Sunday, October 31, 2010

Remembering Sardar Patel

Some years back, I was talking with an NRI friend about Mahatma Gandhi's legacy, not surprising considering that this lady had been associated with the making of Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. When I blamed the Mahatma for foisting on India Jawaharlal Nehru as the first prime minister in spite of eleven of the fifteen Provincial Congress Committees having cast their votes in favour of Sardar Patel, the lady remonstrated that it was Sardar Patel himself, and not Gandhi, who had taken the decision.

She told me that some time in 1946, while her father, a confirmed Gandhi acolyte, was attending on the great man at the Vardha Ashram, Sardar Patel had a heart to heart talk with his mentor. Patel asked Gandhi who was his candidate for about-to-be-freed India's prime minister. Gandhi told him he was his obvious choice. On this Patel requested Gandhi to make Nehru the prime minister and gave out two reasons for his request. He said he could die in a couple of years of old age, he was already seventy one, and chronic illness, but India could not afford to lose the prime minister so early, that would be very unsettling for the fledgling country. Jawaharlal, on the other hand, was fighting fit and much younger at fifty seven. The other reason Patel gave was that he could serve under Nehru but it was not the other way round, Nehru would rather leave the Congress than deign to become Patel's deputy. And Patel felt that the newly born nation would need them both guiding it through the initial years to some safety.

Today, on the 135th birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, I pay my highest homage to that titan of a man, and am grateful to my friend for revealing to me a sacrifice that could have done credit to the Mahatma himself.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is ‘conscientious bureaucrat’ an oxymoron?

In today’s The Hindu, in his article ‘Probing the Commonwealth Games mess’, R.K. Raghavan, former CBI director, writes that few bureaucrats, even at the level of secretaries, have the courage to ask for written orders when they believe that they have received illegal or unethical directives from their bosses, notwithstanding the post-Emergency instructions of the government of India to do so. He adds that who do so risk being framed or given inconvenient postings. Raghavan’s sympathy for members of his former tribe is obvious. But I hold that anyone without courage of conviction has no business to be in the higher or even middle echelons of bureaucracy.

The bureaucrats are there to give their considered, independent and impartial views and not to anticipate their masters’ thoughts in their recommendations. Suspecting their bosses’ hidden agenda in their verbal directives or those on ‘post it’ slips, if they make bold and insist upon written orders, in most cases the so-called bosses would panic and retract and a loot of the national exchequer would be prevented. In the unlikely event of illegal instructions being confirmed by the boss in writing, the subordinate must put up a note to him or her on the file pointing out the illegalities in the order, clearly recommending that the order be withdrawn in public interest. Finally, only if the stubborn and by now openly corrupt boss insists in writing that the order be implemented, the bureaucrat could do so. It is not known whether the then Telecom secretary followed this approach when A. Raja was giving out 2G licences on a first come-first served basis as if he was selling milk at a Mother Dairy booth.

And if for performing their duty conscientiously some bureaucrats are transferred to difficult, called Siberian by Raghavan, places, so what? Didn’t they, at the time of joining an all-India service agree to be posted anywhere in India? Also, the bosses can transfer one officer but if the successor also turns out to be of the scrupulous type, how many can the boss, even the prime minister himself, transfer? The same logic applies to the fear that upright and courageous officers would be framed.

Unfortunately, the fact is that a crushing majority of today's bureaucrats choose to be pliant and subservient to their masters because they know that the latter control the access to a sure pot of gold and, in some cases, an apartment in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society's iconic high-rise on the Colaba sea-front.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Following up on my ‘Redeem India’s honour’ open letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Thanks for setting up the Shunglu Committee to look into all aspects of organizing and conduct of the Commonwealth Games including, hopefully, the leadership deficit witnessed at many levels of the Central and Delhi governments. V.K. Shunglu is known to have been an upright and competent civil servant and is expected to do his best to do justice to this crucial assignment.

Looking, however, to the Committee’s wide-ranging terms of reference, the period of three months may prove utterly inadequate. To keep within the time limit the inquiry may well have to be only superficial, alternatively, extensions will be granted at the expense of the government’s and Committee’s credibility. A better proposition would have been to grant, from the very beginning, a term of one year to the Shunglu Committee and make all officials in CAG, CVC, CBI, IT and ED investigating into the CWG affairs to take instructions from the Committee and tender their respective final reports to it well within a year. Then at the end of the year the Committee could submit one comprehensive report to the Central government. Otherwise, as per the things structured as of today, the Committee would submit its report in three months on mismanagement, lack of coordination and perhaps a few major cases of financial irregularities and corruption; and the rest of the agencies would go on with their individual inquiries indefinitely, at times at cross purposes with one another. The end result would be that answers to basic questions like what went wrong, what was the total amount of money misutilised or plainly swindled, who all were responsible, would never be known with certainty. That, I am sure, is not the purpose of the Central government. Please, therefore, take corrective measures now when the Shunglu Committee has just been set up and is yet to come into its own.

