Friday, September 28, 2012

When Bastions Become Insecure, Orderly Retreat Becomes Unavoidable

Sushant Sareen
Senior Fellow, VIF

The portents of the Taliban strike against Camp Bastion in Helmand earlier this month are rather depressing and disheartening. Despite the brave face being put on by the NATO commanders, the devastating attack raises serious questions about the viability and sustainability of not only the exit strategy devised by the Americans but also their purported plan to retain some bases in a supporting role post 2014. The recent spate of attacks on NATO targets – Camp Bastion, the suicide bombing of a bus carrying Westerners to the airport, the damage caused to the aircraft of the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee at Bagram, the series of ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, targeted assassinations and what have you – have instilled a deep sense of foreboding both within Afghanistan and without.

Confidence in the ability of the current dispensation in Afghanistan to hold fast against the Taliban / Al Qaeda combine after the exit of the ISAF was never very strong. After the Camp Bastion attack, it would have been badly shaken, if not completely shattered. With nothing on the ground to reverse the sentiment of gloom and doom, chances are that the main players would have already started to prepare for the post-2014 situation. Some would be opening their channels of communication with the Taliban, others preparing for a fight to the finish against them and still others hedging their bets in all directions. In the process, the authority of the government, or whatever remains of it, would get severely compromised, making it even more difficult to maintain a modicum of stability once the foreign forces withdraw substantially.

Tempting as it would be to underplay the attack on Camp Bastion – after all, this wasn’t the first time that an ISAF base had been attacked – the simple fact is that the ferocity of the attack, the meticulous planning and flawless execution, and most of all the damage it caused (both material as well as psychological) makes it something of a game-changer. Coupled with the growing chasm between the foreign and local troops because of the spike in ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, manifest in the suspension of joint operations and training of troops, the Camp Bastion attack has put a big question mark over the efficacy, and indeed practicability, of the post-2014 strategy of the Americans.

By all accounts, the US strategy, as things stand, is that while the bulk of the troops will withdraw by the end of 2014, a small force – the numbers being bandied about range between 10000 and 35000 – will stay behind in a support and training role. Three to five bases are likely to be retained by the Americans in Afghanistan to house these troops and mount both ‘search and destroy’ as well as rescue missions. While the Afghan national security forces will be handed over security responsibilities, the Americans will be there to back them until the situation stabilises. Clearly, this is hardly a confidence inspiring strategy and, if anything, it is going to be unworkable. To put it simply, the only real choice before the Americans is to either comprehensively defeat the Taliban, their associates, proxies and supporters, or else cut and run from Afghanistan. Anything else will be a halfway house that is never going to work.

As the drawdown takes place, a security vacuum will be created. Although the ANSF will try and fill this vacuum, it is unlikely to have a good grip over the security situation. The Taliban are expected to make major inroads and hold sway (even if informally) over large swathes of territory, particularly in the South and East of Afghanistan. What is more, there are real apprehensions that the Taliban or their associates and affiliates could extend their baleful influence – either through force of arms or through imaginative use of psychological warfare to convince the local people to side with them as they are bound to emerge victors eventually – in parts of Afghanistan which currently are relatively unaffected by the insurgency.

Expecting the relatively small numbers of US troops to be able to stall such advances by the Taliban, who will also have the advantage of momentum and morale on their side, is not very realistic. This is not to say that the Taliban will sweep through Afghanistan. Chances are that there will be many more bloody engagements between the combatants and while there will be no clear victor after these engagements, they will end up exhausting both the Afghan regime as well as their American supporters.

What is worse, the Americans will be largely confined to their bases, practically under siege from hostiles in the surrounding countryside and extremely wary of their Afghan colleagues because of the ‘green on blue’ attacks. In such a situation, will not the US troops be more engrossed in securing their base and their backs rather than in targeting the Taliban or training and supporting the ANSF? And after the Camp Bastion attack, how secure will these bases be? How will these bases maintain their logistics lines? Will they be supplied only by air because the land routes will be extremely vulnerable to attacks by the insurgents? Will these bases only send out airborne patrols because ground patrols, if any, will be subjected to unremitting attacks? What will happen if the Taliban are able to mount a couple of devastating Camp Bastion type attacks on these bases, extracting a heavy price in men and material? Will not the continued US troops presence in Afghanistan become financially, militarily and politically untenable in such a scenario?

Currently, ballpark estimates of cost of maintaining a single soldier in Afghanistan is $ 1 million per annum. If around 10000 troops are retained in Afghanistan post 2014, it will mean an annual expenditure of around $ 10 billion. A force of around 25000 will entail a cost of $ 25 billion. How long will be the US continue to bear this expenditure? Until 2024? Appears unlikely. What is more likely is that once the bulk of the force is withdrawn, and the security situation takes a turn for the worse, there will be a growing clamour in the US to call back rest of the forces and figure out some other way to contain the Taliban and other Islamist radical groups that are bound to make Afghanistan their base.

Apart from the financial burden, continued presence in Afghanistan will also make the US hostage to Pakistan. While the dependence on Pakistan for ground lines of communication (GLOC) will reduce drastically because these would have probably become un-useable since they will be passing through Taliban dominated areas, the Pakistani airspace will remain crucial for the US military in Afghanistan. And if it is not Pakistan, then the US will remain hostage to all sorts of political, financial and diplomatic arm-twisting by the countries through which the Northern Distribution Network operates.

Quite clearly, the US exit strategy has gaping holes insofar as the future security scenario in Afghanistan is concerned. Although the military commanders are insisting on staying the course and the American politicians are emphatic about not abandoning Afghanistan, once things start going horribly wrong, none of these commitments will be worth the paper they are written on. The military bases that US intends to retain fit in well into the exit strategy only to the extent that they will allow for an orderly retreat as and when the time comes to throw in the towel. Perhaps the Americans have learnt the lesson from the British to not announce a complete withdrawal because that would mean that the next day there won’t be a single Afghan left on their side. By withdrawing to their bases, a strong signal will be conveyed that the Americans are here to stay for the foreseeable future, something that will keep many Afghans on their side and at the same time allow for bulk of the forces to exit. Once they are in their bases, they will be better places to leave lock, stock and barrel as and when the time for doing this comes.

Of course, quitting Afghanistan will not mean the end of the US fight against radical Islamists. Nor will it mean turning the back on the anti-Taliban Afghans. But instead of boots on the ground or bombs from the air, the Americans will probably devise a somewhat smarter and perhaps more effective strategy to support anti-Taliban and anti-radical groups in Afghanistan and around the Islamic world.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

India - Maldives Cooperation on Counter-Terrorism: Why and How

Dr. N. Manoharan & Nidhi Narain Bhatnagar

In a recently concluded three-day visit of the Indian Defence Minister, A. K. Antony to Malé, India and Maldives have agreed to work together to ensure that “the stability in the region is maintained; and above all… threats, particularly from terrorist groups and other non-state actors, are eliminated”. What “terrorist groups and other non-state actors” were they talking about? Are the threats grave enough to merit structured bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries?

