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EDITORIALS

Peace in Parliament
Let's hope the understanding lasts
T
HE Lok Sabha reopened in an unusual manner on Monday after a three-week recess. It actually conducted business peacefully! Coming as it did after repeated boycotts and adjournments during the first phase of the Budget session, this incident was a pleasant surprise.

Independent interpretation
Keep Independence Day a dry day
D
RY days are no longer dry, thanks to an "independent," though confusing, interpretation of the law. This Independence Day, those who needed to imbibe the spirits participated in a more spirited manner in the general celebrations, since they did not have to go through a "dry day" when liquor shops are closed and the sale of liquor is officially banned.



EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

Corn and porn
Rushdie’s pornography of freedom
P
ORNOGRAPHY makes some people horny. Others, like Salman Rushdie, get corny about it. One could have let this one too from Midnight's (most famous) child pass, because it is that time of the year when Midnight's Children tend to get a bit touched; like werewolves on a full moon night.

ARTICLE

Challenges before Indian polity
Need to create a more equitable society
by Zoya Hasan
T
HE overall argument advocated here has been framed by the idea that the 2004 verdict is a mandate for tolerance, secularism, and inclusiveness delivered by a discerning electorate. In the context of this observation, it is legitimate to read the recent election as a battle over two different ideas of India: one inclusive and compassionate, the other homogeneous and elitist.

MIDDLE

Portrayal of conviction
by Harkishan Singh
T
HOSE who lived in Lahore during the pre-partition days felt nostalgic on witnessing the coverage which the media gave to the city at the time of the cricket matches. Lahore was the political nerve centre of northwest of the Indian subcontinent.

OPED

IAF needs at least 300 aircraft
No acquisition for 20 years after Bofors payoff
by Gulshan Luthra
T
HE Indian Air Force is roaring for jetspeed at the Ministry of Defence for new aircraft simply because most of its MiG series of combat aircraft are coming to the end of their lives. The Air Force has mothballed, or what it calls number-plating in its lingo, at least three to four squadrons already.

Punjab Arts Council denied funds
by Parbina Rashid
N
OTHING seems to be going right for the Punjab Arts Council. The bad spell that started seven years ago with the council losing its corpus funds in the Punwire disaster has been getting more pronounced with each passing year.

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Peace in Parliament
Let's hope the understanding lasts

THE Lok Sabha reopened in an unusual manner on Monday after a three-week recess. It actually conducted business peacefully! Coming as it did after repeated boycotts and adjournments during the first phase of the Budget session, this incident was a pleasant surprise. The smoking of the peace pipe was the result of maturity which everyone expects from his representatives but rarely witnesses. The Opposition withdrew remarks against Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee reciprocated the gesture by withdrawing his statement against the Opposition. Now that they have done the impossible, they must ensure that the tenuous understanding lasts and such bickering does not erupt in future. Only then can the Lok Sabha discharge its responsibilities. So far, the trend has been to disrupt the proceedings at the drop of a hat.

The impression that has been generated is that the honourable members are out to emulate schoolchildren who are ever ready for a holiday and can enforce one by hook or by crook. No doubt, the issue of criminalisation of politics is a burning one but instead of paralysing Parliament over it, every MP should join hands to find ways and means of cleansing the system. Ironically, while the Lok Sabha ran smoothly on Monday, the Rajya Sabha compensated for this "lapse" when Opposition members created pandemonium and later walked out as the Chairman refused to allow a discussion on the issue. That diminishes the faint hope generated by the truce in the Lower House.

Times are changing. Political rivals even in mofussil towns of Madhya Pradesh are deciding that they will not shout slogans at one another’s leaders or show black flags. They have come to the grudging conclusion that whatever a party can do, the rival party can do it worse. It is time this realisation dawned on the members of Parliament too. Instead of the public and the media telling the MPs what they should do or not do, it is the latter that should turn into role models.
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Independent interpretation
Keep Independence Day a dry day

DRY days are no longer dry, thanks to an "independent," though confusing, interpretation of the law. This Independence Day, those who needed to imbibe the spirits participated in a more spirited manner in the general celebrations, since they did not have to go through a "dry day" when liquor shops are closed and the sale of liquor is officially banned. Liquor sales in both the Union Territory of Chandigarh and Punjab were open after 7 pm and, as has been reported in the columns of this newspaper, some shops in Panchkula too were open.

