PM on quota
Chandigarh a City Beautiful?
Political mess in Pakistan
Stories that Scots coined
Human Rights Diary
Heartening that the news about the IAF acquiring more multi-role fighter aircraft in the near future is, the few that are in the pipeline may not be enough to fulfil the needs of the Force. There has been a serious depletion over the years. Way back in 1961, the government had decided that the IAF would have 65 squadrons, which means about 1150 combat aircraft. This figure was decided in view of the security scenario on the western and north-eastern borders. The number of squadrons was later tapered down to 45. Mind you, this was on the basis of the requirements of four decades ago. The need has increased considerably following the acquisition of aircraft by China as well as Pakistan. And yet, the IAF today has only 39 squadrons! Defence analysts point out that if two or three squadrons are phased out every year without immediate replacements, India could go down to about 30 squadrons within this decade. The figure would be just eight more than what the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has.
Of course, cost is a major factor. Fighter aircraft are prohibitively expensive. But that is not the only reason why the IAF has been falling back. Inertia had set in after the Tehelka expose which curtailed defence purchases. Things are now changing slightly but in defence matters one has to plan years — if not decades — ahead. India was also done in by the inordinately long delay in the indigenous LCA programme. Then there was also the problem of too many crashes that the IAF planes suffered over the years
All these drawbacks will have to be taken into account to make sure that the country’s defence preparedness is not compromised. Out of the long list, the biggest malaise is politics. Defence acquisitions should not be allowed to get caught in red tape. All other organs of the body politic have been affected by this chronic disease. At least the fighting arm should be given the mandatory immunity shots.
PM on quota
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appeal to the corporate sector in Mumbai on Wednesday for "voluntary action" on providing job reservations to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes reflects a slight change in the United Progressive Alliance government's attitude towards the issue. Apparently, the Centre is finding it difficult to force reservations on the industrialists as they are in no mood to listen. They fear that reservations would compromise merit, harm functional efficiency and, more important, undermine competitive capacity of Indian industry in the international market. They also fear that reservations would inhibit the flow of foreign investment. Dr Manmohan Singh, for instance, has an ambitious plan to attract $150 billion of foreign investment. How would he achieve this if the government went ahead with its move through parliamentary intervention?
It would be premature to say how the government would handle the issue in the coming days, especially in the winter session of Parliament, as the UPA has, in principle, committed itself to reservations in the private sector in its Common Minimum Programme. It is, perhaps, for this reason that while making a strong pitch for "voluntary action" by the corporate sector in Mumbai, Dr Manmohan Singh had left enough space for dialogue and discussion by maintaining that "reservation is going to be a national policy and nobody can avoid it".
Caste-based reservations were essential to uplift the socially disadvantaged sections in the period soon after Independence but, certainly, not now. Even the Founding Fathers of the Constitution were in favour of it for only 10 years, not in perpetuity. But successive governments, with an eye on the vote banks, have been extending the benefit at the cost of merit, talent and competence. Moreover, five decades of experience with reservation suggests that it is the creamy layer that has been enjoying its fruits most. No, quotas — in the government or private sector — should not be allowed as they have done incalculable damage to the system. In view of the stiff opposition by the industry, it would be eminently sensible on the part of the government to leave the matter to the wisdom of the corporate sector.
Chandigarh a City Beautiful?
Experts say Chandigarh is the topmost livable city in the country, but then what do the residents make of their assertion that the quality of its air is increasingly getting poor? How safe is the drinking water with industrial effluents discharged into rivers, pesticides contaminating underground and rain water and chlorine mixed indiscriminately? Anyway, drinking water, like the supply of electricity, is seldom sufficient. Traffic is fast becoming unmanageable. Several roundabouts, a nice feature of Corbusier’s city, have been demolished to ease traffic flow. Still newspapers almost daily splash reports of citizens losing lives and limbs in accidents. Hospitals get more patients than they can handle. If this is livable, what else makes life unlivable?