Maldives, although a 100 percent Sunni nation, was considered to be not much affected by the rise of Islamic radicalism. However, in the recent years, Maldivians in increasing numbers have been drawn towards the Pakistan-based madrasas and jihadist groups. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), through its charitable front organisation in the atoll – Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq – has established a foothold in the southern parts of Maldives. This was achieved under the guise of providing relief operations after the 2004 tsunami. At any given point in time, there are over 50 Maldivian nationals studying in Pakistani madrasas which are controlled by various jihadist groups. There are several enrolled in Saudi Arabian madrasas as well, who, on their return, bring back not only the virus of radical ideas, but they also have increased opportunities to become part of jihadist networks. These madrasa-educated Maldivian nationals are encouraged to fight the jihad in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya. They also help in the direct recruitment of Maldivian citizens for jihad. It is worth noting that the terrorist, Ali Jaleel, who was involved in 27 May 2009 suicide attack on the ISI headquarters in Lahore, was a Maldivian national.

It is not surprising therefore that the events in West Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan have influenced the youth towards the process of radicalisation that emanated from inadequate educational and employment opportunities. The current rate of unemployment of Maldives stands at over 14 percent. The violent manifestation of radicalisation in the form of first-ever terror attack in September 2007 at Sultan Park of its capital Malé, left 12 injured and came as a jolt to the generally peace-loving Maldivians. Investigations of the attack indicated that the Jamaat-ul-Muslimeen, a new Maldives-based terror group, having links with the LeT was the mastermind. This incident worried the government as the economy heavily depends on tourism and terrorist attacks would curtail the earnings from this sector and cripple the economy. What is more worrying for India is the infiltration of Indian terror group Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) to Maldives, especially after its crackdown in India.

The Maldivian government under Mohammed Nasheed resorted to some stern measures to tone down the radicalisation through regulating local madrasas and seminaries. All mosques were required to register with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and those which were unregistered were declared to be “Illegal” and even dismantled. The raid on Dhar-ul-Khair mosque in Himandhoo Island in October 2007 was a case in point. The government also tightened the visa regime to help prevent foreign Islamic clerics from teaching in the local madrasas. But, these measures did not go down well with the radicals. One of the principal reasons for Nasheed’s eventual ouster was his anti-radicalisation stance.

The crucial question then is why is Maldives considered suitable by terror groups like the LeT? There are several reasons for this; Maldives is a 100 percent Sunni Muslim country with a population of about 380,000. It is made up of 1192 small islands (grouped into 26 natural atolls), most of them uninhabited, spread across over 860 kilometers in a north-south axis; anonymity, therefore, is not an issue. The island-state is also not too far from India’s southern coast making it an ideal launch pad for attacks through sea. Pakistan-based terror groups know very well that launching the next attack on India from Pakistan would be difficult due to tightened security on the land and maritime boundaries. The LeT has plans to use the deserted Maldivian islands as storehouses for weapons and explosives and move them to India when required. These islands are also ideal for establishing training facilities, especially on the maritime front. The Maldivians’ superior knowledge of the sea is an asset to any terror group planning to carry out maritime terrorist attacks.

It is in this context counter-terrorism cooperation between India and Maldives gains significance. The existence of any terror bases or breeding grounds for terrorism in the Indian neighbourhood threatens Indian security. India cannot remain a mute spectator. Though, India and Maldives have been conducting joint counter-terrorism exercises on regular basis, it is not enough. There is an urgent need for structured counter-terrorism cooperation between the two maritime neighbours. The structure could include counter-terrorism training and capacity building, handing over of fugitives, sharing of intelligence, investigative assistance, joint-patrolling and maritime security. On its part, the Maldives, which is now under a new government, should deal with the issue of radicalisation more seriously. India can consider helping Maldives by creating more educational and vocational institutions so as to provide a viable alternative to Maldivian students over the madrasa option. India can also attract a sizeable number of the Maldivian students to its educational institutions through the liberal dispensation of scholarships. Apart from investing in Maldives, New Delhi can also encourage its businessmen and industry to set up joint ventures in the islands. The setting up of anti-terror measures and sharing of information with the Maldives are critical to India’s safety and internal security.  

A Visit that can Wait

Kanwal SibalMember Advisory Board, VIF

The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, while publicly expressing his keenness to visit Pakistan, has also voiced his expectation several times that the outcome would be substantial. It was earlier speculated that by something “substantial” he had agreements on Siachen and Sir Creek in mind. While he still thinks Sir Creek is doable, the hope for an early resolution of the Siachen issue has receded. Although some progress was made in past talks, the issue has become complicated because of Kargil and the increased presence of China in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Now “substantial” means some credible progress by Pakistan in bringing to justice those responsible for the Mumbai terror attack. From the facts of the prime minister making his wishes known and Pakistan ignoring them even as it continues to press for his visit, one can infer that Singh is more keen on making the visit than Pakistan is in facilitating it by giving him a minimum face-saving reason to do so.

At one level, there is nothing exceptional in heads of State and government visiting one another. This is happening all the time in international diplomacy. So why so much fuss about the opportuneness of prime minister’s visit? In the case of India and Pakistan, though, the decision whether to make a visit or not has an exceptional context.

India has long suffered from terrorism at Pakistan’s hands, without this deterring it in the past to reach out to Pakistan at the prime minister’s level as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in 1999. Kargil followed. In 2001, Vajpayee invited General Pervez Musharraf to Agra but the initiative failed because Pakistan did not offer a clear-cut commitment on terrorism. In 2004, Vajpayee went to Pakistan for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit and obtained a carefully worded commitment from Musharraf to prevent terrorism born on Pakistan’s soil from being directed against India. A spate of terrorist attacks nevertheless followed, but India did not interrupt the ongoing dialogue in the hope that Pakistan would at some stage abjure such acts in its own interest.

The dialogue collapsed, however, with the enormity of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai orchestrated by the Inter-Services Intelligence-jihadi groups nexus. Again, after a gap, India persuaded itself that the no-dialogue option was not sustainable and that the compulsions of geography — which Pakistan disregards — dictated that India begin talking to Pakistan again.

Four years have elapsed since the Mumbai attacks and two rounds of dialogue have been held, but without any tangible move by Pakistan to try those guilty of the Mumbai attack. Pakistan has used the excuse of complex legal procedures and an independent judiciary to explain the inordinate delay in doing so. 
Meanwhile, to drive home to India the futility of its demand, it allows Hafiz Saeed, the purported mastermind of the Mumbai massacre, to engage freely in his anti-India jihadi tirades. That it is unwilling to be put on the defensive on Mumbai is indicated by its insistence on drawing a parallel between a meticulously planned terrorist action by Pakistani nationals on Indian soil with official Pakistani complicity and an isolated action by local Indian terrorists on Indian soil without any official connivance.

