Fleedom at Midnight – UPA Govt’s Betrayal

The beauty of Indian Democracy was best visible when the President of the most powerful country in the world came to India, delivered a historic address to both the Houses of Parliament collectively and wrote in the Golden Book of Indian Parliament, “Greetings to the world’s largest democracy from the world’s oldest democracy.” An Indian Communist leader walked up to him & said, “Sir, we granted universal adult suffrage to all even before the United States granted the Afro-Americans the same” which metaphorically meant that Mr President, even though your country’s democracy maybe more tried and tested but legitimately our democracy is older than yours as we gave everybody the right to vote even before you all gave Afro-Americans the same liberty and to be precise that happened after this very President to whom this Communist leader was talking to, was born.

But it’s a great shame that this great democracy of ours witnessed on the 29th of December, ‘fleedom’ instead of ‘freedom’ at midnight. The midnight mayhem was orchestrated and choreographed by the Government of India who shot from the shoulders of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and hid under the blanket of Parliamentary rules and regulations to avoid a vote on the critical Lokpal Bill inside the Rajya Sabha since they did not have the required numbers to veto the amendments put forth by the Opposition and get their version of the bill passed. It is really ironic that this very Government kept on telling a set of agitators and protestors that the Parliament is the ideal place for debate and discussion where laws can be amended, made and passed but when the entire country came near the cusp of something extraordinarily historic, this Government ran away to avoid political embarrassment.

What was even more shameful was the fact that the Parliamentary Affairs Minister offered the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha an opportunity of passing the Bill in the same form as it was done by the Lok Sabha, thus literally advising the Rajya Sabha to toe the line of the Lok Sabha and depriving it of its intrinsic right of amending and passing the bill in an entirely different form. This Government had the required numbers and a working majority in the Lok Sabha and therefore, it did not shy away from a vote in the Lok Sabha but when it came to the Upper House where the Government was facing a real test, this Government tricked the entire country and got the House abruptly adjourned. It was all pre-planned, meditated, manipulated and I am sorry to say that the Vice President, who also happens to be the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, connived with the Government in ensuring that the voting doesn’t take place.

The House repeatedly asked the Chair to clear the air on some of the speculation going around that the House wont function after midnight but the Chair refused to put an end to all the speculation by clearing the din. The Opposition led by Mr Arun Jaitley, was willing to stay back all night to discuss and vote on the bill including all the 187 amendments proposed but the Government cited exhaustion of constitutional time limit. The Government should have set aside its pride but they didn’t do so. Had they done so, the Rajya Sabha would have passed a different version of the Lokpal Bill which would have been good for our democracy and a joint sitting of both the Houses would have been summoned but the country did not get an opportunity to see that because of the cowardice of the incumbent Government. All of us now have to wait till the Budget Session to see the Lokpal Bill get passed and this Government will require to do lots of clarifications and explanations to justify the ‘choreography’ which took place inside the Rajya Sabha.

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A Response to Dr Swamy’s DNA Article

A lot has been written and said about the article written by Subramian Swamy in DNA. The article was described as communally insensitive and following a furore over this article, Mr Swamy was expelled from Harvard where he used to teach Economics during the summer school for his alleged extremist views. Mr Swamy repeatedly argued in his favour and urged people to read his article before getting judgemental on the basis of the headpoints they’ve read which were printed and broadcasted by media houses. Mr Swamy said that his article was based on a series of analysis and reasoning. I refrained from commenting on it since I had not read the entire article but today I got an opportunity to do so. I went through it thrice and now I have every right to express my feelings on it.

Mr Swamy’s article is based on steps needed to be taken to tackle Islamic terror. It’s not based on any sound reasoning as Mr Swamy claimed but on deep prejudices which he is holding against the Muslims. I’ll easily prove how absurd his article really was. I want to make two quick points. Firstly, this article proves how communal Mr Swamy is and how he is trying to make use of the Hindutva agenda to fulfil certain political ambitions. Mr Swamy argues in his article that all the Hindus should rise above caste and language and vote for a Hindu Party (signifying his intention of dividing the electorate communally) so that a genuine Hindu Party can come to power and turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. Secondly, this article shows how violent he is in his approach. In his article he argues that since certain Islamic militants were targeting Hindu temples and its devotees, the Hindus should raze 300 mosques built on areas which are believed and perceived by Hindus to be the ones on which temples used to exist (meaning thereby more Babri Masjid Demolition like incidents). The above two mentioned points clearly indict Mr Swamy of wanting to promote communal disharmony. Let’s analyze Mr Swamy’s whole article and provide him with a point by point rebuttal.

