Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Violence Against Minority Hindus in Bangladesh: An Analysis

Dr Atanu Mohapatra
Dr Prakash Chandra Sahoo

Introduction

Bangladesh was born in 1971 premised on a secular and democratic ethos as paragraph 2 of the preamble of the first constitution of Bangladesh which was adopted on November 4, 1972 accepted ‘nationalism’, ‘socialism’, ‘democracy’ and secularism as state principles. But “soon after its birth, the political history and politics of Bangladesh found itself within the twists and turns of majoritarian politics (Mohisin, 2009)”. Through the Eighth Amendment to the constitution on 7 June 1988, Islam was declared as the state religion of Bangladesh (Article 2 Clause A) with the provision that other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony. “The above changes were brought about by successive political regimes to consolidate their power base by appealing to the sentiments of the majority. This not only transformed the political identity of the state but also created internal polarization (Mohisin, 2009)”. Since then the minority community (largely Hindus) face discrimination and continuous atrocities and violence as reported by many scholars and world bodies. It is also documented that the political process and the political parties were a major source of discrimination against minorities.


Demographic Changes by Religion




Source: BBS Population Report, 1991, Ct from, Shishir Moral, Rights of Religious Minorities, in Hameeda Hossain (ed). HumanRights Bangladesh, 2000, Dhaka, Ain ‘O Salish Kendro, 2001, pp. 160. and Banladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) Literacy Assessment Survey 2011, May 2013, Stastistics and Informatics Division (SID) Ministry of Planning.


Ever since the birth of Bangladesh, the Hindu population grew only marginally and their relative share in the total population declined considerably. According to the 2001 census, the size of Hindu population was 11.6 million which means since the past 27 years only, 1.7 million population was added yielding a 0.6% annual average growth rate. By contrast, the Muslim population almost doubled from 61 million to 111 million and the annual average growth rate was 2.2% during the same period. Therefore, the share of Hindu population to the country’s total population declined from 13.5% to 9.2% during the same period and by 1.79% since 1991, whilst the relative composition of Christians and Buddhist population did not change. Further, the Hindu population declined to 8.2 percent in the country with annual growth rate coming down to 0.05 percent between 2001 to 2011 and it is projected that in 2051 the share of Hindu population will decline to 3.7 percent.

History of Violence against Hindus:

A history of bloodshed against Hindus prevailed even before independence of India and the violence against Hindus was a common phenomenon in the then East Bengal and today’s Bangladesh because Hindus were historically religious minority but at the time of Independence due to partition of the country, genocide against Hindus on the basis of religion was exemplary. Since 1947 the violence against Hindus in then Pakistan and now Bangladesh is a continuous phenomenon and followed religiously by the majority of Muslims irrespective of political parties. The innumerable incidence of atrocities against Hindus like killing, rape, slaughter, forcible annexation of properties, burning of houses and abduction are taking place and in considerable number of cases the violators are the cadres of various political parties irrespective of whether they are ruling or are in opposition. According to an estimation, 475 persons belonging to the minority community are migrating from Bangladesh daily (Azad, Executive Director, Amity for Peace, Bangladesh).

After the 1947 genocide, Hindus were persecuted the most in 1971 due to which large scale migration of Hindus to India took place. According to estimates, at the time of Bangladesh Liberation War, almost 3,000,000 Hindus were butchered in one of the biggest genocides of the century. An article in ‘Time’ magazine dated 2 August 1971, stated "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred (Wiki, 2014). According to BBC (9 March 2013) “Official estimates say more than three million were killed and tens of thousands of women raped during the Bangladesh war of independence. The minority Hindu community suffered disproportionately because some Pakistanis blamed them for Bangladesh's secession”. “Hindu community leaders say the attacks are systematic and have been going on for years. They say they are not only carried out by hardliner Islamists but also by supporters of other mainstream political parties, including the Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BBC, 9 March, 2013). The aim of the violence, Hindu leaders allege, is to grab land and other property. As a result, they say, many Hindus are fleeing to India to escape harassment, intimidation and violence (BBC, 9 March, 2013).

Many Bangladeshi scholars like Salam Azad (Executive Director, Amity for Peace, Bangladesh) hold the view that Islam became the state religion in Bangladesh since 1982, a concept diametrically opposed to the slogans and principles on the basis of which the Bangladesh freedom movement started i.e. secularism and democracy. Consequently, the minorities particularly Hindus, have been marginalized to the extent that they became unwanted low grade citizens in their own country. In almost all of the cases, the Hindus are not getting justice from judiciary. While depicting the plight of Hindus and exemplifying the nature of injustice, Azad says “the writ petitions made by ASK, an NGO to safeguard minority rights had not been responded to. Democracy without secularism has been negatively acting over freedom of the minority communities. Some NGOs stood as shelter for the minorities but that too has been obstructed by creating grouping among NGOs. Rights of the citizens belonging to the minority communities are thus curtailed in manifold ways”.

Violence in recent years

“We left our house in 1971 as the Pakistan army and Razakars set fire to our village. And we are passing through the same ordeal in 2014,” lamented Bishwajit Sarkar of Malopara village in Abhaynagar, Jessore (The Daily Star, January 2, 2014). Soon after the voting ended in Bangladesh, the Hindus had to face the ire of the activist of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-Shibir. Hindu houses have been looted, vandalized and burned in several places like Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Rajshahi, Chittagong and Jessore (The Daily Star, January 7 2014). According to the New Age, “Miscreants attacked Hindu localities, temples and business establishments in Jessore, Satkhira, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Chittagong, Nilphamari, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Dinajpur, Netrakona and some other districts after the national elections (New Age, January 11, 2014)”.

According to Dhaka Tribune, the violence against Hindus in these areas erupted due to the refusal by Hindus to boycott the election imposed by Jamaat-Shibir activists of Prembag, Chanpadanga, Bahirghat, Beledanga and some adjacent areas. The mayhem continued for two-hour by exploding 250 bombs, vandalization of one hundred houses etc. “The Jamaat-Shibir men resorted to their newly adopted technique of inciting their followers by lies. Around 4 pm, they made phone calls to their activists and students of the local madrasa, telling them that five of their activists had been killed in a clash with Malopara villagers. Jamaat-Shibir activists poured in from nearby villages – Baliadanga, Jagannathpur, Deyapara, Joldanga, Basundia, Dhakuria and Bangram – and attacked Malopara (Dhaka Tribune, january 7, 2014)”.

According to reports, almost five hundred Hindu families of Gopalpur village were affected in these classes and became homeless. Besides this, at least 350 houses and 50 shops of five villages, including Pritampara, Sahapara, Profullahpara, Telipara, Madhabpara and Ajaypara of Kornai village were damaged, set ablaze and looted (The Daily Star, January 7, 2014). The Hindus were also attacked and looted in the strongholds of Jamaat-Shibir and Jamaat-BNP like Satkania, Loahagara and Banshkhali upazilas Kaunia upazila of Rangpur and Nandigram upazila in Bogra (The Daily Star, January 7 2014). According to Dhaka Tribune (January 7, 2014) “Even homestead trees – coconut and banana – were burnt or chopped down and cowsheds were burnt, too. Idols in the houses were vandalised. Everything else was looted”.

