Romancing India with a Vision!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I have been following Indo-US nuclear deal drama quite seriously and I feel I was bit biased when i wrote "Left should look right!" and "Breaking the Impasse". The United State's future Vision and its "Strategic Partnership" with India is now becoming more and more clear. Nicholas Burns, the US under secretary of states for political affairs, said, "Within a generation Americans may view India as one of our two or three most important strategic partners". How Indians would view the US? Its becoming quite clear from Left's right against Nuclear deal!

Indian government must be thinking of a serious business with Americans from little over 3-4 years. But Americans have a vision and strategy behind their cooperation with India. Almost a decade back neither Indians nor Americans had a friendly view of each other. But the new approach towards each other began recently. When US President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000, both the nations came to conclusion that "they have a common interest and complimentary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security". Bush Administration shared the same view and was successful in negotiating the concrete new agreement for strategic partnership. More over a senior US officials declared,
  1. The goal of US is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.
  2. To create an "Alliance of Democracies". (Is that to fight against anti democratic forces? Don't you remember China and for some extent Pakistan?)
  3. "To develop doctrine, promote joint training and planning and enhance inter-operability among its member militaries". ( Don't you remember Malabar series of naval exercises, joint Air Force training, purchase of weapons and aircrafts from US?)
  4. "The Alliance of democracies' ultimate goal would be for it to play a role akin to what NATO did for its member during the cold war!", said Ivo Daalder, an advisor to Barack Obama.
If US wants to help India become a super power in the 21st century, okay thats fine, but why? doesn't US need something in return? Its quite foolish not think about the other side. What does US want from India? According to Ashton Carter, assistant secretary of defence in the Clinton Administration,
  1. "Washington should expect to have India's help in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, even if India's assistance would risk compromising its friendly relations with Iran". This is evident from US pressure over Indo-Iran relations.
  2. "The US will want India's assistance in dealing with a range of dangerous contingencies involving Pakistan". Don't you notice the shifting of natural inclination of US from Pakistan to India?
  3. "Down the line US might also want India to serve as a counterweight to China". Quite obvious, only India (among other third world countries) has an ability to challenge China.
  4. "Cooperation of India in humanitarian interventions, peacekeeping missions, and post-conflict reconstruction efforts (don't you remember Afghanistan and Iraq story? Don't you think US has a desire to use India if US invades Iran?) and most importantly, "operations not mandated by or commanded by the United Nations, operations in which India has historically refused to participate!".
  5. "US military forces may also seek access to strategic locations through Indian territory and perhaps basing rights there. Ultimately, India could even provide US forces with 'over-the-horizon' bases for contingencies in the middle east".

Has this gamble of romancing with India in a strategic way has already started? Yes it has! US says "India is our top market". Why? India is now the second largest buyer of weapons in the third world, and responsible for about 12% of arms purchases. India signed arms deal for about $3.5 billion in 2006. It may spend some $40 billion on weapons purchase over the next five years. India has almost agreed for the purchase of 126 jet fighters with a possible price tag of $10 billion[Source EPW, Oct 13, 2007]. And now, with these deals, India has put US in drivers seat and "India is (arguably) being told to chose, in the classic phrase, our way or the highway"[EPW].

If we look at the flip side of the story, Its quite interesting to know that the world is looking at India as a next generation super power. India must play a balancing role in arresting growing international pressure (like what US is attempting to do) and find its own way to become a super power. Indo-US nuclear deal is the good lesson being learned by India and it should try to mitigate the consequences in the best interests of the Nation. Thanks to the democratic culture that we have developed over past six decades for providing (healthy?) debate over every issue like the nuclear deal. Indian democracy has yet again demonstrated what democracy means to the nation and its interests in the contemporary international context.

