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Will Modi bow to RSS on Raghuram Rajan?

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In addition to the NGOs, including the one run by Teesta Setalvad, the saffron brotherhood’s new target is a formidable one – Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan.

Till now, the Hindutva camp hadn’t trained its guns on one so high who is not a politician. There is little doubt, however, that the Sangh Parivar’s motive is political.

The attack on Rajan is not a frontal one. It is a flanking movement with none other than the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha member, the perennially combative Subramanian Swamy, leading the charge.

It is not clear if the targeting of Rajan has the approval of the BJP’s top brass, for there are conflicting indications.

While Finance Minister Arun Jaitley disapproves of the personal nature of the attacks, he has been silent on the question of extending Rajan’s term beyond September considering that Swamy wants his immediate dismissal.

However, the problem with Swamy’s offensive – he has accused Rajan of acting at the behest US multinationals to damage the Indian small and medium industries – is that the voluble MP cannot always be taken seriously.

The reason is that he is a maverick to beat all mavericks. As a result, he is perceived of as something of a loose cannon who can go off at a tangent from his party’s line.

As much is clear from his earlier backing of the disgraced godman, Asaram Bapu, to the more recent call for building the Ram temple by the year-end, about which the BJP has been more than circumspect.

Moreover, he is supposed to have been elevated to the Rajya Sabha only to serve a specific purpose – that of needling the Nehru-Gandhis – and not open fire at random.

Swamy has been performing the first task with considerable zeal, pursuing the allegations against the Congress’s first family in the National Herald and AgustaWestland cases.

More recently, he has called upon the Enforcement Directorate to probe the supposed transgressions of the business deals of Robert Vadra, the first family’s son-in-law.

In the midst of these endeavours, the sudden turning of his attention to Rajan is surprising.

In view of the government’s eagerness to maintain friendly ties with the corporate sector, the latter’s unfavourable reaction to Swamy’s antics was only to be expected. The Confederation of Indian Industry has already expressed its displeasure.

None of this is unexpected, for Rajan is known to be a favourite of India Inc. and of the media, especially the financial newspapers.

Narendra Modi’s evasive statement on the issue – he told Wall Street Journal that Rajan’s tenure can be of no interest to the media – is unlikely to clear the scene.

In any event, Modi’s probable view is that nothing should be of interest to the media, which explains why he doesn’t hold any press conferences.

The hullabaloo created by Swamy appears to have persuaded Rajan to decide not to seek a second term although he has described the controversy as evidence of a “noisy” democracy and the “sign of its vibrancy”.

It is possible that Rajan’s observation about India being the king in a land of the blind hasn’t pleased the BJP.

Besides, he is something of an odd man out where the Hindutva camp is concerned, being a typical representative of the urbane, English-speaking, secular establishment that is vastly different from the Hindi-speaking, conservative-minded present-day rulers.

It is not impossible, therefore, that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s mentor, wants to see the back of him.

After all, the RSS has succeeded in placing its nominees in most of the institutions – the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the National Book Trust, the Film and Television Institute, the Central Board of Film Certification, and so on.

The objective behind all these appointments was, first, to find sinecures for its followers and, secondly, to peddle the pro-Hindu agenda. So, why should the RBI be left in the hands of a purported secularist?

It goes without saying, however, that if India Inc’s blue-eyed boy quits office, the initial effect on the market will be worrisome.

That is not something which Modi will appreciate. But he has generally had to walk a tight rope between the predilections of the RSS and his own more open-minded attitude. There has been a constant give-and-take between him and the Nagpur patriarchs in this respect.

In some matters, Modi has had the upper hand such as in persuading the saffron fundamentalists to go easy on their ghar wapsi and love jehad campaigns.

In others, he has given way to the RSS as, for instance, in the appointments of unworthy nominees to the ICHR and other institutions.

The Rajan affair will be a major test for Modi. Will he bow to the RSS or will he allow his pro-business instincts to prevail ?

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BJP leaders brainstorm for second day, say govt ready for talks with farmers

Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Agriculture Minister Narender Singh Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam.

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Farmers on Protest

Eager to break the deadlock with famers who are agitating for scrapping the new farm laws, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership held meetings for a second consecutive day on Monday and sent out the message that the Union government is ready for talks.