Worse, Pakistan’s foreign minister insults reality and decency by pretending that terrorism is no longer an issue between India and Pakistan and advising us to be realistic and not emotional about the Mumbai trial. Now, if the prime minister of India says that he will go to Pakistan only if Pakistan demonstrates its sincerity by trying those responsible for Mumbai and the foreign minister of Pakistan is “appalled” that we raise the terrorism “mantra of the past”, this “old time” stuff, as she calls it, where is the meeting ground between the ways in which he and the Pakistani leadership see the issue? Our concessions to Pakistan on terrorism, so that the bilateral dialogue can continue, have unfortunately led to these scornful remarks by its foreign minister. If the prime minister were still to go, Pakistan would have diplomatically humiliated India finally on the terrorism issue.

To put the matter of the visit in perspective, our prime minister has been meeting Pakistan’s president and prime minister quite regularly in India or in third countries during international meetings, whether at Ekaterinaberg, Sharm el-Sheikh, Thimphu, New York and, most recently, Tehran. So, contact at the highest political levels is being maintained. Our expectation has been that this willingness to engage with Pakistan would encourage it to bring the pernicious and dangerous issue of terrorism to a political closure bilaterally, as terrorism has the potential to wreck the dialogue process if a Mumbai-like attack is repeated. As it happens, Pakistan has succeeded in blunting India’s case on terrorism even as the United States of America, ironically, has increasingly exposed Pakistan’s duplicity on the issue. If the prime minister were to go to Pakistan under these circumstances, we would have allowed the latter to deny us the only deliverable we seek from it.
Apart from bilateral dimensions of the terrorism issue, there is the international dimension. With religious extremism spreading in the Arab world and organizations with a violent political past acceding to power in hitherto “moderate Islamic states”, not to mention the current street frenzy against the US unleashed by a film, India has to remain vigilant about the impact of such developments on the popular spirit in the region, linked transnationally through religion and ideology with happenings beyond.

As a sign of the maturing of democracy in Pakistan and its polity outgrowing its India obsession, Pakistani commentators had noted that India had not figured as an electoral issue in the last general elections there. If so, why should the prime minister’s visit at this juncture play electorally in favour of the civilian government, especially President Asif Ali Zardari’s, in any significant way? India, in fact, has never been in a position to influence internal developments in Pakistan to suit its interests. We should discard any illusions in this regard.
While Zardari, no doubt, has relatively congenial views on India, they do not get reflected sufficiently in policymaking. Pakistan’s president, highly embattled politically, is hardly in a position to deliver on substantive issues. In any case, the civilian government cannot escape responsibility for the lack of progress on various issues that bedevil our relations, apart from trade where different dynamics are at play. Let us also not forget that it is not the military that created Pakistan but civilian politicians. Civilian politicians were fully complicit in Pakistan’s Afghanistan adventure, the unleashing of terrorism in Kashmir, the country’s clandestine nuclear and missile exchanges with North Korea and the anti-Indian thrust of the China relationship. We should not entrap ourselves into the civilian good guys versus the military bad guys equation.
Elections are due in Pakistan latest by February 2013. Before that, a caretaker government will take over. For practical reasons, the timing of a prime ministerial visit at this juncture would therefore be ill-advised. For those who advocate that he visit Nankana Sahib on November 28 and his village at Gah should remember that Guru Nanak’s jayanti will be celebrated next year too and Gah will not be effaced from the map in the years to come. So, let’s wait for Pakistan to deliver on terrorism first.

Down With Subsidies, Up With Reforms

Dr. M.N. Buch

Visiting Fellow, VIF

There is unemployment in India? There is poverty? The economy is stagnating? What is causing all this? Obviously the only villain on the scene is a gentleman called Mr. Subsidy. Because the State gives subsidies it causes the budget to imbalance, raises the fiscal deficit and prevents our patriotic, people-friendly businessmen from accessing capital with which they can promote industry and create new jobs. Abolish subsidies and India will be prosperous.

What exactly is India? Is it a largely middle class nation in which the poor are marginal? Rajiv Gandhi and his admirers such as Mani Shankar Aiyer talked of a hundred million middle class consumers who form the backbone of our society and economy. Because the population of India then was eight hundred million, that still left seven hundred million outside the pale of that section of society which had the money to buy goods and services. Government and its policies were aimed at promoting the consumerist elements of society and the question which I asked Rajiv then was whether the government no longer existed for the seven hundred million people who could not afford to consume and were living at the subsistence level. Our intelligentsia, our press and electronic media were so engrossed in highlighting the achievements of middle class India and the business houses which serve it that the reality of India was lost sight of. The reality of India is that of our five and a half lakh villagers at least half has no access to road communications, very large parts of the country are cut off during the monsoon, have poor bus connectivity, highly unsatisfactory power supply, with very little scope for employment except that which is directly linked with agriculture and allied activities. There is very poor schooling, not even minimum health care and certainly very few urban amenities available. It is this India which lies outside the consumerist society.

Almost all our small and medium towns are bereft of even basic sanitation and the villagers are only slightly better off because here open defecation takes place in fields rather than along roadsides. For mere survival rural India and small town India, which is only one slot above the totally rural society, are heavily dependent upon government for infrastructural improvement, basic social infrastructure and the type of investment which will bring about marginal improvement in the economy. To give an understanding of this India let me give one example. My institution was doing work on watershed management in Ghodadongri Block of Betul District. Though the area lies within the Tawa Basin it has very little irrigation, the land is undulating and hilly, there are very few roads and many villages lie outside the reach of motor transport. The watershed management programme has brought about improvement in ground water and has also provided fodder and fuel to the villagers through the afforestation programme. Part of the programme includes promotion of horticulture, including planting and nurturing of fruit bearing trees. The villagers told us that they did not need papaya and guava plants because the fruit bruises easily, with the condition of roads it is difficult to transport this fruit to market and, therefore, the villagers preferred more hardy fruits of the citrus variety which could be transported over rough terrain. To develop this region one needs to build roads and if the cost benefit analysis were to be done on a commercial basis we would not be able to justify any roads. However, if we add the social benefit flowing to people and, over a period of time the economic benefits that would follow, the roads would be justified. Private business looks at the gestation period of a project and, therefore, would not touch rural roads with a barge pole. The State has to step in and the expenditure on the roads could be interpreted as a form of subsidy to rural areas. Should government stop building rural roads?