There is no doubt that underhand sale of liquor takes place even on days when the shops are officially closed, but instead of stopping it, the authorities have apparently taken the easier if-you--can't-beat-them-join-them approach. This time senior officials were quoted as saying that the Punjab excise policy permitted opening of liquor shops after 7 pm on August 15. The UT officials said they followed the lead given by Punjab. National holidays are expected to be observed as "dry days" all over the country, except when such "independent" interpretation of law allows the powerful liquor cartels to rake in even more profits.

The sale of liquor is a huge business. Those running it have demonstrated their power to subvert the law. Liquor kiosks are seen near schools, near the national highways and at other places where these have been expressly banned. If the kiosk is in an area illegally, how can its owners be expected to uphold the law? Those who protest against their continuance are intimidated by the liquor barons and their musclemen. As it is, there are only three days — Independence Day, Republic Day and Gandhi Jayanti — a year when sale of liquor is banned. It is a pity that even this ban is flouted by the liquor mafia in connivance with the excise officials. Unless stringent action is taken against the guilty, dry days will no longer be dry.
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Corn and porn
Rushdie’s pornography of freedom

PORNOGRAPHY makes some people horny. Others, like Salman Rushdie, get corny about it. One could have let this one too from Midnight's (most famous) child pass, because it is that time of the year when Midnight's Children tend to get a bit touched; like werewolves on a full moon night. But porn — now called porno — is no longer the stuff of dreams and fantasy; many lives revolve around it and in it, and it, in turn, revolves around many other lives. So, sooner rather than later, someone had to come up with this pearl: that pornography is vital to freedom. The seminal truth, according to writer Salman Rushdie is that pornography is a kind of "standard-bearer for freedom, even civilisation". He praises pornography and implies that it is common in Islamic societies by citing figures on the volume of porno traffic in Pakistan.

Does it then follow that Pakistan is the freest country in the world because it has the highest volume of Internet porno? But then what is pornography? One man's porno is another's erotica and a third one's art. If we are talking only of "Lolita" and "Lady Chatterley's Lover", many would insist that only the priggish see these tracts as pornographic. What then of Anais Nin and Henry Miller who wrote much more explicit erotica? Were they artists or pornographers?

A larger question is whether pornography, easier to describe than define, is only about the sexual. Is not our politics too obscenely pornographic? When Father Bush went to war against Iraq it was entertainment. Now, son Dubya's second invasion of Iraq is war as pornography at its finest, ably abetted by CNN. So we have politics of pornography as well as pornographic politics; and a war for and against porn as much as a pornographic war. Cry, beloved freedom, and civilisation too.
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Thought for the day

As for our majority... one is enough.

— Benjamin Disraeli
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Challenges before Indian polity
Need to create a more equitable society
by Zoya Hasan

THE overall argument advocated here has been framed by the idea that the 2004 verdict is a mandate for tolerance, secularism, and inclusiveness delivered by a discerning electorate. In the context of this observation, it is legitimate to read the recent election as a battle over two different ideas of India: one inclusive and compassionate, the other homogeneous and elitist. The first idea, backed by a wide spectrum of political opinion ranging from Gandhians, the Congress, the socialists, and the Left, has constantly underscored India’s plural ethos and placed paramount emphasis on democracy, secularism, and social justice. Inspired by Nehruvian ideas, this model had ensured some level of tolerance and distributive fairness and yet at the same time sought to achieve economic growth, albeit slowly. The second idea is one that owes much to the flourishing, high growth economies of East Asia. This model has little place for liberal values, secularism, social justice, and accommodation. In this model even democracy is a convenience to be used and disregarded as the need arises.