On 29 January 2014, 20 Hindu families of Satkhira district got threat letters to leave Bangladesh where it has been written that “time has come to leave your homes immediately, and this time you have been told nicely. But the next time there will not be any niceities. (Dhaka Tribune Correspondent, January 29, 2014; Satkhira Correspondent, January 29, 2014 published in Hindu Existence, January 29, 2014)”. According to BD News 24.com (January 10, 2014), two Hindu housewives were sexually abused in Manirampur Upazila in Jessore in the post-election violence against the minority community. They held the men hostage and sexually abused the two housewives. The sexual abuse and rape against Hindu women is also reported by International Business Times (February 19, 2014).

A large number of Hindu temples are also burnt, vandalized and looted frequently. According to reports, the Kali temple at Narayanpur village under Ramganj in Lakshmipur, Satdoha Langta Babar Ashram and Shri Radha-Gobinda Mandir were either looted or torched (New Age, January 11, 2014; The Hindu, January 8, 2014). Besides these, the Kali temple at Battola and Kachubunia and the Durga temple of Ikri Union have also been attacked. The daily Ittefaq reported that “The members of the Hindu community are living in stark fear. Two people were killed in Gaibandha and Joypurhat (January 9, 2014)”. But according to International Business Times (February 19, 2014), “At least two dozen people were killed” in the violence. According to Ittefaq, The Hindu houses were set on fire in the Boalia village of Sukash union, Kushumba union of Joypurhat, Kuptola union of Gaibandha Lalmonirhat and Senpara of Shafinagar, Satkania, Loahagara and Banshkhali upazilas and many of the Hindus are injured due to the violence against them.

After this wide spread violence against Hindus after the general election, the violence is continuing and in a recent incidenr on May 5 2014, a mob of nearly 3,000 attacked Hindu households and a temple in eastern Bangladesh after two youths from the community allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook at Homna in Comilla district, about 100 km south east of Dhaka (Hindu Existence, May 7, 2014). According to the Editor of Hindu Existence, “Minority Hindus are attacked again and again in Bangladesh on false rumors of defaming Muhammad in facebook. In most of the cases, it is established that some Muslim perpetrators like to use the social media like facebook to upload objectionable comments and pictures against Islam and Muhammad in a very motivated way. After spreading the rumors of blasphemy or the defamation of Muhammad, the Islamic goons attack Hindus, Hindu-households, temples and specially the women folk”. Most of the news papers reported that almost all the violence and attacks on Hindus in 2014 were initiated by the activists or members of Jamat-e-Islami and its student wing and Bangladesh National Party.

The year 2013 also witnessed a large scale and widespread violence against Hindus in Bangladesh. All forms of violence triggered against minority Hindus on 28 February 2013, on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir soon after the death sentence given to Hossain Sayeedi, the Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the International Crime Tribune and the government of Bangladesh held Jamaat-e-Islami for the violence (Wiki, 2013). “In some cases allegedly aided by Bangladesh National Pary supporters, struck terror in the hearts of Hindus (News Bharati, Marrch 03, 2013)”. According to news Bharati, almost all the victims alleged that BNP activists are directly involved in the attack. “Sayedee got death sentence because of you. You cannot stay in this country,” Bablu Bhuiyan, whose two houses were damaged, quoted one attacker as saying (News Bharati, March 03, 2013). Barisal, Bagerhat and Gazipur, Rajganj, Chittagong's Banshkhali, Bagerhat, Gaurnadi upazila in Barisal, Kashimpur Bazar in Gazipur, Belka, Dhupni and Bangsher bazaar, Sundarganj upazila, Morelganj upazila are the areas where the most violent attacks took place. Expressing concern over the violence, the US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena said “The United States is sad about the loss of lives and property and concerned about the attacks on Hindu temples and homes (The Daily Star, March 12, 2013; clickittefaq, March 11, 2013)”.

The 2013 violence was spread across the country and Hindus of almost all the divisions were affected. Upazilas like Begumganj, Begumganj, Morrelganj, Raipur, Gaurnadi, Morrelganj, Lohajung, Shibganj, Kotalipara, Aditmari, Satkania, Wazirpur, Singra, Daudkandi, Netrokona, Bamna, Burhanuddin, Sirjdikhan, Rangpur Sadar, Fulbaria, Kaliganj, Kotalipara, Juri, Patuakhali, Sherpur, Netrokona, Sreepur, Gatibali and Gazipur were the most affected areas where violence with burning and loot of major temples took place.

Even after these wide spread violence, the attack against Hindus continued for the whole year. On November 3 2013, Bonogram bazaar in Santhia upazila, about 40 kilometres from Pabna sadar, the Hindus were attacked. A Hindu boy was attacked and his house was burned on the false allegation of maligning Prophet Mohammad (The Daily Star, November 3, 2013, atestoneinstitute, November 21, 2013). In another incident, a group of masked criminals attacked 18 shops belonging to members of the Hindu community in a rural area in the district Lalmonirhat. The attack was allegedly launched by the main opposition party, BNP, and its crucial ally, Bangladesh Jammat-e Islami, the largest Islamist political party (atestoneinstitute, November 21, 2013). According to Hindu community leaders, more than 50 Hindu temples and more than 1,500 Hindu homes were destroyed in 20 districts in 2013 alone. The President of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council said, "Conspirators are out to create a situation so that the Hindus can be attacked." Identifying the situation, Transparency International Bangladesh, a body of the Berlin-based Transparency International says, "Onslaughts and intimidation on minorities for ill and destructive political purpose before the election are not acceptable (atestoneinstitute, November 21, 2013)."

Underlying Cause of Violence

The larger objective of these kinds of violence and attack is to grab the land of Hindus. According to Jyotrimoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer in the capital Dhaka, “When we say it’s just political, it legitimizes the violence, Most of the people’s houses they are burning are poor. If you burn their house, they will leave the country, and you get their land.” “The Vested Property Act remained in force until 2001, allowing the government to expropriate “enemy” (in practice, Hindu) lands. Over the course of its existence, the government seized approximately 2.6 million acres of land, affecting almost all Hindus in the country (IRFR, 2012)”. Once the land is acquired, the influential and political people used to grab those lands and most of the Hindu families in Bangladesh is affected by this law. “Many Hindus continued efforts to recover land lost under the act. The Vested Properties Return (Amendment) Bill of 2011 obligates the government to publish lists of returnable vested property through gazette notification within 120 days. Subsequently, Hindu leaders submitted applications to reclaim previously seized vested property and requested an extension to prepare further applications. The Vested Property Return (Second Amendment) Act of 2012, passed on September 18, gives an additional 180 days for interested parties to submit applications for adjudication (IRFR, 2012)” but in practical these return act has not been enforced properly. According to Barkat et al (2008), in most of the cases, the beneficiary of these vested properties are the influential political people of different areas across political parties.
According to Jyotrimoy Barua “The violence isn’t just perpetrated by Jamat-e-Islami. In other provinces, opportunistic leaders have been accused of using divisive communal sentiments to enrich themselves. “In some constituencies, all the parties are tussling from the same group of voters — if anyone loses, he blames the Hindus (Time, January 14, 2014)”

Conclusion:

The violence against Hindus in Bangladesh is a part and result of wider religious intolerance spread against Hindus in the country is not the only cause to be believed. The economic and political aspect of violence in a wider prospect of neighborhood studies is required to understand the phenomena of Hindu subjugation in the country. There is a great possibility of underreporting of actual intensity of the violence and oppression if we critically analyze the political, social and democratic situation prevailing and the status of media in Bangladesh over the last 42 years. Whatever may be the cause of the violence against Hindus in Bangladesh, but it is clear that almost all the political parties of Bangladesh are trying to derive political mileage from the plight of Hindus. Besides, draconian laws like vested property act is a useful instrument to grab Hindu land holdings by the majority Muslim community. In the absence of any major economic opportunities, agricultural land is the only economic resource for which there is a lot of competition to grab and successive governments played an instrumental role in grabbing Hindu land to satisfy the majority influential community. Most of the Hindus hold the view that land is the major reason for which they have been attacked historically. Being one of the influential countries in the South Asian region, India should try to influence Bangladeshi authorities to save the minorities Hindus in Bangladesh. When there is already a world opinion on the issue, India and the Hindus in rest of the world need to intensify their campaign for safeguarding of minority rights in Bangladesh.

