Monday, 30 April 2012

Indian Culture : In Retrospect...

Path vividh chintan, nana vidhi bahu vidhi kala pradesh ki,
Alag vesh bhasha vishesh hai sundarta is desh ki.

This may be paraphrased as:

'Tis the land with diverse paths of philosophies, the cradle of numerous arts and skill,
Different attires, multiple languages- unique is the beauty of this land!

These lines I sung as a young school student brings back sweet memories of the nascent love of a child just beginning to understand the identity she carried. The identity we all term as: ‘Indian.’  I am not sure if back then I understood the reason behind the passion which flowed out of the anonymous poet’s quill. Today, as I sit back and reflect upon the state of the Great Civilization that India was and is, these words reverberate within my head and instill a thrill for having been given this opportunity to examine India’s culture- in retrospect.

Arts, religion, music, languages, literature, dance, practices, rituals, architecture and people themselves are broadly the constituents of the culture of a place. India is one of the oldest civilizations of the world, dating back to 8000 BC. Our oral and written traditions have been studied and documented carefully and a near continuous body of work details the evolution of our motherland from about 2000 BC onwards. Inscriptions, numismatics and texts in the then developing Indian languages are the sources archaeologists have hunted to understand how this vast country was shaped and reshaped for millennia and what gives it its present day form. As a collective identity, undoubtedly, we Indians are proud of the infinite glory of land which we stand on. However, a pertinent and disturbing question which needs to be asked is, while all of us understand the importance of preservation in context of hotly debated topics like environment, how many of us understand the relevance of the same word with reference to culture. The fact that this once flourishing current has at some places been reduced to a mere trickle is not as easily perceptible.

I did examine in brief the fecundity of India which has since the time of Indus Valley Civilization begotten many a traditions and cultures in my last article. It is not only India’s fertility which is responsible for its rich diversity, but also its ability to assimilate various foreign elements which set foot on it. Indian culture, which is mostly viewed by westerners as a subset of the larger Asian culture, has its own idiosyncrasies. For starters, we are perceived as a deeply religious collective community, where spiritual entities (gods, spirits, etc.) have had an important part to play in day to day functioning. Indian cradle today nurtures religions both indigenous and imported with secular protection, at least in theory. Our culture has also been identified with strict social ordering- both inside and outside a family set up. It is precisely this aspect which has contributed majorly towards prevalence of taboos and social ills in the Indian society.

My personal concerns regarding cultural landscape of India emanate from both regressive and progressive aspects of it. The metropolis which I inhabit is losing out on beauty of its roots in a haste to progress ahead. The rural interiors of India are languishing away because of a rigid adherence to antiquated customs leading to an inevitable stagnation. The paradox is striking. The self-professed modern masses cannot wait to pace ahead sacrificing the knowledge of intrinsic details of their culture and the deprived of development hinterlands stagnate at will by refusing to allow deviation from practices being followed since centuries.

Culture is not inscribed on a stone- tablet. In fact it is an organic- living, breathing- concept. A static culture is non-progressive. A culture which snaps its umbilical relation with its roots faces the same fate. Our country has evolved scores of different types of folk and classical dances, but their ultimate source can be traced back to a single treatise- Natyashastra. Similarly, the royally rich pages of Sanskrit drama and prose and poetry mostly draw from ancient compilations of stories called Brihad-Kathas. Needless to say, this has been a constant evolutionary process which as brought us to where we are today. However, while an austere way of moving ahead would have been to preserve the best from the past and accept the best of modernity, either modernity has been shunned or past has been shut.

Various movements to glorify physical and non- physical aspects of culture are increasingly manifesting themselves in my city. Heritage walks to feel awe for the grandeur of the walled city, ‘mushairas’ to revel in the intoxication of Urdu poetry, seminars to revive ancient literary Sanskrit traditions, increasing awareness of Ayurveda and successfully displaying their healing properties in tandem with modern medicine and a lot more- all these efforts are being made to slow down the ‘mall-culture’ from mauling the coruscating cultural elements of our city. Concepts like Ayurveda and Yoga are making their mark on the global scale as well- concepts derived from the most ancient of all Indian traditions. Efforts sponsored by government, civil society and media are contributing in a small way but a long way is still to be traversed before the coming generations can fully be stimulated to the importance of our cultural background and the significance of growing while preserving one’s roots.

To understand India, one must learn to savor the uninhibited, luscious, beguiling and deeply instructive history of cultural evolution of India. When you do, you will be met with realization of what an oblivion the deprivation of such knowledge was leading you into.

Saumya Kulshreshtha
@Saumyakul on Twitter.

Rediscovering the Dark Continent: Indo- African Relations

India’s engagement with Africa dates back to the first millennium which started with trade relations between Kingdom of Aksum (now Ethiopia) and Ancient India. The Monsoon winds helped the merchants who traded cotton, glass beads and other goods in exchange for gold and soft-carved ivory. In the light of history, the recent upsurge in Indo-African ties isn’t a revelation it’s a rediscovery of a dormant and potential relationship. In this context our relations with African continent are rather peculiar; the political ties between India and Africa emerged in the Nehruvian era in the wake of the cold war era when many African countries joined the Non-Aligned movement pioneered by Egypt, India and Former Yugoslavia. But after the reign of Nehru ended, the Indo-African relations entered into a phase of hibernation with only nominal trade ties which had once kept alive the once robust relationship.

In the last decade or so Africa, often referred to as the "Dark Continent", underwent a significant change. From an impoverished land fraught with ethnic strife it has become an important partner in the economic and strategic calculus of the rest of the world. Sitting on a treasure of natural resources, abundant human capital and growing economic momentum, Africa has compelled the world to take it seriously. The remarkable resilience of the African economies after the financial crises of 2008 has further strengthened the investor confidence to invest in the emerging economies of African continent. According to a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute by 2020 Africa’s total GDP is estimated to reach $2.6 trillion, its consumer spending would be around $1.4 trillion and Africa would have 60% of the world’s total amount of uncultivated, arable land.

