Tuesday, May 4, 2010

India’s tryst with Anti-terror laws

India is amongst the most terror-targeted countries in the world, thanks to a hostile neighbour who had swore to bleed us with a thousand cuts (as a  retaliation of their defeat in three wars). In our quest to defend our country from the proxy war, one instrument which has been continually neglected but hotly contested by who ever came to power is the necessity of an Anti-terror law.

Our tryst with Anti terror laws began after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The first law called the ‘Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act’, popularly known as TADA, was passed in 1985. But as history has it, TADA was full of loop holes and its statutory provisions did not provide stern punishment for terrorists. It also did not deter them from attacking our country and the conviction rate under the law was a poor 2%. The law was scrapped in 1995 on the premise that ideally an Anti-terror law was meant to act as a deterrent against future attacks and that the fear of prosecution under such a law should stop abetment to terror related activities.

It was the Atal Behari Vajpayee Govt which re-introduced the legislation, this time came to be known as the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ or POTA. The promulgation of POTA led to wide spread criticism and was vehemently opposed by Human Rights Activists and some sections of civil society. They called it a draconian law because of their apprehension that the Police and the state machinery would misuse it to the fullest,  which might lead to human rights violations. Certain provisions under the act were hugely disputed such as that the accused could be held for a prolonged period of detention of up to 180 days without being charged; confessions made to a police officer above the rank of SP could be admissible in court as evidence; the fear that this law would victimize journalists and that the main thing in the law was to provide legal cover for arbitrary actions of the ruling party for reasons of political expediency (just like the CBI) and finally that it limits fundamental rights guaranteed to all defendants in the criminal process. The Govt retracted by saying that the law has sufficient safeguards against the possibility of abuse and that there were significant penalties attached to cases of malicious prosecution. They argued that anti terror laws in our country were ineffective for the reason that the process of litigation extended over decades. Hence, the inefficiency and incompetence of our judicial system could not be accepted as an argument against the existence of such laws. Eventually, it was the Supreme Court that came to the Govt’s rescue by upholding the constitutional validity of POTA.

When the Congress party bounced back to power in the 2004 general elections, one of their first policy initiatives was to repeal POTA. They introduced a new law, which they claim had sufficient safeguards and did not  include the draconian provisions of the previous law. They called it the ‘Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’ or UAPA. Thankfully, this law is in place till date. The success/failure of this law was extensively debated by the ruling party and the opposition. The opposition retorted that the inception of UAPA had not reduced the number of attacks in our country which were as many as back then when POTA was in place, so why not have a law which is more result oriented?

Ultimately, the fact remains that our political establishment is only concerned about protecting their respective vote banks and do not give a damn about such issues which have grave consequences for the nation. They should take lessons from other nations, superpowers like US, UK, France and even Japan who have stringent anti-terror laws in spite of the fact they are not subjects of state terrorism.

Politically speaking, I find that the Congress party is more at fault in this case. It is very clear that the only fear they have in enacting a law like POTA is that it would jeopardize their vote banks of the minorities at the national level. No other argument holds forth for this as it is the Congress Govt in Maharashtra that has in place an act called MCOCA (pronounced makoka) or ‘Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act’. This law has some of the toughest provisions against criminal activities and it is generally said that offenders charged under MCOCA seldom go scot free. A near replica of this act called GCOCA (Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Act) has been introduced many a times by none other than Narendra Modi for implementation in his state of Gujarat but has been turned down each time by the centre. Why? Because they think Modi would use the law widely and only against the minorities in his state, which in turn, they want to protect, since it generates votes for them.

In the end, my take is that we actually need the toughest of tough laws to deal with terrorists and ensure that any one caught and tried in an Indian court is not let off. This can only happen if our politicos have the will power and the guts to take tough decisions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shashi Tharoor – boon or bane?