A state-of-environment report by Delhi’s Energy Resources Institute praises the city’s waste disposal system and calls it among the best in the country. Waste is, no doubt, segregated, but the municipal staff just dump it at the nearby village of Daddu Majra. It is still not used to generate electricity as they do in Chennai. Despite protests from villagers, slaughterhouse waste is also unloaded in the open there. As the Tribune pictures amply revealed on Thursday, garbage bins in various parts of the city overflow and are rummaged by stray cows and dogs. If this is what the researchers regard as the best way of waste disposal, then the quality of research can be well imagined!
Actually, there are two faces of Chandigarh — the one representing the north of Madhya Marg and the other the south. The north-south divide is glaring. While the north has bigger houses, fewer residents, higher literacy, the south is crowded, less beautiful, if not downright ugly, and officially neglected. The recently raised battalion of municipal councillors eats up a huge chunk of revenue and hardly leaves much money for the city’s upkeep. Electoral compulsions have led to a wild growth of slums and unplanned housing in the periphery. The green belt is shrinking with official blessings. There was a time when the city was livable; now only some parts are. Experts need to have another look at their criteria.
Political mess in Pakistan
Sensitive people draw cynical conclusions about Pakistan politics. They follow the unending pointless debate over the wardrobe of President Pervez Musharraf. It occupies the maximum newspaper space and consumes considerable time on TV channels. Passions are running high over whether the President should continue to wear his military uniform.
The Opposition alliance ARD has condemned the whole regime as undemocratic. The six parties’ religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), is shouting that come December 31, if General Musharraf does not resign from the Army and appoint another Army Chief, it would start a tearing campaign. But if he takes off his Army hat, it is prepared to accept him as a democratic President.
Some people feel all this is entertaining. Others see the MMA as the closest supporter of General Musharraf, who has been its benefactor. The strength it has in Parliament and two provincial assemblies is said to be a donation from the generals. The MMA voted for all the extraordinary powers General Musharraf acquired through his Legal Framework Order and made them a part of the Constitution, making a mockery of the latter. Even otherwise, the military and the mullahs have always been hand-in-glove.
Their cooperation in times of crisis is a well-established fact. Remember the East Pakistan crisis and the civil war that followed. The Jamaat-e-Islami’s two militias, Al-Badr and Al-Shamsh, actively cooperated with the Army against their Bengali neighbours. They helped the Army to accomplish whatever it had set out to achieve. Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s the Army-mullah combination succeeded in destroying the state of Afghanistan, first in the name of jihad against the communists and later in the civil war in support of the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. It is only after 9/11 and General Musharraf’s switching sides to cooperate with the US in overthrowing the Taliban regime that the MMA parties for the first time protested in public but kept quiet when the General growled.
What the cynical observers see is a continuation of the military dictatorship that was re-established after the General’s bloodless coup on October 12, 1999, soon after the Kargil episode. Nothing actually changed after the 2002 election or because of the parliament that emerged amidst much scepticism of its legitimacy. For, all the shots are being called by General Musharraf. What difference does it make whether he wears an executive’s suit or dons a commando’s uniform. He is the Army Chief and that is his only constituency. His power does not depend on the votes in the National Assembly or on any other institution of democracy.
The furore over the uniform is needless; the mullahs are trying to establish their credentials as an opposition group while the rest of the country doubts it. At best, it is straining at the gnat after swallowing the whole camel of military rule.
The cynics go on sneering at the ruling parties, each member of which is a turncoat: he/she was either a member of Mr Nawaz Sharif’s PML or Ms Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. As soon as the military took over, these people — often dubbed as Lotas and Chamchas, or sycophants — created a brand new party to support General Musharraf and went on to win a thin majority that was later augmented by more defections from the PPP and other parties. This group comprises very well-heeled people, and many of them are big landlords.
These politicians, the Chaudharies and Makhdooms, are influential, if not quite powerful, in their areas; they need to impress their Muzareas or Haris to keep them quiet and obedient. They are not burdened by any ideals. They need to enjoy more power, even if it is a shadow of what political power actually is. If they find that only a few ministerial offices — sans true power — are available, they would opt for it and kiss the boots of their Boss.