Many countries have noted the rise of the African Giant and the crucial part that it is destined to play in the future; and have revised their stance towards African countries especially in terms of Foreign Policy. The continent which was once slave to its western masters is seeing them return albeit in an entirely different form, not as brutal exploiters but as seekers of a mutually beneficial relationship. India was late to recognize the rise of Africa; when India was getting up from its slumber, China was already bent on its back fostering crucial economic and political ties with African countries. India’s engagement with Africa intensified after India-Africa Forum Summit of 2008 which established the basic framework of South-South cooperation. North block’s South-South policy has trade and diplomacy as two major policy tools for engaging in Africa. On the trade front, the Ministry of commerce has launched Focus African programme in 2003 in order to boost the Indo-Africa trade. This programme has been quite a success with trade increasing from 5 billion USD in 2002-03 to about 42 billion USD in 2010-11.

Why is Africa important for India? There are a plethora of reasons. Firstly, our history of mutual cooperation has had a lasting bearing on Indo-African relations. India is an emerging economy which  is  dependent on partner countries for resources which it lacks, and the African continent happens to be the richest in natural resources. Many robust economies of Africa are also emerging economies, with realities similar to India; the complimentary competitiveness can be harnessed for the benefit of both India and Africa. Also, the presence of large Indian Diaspora in African countries strengthens the bond between India and its African counterparts.

Indo-African partnership is of strategic importance. India shares the developmental agenda with many other African nations and is also seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC). This reformation of the UNSC, to reflect the changed scenario of the global order, is a difficult reform to take place. India to be a permanent member of UNSC will require support of member states of UN, and one cannot forget the inertia exerted by 53 African nations in the UN of whose support must be harnessed. India’s induction as the only new UNSC permanent member is unlikely, there are other nations seeking, and worthy of, the permanent seat of UNSC, the foremost in the foray are Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Germany and Turkey. Thus, it is in India’s own interests to capitalize on the synergies of this group.

Another dimension of this strategic calculus is Oil. India is dependent on imports for its Oil related needs; these imports are skewed towards Middle East countries unduly increasing our dependence on this politically unstable region. There is an impending need to diversify our oil imports, for which Africa is a promising prospect. India already has considerable oil trade with Nigeria and is fostering partnerships with other nations.

It is interesting to dwell on how India and China differ in their approaches towards Africa. Broadly speaking, China's approach is acquisitive whereas India’s approach is participative. As Dr. Shashi Tharoor puts it, “India’s engagement with Africa is agenda-free”. Though India’s relation with Africa is more ancient, but China’s engagement with Africa had been more intense than India’s in the recent past. China has adopted a resource focused acquisitive approach. It tries to acquire key natural resources in various African nations by the way of “Cheque-book diplomacy”. Large amount of funds are given to African countries by China, generally to politically unstable states like Sudan (with strategic natural resources) etc. There are also instances of arms sale by China to certain African nations. On the other hand, India’s approach to Africa is largely participative targeted towards mutually beneficial socio-economic gain. India is actively involved in Africa in building infrastructure, generating employment and being a partner in African transformation while intensifying trade and economic partnership with Africa at the same time.

Though Chinese model of engagement with Africa will reap higher benefits in short-run, but it will also leave Africa and Africans with a sense of being exploited similar to their historic western colonizers. India’s participative model will slowly but steadily build a strong bond between India and African nations on the foundation of mutual trust and benefit. India will prevail.

Sudhanshu Sharma

@SSharma2217 on Twitter

The Writer is pursuing a Masters Degree in International Business and will be joining Standard and Poor's this Summer.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Humanities in India: A Neglected Field

The Greek Philosopher Socrates once stated, "The un-examined life is not worth living." The purpose of Humanities is to study understand and contemplate the different aspects of life and society. 

It is an open and shut case that in India, the Arts are a highly neglected stream. In fact the very word 'Arts' attracts sufficient frowns from friends and family especially when you score well in the Board exams. Which is why it is rightly the Cinderella of all fields of study.

The underlying problem lies in the fact that in India 'Science' and 'Commerce' streams are accorded superior status. The Humanities are still treated as inferior counter - parts. For those who disagree, check the cut- off percentage at random for the Arts, Science and Commerce colleges. On an average the Science cut- off percentage would be anywhere near 80%, the Commerce cut-off a close second at 75% and the Arts... Don't even ask. A mere 65- 70% would  help. And this is where the discrimination and differentiation starts. 

In 2009, there was a significant 40% increase in the budget which accorded 3.1 billion USD. Of this 93 million were dedicated to the establishment of new IITs. The amount granted to the Arts was not even thought worthy of mention. The government's strong emphasis on promoting Science and technology is commendable at one level but it is grossly disappointing at another especially because India is a country where the Humanities have full scope to grow given the pluralism and diversity of culture.  We have the largest number of languages, a dense ethnic and cultural background and history. We have enough courses to offer not only Indian students but even Foreign students interested in pursuing different language and history courses right here in India. But, we don't see it happening because of the laxity on the part of the Education Department to promote them. After all, its a no- brainer that students today prefer French or German over Sanskrit or Tamil or any of the regional languages because they do not have sufficient exposure. 

Parents are ready and willing to pay higher amounts of donations to enroll their children in the best B- Tech or BBA colleges. Arts is 'Supposedly' the option for the lesser privileged and the relatively weaker students. This attitude has to change. In some universities the students who opt for science and commerce have the option to switch over to the lesser Arts but not vice-versa. The question remains, "What is so incredibly special about Science students that they get the choice to switch streams while a student of Arts cannot?" After all, there is simply no match when it comes to the subjects of these two streams nor is there a guarantee that Science student will excel in the Arts. As a student of Arts,I have had my fair share of  "Why Arts?" Its time that more students realized the potential of this stream?


Students who select the Arts have a wider range of options. Those pursuing this stream are benefited with a greater degree of exposure which gives a more holistic approach. A fine dose of Literature, Politics, Economics, Sociology etc. gives the student a wider range of options to select from. It is more ecumenical. I mean no disrespect to any of the other streams but it is essential that one must highlight the Arts as an equally important field of study. 

The Literature departments often underscores the importance of soft skills like communication. A Journalism and Mass communication course gives the students considerable exposure to current affairs. Economics helps to understand the finer details of the economic growth. While science is tad bit restricted in theory and application this stream gives you a liberal hand to try different professions at the same time. For example, a student of Literature could try teaching, writing and journalism but a student of science would have to dedicate his full time towards achieving a good score in engineering. A medical student too cannot pursue his/ here interests to the fullest. Arts gives a certain degree of flexibility that  other streams may not be able to offer. 