The other disconcerting point is that M.S. Gill, Jaipal Reddy, Tejendra Khanna and Sheila Dikshit are still very much in saddle. They should be benched without losing further time at least for the duration of various inquiries, so that those could be conducted in a transparently impartial manner. Further, instead of extending their tenures and seemingly rewarding them, the government should have thought of some other ways to make sure that the persons at the top rungs of the CWG organizing committee would be available to the Shunglu Committee and others for the purpose of inquiry.

My 14th October open letter to you remains unacknowledged to date, but I hope that this one would fare better.

Thanks and regards,


Kanan V. Jaswal

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lose a friend but not your sacred objective!

A friend, now a senior professor in one of the country's most prestigious engineering institutes, with whom I re-established contact last year after almost three decades, has reportedly been implicated in a four year old scam in the conduct of an all-India admission test for engineering colleges. This friend has been my most ardent supporter in my campaign for fixing responsibility for the messy incompetence, corruption and leadership deficit in the recently concluded Commonwealth Games. Yet I felt I had no alternative to emailing to him the gist of the newspaper report about his alleged involvement in the admission test scam and asking him to clarify his position.

Since a day later I have yet to receive his reply there is a strong likelihood of my losing him as a friend. But this should not and will not disturb me. For fighting a war against corruption and lawlessness I need a core group of eight to ten persons of unimpeachable integrity, indomitable courage and total commitment to the cause and going by the newspaper report, not yet contradicted by him, my friend has has failed to make the grade. I shall look elsewhere, everywhere but there can not be any dilution of the eligibility criteria for the core group. Only if we are above all temptations we can launch a long and decisive offensive against corruption and establish the rule of law in our country.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Should we learn a lesson from the British?

Prince Abdel Aziz Bin Nasser Al Saud, whose father is a half-brother of the king of Saudi Arabia, has recently been sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by a British judge for beating to death his servant in a London hotel. Pronouncing the judgment the judge observed that it was an unusual case but in Britain no one, prince or commoner, was regarded above the law.

We in India claim a Brownie point or two that we follow the British system of jurisprudence but that is where we stop, because in our country anybody who is somebody is above the law. A state governor's brother, who was charged with the murder of a rival politician belonging to the same political party, was allowed to go scot-free because the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's top investigative agency, had submitted in the court that it did not have prosecutable evidence against the accused. It is altogether different matter that two persons had given a sworn statement to the CBI that they had heard some persons, whom they named, claiming that they had committed the murder at the behest of the governor's brother.

Some distance we have to go!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sourcing rare earth minerals from China

In the recent face-off between China and Japan over the captain of a Chinese fishing boat held by the Japanese for fishing in their waters off the Senkaku islands (the Chinese call them Diaoyou and claim them to be their own) and for intentionally colliding his boat with a Japanese patrol craft, China’s stopping the export of rare earth minerals to Japan, among other things, secured his release.

Japan is highly dependant on China for the rare earths which are used in petroleum refineries, mobile phones, other sophisticated electronic devices - civil and military, including missiles - and in various clean energy technologies. India and most other countries of the world are in the same position as Japan which is not surprising considering that China mines 95% of the world’s output of rare earth minerals. It is not a very happy situation for India to be in, after all there is not much love lost between her and her northern neighbour. To settle some real or imaginary score, China can close the tap any time and deny the rare earth minerals to India, adversely affecting her technological progress and defence preparedness.

In order to rule out that possibility, India should take some pro-active measures. It could tie up, by formal agreement, her export of iron ore to China with import of rare earth minerals from that country. There is no doubt that China can source iron ore from other countries but it may not like to forego import of high grade ore from India. India could also have alternative arrangements in place for import of rare earth minerals from other producers. They may be producing in very small quantities as compared to China but something would definitely be better than nothing. Lastly and very importantly, India could put in place a country-wide mechanism to recover, to the last milligram, the rare earths from old mobiles, computers and other electronic appliances, and recycle them. That would curtail the need for fresh imports substantially and to that extent make the country self-dependant.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Public v/s private sector

Generally in a public v/s private sector debate it is said in favour of the private sector that it is far more efficient than the public or government sector. But two recent instances – one from San José in Chile and the other from Delhi in India go against this premise.