Mr Swamy recognizes Islamic terrorism as India’s biggest national security threat. I doubt that even though I do agree that it is a significant threat but the biggest threat posed to India’s security is by the Maoists, that is left wing extremism. This fact has even been acknowledged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram who described Maoism as India’s single largest internal security threat. Maoists have killed far more people than Islamic militants but for argument’s sake let’s assume that Islamic terrorism is a greater threat than Maoism. Mr Swamy claims that very soon the Islamic militants will take over Pakistan and America will flee Afghanistan. Then fanatic Muslims will look to assault India. Islam will rise up to settle unfinished business with Hinduism. Let’s be clear of one thing. Certain fanatic Muslim terrorist organizations’ don’t represent Islam in any way. They are terrorists. They plan attacks (with their primary target being the Hindus) but that doesn’t mean that in their attacks Muslims, Christians or Sikhs don’t die. They’re enemies of all Indians be it Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs. Therefore Mr Swamy’s claim that all Hindus need to get together to stop this is flawed. Everybody should get together to stop this, not just the Hindus. Certain fanatic Hindu right wing organizations target Muslims but that doesn’t mean they have to be tackled by only the Muslims. They have to be tackled by the entire nation including Hindus. Mr Swamy says that Indian Muslims were all being targeted by Militant Islamic Organizations with the intention of channelling them into becoming radicals but I don’t think that it means that all Muslims are terrorists. Right Wing Hindu Terrorist Organizations are trying to turn Hindus into radicals to get their support but that doesn’t turn all Hindus into terrorists. Similar thing applies to all Muslims as well.

Mr Swamy in his article wanted to suggest ways of tackling Islamic terrorism but his article fails to do that. He says that since Islamic terrorists want to turn India into an Islamic country, therefore the Hindus should turn it into a Hindu State meant for Hindus and for those whose ancestors were Hindus. He says that conversion from Hinduism should be banned in order to stop terrorists from converting people to Islam and from changing India’s demographics, he says that all those Non Hindus who don’t accept their Hindu ancestry should be stripped off their voting rights. Can anybody tell me how do these things help India in battling Islamic terrorism? Will converting India into a Hindu State by demolishing its secular character help in eradicating Islamic militants? Will making Non Hindus accept their Hindu Ancestry (Many of them don’t even have that) make a difference or what difference will it make in relation to Islamic terror if you strip Non Hindus of their voting rights if they don’t accept their Hindu ancestry? How can preventing people from conversion prevent bomb attacks? Mr Swamy is highly violent in his speech. He talks of bringing down 300 mosques as I mentioned earlier. How does this even tackle Islamic terror or address the problem of sleeper cells run by them? Since Right Wing Hindu Terrorists target mosques should Muslims also destroy 300 temples? Will this help in stopping Hindu terrorism? Mr Swamy says that if Pakistan doesn’t stop supporting militant groups in Pakistan from attacking India, India should actively start supporting liberation groups in Balochistan. If any country is using terrorism as its foreign policy which is hugely wrong, it doesn’t mean that we also act in the same reckless way. Mr Swamy argues that if Bangladeshi people illegally immigrate into India then India should invade Bangladesh and annex a part of it to accommodate Bangladeshi immigrants. This is another extremist take. Instead of searching for, identifying illegal immigrants and deporting them back, why should India go to war with Bangladesh? Some matters need to be resolved via dialogue. Mr Swamy seems to have lost touch with reality. He has been writing many fictitious and false articles about the Gandhi family and Sonia Gandhi in particular but this is way too much. I would like to tell Mr Swamy that hate hurts, harmony works. Kindly don’t base your ideology and agenda on vengeance and vendetta.