Some would surely remember that the Pakistanis in general have repeatedly shown their preference for a democratic regime. Whatever happened in the end — a General always took over — the intensity of the movements against dictatorships in 1969 and 1977 can, I believe, leave the various satyagrahas in India in the shade. But the firepower of the Army acts as a deterrent against political waywardness. The Army also is reassured and, in fact, politically reinforced by the fact that all the educated sections in Punjab, minus some dissenters, recognise the Army as their own and are ready to obey its diktats. Pakistan’s Punjab province is more populous than the rest of the three provinces; so, even when there are democratic governments the reality of power does not change because of the unavowed family linkages between the Punjabi politicians and Army officers. The rest does not matter.
Ordinary Pakistanis have to make their two ends meet. Do not forget that two-thirds of Pakistanis are poor. How can they fight an Army that can actually and determinedly shoot. It did in Bengal; it did in Baluchistan and also in Sindh (1983). The generals have taken over four times and have remained in direct control of the governing apparatus for 29 long years out of the 57 years of Pakistan’s history. But the rest of the time most regimes were manipulated by them and had no real power. The reality of the Army’s power in Pakistan is virtually unchangeable. Human nature being what it is, some people will always be able to see humour even in grim situations. The record of the military regimes is remarkable. The generals have always complained that the erstwhile civilian politicians were nincompoops, inept and corrupt. But they, in their turn, do not fail to make a greater mess of things.
Ayub Khan, the first formal military dictator, waxed eloquent over politicians’ cussedness and love for power. They have made a perfectly sound country to acquire an image of instability; it indeed has become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. The fact of the matter is that Pakistani politicians are like their counterparts elsewhere. Some are good, some honest and some dishonest. But what about the generals? True, they may have found a mess around the central power structure. But when each of them left there was even more of it.
The generals love wars. All the two major wars that Pakistan has fought were started by them, and I do not bother to count the half and quarter wars that ought to be counted. They caused the arms race, stoked the fire of inflation and made the country poorer, contrary to their propaganda of development.
The generals started wars but they failed to win them and left a sorry legacy. The tom-tommed De Gaulle of Asia, Gen. Ayub Khan, so wonderfully ran Pakistan for 10 years that after him there was a popular agitation of rare intensity. He caused the East Pakistan crisis to arise and laid the groundwork for a civil war, another war with India and dismemberment of his country. This last came during his succeeding General’s reign. Zia-ul-Haq entangled Pakistan in Afghanistan and hurt both countries grievously. Earlier, there had been crackdowns on Baloch nationalists, prodded on by the generals.
The ruling General today has laid down the law. All the previous military takeovers were justified, and what is the big deal: Aren’t the generals Pakistanis? Why can’t they rule? He has found a wonderful new
Stories that Scots coined
Over the ages Scotsmen have acquired the reputation of being — to put it mildly — rather over-careful about their money. What is not so well known, however, is that taking advantage of the popularity of stories about that propensity of theirs — and of their saleable value — Scotsmen themselves have coined many of such stories and sold them to the newspapers for considerable profit. The line is that if the rest of the world gets some malicious pleasure from these jokes it is welcome to do so: the negative aspect is more than counterbalanced by the consideration that the stories become a source of sizeable income for their author. There are thousands of these stories and the following are a small specimen of them.
A Scotsman moved into a new set of apartments and decided to invite a close friend of his for dinner. He then proceeded to give the guest precise instructions on how to reach the apartments and find his way to his flat. “When you reach the main gate,” he said, “press its bell with your elbow and the watchman will come and let you in. Then you should walk to the lift and again press button of the bell with your elbow to open it. The lift will take you to my flat, and there you will again see a bell which will have to be pressed with your elbow, and I shall open the door for you.” The friend looked a little puzzled and said: “Thank you so much for your instructions which I shall follow carefully, but I do not quite understand why each time I should have to press the bell with my elbow.” The prospective host had the answer ready, “Surely,” he said, “you will not be coming to dinner empty-handed.”
