India’s Achilles heel: Bureaucracy

2G judgment indicates the nation’s civil servants are the real weak link in its governance
By Sanjiv Shankaran – Policies and guidelines which led up to the 2G allocation spanned two governments: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA and Manmohan Singh’s UPA. The common thread that binds them is the disappointing quality of work when it came to fleshing out details in policy. Given the ambiguous nature of guidelines and poor drafting, controversies are a foregone conclusion.

Poor drafting of legislation has been the bane of India’s legislative framework. The telecom rules were a particularly appalling case. Definitions of critical terms such as “associate companies” are not clear. It’s these aspects which come through in OP Saini’s judgment, making one wonder if we are looking in the right place for answers to what happened.

Some senior bureaucrats come in for adverse mention in the judgment. Former telecom secretary DS Mathur is regarded as evasive in his deposition. Consequently, his testimony is discarded by the court as he is considered an unreliable witness. Another bureaucrat, Pulok Chatterjee in the prime minister’s office, fails to meet a citizen’s legitimate expectations.

Unsurprisingly, the prosecution is shown up in poor light. Their incompetence is another incalculable cost imposed on society. more>


Why Congress should embrace religion and ignore charges of ‘soft Hindutva’

Times of India – Why traffic in religion at all? Because democracy demands it. The easy answer to the hardcore secularists is this: Indian politics is, and has always been mixed up with religion, because the majority of Indian people, our society and culture are still mixed up with religion. Unlike the hard secularism that emerged in Europe after the bloody conflicts that separated church and state, India’s softer secularism does not reject religion.

Our Constitution calls for a principled negotiation with it, rather than walling it off from the state. Secularism can easily coexist with religious sentiment — what it must oppose is communalism. Political parties, as the intermediaries between state and society, have to reach out to religious groups, which have a hold on voters.

If BJP makes a battleground out of Hinduism, Congress must be prepared to meet it there too, and assert its values. But it must be creative, not reactive.

It must not let others set the terms, because the sense of majoritarian injury can be bottomless.

Congress should engage with religion as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did — to use the spiritual reserves within it, to steer it towards social justice and empathy. ‘Soft Hinduism’ should be a badge of honor for Congress, because after all, Hinduism is not a weapon in the party’s hands. Whether Hinduism, Islam or any other faith, religion is a soft thing, to be held dear but not brandished in another’s face. more>


Listen to Babri Masjid’s ghost

It’s telling us that politics based on religious identity doesn’t work in the long run
By Sagarika Ghose – Since secularism lapsed into identity politics, it led inevitably to a reaction and mobilization in the form of a counter-identity, namely Hindutva. Identity politics in the form of secularism has extracted a heavy price and Congress is down to its lowest tally of 44 seats. Identity politics in the form of Hindutva looks triumphant but it too contains the seeds of its own destruction.

No state better illustrates Hindutva’s journey than Gujarat. Once a Congress bastion, the party streaked to a three-fourths majority in 1985 with the Madhavsinh Solanki crafted caste alliance known as KHAM. But zenith was followed by nadir. In the same year Rajiv sacked Solanki as chief minister and Congress was soon consigned to irrelevance.

After the riots, Hindutva won in 2002 and 2007, but in 2012, let’s face it, Hindutva took a back seat to the reinvented persona of Modi. The footsoldiers of the Ayodhya movement, kar sevaks, VHP and Bajrang Dal lost out in politics. Instead it was a superbly repackaged image of Modi as development guru (and Hindutva icon) who led the saffron juggernaut.

Sure, Hindutva in Gujarat and in the rest of India is fast being ‘normalized’. Today Muslims are at their lowest ever representation in Parliament. Gau rakshak attacks on suspected cattle traders across north India have gone largely unpunished, and the patriotism of Muslims is regularly questioned.

Yet even as Hindutva has grown strong, so have its challengers. Three young caste leaders in Gujarat – Jignesh, Alpesh and Hardik – have emerged as a powerful counterpoint to religious politics. Bengal’s didi is fighting Hindutva with her own brand of street power and Hindutva has failed to make a dent in Kerala.

Hindutva provides initial momentum, but dissipates over time unless there is a ‘plus’ factor that goes beyond religious polarization. The canny Indian voter gives identity politics a chance once, maybe twice, but over time turns her back on it if there’s no recognizable delivery of welfare, liberty and justice. When Congress-style secularism became about advancing sectional interests, the voter rejected it.

If Hindutva starts to become only about the identity of a few and becomes an assault on the individual liberties of the many, if the right to speak, dissent, make movies, write books, eat meat, dress, marry, love, or speak a language of one’s choice is threatened, Hindutva too will meet the same fate as ‘secularism’. more>


Disturbing debate on Rahul Gandhi’s Hindu-ness

India’s top national parties are reducing the importance of being Indian
By Robin David – You are not a Christian or a Parsi or a Muslim or a Jew. You are a non-Hindu.

Given the manner in which both parties are fighting over the issue, it seems that the ‘Hindu’ is an exclusive club for the privileged. To become a member, you have to meet the stiff criteria set by the club management and be ready for a rejection.

By questioning Rahul’s Hindu identity, the BJP has challenged his membership to the club and asked him to establish his credentials. Although BJP leaders haven’t said it in as many words, the implicit message is that Rahul does not deserve to ask for the votes of Hindus in Gujarat because his Hindu credentials are questionable.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra even demanded that Rahul “must say who he actually is”.

Congress, on the other hand, released Rahul’s photograph with a janeu to establish that he is a ‘janeu-dhari Hindu’. By putting the spotlight on his janeu, the Gandhi scion seems to be saying that he is more Hindu than most Hindus. He has also put on the backseat the identity of being an Indian.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this entire debate is the normalization of the idea that being a Hindu is the primary identity one is expected to have to make an impact in an election in this country.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Rahul is in fact a Christian. Does he in any way become less eligible to ask for votes from Indians who live in Gujarat? One would like to believe that 70 years after Independence, one’s Indian identity matters more than one’s religious identity in an election.

But going by this debate, it does not seem so. more>