Union home minister Amit Shah met Union minister for agriculture, NS Tomar earlier in the day to discuss the strategy to break the logjam. A senior party functionary said, “The message from the top is clear that the laws are not anti-farmers and that the farmers are being misled. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated that laws will offer better opportunity for the farmers.”

The functionary said the government is ready to sit across the table and discuss the new laws and “address whatever concerns” the farmers have.

Speaking in Varanasi, the PM on Monday said the laws have given farmers new options and legal protection. He lashed out at the opposition for “misleading” the farmers and said earlier decisions of government were opposed now rumours have become the basis for opposition and propaganda is being served even though the laws favour the farmers.

The party has also opted for a cautious, measured response to the agitation. Even though it is pinning the blame on the opposition for provoking the protest, it is taking care not to rile the farmers. “The farmers are innocent. They are being misled by those with vested interests. The laws have barely been implemented and their impact is yet to be ascertained, so how can people rush to call these anti-farmers,” said Rajkuamr Chahar, head of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha.

He said the Punjab unit of the Morcha has been communicating with the farmers’ representatives and has relayed the government’s willingness to address their concerns.

On Monday, even as the party tried to diffuse the anger against the bills, its ally the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) joined the chorus for the rollback of the laws. Rajasthan lawmaker and RLP chief, Hanuman Beniwal, shot off a letter to Shah, seeking the reversal of the laws.

“….In view of the countrywide sentiment in support of the ongoing farmers’ movement, the recently introduced three bills related to agriculture should be immediately withdrawn. (The Centre must) implement all recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, and immediately hold dialogue with farmers in Delhi,” he said.

The BJP, however, played down the ally’s demand. Its national spokesperson on economic issues, Gopal Krishna Agarwal said, “We assure all, including our NDA partners that farmers’ well-being and welfare are in our heart. Large scale market reforms are needed and that has always been the consensus.”

He went on to add that while the BJP opposes misgivings about the APMC mandis being dismantled and MSP being withdrawn, the opposition is politicizing the issue along with the Arhtiyas (commission agents) and middleman.

“We have offered all the basic facilities to farmers, drinking water, toilets, shelters and medical facilities. They have been given permission to protest and also been invited for dialogue. We are open for all discussions on the merits or demerits of the three bills. If farmers have certain serious concerns, we are ready to listen to them,” he said.

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Lunar Eclipse: Chant these mantras for peace during Chandra Grahan

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Lunar eclipse

Lunar Eclipse 2020: The fourth and the last Upachaya Chandra Grahan (Penumbral Lunar Eclipse) of 2020 will take place today. Though Sutak is not applicable during Upachaya Chandra Grahan, the constant movements of the Grahas (planets) may cast an impact on zodiac signs. It may influence people’s natal charts. Hence, people must chant mantras to negate the negative effect of Grahan.

The Lunar Eclipse will have a duration of 4 hours and 18 minutes. It will begin on Monday at 1.04 pm and reach its peak at 3.13 pm. The Lunar Eclipse will end at 5.22 pm and will have a magnitude of 0.82.

Check out the Chandra Beej Mantra, Dhanvantari Mantra, Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra and Shanti Path given below to ward off the ill-effects of this celestial movement.

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Uttar Pradesh law on love jihad seeks to divide communities, writes Kapil Sibal

The Ordinance also goes against the right to privacy. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing their partner’s religion

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Love Jihad

When laws are motivated by communally divisive agendas, they breed suspicion within communities, resulting in a sense of alienation. That in turn negatively impacts societal peace and harmony. Occasionally, it leads to sporadic violence. When such laws attempt to interfere with personal relationships or emotive issues of choice, which are at the heart of individual freedoms, the outcomes are even more disturbing. That explains why matters relating to marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance polarise dialogues and attitudes.

Such agendas germinate a majoritarian culture pitting “us” against “them” and give birth to electoral majorities. The road to power then becomes a relatively easy enterprise. The rise of right-wing assertions, a global phenomenon, is based on such engineered societal divides. The Uttar Pradesh government’s recent promulgation of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, relating to “Love Jihad” is yet another attempt, in a string of communally charged initiatives, aimed at reaping electoral dividends.