Travelling on a slow train the passengers noticed that one among them (who had a woman sitting next to him) rushed out at every station at which the train stopped, went to the booking-office, and returned in the nick of time to continue the journey. Unable to contain his curiosity one brave soul risked a rebuff and asked the man the reason for what he was doing. The reply was quite polite: “This lady with me is my wife and she is suffering from serious heart trouble. I am, therefore, buying rail tickets for her from one station to the next one only.” (There are no prizes for guessing the nationality of the thrifty gentleman).
The young eight-year old John had weak eyesight and had just had glasses fitted for his use. The father, a Scotsman, had to proceed to another town on business and took a taxi to the station. He returned after going half way, and said to his wife, “Mary! Don’t forget to take John’s glasses off when he is not looking through them.”
Galloping inflation had pushed up the cost of rail travel sky-high and a recently married young Scotsman found his over-stretched budget would not allow of his buying two tickets. So he decided to go for his honeymoon alone.
The notorious itch for stringent ‘economy’, it seems, extended to the corporate sector also. A Scottish company sent a representative to a distant location on a special assignment in the middle of winter. He found a deluge of rain had started as soon as he reached there and went on pouring incessantly for two days so that no work was at all possible for him. He explained his predicament to the head-office and wired for instructions. Back came a telegram: “Start your summer holiday as from day before
Human Rights Diary
Over the years, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has emerged as an independent body for the protection of individuals’ rights against the excesses the state and its instruments like the police commit in the name of law and order.
It has been an arduous journey for the NHRC, but it has reached a point where its conduct evokes credibility and dependence.
The Vajpayee government was not happy with the NHRC Chairman, Justice A.S. Anand, after appointing him. Many decisions he took rubbed the BJP on the wrong side. His petition on the carnage in Gujarat reopened the cases which the state government had closed with the help of the obliging police and many senior officials. The ruling United Progressive Alliance gives him and his advice all the attention.
Courts too are custodians of the people’s rights. But they have their limits because they cannot go beyond the contours which the legislation has drawn. However, they and the NHRC are natural allies in the endeavour to keep the society safe from oppression.
But the High Court at Ahmedabad seems to have violated the understanding by showing the NHRC Chairman in bad light. In a judgment, one Division Bench has quoted at length from the submission by Sushil Kumar, counsel.
But the embarrassing part is that he has denied the very submission. His reported submission is: “It was highly improper on the part of the Chairman of the NHRC to call the judgment (on the happenings in Gujarat) as miscarriage of justice, which may even amount to contempt of court. When the Chairman realised his mistake after going through the judgment and the order of acquittal, then only with a view to saving the situation under the compelling circumstances, he decided to approach the Supreme Court and accordingly the matter was filed by the NHRC before the Supreme Court”.
The submission is sharp and critical in tone. But it ceases to have any relevance when there has been no submission. The Supreme Court has come to the rescue of the NHRC Chairman in the Best Bakery case and has said: “When we asked Sushil Kumar, who purportedly made the submissions before the High Court during the course of hearing, he stated he had not made any such submission as reflected in the judgement.”
The Supreme Court observation is: “This is certainly intriguing”. The Supreme Court has ordered the deletion of the remarks by the High Court. In fact, the Supreme Court has been quite harsh: “Proceedings of the court normally reflect the true state of affairs. Even if it is accepted that any such submission was made, it was not proper or necessary for the High Court to refer to them in the judgement to finally state that no serious note was taken of the submission.”.
Had there been a judicial commission — the proposal has been killed by the Congress which had approved it when it was in opposition — the Ahmedabad High Court case could have been probably referred to it.
The Lokpal, if and when appointed, would take notice of such matters. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has talked about judicial accountability at the annual conference of Chief Justices. But no judicial accountability will have any credence if a body like the judicial commission or the Lokpal does not come into being.
Attempts to run down the NHRC have been made by many quarters lately because it has begun to assert itself and be counted. State governments generally resent the NHRC. They prefer their own Human Rights Commission which they seem to easily influence. In fact, there is a running battle between the NHRC and the states on custodial deaths which are showing an upward trend. The states are hiding facts.
