Negotiating With Power?

By Santosh Desai – The is the reason why filing a First Information Report in India is so difficult; the possibility of a negotiated settlement often takes precedence over the application of the law.

Power when dangled over these situations has a way of pushing those involved towards a negotiated understanding; not surprisingly, the powerful and connected have the upper hand in such a situation.

The preservation of status quo in an environment of rules requires both an exaggerated formalization of rules as well as a great willingness to bend these in order to get a desired outcome. The apparent intractability of the rules is used as an incentive nudging those involved towards a negotiated settlement.

The success of this gambit depends on the ability to move dramatically between a position that argues that the rules are completely fixed to one that allows for complete flexibility just this once.

The use of power to cement existing reality rather than to alter it seems to be the motivation at work here. In theory, rules are rules, and everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, no matter who is involved. In practice, this is far from being the case.

For starters, rules in India are constructed so that in many cases, it is virtually impossible to implement them blindly, so complex, onerous and far removed from reality are they. This makes rules contingent by necessity; and it is this flexibility in the application of rules that creates both corruption as well helps move things along.

But above all, it keeps a form of social order intact. The legislative and administrative systems in India are subservient to the social ecosystem, and work within its ambit. Power thus becomes a social instrument that needs to be brokered keeping the dominant interests in mind. The disinterested application of the law is not possible in a context where these interests take priority. Hierarchies are respected, networks are nurtured, money speaks loudly, and settlements are negotiated.

The idea of the ‘settlement’ which finds a measure of mutual self-interest being catered to is only thinly related to abstract notions of justice. The poor and weak ‘accept’ an unfair resolution because the alternative is much worse.

What are otherwise their rights become favors that they seek from the powerful for a price. The powerful build constituencies by creating a cumbersome system and then offering a way to navigate the same. more>


Can ‘Make in India’ work?

Why India is not going to be the next China – or anything like China ever

By Kanti Bajpai – Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised he would promote a ‘Make in India’ revolution. Nearly four years later, a manufacturing revolution is nowhere in sight. Make in India was supposed to not just boost manufacturing, it was also supposed to generate employment. Estimates show there has been virtually no jobs growth.

To be a manufacturing power, a country needs a strong state which identifies niche areas, supports them and encourages innovation. It enforces contracts and property rights. It also provides public goods including law and order and an efficient bureaucracy.

Nobody would pretend that the Indian state is anywhere near being a strong state. It is often violent and despotic, but that is a measure of its weakness, not its strength.

India has no history of industrial-scale innovation – no world historical inventions that it has scaled up.

It is a trading nation and a nation that does well in areas that requires delicate craftsmanship and care, areas that are (for want of a better word) human in scale. It is also a nation that does well in providing services. It could, with better laws, incentives, and technology, be competitive in tourism, hospitality, fintech, and international education and healthcare – areas where human beings still count, where more personalized attention matters and where machines and scale are less important. more>


American lessons for India

By neglecting science and public welfare, the US is losing the marathon in some respects
By Dipankar Gupta – We look up to America for a number of good reasons. But there are a few cautionary tales as well, especially in the area of public spending.

The US, however, rarely looks outside its borders, east or west, for ideas. The Midwest, the country’s navel, is where it gazes most often. This is where elections are won or lost, and where homebred culture and cars are made.

Between 2000 and 2017 there have been as many as 25 train mishaps in the US, prompting the head of Amtrak to confess that the latest crash is a “wake up call”. It took 60 years, between 1940 to 1999, for 25 train accidents to happen, but only 15 years since to clock that number.

This graphically demonstrates how rapidly public railways have declined in America. We are not starting on the subject of the 56,000 US bridges that need urgent repair. This may sound and taste like India, but we are still talking America.

According to Mark Reutter of Progressive Policy Institute, in the first 13 years after 1956, as much as 46,350 km of interstate roadways were built and, tragically, 95,600 km of rail tracks taken out. In an ironic coincidence, 1956 was also the year when Japan started planning its high speed trains.

Railways have never won state support in the US after their heydays in the 1930s and 1940s. Politicians complain that trains will never make money, so why fund them? In Europe, the calculations are very different.

For example France’s prestigious, high speed TGV train service makes regular losses but gets government money anyway because the public benefits from it.

Not only does TGV reduce travel time, its wide network has also brought booms to towns, like Lille, that had gone bust in the 1950s. China’s high speed train system is also not a financial success, but the country is going ahead with planning a 500 kmph railway system anyway. more>


Ban, mandatory, compulsory: Three vile words increasingly define the modus operandi of India’s ruling politicians

By Ravi Shanker Kapoor – Something is rotten in the statecraft of India. Nothing else explains why three words – ‘ban,’ ‘mandatory,’ and ‘compulsory’ – are most widely used in not only governance and politics but also in public discourse. And not just the words; bans and mandatory requirements are also increasingly becoming a reality in what is supposedly the biggest democracy of the world.

