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New idea of India: Secularism of common aspirations takes shape

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Jama Masjid Anti CAA Protest

‘Majrooh uthi hai mauje saba | Aasaar liye toofanon ke

Har qatra-e-shabnam bun jaaye | Ek mauj-e-rawan, kuchh door naheen’

(The morning breeze is deceptive; it is actually a storm in the making.

Who knows, even dew drops will acquire the power of torrents)

Make allowance for poetic license, but the mood that the protest movement against CAA, NRC, NPR has maintained this past month would have thrilled the stalwarts of the Progressive Writers’ Movement of which Majrooh Sultanpuri and Faiz Ahmad Faiz were key figures. In fact, Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’, has clearly become the movement’s signature song. By singing the Kannada version at the Bengaluru Town Hall, M.D. Pallavi may well have inaugurated a trend in cultural commerce. Faiz in Maithili, Bhojpuri has percolated down to villages and hamlets.

Since the movement has kept political parties at a distance, it is becoming possible for diverse elements of civil society to embrace it. Even the most conservative groups have accorded hospitality to Faiz. The dominant song at a social event of High Court judges, which I attended was ‘Hum Dekhenge’. No movement on this scale has so spontaneously spread across the length and breadth of the country.

That the unprovoked police attack on students huddled over their books at the Jamia Library ignited the agitation is common knowledge. How the videography and transmission of live visuals of the brutality disturbed the nation has a small story attached to it. It was entirely the imagination of Anwar Jamal Kidwai who, as Vice Chancellor, inaugurated the Institute of Mass Communications at Jamia in 1982. Bollywood, theatre, Doordarshan and countless of channels were all manned substantially by students trained at Jamia.

Since the Institute of Mass Communications is the university’s flagship, students across the campus are familiar with its students and, by association, with videography. This explains the high quality footage of the events of Jamia which fired the nation’s imagination.

There has always existed a shade of uninstitutionalized apartheid, a wariness in visiting colonies and ghettos across communal lines. Every year during Ramadan I face, not resistance, but a lazy reluctance from friends to visit Jama Masjid to share the festive atmosphere. I have so far failed. For one ‘sehri’ or the meal at dawn after which the fasting begins, I personally ferried Swami Agnivesh and Lord Meghnad Desai.

At the other end of New Delhi, the image of Batla House near Jamia has been sketched on our minds by the electronic media as a combat zone where encounters take place. To correct that image, visit the nearby Shaheen Bagh today.

Breaking down the apartheid of the mind has been a singular achievement of the televised nationwide protests led by students and youth. Another stereotype the protests have shattered is an image of cloistered Indian women, those in hijab and the ones in more cosmopolitan gear. Indeed, a heartwarming fact has been the leadership provided by women — articulate, dignified and focused. Standing upright for the National anthem mornings and evenings at Shaheen Bagh, and reading the Preamble to the Constitution like they had erstwhile read a religious texts — all of this is exhilarating, particularly after a depressing 2019.

The secularism this movement promises has on its visage a refreshing sincerity, compared to the stale, withered tokenism of recent decades. The secularism of a common struggle and aspirations is what India’s first war of independence had set into motion in 1857. With the British in control, the freedom movement never quite rediscovered that �lan. Post Partition, a pall hung over the practice of secularism — a situation promoted and exploited by politicians. The current youth movement transcends gender, community, caste and language. It is defined by its simplicity, absence of pretense, and hypocrisy. It stands out like a lotus in a pond of murky politics.

The lotus must retain its pristine purity. The movement must remain aloof from the discredited political formations. Only then will it gather momentum. The critical mass will then grow. The movement’s demands, because they are honest, have already caused politicians to ponder. Look, how protection of democracy and the Constitution have become the centre piece of all discourse.

Since all social and economic strata are joining the movement, a resounding call for social justice is unlikely to invite a caste/class backlash. The movement will have to be sensitive to that call. Sectarian nationalism will have to slowly give way to what Tilak and Maulana Hasrat Mohani meant by ‘Swaraj’ which embodied a notion of ‘sovereignty’ which had a powerful anti imperial thrust. Since the initial tussle has been with a formation committed to a unitary system, the idea of federalism will automatically creep into a renewed idea of India as protests grow.

The Sangh Parivar must be baffled by the upsurge. The RSS-BJP combine completely mixed up religious fervour with communalism. Religious fervour was mollified once the Supreme Court permitted the construction of the Ram temple. In a sense, the bird that laid the saffron egg was dead.