Their modus operandi is to advance the date of inquiry once the NHRC asks for details of a particular case. The particular state says that it has already referred the case to its own Human Rights Commission. This naturally tends to make the inquiry by the NHRC redundant.
The states employ another trick to fudge the figures on custodial deaths. They show some of them under the head of encounter. How, why and when the encounter took place is another matter. But the state police sees to it that some of the custodial deaths are given out as encounters. This way, the force believes, it can lesson the uproar or divert the attention.
Incidentally, Jammu and Kashmir is one state which never supplies the NHRC with any figure of custodial death. However, the Army has begun to release the figures of persons against whom it has taken action for violating human rights. As many as 127 men in khaki have been punished .There should be more transparency to let the public know the details of incidents and the quantum of punishment awarded.
Pakistan is, however, on its own trip. It characterises terrorists as “freedom fighters”. Lately, this terminology has not been used because of improved relations between India and Pakistan. But the word is still prevalent in official circles.
Islamabad may remember, what an American Senator has said: “The idea that one person’s ‘terrorist’ is another’s ‘freedom fighter’ cannot be sanctioned. Freedom fighters or revolutionaries don’t blow up buses containing non-combatants as terrorist murderers do. Freedom fighters don’t set out to capture and slaughter schoolchildren, as terrorist murderers do. It is a disgrace that democracies would allow the treasured word ‘freedom’ to be associated with acts of terrorists.”
The NHRC has done well to initiate action to find out how the persons in police custody disappeared during the days of militancy in Punjab. The number runs into thousands. The NHRC has issued orders in more than 200 cases. The police cannot evade its responsibility because it has shown persons on its registers as under its custody. The effort of the NHRC is not directed towards punishing the guilty but in giving some compensation to the families whose bread-earners are missing. “I want at least a tiny lamp to burn in their homes by Divali,” says the NHRC Chairman. Whether the police acts by that time is anybody’s guess?.
Union Minister for NRI Affairs Jagdish Tytler believes his role has not been clearly spelt out and desires that some of the functions of the Ministry of External Affairs should be brought under his purview. However, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh has been
assiduously guarding his turf. After being in the shadows for quite some time, Tytler announced the other day the annual NRI jamboree would be held in January, 2005 in Mumbai. However, there are some subtle encroachments in Natwar Singh’s domain. National Security Adviser J N Dixit has taken over from his predecessor, Brajesh Mishra, the role of being in the vanguard of back-channel diplomacy with Pakistan as well as the Congress-led UPA government’s special envoy for carrying forward the talks on the vexed border dispute with China.
However, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh has been assiduously guarding his turf. After being in the shadows for quite some time, Tytler announced the other day the annual NRI jamboree would be held in January, 2005 in Mumbai.
However, there are some subtle encroachments in Natwar Singh’s domain. National Security Adviser J N Dixit has taken over from his predecessor, Brajesh Mishra, the role of being in the vanguard of back-channel diplomacy with Pakistan as well as the Congress-led UPA government’s special envoy for carrying forward the talks on the vexed border dispute with China.
Laloo joins bhangra Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav confused folk artistes at a function held at the New Delhi railway station on the eve of the World Tourism Day. In trying to ensure that their performance was not missed by camerapersons, Laloo ended up disturbing their
spontaneity. The child artistes, who perhaps had instructions to look at the minister during the performance, appeared totally confused when Laloo tried to direct their movements. Laloo, however, did not dare to interfere with the performance of the well built bhangra dancers and looked very nervous when they lifted each other on their shoulders perilously close to the ceiling fans on the makeshift stage. At the end of the show, the Railway Minister announced a token sum in appreciation of the dancers from Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav confused folk artistes at a function held at the New Delhi railway station on the eve of the World Tourism Day. In trying to ensure that their performance was not missed by camerapersons, Laloo ended up disturbing their spontaneity.
The child artistes, who perhaps had instructions to look at the minister during the performance, appeared totally confused when Laloo tried to direct their movements.