On the 5th August 2010, when 33 miners were working deep inside a gold and copper mine in San José, about 700,000 tonnes of rock tumbled down and completely blocked the only exit from the mine. It was an accident waiting to happen because San Esteban, the private company owning the mine, had been violating for quite some time all norms of safety by over-mining. It had also not provided the obligatory emergency escape shaft. The company hardly did anything to locate the trapped miners, no one knew whether they were alive. The Chilean government chipped in immediately after the accident and rescuers working for it were able to establish contact with the miners after 17 days, fortunately all of them were alive. And what was the response from San Esteban? It promptly stopped the miners’ salaries because there being no production in the mine it was not in a position to pay. What the government did makes a case study of one of the most challenging rescue efforts in the history of mankind. Engaging the world’s best experts, employing the most advanced technology and sparing no costs the government kept the miners supplied with fresh air, water, food, medicines and video link with their families, and then was successful in pulling out to safety and civilization all 33 miners from their prison for 69 days, 700 metres below the surface.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), a government of India company, has introduced rapid transit raised and underground rail travel in Delhi. Thanks to the DMRC, today hundreds of thousands of Delhi’s residents and visitors to the city travel in air-conditioned comfort at an average speed of 30 kmph, not having to bother about congested roads. A couple of years ago, for the first time in Delhi, a joint sector project between DMRC and Reliance was planned, an express rail link between the New Delhi railway station and the Indira Gandhi International Airport to be in operation before the Commonwealth Games. The DMRC was to construct the civil infrastructure and Reliance was to lay the track and signalling and procure and run trains. The DMRC completed its part of the work and handed it over to Reliance on time but the latter could not do its bit in time leading to the Commissioner of Railway Safety denying it a safety certificate. Even now, after the Games are over, it will be some more weeks before Reliance gets the permission to ply trains.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Hindu-Muslim question

I have made the following response to someone's comments (it is for you to guess who) on my open letter to the prime minister to redeem India's honour after the Commonwealth Games disgrace :

Yes, we are on one platform of looking for solutions to India’s biggest problem, of corruption in every sphere of the country’s public life. But if you want to discuss the Hindu-Muslim divide in India, I won’t shirk from this.

The first point I would like to make is that considering the Hindus weak and irresolute is not going to help the Hindu cause and is also against the facts. There must have been tremendous strength and resilience in the Hindu religion and society which ensured that despite hundreds of years of the Muslim rule and about two hundred of the British, the pre-partition India was still about two thirds Hindu.

Secondly, while we must learn lessons from history we should not try to avenge the wrongs suffered in the hoary past. Medieval practices and prejudices have no place in modern times and the community that gets stuck in the times past is left behind. I want the Hindus and Muslims both to understand that India is far greater than either of them, if India prospers so do they both and India can prosper only when there is peace, at least internally.

Thirdly, by 1945 when the Congress leaders were released after three years in the prison, the atmosphere of the country was so charged with the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan that it was only a matter of time before the country was divided. The situation was definitely made worse by the League’s “direct action” in August 1946 which saw thousands of Hindus massacred in Calcutta in just three days. The retaliation which soon took place in Bihar was almost as bad. The Congress leaders, including the indomitable Sardar Patel, did not want the cycle of violence and counter-violence to go on. When Jinnah asked them to choose between civil war and partition, they chose the lesser evil and perhaps rightly so. The Congress had a far bigger stake in India than the League and could never consent to the country going up in flame.

Fourthly, the decadal rate of increase in the Muslim population in India was more than the Hindus’, in the period 1991-2001 it was 30% to Hindus’ 20%. But it was not merely because of the Muslims’ higher birth rate, one also has to take into account the illegal immigration of a large number of Bangladeshi Muslims (which in itself is not a happy situation and the central and concerned state governments ought to make concerted efforts to put a stop to this).

Finally, I do not subscribe to the view that the Hindus in India are in any danger of being overwhelmed by the Muslims. However, there can never be any justification for appeasing any community in the hope of cornering its support at the hustings. And the way out is making voting compulsory in all our elections, even if the average voting percentage goes up to 80 from the present 50-55, the so-called vote banks would become irrelevant.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Redeem India's honour - An open letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to you as a common citizen of this country, who like millions of others is concerned at all the charges of incompetence, dereliction of duty and corruption levelled against those in the positions of authority in various government and other bodies responsible for making the infrastructure ready for the Commonwealth Games. Through this letter I hope to urge you to deliver on your promise to investigate these charges and to hand out ‘exemplary punishment’ to those found guilty.