References:
(Dr Prakasha Chandra Sahoo is an independent research scholar based in Delhi while Dr Atanu Mohapatra is Assistant Professor at the Dept of Extension & Communication, The M S University of Baroda, Gujarat)

Union Budget 2014-2015: Breathing Time to Evolve Long Term Economic Policy

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

The Economic Times published on 11th July, 2014 carries the headlines “Narendra Modi aims for goal, hits crossbar”. This newspaper and some others, not to mention the Opposition have referred to the budget presented to Parliament by Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, as not containing anything radical which would signal a complete departure from the policies of the previous government. One newspaper describes the budget as “Chidambaram’s budget with saffron lipstick”. Whereas there is a cautious welcome of the budget by a cross section of people, there is also a sense of disappointment that the budget is not particularly radical. Of course it is recognised by everyone that the budget does hold out hope for the future, but in itself it is a form of continuation of the previous government’s financial policy.

Under Article 112 of the Constitution, the President is required to lay before both Houses of Parliament a statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the Government of India for that year. Article 112 (2) gives the two main components of the annual financial statement and it reads, “The estimates of expenditure embodied in the financial statement shall show separately – (a) The sums required to meet expenditure described by this Constitution as expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India; and (b) The sums required to meet other expenditure proposed to be made from the Consolidated Fund of India”. Article 112 (2) (b) has to be read with Article 113, which says that every estimate which relates to expenditure, other than charged expenditure, shall be presented to Parliament in the form of demands for grants and the House of the People may assent, refuse to assent or assent after reduction in the demand for grant. Under Article 114 all the demands for grants which have the assent of the House of the People are put together in the form of an Appropriation Bill, which is to be presented to the House of the People. This Bill has to be passed in toto by the House of the People because Article 114 does not permit any amendment after the grants have been individually approved. That is why if the Appropriation Bill fails, then this amounts to a vote of no confidence and government falls. Government can spend money from the Consolidated Fund of India only after the Appropriation Bill is passed into law. This slightly detailed reference to the provisions of the Constitution regarding the annual financial statement has become necessary to really understand the purport of what is popularly called the budget.

To further simplify the above statement, it is clarified that the budget gives the entire programme of government for which government is seeking the approval of Parliament in the matter of funds. It is when grants are being discussed that every individual scheme of government comes under parliamentary scrutiny and in the budget government charts out the direction in which the entire programme of government will be driven. Of course the revenue portion of the budget states how government intends to raise the funds for meeting proposed expenditure. This means that the taxation policy of government also forms a part of the budget and when the budget is read as a whole it really gives the ideology, the political philosophy and the programme of the party in power and tells the people in which direction the country will move. That is the real importance of the budget and that is why Modi and his Finance Minister are being subjected to judgemental scrutiny.

The present government succeeded a government led by a party which claims to have fundamental ideological differences with the present party in power. Its successive budgets, therefore, reflected that party’s philosophy and programme. The change of government in India has come through a democratic process which has two components, the first being continuity and the second being change. Change is a process in which there is also continuity and has to be evolutionary, which means that if the incoming government wants to have different priorities from the previous one, or different programmes, it has to achieve the change over a period of time and not overnight through total radicalisation. Change of government in a democracy is not a Bolshevik revolution of the Soviet model. In Russia, Lenin and the Marxists overthrew the Tsar and his government by armed revolution and stated that the objective of the revolution was to completely destroy the old political and social order. Earlier the French Revolution also had the same aim and in both cases royal regimes and everything that they represented were destroyed lock, stock and barrel. That is not the way of democratic change. In this context, let us examine what chance the new government had of immediate radical departures from the past. For example, Narendra Modi has held out for “minimum government, maximum governance”. Did he have the choice in the budget presented within forty-five days of coming to power to say that he would immediately reduce the number of government servants by ten percent, a quarter or perhaps half? Part XIV of the Constitution would have to be scrapped if this were to be achieved. Any such attempt would have caused blood to flow on the streets as unemployed government servants would have revolted against it. Would Modi’s own Members of Parliament have found this acceptable? What “big bang”, to which irresponsible journalists and TV commentators refer, was possible for government in this behalf?

Let us take another issue, which is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The previous government had a huge programme of providing hundred days of employment per person in rural areas and for this a very substantial budgetary provision had been made. Could the new government have abandoned the scheme overnight, creating almost universal rural unrest? Therefore, not only has the government budgeted for the scheme but has also proposed enhancement of the allocation of the funds but with a specific rider that government would review the contents of the programme and would move away from just an employment objective into a more productive programme of creating permanent village assets. To those who really understand rural India, this one simple statement contains a message virtually of revolution. NREGS as at present administered is entirely a muster roll based programme and, as is well known, it is not possible to run a muster based programme honestly. If the objective is the same, that is, providing employment in rural areas, a programme aimed at creating permanent assets would radically change it because now employment activity would be sharply focused and at the end of the day the village would acquire a long term asset. The old integrated watershed management programme, of which the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh made a great success, was invaluable because it resulted in improving the water regime of thousands of villages, led to soil and water conservation and a sharp increase in the availability of fuel and fodder. Its abandonment on the insistence of the National Advisory Council and conversion into a populist muster based employment programme was a disaster. The present budget which gives the determination of government to provide rural employment, but to do it productively is, therefore, a big bang.

The leaders of the present government had promised at the time of election that skill development, employment generation and creation of a climate in which investment would flow in would have high priority. Does the present budget reflect this? There is no specific mantra which would make this happen, but the budget has made provision for skill development, it has assured the corporate world that in the future the tax regime would be simplified and an environment would be created which would facilitate investment and, by proposing a venture capital fund for Rs. 10,000 crores, the government has certainly signalled that it wants new enterprises to be created. Specifics can be provided only in the next budget because in the coming year the government would be able to fine-tune the policies which would lead to achievement of pronounced goals in the matter of investment, economic growth and employment generation.

