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His choice, his misstep

Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to address RSS meet in Nagpur need not perturb the Congress. He did not go there as a representative of the party.

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Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee is a consummate politician. Yet, sometimes politicians falling in that class also trip up. For a person who understands the historical moorings of the Congress party, its avowed ideals and the challenges it faces, he must have given deep thought before he acquiesced to stand in the midst of forces that have had a visceral hatred for what the Congress has always stood for.

The RSS propagates a kind of religious fervour, far removed from the essentials of Hinduism. It seeks a form of revanche which manifests itself in levels of intolerance, that have since 2014, witnessed a turbulent India trying to come to terms with the civilisational values she historically cherished. There are two parallel ideologies at play. One that is sanctioned by the Constitution and the other that is constitutionally abhorrent. One that seeks to uphold the values of our Republic, the other that endeavours to emasculate those values. One embraces nationalism and patriotism as concepts that are associated with citizenship, the other seeks to redefine both concepts. When provoked, people must, to prove their patriotism, say “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, otherwise they are slapped around. The silence of the RSS is a sign of approbation. All those who condemn this government’s turns and u-turns in our policy towards Pakistan or criticise the army’s use of pellets with children losing their eyesight in Kashmir are targeted for being anti-national. We are required to follow majoritarian impositions to prove both our patriotism and nationalism.

This majoritarian cultural mindset is antithetical to what we peace-loving citizens have always stood for. The thoughts of K B Hedgewar provide the breeding ground for RSS ideologues. The aspirations of the RSS are not limited to capturing the reins of power. They seek transformation of India and assertion of Hindu pride badly bruised by centuries of dominance. Innocent victims of violence at the hands of obscurantist mindsets are setting an example of such assertion. Today, it is not the BJP but the RSS that seeks to guide India to realise her destiny, in direct contrast to the BJP of the Vajpayee era. This majoritarian culture muffles free speech of all those opposed to it; celebrates violence with impunity; decides on what we should eat and how we should dress; issues diktats on what we should trade in and how we must trade; derides and punishes if we marry outside the narrow confines of their prejudices; seeks conformist forms of artistic expression and decides on the heroes and villains of history which need not emerge from scholarship; ensures that children’s textbooks align with majoritarian thought processes and makes universities laboratories of conflict by demoralising those holding contrarian views. To achieve all or some of the above, the recruitment of RSS pracharaks in the several layers of government is part of the national agenda. All this is a precursor of things to come including government control of all channels of communication. To top it all, the RSS through rumours and misinformation evokes societal frenzy, treating those on the other side as the enemy. Corrupted social media platforms are used to spread rumours, breed hatred and help the majoritarian cause.

The lathi is not a weapon to be used for self-defence. We have been shaken by images of lathis lacerating innocent victims for following their vocations. The bizarre sight of the flow of lathis is in sharp contrast to stratified thoughts and static minds that wield them. The trappings of discipline along with a moulded mindset provide for an uncompromising authoritarian culture. To see Pranab Mukherjee in their midst was almost surreal. He surely had not gone there to convince the RSS top brass. Nor could his valedictory address be an occasion for a dialogue. To give the RSS lessons in the history of a multi-cultural, tolerant India and the true meaning of nationalism and patriotism was akin to pouring water off a duck’s back. So why did he go? He certainly did not go there to prove his credentials. His long years of public service did not need public articulation and that too within the ranks of those whose purpose in life is to deconstruct the legacy of India.

Yet, I don’t think his presence gives legitimacy to obscurantist forces that seek to paint India saffron. The Congress need not be unduly perturbed. He did not go there as a representative of the party. Had that been so, he would not have given any space to those who are seeking to prosecute the Congress president. He went there, I think, to symbolise the forces that represent the mainstream of Indian politics reasserting itself. That he could have done the same without embarrassing mainstream India was a matter of his choice. That choice was a misstep. To have him pay respect to the bhagwa jhanda and refer to Hedgewar as a great son of India will be moments that will be savoured by the RSS: Moments embarrassing for the idea of India. This is the time for the Congress to be the uncompromising mainstream of politics, undiluted by this hyphenated moment.

Courtesy: This article is published in Indianexpress on 12 June 2018
The writer, a former Union minister, is a senior Congress leader.

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A view through an infrastructure investor’s prism

Active policies to address the three issues revolving around the value, scarcity and contract enforcement that investors utilise to determine both investments and the required rate of return can help make policies useful.

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investment returns

Perspectives on infrastructure assets vary widely: While investors focus on investment returns, policymakers analyse both financial and socio-economic benefits. It would be worthwhile for policymakers to view things through an investor’s investment prism because an understanding of the critical factors that shape investment decisions will help frame better policies to expedite Indian infrastructure creation.

The “raw value” of an infrastructure project is what a potential investor evaluates first. For example, in a renewable energy wind project, the wind potential of a site is what an investor evaluates. For a transportation project, the investor evaluates the potential passenger traffic. This so-called “raw value” is a huge determinant of the financial viability of a project.

Segregating infrastructure sectors and projects by such “raw value” can help government and industry alike to work towards directing infrastructure capital more optimally. Additionally, such analysis helps in framing policies for those sectors that deliver very substantial social and economic value but are not financially viable on their own.