Before the nation adopts a particular stance on the subject of subsidies it might be worth considering what exactly is meant by a subsidy regime. In the United States, by no stretch of imagination a socialist country, the Federal Government has accepted as a matter of policy that social security, including pensions, will be made available to elderly people who have retired. There will be medical coverage but through a process of insurance, war veterans will be looked after by the State in the matter of health care, the unemployed will be helped to find jobs and in the meanwhile will be paid an adequate unemployment grant to keep body and soul together, education up to the school leaving level will be State funded and food stamps and unemployment insurance to pay rent for accommodation will be available to the poor and unemployed. Forty-seven percent of the population of the United States does not pay income tax because of the above welfare subsidies. How are subsidies paid? In a recent article published in The Guardian and reproduced in the Hindustan Times, Michael Cohen points out that first and foremost there is a basic social contract in the United States between the citizens and the State and health care, food, housing, unemployment benefits, etc., are all a part of this social contract. Senior citizens who have pension benefits have spent years when they were employed in paying social security fees and taxes and that what they are getting after retirement is only a deferred payment for what they have already contributed. Those who are unemployed and are receiving unemployment benefits are the very persons who, when they were employed, paid taxes and such social security fees, etc., as are prescribed and that these and taxes paid by the more fortunate citizens enable government to provide social security coverage to the less fortunately placed. In other words, subsidy in this case comes out of payment made in the past or payment made today because in the ultimate analysis even a capitalist State such as the United States of America has a clear understanding of its welfare role and its social responsibility to its citizens. Instead of looking at this as a subsidy it should be treated as a deferred payment for past taxes received and a financial accommodation temporarily for those who lost their jobs and are in immediate need of help. Similarly, State funding of education ensures that there is universal coverage up to the school leaving level and this represents an investment by the State in the future citizens of the country. This, too, is not really a subsidy because it is an investment the dividend of which is declared later but on which no quantifiable value can be estimated because the benefits flowing from an educated citizenry are virtually limitless.

Let us take three other areas of State concern. Unemployment benefits ensure that a person passing through difficult times does not starve and is able to either retrain himself to increase his employability quotient, or is able to arrange for an appropriate job without loss of dignity. Food subsidy by way of encashable food stamps prevents malnutrition and promotes health. This is equally true of medi-care, because ultimately speaking a healthy population is always a national asset. Of course Britain and most European countries carry the concept of social security much farther than do the Americans, but there is also the concept that a citizen with a substantial income base is responsible for looking after his less fortunate brethren who, in turn, by becoming part of labour force with a potential for high productivity, contribute to national prosperity through the employment that they get in due course. To call such a regime a subsidy regime is ridiculous.

There is another fallacy of a free market economy that it allows market forces to work and as a result of this the State does not need to provide subsidies. Market forces are largely a function of supply and demand and even the economies which pride themselves on being market based use the power of the State to influence or even manipulate the market. This is done in many ways, including by manipulating interest rates whereby the equivalent of the Reserve Bank of India regulates money supply by making money more expensive, thus reducing consumption and operating as deflationary measure. However, when money supply reduces because there are no takers it can lead to unemployment and unhealthy deflation. At this stage the Central Bank once again steps in and by reducing the interest rate it brings more money into the market. Why should administered interest rates be allowed to exist? Why should interest also not follow a demand and supply model, that is, if the demand for money increases the interest rates would naturally rise, but when this makes money too expensive and demand falls the interest rate would also decline. But that is not how the system functions because every government would like to ensure financial stability and not permit wild fluctuations based entirely on an unregulated market.

Let us take another case. About forty years ago the world faced a severe oil crisis because the oil producing countries deliberately reduced production. Petroleum prices rose exponentially, but countries such as the United States immediately intervened in the following ways:-
  1. Diplomatic pressure on OPEC countries with a veiled threat of force hovering in the background.
  2. Reduction in the demand of petroleum products through high taxes, severe speed limits so that consumption could be reduced and, in many countries, the promotion of public transport and a scaling down of privately owned people movers.
  3. Release of petroleum stocks from reserves, especially in the United States. How should one view these measures? They were aimed at keeping petroleum prices under control, thus protecting the consumer. Does this not also form part of a subsidy regime?
Let us take another example, which is of agriculture in the United States. Every year the Department of Agriculture makes forecast about production, not only in the United States but worldwide. On this demand models of the consumption of various agricultural commodities are prepared and calculations made of the quantum of product available and its effect on prices. If glut of a particular commodity is estimated, then farmers are encouraged to reduce the area under that particular crop, with a specific target being assigned for such reduction and a State subsidy is given for not producing that crop and heavy taxes imposed for growing it. When a shortage of a particular product is forecast the process is reversed and tax concessions given for bringing more area under cultivation of that particular crop and heavy taxes levied for not growing that crop. Is this interventionist regime also not part of a subsidy regime in which there are positive subsidies and also negative subsidies by way of taxes?

We have talked about countries which have a relatively high GDP and per capita income. Let us come to India, where our per capita income is well below the level of the more developed countries. There are vast numbers of poor people and whereas various calculations have been made about those who are Below the Poverty Line (BPL) it would be safe to say that at least thirty percent of Indians live below any rationally calculated poverty line. Then there are a large number of people who are just marginally above the poverty line, which means that they are able to survive a little above the margin, but whose capacity and propensity to consume does not go beyond the bare essentials. By any civilised standard these people also will be deemed to be below the poverty line. That rules out about fifty percent of the population of India from being capable of consumption of items beyond the bare minimum. Actually when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister he and his cohorts trumpeted the fact that India had one hundred million consumers, which still left seven hundred million people. The then population of India was eight hundred million. Even today barely fifteen percent of the people of India are in a position to consume commodities beyond the bare essentials and though fifteen percent of one thousand two hundred million people, that is, one hundred sixty five million people, is a sizable number of consumers, there are more than one thousand million people who, if they are to be made a part of the consumerist society, would need either a direct boost of income or some form subsidy to give them at least a minimum standard of living.

The vast majority of Indians cannot afford health care and are heavily dependent on medical facilities provided by government. We have allowed our government medical institutions to run down, thus forcing people into the arms of private medical institutions. We have a scenario in which people have no affordable medical facilities and the high fees of private medical care either deprives people of any health care or forces them to pay medical bills by cutting down fees on absolutely essential items. How can any sensible person oppose either State funded medical insurance for these people or a major investment by the State in medical facilities which takes health care to the poor?

Let us take the case of education. Our best institutions of education in the field of technology, management and medical education are now virtually beyond the means of a child coming from an ordinary Indian home. Murli Manohar Joshi, as Education Minister, had advised the Indian Institutes of Management that they should not make their fees so high that a middle class Indian cannot afford to educate his child there. He promised to make available a level of state funding to the IIsM which would enable them to operate at a level equivalent to that of the best business schools in the world. Unfortunately the IIsM did not agree, with the result that today a high fees paying student has only one objective in mind, which is to improve his employability to a level where he can command a high salary on passing out from the institute so that he can repay the loan that he had taken. Research, fundamental or applied, becomes the casualty.
Let us come to school education. Most State run schools are of such miserable quality that they are hardly able to impart even literacy, much less education to their children. A suggestion that the government should create ten thousand new Navodaya Schools, which would be rural-based, to upgrade the level of education met considerable opposition in government, but eventually six thousand such schools were approved because of the Prime Minister’s intervention. But the Planning Commission and the HRD Ministry wanted them to be in the Public-Private Participation Mode and, therefore, the scheme is almost stillborn. Had these schools been set up would it be a subsidy or would it be an investment in our future? If affordability were the sole criteria for creation of infrastructure, no city infrastructure could ever be built. The entire Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission is based on a policy of upgrading urban infrastructure and for this providing adequate funds, largely by way of grants but also by way of loans for assets which benefit individuals, such as social housing. A certain basic urban infrastructure improves the efficiency of cities and an efficient urban settlement also one to which employment generating businesses and industries are attracted. In turn this expands the employment base in that particular town, generates income for individuals, the enterprise, local government and the State and Central governments. Again, is this a subsidy or is it an investment?