Let us take the question of taxation. For the average tax payer, the budget proposals are on the one hand cautiously welcome and on the other an indicator that the tax regime in future will be liberal, aimed at maximising government revenues but not unduly burdensome to the tax payer. Where it misses out is in the matter of taxes to be paid by business and corporations which could be designed to encourage corporations to invest in major infrastructure projects, whether in terms of capital investment or in investment for maintenance and upgradation. Some of the sectors in which government have chosen to go on the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model could be chosen for long term involvement of the private sector through an appropriate tax regime. Education which is universal and leaves out no one on account of affordability, health care which reaches down to the least fortunate, transportation corridors such as roads and railway tracks, power systems , in fact everything which gives the basics for development, creation of and management of rural assets are all areas in which we need to attract corporate investment, not because they will give direct returns on the money invested but rather because of tax incentives which attract the corporate world to invest in infrastructure which serves people at large. If PPP mode development and tax incentives for private investment are seen as one, then we may find that in the future private investment in public infrastructure could show a sharp increase. Perhaps there was not enough time to do any real thinking in this behalf, but by the time the budget of the year 2015-16 is presented , the Finance Minister, as a part of government, must come up with very specific, doable proposals for radically changing how the Indian economy functions. One word of caution. Using taxation as an inventive would be restricted to long term private investment in useful projects, but could not be used to cover corporate social responsibility.

The present budget talks about a disinvestment programme in which government gradually moves out of selected public sector undertakings and encourages privatisation. Even though it might reflect a continuation of the British obsession on the one hand with the Great Game and on the other the means of rapid troop movement to deal with another mutiny, the fact remains that the Indian Railways have an enormous strategic role to play in joining the country together. Therefore, public ownership of the railways is a necessity dictated by strategic and tactical requirements, but equally by the fact that this is the common man’s main mode of transport. Total commercialisation of the Railways would hit the average citizen very hard. With this as a constant factor, government has to ensure a much higher investment level in maintaining the Railways, improving them and extending them. In the United States, Railways were always in the private sector and it is only when competitive modes of transport such as roads and air traffic began to affect the profitability of the private railway companies and the railway system was on the verge of collapse that that U.S. Government created AMTRAC, a public sector organisation which took over strategic railway lines. AMTRAC has been criticised for not always being very efficient, but it has at least kept the railways alive in America.

We, while continuing to have the Indian Railways as a public sector organisation, need to identify those schemes of the railways which can be run through the corporate sector. Tata Motors started as the Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (TELCO), which manufactured steam engines for the Indian Railways very successfully. Why should the railways themselves run the Chittaranjan Locomotives Works? Why can they not privatise the manufacture of locomotives, rolling stock and the maintenance of the existing stock? This is an area which the railways need to explore so that they can concentrate on efficient operation of the railways. There is enough money for both the corporate world and the public sector for running the railways and a partnership mode in which the dominant position is that of government can certainly make the railways an organisation which is profitable but which does not become burdensome to the average traveller. The next budget must go beyond generalities about FDI in the railways and must come up with specific proposals which can be implemented within three years.

There is one very tricky area which cannot be ignored but which can probably also not be instantly cured and that is agriculture. All our efforts at agricultural development tend to be compartmentalised and segmented. There are a number of players in the agricultural scene which, incidentally, is and must remain the largest single employer. In China, ten percent of the land is arable, but in India sixty percent of the land is arable. With such a huge area available to us for agriculture why should this sector not get the highest priority? There is a whole coterie of people who feel that if India is to progress it must draw people from rural areas and put them into urban employment. This, mind you, in a country which is largely ryotwari and in which the cultivator is the bhoomiswami or the owner of the land. In China, the cultivator was a serf, a tenant at will and, therefore, leaving the land and seeking a job elsewhere was not a great hardship. In India, people who want to follow the Chinese model want to replicate China in the matter of migration from rural areas to urban areas. Because of this attitude there is no wholehearted attempt to bring about that qualitative improvement in agriculture which makes it a truly profitable vocation.

As stated earlier, agriculture has a number of players, of which the primary one is land. Then there is the owner of the land. For cultivation land needs water and for high yields it needs manure. Manure can be natural, for which we need animal dung and agricultural waste, or it can be synthetic, that is, chemical fertilisers. With water and nutrients, the land can be made productive and by selecting the correct cropping pattern productivity can be optimised. In those areas where this has been done, for example, the catchment of the Punjab Agriculture University at Ludhiana, the results are spectacular. This needs to be replicated throughout India, but in the context of local soil conditions, water availability and climate. That is why the next budget must give greater importance to developing of agriculture universities in India to the level of the Punjab Agriculture University. Today, for example, two fine agriculture universities in Madhya Pradesh, at Jabalpur and Gwalior, are being strangulated for want of funds. This must not be allowed to happen.

The producer grows a product, but the product has to be marketed. For this one needs roads for transportation and develop mandies or market towns for marketing of the product, value addition through processing and the backward linkages for providing services to agriculture, such as finance. There is need for warehousing and cold storage so that by releasing product in the market in a steady stream there is price stabilisation throughout the year. During the season of glut, tomatoes and onions sometimes have to be thrown away, but at certain times when there is no fresh inflow and there is no supply stabilisation through release from appropriate storage facilities, prices rise very high and this creates a crisis for government. No agriculture policy, no price stablisation policy can succeed unless government intervention ensurs that storages gives a fair price to the farmer because there is a median price which prevails throughout the year, whilst at the same time ensuring steady release into the market so that there is constant inflow which stabilises prices. In fact this is so important that it must form the core of agricultural policy and the price stabilisation policy. Will the 2015-16 budget reflect this? In other words, the budget can be an instrument in ensuring that there is long term agricultural policy which is stable and there is no need for knee jerk reaction to an emergent situation.

One welcome signal that can be read is that the Human Resource Development Ministry is considering a review of the PPP mode policy for six thousand new model schools. School education is the responsibility of government, the Navodaya Schools have proved that if good quality schools are established in rural areas there can be significant improvement in education and in any case unless we improve the level of school education, all our universities and Indian Institutes of Technology, Science Education and Research, Information Technology and Management will be worthless pimples on our fair face. The new government, in future budgets, must make so much of funds available for school education that in one cycle of schooling we completely transform the education picture. If everyone, the disempowered, the socially ostracised, the backward and even the socially advanced are all given equally good education they would all become equal in every sense, able to compete with their peers and no longer in need of the support of reservations. In fact education can be the main instrument of making India a casteless society in which everyone is equal in terms of opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills. This is much more important than providing sops to the corporate world, reservation to the deprived or subsidies which provide only immediate relief.

Are subsidies justified? Europe and America shamelessly use subsidies in areas of interest to them, especially agriculture. The entire social security programme is a form of taking from the rich and giving to the poor but as a balanced programme, aimed at levelling out inequalities by raising tax revenue to meet the cost of subsidies. In India, unfortunately, deficit financing is generally used not to kick-start a flagging economy on the Keynesian model, but to distribute largesse ad infinitum. The budget must quickly visit this situation, remedy it and make subsidies part of a self sustaining regime.

This paper is not an analysis of every scheme of the budget. But it is a kind of report of what, under the circumstances, can be considered to be a good, workable budget which gives government the breathing time to evolve its long term economy policy. Mr.Modi has neither scored a goal nor hit the crossbar. He has, however, started to evolve a kind of field strategy which would enable him to repeat what Dhyanchand achieved in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, that is, proved that Hitler’s theory of so called Aryan superiority was a complete myth and that it is Indians who are true Aryans.