The Modi-Shah duet are under all sorts of pressure. The Congress Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel has, in an interview to to a TV channel, set the cat among the pigeons: the contradictory statements on, say, the NRC are a function of a growing divide between Modi and Shah, he says. Uddhav Thackeray, meanwhile, has compared police action in JNU and Jamia with the November 25, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai. The BJP will, of course, extract comfort from the opposition disarray. A coherent opposition is only possible if the Congress house ever acquires some order. This can only happen if the party leadership takes courage in its hands and holds elections to all key posts. A fixation on the Gandhi parivar will remain a huge road block to opposition unity. The opposition, sandwiched between a weakening BJP and a growing youth movement, will seek salvation in the regions. Federalism will be strengthened, which is just as well.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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Rahul used ‘strong words’, Manmohan right in not quitting: Montek

Ahluwalia has mentioned this incident in great detail in his latest book “Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years”.

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Manmohan Rahul

New Delhi, Feb 17 : The now-defunct Planning Commission’s former Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi used “strong words” in 2013 while tearing up an ordinance on convicted lawmakers, but insisted then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did the right thing by not resigning.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, Ahluwalia said: “On hindsight, I think, Dr Singh took the right call.”

Giving his reasons, the former aide to Manmohan Singh said that had Rahul Gandhi been a member of the then Union Council of Ministers, things would have been different. “But he was the Vice President of a political party,” he pointed out.

When pointed out that Gandhi kept Dr Singh in the dark about his sudden move on the ordinance, he quoted former Congress Vice President (Gandhi) to suggest that his choice of words could have been better.

“You must realise, in a democracy, there is nothing wrong to have dissent within the party. I don’t think there’s much merit in running a party in a way in which everyone in a party simply endorses what the party leadership thinks. This is an example of democratic dissent surfacing (within the party). In my view, nothing wrong with it. Mr Gandhi himself, I think, said that may be the words he used were not very appropriate… I think he said ‘complete nonsense’, okay? Strong words! But the bottom line is, had he simply gone there and said ‘this has happened that I frankly have great doubts about’… I think there would not have been anything wrong with that. That’s what democracy is all about. People should freely express their views, and if you disagree with them, you discuss that. And that’s what they did,” Ahluwalia said.

Ahluwalia has mentioned this incident in great detail in his latest book “Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years”.

He said that after his brother wrote an article to advocate Dr Singh’s resignation, he showed the article to the then Prime Minister.

“The first thing I did was to take the text across to the PM’s suite because I wanted him to hear about it from me first. He read it in silence, and initially made no comment. Then, he suddenly asked me whether I thought he should resign. I thought about it for a while and said ‘I do not think a resignation on this issue is appropriate’.”

In 2013, after the Supreme Court ruled that sitting lawmakers convicted of crime would be immediately disqualified and not continue as MPs, MLAs or MLCs pending an appeal, the then United Progressive Alliance government sought to bring an ordinance to counter the verdict.

Rahul Gandhi appeared unannounced at an event to oppose his own party’s line and tore a copy of the ordinance, an act seen as undermining the Prime Minister’s authority while he was in the US.

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Dubbing dissent as disloyalty totally wrong: Montek

Speaking on the importance of dissent, Ahluwalia pointed to Rahul GAndhi’s act of tearing up an ordinance copy during the UPA rule.

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Montek Singh Ahluwaia

New Delhi, Feb 17 : At a time when Delhi and other cities are witnessing anti-CAA protests, now-defunct Planning Commission’s former Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Monday cautioned against labelling dissent as disloyalty.

Referring to the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the country’s once- foremost policymaker told IANS: “There are many protests going on right now in the streets. I frequently hear, sort of, wherein dissent is equated with disloyalty. I think that’s completely wrong. Peaceful dissent is an essential part of the democratic process. If people feel that’s not happening, then I think the government should reassure them that, you know, they are under misapprehension and live up to those standards.”

In an interview to IANS, Ahluwalia said: “I do feel that in a multi-identity, complex country (like India), expression of dissent is an essential part of democracy. To my knowledge, everyone recognises this. And if that’s not happening, then we should worry.”

His comments assume significance in the wake of a high-voltage and often acerbic campaigning in Delhi Assembly elections, including shouting of slogan “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maro saalon ko” at a rally addressed by Union Minister Anurag Thakur.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, during the campaigning, “Earlier it was that the Congress used to feed biryani in Kashmir, now it is (Delhi Chief Minister Arvind) Kejriwal who is doing the same in Shaheen Bagh….”

Speaking on the importance of dissent, Ahluwalia pointed to Rahul GAndhi’s act of tearing up an ordinance copy during the UPA rule.

“You must realise, in a democracy, there is nothing wrong to have dissent within the party. I don’t think there’s much merit in running a party in a way in which everyone in a party simply endorses what the party leadership thinks. This is an example of democratic dissent surfacing (within the party). In my view nothing wrong with it.”