When Can We Make Poverty History?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dear Friends, Twenty years back, on October 17th, 1987, over hundred thousand people gathered on the Human Rights and Liberties Plaza at the Trocadéro in Paris, the place where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, to honour victims of poverty, hunger, violence and fear. That historic day is now being celebrated as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. People gathered there proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected. These convictions are inscribed in a commemorative stone unveiled on this day[...]. It says,
Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty
Since then, people of all backgrounds, beliefs and social origins have gathered every year on October 17th to renew their commitment and show their solidarity with the poor. Replicas of the commemorative stone have been unveiled around the world and serve as a gathering place to celebrate the Day. [Click here to see UN Page on this].

In 1992, United Nations officially recognized October 17th as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Yet another ritual day? "One-third of all people (without access to water) fall below the $1-a-day absolute poverty threshold. Another third live on no more than $2 a day"[...]. That means, There are 1.2 billion people living without access to safe drinking water, 2.6 billion people without access to sanitation[Human Development Report 2006]. Do you know that every human being needs at least 20 litres of water per day? Of those 1.2 billion people, most of them gets only about 5 litres per day, that is one-tenth of the average daily amount used in rich countries to flush toilets. On an average, people in Europe use more than 200 litres per day, in United States the figure is more than 400 litres. When an European person flushes a toilet or an American person showers, he or she is using more water than what is available to hundreds of millions of individuals living in urban slums or arid areas of the developing countries[Source, Yojana]. In Africa, out of 630 million people, 420 million people fall below poverty line. On the other hand, out of 1130 million people in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, there is not even a single citizen earning less than 1$ per day!! (HDR 2005).

Check out this Video, The African Dream: Ending Extreme Poverty

Why? Why do we have such inequalities? Is Darwin's principle of "Survival of the fittest" still applicable to the mankind? Why some section of the population still feel that there is a "Struggle for existence"? These questions remain unanswered as long as the poverty becomes history.

Do you think the world is not doing anything to make poverty history? Of course it is doing something, but its not good enough. United Nations gave the highest priority to 'Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger' in its Millennium Development Goals. As a result of this, All the member nations have a legal obligation to to fulfill this goal. "The International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank that helps the earth’s poorest countries reduce poverty by providing interest-free loans and grants for programs aimed at boosting economic growth and improving living conditions". There are thousands of NGOs and private organizations dedicated to eradicate extreme poverty. There are some richest charitable organizations like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (B&MGF) to fund for the noble cause. There are generous tycoons like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji and others who are contributing millions of dollars to help the helpless. Many countries are finding out innovative public policies to eradicate poverty. For example, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in India, AGETIP - employment programs in Africa (with the help of the World Bank, German development co-operation and other donors).

In spite of all that, why do we still continue to see poverty in our society? There is a lack of collective action from all of us. Because of this, some people, notably the poor are systematically denied the life with dignity. What can we do? "STAND UP and SPEAK OUT against poverty and refuse to stay silent or seated in the face of poverty". "Educate and Organize" the "actual poor" to make their life beautiful. Help as much as you can. Your help is not a charity, Its a justice to the poor. Lets learn to share what we have.

Marriage-Honeymoon-Divorce And The Governor

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Recent 'Marriage-Honeymoon-Divorce' story of Janata Dal (Secular), Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka demonstrated the worst form of coalition politics in the history of Indian Democracy. Blatant betrayal of mutually agreed principles, political opportunism, nepotism, corruption, were evident from the few days political tamasha. JD(S), ideologically a secular party, first betrayed the trust of Congress in 2006 to join hands with the communal party (BJP), which is against its fundamental political ideology. After enjoying the political honeymoon for 20 months, JD(S) was yet again shamelessly looking towards Congress' support just to get into the corridors of power. When the hopes of outside support from Congress was dramatically turned down by the high command, Power hungry politicians yet again made an attempt for remarriage between JD(S) and BJP!