Shashi Tharoor will soon have to bite the dust. That’s the prediction of political pundits in the power corridors of Delhi. There is wide spread criticism against him ever since he became Minister of State for External Affairs. This is because his detractors (specially in the Congress party) retort that men who have no control over their use of words, who do not understand the repercussions their statements/actions might bring about, do not deserve to be a part of the Indian political spectrum. Parties face huge embarrassment time and again because of such players and run for cover. Be it his Cattle-class remarks or his extravagant stay in five star hotels at Govt expense or the latest IPL controversy, Tharoor has caused tremendous embarrassment to the Govt as well as the Congress party but has always managed to scrape out because of his proximity to Sonia Gandhi. It will be interesting to see whether he manages to stay on yet again or is removed from his post.

Tharoor is a new age politician who is suave, classy & slick and based on his impeccable diction & articulation, has won many hearts among urban Indians. But this media-savvy new breed does not realise that it is not a child’s play to be in Indian politics and better off still to be a part of the Central Govt. Sure, he enjoys terrific clout in the State Dept’s of various countries because of his past role as Under Secretary General of the UN, but that certainly does not qualify him as eligible to be a part of mainstream Indian politics. Being in the news for the wrong reasons, he tweets more on domestic issues than international ones and virtually has an opinion on every subject that is not his area of expertise. Rather, he should be wise enough to focus only on his domain of work and not court meaningless controversies at the pretext of being a modern politician. In contrast, he should take lessons from several other youngsters in the Govt like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada etc, sons of former bigwigs, who have a far better understanding of the way our politics work and are truly working to make a difference in their respective areas.

Tharoor’s election to the parliament this time too came as a surprise to many. Although, his victory is largely attributed to the weakness of the opposing candidates and the frustration of the voters of Trivandrum against the incumbent, and not because the polity thought that this man is god sent and rightly deserves the seat. Post victory, it is largely unheard of about Tharoor visiting his home constituency.

Leaving aside all gimmicks, he should genuinely focus on External Affairs and ideally, should be instrumental in pitching for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council. He should take the lead in mending India’s foreign relations with countries like China and others since his boss, the highly qualified and intellectual, but in my opinion, totally, totally useless, Mr. SM Krishna (the pair is two to tango) is clearly making a mockery of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. At present, it seems as though our International relations are handled only by the Prime Minister and our National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon who is undoubtedly better suited for the role.

So my advise to Mr. Tharoor is that he must make sincere efforts to stay away from all public hullabaloo and ensure his actions speak louder than words. It is high time he proves his worthiness that he was and is the right choice for the job. That will satisfy the people of India to a great deal.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Red Corridor threat

Our Home Minister Mr. PC Chidambaram has indeed shown tremendous gut and determination in reorganising our intelligence machinery, much to the dismay of bureaucrats and the senior officers in the intelligence outfits. He has taken initiatives to strengthen the security apparatus of our country and our forces as well to counter the growing threat of external terrorism. But little would he have hoped that during the course, another form of threat would soon take centre stage – an internal threat so strong that it could take the country to the brink of a civil war and is rightly termed as our biggest internal security threat – Naxalism.

Naxalites waging a guerrilla war mostly from the forests of central and eastern India have a one point policy agenda – fight for the rural poor and landless & self reliance & development in order to capture political power & built a communist state, for which, they would throw out any and every state object functioning in their regions by all means possible. The brutal killing of 76 CRPF jawans by Maoists shows their aggression and hunger for dominance in their areas of operation. Naxalites not only target the police and paramilitary forces, but also target the administrative machinery of the government (block development officers etc) & the judiciary as well. So strong is their movement, that their sphere of influence has spread to almost half the states in our country which are categorized as the Red Corridor.