The last of the fireworks lighting up the Delhi sky this evening have just marked an end to the Commonwealth Games’ closing ceremony. Allow me to congratulate you and my fellow citizens on India holding the games successfully and safely! It goes to your government’s credit that it has managed to snatch success from the jaws of failure which till about two weeks ago looked the almost certain outcome.

However, tomorrow morning ought to bring a mood of introspection for all of us, as to why the entire nation was put in such a precarious situation by the scandalous and shameful conduct of most of the Games’ organisers, not just in the organising committee, as extensively reported on in the print and electronic media. The fair reputation of this country, built through decades of hard work and determination by our space, nuclear and agricultural scientists, exporters of civil and electrical engineering projects and IT and ITES industry amongst others, was severely tarnished in just a few months by some selfish individuals. We must understand why such a situation was allowed to come to be and what is being done so that it is never again repeated in the future.

I believe that you, as the leader of the country, should take lead in enlightening the nation on what went wrong and setting things right for our future generations to never have to be in the same situation again. The citizens of India will not rest until action has been taken against all those guilty of sullying the name of our beloved nation.

The steps below, if followed, would go a long way in convincing the common man that your government is serious about tackling this issue.

(1) Please appoint immediately an inquiry commission chaired by a person high in integrity, competence and courage – the name of former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh springs to mind (or if he is not available, another person widely known to be his equal in these measures). He should be allowed to hand-pick a team of investigators and they should be given a period of twelve months to complete the inquiry. The detailed terms of this inquiry should include the following matters:

i) In 2003, at the time of bidding for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, under what circumstances, and by whom, was it decided that each of the other 71 countries in the Commonwealth should be given a cash incentive of US$100,000 ?

ii) Confident of India “shining”, the NDA government had won the bid for holding the 2010 Games but India was found to be less than “shining” in the May 2004 general elections and the NDA government lost. Did the new government, UPA’s, in 2004 or 2005, consider rescinding the proposal to hold the Games on the ground of their non-affordability by a country which was still facing the problem of malnutrition, even starvation deaths?

iii) Who decided to send a large contingent led by popular Hindi film actors to put up a Bollywood-inspired “cultural” show at the closing ceremony of the Melbourne 2006 Games? Was any thought given to the fact that this itself was going to cost the country Rs.29 crore as against only Rs.3 crore spent on sending the sportspersons to Melbourne?

iv) The cost overrun of organizing the Games has been more than fifteen times the original budget – what is the explanation for this and who is responsible?

v) Who are the people responsible for leaving almost everything for the last of the seven years given for making ready for the Games? And then for suspending the Codal requirements and laid-down procedures for tendering in the name of saving “national prestige”?

vi) Were Jaipal Reddy, M.S. Gill, Tejender Khanna, Sheila Dikshit, Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Bhanot and their senior officers responsible for misleading the nation at any stage into believing that all was well with the Games’ arrangements? Are there any credible charges of corruption, incompetence or dereliction of duty against any of these people? Did they exercise sufficient supervision and control and institute systems for timely completion of various projects and for elimination of any corrupt practices by their juniors?

vii) Did Mike Fennel, Mike Hooper and others of the Commonwealth Games Federation recommend to the Games organising committee their own kith and kin for award of various contracts?

viii) Were the senior functionaries of the Games organising committee guilty of nepotism while recruiting their staff, very highly paid by the standards of the Indian public sector?

ix) Why did the central government wait until the 19th August 2010, i.e. only 45 days before the start of the Games, before curtailing the powers of the Games organising committee and placing it under a group of senior civil servants? This despite the ultimate humiliation suffered at the hands of the visiting British prime minister, David Cameron, when, during a meeting of the two prime ministers on the 28th July 2010, he offered to hold the Games in London if India was having problems in organising them. Even a constant barrage of damning media reports on the sordid state of affairs in the organising committee had failed to move the central government before it finally did!

x) What was the total amount spent on providing Games-related infrastructure (to be listed project-wise) and that on organizing the Games? How much of it was actually put up on the ground, and what portion lost to corruption and what to sheer wastage? A case in point is the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, built at a cost of about Rs.30 crore in 1982 - equivalent to today’s Rs.500 crore – but renovated at Rs.961 crore for the 2010 Games.