The formulaic, quintessential Left-liberal explanation for this is simple: under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the fascist proclivities of Hindutva are asserting themselves; hence the increasing use of coercive measures. QED.

But Modi didn’t invent coercion, mandatory measures and other illiberal practices. For instance, the draconian Section 66A was added to the Information Technology Act by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government; the incumbent regime supported it in the court, though.

BJP’s ideology and agenda are different from those of the grand old party. But its methodology is still defined by the three obnoxious words: ban beef, make Sanskrit and Vande Mataram compulsory in Rajasthan schools, make it mandatory for people to stand up while the national anthem is played, etc. Any resistance to and criticism of such measures is dismissed with disdain.

Persuasion, discussion, debate and compromise are and should be the hallmarks of a liberal democracy.

Why is it so? The primary reason is that governance, which is essentially a process involving a great deal of assiduity and patience, has been reduced to a hodgepodge of events, rhetoric, and clever messaging. more>


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>


Aadhaar is based on unscientific thinking, fallible biometric data

Biometric authentication is based on the unscientific and questionable assumption that there are parts of human body that do not age, wither and decay with the passage of time.
By Gopal Krishna – The reason for the vehement opposition to biometric (Aadhhar)-based Central Identities Data Repository project is that it is contrary to the basic structure of the Constitution, which does not provide for an unlimited government.

The project is aimed at creating an unlimited government. Even after an unjust law has been passed to make it legal, it remains bad and illegitimate.

A Unique Identification Authority of India’s paper titled ‘Role of Biometric Technology in Aadhaar Authentication‘ — based on studies carried out by the UIDAI from January 2011 to January 2012 on Aadhaar biometric authentication — says, “Authentication answers the question ‘are you who you say you are’.”

The UIDAI paper states, ‘Of the three modes, fingerprint biometric happens to be the most mature biometric technology in terms of usage, extraction/matching algorithms, standardisation as well as availability of various types of fingerprint capture devices.

‘Iris authentication is a fast emerging technology which can further improve Aadhaar authentication accuracy and be more inclusive.’

Such absolute faith in biometric technology is based on a misplaced assumption that parts of human body do not change with age or decay with the passage of time.

Basic research on whether or not unique biological characteristics of human beings are reliable under all circumstances of life is largely conspicuous by its absence in India, even elsewhere.

There is a need for Parliament, the Supreme Court, state legislatures and the high courts to examine whether or not biometrics provides an established way of fixing the identity of Indians.

In an RTI reply dated December 5, 2013, UIDAI shared the contract agreement it signed on behalf of the President of India acting through Director General of UIDAI, Government of India, with the consortium consisting of M/s Ernst & Young Private Limited and M/s Netmagic Solutions Pvt Ltd wherein ‘M/s Ernst & young pvt ltd’ is the lead partner and consultant.

The agreement has pages numbered only till 26. The rest of the pages — which are appendices including various information — are not numbered.

A report ‘Biometrics: The Difference Engine: Dubious security’ published by The Economist in its October 1, 2010, issue observed, ‘Biometric identification can even invite violence. A motorist in Germany had a finger chopped off by thieves seeking to steal his exotic car, which used a fingerprint reader instead of a conventional door lock.’

Notwithstanding similar unforeseen consequences, the prime minister’s faith in biometrics remains unshaken.

Most startling disclosure from the contract agreement is its admission that ‘biometric systems are not 100 per cent accurate’.

It admits that ‘uniqueness of the biometrics is still a postulate’.

In an admission that pulverizes the very edifice on which Aadhaar rests, it writes, ‘The loss in information due to limitations of the capture setup or physical conditions of the body, and due (to) the feature representation, there is a non-zero probability that two finger prints or iris prints coming from different individuals can be called a match.’ more>


Aadhaar overkill

Originally conceived as an empowerment tool, it is disempowering citizens now
Times of India – Unique identification was originally sold to citizens as a way to efficiently deliver welfare benefits without duplication and pilferage by intermediaries. In the last couple of years, however, it has grown into an all-encompassing Leviathan even as there has been little progress on welfare. On one hand we have central and state governments conceiving uses for Aadhaar in everything from property to death registration, hailing ambulances to getting rations.

The enthusiasm has rubbed off on the private sector too, with three-year-olds requiring Aadhaar for nursery admissions and job opportunities tied to Aadhaar submission.

Making biometrics a keystone to access so many essential services invades privacy, increases the potential for abuse, makes doing business difficult and ties up everyday activities in red tape. Fake Aadhaar card rackets have been busted that allegedly exploited vulnerabilities in the UIDAI enrollment ecosystem.

Biometric verification is susceptible to failures and unauthorized usage. Poor connectivity, lax cyber security and data storage standards heighten the risks. All-encompassing Aadhaar linkages create the framework for mass surveillance and enhanced cybercrime.

It’s time to roll back the Aadhaar empire and initiate restrictions on its mandatory use. more>