Published Date: 24th July 2014, Image source: http://currentaffairs.nirdeshak.com

Pak Army Ops in North Waziristan is a Tough Challenge

Brig (Retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

The Pakistan army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb(sharp and cutting), its much delayed ground offensive against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan, on June 15, 2014. Since then, the army claims to have killed 386 TTP and Uzbek terrorists, including the mastermind of the twin terrorist attacks on Karachi airport on June 9th and 10th, while 20 soldiers have lost their lives. Approximately 600,000 civilian inhabitants have had to leave their homes and join the swelling numbers of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Pakistan. North Waziristan is the last bastion of anti-Pakistan terrorists who have killed over 50,000 civilians and army personnel in ten years.

According to the Karachi Airport Security Force, 29 people died in the suicide attack on the airport, including all ten terrorists, while 24 were injured. On the same day, in the latest manifestation of continuing sectarian violence, Sunni extremists killed 23 Shia pilgrims travelling by bus in Balochistan. Later, on June 24th, a PIA flight was fired upon while landing at Peshawar airport; one woman inside the aircraft suffered fatal gun-shot wounds. Earlier, on June 4th, two officers of the rank of Lt Col and three other personnel had been killed by the TTP in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi. These attacks are clearly indicative of the ability of Pakistan’s terrorist organisations to strike at will and underline the helplessness of the security forces in taking effective preventive action.

Despite facing the grave danger of a possible collapse of the state, the Pakistan government's counter-insurgency policy had until now lacked cohesion. The commencement of a peace dialogue with the TTP in February 2014, despite the abject failure of several such efforts in the past, allowed the terrorist organisation to re-arm, recruit, train fresh fighters and plan new operations. In March 2014, the TTP offered a month-long cease-fire. The army honoured the cease-fire and refrained from undertaking active operations, but several TTP factions disregarded the diktat of the leadership and fought on. On April 16th, the TTP reneged on its ceasefire pledge and blamed the government for failing to make any new offers.

In the face of mounting public and army pressure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reluctantly agreed to approve military strikes. He was apprehensive that General Raheel Sharif, the COAS, may unilaterally decide to launch an all-out offensive. The army had been recommending to the government for quite some time that firm military action was necessary to deal with the menace of home grown terrorism. The PM is now backing the army fully and has said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a “sanctuary of terrorists” and that the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated.

The deteriorating internal security environment has gradually morphed into Pakistan’s foremost national security threat. Karachi remains a tinderbox that is ready to explode. The Al Qaeda is quietly making inroads into Pakistani terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has consolidated its position in North Waziristan and could have broken out of its stronghold into neighbouring areas. Fissiparous tendencies in Balochistan and the restive Gilgit-Baltistan Northern Areas are a perpetual security nightmare.

Realisation about the gravity of the internal security situation has dawned on the Pakistan army as well. Two successive army Chiefs have declared publicly that internal instability is the number one national security threat. However, unlike the Indian Army that has been embroiled in low intensity conflict since the 1950s, the Pakistan army is relatively inexperienced in counter-insurgency operations. The then Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani had declared 2009 as ‘Military Training Year’ to re-orientate the army to internal security duties. Before becoming COAS, General Raheel Sharif had developed the training manuals for counter-insurgency. Over the last decade, the Pakistan army has deployed more than 150,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas. It has suffered over 15,700 casualties, including about 5,000 dead since 2008. The total casualties, including civilian, number almost 50,000 since 2001.

Hurt by a series of Taliban successes in “liberating” tribal areas and under pressure from the Americans to deliver in the “war on terror”, in the initial stages the Pakistan army employed massive firepower to stem the rot – as was visible on television screens worldwide when operations were launched to liberate the Swat Valley (Operation Rah-e-Rast, May-Jun 2009) and South Waziristan (Operation Rah-e-Nijat, Oct-Nov 2009). Fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were freely used to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts, irrespective of civilian casualties. This heavy-handed, firepower-based approach without simultaneous infantry operations on the ground failed to dislodge the militants, but caused large-scale collateral damage and alienated the tribal population even further.

Counter-insurgency operations against the TTP in South Waziristan drove most of the fighters to North Waziristan, but till now the army had been reluctant to extend its operations to this province. North Waziristan has rugged mountainous terrain that enables TTP militants to operate like guerrillas and launch hit-and-run raids against the security forces. When cornered, the militants find it easy to slip across the Durand Line and find safe sanctuaries in Khost and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan. A large number of militants are known to have escaped into neighbouring provinces in the month preceding the ground offensive.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, well-known physicist, said in an interview on July 3rd, “Pakistan's biggest problem is that religious extremism and intolerance have penetrated deep into the bones of society.North Waziristan is a magnet for jihadists from across the world. Earlier their terrorism was directed internationally and hence tolerated. But now their full fury is frontally directed at Pakistan: the people, state, and military... This military operation will certainly not eliminate terrorism. But unless radical militants are contained using force, they will soon overrun Pakistan. Recent events in Iraq and Syria should open our eyes to that terrible possibility... Forced into a war that is not of its own choice, the Army is seeking a way out.Today the Pakistan Army is genuinely at war against a fanatical, religiously charged enemy. It should not be dismissed as "noorakushti"…I suspect that, like the Lal Masjid operation, Zarb-e-Azb will turn out to be a kind of watershed. It has seriously disturbed the relations between the Army and its former allies, and will deepen the split within the Army as well. The traditionally pro-military Jamaat-e-Islami is furiously condemning the military action and demanding talks instead.”

Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos, has written: “Not only does North Waziristan house Pakistani and Afghan Taliban; it is also a training ground for al-Qaeda, which attracts Central Asians, Uighurs from China, Chechens from the Caucasus and a flow of militant Muslim converts from Europe.” Quite clearly, the Pakistan army is in for the long haul and will undoubtedly suffer a large number of casualties.

Though the Army Chief has said that the present operation is aimed at eliminating “all terrorists and their sanctuaries” in North Waziristan, it is not yet clear whether strikes are being launched against the Haqqani network and two other militant groups that are based in North Waziristan. These groups have been primarily targeting the NATO/ ISAF forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA). Of these, the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group has hosted the Haqqani network and the TTP in North Waziristan and the Mullah Nazir group is in control of the Wana region of South Waziristan. These three groups are called the “good Taliban” by the Pakistan army and the ISI and are looked upon as “strategic assets” to influence events in Afghanistan after the NATO/ ISAF draw down has been completed. The Haqqani network has also been employed to target Indian assets in Afghanistan.

What do these developments portend for India? Regional instability always has a negative impact on economic development and trade. Creeping Talibanisation and radical extremism are threatening Pakistan’s sovereignty. If the Pakistan army fails to conclusively eliminate the scourge in the north-west, it will soon reach Punjab, which has been relatively free of major incidents of violence. After that, it will only be a matter of time before the terrorist organisations manage to push the extremists across the Radcliffe Line into India. It is in India’s interest for the Pakistan government to succeed in its fight against radical extremism.

Political turmoil, internal instability, a floundering economy and weak institutions make for an explosive mix. Pakistan is not yet a failed state, but the situation that it is confronted with could rapidly degenerate into unfettered disaster. All institutions of the state must stand together for the nation to survive its gravest challenge. The Pakistan army and the ISI must concentrate on fighting the enemy within, rather than frittering away energy and resources on destabilising neighbouring countries.