xi) What was the over-all scale of corruption and who are the main persons accountable for it – in the central and Delhi governments, CPWD, DDA, NDMC, MCD and in the games’ organizing committee? How does the organizing committee explain spending obscene sums of money on renting overlay equipments, hiring services and buying ordinary articles of daily use, like toiletry?

xii) What is the quality of construction of various stadia and other buildings, roads – surface and raised, underpasses, overbridges and cloverleaves built for the Games or as a Games-related project? Was any compromise made with the engineering designs and quality of construction because the entire exercise had to be rushed and/or to benefit some preferred architects and contractors?

xiii) When was the first time the UPA cabinet discussed any matter relating to the 2010 Games? And what was discussed, what decisions were taken?

xiv) Was it a UPA cabinet decision not to assign the entire responsibility of organizing the 2010 Games to a single authority? If so, for what reasons?

xv) How many times from the 22nd May 2004 until about a year ago, when the Commonwealth Games Federation raised an alarm over Delhi’s lack of preparedness for the 2010 Games, did the Union cabinet discuss this state of preparedness and were any remedial measures decided and taken?

xvi) After the CGF alarm, did the Union cabinet appoint any oversight committee for the Games’ preparation?

xvii) Right up to two days before the Games started, the shoddy and shameful upkeep of the games village, collapsing foot over-bridge, caving in arterial roads and falling false ceiling had been getting international opprobrium, what agencies and individuals are accountable for this all?

xviii) What was the need to dig up pavements in a good condition and giving them an expensive make over? At whose orders was this done? And who was behind spending hundreds of crores for giving a new look to the Connaught Place? Could mere re-plastering followed by white wash for perhaps Rs. ten to fifteen crore not do?

xix) Who are the persons really responsible for creating an impression among all connected with the Games, be they in the central or Delhi government or the Games’ organising committee, and exercising financial powers that money was not a problem and that in order to save the “national prestige” they could spend any amount, in fact, the more, the better?

xx) Why were no lessons learnt from the 1982 Delhi Asiad which was organised in a far more professional manner at a fraction of the cost of the 2010 Games, even after providing for the accumulated inflation, and for which the then central government and Delhi administration had got only two years and nine months as compared to the six years and four months available to the UPA’s central government and more than seven years to the Delhi government?

xxi) Knowing fully well that the first half of October is the dengue season in Delhi, why did the powers that be agree to hold the Games precisely at that time? The 2010 Games could be held in November (like the 1982 Delhi Asiad), pushing the Guandong Asiad to December 2010 or Spring 2011.

xxii) What was the state of preparedness for organizing the 2010 Games at the time the Melbourne 2006 Games were held?

xxiii) Did the central and Delhi cabinets ever ponder over the human cost of holding these games which in any case are considered only friendly and un-official by the International Olympic Committee? Who are the persons in the central and Delhi governments accountable for forced eviction of the city’s voiceless brazenly violating the United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, to which India officially subscribes?

xxiv) Who were the people responsible for paying daily wages much less than the statutory minimum of Rs.203 to as many as 1,00,000 construction and other workers? And for not providing protective gear to them, nor drinking water, medical facilities and livable quarters to their families, nor crèches and schools for their children?

xxv) How many vendors, street hawkers and rickshaw pullers were driven out of Delhi, for how long and at whose orders? Were they compensated in some ways for loss of their livelihood, and how? And how are their children going to make up for loss of schooling?

xxvi) Who decided to uproot scores of thousands of slum dwellers in the run up to the Games, very many of them in the Delhi’s worst ever rainy season? Where were they relocated? Were they given any alternative dwellings?

xxvii) Whose decision was this to drive the beggars away from Delhi for months? Was it considered what would happen to them and their families?

xxviii) At whose orders thousands of Delhi University students, both boys and girls, were denied the use of their hostels for more than three months? Was any thought given to where they would find alternative board and lodging and at what cost? Was it of no consequence to the decision makers that it would adversely affect their studies?

(2) In the interest of impartial conduct of the inquiry, not to mention their prima-facie ineptitude, inability to self-start and exercise control and lack of strategic thinking, please remove immediately Jaipal Reddy, M.S. Gill, Tejendra Khanna and Sheila Dikshit from their offices. They, however, should be told to be available to the inquiry commission all through and cooperate with it fully. If given a clean chit by the inquiry commission they could be restored to their positions, otherwise they should never be, nor even considered for a sinecure like the governorship of a state.