Lokpal Logjam

Will the Lokpal logjam ever end? Will any side ever come up with such a formula for the anti-corruption ombudsman agency which will be acceptable to all the stakeholders (Government, Opposition and Team Anna) and to all those who have vigorously followed this movement in the anticipation of a historic legislation (eminent activists, decorated jurists, celebrated authors, the media, freelance journalists and thinking intellectuals like me & most importantly the people of this country)?

What lies in the destiny of this nation, an omnipotent ombudsman, a lacklustre lokpal or a reasonable organization which will function with utmost efficiency? These are questions which are not going to fade away anytime soon as consensus eludes and truce seems too far. The standoff doesn’t seem like ending and this stalemate is heading towards a titanic showdown between Team Anna and the Government. It will take a supernatural effort to dismantle this impasse. As we head towards the conclusion of the Winter Session of the Parliament which will be followed by the third phase of Anna’s mega protests there are certain things which remain to be the basic sticking points.

How will the final face of the Lokpal legislation shape up like? The most basic questions are in connection to the inclusion of the Prime Minister and of lower bureaucracy within the purview of the Lokpal, the fate of the CBI and along with these there are many more contentious issues concerning the Judiciary and the formation of Lokayuktas which are yet to be resolved. And will the Lokpal be a constitutional body as Rahul Gandhi wants it to be? But that also means 2/3rd majority in the Parliament and that requires a genuine consensus among various political parties. How will things finally turn up? I think that this debate is going to rage on endlessly and the answers to all our questions will surely be unveiled in the days to come. Let’s keep our fingers crossed till then.

Politics Over Parliamentary Rules

The Parliament of India, its sanctity, its relevance, its role and its jurisdiction have all been in the news since the past few days. I must say that the Parliament is being wrongly portrayed by some individuals as an institution which prohibits its members from actively engaging with the people. Some have been using parliamentary provisions as a political tactic to destabilize the ruling alliance and some are citing parliamentary rules and regulations as a blanket to dodge all criticism and justify their actions or deeds. I just want to bring certain contemporary issues to light in order to expose the way in which the Parliament in itself is getting politicized and is being used as a weapon.

Recently the Congress gave the debate organized by Team Anna at Jantar Mantar a miss. I think it was a wise decision. Team Anna has turned itself into a primarily anti-congress organization; it campaigned against the party in the Hisar by-polls and has hugely ridiculed the Congress Party, its leaders and ministers. Since the debate was organized by Team Anna at a place which was by no means neutral it was justified on the Congress’s part to give it a miss. But the Congress should have been brave enough to state this in public. They should have come out and said we don’t believe in engaging in a discussion at a place where we are bound to get jeered down, be ridiculed and have our opinions unheard. Instead of doing that the Congress Party came out with immature and absurd arguments to justify its action. It lambasted at those parties who shared the stage with Team Anna and accused them of disobeying the Parliament by discussing the bill at Jantar Mantar. This is an extremely laughable point. Yes, the Parliament is the ideal place for debating on legislation, it’s the Parliament’s prerogative but that doesn’t stop individuals from debating on an issue or a bill on a public stage. All of us are entitled to do that. Politicians from all parties come and debate on issues on television channels. In fact parties appoint certain spokespersons to do this task. When they go and debate on issues on television channels, isn’t it then an insult to the Parliament? We all respect the supremacy of the Parliament in terms of lawmaking but similarly it is everybody’s right to have a discussion on any bill at any place. This does not amount to disobeying the Parliament.

The BJP, the party which is most responsible for repeated stalling of the Parliament moved a privilege motion against Home Minister P Chidambaram accusing him of violating the Parliament’s rules by issuing a statement to the press when the Parliament was in session instead of coming up with a clarification on the floor of the House. I think the BJP needs to indulge in some introspection. They are the ones who never allow the Parliament to function, they’ve not even allowed Mr Chidambaram to speak during this session, no member from their party acted in a legitimate and dignified way by actually addressing a question to Mr Chidambaram during the question hour and asking for an explanation for him on the controversy as it should have been rightly done. All they did was baseless sloganeering and ensuring that the House did not transact any business. The rule says that the Government cannot announce any policy decision when the Parliament is in session. It doesn’t stop ministers from issuing clarifications on certain controversies by means of the press and this is what Home Minister P Chidambaram did. There is nothing wrong in this. When you’ll not allow the Minster to speak in the House then what else he’ll do?

