Vinod Rai is CAG’s TN Seshan

Nearly two decades back, a man named TN Seshan took the entire nation by a storm. In fact it was no less than a whirlwind or a meteor like tsunami. As the Chief Election Commissioner of India, he introduced sweeping reforms in India’s electoral democracy. He undertook an expedition to clean up the electoral system and succeeded in dampening many malpractices like booth capturing. Seshan’s magnetism strengthened the institution of the Election Commission like never before and established the commission as one of the quintessential driving forces behind Indian democracy.

Today, another man has risen during this tumultuous period of transition from being an agricultural society to an industrialized nation with the intention of changing the rules of the game. Vinod Rai, Comptroller and Auditor General, is in no doubt giving Seshan-like effect to the CAG which is bound to evolve as a stronger institution due to his valiant efforts. Election Commission became acquainted of its abilities only after Sechan’s theatrics and Rai’s antics will indeed enhance the role of the CAG as a proactive auditor. After having sent shivers down the spine of the Central Government by pegging the amount of loss caused due to the 2G scam and Coalgate at Rs 1.76 lakh crore and Rs 10.67 lakh crore respectively, the CAG has now taken on the self styled ‘vikas guru’ and unarguably India’s most controversial and watched after Chief Minister Narendra Modi. CAG reports for 2009 and 2010 tabled before the Gujarat Assembly have hit out at the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government in Gujarat on the issue of corruption by pinning the amount of loss caused due to financial irregularities at Rs 17000 crore. The CAG with its omnipresent vigil is indeed the most pervading watchdog in the history of modern India. We may raise question marks regarding the methodology used by him in ascertaining losses but the fact remains that he has had the courage to expose the corrupt without being overawed of their political affiliations. Well done Mr Vinod Rai. Salute!

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Prize Winning Speech Delivered at Debate Competition in Maharaja Agrasen College (2)

The topic for today’s debate is that, “More political power to the civil society is not a threat to democracy” and I, Saif Ahmad Khan, will speak for the motion. The terms democracy, civil society and threat can have umpteen interpretations but for argument’s sake I’ll keep the scope of these terms restricted and India centric. Democracy is a system of government where people elect officials via elections. The entire system rests on three planks: legislature, executive and judiciary. Civil Society is a term which is a bit ambiguous in nature but it can be easily construed as nothing but the citizens of a country. Threat, in the context of this debate would mean subversion of democracy.

The first argument which is put forth to stop the civil society from being granted more political power is that it would lead to multiple power centres which will facilitate anarchy. The response to this argument is enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy jotted down in the Indian Constitution. The Directives instruct the State to decentralize power by creating more institutions which function in consonance with another and transfer more and more decision making power to the people.

India is a representative democracy and not a direct democracy like Switzerland where people decide on all legislative and executive decisions on their own through referendums. Why can’t India have a similar system? It can be done by means of a constitutional amendment by the Union Parliament under Article 368.  Is it violative of the basic structure of the Constitution? Certainly not! The basic structure of the Indian Constitution suggests that India should be a democracy, not necessarily a representative parliamentary democracy. So there is ample scope of India moving from a representative democracy where we authorize a few bunch of people to act on our behalf to a direct democracy where we act on our own. This is strengthening and enhancement of Indian democracy and not its subversion.

I do agree that the present system provides citizens with many powers.  These include the power to elect. Certain civil society institutions like the NAC have also been institutionalized as extra-constitutional bodies. We have trade unions, NGO’s, human rights and environmental groups to lobby and press for civil rights. We have to our disposal judicious solutions but one thing is for sure that no set of rules and regulations are enough because the world is ever changing and human wants never ending. When NGO’s came, people said they would replace the Government. It didn’t happen. When RTI came, people said it would make government functioning impossible. It didn’t happen. When PIL’s came people said Judiciary would become most powerful? It didn’t happen. And most importantly when the British were asked to leave, they said, if we ever leave India, it would become a land of snake charmers. Instead of that we became the second fastest growing economy in the world. 

Yes, there is some scope for mis-utilization but that cannot be the premise to dump an idea whose time has come. We need to bring reforms and we need to make the entire system more accountable but for that we also need to become more powerful politically. 

Prize Winning Speech Delivered at Debate Competition in Maharaja Agrasen College

The topic for today’s debate is that this house will honour religious sentiments by censoring creative expression and I, Saif Ahmad Khan, will speak for the motion. All freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution are justiciable but none of them are absolute in nature. Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the foremost rights guaranteed to us and Article 19 of the Constitution deals with it. This right like all other fundamental rights is coupled with a set of riders. These riders include that the right of free speech shouldn’t be utilized to violate communal harmony, religious sentiments, public order, morality, decency, security of the state and must not amount to contempt of court.