A robust framework that helps determine “raw value” can aid all the stakeholders, especially the government, to work with investors and multilateral trade agencies to find financing solutions for such socially and economically relevant projects. Eventually, India needs to create an information repository of sorts that provides the global investor base information and access by asset type and investment potential.

Once the “raw value” of a project is determined, an investor tries to gauge what is called its “scarcity value”. Take, for instance, transportation projects. If the transportation potential of connecting City “A” with City “B” is attractive, then is building an airport to connect the two cities the most optimal infrastructure asset? That is, in spite of the traffic potential, is an airport a “scarce” enough asset to deliver attractive returns?

The investor will gauge whether the airport is likely to face competition from a competing train network or a highway. Being cognizant of the long-dated nature of infrastructure assets is important. Hence investors will have to gauge the “scarcity value” of the asset to determine the attractiveness of the asset over the long investment horizon and, therefore, eventually decide on their willingness to invest in the asset.

It is essential for the government to find a balance between allowing investors to make returns commensurate with the risk taken and allowing the public to have access to a well-priced and high-quality infrastructure asset. The twin objectives of consistency and transparency in policy are crucial in this regard.

The government’s ability to formulate and communicate the strategy effectively regarding not just sectors but individual assets is vital. To indeed expedite infrastructure creation, granular policy across industries will be needed, more so for much-needed greenfield infrastructure projects.

Apart from “raw value” and “scarcity value”, an investor considers a third factor: The quality of the underlying contracts signed for the asset. Investors look for high-quality counter-parties with whom to sign contracts. More importantly, the government’s ability to deliver a robust legal system for contract-enforcement, as also a more efficient system for conflict-resolution, will attract more significant investments.

Lowering the risk perception for Indian infrastructure assets is essential not merely to attract more investments but also to attract investments at lower financing costs. Reducing the cost of capital is going to be a significant driver of infrastructure projects through their improved financial viability.

Another area that merits attention is the possibility of the government working even more closely with Export Credit Agencies of various countries to offer foreign exchange hedges, while “importing infrastructure investments”. Solutions that not only reduce the legal risk in investments but also partially eliminate the foreign exchange risk can help boost investments significantly.

Active policies to address the three issues revolving around the value, scarcity and contract enforcement that investors utilise to determine both investments and the required rate of return can help make policies useful.

Policy frameworks can potentially be refined using these three key factors that shape investment decisions. Most importantly, one does not need to improve concurrently on all three fronts for all infrastructure sectors; incremental improvement on one element can provide a significant fillip to infrastructure investments.

(Taponeel Mukherjee heads Development Tracks, an infrastructure advisory firm. Views expressed are personal. He can contacted at [email protected] or @Taponeel on Twitter)

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India kept its interests ‘safe’ at SCO Summit

If they look at the Northeast in the future from the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) rubric, that is a different matter.

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SCO SUMMIT

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) In keeping out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and signing an agreement on sharing of hydrological data on the Brahmaputra river and another on exporting rice following a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, India kept its interests safe in this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, experts said.

India has not extended support to President Xi’s flagship initiative as a key project under it, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Modi reiterated India’s position that international connectivity projects should respect other countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Stating that connectivity with neighbours and within the SCO area is a priority for India, Modi, during his intervention at the Summit in Qingdao, China, on Sunday said: “We welcome new connectivity projects that are inclusive, sustainable and transparent, and respect countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The SCO is a Eurasian inter-governmental organisation, the creation of which was announced in 2001 in Shanghai by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism. India and Pakistan were granted full membership of the bloc in June last year. In the final Qingdao Declaration issued after the Summit, India’s name is conspicuously missing in the part about the BRI.

According to Anil Wadhwa, Senior Fellow in the Vivekananda International Foundation think tank and former Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, the meeting between Modi and Xi was a forward movement from the informal meeting between the two leaders in Wuhan in April with decisions being taken to set up a special representatives-level meeting mechanism and to boost cultural relations between India and China.

As for India not extending support to the BRI, Wadhwa told IANS that nobody expected India to endorse Xi’s pet initiative.

“I don’t think it will affect India diplomatically as there is an understanding between both sides (India and China),” he said.

“If they look at the Northeast in the future from the BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal) rubric, that is a different matter.”

However, Wadhwa sounded sceptical about the two agreements signed between India and China – a memorandum of understanding on the Chinese side providing hydrological data on the Brahmaputra river in flood season from May 15 to October 15 every year and an amendment to a 2006 protocol for exporting rice from India to China to include the export of non-Basmati varieties of rice from India.

“With China already having built three dams on their side of the Brahmaputra, I don’t know how useful the data will be,” he said.

As for exporting non-Basmati varieties of rice, he said that such a market does not currently exist in China and this has to be created.

However, Sujit Dutta, a domain expert on China who is also Professor in the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Jamia Milia Islamia here, was positive about the two agreements.

“India kept its interests safe. While the agreement on sharing Brahmaputra will benefit India, the one on rice exports will help our farmers,” Dutta said.