One of the most striking features of this election has been the shift in the avowed position of the Congress Party. The Congress strategists succeeded in giving an ideological dimension to its campaign, presenting the party as the guardian of India against the divisive politics of the Sangh parivar. It posited the party as a champion of the “aam aadmi” against the pro-rich policies of the Hindu right. This shift is to a degree reminiscent of the left-of-centre reorientation of the Congress under Nehru in the early 1950s and Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s, which produced major realignments in the policy and also played a role in reviving the party’s traditional social appeal among the poor and the disadvantaged. The empathy shown by the Congress party towards the lower socio-economic groups, marginalised in recent years by the economic reform process, seems to have contributed in large measure to the return of the Congress to the centre of the political arena.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and tireless personal campaigning around issues of unemployment, rural and urban distress, and the need for policies with a “human face” struck a chord with ordinary voters. One good thing that has happened in the process is the return of Indian democracy to an institutional structure based on the separation of party and government; something that has not happened since the Emergency. However, the Congress president’s decision not to accept the office of Prime Minister and to appoint Dr Manmohan Singh to the post has provoked gratuitous concern about the party chief emerging as a rival power centre and about the impact of this one the institution of Prime Minister.

The xenophobic campaign against Sonia Gandhi, first against her foreign origin and then against her as the “super PM” is part of a concerted attempt to discredit the Prime Minister, destabilise the UPA government, undermine the popular mandate, and marginalise the “human face” of the Congress party. That said, the Congress faces the challenge of efficiently reworking the relationship of the government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is not the elected leader of the single largest party, and the party headed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, whose popularity and prestige has been enhanced by her act of renunciation.

Critics argue that the office of Prime Minister will be diminished if it is subservient to party leaders or the UPA. However, this argument ignores the fact that the office of Prime Minister is an evolving one and that the power of Prime Minister has waxed and waned. An exaggerated prime-ministership is the outcome of centralised politics and the growth of institutions like the PMO, which has acquired larger than life proportions in the past few years and breached the standard bureaucratic arrangements of the parliamentary system such as the Cabinet Secretariat or even the Council of Ministers. Such concentration of power and centralisation has created problems in the sphere of representation and a disconnect between the government and the electorate, and is antithetical to effective governance.

By sharing power and resources, the Prime Minister only enhances rather than dilutes his or her influence. In addition, centralising Prime Ministers found that it is not humanly possible to cope with the vast demands on their time and capacities, and such problems arise when all powers are concentrated in the person or office of the Prime Minister. More to the point, the political awakening among various sections of society and simultaneous institutional decline has made it much more difficult for one institution to anticipate and respond to events, interests, and popular pressures, and to prevent things from spinning out of control. Therefore, an arrangement like the UPA Coordination Committee, consisting of representatives of all the parties supporting the government, and with someone other than the Prime Minister as its head, is a welcome move. Another new element is the formation of the National Advisory Committee (NAC), which will act as a watchdog of the government and oversee the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

The 2004 election has raised questions about the future of the political challenge to the BJP, and by implication, the future of the secularisation project itself, particularly after the rout of the BJP. Even more than two months after the verdict, the BJP has failed to come to terms with its debacle. In defeat, as in victory, the central contradiction confronting the BJP is, on the one hand, the impulse towards moderation if only to become the leader of a coalition of disparate parties and, on the other, towards an aggressive anti-Muslim agenda. The electoral success of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh has demonstrated that the party cannot win without the aid of the RSS networks. At the same time, it is moot point whether the RSS can grow and expand without state support. The truth which the BJP is still unwilling to accept is that the overwhelming majority of the people have had more than their fill of identity politics. Although the BJP may have a future and may continue to operate as a party with significance in particular regions, its core ideology of an all-encompassing cultural nationalism and its potential to become a hegemonic ideology has been seriously called into question.

India’s democratic system is well established. There is considerable evidence that Indian democracy is maturing and deepening, and politics and elections are providing space for contestation and avenues for expression of rights and claims. While the persistence of a democratic-federal-secular policy is a major political and human achievement, formidable challenges remain in the realisation of substantive democracy. One important challenge comes from the project of Hindutva, which has been seeking to redefine democracy in majoritarian terms, exposing the fragility of Indian pluralism However, the principal challenge remains the creation of a more equal society and reduction in the vast economic disparities that exist between regions, classes, groups and individuals, further aggravated by globalisation.