Published Date: 23rd July 2014, Image source: http://cache.pakistantoday.com.pk

Friday, July 18, 2014

Modi’s Japan Visit: Need for a Paradigm Shift in Strategic Ties

Brig (Retd) Vinod Anand, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

After evaluating the emerging strategic environment in the neighbourhood and beyond, Prime Minister Narendra Modi preferred to visit Bhutan first and thereafter Japan. While the visit to Bhutan underscored his understanding of the crucial strategic importance of Bhutan to India and the need to correct the drift in relationship which had crept in during the UPA’s tenure, Modi’s forthcoming visit to Japan is expected to bring in a paradigm shift in the nature of relationship between the two nations.
Although Japan has been somewhat disappointed with the postponement of his visit scheduled for first week of July to August, the ensuing time gap is expected to provide adequate time for both sides to address some of the constraints that inhibit strengthening further the economic and strategic relationship. For instance, Japan wants India to make its domestic laws including the tax regime investor friendly to enable Tokyo to go in for huge investments in India. And India would like Japan to loosen some of the restrictions and limitations that restrain the cooperation in civil nuclear field, high end technology and defence industry.

The top priority of the Modi-led government is to return to the high growth trajectory that entails developing a robust infrastructure for which according to India’s 12th Five year Plan, the requirement is over 1 trillion US dollars. Japan has been very active in providing Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to India (in terms of grants and soft loans which has been around USD 36 billion till last year). However, with the right investment climate, Tokyo could provide New Delhi a very large proportion of the funds needed for development of infrastructure. While Japan is already involved in development of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), many more such projects are needed across the length and breadth of India.

During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India in January, Japan was invited to invest in India’s North East region for development of infrastructure. Japanese companies were also invited to develop a new port in Chennai which would improve connectivity to Dawei port in Myanmar (being developed by Thailand) and beyond. Not only this, there has been a Japanese promise of helping India's Export-Import Bank develop more attractive funding packages for Indian projects in regional countries. All this needs to be given a practical shape in the coming visit to Japan.

While India and Japan have set a target of US dollars 25 billion for 2014, it is much less than the trade figures of both nations with China. Despite the signing of Comprehensive Economic Partnership between the two countries in August 2011, the overall economic relations have not progressed beyond a point. This is more so in the areas of cooperation in strategic industries like defence, cyber security, space and civil nuclear energy. It is here that some of the constraints that could be either political or constitutional in nature need to be attenuated or removed altogether. PM Modi’s massive mandate would be very helpful in ushering in economic reforms and address some of the concerns of Japanese and other international investors. On the other hand, PM Shinzo Abe’s government has also embarked upon certain reforms including changing the pacifist nature of Japanese Constitution that would help in enhancing defence and security cooperation.

What could be a game changer in the evolving Indo-Japan strategic relationship is the likelihood of Japan signing the civil nuclear agreement during the forthcoming visit of Modi. This agreement would also have implications for some of the American nuclear energy companies who have apprehensions in cooperating with India in the civil nuclear sector as they are owned by the Japanese. (For instance, Westinghouse Electricity (Nuclear Energy) Company is owned by Toshiba). Both sides at present are exploring ways and means as to how some of the mutual dissonance in this arena could be overcome.
Both Japanese and Indian political leadership share common perceptions about the evolving security situation in the Indo-Pacific region and understand the need for preserving strategic equilibrium that has been impacted upon negatively by China’s assertive policies. Therefore, it makes strategic sense for both to work together in defence and security areas in order to create a degree of balance that would serve both countries’ national interests.

Realizing this need, both countries had made a joint declaration in 2008 to strengthen defence and security cooperation. Consequent to the declaration, the India- Japan 2+ 2 dialogue mechanism was evolved wherein Foreign and Defence Secretaries meet regularly to discuss foreign policy and security issues such as maritime security, cyber security and space. Even though there has been some progress in these areas so far, much more substantial needs to be achieved.

Japan has also moved forward in revising its pacific outlook and is revitalising its defence capabilities. Besides strengthening its alliance with the US, Japan’s New Defence Policy Guidelines and new security strategy postulates ‘strengthening cooperative relations with countries with which it shares universal values and strategic interests such as Republic of Korea, Australia, the countries of ASEAN and India’. Strengthening bilateral relations with India in broad range of areas including maritime security is one of the cornerstones of the Japanese new defence strategy.

Japan’s relaxing of restrictions on exports of defence technology and weapons and possibilities of joint development in defence industry need to be exploited. Modi’s visit should be used for laying down a comprehensive framework for Indo-Japan defence cooperation something similar to that of the 2005 Indo-US Framework for Defence Cooperation but which is much more substantial. Cooperation in cyberspace and outer space would be critical to meet the challenges arising in these domains. China has been very active in cyber space wherein besides some other nations India and Japan have been at the receiving end of cyber attacks originating from China.

India is keen to acquire ShinMaywa US-2i amphibian aircraft for the Navy to strengthen its naval aviation arm. Some progress has been made on the subject but there are still some reservations on the part of Japan. There is also the question of manufacturing the aircraft jointly. While there is considerable scope for joint research development in high end technologies in both civil and military arena, the political push by both sides is necessary to move forward in these areas. Given the personal equation between both the Prime Ministers, some of the constraints in imparting positive momentum to Indo-Japanese defence relationship could be overcome.

There is also a need to have a candid dialogue on perceptions of regional and international security environment and evolve suitable responses. While India has been pursuing its Look East Policy since early 1990s, Japan has also been strengthening its relations with the ASEAN and East Asian nations. Both India and Japan are well placed to work together and build on many of the existing bilateral and multi-lateral initiatives in the region. There is also a great potential for initiating fresh trilateral frameworks where both nations can cooperate with a third country.

Given the great degree of strategic convergence between Japan and India that is supplemented by the mutually complimentary economies, the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister to Tokyo could bring in a paradigm shift in the nature of relationship between India and Japan. In the coming days, Indo-Japanese relationship could become critical in contributing to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

A Good Budget, Devoid of Populism, Dramatics and Fudged Accounts

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Mr.Narendra Modi is perceived as a tough Prime Minister who will take tough decisions. He is also seen as one who will even take harsh decisions if need be. In the run up to his government’s first budget, Mr Modi reinforced this image by warning the people that he may have to administer some “bitter medicine” in order to revive the economy. Since no Prime Minister in recent times had ever given the people such advance warning, the people expected some really harsh measures in the Union Budget, but that did not happen.

The only “bitter pill’ was the increase in railway fares by 14 per cent but the government gave the tax payers some sops in the general budget, which more than made up for the railway fare hike. In the Union Budget. the government announced measures to revive the manufacturing sector, stepped up investments in infrastructure, declared its intent to woo back the foreign investor and empower youth with skills and jobs. The Railway Budget too was a pragmatic one with particular emphasis on improving the financial condition of the Railways, completion of on-going projects and improvement in railway safety, cleanliness and speed.

All this is in line with the promises made by Mr.Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the Lok Sabha election campaign, but it was done without flamboyance or dramatics. The two budgets were drawn up with a great deal of responsibility to ensure continuity where needed and to effect change where essential. That is why many observers say that there is no ‘big bang” proposal in this budget. But what they forget is that the budget signifies the near absence of populism and some extra dose of pragmatism. Also, the past practice of fudging figures and using the Union Budget as a vote-catching measure is clearly absent in this budget. Clearly, this was something expected of the Modi government. That is why, overall, the Prime Minister and his team deserve to be complimented for taking stock of India’s financials, accepting the terrible economic situation which they have inherited more as a challenge than a curse and using Budget 2014 to prepare the ground for the government’s vision for overall economic growth.