One of the very successful examples of a healthy subsidy regime is the mid-day meals programme of Tamil Nadu and the provision of highly subsidised rice to the poor in the same State. These two programmes were considered as political gimmicks, but because the programmes have been administered efficiently and relatively honestly they have improved the levels of nutrition of school children, increased enrolment and reduced the drop out rate, while giving access to grain to the very poor who otherwise would not have been able to buy it. Whatever the cost, the social benefits of these two programmes have been universally accepted and most States are trying to replicate them. What marks out the Tamil Nadu programmes is the efficiency of delivery and unfortunately this is not universally replicated.

Another area of subsidies is the free or very cheap electric power to farmers. Electricity is the energy which moves a prime mover, the motor and pump which lifts water. Water is a direct input into agriculture and where irrigation is extended the farmers’ productivity undergoes a dramatic change. Unfortunately this is one area where the economics of subsidised power was not worked out, with the result that most Electricity Boards are bankrupt, transmission lines are not well maintained, there is erratic power supply and commensurate benefit has not flowed to the farmers. The present government of Gujarat moved swiftly to separate the agricultural feeder from the normal feeder, guarantee ten hours of three phase supply at constant voltage to the farmers and also guarantee twenty-four hours supply at full tariff to every village. Every village in Gujarat is covered by this scheme, the Electricity Board has shown a dramatic increase in revenue and because it is now surplus in financial terms, it has added generating capacity to the system and line maintenance has shown significant improvement. Because power supply is guaranteed for twenty-four hours many small scale industries and businesses have come up in villages throughout Gujarat. In this case what is needed is efficiency and guaranteed supply of power, which completely obviates the need for a subsidy.

The list would be endless, but I would like to close this paper by discussing two areas of subsidised supply of a commodity, LPG and diesel. Government has increased the cost of an LPC cylinder in excess of six cylinders a year by approximately Rs. 350 per cylinder. Gas is supplied in Madhya Pradesh for Rs. 452 per cylinder, which will now go up to Rs. 798 per cylinder. That represents a seventy-six percent increase in the cost of L.P.G at one go. In the case of diesel the price has gone up by Rs. 5 per litre, but when taxes are added this come almost to Rs. 6 per litre. Even this represents an increase of approximately fourteen percent. Diesel is the fuel for all major prime movers in the field of transportation. The percentage of diesel used by car owners is about six to seven percent of the total. The balance is used by goods vehicles and by public transport such as buses. Some diesel is used by railways and a substantial amount is used in rural areas as tractor fuel, fuel for diesel pump sets, etc. In other words, over ninety percent of diesel is used a fuel for prime movers which serve the ordinary citizen of India. A person who drives a diesel engined Mercedes car would use an aircraft for long distance travel, the fuel of which could be aviation kerosene and not diesel. It is the poor and lower middle class citizens who travel by bus and must of the goods carriage vehicles actually transport commodities which are not luxury items. The bulk of commodities would come within the definition of essentials or a level or two above essentials. The fourteen percent increase in fuel cost would automatically lead to upward revision of tariff and this would be reflected in commodity prices in the retail market. A person living at or only slightly above the level of subsistence just cannot afford to pay this additional impost. By raising diesel prices government has hit the poor hardest of all.

The philosophy behind introduction of LPG into India was that this is a nonpolluting fuel, it is an excellent substitute for all other fossil fuels such as soft coal, firewood, etc., and it is cleaner than the kerosene used for cooking. Government as a matter of policy gave subsidised gas cylinders to people living in hill areas so that they would refrain from cutting down trees for fuel. LPG then became the symbol of the movement for saving our forests. By increasing the price of LPG by over seventy percent government is forcing people to revert to some of the fossil fuels they burnt in the past, thus jeopardising our forests, increasing pollution levels and making it virtually impossible for an urban household to afford even a minimum quantity of fuel for the purpose of cooking food. This is an atrocious decision of government and if a cost benefit analysis is done of the carbon foot print that would be enhanced as fossil fuels replace nonpolluting gas, the cost of forests chopped down for fuel wood and the health hazards that would follow the burning of fuels which emit smoke, one would probably find that the entire amount saved by reducing or eliminating subsidy is in fact totally negated by the costs mentioned above. Worst of all the totally precipitate increase in the cost of two absolute essential commodities will leave average India poorer than before, more unhealthy than before and less well fed than before.

I cannot claim to be an economist though, I have studied the subject for seven years in Delhi University, Cambridge University and Princeton University. Therefore, I am not always able to understand the logic of the World Bank trained economists who now seem to dominate the corridors of power in Delhi. The argument advanced is that subsidies have increased the fiscal deficit and imbalanced the budget, which prevents government from making investment in the future of this country and, therefore, if we eliminate subsidies there would be more money with government for useful work, investor confidence would strengthen and employment opportunities for the poor would flood the market. The question is, how? The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme costs the exchequer something like Rs. 65,000 cores per year and it is estimated that leakages in the scheme drain away approximately seventy percent of the funds. That amounts to Rs. 45,500 cores per year. If leakages are plugged either the programme could be made seventy percent larger or approximately Rs. 45,000 crores would be available to the public exchequer for more development work or for maintenance of existing levels of subsidy. Blocking a leakage is more difficult than abolishing the subsidy and, therefore, in this nation of lotus eaters, of whom the largest number are in government, our rulers have taken the easy way out and opted for abolition of subsidies. In the process they have imposed an almost unbearable burden not only on the poor but even on the middle class. What sort of economics is this? Connected to this whole line of thinking is the opening up of our markets to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This paper is already quite long and I shall leave the question of FDI in retail trade and in civil aviation for discussion on another day. However, the stand taken on subsidies and on FDI are both negative and representative of a mindset which is so utterly divorced from the ground realities of India that one wonders how we tolerate such absolute arrant nonsense.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

PM Visiting PAK Now A Bad Idea

Kanwal Sibal
Member Advisory Board, VIF

As the bigger country, India is often exhorted to be generous with Pakistan. Those advocating a sustained dialogue with Pakistan, irrespective of its conduct towards us, have such thinking, an off-shoot of which are current urgings to the Prime Minister to go to Pakistan.