While democracy in the past two-three decades has seen a transfer of power from the upper castes or classes to the middle ranks, it has not resulted in power sharing with those at the bottom of India’s social structure. Rural voters have come to play a significant role in India’s democratic polity, both in terms of their participation in social movements and in the elections at national and state levels. At the same time, much of this political energy has not amounted to adequate attention being paid to their concerns because the policies and politics that matter are the politics of state institutions concerned with the rural economy and not the vast numbers of rural voters. The way in which the democratic process has evolved underlines both its incomplete and complex nature as well as its normative ambiguity. While democracy in India has spread deep and wide, it has not facilitated any significant distribution of wealth and income.

The UPA, therefore, ought to be consistently pursuing three themes: an urgent need to address the issue of employment; the parallel urgency of increasing social spending; and the need to speak out and openly against communalism and the communalisation of constitutional and educational institutions. If it pursues these issues, it could begin to reorient itself both on ethnic-religious identity issues and questions of economic and social justice. Crucial here would be the reversal of the past policies that have exacerbated inequality and disparities, and generated jobless growth while impoverishing the majority of the people and, above all, the need to provide justice to the victims and survivors of the Gujarat violence . The last election turned precisely on these two issues. The voters have clearly exercised their franchise in favour of equity and pluralism; now it is the UPA government’s responsibility to put into train the original idea of India.

The article is excerpted from the Ninth Prem Bhatia Memorial Lecture delivered by the writer, a professor at JNU, New Delhi
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Portrayal of conviction
by Harkishan Singh

THOSE who lived in Lahore during the pre-partition days felt nostalgic on witnessing the coverage which the media gave to the city at the time of the cricket matches. Lahore was the political nerve centre of northwest of the Indian subcontinent.

The historic city has been through several upheavals and turmoils. It has seen the rise and fall of many regimes. Before Independence, in our country Lahore possibly came next only to Calcutta, Madras and Bombay in importance. It was a vibrant metrorpolis. It was known for its political, social, cultural, and educational awakening.

Lahore was the place to be for college education. Out of several of the colleges, many preferred elite institutions, the Government College and the Forman Christian College. I missed being considered for admission in either of the two since I was taken seriously ill in my village and could not reach for the scheduled interviews. I ended up at the Sikh National College for intermediate studies (1945-47). For me that proved to be a blessing in disguise.

The college was newish among the centres of study. It had been established in 1938 by the founder Principal Niranjan Singh. He embodied simplicity, humility and missionary seal. He was a man with high personal standards, uncompromising on principles. He was a Gandhian in his bearings. He had translated the Mahatma’s “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” into Punjabi. However, he was not at all politically active.

He delivered to us a general lecture every week, which was a treat to attend. He impressed on character building, fellow feeling and good food habits. We the students were much influenced by his words of wisdom during our formative years.

The principal was not really a preacher of values; he portrayed good value system through practical demonstration. He was unbending from his considered convictions. An illustration may be given of his inner strength, which left a deep impact on his students.

From the top of the college the principal headed, there fluttered the Tricolour. The flag was no doubt identified with a political party but at the time it symbolised the aspirations of the nation for freedom. It needed a lot of courage to openly declare one’s yearning for liberation. The colonial masters abhorred such an act of defiance. There was also opposition from a lobby of the community on the flag issue. Only a person of Principal Niranjan Singh’s principled morality would not buckle in and compromise. He boldly stood by the dictates of his conscience.

As far as I can recall, in Lahore of those days it was only at the Sikh National College and the Bradlaugh Hall, headquarters of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee, that the Tricolour remained flying all the 24 hours.
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IAF needs at least 300 aircraft
No acquisition for 20 years after Bofors payoff
by Gulshan Luthra


Aircraft phase-out will hit the IAF air power
Aircraft phase-out will hit the IAF air power

THE Indian Air Force (IAF) is roaring for jetspeed at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for new aircraft simply because most of its MiG series of combat aircraft are coming to the end of their lives. The Air Force has mothballed, or what it calls number-plating in its lingo, at least three to four squadrons already. Despite its best efforts to increase the lives of its aircraft by reducing their flying time, it is set to lose an average of two squadrons every year.