The fundamental approach with which this fundamental right is approached needs to be rectified. Constructive criticism of religion is always welcome, it’s laudable and commendable but blasphemy, communal instigation and provocation to undertake sacrilege are indeed unholy and unconstitutional. An individual falls well within the ambit of the freedom of speech and expression when he criticizes the caste system in Hinduism or the status of women in Islam but if somebody abuses or questions the character of Prophet Mohammad as Mr Rushdie did, if somebody paints a Hindu God in the nude as Mr Hussain did or if somebody recommends demolition of mosques as Mr Swamy did, he is indeed indulging in absolute abuse of the freedom of speech and expression. These are all controversies involving blatant blasphemy and despotic defamation of deities which is capable of fueling anarchy.

I do agree that protestors against these people have not waged their dissent democratically but the fact remains that you are secular if you respect the Constitution and the restrictions imposed by it. Whether those restrictions are reasonable or unreasonable can always be tested in a court of law. I would like to conclude by stating that within the realm of our rights, our freedoms are absolute but we are not entitled to supersede the sphere of our rights by denigrating another community’s religion. All creations which bypass constitutional restrictions are bound to get banned. 

Right Wing Fanaticism be it Hindu or Muslim is a Threat to Society

India happens to be among the most communally sensitive countries in the world. Communal tensions, rioting and curfews are not new terms for Indian citizens who have become acquainted with warring in the name of religion. Combating communalism is one of the biggest challenges faced by India and for this purpose all communities need to come together and solve their internal feuds and conflicts. Right wing fanaticism be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian is a threat to society.

People have every right to talk on behalf of the majority as well as the minority, it is their prerogative to toil for them but neither the majority groups nor the minority groups have the jurisdiction to torture or try to terminate the other faction. The very idea of converting India into a Hindu Rashtra or an Islamic state is contrary to the principle of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. This era has to be the age of co-existence and tolerance where religious fanaticism is pushed from the forefront to the backburner and is eventually made defunct.

Religious fanaticism in India is a byproduct of a feeling of insecurity and disillusionment among both the communities of Hindus and Muslims. It all began with the Partition of India which was marred by bloodshed and violence. The Muslim community of India became impoverished and economically fractured only after a few years of independence. There were four primary reasons for the socio-economic downfall of the Muslims. The first one was the abolition of the Zamindari system. It broke the spine of wealthy Muslim Zamindars residing in North India especially in Uttar Pradesh. The second reason was the decline of Urdu as a language of communication. Urdu was no longer being used for official purposes or for transacting business. The language was discarded and it took a toll on the competence of working Muslims. The factors stated above led to a sort of backwardness among Muslims. Under the Imperial Government, Muslims used to get reservations in jobs but now there were no reservations. Muslims had lost the ability to compete because of their backwardness and hence they lost out on jobs. Fourthly, the worldwide anti-Islam bandwagon further dampened the spirit of the Mohammedan clan. Frequent communal tussles with Hindus worsened the situation. In the midst of all this, political players realized the impoverished state as well as the electoral significance of the Muslims of India. No substantial work was done to liberate them from the vicious circle of social and economic backwardness but dozens of promises were made to woo them and to get their votes. The ‘Muslim’ agenda soon began to dominate the national political scene of India.

Noting the increasing stress and attention being given to the Muslims, the Hindus started feeling insecure and began to consider themselves as ‘second class citizens’ belonging to the majority community. They could not understand as to why the Muslims were being given so much of importance. They considered Muslims as the ones responsible for brutalizing the Hindus during the Mughal rule and for the Partition of India. As per Hindus, their condition in the country was no better and was as pitiful as the state of Muslims. The grief of Hindus accelerated when pseudo-secular leaders dubbed all those chanting for empowerment of Hindus as communal. Some opportunist leaders with political interests realized this grievance of the Hindu community and took up their cause. Their agenda was more of anti-Muslim rather than being Pro-Hindu. They accused the Government of Muslim appeasement but the fact remains that there was no appeasement at all because had there been appeasement, the Muslims in India would not have been in such a sorry state today but the fact that there was too much of pious posturing in favour of Muslims cannot be denied and this is what made the Hindus feel insecure.

The community of Muslims fell from bad to worse days and was further ghettoized. Some young Muslim men became robbers and criminals as they could not get jobs. They went on an evil no holds barred rampage and further deteriorated ties between the two communities. Meanwhile some leaders manufactured the political hot potato of the Ayodhya movement which culminated into the demolition of the Babri Masjid and all of a sudden the BJP assumed prominence and went on to form the Central Government in the coming years. Some Hindus became so emotionally attached with the Ram Mandir issue and were so frustrated of pro-Muslim posturing that they started justifying the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Foreign countries, international organizations and NGO’s condemned the demolition and this further angered the Hindus. Anyhow for Muslims, the demolition of the Babri Masjid followed by rioting was like insult to the injury. Riots broke out all across the country and several innocent human beings lost their lives. By now the Muslims had realized that they had been marginalized.