Love jihad is a concept the contours of which are blurred. However, in simple terms, all that it means is that if a Muslim boy, in love with a non-Muslim girl chooses to marry her and she embraces Islam, such a union will be looked upon with suspicion by the law and is liable to be declared void. This strikes at the root of individual liberty since such a union cannot be held to be legally suspect. It strikes at the core of the ‘right to privacy’, which is protected constitutionally.

The Ordinance also targets mass conversions, which have taken place in the past. These include conversions to Christianity in the 1930s, to Buddhism by Dalits in the 1950s and Mizo Christians to the Jewish faith in the 2000s. Those seeking to convert allure marginalised castes and tribes with hope, dignity and material enticement. Dr Ambedkar, disenchanted with the caste structure of Hinduism, converted to Buddhism.

The reasons for such mass conversions are complex and need to be addressed separately. Under the proposed law, those guilty of mass conversions are liable to face a jail term extending up to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. While it is justifiable to prevent conversion based on force, coercion, undue influence, misrepresentation and allurements, it is difficult to prove these elements if a Muslim boy and a non-Muslim girl or vice-versa exercise their free will to marry for reasons that are entirely personal. The reason why non-Muslims convert to Islam is because the children born in wedlock would otherwise be excluded from inheritance under Muslim law.

Absent this conversion, the union of a Muslim with a non-Muslim or vice-versa will be a difficult proposition. That is why the intent of the proposed law is suspect as it seeks to target conversion and not marriage. The Ordinance provides that in an interfaith marriage, if one of the partners wishes to embrace another religion, that person will have to inform the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate in writing at least two months in advance. A format of the application seeking permission for conversion will be provided by the government.

Under the proposed law, it would be the responsibility of the person embracing another religion to prove that such person was not converted forcibly or through fraudulent means. Those who abet, convince or conspire are also liable to be prosecuted. Any such violation of the law would entail a jail term of six months to three years and a minimum fine of Rs 10,000.

Marriage between two people is personal to them. It allows either of them to opt out of the marriage. In addition, the person victimised is free to allege use of force, coercion, fraud, undue influence or misrepresentation against the other. In the absence of any of these, it is unthinkable that the law mandates a person who voluntarily embraces another religion to seek permission to prove that the decision was not actuated by any of those elements. Reversal of the burden of proof in matters of personal choices of a life partner may be legally unsustainable.

The obligation to seek permission for conversion two months in advance is fundamentally arbitrary and a violation of the ‘right to privacy’. The state has no role to play in the personal choice of individuals in consummating a union and embracing the religion of the partner. The state can certainly regulate acts of forced conversion but the starting point of such regulation has to be a complaint made by the individual who opts to convert. In most of these cases, it is the parents who complain that their daughter has been fraudulently enticed into a relationship and is a victim of forced conversion.

The Ordinance allows members of the family of those who convert or any relative to lodge an FIR. This makes the Ordinance an instrument of harassment in situations where interfaith marriages are voluntary.
We have seen this being played out in Hadiya’s case in Kerala. The couple went through trauma when Hadiya’s husband and some organisations were targeted for allegedly having induced her to convert to Islam. This was despite the fact that she constantly denied the allegations, asserting that she had embraced Islam voluntarily and much before she had met her husband.

The drama was then played out in court after the Kerala High Court held the marriage to be void on grounds that there was no reasonable explanation given by Hadiya for her marriage to a Muslim without the consent of her parents. Finally, while appearing personally in the Supreme Court, she unequivocally stated that she had married her husband of her own free will and converted to another religion much before her marriage. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was asked to investigate the circumstances in which Hadiya had married and converted.

The NIA decided to widen its investigations. From a list of 89 such marriages, it investigated 11 cases and in the absence of prosecutable evidence, all such matters resulted in closure. The bottom line is that the Ordinance serves a political purpose. It is yet another way to polarise our polity. The issue is emotive and seeks to divide communities. The constitutionality of such a legislation when challenged should be decided with utmost speed. The court, hopefully, will find such laws to be antithetical to the constitutional ethos and our civilisational values. Any attempt to delay adjudication would only be playing into the hands of those intending to divide and not unite India.

This article first appeared in the newindianexpress on Nov 30, 2020 under the title ‘The perils of an economic oligarchy’. The writer, a senior Congress leader, is a former Union minister.

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