The IAF needs an outright and immediate purchase of some 300 aircraft, or 16 squadrons, to match the pace of the aircraft it has to phase out. It is a tough decision, involving an expense of US $ 15 to 20 billion but required as the acquisition process at the MoD had been crippled for several years after the alleged Bofors payoff in the 1980s. The 20-year-period it has taken to clear the purchase of Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) is an example.

Fortunately, despite political opposition, the PV Narasimha Rao government decided to acquire Su 30 aircraft in 1994, and 45 of them are now operational. The gap between phasing out the jets and newer acquisitions would have been much higher but for these aircraft and the decision to upgrade 125 MiG 21 (Bis) jets to extend their lives till 2017. India will produce another 150 Su 30s, beginning next year, but that will be a process cascading to the next decade.

According to the Military Balance published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India has approximately 700 combat aircraft, nearly 600 of which are of Soviet/ Russian origin. Of these, about 300 are MiG 21s, 78 MiG 23s, 135 MiG 27s, 63 MiG 29s and seven MiG 25s.

According to Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, former Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), it is simple mathematics. India acquired most of these aircraft 20 to 30 years ago. It was known well in advance that that there is a limit to the extension of their lives and the process for their replacement should have been finalised years ago.

Laments Air Marshal (retd) Ashok Goel: “Unfortunately, everything concerning acquisitions gets dragged into politics with ulterior motives, so bureaucrats (at MoD) hesitate in taking timely decisions…Except for the Su 30, most have been late.”

Well, how long can a country afford not to decide? There is a 1961 government decision to give the IAF 65 squadrons, or about 1150 combat aircraft, keeping in mind the security scenario on the western and north-eastern borders. It was reduced to 45, but actually, their number has been 39.

If two or even three squadrons are phased out every year, without immediate replacements, we could soon go down to about 30 squadrons, just eight more than what the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has. This can happen within this decade.

Pakistan, buoyed at being declared as a Major non-Nato ally of the US recently, has already sent a Letter of request (LoR) for more F-16 warjets to their manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and the US government. It is also negotiating with Sweden, France and some Arab countries to buy whatever is available, and has picked up, dirt-cheap, 50 Mirage jets, with 150 spare engines and kits, albeit of older 5D and F1 versions, from Libya, possibly as a “Thank You” for the clandestine nuclear assistance it had given.

Then there is China, which is adding 400 to 500 advanced versions of Su 27 and Su 30 aircraft to its inventory of 105 squadrons. There is a process of rapprochement with it, but if Beijing thinks it necessary to increase and upgrade its force levels, can New Delhi not do it?

So far, the IAF has been trying to make up for the shortfall in numbers by inducting better sensors and software, acquired or developed indigenously. In a Doordarshan interview with this writer sometime back, Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy stressed the importance the IAF was giving to sensors, software and the digital battle space to establish superiority.

Thanks. But that is not the only answer. If India is inducting hi-tech aircraft, so are Pakistan, China, and other countries. Our prowess at developing newer technologies will give us an edge, but the answer lies in numbers. Numbers not of obsolete aircraft but modern jets.

US Lockheed Martin, which has upgraded its F-16 to Block 60 level, had offered to transfer the manufacturing plant to India. However, the IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) do not favour newer assembly lines but those they are already familiar with. Published reports indicate that negotiations are on with France for 140 Mirage 2000-5. Russians, who successfully bid for the MiG 29 Ks for the Indian Navy, also want to sell this aircraft to India. It would perhaps be 30 to 40 per cent of the cost of Mirage 2000-5. But it is the IAF which has to decide on its requirements.

Notably, for the first time in history, India now has an air base outside the country, at Ayni in Tajikistan. In a diplomatic master stroke, the agreement for it is believed to have been initiated and finalised by a rather quiet Indian diplomat, Joint Secretary Rajiv Dogra, and then given by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on a silver platter to the MoD. Aircraft need to be stationed there as well, and for that, the IAF needs additional funds.

