Monthly Archives: March 2016

Oligarchy of the unelected

Why are politicians unable to stop people from carelessly breeding dengue causing mosquitoes year after year at home, why are politicians unable to get people to segregate waste, Why can they not even begin to solve the parking mess, why are politicians unable to get toilets made and maintained, why are politicians so ineffective as leaders who can challenge the writ of the Khap Panchayats

Why have politicians failed to build consensus in communities to reduce dowry deaths, why have politicians failed to do much on gender equity, sexual harassment at work till pushed into a corner by courts?  Why is this task being only done by activists? Why are politicians scared to take the rights of the LGBT community into parliament? Why do politicians think they will fail this test of humanity?

Now consider the following illustrations

  • The matter concerning Art of Living and its use of the Yamuna river bank has seen silence from politicians except the odd pot shot taken. Only activists are arguing on what is of paramount interest to millions. One would think it should rightly be elected leaders doing this job
  • Look at Gay rights- No politicians. Look at marital rape- The arguments are offered by activists and Babas

Are Politicians simply indifferent to and unconcerned about issues that bother us? Or are they simply without moral authority? Are they incapable of thinking and arguing for what is right?

Is there anything such as politician’s moral influence? They take pot shots but they do not argue. I have not seen politicians take bold stand on any important issue of justice or public health. Scared of crossing stated party positions, scared of aggressive media interrogation and being challenged by activists, they abdicate their responsibility as leaders who are rightly placed to bring about socio-political change

There is a serious absence of political contribution to public discourse, and if not addressed by politicians themselves, will only reduce them further with dangerous consequences for democracy

This budget session of 2016, after long, gave many an opportunity to hear debates in the Parliament. Arguments, repartee, acerbic humour and challenging facts and fiction renewed faith in the parliament which is meant to argue and debate, so that, regardless of our political persuasion we have access to conflicting arguments. The arguments articulated by peoples’ representatives are significant. They reflect a certain reality and therefore, a reality check.

We are a democracy and our work is meant to be carried forward by a government made of elected representatives of the people. Parliamentary democracy works on the principle that the elected representative is better positioned to empathize with the needs of the public that elects them. This is why the idea of a minimum educational qualification for elected representatives has been met with resistance, and rightly so.

It is disheartening to see elected representatives from two major political parties becoming OEMs* for unelected activists and ideologues from the RSS and the left.  Both opposing ideologies (the left & the right) have become kind of ‘hatchet men’ for political parties to carry out their work in the media and public space. In this process activists have been positioned as champions of what is good for people and politicians are positioned as legislators out to exploit people.

The politician, despite being the peoples’ representatives has been perceived, as one ill-placed, to have any moral authority. The reasons for this are too varied for this piece. This moral authority becomes the sole preserve of the activist and it is believed that were it not for the activist the politician will sell off the country. This idea has taken such deep roots that, depending on your own ideology, activists whether on the right, or the left, have become the keepers of the Nation’s better instincts.

This disdain for those elected does not augur well for democracy. A convincing argument must also be tested at the altar of votesThe idea that ‘just because it gets votes does not make it right’, may be true, but if the intent of democracy is to ensure that  ‘what is right gets votes’, it can only emerge through the moral authority of political leaders and not through self-righteous indignation of the unelected.

It is only if electoral politics evolves through argument, victory and defeat in polls, the true work of democracy will be accomplished.  A politician’s job is difficult and his constituency should see him as their leader who should openly defend his own position, or the constituency’s’ interests, rather than sub- contracting ideologues to do that work. An elected position requires a clear willingness to engage variously in consensus building, power-sharing and accommodative arrangements within a diverse section of interests in the constituency. While it is also possible that political expediency can require that systemic change be deferred, or forgotten to further the needs of a re-election among a diverse & also a very easily divisible people.

This does not mean that a politician cannot assist or be supportive of progressive causes. Indeed the job of carrying together a large number of people to support change should come through a politician with moral authority in our country.

If political leadership and moral leadership are completely mutually exclusive then we are in for trouble

Elected representatives are the key players in building consensus as well as opposition in the task of taking forward the country through this push and slide. It is only through them that people can see the meaning of good Governments elected on the basis of valued principles. If not, the political leadership will continue to be seen as cynical and immoral & not much will change on the ground towards social transformation.

For principles of justice, equality, and equal opportunity to be truly meaningful, they must pass the test of votes. Justice, humanity, equal rights, clean air and water, saving our forests and rivers have to become popular enough to affect elections. Politicians have to be the ones to carry people along in this task in a democracy. Politicians privately admit to their inability to articulate a moral position but they are more often unable to lead their voters which has allowed an oligarchy of the unelected to fill the role, which in a democracy is meant for our elected representatives.