But what prompts them to take up the gun? Why this anger against the system? Social activists attribute the entire reason as exploitation & oppression of the backward classes of society. The Maoist cadres are formed largely by the poorest of poor people and only a fraction of them are tribal's, as understood otherwise. The wide ranging social disparity, caste divides, corrupt political class & no visible development on the ground in those lands in the past 60 years are common reasons for the same. Not to mention the brutality of the upper castes against these people, frequent incidents of abuse & rape of women in tandem with the police and the complete failure of the administrative and justice delivery systems within their regions (remember the Jehanabad massacre in 1997 that sent shock waves through the nation when members of the upper caste Ranbir Sena, a private militia of landlords, brutally killed 58 people, largely women & children, belonging to the lower castes). Statistically speaking too, the Tendulkar committee report presented to the Govt says that almost 38 crore people in India live below the poverty line, out of which 28 crore people live at less than 40 rupees a day and nearly 10 crore live on 10-15 rupees a day….the data clearly shows the social divide in our country validating the cliché that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Activists even hold Corporate India responsible for the abetment of Naxalism because of their continuous quest for agricultural land to set up industries to tap the mineral wealth of these regions, which is supported by the Govt.

What is the solution to the crisis? Mr. Chidambaram wants complete neutralization of the naxalites at all costs. But he conveniently forgets that our police & paramilitary forces (which incidentally are among the largest in the world), armed with their service revolvers, are ill-equipped to fight those, who carry nothing less than AK47’s. The negligence of paramilitary forces like the CRPF, BSF, ITBP etc is a big blot on the Home ministry and significant improvement is needed in their pay scales, their equipment and training. Else, killing of our soldiers would become common news in no time. The naxals should abstain from violence in all forms and should resolute to solve their differences through dialogue and talks, but for this the state first has to show its sincerity and resolve to provide intensive relief, rehabilitation & development on the ground in their territories and work to alleviate poverty. Corporate social responsibility should be pepped up in these regions, with more initiatives taken for providing education to the children, and employment to the locals in the industries. The monies made by corporate India by wiping out the mineral riches of these states should be pumped back into social initiatives for these sections of the people. Land acquisition processes should be streamlined (although I admit this is wishful thinking) and no way should land owners be forced to sell their land at throw away prices. The Madhu Koda’s of India should be brought to justice and the few thousand crores made by them should be pushed back into the economy. This would be the only way out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

America's power game

My observation is that the United States of America is arguably the most hated country in the world. More than half the globe views it with scepticism and frets at its every move, while others simply follow it, which ironically bestows on it the status of the biggest superpower - by chance as well as choice.

The President of US, considered the most powerful man on Earth, virtually calls the shots on every single issue that concerns mankind. When he or any other spokesperson for their Govt says ‘America’s interests are to be protected’, they actually mean every word of it. They would go to any extent to protect their own interests, even if it means going against the rest of the planet. Their supremacy is clearly reflected in their tonality & handling of world affairs. But this American policy of dominance & interference is what irks the rest of the 6000 million people globally.

History has it that US has always sought world authority, if not by peace, then by war, as George Bush famously said ‘either you are with us or against us’. They seek opportunities to go to war with any country that does not toe their line. America's entry into the Vietnam conflict to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam is considered by many as their biggest blunder in military history. They repeated the feat with the invasion of Iraq at the pretext of finding & destroying Weapons of Mass Destruction that were supposedly amassed by Saddam Hussein. They did not even find a rocket in that land. And now expectedly, Obama talks about a possible troop pull out from Iraq, leaving them to fend for themselves. Going by their axis of evil logic, Iran could be their next possible target.

In our own neighbourhood, America’s meddling in South East Asian affairs is a known fact. Clear examples in case are rising Asian giants like India and China & rogue states like Pakistan. India can conquer Pakistan and finish them once & for all. Who is the deterrent? America. Israel can wipe out Palestine overnight from the surface of the earth. What restraints them? America. China covertly supplies sophisticated Nodong-II missile technology to North Korea & Pakistan through the nuclear black market which is known to them, but they prefer not to rake up the issue only because they seek a balance of power in this region.

However, in spite of their theory of global command & protection of their strategic interests, there is no real challenger or threat to them. They enjoy tremendous clout in Europe & would always find friends who would back them to their graves. Ultimately, it is the continuous flow of the $ that America promises to its friends and in return gets the driver’s seat every single time. The only one who has taken them to task & has managed to give them sleepless nights is the most wanted fugitive in the world. Hats off to him, atleast for this!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

BJP’s change of guard

Mr. Nitin Gadkari’s elevation to the top slot in the BJP has come as a welcome move, a positive step towards reviving the party & taking on a resurrected Congress. The new president’s bio data is better off than many other politicians and his credentials are well known. Add to this, his clean image and out-of-the-box thinking. This man could be the saviour the BJP was looking for. But the going will not be easy.