As for the BRI, he said that India has always made it clear that it would not support the Chinese initiative.

“How can India support something that threatens its sovereignty with the CPEC going through PoK?” he said.

Modi said in Qingdao that India’s commitment to connectivity is visible nevertheless in the International North-South Transport Corridor, the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran, to which India, Iran and Afghanistan are signatories, and participation in specific projects like the Ashgabat Agreement, a multimodal transport agreement between India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Another reason for India not taking part in the BRI, Dutta said, is that Chinese loans for projects under this have high interest rates and terms and conditions are not transparent.

Giving Hambantota port in Sri Lanka as an example, he said that the port has been given to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease and Colombo will find it difficult to repay the loan.

He said that same is the case with Gwadar port in Pakistan and Islamabad might well come under Chinese influence after finding it difficult to repay loans.

“We (India) can’t become vulnerable to Chinese pressure and take loans which we can’t repay,” Dutta said.

According to C. Uday Bhaskar, strategic analyst and Director of the Society for Policy Studies think tank, the key takeaway from the SCO Summit “is the manner in which India conveyed to its SCO peers that it can remain resolute when it comes to core national interests, for example, sovereignty”.

“But it will also engage with the others in a principles, yet pragmatic manner,” Bhaskar said.

He said that the Indian stand on the BRI will be watched very closely not just by China, but all the other nations who have signed up.

“Hopefully, the Wuhan spirit will prevail with respect to the BRI and make the issue less intractable when President Xi visits India in 2019,” Bhaskar stated.

(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at [email protected])

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After Assam, NRC issue now simmers in Tripura as tribal parties agitate

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are also opposed to the Centre’s citizenship Bill.

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Agartala, June 12 : The burning issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is gradually spreading in Tripura as well, with tribal-based parties agitating to for an NRC updation exercise in the state with 1951 as the cut-off year.

Tripura’s three tribal-based parties — Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and National Conference of Tripura (NCT) — have started holding rallies and demonstrations to press their demand that the NRC be updated.

“We would again organise a five-hour sit-in demonstration on June 28 in Agartala to press for our demands. A similar demonstration would be held in New Delhi in September,” INPT President Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl told IANS.

He said: “If the other parties want to hold the agitation jointly, we are ready to do so. Earlier, in support of our demands, we have organised agitations, including a shutdown along with IPFT and NCT.”

The INPT, IPFT and NCT have also been demanding withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which is currently under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

These parties are also demanding introduction of an innerline permit to protect indigenous tribals, giving more power to the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), restoration of alienated tribal lands and inclusion of tribals’ Kokborok language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

IPFT Vice President Ananta Debbarma said last month-end that they had organised big rallies in tribal areas, including at the TTAADC headquarters in Khumulwng, in support of the NRC and some other demands.

“We would soon hold a meeting of our party and decide our next course of action on NRC, Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 and other demands,” Debbarma told IANS.

The IPFT is the junior ally in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance government in Tripura, while the INPT is one of the oldest tribal parties in the state. It was formed in 2002 by merging three Tripura parties, including the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) and Tripura National Volunteers (TNV).

The TUJS was formed in 1967, while the erstwhile militant outfit TNV became a political party in 1988 following a tripartite agreement with the central and state governments.

The INPT, IPFT and the NCT in February last year formed the All Tripura Indigenous Regional Parties Forum (ATIRPF) and spearheaded various agitations across the state in support of their demands.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016, seeks to enable Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who have fled to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh without valid travel documents or those whose valid documents expired in recent years, to acquire Indian citizenship through the process of naturalisation.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are also opposed to the Centre’s citizenship Bill.

“The CPI-M is also opposed to the Bill and supports the Indira-Mujib pact which determined March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date to detect illegal infiltration into India from Bangladesh,” CPI-M’s Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha and senior tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury told IANS.

“We have not yet discussed about the NRC in Tripura. However, people, particularly the minorities, are being harassed in Assam while conducting hearings on NRC,” said Chaudhury, who is also National Coordinator of the CPI-M-backed Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch and President of the Tripura Rajya Upajati Ganamukti Parishad — a frontal body of the CPI-M.

The second draft of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC in neighbouring Assam would be published on June 30, while the first NRC draft was made available to the people on December 31, after inclusion of names of 1.9 crore people of the total 3.29 crore applicants in the BJP-ruled state.

The NRC Assam, the register containing names of Indian citizens in the state, was prepared in 1951 as a non-statutory process by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 census.

The Assam agitation (1979-85) against the illegal foreigners led to the signing of Assam Accord on August 15, 1985, between the Centre, the state government, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), which stipulated March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for identification and deportation of illegal migrants from East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

Accordingly, the Citizenship Act, 1955, was amended by inserting Section 6A as a special provision for Assam.

In a tripartite meeting between the Centre, the state government and AASU, chaired by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May 2005, it was agreed to update the NRC of 1951. The modalities were approved by the government of India in consultation with the government of Assam.

After the Supreme Court’s directive, the exercise of NRC updation in Assam commenced in December 2013, to be completed over a period of three years. The apex court is closely supervising the progress of NRC update and has given various directions from time to time.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be reached at [email protected])

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