Laloo, however, did not dare to interfere with the performance of the well built bhangra dancers and looked very nervous when they lifted each other on their shoulders perilously close to the ceiling fans on the makeshift stage. At the end of the show, the Railway Minister announced a token sum in appreciation of the dancers from Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Pranab finds his roots Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee appears to have got even with his detractors in the media in his home state of West Bengal who consistently accused him of being rootless. That is not the case any longer after Pranab Babu won his first Lok Sabha election from the Jangipur constituency. Prior to that, he had always been elected to the Rajya Sabha. And with an eye on development works in his constituency, he is also taking up the state’s cause which seemed to have taken a back seat in his previous avatar. Clearly, the competition from his colleague and Union Water Resources Minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has provided the necessary impetus for focussing on “Sonar Bangla.” The tall frame of Madhya Pradesh Governor Balram Jakhar appears to have caught the BJP government of Babulal Gaur in a tizzy in Bhopal. The problem pertained to comfortably accommodating the 6.4 feet tall Jakhar in the Raj Bhavan and elsewhere in the state when he undertakes a tour. Orders have been given to overhaul the furniture to suit the Governor. Gaur, who replaced Uma Bharti as Chief Minister, found it a trifle difficult even while standing on his toes to apply a tilak on Jakhar’s forehead. Without much ado, the Governor bowed, but dropped a subtle hint that the Constitutional heads do not bend. Contributed by Gaurav Choudhury, Tripti Nath, S.
Satyanarayanan and R Suryamurthy.
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee appears to have got even with his detractors in the media in his home state of West Bengal who consistently accused him of being rootless. That is not the case any longer after Pranab Babu won his first Lok Sabha election from the Jangipur constituency. Prior to that, he had always been elected to the Rajya Sabha. And with an eye on development works in his constituency, he is also taking up the state’s cause which seemed to have taken a back seat in his previous avatar. Clearly, the competition from his colleague and Union Water Resources Minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has provided the necessary impetus for focussing on “Sonar Bangla.”
The tall frame of Madhya Pradesh Governor Balram Jakhar appears to have caught the BJP government of Babulal Gaur in a tizzy in Bhopal. The problem pertained to comfortably accommodating the 6.4 feet tall Jakhar in the Raj Bhavan and elsewhere in the state when he undertakes a tour.
Orders have been given to overhaul the furniture to suit the Governor. Gaur, who replaced Uma Bharti as Chief Minister, found it a trifle difficult even while standing on his toes to apply a tilak on Jakhar’s forehead. Without much ado, the Governor bowed, but dropped a subtle hint that the Constitutional heads do not bend.
Contributed by Gaurav Choudhury, Tripti Nath, S.
Satyanarayanan and R Suryamurthy.
Lord Brahma, the topmost demigod in the universe, admits that he cannot conceive how great Krishna is. And it is the verdict of all Vedic literature that devotional service to this Supreme Personality of Godhead is the only thing worthwhile. In order to achieve such a state of perfection, one must be favoured by a great soul, a pure devotee of God. — Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Atman is different from the body, senses, mind, intelligence and life. It is pure, self-effulgent, blissful, devoid of emotions and is formless. — Lord Sri Rama Humility is of five kinds: humility in faith, in knowledge, in conduct, in penance and in decorum or etiquette. — Lord Mahavir Go, there where you may obtain the Lord’s Name. Do good deeds and earn merit by the grace of the Guru. Imbued with the name, sing ever the praise of God. — Guru Nanak All, everything that I understand, I understand only because of love. — Leo Tolstoy
— Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Atman is different from the body, senses, mind, intelligence and life. It is pure, self-effulgent, blissful, devoid of emotions and is formless.
— Lord Sri Rama
Humility is of five kinds: humility in faith, in knowledge, in conduct, in penance and in decorum or etiquette.
— Lord Mahavir
Go, there where you may obtain the Lord’s Name. Do good deeds and earn merit by the grace of the Guru. Imbued with the name, sing ever the praise of God.
— Guru Nanak
All, everything that I understand, I understand only because of love.
— Leo Tolstoy