Even the scholarships are a bare minimum when it comes to the Arts. One has unlimited opportunities and scholarships to apply to the Engineering and Medical colleges in the U.S or U.K but apart from Sociology other branches of the Arts hardly have sufficient scholarships.

We can only deal with the flaws in the technicalities in the Educational system once parents, students and teachers realize that each stream has its own quality, its own importance and its own essence. Just as how society cannot advance without science and modern technology, it cannot advance without the knowledge of the mistakes of the past highlighted in its History or the study of its society that is talked in Politics and Sociology. On a macro-level, bridging the gulf between the various fields of learning is essential for India's overall development.

This post is written largely to expose the benefits of the Arts and Humanities to bring about a change in mind-set of the masses. I reiterate that in no way do I intend to de- mean any other branch of study. 

In conclusion I can only think of J.Irving Miller who famously stated,

"The calling of humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word."

Katherine. Abraham 
@katie_abraham on Twitter

The Writer is a Law student and an aspiring U.N Diplomat.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Stop the Blame Game!

We generally hear statements from Parliamentarians :"The country is  growing at a steady economic growth and our vast consumer base is growing." " India is on the road to becoming a super- power" etc. But my question to them is, Is this economic growth enough? In fact can this growth of a negligible amount of people amount to GROWTH?

Are we blind to the fact that millions of Indians are starving to death or, that thousands prefer to kill themselves to get rid of their farming debts!

Poor citizens die everyday because they cannot afford doctors and medicines. Children are forced to be out at work when they should be at school. And while there are children who are unfortunate not to receive education, there exist a large number of educated youth who become a liability to their parents because of lack of employment guarantee in the country.

It is a pity to note that major benefits of various programmes implemented for the poor are snatched away by the Government employees and contractors who work as intermediaries. The deep rooted corruption has only made it worse not only for the poor  but for every general citizen?

For now,what we need is that the Politicians,Planners and Bureaucrats must be made accountable to the nation and its people for their deeds. But this of course is not the 100% solution to the problem.

One cannot play the 'Blame-Game'. Just as how you cannot clap without two hands, similarly a country's growth is stunted when its citizenry is inactive, apathetic and is filled with passive observers. This is why through the medium of this blog, I want to request all fellow-citizens of the Republic of India to emphasise on transparency and involve themselves in the process of development to decrease the gulf between people and the government so that the country moves towards the path of development. 

Do not limit yourselves to only 'voting'. That is only one of your duties to your country. Raise your voice against the unjust and create awareness among those who are less privileged. This will not only India Empowered it will also lead to Indians Empowered!

Mehul Thakkar

@Mehul_Thakkar_ on Twitter

The Writer is a 12th Grade student and an Aspiring Politician.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Dealing with the Naxals : Part 1

Its unfortunate how since the past few months Naxalites or Maoists (as they like to be called) have ensured their violent presence in the newspapers and social media for various abductions, killings, blasts and other heinous crimes. So who are these people? We can’t really understand the complexity of the problem unless we have a clear idea of its evolution. In Part one of this two part deliberation I will try and depict a clear picture on the evolution of Naxalism in India. 

The genesis of the Naxalite movement in Indian society is inextricably tied to the peasant uprising that took place in and around Naxalbari which is situated in the northern district of Darjeeling in the eastern state of West Bengal. The Naxalite movement primarily refers to the communists lead peasant insurrection that occurred in Naxalbari area in 1967.

It becomes essential at this time to understand the Agrarian structure in West Bengal that existed before 1967 to comprehend the peasant uprising: There existed a two-tier system: “Jyotedar-Adihar” system. In simple terms, Jyotedars were upper class land owners and Adihars were tribal shared croppers (aka Bargadars) who were entitled to half the produce. In practice however the jyotedars had many methods of cutting into the share of Adihars which usually left the latter with 1/3rd or 1/4th of the total produce. The relation was characterized by perpetuated dependence of the Adihars on the Jyotedars. This made the condition of the Adihars vulnerable and consequently in the Bengal Famine of 1943, millions of peasants were starved to death. Thereafter, under the ruling British government the ‘Floud Commission’ which recommended that share of Jyotedars should not exceed 1/3rd of the total produce (Tebagha). But there was a delay in the implementation of this recommendation which agitated the ‘Bengal Kisan Sabha’. As a result in 1946, the Bengal Kisan Sabha which was dominated by communists gave a call for a mass struggle to implement FC recommendations.

This mass struggle adopted a militaristic approach in Naxalbari which comes under the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district where the holds of this tussle were strong due to the high percentage of shared croppers that colonized that area. The Adihars by force took away paddy from the upper class Jyotedars which lead to armed confrontation. This was the famous ‘Tebagha Movement’ (1946-47 and 1948-49) which marked the beginning of peasant mobilization in Bengal.   

The communists lead movement experienced its first split in 1964. The formation of the Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M) out of the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) was a manifestation of the disengagement of the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese ideological divide within the Communist movement. In the February 1967 elections CPI-M came to power in West Bengal. The top leaders decided to prove their party as an efficient government which meant giving up of revolutionary means. But this didn’t appeal to the young cadre of the party who believed in subversive action. Thus, a contradiction was created between more radical pro-Chinese groups and the larger body of moderates. The younger comrades rebelled against their senior leaders, walked out of CPI-M and formed various splinter groups in different parts of the country. In August 1967, under the leadership of Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Suren Bose the ‘Coordination committee of Revolutionaries (CCR)’ was formed and by November 1967 all splinter groups were brought together. Eventually, by April 1969 the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) was formed by the young cadre with avowed revolutionary objectives. CPI-ML which was born with revolutionary objectives was thirsting for action. They took a conspirational style of execution of the so called ‘class enemies’ by guerilla war tactics. They tried to move further from Naxalbari and spread themselves in the entire central and eastern region of India. This CPI-ML guerilla war tactics was termed as the “Naxalite Movement” by the newspapers. In due course of time, the nonplussed peasantry which was alienated by the terrorism carried out by the urban middle class youth withdrew their support from the movement. In 1972 when Congress government came back to power in the state of West Bengal, it resorted to ruthless killings of Naxalites and by 1972-73 the movement was suppressed. 