Diplomacy, however, is not transacted with the currency of generosity. It is taken for granted that countries act principally in self-interest. No country will easily accept that another has been gratuitously “generous” to it; it would look for hidden motives. A country obtaining more than what it expects from another is likely to think that it succeeded because of diplomatic skills or well-applied pressure. Besides, how does one measure “generosity” and who makes the evaluation? Reciprocity, therefore, is the acceptable currency of diplomacy.


Those asking India to be “generous” expect it to make unilateral gestures of kindness towards Pakistan, or giving it more than it gives in return. Such an accommodative approach has, in fact, been tried over the years, but without tangible results. Little political, intellectual and practical basis is therefore left for advocating such an approach today.

In 1947/48 Pakistan committed aggression against us in J&K, but instead of undoing it, we appealed to the UN, which has left Pakistan in possession of vital strategic areas in the north which gives it crucial continguity with China and denies us one with Afghanistan. In 1965 Pakistan was not punished for its second bid to wrest Kashmir as it got back the strategic Haji Pir pass from us at Tashkent. Despite Pakistan’s military defeat in 1971, we did not, in a show of statesmanship, insist on a final settlement of the Kashmir issue at Simla, besides releasing the 93,000 Pakistani POWs in our custody without any political quid pro quo. In 1999, despite a decade of Pakistani terrorist onslaught on Kashmir, Shri Vajpayee journeyed to Pakistan in friendship, but the response was Kargil, to which India reacted purely defensively.

In 2001 the Pakistani terrorists attacked our parliament. The enormity of the provocation compelled us to threaten a military strike, but we stayed our hand and eventually chose a diplomatic response by inviting General Musharraf to Agra. We discuss Kashmir with Pakistan on an unequal basis with Pakistan insisting on its territorial claims on at least the valley and we no longer asserting our claim on the whole of J&K. We have not reacted to Pakistan’s parliamentary resolution in April this year that the Kashmir issue should be resolved on the basis of UN resolutions. We tolerate Pakistani leaders meeting Kashmiri separatists on Indian soil.

We have overlooked Pakistan’s arbitrary extension of the ceasefire line in J&K beyond NJ9842 eastwards to the Karakoram Pass. On Siachen we are willing to consider demilitarization if Pakistan were to agree to delineate and demarcate the actual ground position line there, giving the latter an unwarranted locus standii in our own territory. We are diplomatically quiet on China’s involvement in development projects in POK, including the Neelum river project, even though Pakistan has raised its contestation of the Kishenganga project by the claim that it violates the Indus Waters Treaty(IWT), which we have scrupulously adhered to despite all the Pakistani provocations. We have tolerated Pakistan’s obstruction of the Wullar barrage project for years.

While Pakistan has attacked the India-US nuclear deal for undermining its interests, we have not targetted Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation with China. We have not retaliated against Pakistan’s attacks on our Embassy and other interests in Afghanistan. We have not made an issue of US arms supplies to Pakistan. On the economic front we have lived with Pakistani denial of MFN treatment to us. We have not made Pakistan pay the price for its mischief in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka against our interests.


Our self-restraint on the issue of Pakistan’s export of terrorism to India since the mid-1980s has been exceptional. Before the Pakistani jihadi elements with official backing perpetrated the Mumbai terrorist carnage, we comforted Pakistan politically by accepting its line that it too was a victim of terrorism like us. We agreed to set up a joint anti-terrorism task force as if genuine cooperation was possible. We have now accepted Pakistan’s linkage of the Samjhauta Express to the Mumbai attack in terms of our answerability, even when the two cases cannot be compared. We are upset by Hafiz Saeed’s jihadist rantings against India, but have not allowed this to affect our dialogue.


Pakistan is violating the cease fire agreement even today, with training camps in place in POK and incidents of infiltration continuing, but we are overlooking this. While the US has begun targetting Pakistan on its duplicitous conduct on terrorism, we are not only not exploiting this to our advantage, we are actually releasing pressure on Pakistan by engaging it across the board.
By not breaking diplomatic relations despite Kargil and Mumbai attacks etc, India has kept its lines of communication open with Pakistan. We are welcoming the highest Pakistani political leaders to India and our Prime Minister is meeting the top Pakistani leaders bilaterally on the margins of international conferences as part of our bilateral engagement. If, it is felt, that the objectives of the dialogue can be durably attained only if the Indian Prime Minister visits Pakistan, there should also be recognition that the risks of durably derailing it must be removed beforehand. A visit to Pakistan by Prime Minister now will be a huge political mistake on our part as it will signal that the outstanding issue of terrorism and trial of those responsible for the Mumbai massacre has been closed.

Bitten already many times, we should be very shy.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The State of India-Sri Lanka Relations: Ethnic Issue as an Irritant

Dr. N. Manoharan
Senior Fellow, VIF

In the recent days, the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has figured in at least four issues pertaining to Sri Lanka: protests against training of Sri Lankan defence personnel in the state, threats to Sri Lankan pilgrims touring the state, turning over of Sri Lankan sports teams, and agitation over alleged attacks on Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. All these have resulted in an unusual response from Colombo in the form of a travel advisory directing its citizens not to visit Tamil Nadu. These incidents have also raised doubts on the upcoming visit of the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to India. Few months back, the bilateral ties perceivably took a slight dip when India voted for a US-sponsored resolution advising Sri Lanka on post-conflict reconciliation measures. How far have these events impacted bilateral ties between the two countries?

Despite few strains from time-to-time, traditionally, bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka have by-and-large been cordial. India has always stood by Sri Lanka’s difficult times and strived to remove those irritants that stood in the way of maintaining friendly relations. No two countries in the world enjoy bilateral relations as unique as India and Sri Lanka with differing characteristics. India is not only Sri Lanka’s closest, but also important and powerful neighbour. Relations between the two neighbours stretch to more than two millennia in wide-ranging areas – political, economic, socio-cultural and military. In the post-LTTE phase, the bilateral ties between the two countries have revolved around four issues: short and long-term aspects of the island’s ethnic issue, straying of fishermen, economic/trade interactions, and the role of forces inimical to Indian interests. Of all these, the dominance of the island’s ethnic question in steering the bilateral relations is telling.

Since the end of Eelam War IV, India has taken keen interest in the relief, rehabilitation and resettlement of those displaced by the conflict. Apart from providing requisite monetary assistance, India has sent 2,600 tonnes of galvanized steel sheets to construct shelter for approximately 5,000 families living in relief camps in northern Sri Lanka and an additional aid to construction of 50,000 houses to the IDPs. New Delhi has also deployed over eight demining teams in sanitising the conflict areas of landmines and unexploded objects to facilitate resettlement. From time-to-time India expressed concerns to the Sri Lankan government over the progress of the resettlement. To New Delhi, decent resettlement of the IDPs would also take care of hue and cry in Tamil Nadu over the humanitarian issue.