The Subsidy Basket

In recent years, a major concern of some economists has been the ballooning subsidy bill of the Union Government. In their view, if the government lacks the political will to cut subsidies, it will not be able to pull the country’s economy out of the morass that it is in today. The total subsidy bill runs to over Rs 2.6 lakhs crores and this includes the food subsidy (1.15 lakh crore), Fertiliser subsidy (72,000 crores), Petroleum subsidy (Rs 63427 crores) and Kerosene subsidy (Rs 29488 crores). In fact, the government has provided around Rs 20,000 crores more towards food subsidy in this budget. The Finance Minister has wisely appointed an Expenditure Management Commission and put off a decision on subsidies until the committee’s findings are known. Although the government has not tinkered with the subsidy budget, it has taken the initiative to examine subsidies de novo by appointing an Expenditure Management Committee. This is possibly the best example of non-flamboyance in this budget.
This budget is different from those of the past on many counts. For example, the government has announced its firm resolve to ensure a stable, predictable tax regime – something that is critical for investors, both domestic and foreign. Next, it has announced several measures to boost the manufacturing sector, which had gone into a slump over the last two years; to improve the job market and to enhance the skills of the working class; to give a big push to the infrastructure and Real Estate sectors; and to woo back foreign investors, who were losing interest in India in recent years.

The first big step announced by the Finance Minister to reassure the foreign investor was the promise that the government would normally avoid retrospective taxation and that should issues arise, such matters would be referred to a committee appointed specifically to handle such cases. Other decisions announced by Mr.Jaitley to woo back investors include raising the limit for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Defence and Insurance Sector from 26 per cent to 49 per cent. In order to revive the manufacturing sector, the Finance Minister announced a venture capital fund with a corpus of Rs 10,000 crores to attract private capital towards micro, small and medium enterprises, promotion of mega industrial zones and to promote manufacturing hubs for electronic goods. On the infrastructure front, the Finance Minister has allocated Rs 37880 crores for roadways, announced major expansion of the gas distribution grid and allocated significant sums for developing waterways along the Ganga, metro rail projects and airports for tier I and tier II cities. Mr.Jaitley has also sought to inject fresh impetus into the Real estate sector with huge allocations (Rs 7060 crores) for Smart Cities – satellite towns near big cities -to be built for the aspiring classes.

This budget more than trebles the target for construction of highways (23 kms per day as against 8 kms in 2012-13). Mr.Jaitley has laid out the blue print for building 100 new cities and prioritises development of 100 most backward districts. It also smoothens the process for creation of special economic zones. The budget also offers tax incentives to Infrastructure Investment Trusts and Real Estate Investment Trusts in order to step up investments in these sectors.
As regards the average citizen, the budget left greater disposal income in the hands of ordinary tax payers so that they could increase their savings and also have surplus funds to spend. Side by side, the Finance Minister announced tax cuts for a number of consumer goods.

The `Modi Effect’ in the Union Budget

One can also discern a distinct “Modi Effect” in this budget. A major promise made by the Prime Minister to the people during the campaign was that he would like to work towards ensuring 24X7 electricity to every home in the country. Mr.Modi appears to have begun work on this ambitious scheme in right earnest with his government’s first budget allocating funds for the Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana . The Prime Minister has often spoken of the need to impact skills to the youth, so that the degrees and certificates that they carry guarantee the acquisition of skills which employers want. The budget has provided for creation of a National Multi-Skill Mission to impact skills to youth in the employment market. “Swach Bharat” ( Clean india) has been another pet project of Mr.Modi and the budget has taken due notice of this by allocating funds for the `Swach Bharat Abhiyan’ with 2019 as the target for ensuring toilet facilities in every household.

When Mr.Modi visited Varanasi during the campaign he told the people that he had come to the holy city because he had been called by ‘Maa Ganga’. Mr.Modi has displayed his reverence for India’s most revered river and city by allocating over Rs 2000 crore in the budget for a project titled “Namami Ganga”, meant to clean up the holy river. The budget also allocates over Rs 4200 crores for creating a Ganga Waterway and another Rs 100 crores for repairing and renovating the ghats at Varanasi, Haridwar and other pilgrim centres along the Ganga.

During the campaign Mr.Modi laid special emphasis on the Himalayan region and the North-Eastern states and his special concern for this region is more than visible in his government’s first budget. The budget allocates an extra Rs 1000 crores for railway projects in the North-East apart from funds for a Sports University in Manipur, Rs 100 crores for a National Centre for Himalayan Studies, a separate 24X7 television channel for the region and special measures to promote organic farming in the region. The budget has something substantial for the state of Jammu and Kashmir as well with Rs 200 crores for sports stadia and Rs 100 crores to train sports personnel from the Himalayan region. The plight of Kashmiri migrants from the valley has been a matter of concern for the Prime Minister and that is why in his government’s very first budget Mr.Modi has ensured allocation of Rs 500 crores for this community. Some other sectors and programmes which are close to the Prime Minister and which have found mention in the budget are solar power and wind energy, metro rail projects, smart cities and heavy investment in the infrastructure sector.

First Budget by a Single Party Majority Government in 30 Years

The political significance of this budget is that it is the first Union Budget presented by a single-party majority government in 30 years. The last time this happened was in 1984, when the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi won a massive majority in the Lok Sabha. Thereafter, all governments until May, 2014 were coalition governments or minority single-party governments supported from the outside by some political parties. This is an important political aspect that needs to be factored in while discussing the budget formulations of governments because if a single party does not command a majority in the Lok Sabha, the dominant party in the government has to cope with pulls and pressures from many coalition partners while drafting its fiscal policy for the year. Such constraints rob the budget of a clear focus and make it a bag of compromises. This is what makes the first budget of the Narendra Modi government quite distinct from the budgets prepared over the last three decades.

Therefore, the BJP government led by Mr.Modi has the fullest freedom to choose its course of action, without any restriction whatever from any quarter. Such freedom of action also comes with a caveat, namely that such a government does not have the luxury of blaming others or proffering excuses for decisions taken or not taken. Given the overall direction of the Union Budget, it must be said that the Modi government has made the best of the clear mandate given by the electorate and taken certain decisions which would coalition governments would have hesitated to take. For example, the decision to establish an Expenditure Management Commission to review the subsidy regime that consumes over Rs 2.6 lakh crores per annum could never be taken by a government which stands on crutches provided by the Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal (United) or such other parties which are trying to perfect the art of providing doles to people in exchange for votes. Though the Modi government has not scrapped or slashed subsidies, it has definitely signaled its intention to take a fresh look the subsidy basket. This has been possible only because the BJP enjoys a clear mandate and the Prime Minister remains committed to his promise to provide good governance.

Similarly, the decision to provide over Rs 2000 crores to clean the Ganga as also funds to repair the ghats in Varanasi, Haridwar and other pilgrim centres along the banks of this holy river, would never have been possible if the government depended on pseudo-secular political entities like the Congress or the Samajwadi Party for its survival. Over a period of time, these parties have begun to display contempt for the emotions and concerns of the majority in the country and this is the reason why they have allowed the Ganga, which is regarded as the soul of Bharat by one billion Hindus, to deteriorate. Likewise, the decision to increase the FDI in the Insurance and Defence sectors could never be taken by a government dependent on the communist parties for its survival.