Politicians must recover lost ground. There is still time. They must seize all opportunity including the next parliamentary session to reinforce their ability to speak for progress for their voters, for what may be unpopular but is right.

Ashutosh Dikshit March 2016

*A company that markets a product manufactured by others under its own brand name.

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Photo of an injured woman- the freedom of confusion

There is this article going around on social media, with the picture of a woman airline staffer, an injured and obviously traumatized victim of a terrorist suicide bomb attack in Brussels. The correctness of putting up the photograph and questions of whether it is right or wrong are doing the rounds, with each click showing her picture and with people offering several views.

Never mind the hapless victim.

This question would not have arisen if this picture was of a mother breast feeding her child or tribal women in their natural attire. I am sure, this question has not arisen because a woman is injured but people are confused if a picture of her exposed in public, needs to be ‘talked about.

The writer in the article laments “yet we wear that responsibility lightly, clicking and sharing promiscuously’. This writer is also confused.

My point to the confused– And this includes the random ‘clickers’ on social media, who are sharing their confusion or commenting on such posts thereby knowingly or unknowingly spreading them.

If you are so confused, f*****d up and far from home in your head, do not put that picture up or share it, while you rely on the ‘freedom of confusion’. Wait till you get some clarity.

And if you are sure that it is correct, then have the balls to say so, and be thereby open to legal action that the victim may choose to take against you for your ‘freedom of expression’.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facebook’s River

The air in Delhi is the most toxic in the world. Yamuna in Delhi is in a terrible state. Activists are going blue in the face. Intense rage and sarcasm is being expressed in the media.  Vehement criticism, assertions and opinions galore are daily fare.

Governments of all political persuasions have been promising a clean-up. The laws are in place, courts have passed hundreds of favourable judgments, and Funds to the tune of thousands of crores have been allocated.

On social media there is largely very little thinking, as people share links to opinions of those who echo their own instincts. There is no need felt to think slowly and carefully. A position is taken based on an existing mind-set, ego vested in it and defending it for the next week becomes critical.

Since air pollution in Delhi is severely damaging our own children and disabling all of us in one way or the other, and we are all drinking filtered poisoned water, it stands to reason that we should enquire why the result is Zero. Why is nothing done?

To answer this first consider the following words. They are jumbled and you have to arrange them in the order of priority in your life.

New Car, new bike, basic housing, additional property, international vacation, clean air, tuitions for children, board exams, settling score with neighbours, caste based reservations for Government jobs, Donald trump, Kanhaiyya, JNU, football fields, best university for children, mutual fund, Sewage treatment for Delhi, investment, Success in chosen field of work, religious festivals, mata ki chowki, Malls, international vacations, living clean rivers, SUV, salary increase, career plan, personal fame and glory, health.

Now organise all these as honestly as possible into your list of preoccupations. And it will make clear where clean air and a living river fits into the City’s priorities.

River and air pollution are problems we just can’t seem to fix.

A severe imposition of the rule of law has been suggested: this is impossible given the political, human rights and humanitarian crisis that will erupt. It is never going to happen either for Delhi’s air or for Yamuna. Therefore, citizens and activists will gripe over tokens and symbols on social media and television. But it will not change. The Government will simply not invest in sewage treatment beyond a point as it has more pressing desires of its voters to fulfill. Equally it will not recover footpaths for the fear of annoying Hawkers and Voters who park their cars illegally.

If you examine the Chipko movement and the Niyamgiri hills movement, the missing element in campaigns that struggle for a pollution free Yamuna and Delhi can be noticed. Though not an all encompassing theory it may shed some light on what we are facing.

In the first, the people closest to the problem had a direct and vested interest in saving their trees for their own immediate and imminent emotional socio economic needs.  There was a sense of actual ownership not academic, or in principle ownership. They felt a connection, an attachment to their earth and nature as something deeply and profoundly connected to their life and livelihood. It was not only an academic proposition.

Similarly in the Niyamgiri agitation, even as NGO and activists spearheaded the movement it was the local tribals who were deeply connected to the soil and hills in economic, social and spiritual ways. Even though the courts buttressed the locals’ point of view it were the locals themselves who stood up against the might of giant corporations

The Movement against the limestone mafia which was destroying the Doon Valley and Mussorie hills, way back in the eighties was a slightly different phenomenon as it was more urban. Nevertheless there were activists, court judgements and a significant number of people who wanted their hills back to their pristine beauty and wanted all the degradation to stop. To counter the vested interest of limestone quarrying there were a large number of people against it. The courts ordered, the state accepted and this led to the creation of 127 Infantry Battalion of the Territorial Army (TA) as an Ecological Task Force affiliated to the Garhwal Rifles. It has soldiers selected from the ex-servicemen of the Garhwal and Kumaon hills based who are deeply vested in the local ecology.