On the long-term aspect of the ethnic issue, India’s consistent position has been in favour of “a politically negotiated settlement acceptable to all sections of Sri Lankan society within the framework of an undivided Sri Lanka and consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.” India wants Colombo to deliver a meaningful devolution package to the minorities. New Delhi believed that with the military defeat of the LTTE, the armed component of the Sri Lankan ethnic issue has come to an end, making the conflict resolution easier. However, to India’s disappointment, Colombo has not taken the political process forward. The report of much-hyped All Party Representative Committee (APRC) has long been forgotten. The focus then shifted to the report of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) submitted in November 2011. LLRC was a good step, but its mandate was very limited. Although it was not 100 percent objective, it was not disappointing either. It tried to do a balancing act containing both positive and negative aspects. On positives it talked about the need for demilitarisation, investigation of disappearances, apart from acknowledging existence of ethnic grievances; surprisingly, it supported devolution of powers to minorities, although did not spell them out. At the same time, it did not fix accountability for human rights abuses during Eelam War IV. On the killings during Eelam War IV, the report reasoned them out as a result of LTTE action and military reaction. Most importantly, the LLRC did not give any action plan on the way forward either on reconciliation or devolution. Yet, to India’s disappointment the implementation of recommendations of LLRC has been lethargic despite gentle reminders. It was in this context India supported US-sponsored resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in March this year. The move was not to upset Colombo, but with good intentions to move the process of reconciliation forward. India is convinced that a successful reconciliation is the first step in arriving at a meaningful long-term solution to the ethnic issue. In the present situation, devolution of powers to provinces through the ‘13th Amendment Plus Plus’ is a realistic option. There will be stiff opposition from the Sinhalese hardliners to this. However, riding on popular support, President Rajapaksa should be in a position to withstand these nationalistic pressures and forge an island-wide consensus for a lasting solution to the ethnic question.

All hoped that with the military defeat of the LTTE there would be a political settlement to the ethnic question. But, the issue lingers on. India has repeatedly conveyed its willingness to do whatever is required for the satisfactory resolution of the ethnic question in a manner that respects the sentiments of all the communities in Sri Lanka. New Delhi must voice its concerns without hesitation to ensure that Colombo moves forward in resolving the ethnic issue at the earliest and in all seriousness. Simultaneously, India, in the short-term, should continue to provide the resources required for the resettlement of IDPs and invest in the economic development of the war-ravaged Northeast of Sri Lanka. This will not only ensure that another armed conflict does not occur, but also open up immense economic opportunities for India. A durable peace in Sri Lanka will also take care of supplementary issues in the bilateral relations like security of Indian fishermen, the space for foreign powers like China and Pakistan in the island and, most importantly, anti-Sri Lankan sentiments in Tamil Nadu.

Freedom of Speech and Archaic Law on Sedition

Dr. M.N. Buch
Visiting Fellow, VIF

The Chambers Twenty-first Century Dictionary defines sedition in the following words: “Public speech, writing or action encouraging public disorder, especially rebellion against the government “. The word itself comes from the Latin word seditio, or growing apart. In a way it is connected with the word seduce, one meaning of which is to lead astray or to tend into wrong doing. The Indian Penal Code has section 124-A which makes sedition a criminal offence with the full section reading as under:

Section 124-A IPC—Sedition:: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Explanation 1. The expression “dissatisfaction” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Explanation 2. Comments expressing disapprobation of the measure of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under the section.

Explanation 3. Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt, do not constitute an offence under the section ”.

The offence of sedition carries imprisonment for life as a sentence in its extreme form and rigorous imprisonment for up to three years if the court determines that the seriousness of the offence is mitigated by circumstances. This gives an enormous leeway to a court in the matter of sentencing and this in itself can be called into question for permitting excessive judicial discretion to a court. For example, under section 302 IPC the offence of murder carries a liability of either a death sentence or imprisonment for life and a trial court has to give one or the other sentence. The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines in the matter of sentence by directing that it is only in the rarest of rare cases that the death penalty should be imposed. Under section 304 IPC in a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder the court may impose a penalty of imprisonment for life where the act which caused death in the ordinary course could be fatal, or imprisonment of up to ten years if such act was committed without any intention to cause death. In the case of section 124-A IPC no such guidelines are provided by the law and, therefore, a judge would be able to pass a sentence which could be quite inappropriate. The Indian Penal Code is one of the laws which govern this country within the framework of the Constitution. Under Article 13 a law which is inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights would be void. The Preamble to the Constitution mandates liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and Article 19 (1) (a) gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. No doubt Article 19 (2) and (3) permit the Legislature to make laws to impose reasonable restrictions on the rights given in Article 19, but the operative word here is “reasonable”. In other words, the freedom of speech and expression is almost absolute and a restriction thereon is an exception which has to be imposed after very great thought and only in the interest of public peace and tranquility.

Chapter VIII of the Code of Criminal Procedure relates to security for keeping the peace and for good behaviour and in case the said person cannot provide adequate security, then under sections 107, 108 and 109 Cr.P.C. the person may be kept in jail for up to one year and under section 110 for up to three years. Section 108 applies to persons disseminating seditious matters. In other words, the Police and the Executive Magistracy can prevent a person from disseminating information which is seditious. Then we have Chapter X Cr.P.C. which relates to maintenance of public order and tranquility and permits the Police, the Magistracy, and on requisition the armed forces may cause an unlawful public assembly to disperse, if necessary, by use of force and to restore public order. In other words, acts which could be deemed to be seditious can in fact be prevented by pre-emptive action.

Section 124-A speaks of bringing into hatred or contempt the lawfully constituted government. The word “contempt” is defined by the Chambers Twenty-first Century Dictionary as either disregarding or disobeying the orders of a court of law or despising a court or a lawfully constituted authority. The Contempt of Court Act is sufficient to uphold the dignity of the courts and, therefore, the law relating to sedition would not be applied so far as courts are concerned, despite the fact that the Judiciary is one of the three pillars of the State. Hatred is defined as intense dislike, enmity or ill-will. There is a whole chapter in the Indian Penal Code, Chapter X, which deals with matters relating to contempt of the lawful authority of public servants. Under section 186 IPC if a public servant is obstructed in the discharge of his public functions the offender can be punished. Under section 188 IPC if there is an order duly promulgated by a public servant, then disobedience of such an order is liable both to imprisonment and a fine. Chapter XI of IPC relates to offences against public justice. An insurrection against government amounts to waging war against government under section 121 IPC can be punished with death. In other words, jeopardizing the security of the State to an extent where it is tantamount to armed rebellion is also subject to the most stringent penalty permissible by law. Section 124-A relating to sedition aims at preventing and punishing the exciting of disaffection towards government; the purpose of which obviously would be to bring about a downfall of government. Now it so happens that we are living in a democracy whose Constitution, in its Preamble, constitutes India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. So long as the Preamble exists, the said Preamble being immutable, democracy cannot be denied to the people. What is more, the opening words of the Preamble are “We, the People of India …” In India sovereignty vests in the people and not in a monarch or in Parliament. Parliament is only the instrumentality through which in a representative democracy people exercise their rights. In this republic the citizen is supreme and the government is an organisation through which citizens exercise their supremacy through the executive powers which vest in the President and the Governors. Therefore, the right to criticise government and to call government to account is far superior to the right of government to protect itself against sedition. The words ‘treason’ and ‘sedition’ have to be used with great care and caution in a democracy.

Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees for every citizen equality before law and equal protection of laws. This makes India a society of laws and every action of government has to be within the framework of law. This includes depriving a citizen of his liberty through the operation of law because that is exactly what Article 21 says. Article 21 reads,” No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law”. The chapter on Fundamental Rights apart, Part IV of the Constitution lays down the Directive Principles of State Policy. Article 38 directs the State to secure a social order for the promotion of the welfare of the people. Supposing the State is in neglect of this principle? Do the citizens not have the right to be critical of the government, even stridently critical, even critical to the point of calling the government useless and worthless, if it does not strive to establish such a social order? Would critcism by people who accuse it of not doing its duty amount to sedition? After all, if a government is proved to be corrupt, unwilling to look after the welfare of the people, incompetent and negligent of its duties, the people have every right to call for the overthrow of such a government but through due process.

Under Part V, Chapter 2 of the Constitution and in particular Article 79 it is constitutionally mandated that there will be a Parliament for the Union. The House of the People is directly elected from territorial constituencies by the electorate consisting of every citizen of India not less than eighteen years of age on the date prescribed by law in this behalf. As per Article 326 of the Constitution the basis of election is universal adult suffrage. Every single Indian above the age of eighteen is, therefore, an integral part of the process of constituting the Parliament of India. Under Article 83 the normal duration of the House of the People is five years from the date of its first meeting after an election. Every five years the citizens of India, therefore, constitute the House of the People through a process of elections in which there is adult franchise. The executive government is conducted by the President on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers which, under Article 75(3), is collectively responsible to the House of the People. Therefore, every citizen is a part of the process of the constitution of the Council of Ministers on whose advice the President of India conducts the executive government of the Union. Through adult franchise, through participation every five years in the process of constituting Parliament, through the constitutional requirement of collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the House of the People, every citizen of India has a say in how the duly constituted Government of India will conduct itself. The government cannot try and silence a citizen and accuse him of sedition if he criticizes the government.

When an election takes place contending parties do not fight it on the basis of praise of the party in power. It is the job of the opposition to criticise government, point out its shortcomings and ask the people to defeat the ruling party at the polls and place before the people its own agenda of how it will govern. The objective of such a campaign is to convince the people that the government in power is so worthless as not to merit its return to power. The objective is to create in the public mind such a feeling of disappointment about how they have been governed and in fact to arouse dissatisfaction with the ruling party that it is defeated at the polls. Because the ruling party and government are virtually one, till the ruling party is defeated, will such criticism amount to sedition? Incidentally, propaganda against the ruling party and government does not begin only after the election is announced. It is a continuous process in which government would be liable to criticism in the Legislature, by the press and electronic media, through public meetings, agitations and movements and through the expression of the right to free speech by individual citizens. Does all this amount to sedition?

Let us try another tack. Parliament frames laws, almost all of which are drafted by the Executive and, because the ruling party has a majority, they reflect the will of the Executive. High Courts and the Supreme Court quite often strike down such laws as being inconsistent with the Constitution. Sometimes strictures are passed. In cases involving government very often the courts are stridently critical of executive action. Can this be construed to be sedition? What about the Comptroller and Auditor General of India appointed under Article 148? Under Article 151 the audit reports prepared by the CAG are placed before Parliament by order of the President after CAG submits them to him. Generally audit reports are critical of government, up to and including CAG’s comments on transactions which virtually accuse the government of wrongdoing which may be tantamount to corruption. Is this sedition? Is criticism of government based on an audit report an act of sedition? Is a movement which says that corruption be rooted out an act of sedition because it does, in the eyes of the public, paint the government to be worthy of contempt because of its own actions?

The Constitution permits criticism of government to the point where the people are so fed up with it that they call for a change of government through the process of election. What the Constitution does not permit is the overthrow of government by violence or by means other than constitutional. The Constitution enjoins government to govern for the welfare of the people; it does not state anywhere that a government must govern wisely and well. What it says is that every five years the people of India will judge the performance of government and will decide whether there should be a change in those who govern us. To take care of a situation where people are trying to unlawfully overthrow the government, apart from section 121 IPC, we have Article 352 whereby if the security of India or any part thereof is threatened by war, external aggression or armed rebellion and this gives rise to a grave emergency, the President may issue a Proclamation of Emergency and assume extraordinary powers to deal with the Emergency. Similarly, if it is found by the President that there is failure of the constitutional machinery in a State he may issue a proclamation under Article 356 and pro tem take over the government of the State. During the Proclamation of Emergency operation of Article 19 can be suspended and enforcement of the Fundamental Rights may also be suspended. This, however, is possible only in a situation in which the very existence of India is jeopardised. Indira Gandhi misused the provisions of Article 352 and we went through a two-year period of virtual dictatorship. The Constitution and the people proved themselves to be stronger than arbitrary rule, Mrs. Gandhi was defeated in 1977 and the supremacy of the Constitution, constitutional government and the people of India were restored, hopefully never to be breached again. When we have all these provisions in the Constitution why do we need section 124-A IPC?

I am no great supporter of Binayak Sen. I am totally against violence against people and the State and I do feel that Naxalite terrorism must be suppressed with a heavy hand. If Binayak Sen supported the Naxalites and it can be proved that he and the Naxalites were part of a criminal conspiracy under section 120-A IPC or had a common intention under section 34 IPC to commit acts which led to culpable homicide amounting to murder I would be quite prepared to have Binayak Sen charged with these offences and suitably punished. But to accuse him of sedition under section 124-A is ridiculous, just as it is idiotic to charge Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist, of sedition because he substituted three wolves for three lions and the legend ‘satyameva jayate’ for‘bhrashtameva jayate’ in a symbol which was an obvious caricature. For material which is libelous, or is otherwise defamatory we have Chapter XXI of IPC to provide legal remedies. Certainly a charge under section 124-A IPC is not justified. In fact I am now of the confirmed view that taking into account the constitutional right to criticise government, the duty of the citizens, the Legislature, the courts and the other constitutional authorities to call government to account and the freedom of speech that we all enjoy, there is no justification for the existence of section 124-A IPC which defines sedition and provides drastic penalty against it. The offence of sedition as defined by section 124-A IPC is similar to laws of blasphemy as operated in the medieval Europe and even today in some countries such as Pakistan which claims to be Islamic theocracies. Allah, Jehovah, God, Parmatma, call Him what you will, is too powerful to be threatened by a puny mortal who blasphemes. The Indian State is too powerful to be threatened by a seditious individual because normal law can effectively neutralise active sedition. Therefore, Section 124-A IPC needs to be immediately repealed.