Being a regional politician, he does not have a mass following, within the BJP or outside. So his primary task will be to penetrate and work with the grass root level of the party. Given his organisational abilities, he might manage it just fine.

Sooner or later, Gadkari will have to project his image in the public domain either as a hindutva hardliner or a moderator. Hence, his decision making abilities would be keenly monitored by all (specially the RSS) . The tough choice for him would be whether to follow the core ideology or compromise it with a moderate approach on issues of national importance.

Next, he would have to battle power-hungry hawks like Arun Jaitley & Sushma Swaraj. Although their oratorical skills are appreciated by one & all, the manner in which they ass licked LK Advani & gained top parliamentary positions is quite sickening & heavily criticized within the party. Being the campaign manager of the party at the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Arun Jaitley should have taken moral responsibility for the party’s drubbing & stepped out from all positions. So was not the case because at Delhi, the BJP has a parallel power centre run by Jaitley & Swaraj (supported by Venkaiah Naidu) and they pretty much call the shots on all national decisions. The choice for Gadkari is simple – either join the club, or take the bull by its horns.

Thirdly, the silence of BJP’s biggest goon, Mr. Narendra Modi is a little surprising at this point. He seems to have taken a back seat from the BJP centre stage and is focussing on Gujarat for now, though it is only a matter of time before this tiger demands his pound of flesh at the national level. Its an easy guess as to what that position could be – the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 polls! How Gadkari tackles Modi will be interesting. But given the fact that both are babies of the RSS, my gut feel says that they would pair well and this combination would work wonders for the party, may be even better than the Sonia-Manmohan partnership that has brought back the Congress to its best in the last two decades.

The speed with which Rahul Gandhi is running a marathon for the Congress, he may well become India’s next prime minister. If the BJP dreams to win the race, all their leaders should collaborate with Gadkari & work together to revive the party. That will be their only chance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No frill, No fun

Consider this scenario:

A typical day when you catch a flight from New Delhi to Cochin, lets say departure time 1350 hrs from Delhi (a via Hyderabad flight) and arrival time at Cochin 1800 hrs:

  • Wake up at 0830 cuz there is a kind of rush, last minute packing etc.
  • Start from home by 1130 max. Reach airport at 1245, the airports are generally far away from most of our homes.
  • After all the hassles (check-in, security check), board the flight at 1330 (this is the best case scenario, that is if the flight is on time).
  • By the time all passengers are on-board and the flight is ready for take off, its 1350.
  • Then expect an announcement from the pilot ‘we are No.7 in take off queue which would mean another 35 mins. Although we apologise for the delay, but this is not the fault of the airline…’
  • So finally we are off at 1430. After the subsequent delay at Hyderabad, land at cochin at 1845.
  • Wait for luggage to reach the terminal (the unions in Kerala take their own sweet time). Luggage arrives at 1910 hrs.
  • Drive back home, reach at 2045hrs.

All this makes it a 12 hour ordeal! (a whopping 5.15 hrs spent in the flight, with no food).

Welcome to No frill airline travel in India.

I have been a frequent flier & travelled by almost all the airlines operational in our country today. But my experience says, no frill travel is indeed no fun at all. The tickets may be less expensive (not cheap, but less expensive) than full fledged airlines, but that’s about it.

Everyone is out to take the consumer for a ride. Here’s how:

The Airports Authority of India/Private Operators:

  • They charge atrocious taxes under the garb of user development fee/airport development fee etc.
  • The Airport services are poor & sub standard as compared to international airports.
  • In Tier-II city airports like Pune & Cochin, there would be only two check in counters open, highlighting ‘All Flights’. Invariably, this has & does result in chaos, forcing the airline ticketing lady to announce ‘passengers to Delhi, please come forward’, thereby rushing things up. Next hassle is Security Check. You would find only one queue open for gents & ladies. (ever notice the policeman stare at the hand baggage check screen? I wonder what’s going on in his head).