CPIML then took a new incarnation in the form of Communist Party of India (Maoists) formed on 21 September, 2004. They claimed to be fighting for the rights of the tribes in the forest belt around Central India- Chattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal. Lately, they’ve also expanded to Uttarakhand, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. These areas have high deposits of minerals which are of interest to various mining companies. But, opposed to all their claims what they are really doing is keeping the areas under their control (by abductions, extortions, bombings of schools and railway tracks) away from modernity and development to dictate their will on the rural masses. The UPA government banned the CPI (Maoist) as a terrorist organization on 22 June 2009.

Thus, we see how Naxalite movement has transformed from a peasantry uprising to a terrorist organization. Here, it will be interesting to know how the state governments and the government ruling at the centre has handled the problem of Naxalism over the past few years and what are the reasons behind the continuous failure to counter this insurrection. 
More about this in my next post.

Nitish Bhardwaj 

@nitish9bhardwaj on  Twitter

The writer is a Civil Services Aspirant and is a student of Political Science.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

M.C Mehta : The Enviro- Legal Luminary!

If you get some spare time today, try to Google search M.C. Mehta and you will get a  four line wiki profile of the gentleman. Some of you (barring the older generation) may not have even heard of this name. Although we have made the study of the Environment compulsory in our school and college syllabus, surprisingly we do not find this personality in any of the text books.

So, who is M. C. Mehta?

Mahesh Chander Mehta famously known as M.C Mehta is a legal luminary who has spent a lifetime fighting for a noble cause: "Protection of Environment" and pursuing the courts to suitably reward the offenders of the environment. He has earned the respect of the Judiciary and the people because of his persistent efforts towards the Protection of Environment. The role of judiciary has increased in the recent past because of this individual's grit and determination to fight for a cause that is unique in itself.

With  most lawyers dedicating their time fighting civil and criminal cases and many dealing solely with the Corporate sector (also the most well paying sector), this Legal eagle decided that he would dedicate his time efforts and skills in fighting the environmental battle. In fact M. C. Mehta has won several environmental battles against the government. (Perhaps this iniquity disables him from making even a guest appearance in your books.)

Often described as 'One Man- Environmental Brigade,' M. C Mehta has fought tooth and nail against these offenders of Environmental Interests and has won almost 40 Supreme Court Cases and  most of them Single-Handedly".

I have selected three of the most important landmark judgments that changed the role and built the nexus between Judicial Activism and the Environment. He is the first person who advocated that Article 21 must be extended to include the Protection of Environment and the Right to enjoy a clean environment and has succeeded. 

M. C. Mehta v. Union of India (The Shriram Gas leak Case)

This case made it to the Supreme court soon after the Bhopal Gas tragedy. Although the petition was restricted to directing certain parts of the Shriram fertilizers to be shut down, while the petition was still in the court, there was a gas leak at the plant. This later culminated in the establishing of one of the most important principles "The Principle of Absolute Liability"

Taj Trapezium Case

Under a petition filed by M.C Mehta the Court took cognizance of the threat to the deteriorating beauty of Taj Mahal to invoke the Air (Prevention and control of pollution) Act 1981 and Water (Prevention and control of pollution) Act 1974 and Environment Protection Act 1986 for the purpose of relocation of industries to prevent emissions generated by coke or coal consuming industries having a damaging effect on Taj and people living in the TTZ, and further directed them to change over to natural gas as industrial fuel.

The Sivakasi Firecracker Case (Child Labour) : 

M.C Mehta raised the issue of child labour and exploitation of children in Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu) match and fireworks factories. Grossly more than one million children working in these hazardous industries in Tamil Nadu and other States in India were benefited as the Court defined the age of children as 14 years to be eligible for employment and also provided various provisions for the protection of Children. 

India must apreciate  these visionaries and fighters who are silently fighting for the country as a 'WHOLE'. After all the Environment is not the sole property of M. C. Mehta, nor is it a prerogative for him to thrust himself heart, mind and soul for a cause that is largely neglected in our country.

Another important question that I would like to raise before I conclude, "Is it right to blame the public that they do not know the man, or is it high time that we bring to light the works of these leaders from all fields?" As a law student I am often met with an antipathy and a distaste of others towards the Legal profession. Almost all talk of Lawyers as profit making Sharks. Here is someone who has moved beyond the usual realm and worked for a noble cause.

 While the entire country talks of awarding efforts for Sports and Political Greats not to mention even Bollywood stars with the Bharat Ratna, here is a Ratna who is buried under the bushel and no one even applauds the efforts except for the occasional remark that comes from the Honourable Supreme Court.

A salute to all the prolific personas around the country who are contributing to the growth and development of India in toto.

Katherine. Abraham

@katie_abraham on Twitter

The Writer is a Law student and an aspiring U.N. diplomat.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Wall!

Critique on the dynamics of the Indian Administration

Sometimes it is good to critique our own selves and introspect what it is that we can improve? Look into the mirror and see the scars and warts that need attention. Consider those who point out our shortcomings as friends rather than foes. Most successful people have used harsh criticism of themselves and what they do for their own benefit.  Why can't our Government and public figures do the same?

Of late there have been various instances where offence has been taken by Government departments and Ministers especially in favour of certain class of people against other countries’ agencies and so on. The shrill defence and seeking of apology for all and sundry cases is a trend that India could well avoid in my view. 

‘Charity begins at home’ and ‘practise what you preach’ are two sayings we are all familiar with, but somewhere in our public life we seem to have forgotten about them. 

South Asians and Indians in it take pride in circumventing procedures sometimes to suit people of power and influence. This has led to the collapse of some Institutions & Agencies created to be the checks and balances of our democracy. Or they are effective at times against a class of people but not against some others. Most often the procedures are vague, opaque and not applied consistently for all to be aware of.

What it feels like being in no ‘Lists’ or no ‘Books’ in this country or anywhere else? I look like a fool unable to get even a routine Passport renewed, get my Aadhar ID or get an approval from the local Municipal Corporation without hiccups. Many times I am advised, ‘Don’t you know anyone in these offices?’ or ‘Why don’t you use an Agent?’ These are not real solutions but methods that compound the issue. 