Contrast that with the Yamuna; the people of the city and the dwellers on the banks have an exactly opposite vested interest. It serves their life and livelihood to pollute the river. There is an entire politics and economics of waste, of illegal housing, illegal sewers, and construction waste. If the much loved NGTs orders on construction dust were implemented and fines afforded the Delhi’s environment lovers angry on FB, would be up in arms as renovation for their pretty interiors or the builder flat they just decided to own will become really difficult. Illegal dyeing and plating industry abounds and provides livelihood to thousands. It also contaminates vegetables grown there with cadmium, arsenic, mercury etc.

Consider air pollution. Delhi’s roads are covered with cars parked on either side. The NGT has deemed that this contributor to traffic jams creates air pollution and is illegal with heavy fines to be paid. Nobody dare charge, nobody pays that fine or removes their car. But that does not stop anybody from pontificating on the demerits of air pollution and demanding NGT orders to be implemented upon someone else. There is utter hypocrisy.

 When river activists and crusaders for clean air try and gather local people, or city folk, they can hardly get enough people to substantiate a large scale movement against water and air pollution. Several villagers living on flood plains want to sell their land to builders. Lakhs of migrants and urban poor live in shanties in the area. Their income comes from small occupations that contribute to the river’s pollution. Millions of gallons of untreated sewage is dumped into the Yamuna every day. How many Delhi city voters have ever even bothered to question their elected representatives of this?

Thousands of city dwellers who are suddenly expressing their love for the environment throw plastic and bags full of puja remnants into the river daily. Hundreds of Visarjans take place and chhat puja brings lakhs on to the banks every year.

The ‘O’ Zone of the DDA is made up of settlements in Mithapur& Jaitpur etc in the Badarpur constituency. These are Areas which house lakhs of people.  As per DDA’s claims, the settlement partly covers the flood plains (this is disputed by residents). While the DDA has accepted some demands of the area residents the matter is now stuck in courts. Several demolitions of jhuggis have taken place on the Yamuna Pushta, an action which is cruel as the poor living there have no place to go since a distinct financial advantage is acquired by functionaries in all governments by keeping the possibility of illegal construction alive.

The point being made is this: When a large number of citizens are involved in environmental degradation it will require a substantially large if not equal number of citizens to oppose it to make a difference.

 There is something non- serious about the bourgeois outrage on the social media. Politicians instinctively know this and can discern real concerns from the unreal ones. It is evident from the attitude of all political players that they are not at all shamefaced by any of this failure on river and air. That it does not bring ignominy to the government at any level, is evident to say the least.

The atmosphere of Delhi and the life of its river depend on the people of Delhi and what they really feel about it deeply and intimately, not intellectually alone. More than just activism is required.


 

There is more material should the reader care to go into the depth of this matter. Those interested can begin with:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chipko_movement

http://www.importantindia.com/11686/history-of-chipko-movement/

 

http://www.teriin.org/index.php?option=com_ongoing&task=about_project&pcode=2008EE06

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/UP-Delhi-asked-to-help-DMRC-remove-flood-plain-debris/articleshow/24833213.cms

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/ddas-proposal-to-redraw-yamuna-floodplain-criticised/article5031574.ece

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Think through Kashmir

The question of Kashmir is settled insofar as the position of all Governments of India since 1947 are concerned. It is an integral part of India and the unfinished task of reclaiming POK is incomplete. Whether or not this reclamation happens and/or the Loc becomes the De facto border, and whether or not India’s military might & economic muscle can ensure that nobody walks away with state territory, one must examine the matter of self determination for the people of Kashmir and its implications. It should be examined how much the fructification of a demand of one state affects the rest of the country and the interests of a billion people who will be affected. Indeed the geopolitical consequences in the entire region of South Asia and the Middle East need to be kept in mind.

This or any other Government may or may not allow or let pass the calls for self determination in JNU but no Government can avoid examining and assessing the implications of such Secession on the rest of India. No Government should avoid that in their calculations or they would be incapable of a calibrated response. As such it is the responsibility of the Government of India to be careful with movements which can escalate into dangerous situations.

It is equally necessary that an examination of this issue not be bracketed as being generated through ‘Nationalism’ since it will affect the lives of millions of people whether or not they subscribe to that concept.

This is important as recent developments demonstrate the ability of the Government to employ jingoistic and violent ruling party workers to bully and intimidate; and the capacity of the opposition to be bloody- minded & capable of enlisting the assistance of militant, violent, far left & insurgent groups to usurp power.  Added to this, a deeply politicized and commercial media is of little help in debating critical issues.