(3) Please also immediately replace the organizing committee from Suresh Kalmadi down to the deputy directors general by a small team of civil servants having proven ability and competence. The replaced persons should be ordered to assist the new team when called upon to and be also available to the inquiry commission, if necessitated by their conduct and the gravity of the charges against them, they could even be asked to be deposit their passports with the government. Until they are cleared by the inquiry commission, none of these persons should again be associated with a government or joint sector project in any manner.

(4) Immediately on its submission, please make the inquiry commission’s report public and set about meting out political and administrative punishments to the indicted or prosecuting them in a court of law, as required. Of course, please rehabilitate those found innocent with alacrity.

(5) The apparent success of the Games, despite months of uncertainty, confusion and minor and major disasters which severely dented India’s image as an emerging super power, has emboldened the protagonists to claim that Delhi or India is ready to hold the Asiad or Olympics. Based on what China spent in organizing the last Olympics and the fact that ‘inefficiencies’ are much greater in this country, it is estimated that organizing the Olympics in the 2020’s will set the country back by US$100 billion (or Rs.4,50,000 crore) at 2010 prices, and obviously by much, much more at the then current prices. Under no circumstances can we afford to spend this humongous amount on a sporting extravaganza to please some Indian politicians and bureaucrats and international and Indian sports bureaucrats! It should not at all figure on our list of priorities unless of course we develop in the real sense in the next decade or so. Therefore, I would request you to make a binding promise and commitment in Parliament that in future an Indian city, surely not Delhi which has already held two Asiads and one Commonwealth Games, will be allowed to bid for an Asiad, Olympics or Commonwealth Games only in the event of all, repeat all, of the following targets being fulfilled:

a) The country’s per capita is at least US$5,000 at 2010 prices.

b) On the United Nations’ Social Development Index, India is among the top 50 countries - in 2009, it was at the 134th place.

c) The Transparency International has placed India among the world’s 25 least corrupt countries (in 2009, there were 84 countries less corrupt than India).

d) In each of the last two Olympics, India has won at least 15 gold medals.

e) We would be able to take the visiting chefs de mission around our labour camps with pride.

f) It is no longer necessary to use view-cutters to hide our shame.

g) No part of the country is troubled by armed insurgency.

The entire country is watching as to whether you can strike a decisive blow against corruption, incompetence and dereliction of duty by public servants, and leave a lasting legacy for the people of this country to remember you by. This is a God sent opportunity for you to redeem the honour of India and her citizens. Please do not fail us.

Thanking you,


Kanan V. Jaswal

Noida (U.P.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Can there be any justification for corruption?

Recently, a bench of two Supreme Court judges observed that there was unbridled corruption all over the government, more so in the income tax, sales tax and excise departments. Of course in jest, it suggested that levels of bribes be fixed for different kinds of work, which in its opinion would obviate the need for haggling. Finally, it said that the government officials should not be blamed for corruption when the prices were rising so much.

I think the judges were absolutely right in condemning corruption which had taken the entire government in its hold but if they meant to convey that the things were any better in the judiciary, many would not agree with them. The human material is the same, be it in the legislature, executive or the judiciary; what decides the level of corruption in different branches of the state is the scope for corruption, degree of transparency and chances of being caught. The same holds true of various departments of the executive. That the three departments named by the judges are extremely corrupt is not a news. There the scope is tremendous and the chances of being caught are negligible because it is a victimless crime, the bribe giver and the corrupt official combine to deny the exchequer, a non-person, its due.

Fixing amounts of bribe for different works is not going to help. Who will guarantee that government officials will not demand more than the standard 'fee'? And if there is going to be an ombudsman to prevent overcharging, why not have him for preventing corruption in the first place?

The judges treaded on dangerous ground when they expressed sympathy for corrupt officials and sought to relate corruption to the rising inflation. What were they trying to do - justify corruption, give it their blessing, endow it with respectability? Corruption, i.e. using public office for private gain, is a crime against the state and against humanity and ought to be universally condemned as such. Apologists for corruption, even if they are in the haloed precincts of a court of justice, should at best be ignored.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Pakistan going to implode?