Procedures need to be published, transparent and easily available to those seeking a service. Millions of people like me- the hoi polloi- run from pillar to post and expend energy just getting normal things attended to –like getting to the bottom of why I am overcharged for electricity consumption by the MSEB? I get billed Rs.20000 retrospectively, after two years without any explanation and nobody in the offices who will pay me any attention, because I am just the ‘Aam Aadmi’ seeking answers. I guess it would be different if I had a referral from someone ‘powerful’!! 

This has created a VIP culture where procedure flouting is the norm. Can we afford to have multiple set of processes and procedures for different set of people? Is this the democracy Mahatma Gandhi envisaged or even Pandit Nehru wanted for Free India?

SRK gets detained for questioning by US immigrations at their airport and all he does is raise hell which is gladly picked up by media and the Indian embassy, Foreign Minister & others in Government. We are unable to follow a well laid down procedure anywhere.

He does not find out how he can express his dissatisfaction, our Embassy does not find out what the procedure for registering his feedback with the 'Traveler Redressal Inquiry' Program. If he had followed the procedure first time round he could have avoided the repeated instances of detention at US airports.

The current situation reminds me of the time my 17 year daughter was held up at Immigration at O'Hare in 2005 not because she showed up in their computer, nor did she have Khan in her name nor is she a Muslim. She did not have the original I-20 on entry; it was safely tucked into a file in the checked-in baggage. But being a girl of 17 did not deter the immigrant officials to question her about the countries she had travelled to just before this visit and why, what is the purpose of her visit and a host of questions that could frighten a young teenager in a foreign country. But after 2 hours of soft grilling she was allowed to leave. That is a non-event and nobody was asked to step in to protest the 'insult' to an Indian national since we felt they were doing their job of keeping the country safe. 

Why? Because we don't belong to a particular class, are not in the list of VVIPs, Fortune 500 rich people or political big wigs and not even on a mere VIP list!

It is slowly becoming evident to me that our democracy is only for the few and not for the majority. 

The Government took up for the Indian kids taken over by the Norwegian Children Protection Service with no background check done on what was the real issue. There are thousands, if not millions of deprived children right here in our shores, visible in every traffic corner but has any government agency so covertly taken them into their protective service? It is left to the media to highlight the occasional Baby Falak and Baby Afreen’s ill-treatments that left us all speechless. But isn’t there any law at all in this overly legislated country to take Suo Moto cognizance against the frail and helpless?

I dream that we have processes that are transparent to all and applicable equally at all times to all. Processes for –

Unified Redressal System- assistance and help available to all easily and on time through a single unified number, whether it is the Fire Brigade, Police Services, Medical Service, reporting rape and other atrocities and so on.

Road Safety - emphasis and seriousness on road safety through an holistic solution consisting of - safe road design, carriageway for all users (vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians), sufficient parking (after all Road tax, wheel tax & other charges are obtained for this purpose), Accident Relief system, stringent licensing system and a penalty system that is seen to be applied to all be they actors, Ministers or others in high places. 

Protection for all - not just Ministers and VIPs; Real protection of children, senior citizens and the physically challenged from abuse and unsafe conditions; portable drinking water accessible equally by all and everything else that makes everyday living bearable. 

Easy access to Government issued documents - an open and easy to understand procedures & rules for obtaining Government issued documents like birth and death certificates, passports, ration cards, PAN card etc without having to go through spurious middlemen.

Easily accessible local representatives - whether the Ward Corporator, Municipal Corporator, Mayor, MLA or MP. Shashi Tharoor, Jay Panda and Naveen Jindal with good local presence are a refreshing change from the old guard. Only wish there are 500 more of them all over India!!

Passenger Protection- treat all types of passengers be it train, bus or air travellers equally.  If a plane is delayed or cancelled there is so much hullabaloo all over. But when similar stuff happens with train travellers (even though the numbers exceed the total number of air passengers) they do not get addressed or exposed. And bus travellers? Well they have to fend for themselves. We need a reliable 'Travelers Information System' that leverages technology and has properly trained personnel supporting the paying passengers.

Upgrade antiquated laws-  especially those enacted by the British in the 19th or early 20th century for their own colonial needs. Using such laws especially for policing and internal security is a crime against ‘free’ Indians.

These are some instances which can help bring about an egalitarian society that all of us deserve. We have the soft power outside the country and the military might but let us also empower the teeming millions who call this wonderful land their HOME. So when we look at the mirror we see a happy and proud citizen not an embarrassed & frustrated one!

Lalitha Ravindran

@mlallu on Twitter 

The Writer is the Head of Insurance Business Analysis Group in Pune. She reasons that criticism from all quarters can be a good thing as it can help us  improve the quality of life that the country provides  its citizenry.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

India's Transition from Non-Alignment to Multi- Alignment...

The Non- Alignment policy was perhaps the earliest and most important part of newly independent India’s Foreign Policy. Unfortunately, for students today this is merely policy that makes a guest appearance in their ninth standard textbooks and doesn’t move beyond a Short Note in their examination papers which makes it even more essential that each one today must know that India has been the Face of Change since its inception as a Democracy.

The mise-en-scène of the Non- Alignment Policy:

When you look at the origins of the NAM, you will read about the World War II and its aftermath. The World War left behind as Henry Kissinger writes in Diplomacy, a "geopolitical vacuum." The world had degenerated into two distinct ideological camps: The United States leading one faction while Russia led the other. At a time like this India had finally driven the British out of her soil. It became imperative that a newly independent country like ours with its foundation on what I’d call a ‘Heterogeneous Unity' make a conscious decision to make the right choice. The Ecstasy of Independence brought with it the agony of Partition. Under these circumstances, uncertainty rife and its own domestic issues to deal with India faced a political dilemma. 

India had already made history by becoming the first country to achieve its unity on the foundations of Non- Violence. India was the face of a different kind of change. Countries suppressed under colonization had been weaned on the stories of the bloody French Revolution and the American War of Independence. Here was a country that taught them principles contrary to their leaning.