Despite its romanticized echo in JNU, it should not be ignored that, the demand for secession of Kashmir is promoted, aided and abetted by Pakistan as a religious duty backed by military adventures on Indian soil and terrorist killings of Indians. It is considered by Pakistan as an unfinished agenda of Partition on the basis of a Muslim Majority in Kashmir. The raiding of Kashmir in October 1947 by Pakistan was not to create a free Kashmir but to forcibly take it. A part of the valley was taken by Pakistan which also gave a part of it to China. Indeed all secessionist movements of any consequence in India have been motivated, aided & abetted by Pakistan & China. Both bordering countries have fought wars with India and remain inimical to Indian interests.

The idea being propounded, that the demand for Kashmir’s freedom has nothing to do with Islam, and is only a political & class struggle is incorrect in my view.  It is positioned in that manner by the exigencies of Marxist thought to serve the ideologies’ interests. Left- activism will resist accepting religious motives to be ascribed to this movement in Kashmir. If the truth of religious motivation is accepted Marxists will then have to denounce the ethnic cleansing and communal killing of Kashmiri pundits. This is anathema for the communists as it will annoy their militant supporters. ‘Islamic Jihad’ and ‘Maoists’ are seen by Marxists as their ‘armed wing’ and are therefore routinely provided intellectual and moral justification by the left intelligentsia.

Most of us are liberals but some of us are not left liberals. Even as many left- liberals take full advantage of India’s open markets, corporate growth and western education in India and abroad, for their children and indeed for themselves, they are quick to participate intellectually in promoting the left’s communist manifesto which seeks to destroy the very economic and social infrastructure from which both liberal typologies derive their well being. On the other hand many liberals respond to the Kashmir issue as one related to machismo and the bellicose nationalism of the Right wing and see any discussion on the subject a threat to the existence of India. They ignore the importance of the left which promotes the expression of anger of many of the diverse and the dispossessed and gives them the right and space to challenge the existing order.

I am not a ‘left liberal’ but I notice  the obvious  lines of divide within people of a liberal disposition on this matter and I am hoping that left Liberals can at this point comprehend the fact that the Sovereign Government of India, though influenced by the ruling party is not the ruling party. It is their Government too.

Of late the ‘intellectual’ & ‘Freedom of speech’ support for Kashmir’s Secession from India is being supported by children, college students and older citizens, without, in my view,  giving the matter adequate thought and succumbing to the ‘flavour of the day’ rather than thinking it through.

It is not the purpose of this article to debate the strategic importance of Kashmir for India. Instead the social importance of Kashmir for India is sought to be highlighted here which I hope will be considered by all Liberals.

The scars of partition can be opened easily. It is not just the old who carry them. They are encrypted in a collective consciousness of both Hindus and Muslims and responsible for much alienation and strife between two Major religions in India

The secession of Kashmir will not be seen as a class struggle and the resolution of a political problem by a vast majority. A Kashmir that accedes to Pakistan or becomes a free nation will most likely be an Islamic state. Even though Indian Muslims outside Kashmir are not really active participants in this demand for secession, in effect, it will be seen as, as another partition of India led by a joint Pakistani and Muslim effort.

The ripples from such secession will have violent social consequences. It will create unprecedented anger & violence tearing at the fabric of Indian society which no liberal will be able to fix. This will be catastrophic as Hindus and Muslims, despite several cases of communal violence do manage live in relative peace.

Hindu Muslim relationship in India will change irrevocably or to say the least, for a very long time, and all liberals who loathe the idea of a Majoritarian Hindu India would have strengthened the case for a Hindu Nation. It will only help extremist right wing forces.

This cataclysmic event will not only help the communist manifesto of usurping the state and strengthen violent Maoists militancy and Islamic Jihad against India but would have a very deleterious effect on India Pakistan relationship for a very long time. It will, I daresay, have a negative impact on Pakistani society as well since it will embolden the religious fundamentalists and militants in Pakistan and in the Middle East. The expectations of Kashmiris will be high as they come in conflict for state benefits against the aggressive Punjabis in Pakistan. It is not clear how a decrepit military state like Pakistan will serve the ends of a Kashmir which is used to huge financial support from the central Governments of both India and Pakistan. While the impact may be far reaching geo politically as well, it is not the purpose of this article to extrapolate the consequences of the freedom of Kashmir to envisage its effect on the regions under threat from ISIS and Al Qaida in other regions of the world.

This is not to say that all or some of the consequences listed above will indeed occur. But all Governments and society at large should consider them as openly as possible.

It does not mean that borders across the world will remain fixed in perpetuam as history has seen many borders change. It also does not mean that Kashmiris’ seeking freedom need to worry about a law and order problem erupting in India after they are ‘free’.  But it does mean that, those who choose to live in India, should examine the social implications of the’ right to self determination’ in Kashmir.