Secondly, his clarification on a controversy is not a policy decision and therefore he has committed no wrong. In fact privilege motions need to be moved against the whole of the BJP for repeatedly stalling the Parliament and for purposely searching for issues in the name of which they can disrupt Parliament. We also have Team Anna with us. A bunch of arrogant and rigid individuals who resort to extra constitutional blackmailing and pressurizing, who call parliamentarians fraud, who ridicule the very concept of politics in India, who try to thrust upon a legislation on the Parliament, accusing the Government of disobeying Parliament by dishonouring the Sense of the House etc. Let me clear one thing. The Parliament never passed any resolution in the previous session. It just came up with a Sense of the House which is not a resolution, it’s merely an extra-constitutional exercise conducted by the House on certain matters of public interest. A statement is issued at the end of the debate to sum up all that has happened and the final statement issued by a senior minister or a concerned minister of the Government is mostly a generalization of the entire debate. Sense of the House has no legal mandate. It is not binding on the Parliament. I think it is inappropriate on the part of individuals like Team Anna, who try to pressurize Parliament, to accuse the Government of disobeying it. The institution of the Parliament in itself is being used to satisfy certain vested interests. No individual organization or party should be allowed to mislead the nation by means of citing incorrect and nonexistent parliamentary norms and conventions. Let’s not turn Parliament along with its rules and regulations into a controversial issue.

Imran Khan & His Vision

Imran Khan, Former Captain of the World Cup Winning Cricket Squad of Pakistan and more importantly, the Founder and Leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, a growing political outfit, is being seen these days as the man who could become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan and restore the currently jeopardized rule of law in the State. Imran has been a highly popular figure in Pakistan ever since his cricketing days but his political career till a few months back was thought not to be anything worth praising. His repeated attempts to build his party into one of the heavyweights in Pakistan failed but Imran’s popularity among the political circles in Islamabad has been on the rise ever since he and his party organized a highly successful rally. People see him as somebody who has got ideology, capability and most importantly the backing of the army to come to power. Imran himself acknowledges his growing political clout and has even predicted that his party is not only to going to win the elections but they are also going to decimate all their opponents as the elections will turn out to be a clean sweep for them.

Recently I saw an interview of Imran in which he was in conversation with veteran Indian journalist Karan Thapar and he spoke on a range of issues. Imran basically has four things on his agenda, namely, political administration, economy, terrorism and foreign policy (especially in relation to close ally cum adversary United State of America and India). Imran believes that if his party comes to power in Pakistan (and he sounds pretty confident of his party’s triumph) and if he becomes the PM then he will take control of the situation. He will be the one who will call the shots. He says that he will have the all powerful Pakistan Army and the ever conniving Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) under his control. Imran wants to be the man in control and he doesn’t even want to compromise on Pakistan’s sovereignty, therefore he will not tolerate Washington’s meddling with Islamabad’s internal affairs.

What I like about Imran is that he doesn’t want to be a puppet in either the Army’s or the ISI’s hands and therefore he has made it pretty clear that he will ensure the supremacy of the civilian government over the two powerful organizations. Imran’s economic policy of reviving Pakistan’s financial position and tackling its fiscal deficit is based on an aggressive tax plan of which I am a great admirer. Imran plans to do away with all sorts of tax exemptions (including the one on foreign remittances) and tax concessions. It is his argument that Pakistan can collect as much as Rs 2 trillion from an effective tax collection exercise which will be enough to tackle its deficit of Rs 1 trillion. He is of the opinion that the ruling regime is suffering from lack of funds because of huge amounts of tax evasion. Imran intends to put a brake on that. He wants to lead by example. He has urged all politicians to declare their assets before fighting the elections. Imran even wants to reach out to the people by shunning symbols of extravagance. He will rid politicians and bureaucrats of the heavy incentives which they get and plans to cut down on government expenditure incurred on things like maintenance of the Presidential Palace and various villas of State Governors. Not only this, he will turn such palaces into educational institutions to address the problem of education. By doing so Imran thinks that he will inspire the people to pay taxes for the benefit of Pakistan. So Imran Khan’s economic policy is not merely based on an aggressive tax plan as I stated earlier but also on a string of initiatives on his own personal part which he hopes will strike a chord with the people of Pakistan.

