekhya”, leading to the cancellation of theatre festival “Bharangam” hosted by Bhartendu Natya Akademi in the city.

The Punjab government has banned the public exhibit of film ‘The Mastermind Jinda-Sukha’, based on the lives of Khalistan Commando Force terrorists Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha who assassinated General A S Vaidya in 1986. Two films with a religious subject, ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ and ‘Messenger of God’, were also stopped from screening this year. Punjab banned ‘Sadda Haq’ in April 2013 on the ground that it glorified militancy. Gujarat has seen a number of bans on films, including Aamir Khan-starrer ‘Fanaa’, ‘Parzania’ and ‘Chand Bujh Gaya’. Two plays, ‘Maulana Azad’ and ‘Suno Nadi Kehti Hai’ were also banned.
In Kerala, ‘Prabhuvinte Makkal’, by ‘Sajeevan Anthikkad’, was blocked on YouTube, while Tamil Nadu banned Kamal Haasan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ (edited version released later).

Homosexuality is a touchy subject. In March 2012, Indian-Canadian photo-artist Sunil Gupta’s exhibition in Delhi titled “Sun City and Other Stories: Paris-San FranciscoDelhi” was shut down by the Delhi Police because of its theme of homosexuality.

Within weeks of taking over as Censor Board chief, Pahlaj Nihalani introduced the infamous "cuss list" with even "Bombay" on it. The list was later withdrawn, but the test will be when Anurag Kashyap returns to Wasseypur. Television is even more sanitized, and shows like 'Californication' and 'Orange is the new Black' are just a series of bleeps and blurs.

Comedy collective All India Bakchod's first attempt at a 'roast' earlier this year had to be taken down from YouTube after falling foul of various right-wing groups and a political party. It was definitely rude and smutty, but as AIB pointed out, no one was forcing people to watch it.

One of the worst victims of censorship has been one of India’s most famous painters, M F Husain. His paintings have been defaced, his films banned in Gujarat, his property vandalized, and even an absurd bounty of Rs 51 crore announced for his silver head, forcing him into exile in Qatar.

Even after his death, the ire hasn't eased up. A Ganesha painting at the Marriott in Mumbai was removed last year after one visitor objected to a nude woman painted alongside the god. Nudes also offended the "sensibility" of a right-wing group in Delhi in 2013, though the organizers refused to buckle under the protests

Sri Ram Sene's Pramod Muthalik may have become the face of the moral police after the attack on young women at a pub in 2009, but it’s a script that plays out everywhere. Remember the Sania short skirt fatwa, Meerut's Operation Majnu and the V-day attacks? Just last month, Mumbai police rounded up couples from a hotel in Madh, and humiliated them.

India is the country of Buddha and Gandhi. Tolerance was supposed to be in our heritage and in our blood. Yet continuous diktats on ‘what to see, what to eat, what to wear, what to read, what to watch’ and so on, tarnishes the image of India as the largest democratic country in the world which can take pride in its diversity.
Epilogue: The land which gave the Kamasutra to the world, is banning porn!
Let’s stand together against ban. Lets, Ban the Ban!



(Disclaimer: Many examples have been extensively quoted from The Times of India) 

All views expressed by the author are its personal views.