India set precedent once again by adopting a new policy called: Non- Alignment or the NAM. This policy adopted adapted and developed under the aegis of Pt. Nehru sought to keep aloof from both Power Blocs. His policy was based on the Panchsheel Principles. 

The Five important principles were :
Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty
Mutual non-aggression
Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
Equality and mutual benefit
Peaceful co-existence

Positive Neutrality started to raise its head as newly independent states joined hands. The organization was founded in Belgrade in 1961, the brainchild of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Yugoslavia's President, Josip Broz Tito, Egypt's second President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana's first president Kwame Nkrumah, and Indonesia's first President, Sukarno. Five young nations and five enterprising leaders was all it took. The message rung loud and clear for both the capitalists and the communists that they were not to have their way!

Interestingly, it was the dictator Fidel Castro who stated the principles of this policy in the Havana Declaration, 1979 as “the promotion and protection of national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries" The NAM is committed to the principles laid down in the U.N Charter and seeks to uphold the basic principles of Human Rights and International Peace. 

Times have changed since the Cold War era. Radical changes in International Politics and law coupled with the advancement of science and technology and the quest to be a world leader has now brought the world to a vantage point where we have to ask ourselves: “Can Non- Alignment work in this multi- polar world?”

Non- Alignment in a Multi- aligned world:

The era of the Cold War has long ended are still to make significant changes to India’s foreign policy. It is no more a century of Disillusionment or Political despair. Globalisation changed all of that. Countries today can look at policies, treaties that can be implemented without hurting the other’s political inclinations. This is largely due to Economic ties between countries. The inception of the United Nations brought with it an alternative to world peace where not only political but social and economic comity is propagated and promoted. 

We cannot forget that in our war with China in 1962, not a single Non Aligned country came to our aid. The aim behind this Nehruvian policy was to create a new just and equitable world order. However in this era with the international diplomacy evolving and progressing, we have to ask ourselves if NAM is the solution to all our problems.

India today can now safely re-design its basic principle of Non- Alignment to Multi- Alignment which leads to inclusive and exclusive growth. We now need to think of alternatives wherein our political and economic ties can grow and develop. It is no more a bi-polarized world. We are no more under the threat of a war or dealing with the aftermath of it. Times have changed, people have changed, and countries have evolved in this passage of time. 

To put it simply Non- Alignment in its basic structure is ineffective in an multi-aligned world as much as it would be in an unaligned world. This is because each country is suffering under the burden of economic pressures and internal political snags. In fact this is the perfect time to be the face of a Multi- Aligned world. After all, doesn’t India still continue trade relations with countries like China and Pakistan, both of whom have been averse to India’s political interests? Wasn’t the Indo-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline a reality? Doesn’t the United States enjoy a healthy bilateral relation with both India and Pakistan.

Under these circumstances, it is essential for India to look at promoting relations with fellow member states and at the same time ensure that we maintain the individuality we possess. 

We now need to build a world on similarities rather than differences. The overlapping interests of States can be effectively promoted to ensure International Agreement. The Covenant of Similarities will work to the benefit of the world as a whole. 

The NAM 2.0 was directed towards a change but it has lost its spirit because it stresses on NAM as a strategy to be used for the strategic interests. The highlights of this policy include the reassessment and readjustment of the Tibet issue. The critics believe that directing country- specific unilateral policies could prove detrimental to Indian interests in the long run. Perhaps the only welcomed addition is that of the ‘Nuclear doctrine’ that has found partial favour. The difference of opinions on the NAM 2.0 still need to be discussed extensively.
The era of insecurity and hostility is now history. The underlying principle of NAM is positive neutrality and this neutrality can be best achieved today by effectuating mutual interests. India can be the catalyst for Change even today! The essence lies in endorsing the idea of an economic togetherness built on respect for each country’s need to establish and evolve in its own individual space. 

    Few Fast facts on the NAM:

This term was first used by the Indian diplomat V.K Krishna Menon at the  United Nations in 1953.
The Bandung Conference of 1955 led to the establishment of NAM .
As of 2011, NAM has 120 members and 17 observer countries.

Katherine. Abraham
@katie_abraham on Twitter

The Writer is a Law student and aspiring  U.N diplomat 


Party System in Indian Polity

“Whom did you vote for?” If you’re an eligible voter then you know that you’ve been asked this question before and most of us would have retorted by taking the name of the corresponding political party. Seldom do we give precedence to the candidate over the party. Such is the impact of these political parties on the present day political system. They are indubitably an indispensable part of Indian politics.  
Party system in every country is a product not only of the prevailing form of government but also of its historical roots, cultural orientations, geographical compulsions and economic situation. “In developing countries, the political parties are expected to play an active entrepreneurial role in the formation of new ideas, in the establishment of a network of communication for those ideas and in the linking of the public and the leadership in such a way that power is generated, mobilized and directed.”

The contemporary party system in India has its roots in the era of freedom struggle and has been attributed to the framework of parliamentary government since 1950. 
Politics in India after independence is the politics of national reconstruction, the politics of modernization, the politics of integration, and the politics of development. Thus, party system was meant to play a role of a political instrument of socio-economic change to mobilize people for building awareness and enthusing people for nation building. 

Factors such as: India’s land with its great diversities, existence of a large number of religions, sects, linguistic blocks, ethnic groups, makes the party system unique. It does not easily fit into generally prescribed types of one-party, two-party, multi-party systems etc.

 Since independence the system has passed through various stages of growth:
1952-64-> the epoch of national consensus- the Nehru Era
1964-69-> the uneasy transition marked by emergence of a multi-party situation
1969-75-> the period of new consensus and of increasing inter-party conflict
1975-77-> the Emergency period
1977-80-> Janata phase of coalition politics
1980-89-> phase of tussle between the Congress at the centre and the regional parties in the states
Since 1989-> Multi party system and end of Congress hegemony. 