Pakistan is on the brink. The writ of the central government does not run and it is in control only in name. The real power is held by the army but it does not want to shoulder the responsibility of governance, not at least for the time being, but this does not stop it from serving notice to the civilian government to put its own house in order and bring down the level of corruption or else … The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has been lost to the Talibans of the Afghan variety and also the local bred, Baluchistan has been having aspirations of freedom for a long time, and so is Sindh, whereas the richest and most important province, Punjab, is the pocket borough of the army. Shias, the minority among the Muslims, live in fear of the majority, Sunnis, and for a good reason because they get routinely killed - bombed or sprayed with bullets - particularly when they take out processions commemorating their martyrs of the yore. There have also been very many instances of the Shias murderously attacked while offering prayers in their mosques. Those, who, at the time of India’s partition, had migrated to the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh from the undivided India’s United Provinces, are still called “muhajirs” or shelter seekers by the original inhabitants. The differences between the two sides often acquire dangerous proportions leading to civil war like situation in Pakistan’s most populous city and business capital, Karachi, which is dominated by the muhajirs.

All this lack of security and the general feeling of uncertainty it has engendered over the past few years have impacted the country’s economy very badly. It is now in a pathetic state and is being held back form a definite bankruptcy by the huge amount of aid doled out to Pakistan for being America’s forward ally in its war with the Al Qaida in Afghanistan and the hills of the NWFP. The economic situation has been made still worse this year by the heaviest floods in the country’s history which inundated one third of its total land area for weeks at end and uprooted about one-eighth of its population from their homes. Development experts have estimated that it would take Pakistan’s economy two to three years to recover from this season’s floods, the agricultural economy is estimated to take even longer. Opening avenues for much freer trade with India can help Pakistani economy tremendously but politics and a false sense of pride come in the way.

The over-all situation in Pakistan has been made more complicated by the government’s dependence on the United States for economic survival but the man on the street regarding that country as an enemy of Islam which is out to destroy good Musilms. He hates it specially for employing droves of drones to launch sneaky missile attacks on Al Qaida and its supporters on the Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Death in a war he does not mind but causing sudden and selective death through a machine he considers the work of the devil, and that is how he views U.S. as. Another serious contradiction riving Pakistan is the increasing chasm between the traditionalists who seek and find all the answers in Islam’s original texts and practices and the moderates who have had exposure to the western style education. But the moderates are losing the battle and the people are getting more and more radicalised.

It is the army which has been the main agency preventing Pakistan from giving way under the collective weight of the numerous contradictions of the Pakistani society. But the process of Islamisation started by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq thirty years ago and still continuing has compromised its professionalism and its role of an honest broker. The army’s long time support, mostly through the ISI, to various anti-India terrorist groupings like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Zaish-e-Mohammed has further played havoc with its effectiveness as a counter balance to the forces of destabilisation in Pakistan.

The definite but unfortunate conclusion from the above has to be that Pakistan imploding under the increasing pulls and pressures that it is subject to, basically from within but from without too, can not be ruled out. The rest of the world, particularly India, has to do its best for not letting that to happen, but also keep itself in readiness to deal with the situation if and when it happens.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo

The decision of Norway’s Nobel Peace Prize committee to award the prize to the Chinese human rights dissident Liu Xiaobo is good news to India. As they say 2010 is the annus horribilis for China because this year its carefully cultivated image of a mild and cultured country quietly concentrating its energies on economic development has been badly dented. First the stand-offs with the Philippines over Hong Kong Chinese tourists killed in a botched hostage rescue, with the South Korea over the North Korea sinking a naval ship of the former and with Japan over fishing off the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands and now the ultimate ignominy of a dissident Chinese citizen, doing an eleven year jail term for his “crime” of authoring the Charter 08 for slowly opening up and democratising China, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!

China is really scared of human rights campaigns by its citizens and has been trying its best to divert their attention by taking on India over the “disputed territory” of Jammu and Kashmir or over Arunachal Pradesh which China has christened as the South Tibet and by taking on the United States over demands for revaluing the renminbi. For this purpose, it has also used its spat with the developed world over the international carbon emission regulations to good effect. But the Nobel Peace Prize has really hit China in its soft under-belly, the more it would protest against the prize the more attention, within the country and internationally, it would draw to its record of human rights violations. To add insult to injury, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has made out a clear case that in denying human rights and civic liberties to its citizens China has gone against the country’s constitution.