Thanks to Governor Shri Rameshwar Thakur who has shown a non partisan character in exercising his constitutional duties (Recommending President's rule at the right time). If Mr.Kumaraswamy had agreed to go for floor test (an exercise of testing whether the chief minister has majority support in the house/floor of the assembly) on October 18th, or if BJP had made a serious attempt to form a government at last minute, the Governor could have faced a dilemma of whether to recommend the President's rule or not. In either case Governor's impartiality and commitment to constitutionalism would have been put to a serious test. Because, there could have been a peculiar situation of government formation before President's rule and the dissolution of the Assembly! In the 60 years history of Indian Democracy, many governors have blatantly misused the Constitutional power under the Article 356. Until 1967 there were no conflicting opinions about Governor's role in the states since Congress enjoyed an absolute majority in all most all the states. But 1967 general elections reduced Congress into a minority in eight states! This posed new challenges to the Governor. For example, If there is no clear majority in the state legislature, should Governor invite the leader from single largest party or should he invite the leader from the opposition party or should he invite the leader from group of parties to form the government? Such questions made Governor's discretionary powers more powerful and equally controversial.

When Mr. Venkat Subbaiah was the Governor of Karnataka in 1989, he dismissed the Chief Minister S. R. Bommai without even giving an opportunity for floor test to prove the majority. Mr. Bommai appealed against governor's blatant action in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in its historic March 1994 judgment in S. R. Bommai vs. Union of India case declared that in the midst of conflicting political claims, a floor test in the Assembly (as opposed to a head count in the Raj Bhavan) is the only legitimate way of ascertaining who has the majority. Thus the blatant misuse of Article 356 (Power of President's rule in the states) was considerably curtailed. Further, Supreme Court in its January 2006 judgment on the Bihar Assembly Dissolution case declared that horse trading cannot be the basis of invoking Article 356 to bring the State under President's rule. (In May 2005, the Governor of Bihar, Mr. Buta Singh recommended the President's rule in Bihar stating that the decision was to prevent horse-trading and formation of government through foul means. However the actual intention was to prevent Mr.Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (United) to form government, which was clearly the intention of the center! Later Mr. Nitish Kumar went on to win the Assembly elections and became the Chief Minister of Bihar!). Yet another worst case was seen in Goa in 1994. In 1994, the Governor of Goa, Mr. Bhanu Pratap Singh, dismissed the CM of Goa though the CM D'Souza enjoyed the majority in the Goa assembly. Later the Governor even administered the oath of office to D'Souza's closest rival Mr. Ravi Naik. After this event the governor was dismissed unceremoniously!

Why do we see such unethical and partisan behavior of Governors in one of the most respected democracy in the world? The reasons could be,
  1. Choosing the governors from among the active politicians.
  2. Appointment of governors without even consulting the state's Chief minister.
  3. Loyalty of the Governor to the party ruling at the center (If the ruling party in state is different from that in center).
  4. Frequent forwarding of bills passed by legislative assembly for President's consideration.
  5. Making unnecessary public statements by the governor.
  6. Direct interaction of the governor with the state officials by passing the CM and his council of ministers.
In the interest of the center-state relations its very important that the governor's post has to be kept away from the partisan politics. "Sarkaria Commission" recommended various measures to curtail the partisan behavior of Governor.
  1. He should not be from the state where he is going to be the governor. (This recommendation is being followed).
  2. It is preferable not to appoint the active politicians as governors. This is not being followed. For example, The Governor of Maharashtra, Mr.S.M. Krishna was an active politician, in fact he was the CM of Karnataka, before he became governor.
  3. CM of the state must be consulted before appointing the governor. (This is not always followed, especially when the party ruling the state and the center are different).
  4. Governor's power to forward the bills to president (under Article 200) should be limited. (Not implemented).
Not all the recommendations of Sarkaria Commission are implemented by government. Recent Goa crisis, earlier political uncertainties in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisghar, Assam and many other states have clearly indicated that there is an urgent need to observe the recommendations made by Sarkaria Commission and also to keep the Governor's post away from partisan Politics. Karnataka Governor Shri Rameshwar Thakur's action seems to be healthy and commendable. Now that the fun games are effectively over in Karnataka, going to the people for a fresh mandate is the only course available"[The Hindu, October 10, 2007]. The election commission and the center should ensure fair elections in the state as soon as possible.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.