Mr.Modi is happily free of all such political encumbrances and that is why he is able to focus on priorities in order to revive the Indian economy and put the country on a high growth path all over again

Published Date: 17th July 2014, Image source: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com

Vaidik - Saeed Meeting: A Case of Self-Appointed Diplomats, Self-Serving Charlatans

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

The meeting between internationally designated terrorist chieftain Hafiz Saeed and an Indian journalist (?) and political operator, Dr VP Vaidik, in Lahore has caused a veritable storm in not just political circles but also the media. Normally, no eyebrows should be raised if anyone who claims to be a journalist meets any extremely undesirable and notorious criminal. Howsoever unpleasant and politically incorrect, such meetings are part and parcel of a scribe’s profession. But Vaidik’s meeting with Saeed is extremely problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the hint of misrepresentation by him about his contacts and closeness to the new government and his subtle and insidious efforts to put a human face to someone who is by all accounts a monster and mass murderer.

Before detailing the reasons for condemning Vaidik’s ‘interview’, it must be said that for publicity hounds even notoriety is welcome. After all, Dr Vaidik has managed to capture more airtime with the controversy he has generated than he would have got in his decades long innings as a ‘journalist’. What this fifteen minutes of fame (or should we say, infamy) does for him and his benefactors and mentors is hardly the issue. Dr Vaidik has a penchant for hitting the headlines for wrong reasons. In the early 1990s, he had managed to inveigle himself with Mulayam Singh Yadav (whom he lauded as the best thing that happened to Indian politics….and we all know how that turned out). Over the last few years, he has managed to get close to yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who in turn has been a major supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dr Vaidik also has a thing for name-dropping and impressing people by referring to senior leaders and politicians by their first names – tell Nawaz I am in such and such hotel…, I asked Ahmed (Shah Massoud) to talk to Gulbadin (Hekmetyar)…, I told Hamid (Karzai) to do this and that…. and so on and so forth. The gullible (which includes some senior Indian officials, including at the highest levels in the Ministry of External Affairs) often assume that he is some kind of a South Asian Henry Kissinger and this tends to open doors for him, especially in places seeking some kind of private access to corridors of power in Delhi. In a sense, he is the quintessential Delhi Durbari, but also an outsider who presents himself as an insider.

Countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan have been an old hunting ground for Dr Vaidik, where he has managed to establish himself as a very consequential man from Delhi. According to Pakistani sources, Dr Vaidik has presented himself in Pakistan as someone who is very in with the new dispensation in Delhi. He is believed to have sent signals or at least given an impression to his Pakistani interlocutors that he was some kind of unofficial mediator for the Modi government. This is also the sense that comes out of his interviews to Pakistani TV channels. More than anything else, it is this that has stirred the hornet’s nest in Delhi. Asides of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it very clear that he doesn’t subscribe to back-channel or private diplomacy, even less so by busybodies and self-appointed diplomats, there would have to be something terribly wrong with this government if it was using someone so given to self-promotion like Vaidik to either carry out such diplomacy or even some message. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that someone as indiscreet as Vaidik would be used for sending any message across the Radcliffe line. After all, one of the fundamental qualities of a good diplomat is the ability to zip up.

In any case, it is unimaginable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would use a mediator to reach out to an international terrorist. This is where the other problems with Vaidik’s meeting come in. From his public utterances, he has tried to give an impression of being Modi’s advocate to Hafiz Saeed. While he claims that he met Saeed in his capacity as a journalist, he has himself stated that he tried to dispel the negative image of Modi that Saeed had. According to Vaidik, Saeed considered Modi as a ‘very dangerous’ man which he tried to correct. But is it a journalist’s job to provide clarification about his Prime Minister to a notified terrorist? And if the terrorist like Saeed considers Modi a ‘dangerous man’, shouldn’t that be welcomed by all Indians? Instead, Dr Vaidik goes out of his way to tell the terrorist who is terrified of Modi not to be afraid. Who, in any case, has given Dr Vaidik the authority to speak on behalf of the Indian Prime Minister or for that matter to seek the ‘permission’ or acceptance of a certified terrorist for a possible visit of India’s PM to Pakistan? Equally offensive is Vaidik’s TV clip where he says if Pakistan is willing to give independence to PoK, he would be in favour of India doing the same, but then adds the caveat that he would prefer if Kashmiris are given the same level of freedom as people in other parts of India. Obviously, Dr Vaidik is either totally ignorant of India’s constitution, or worse, he will say anything depending on the audience he is addressing.

It is also not a journalist’s job to impart human values or change the heart of the person he is interviewing, nor is it their job to engage their interviewees in philosophical and meta-physical discussions. Dr Vaidik defends himself talking about the life changing transformation of Valmiki and Angulimaal from fearsome dacoits and killers into saints. Asides of the fact that Dr Vaidik is neither Lord Ram nor the Buddha who could transform a monster like Saeed into a saint, it is also not his job as a journalist to do any such thing. What offends the sensibilities even more is that there is an insidious attempt on Dr Vaidik’s part to tell his compatriots that perhaps they need to show patience with terrorists like Saeed because there is still a chance of reforming them. From his tone and tenor and his efforts to attach a degree of acceptability and reasonableness to Saeed, Dr Vaidik is almost behaving as Saeed’s ambassador to India. Despite the plethora of evidence against Saeed, Dr Vaidik, who clearly has pretensions of being a psycho-analyst (why else would he want to get inside Saeed’s head?) seems all set to be handing a ‘good character’ certificate to him. Even if he met Saeed as a journalist, Dr Vaidik should have done what all journalists should do when they interview their subject: research on the man, his organisation and his activities. This, he clearly did not do, which is apparent from the ill-informed questions he raised about Saeed’s court cases.

The entire Vaidik-Saeed affair is a wake-up call for the Modi government. There are all sorts of characters moving around acting as unofficial representatives of the government and engaging in their own personal foreign policy initiatives. Even before the election results were declared, Pakistani papers carried stories about an un-named NRI from US who met the top Pakistani leaders claiming to be Modi’s messenger. Then there was the dubious character – a Kashmiri who was a ‘leader’ in Ram Vilas Paswan’s party – who met the separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani. After a furore, he denied representing Modi. And now we have the Vaidik episode. Clearly, the government needs to shut these characters down if it wants to continue enjoying any credibility, both domestically and internationally. Equally important, the government must keep spiritual gurus and other such characters at an arm’s length from interfering in government policy. These people have neither the knowledge of intricacies of diplomacy, nor do they have command over the issues of national security. Yet they insist on making efforts for ‘world peace’. They should be encouraged to stick to what they do best – yoga, pranayama and what have you – and not allowed to interfere in affairs of state and government. Similarly, other religious leaders from other faiths should also not be encouraged to act as envoys of the Indian state. These people do more damage than any good.

Way back in the 1980s when India had taken action against Nepal, one of the Shankaracharyas took it upon himself to intercede on behalf of the Nepalese King, only because he was a Hindu king. While the Shankaracharya received traction from some members of the Rajiv Gandhi government, the then Ambassador gave the Shankaracharya short shrift and did not allow him to interfere and impose himself on government policy. This is what is expected from the Modi government and the sooner they shut these busybodies, the better.

(Courtesy: Rediff.com)

Published Date: 16th July 2014, Image source: http://images.thenews.com.pk