It is India’s fond hope that the democratic forces should come to the fore in China. A more democratic China would be less of a threat to India, after all no two democracies are known to have been at war with each other.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Loyalty is an over-rated virtue

Yes, you have read it correctly, “Loyalty is an over-rated virtue”. Here I am talking of loyalty to individuals and not of loyalty in terms of steadfastness to certain agreeable values and principles. I attach my loyalty to a person only if I consider his or her sets of values and principles desirable. So long as there is no change in them I continue to be loyal, but if there is a change to their detriment and this change is not a passing phase I will be forced to reconsider and even withdraw my loyalty to that person. And that is why I read with approval about a chief executive officer’s assurance to her staffers that if they ever got into trouble doing the right thing she would be loyal to them and come back for them. Unsaid but clearly understood sub-text is that if on the other hand they got into trouble not doing the right thing, they would have to be on their own because she would not be loyal to them any more.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Commonwealth Games - whitewash already on

For the last couple of days email forwards bearing brilliant photographs of the various stadia in Delhi renovated or built for the Commonwealth Games and a Kennedyesque exhortation - "Don't ask what India can do for you, ask what you can do for India!" - by the much admired former president of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, are doing the rounds. Obviously, an attempt is being made by the concerned people in the government and or CWG organising committee to invoke people's pride in the great effort that has gone into organising this mega-event. And if we are proud of an achievement, we can not be nitpicking at the same time.

But don't these organisers and their handlers in the government know that the people of India can not be fooled any more? Let the games be over on the 15th of this month then they will hold the government to its promises to investigate thoroughly all complaints of corruption and dereliction of duty and punish the guilty irrespective of the high offices they may be holding. The prime minister himself is committed to not letting the guilty go unpunished. My advice, therefore, to all these wrong-doers would be - don't waste your time and energy in doing a whitewash, plan and prepare for your legal defence instead because this time even your political masters may not be able to save you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mahatma Gandhi's finest moment

What was the Mahatma's finest moment - was it when he practised Satyagraha for the first time in South Africa in 1909 against the colonial government's illegal laws, or when on his return to India in 1915 the 30 year old Indian National Congress simply entrusted itself to his care and leadership, or when he picked up a fistful of salt from the sea shore at the end of his famous Dandi March in 1930 silently announcing to the entire world the Indian people's ownership of India's natural resources, or when from Bombay's Gawalia Tank he served a notice to the British to "Quit India", or when under his undisputed leadership India attained independence on the 15th August 1947, or was it when falling to an assassin's bullets on that fateful wintry evening of the 30th January 1948 he had God's name on his lips?

My humble response to the above is 'none of the these'. For me his finest moment came in the late 1946 when with only a handful of his faithful companions he had rushed to Noakhali in East Bengal in a bid to protect the Hindus who were being victims of the worst kind of savagery at the hands of the majority Muslim community. Going on foot from village to village, unarmed and without any police protection, he and his companions applied a healing touch to the wounds, bodily and emotional, suffered by the Hindus. It was his piety, purity and friendliness which put some sense into the minds of even the most virulent tormentors of the minority community. But before that could happen he himself was attacked by a Muslim youth who could very well have killed him had he not heard Gandhi mumbling a prayer from the Quran. When the youth realised his madness he fell at the Mahatma's feet and begged for forgiveness. The great man patted him on the shoulder and told him not to mention the incident to anyone, otherwise the entire country would be rocked by Hindu-Muslim riots.

He brought sanity and peace to Noakhali by the sheer force of his character and that was his finest moment.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Protection to witnesses and whistleblowers

In India, during the trial of criminal cases where the accused are influential and powerful, many witnesses turn hostile and some, who do not, get intimidated, attacked and in extreme cases even eliminated by the cohorts and hirelings of the accused. Legal experts have suggested that India should build a system of witness protection on the lines of one in the United States, where the witnesses are given adequate protection by the police and sometimes even relocated to a distant town and provided a new identity. As an important player in the administration of criminal justice, it is definitely the duty of the Indian police to make every effort to ensure the safety and security of a high-risk witness and his or her family and property but the resources available to it are no match to those with its American counterpart. Here providing even 24-hour protection to the witness’ person is very difficult, what to talk of protecting the family and property.

Over and above whatever the police can do, there could be a method of providing additional protection to all witnesses who have given or are giving evidence in criminal cases, and this without deploying any security men or incurring any expenses. And that is through amending the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedures Code, Indian Evidence Act and any other statutes, whichever are applicable, to provide that if within twelve years of giving evidence in a criminal case the witness or members of his/her family suffer intimidation or any harm to their person or property at the hands of any persons, even in road accidents, the complicity of the persons, against whom the witness had given evidence to the police or in a court of law, shall be presumed under law and the onus to prove themselves innocent shall be on such persons.

If this new law is made, it will be in the interest of the accused not to intimidate the witnesses, who had given evidence against them, or to harm them in any manner. Of course, this should be treated only as a secondary protection, the primary being that provided by the police.

The ambit of this new law can be extended to safeguard the interests of whistleblowers and persons seeking information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.