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India a $5 trillion economy by 2025 unrealistic: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

He also cautions against “strong centralised governments”, a scenario that is now unfolding in India.

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Montek Singh Ahluwaia

New Delhi, Feb 15 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of India rising to a $5 trillion economy by 2025 is unrealistic though it will happen at some time, says Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and whose document prepared in 1990 largely influenced the economic reforms unveiled the next year, in his book “Backstage – The Story Behind India’s High Growth Years”. He is also extremely harsh on “two major policy mistakes” of the present government — demonetisation and the hasty implementation of GST.

To become a $5 trillion economy “calls for an average growth rate of about 9 per cent in real terms over the six-year period from 2019-20 to 2024-25. With growth below 5 per cent in 2019-20, and only a slow recovery expected next year, achieving an average of 9 per cent for the period as a whole is simply not credible. We will certainly get to $5 trillion, but it will be a few years later,” Ahluwalia writes.

“A more realistic target would be to try to reach a growth rate of around 8 per cent per year as quickly as possible. This is certainly necessary if we want to continue to reduce poverty and generate the employment needed to satisfy our young and aspirational labour force. Is 8 per cent growth feasible? India did achieve GDP growth of 8.5 per cent in the first seven years of the UPA, but a return to that growth rate is easier said than done,” Ahluwalia warns.

India’s growth was at 6.8 per cent in 2018-19 and dropped to 5 per cent in 2019-20. It is expected to “strongly rebound” to 6-6.5 per cent in 2020-21 the Economic Survey tabled in Parliament on January 31 said.

Demonetisation, Ahluwalia writes, “came as a complete surprise when the government on 8 November 2016 announced that all currency notes of denominations Rs 1,000 and Rs 500, accounting for 86 per cent of the value of currency with the public, were no longer legal tender. Holders of these notes were given up to 31 December to take the notes to banks to convert them into new notes. The decision was originally presented as a decisive attack on black money and corruption, but as that particular justification seemed difficult to sustain, several other justifications were advanced.”

“Raghuram Rajan, who was then governor of the RBI, was consulted informally about a possible demonetization and he had advised that any long-term benefits would not be worth the short-term costs. In any case, he counselled that if the government was determined to demonetise, there should be careful planning to ensure adequate supply of new notes. In fact, demonetisation was hastily announced a couple of months after Raghu’s term as governor came to an end.”

Rajan’s fears were “amply vindicated. People rushed to banks to exchange their holdings of old notes for new notes, but as there was a shortage of new notes, amounts handed over to banks could only be credited to their bank accounts, from which cash withdrawals were permitted on a restricted basis until the supply of new notes could catch up with demand. The shortage of cash disrupted agricultural markets and operations in the informal sector, both of which are highly cash-dependent”, Ahluwalia writes.

Eight months later, “the economy received a second jolt when the GST was introduced in July 2017. Unlike demonetization, which had very little support from professional economists, the GST was universally regarded as a major reform of the indirect tax system. It was expected to generate larger revenues, and also simplify the system but it failed on both counts because of a flawed design and poor implementation.”

Also, “frequent changes in the rates added to the confusion, giving the signal that rates could be adjusted through lobbying, which goes completely contrary to the signal of stability that GST should normally convey”, Ahluwalia maintains.

He also cautions against “strong centralised governments”, a scenario that is now unfolding in India.

“Strong centralised governments have some advantages but they also have a major disadvantage: the failure to provide room for different views. This reduces the likelihood that policy mistakes will be acknowledged and corrected.

“Manmohan Singh recognised the importance of encouraging free expression of views and descent in a liberal democracy. We are now about to go through a different experience with a government enjoying a strong majority and also one which was expected to rely on much greater centralisation of power in the PMO,” Ahluwalia maintains.

Ahluwalia concludes that India’s “transition to high growth was not a chance development. It was achieved by deliberate policy steps taken by those who had conviction and belief in the need for change. Changing policies in a country as complex as India has to go much beyond making declarations of intent. It needs an open society where businessmen and other stakeholders are free to criticize the government and draw attention to whatever is not working. It needs a team of technically skilled professionals with the ability to understand economic issues offering honest advice to the political class. It also needs a political class that can combine the unavoidable compulsions of adversarial politics with working towards building consensus on the broad direction of economic policy”.

“Good economics may not seem to be good politics in the short run, but wise political leaders will realise that it is almost always the best politics in the long run. How to marry the two is, in some sense, the real test of political leadership. I remain an unrelenting optimist that our political system can resolve this conflict and that the India story of high growth and development will therefore continue. India can and must return to its high growth years-our younger generation deserves nothing less.”

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])

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