The Vajpayee government could not spend all the allocations for newer acquisitions but it removed the paralysis in the MoD by signing deals for the AJT, Israeli Phalcon airborne radars, Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov and some force multipliers. Today, the Manmohan Singh government has substantially raised the outlay for defence, and the trend can continue every year to make up for the 20-year delay in modernisation in all the three services.

There is a need for an all-party consensus to give the IAF at least $ 30 billion over the next few years to replace its obsolete aircraft, and increase its squadron strength to 45. The void in the phase-out and replacement process in the IAF force levels otherwise can be very dangerous.

The writer is a defence analyst
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Punjab Arts Council denied funds
by Parbina Rashid

NOTHING seems to be going right for the Punjab Arts Council. The bad spell that started seven years ago with the council losing its corpus funds in the Punwire disaster has been getting more pronounced with each passing year.

Small wonder that the council continues to be in the news for the wrong reasons. It hit the headlines when it was found that its promotional activity was a big zero. Then there was the talk about shifting of the three academies under it to different places in Punjab. Now, the council employees fear that they may not receive their salaries from the next month.

The deserted look of the Punjab Kala Bhavan in Sector 16, Chandigarh, that houses the offices of the Arts Council as well as the Punjab Sahitya Akademi, the Punjab Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi is a giveaway of its present status.

“A fixed deposit of Rs 35 lakh generates Rs 3 lakh a month interest, most of which is spent on the maintenance of the building,” says Colonel J S Bakshi, Secretary-General of the council. If things continue this way, we will not be able to pay our staff their salaries, he adds.

The brainchild of Dr M S Randhawa, the council was established in 1966. The three akademies came up in 1978. The golden period of the council was between 1991 and 1997 when it used to organise about 80 functions a year, including 52 Thursday programmes, Tuesday plays and art exhibitions. The Sahitya Akademi even started a scholarship to promote Punjabi literature.

Now art is not a priority for the cash-strapped Punjab Government. Last year the council received only Rs 12 lakh as its regular grant instead of Rs 20 lakh. This has activities of the council. This year it could organise only 14 Thursday programmes. The only memorable ones are the “Sur Taal” award nite and the annual art exhibition. Its activities outside Chandigarh have almost stopped.

“Thursday programmes have become quite a burden,” says Jaspal Bhatti, President of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. The Akademi pays Rs 1,100 to Rs 1,500 only to a performing artiste. “This is sheer exploitation,” he says.

Though funds have been raised, red-tape has delayed the proposed 350-seat auditorium. “Once it is completed, we can generate funds by renting it out. However, construction work has remained suspended for the past three years,” rues Colonel Bakshi.

There is a talk of shifting the three academies to Amritsar, Jalandhar and Patiala. A majority of those associated with the council support the government’s intention to spread out art activities, but not the moving out of the akademies. Says Colonel Bakshi, “Shifting them out means the government will have to invest more in the Punjab Kala Bhavan to make it a full-fledged cultural centre.” Others are more blunt. “When the government can’t adequately fund activities of the academies, how will it finance the infrastructure and staff for the new offices at three different places?” they ask.

“The akademies should remain at their present locations as we have proper infrastructure and also networking facilities with those that matter in the field of art and culture,” says Viren Tanwar, general secretary of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi.

“Instead of experimenting with a new location, the government should give more emphasis on creating paid posts for the council as well as the academies. The posts of President and General Secretary should be made permanent with salary. This will make them feel more responsible,” says an insider.
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The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.

— Mahatma Gandhi

We want a new breed of men before India can be cleansed of her disease. We want deeper sincerity of motive, a greater courage in speech and earnestness in action. We want men who love this country and are full of yearning to serve and not to further aid in their degradation by insincerity and self-seeking.

— Sarojini Naidu

Act on the Word of the Guru. You need not ape his actions blindly.

— Guru Nanak

India has not yet assimilated the work of Buddha. She is hypnotised by His voice, not made alive by it.

— Swami Vivekananda
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