The No frills:

  • Flights often get delayed and on-time performance claims are a complete hogwash (the pilot conveniently passes the buck on the AAI & congestion).
  • The average flight delay is 45 mins specially if you are flying into Delhi. First, you are circling the airport for 15 mins because of air traffic congestion. Then post-landing, you are taxing for 15 mins before you reach the terminal, followed by another 15 minutes before you pick up your luggage at the arrival lounge.
  • They charge Rs. 200 as Passenger Service fee. What service are they offering? Even food on board is sold at exorbitant prices. Imagine 2 pieces of samosa for Rs. 50 and a regular veg sandwich for Rs. 100! No matter what, we do feel hungry in the flight, compelling us to shell out the money for a quick snack.
  • There is absolutely no leg room in the aircraft. In the bargain to accommodate more seats, they totally ignore the seating convenience of the passengers. I am quite certain if given a chance the airlines would not mind to fly passengers standing on the aisle.
  • They are not given preference over regular airlines. This is a common feature that Kingfisher, Jet Airways & our sarkaari Air India are always given preference in taking off and landing.
  • They falsely claim that they are equipped with CAT III B instrument landing system which enables the aircraft to land in foggy conditions with near 0 visibility. Their pilots are not trained to handle the system either.

But on the flip side, it is also a fact that these no-frills have given the chance to several classes of people to zoom across metros & small cities. Air travel which was once the privilege of the rich, now extends to various strata of society. That’s the only plus I can think of in a pool of minuses.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Arunachal – ours or theirs?

The Chinese are engaging us in a diplomatic boxing bout like never before over our border issues and specifically their reservations & claims over Arunachal Pradesh. As I attempted to understand what exactly is bothering the two nations, I was relatively shocked to see that the dispute is actually a century old & was an original creation of the British Empire, because we were under their rule then.

However, this post is not intended to expose the British or drill down to the bottom to find out the truth about who is right or wrong. It is intended to express my absolute disgust at the hypocrisy of the Indian state when they emphatically claim that Arunachal is an integral part of India’. Almost every power corridor in Delhi right up to the Prime Minister has gone on record to state this claim & counter the Chinese allegations.

But on what moral grounds?

  • We club Arunachal with the rest of the region and simply categorise it as North-East, even though every state in that part of India is different from each other in all respects. Much like the way, once upon a time, North Indian’s thought that every person hailing from the South was a Madrasi who only fed on 'Idly & Dosa' in spite of the fact that every South Indian state is linguistically & culturally different from each other.
  • Can we name all the states in North-East along with their Capitals? Leave aside North-East, how many of us can name the capital of Arunachal or its Chief Minister?
  • What have we done for Arunachal as a state? Has the Govt provided any separate financial assistance to develop & uplift it? Does the Govt recognise that Arunachal being a separate entity could have its own share of problems which might be different from its neighbouring states and hence needs to be addressed independently? The answer is No. Our Prime Minister only has the time to announce a Rs. 24000 Crore combined package for the entire North-East territory (only announce, not disburse).
  • Why is it that every female with small eyes & typical North-Eastern features is called a ‘chinki’, and the youth cross all limits when they assume that every chinki is a hooker?
  • Why alienate the students from the North East by abusing & mocking them?
  • As far as development is concerned, don’t you think Arunachalis would be better off with the Chinese considering the pace at which they are rapidly uplifting their border areas & the quality of life for their people?

All this is a stark reminder to us that we ourselves are responsible for the grim situation faced by this section of the people of India. Although, we leave no stone unturned in merely showcasing to the world that these people are with us and we care for them, but the fact is they are treated as second rung citizens in their own country.

If we believe that Arunachal is a part of India, we must believe that the people of Arunachal are also a part of India. They are as much Indians as we are. They deserve the same amount of respect as we do. We have to make them believe that they are one of us.