It is interesting to see the trend in electoral politics from 1977 to 1999 which directly affected the party system in India. 1977 was the first time ever that a party other than Congress was highly voted for. It raised hope for a ‘two-party system’ in the near future. 75.8 percent of votes were cast in the favor of only two parties namely Janata Party and the Congress. The result was that for the first time a non-congress party came into power at the centre. In 1980, one may say that Indian party system was back to one party dominant system with Congress winning 353 of the 529 seats. The parliamentary elections held in December 1989 clearly gave way to a multi-party system at the centre. For the first time, at least in formal sense, power was in the hands of a coalition government and the party system at the centre acquired a truly multi-party character as more than two parties were considered of significant relevance in the ninth Lok Sabha.
Let us take a brief look at the typology of Parties. On the basis of strength and areas of functioning there are three major types of parties viz. 
1. National parties: Generally present broad programs concerned with the social, economic and political welfare of the whole of India. The present National Parties are:
Indian National Congress- INC
Bahujan Samaj Party- BSP
Bharatiya Janata Party- BJP
Communist  Party of India- CPI
Communist party of India (Marxist)- CPI(M)
Nationalist Congress Party- NCP
2. Regional or State Parties: Represent the interests of particular linguistic, religious, regional , ethnic groups whose popularity maybe concentrated in an area as small as a single constituency or as large as an entire state or region. Some of particular importance are: 
Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab
AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu
National Conference in Jammu & Kashmir
Telegu Dessam in Andhra Pradesh
Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh
3. Localised parties: These parties share the programmatic scope of some National Parties but without the latter’s range of popular support. Their influence is confined to a few constituencies and show little evidence of expansion. CPI(ML) can be one such example. “Till August 1999 there were 656 such unrecognized registered parties.”

There are more than 800 parties operating at different levels. Political scientists and thinkers for a long time have been critical of this growth in number of parties and have advocated the ‘two party system’ as a better alternative. But today if we look around from an unhooked perspective we find that there are many thriving democracies in the world with multiplicity of parties and succession of coalition governments. The problem with the Party system in India is not that of absence of ‘two party systems’ or presence of parties of various types and ideologies. The problem really is the lack of structural, organizational and procedural priorities. This is implicit during the election campaigns when the electorate gets to hear speeches of various politicians that are based on mere generic hypocrisies than on precise policy issues. There are prevalent allegations and counter allegations but scarcity of finding constructive alternatives to problems. Almost all parties just vaguely talk about development, national pride, secularism etc. Short term goals and personal interests of the elites in the coalition politics are given precedence over ideological commitment or long term objectives. 

The basic principle of party organization is not based on policies but on individualistic personalities or region. The substantial issues are almost common with all national parties and to some extent even with the state parties. This is a probable reason why party loyalties have been so fluidic in nature. In this regard, Dr. Shashi Tharoor suggests that there is scarcely a mainstream politician in India today who has not served under more than one party label. Power is a personal objective for the politicians and so the party manifesto under which they seek power is just a matter of convenience and not conviction. 

The irony is that in a democracy, there is hardly any party which is not under the rule of an autocratic leader. The constitutions of most parties are presidential and the committees are nominated by the president of the particular party. 
It is thus one of the major contradictions of Indian political parties that a democratic system is run by political parties which believe in undemocratic governing within their own circles.


INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS founded on December 27, 1885 at Bombay is the oldest political party in the whole of developing world of Afro-Asian countries and to a great extent Congress party is also the birth and generation place of almost all other parties of India. Right from its founding it started developing into a national movement opposing the British colonial administration. Congress of the pre independence India was the ‘nationalist movement’ before organizing itself into a new party after independence.

Avadi Session, 1956- Congress proclaimed its commitment to democratic socialism as the means for encouraging economic and social development. 
In January 1959, Nagpur session- Congress unanimously approved agricultural program that called for the immediate transformation of the agrarian structure. 
In the 68th session January 1969 in Bhubaneswar Congress accepted ‘Socialist State’ based on Parliamentary democracy as its aim.
Congress abolished Privy Purses and privileges of the Princes, nationalized several important sectors including general insurance and finally the slogan of “Garibi Hatao” in 1971 elections. 
Congress in its 1980 election manifesto made due claims to socialist commitments and transformation. 
In 1984 it deviated from its earlier ‘Garibi Hatao’ and ‘Socialism’ stance and the new manifesto promised to ensure “Unity and Integrity” of the country and provide the nation a “Clean Government”. It reiterated the commitment to the strategy of giving priority to the public sector in stepping up industrialization and modernization. 
The resolution at Congress centenary celebrations at Bombay in December 1985 reiterated the emphasis on liberalization of economy. It again took shelter of ‘Socialism’ but the emphasis was towards liberalization of economy. 
1991 election manifesto watered down the socialist and egalitarian ideas. In the economic field, emphasis was on reduction of prices, rationalization of tax structure, foreign investment for higher technology, more funds for research and development, better storage facilities for farmers etc. 

After coming back to power in 1991 Congress started to implement the programs under the banner of what has come to be known as New Economic Policy. It became more like a capitalist economy, in the name of more liberal and open financial system. As a result, Land reforms, public distribution and labor welfare were relegated to the background.

“During the 60’s and early 70’s Congress leaned towards left but it rarely advocated major changes. The 1980’s saw the congress shift to the right as it moved to deregulate the economy and to link India more firmly into the international economy.”

The Congress Party’s foreign policy especially under the leadership of Nehru had brought India considerable prominence as leader of Third World block of nations. As the architect of Non-Alignment strategy in foreign policy Congress provided newly independent nations with an alternative to domination by the super powers.  


BJP was founded in April 1980 as a result of second split in the Janata Party. It is a general opinion that BJP is the new and modified version of Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) founded in 1951. The organizational backbone of BJS was the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) founded in 1925. The objective of founding the BJS was the rebuilding of Bharat as a modern, democratic society in accordance with religious percepts and four fundamentals of “One country, one Nation, one culture and rule of law. BJS and RSS supported the Jai Parkash Movement, especially its anti-Congress stance. BJS dissolved itself in 1977 and became one of the major constituents of the then formed Janata Party. After Janata Party’s defeat in 1980 elections and accusations against BJS members for being ‘communal’ the erstwhile Jan Sangh members along with some others came out of the Janata Party and formed Bharatiya Janata Party. 

BJP tried to project itself different from BJS. While permitting dual membership with RSS they proclaimed that their ideal was ‘Gandhian Socialism’. According to critics this ideology was projected to help BJP to overcome on the one hand the accusation of its being associated with Gandhiji’s assassins in the RSS and on the other to refute the allegation that they were not regular, socialist or nationalist. 