PTI Leader Imran Khan

PTI Leader Imran Khan

The next issue which is on Imran’s radar is terrorism. Imran has stated that if he’ll become the PM then he won’t allow Pakistan’s soil to be used for any kind of violent activities. Imran isn’t in the favour of breeding Mujahideen groups (which he feels gained prominence when the United States supported them in unseating USSR in Afghanistan) and wants to eliminate them. A portion of Imran’s policy of tackling terrorism appears alright to me but the more important portion of it is not only absurd but also ridiculous. Imran says he won’t take any aid from the US. He is of the opinion that Pakistan by means of taxation will arrange for enough money required to restore the economy and tackle terrorism. He feels that Washington’s aid hasn’t worked so far. A large portion of it is swallowed by officers and the rest fails to make a difference in the war against militant groups. The financial aid coming from Washington comes with a political cost too. Washington starts pressurizing Islamabad on key policy matters and tries to use it to benefit itself instead of Pakistan. Without hesitating Imran says that he will stop the aid from coming to Pakistan and will not allow USA to carry out drone attacks in Pakistan. Imran wants to deal with the problem of Pakistan-based militant groups by himself. Till now Imran’s plan appears very inspiring but the next half of it is disturbing. Imran will even push back the Pakistani army as their presence in the tribal areas is not liked by the tribals and he will assign the task of terminating the Taliban to the tribals (A thing which they have promised to Imran if he stops US’s drone attacks in the region along with the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army). Imran’s plans of tackling the Taliban in such a way appear illogical and at times imaginary to me. It’s hard to believe that tribals (fighting presumably with bows and arrows) will be able to wipe out the highly terrorizing Taliban, a group which couldn’t even be defeated by the world’s most powerful army with the best technology and the most superior kind of weapons. I think that Imran needs to make use of the Pakistan army. The tribals cannot undertake such sort of a battle. So far the Pakistan army hasn’t been clear of its stand on militant groups. After bringing the Army under the umbrella of his civilian government, Imran needs to use them to launch a war on militant groups with effective inputs and supply of intelligence from the ISI. If Imran skillfully makes use and commands control of the Army and the ISI then his government can easily tear apart militant groups like the Taliban.

On the foreign policy front, Imran has bluntly set forth his agenda. Imran has said that he wants Pakistan to be a friend of USA but not its slave. He says he will maintain healthy bilateral relations with them but will not allow them to use Pakistan as they have in the past for the sake of their own fortune at the cost of Pakistani people. As far as India is concerned, Imran wants to build trust between the two nations. He says that the leaders of the two countries should engage in dialogue directly instead of engaging through their armies or intelligence agencies. He says that once he’ll become the PM he won’t allow any terror attacks against India to be plotted on Pakistani soil but India also needs to ensure that its intelligence wings or agencies don’t give support to liberation groups in Balochistan and stop blocking their share of water as perceived by many in Pakistan. Imran feels that it is necessary to rebuild trust and confidence before addressing the contentious issue of Kashmir. He feels that the ties between the two countries need to normalize if they intend to address the Kashmir issue. He also feels that there is a need for both Pakistan and India to withdraw their armies from Kashmir as no constructive dialogue process can take place in the presence of the army. He feels that army interventions world over have never yielded results be it in the case of USA, Pakistan itself or any other country in the world. Imran wants to build healthy trade relations with India for the economic benefit of both. He is also willing to give thought to providing India with a trade route to Afghanistan via Pakistan (which India has been denied since long) as he feels that trade benefits everybody. He says that India’s growing ties with Afghanistan pose no threat to Pakistan. Imran Khan seems to be a man with a vision and he is certainly on a mission. Imran seems to have a decent ideology and plan of action; he needs to come up with a few patch ups in order to put certain faulty things in his policy into order. I strongly feel that time has come for Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan not because he is the best but because the people of Pakistan have run out of options and everybody else has failed. I personally want to see him as Pakistan’s premier planner.