Some notorious elements within the community earmarked this weak nerve of the Muslims and started a movement in the name of Muslim Resurgence and Islamic Backlash. Their movement was based on vendetta and not reconciliation. These people had vested interests which were those of accumulating power, wealth and dominance. Thus came into being Islamic Terrorism in India. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Muslims started fearing for their life and were hesitant to go over to Hindu areas and work with them. There were serial bomb blasts in Mumbai which were planned and conducted by a Muslim group. 257 lost their lives. The Muslims of India began to sympathize with these terrorists because these attacks somehow helped the Muslims in gathering back courage and now the message was clear, if Hindus can kill Muslims then Muslims can also indulge in return of favour. Muslims were so hateful of Hindus that now they started openly supporting Pakistan during Indo-Pak cricket ties. The Hindus saw this as anti-national and their viewpoint regarding Muslims was even more poisoned. Fanatic Hindus wanted all Muslims to be sent to Pakistan and also held the perception that each one of them happened to be terrorists. Religious constraints stopped the Muslims from reciting Vande Mataram and this gave Hindus another opportunity to question their nationalism notwithstanding the fact that in Islam, followers are not supposed to worship any other thing apart from God. The term Vande Matram means that, ‘I worship the Goddess’ & Islam doesn’t allow Muslims to make such claims. Both the communities were at fault and they were nurturing a great amount of fanaticism within themselves. While the Hindus justified the Babri Masjid demolition as necessary action in the name of Lord Ram, Muslims started justifying the serial bombing in Mumbai as retaliatory action to the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots which followed.

The chaos continued and so did the communal tensions. Whenever Muslims were killed in rioting by fanatic Hindus, Muslim terrorists would retort by means of bomb attacks. Soon Hindu fanatic groups which till now had resorted to mob violence, converted themselves into full fledged terror groups identical to the Muslim ones. While Muslims targeted crowded streets and temples, Hindus started targeting Mosques and other places. The truth is that India faces a threat from both fanatic Hindu and Muslim groups. On the national scene today, there is no political party advocating a uniform Islamic law for India but there is a hardcore Hindu party advocating the conversion of India into a Hindu Rashtra amd it is being actively supported by other saffron groups. This is the reason why Muslims are sympathized with abd are seen as a lot which has been overly oppressed and deviously discriminated. The Hindus also need to be consoled. Tyrannical Muslim rulers who invaded India during the yesteryears demolished some Hindu temples and slaughtered innocent Hindus. They forcibly converted some of them into Islam and even ridiculed their religious beliefs. The communalization process began prior to the Partition only when Muslim rulers behaved barbarically with Hindus. The British utilized this historical loophole to dismantle the ties between Hindus and Muslims. Past wrongdoings cannot be undone and so it is better for Hindus to forgive and forget their Muslim brethren. Hindus don’t hold Christians responsible for the oppression meted out towards them by the British and so they should not blame the current crop of Muslims for the mistreatment which they received from many Muslims rulers, looters and invaders like Mahmud of Ghazni and Nadir Shah. We need to defy the ideology of sick religious outfits to establish a peaceful India which is the penultimate ingredient for its success. Muslims sympathizing with terrorists are wrong and so are Hindus supporting the rioters who loot and kill Muslims. Muslims cheering for Pakistan during cricket matches is unjustified and so is the ideology of Hindu Rashtra which is actively supported by hardcore Hindus. If certain Muslim fanatics are providing safe havens to Muslim terrorists inside mosques then the Sangh Parivar and several Hindu ashrams are also shielding Hindu rioters. All these practices and perceptions are unjust and they need to be discarded.

Constitution & Amendment

The Constitution makers were not faultless messiahs, they too were fallible mortals and so we shouldn’t hesitate while amending key provisions of the Constitution in the interest of the society even if it changes its basic structure (too some extent).

The fact that the Constitution makers bestowed legislators with the liberty of amending the Constitution was in fact an admission of their limited knowledge and the perceived inability of the Constitution to deal with changing circumstances. I refrain from using the term ‘Constitutionalist’ because no Constitution is immaculate and devoid of grey areas or loopholes and so the question of standing by the Constitution under all circumstances doesn’t arise. We shouldn’t shy away from pointing out the limitations of our Constitution and asking for rectifications or additions in it. Remember that everything which Hitler did during the Nazi Regime in the Third Reich was legal as per the erstwhile law prevalent at that time.

There’s always a need to keep amending the Constitution for the sake of contemporary compatibility but unfortunately the Indian Constitution has become virtually non amendable since the late 80’s because to amend the Constitution, two-thirds majority is required in both the Houses of the Parliament and such a bill needs to be ratified by half of the State Legislatures if it relates to the principle of federalism. No ruling government commands such absolute majority or staggering support and so an amendment to the Constitution can be made only when there is a wide national consensus.