Nevertheless in concrete terms the program of BJP was vague. As:-   

In 1984 party manifesto laid equal stress on the development of agriculture and industry, reduction of taxes, recognition of the citizens’ fundamental right to work and steps to improve standard of life. Thus in due course ‘Gandhian Socialism’ was transformed into ‘Liberalized Swadeshi’ 
BJP election manifesto for 1996 Lok Sabha Elections show that on economic policy the party was still vague. It wanted to please everyone. BJP promised to lesson the tax burden of indirect taxation on the general mass of people. At the same time, it resolved to raise the income tax exemption limit. 
BJP’s policies, as a coalition partner in ministries in 1998 are a clear indication of its favor for a neo-liberal shift. 
The most important aspect of BJP ideology is its cultural nationalism. BJP ideologues have never quite hidden their belief in a restrictive notion of nationalism, of favoring religion as a primary marker of identity. 
In December 1999 it gave clear hints to leave behind the aggressive Hindutva and isolation in favor of mainstream nationalism, business optimism and technological advance in the process of globalization and readiness to share power in coalition governments. 
In the manifesto for 1998 elections it promised to facilitate the construction of a magnificent Ram Temple at Ayodhya. 
The Hindutva aspect of the ideology of the BJP still is crucial to its raison d’etre and is a powerful mobilizing instrument for a large number of North Indian Hindus who have been attached to this ideology for various reasons. 

Nitish Bhardwaj

@nitish9bhardwaj on Twitter

The Writer is a Civil Services Aspirant and a student of Political Science.

1. M.P Singh, “From Predominant to Polarization: The Indian Party System”
2. Sachidanand Sinha, “Our Party System: Sources of Instability”
3. Shashi Tharoor, “ The Case for a Presidential System” Sunday Observer, January 6-12, 1991
4. A.S Narang, “Indian Government and Politics”. 

A Youth Member's take on Politics and Politicians

     On August16, 1947, Indians had a job to do. This job was to reform and rejuvenate India, to eradicate the already existing social, economic and political problems. Unfortunately, although India has grown it has yet to fulfill a lot many expectations!

     Soon after independence, many political parties came into establishment. I really respect the way all Indians stood together to fight for freedom. But with the formation of political parties, the unity collapsed. Indians became hostile towards their own.  Its very undesirable that people who displayed the strength of unity and teamwork in front of the world are now unable to reach out to the public (barring a minor percenatge of leaders who actually move beyond Delhi). Its obvious that social service is not their cup of tea. However, at this time I must make it clear that I do believe there are exceptions to the rule. 

     True patriots like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and many others never had to play any political gimmicks to earn the respect and support of Indians. They had a dream of independent and developed Republic of India. They never resorted to gaining public support by direct or indirect bribery. They had an aim and that was to 'Serve' the people. They were dedicated towards their work.

     Today.......something has gone wrong with the people, with the politicians, with our leaders. Some  of the MPs in the Parliament do not visit their constituencies as much as they should. The way they deliver speeches is far beyond one's comprehension especially when they promise but fail to ensure its execution. They say, "we will eradicate poverty, we will make provisions for cheaper commodities and a better standard of living,etc." and the innocent masses believe them, yell slogans, clap their hands and regret for 4-5 years. At this point, voting is but one of the keys to change India because our 90% leaders have made this politics a mere profession. 

I bet a politician's salary is not one that can afford the luxuries that many of them are enjoying  BUT nobody bothers to know how is it be possible?  All I want to say is that only the common people can save this nation, an outsider will not come to our rescue. Our hope lies in that 10% rigorously working for development. It is time that the 90% indifferent must be replaced by leaders whose sole aim is to make India an inspiration to the world! The underlying principle of a political leadership is NOT  'profit - making' but 'Service' to the people. 

 - Animesh Vora

@ThisMoronKid on Twitter

The Writer is 17 year old student and aspires to join the Indian Army.

India's Biometric Database

Nandan Nilekani, an entrepreneur, better known for his pivotal role in an Indian  start-up company called Infosys,took the initiative to invest his years of experience to give every Indian citizen a Unique Identity Number (UID) to with the help of biometric technology  which would  help them to access better public services.

After the Right to Information Act, this project was to put India on  the international map in terms of good governance. Indians who are looking forward to an inclusive growth in the country cannot deny that there will be hurdles while implementing new schemes. This scheme is now going through its bleak phase with the accusations of maintaining privacy and reliability.

If we want to see a change which can impact us in every way, the key is to remain patient. This scheme was initiated with an intention to simplify the system; we have to stop behaving like our media who fail to realise their responsibility and it's has been ages since they published a positive story. Independent but effective regulatory systems with a well- informed (rather than a mis-informed) media is the need of the hour. Every Indian must not only see the difference but believe that we can remove the existing defects out of the system. 

Many would argue that we have remained patient for years and the only task the government  has fulfilled is to  disappoint us. We should be aware that the system is the integration of our culture,languages,past history,poverty in toto. Our population growth and growing illiteracy rate  are the biggest barriers in making this system slog at a low growth rate. 

 I think the only way we can solve the problem is to create a system on merits. Whether a doctor or a politician, anyone who invests lakhs of money to get a degree or win an election, it's a no-brainer.We are in need of carefully planned regulations which would impose tougher sanctions on people violating the law.

Our politicians create ruckus in parliament with a sole intention of adjourning the house. I wish they could learn from their own  knowledgeable counterparts who believe in maintaining the decorum of the House. 

Very much like the Unique Identity Scheme on the economic front, our political front is also suffering with unnecessary hurdles. Visionaries in reality like Shashi Tharoor have borne the brunt of the critics, who would go to any extent  to dig up (or concoct, whichever is easier) and blow out of proportion issues, which are non- existent or don't hold any merit. 

What India needs right now is not change but the more vital ingredient the 'Acceptance' of change. This can only happen with a  good number of visionaries who have the freedom to derail from the usual rut.

Purav Mehta

@Bazinga999 on Twitter

The writer is a student in Sydney, Australia who loves to read, has an opinion on current affairs and is extremely passionate about sports.