Monday, October 19, 2015

Further Strife with Judiciary .... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ October 18, 2015

Further Strife with Judiciary Will Put Government’s Democratic Intentions in    the Dock

King Solomon, the ancient king of Israel, was widely known for his sagacity and justice. His throne had a round top and two lions standing below each arm. Centuries later, Indian justice’s golden throne, the Supreme Court, delivered a judgment that protected the cornerstone of our democracy. A five-member Bench headed by Justice J S Khehar struck down the National Judicial Appointment Commission (NJAC) Act, which sought the government power in choosing judges.

The greatness of the Indian judiciary is an allegory of Solomon’s throne, nationally emblematic of India’s legislature and executive. There was, however, leonine disappointment over L’affaire NJAC. It was the Modi government’s first major encounter with the judiciary. But PM Narendra Modi should take the setback as signal for course correction by initiating a dialogue for reconciliation and accommodation rather than insolent confrontation.
The judicial burial of NJAC has, however, caused much animosity and anger in the ruling establishment. Justice Khehar made a significant remark in his judgment: “It is difficult to hold that the wisdom of appointment of judges can be shared with the political-executive. In India, the organic development of civil society has not as yet sufficiently evolved. The expectation from the judiciary, to safeguard the rights of the citizens of this country, can only be ensured by keeping it absolutely insulated and independent from the other organs of governance.”  He was echoing the voices and intent of the collective wisdom that gave India its Constitution. It’s no surprise that the idea of the NJAC was born out of political consternation after various courts brought many of the high and mighty to justice, sending Union ministers, chief ministers and top bureaucrats to prison.
The judgment showed the Indian judiciary continues to be courageous and outspoken. The reaction of the ruling party and its top law officers, however, was dismally churlish. Law minister D V Sadananda Gowda, an advocate himself, said, “I am surprised by the verdict of the Supreme Court on NJAC which was completely supported by the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. It had 100 per cent support of the people.” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who extensively argued for the government, echoed Gowda’s sentiment and termed it a flawed judgement “ignoring the will of the Parliament, half of state legislatures and the will of the people for transparency in judicial appointments”. Ironically, it is the BJP and its allies who have historically gained from judicial activism. Leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani have been champions of judicial independence. The BJP must remember that it is an independent judiciary that has corrected distortions in the functioning of the executive and restored the rule of law. In the 1970s, Indira Gandhi had rammed through various legislations, which she considered the Will of the Bill. Many curbs on fundamental rights during the Emergency were passed by the same Parliament, which adopted the NJAC. The will of the people is reflected in the Constitution of India as “We, the People.” Various judicial orders since Independence have clarified that the Constitution’s basic structure cannot be mauled to suit the political philosophy of a ruling party. Using convoluted arguments against the role of courts, politicians are suggestively selling the ominous idea that any elected government can demolish the judicature by invoking the Will of the People doctrine.
It is not for the first time that court verdicts have created a confrontation between the judiciary and executive and sometimes even with the legislature. Irked by judges’ vigorous scrutiny of government actions and legislations, politicians have tended to tinker with the judiciary’s powers. The current battle stems from the same desire to disturb the delicate balance of power between the judiciary, executive and the legislature. Undoubtedly, the collegium system to choose judges needs to be insulated against extraneous factors. But it has worked much better than the previous one for the past 22 years. Of the 2,000-odd appointments in high courts and the Supreme Court since 1993, hardly a dozen turned out to be bad apples. But if the NJAC is enforced, politicians will choose judges. By making the law minister and two other non-judicial individuals members of the selection panel, the executive can slip in people with dubious backgrounds. Can India afford to institutionalise a mechanism by which chargesheeted or tainted leaders are allowed to select top judges? What sort of Solomons would the country get if Yeddyurappa, Lalu Prasad, Azam Khan or A Raja becomes the law minister, either in their states or at the Centre? Is it not a possibility that by changing the system, those facing the rule of law would instal puppet judges to superimpose the rule of their masters on the system?
The judiciary’s role is well defined by the Constitution. Its responsibilities are to ensure the rule of law and to interpret the Constitution. People who are tempted to remove any checks on their lust for unlimited power cannot be allowed to choose judges. The Indian judiciary has delivered directions on issues like health, environment, crime against women and better education, which are not in our written Constitution. It takes over when the executive fails. Even now, the latter has the power to stall any appointment if it finds the candidate’s credentials unsatisfactory. The NDA government, too, prevented an eminent lawyer from becoming a Supreme Court judge for unexplained reasons. Any further confrontation with the judiciary will not only weaken India’s healthy democracy but also raise questions about the government’s democratic intentions. Like during Indira’s regime, there are many in the NDA who enjoy intimidating the judiciary to settle personal scores. They will push the PM to take the verdict as a challenge to his authority. But a strong and secure leader like Modi will succeed only by making hallowed institutions like the judiciary even stronger. History is an estuary of evidence, which shows that those who have fiddled with judicial independence have done so at their own peril.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pak Artists Can'[t Dilute fight against Terror .... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ October 11, 2015

Pak Artists Can't Dilute Fight Against Terror with Music, and Money Earned in India

Ghulam Ali

Music unites hearts and souls. Only in India can music and musicians divide society longitudinally. The recent Shiv Sena-sponsored ban on the famous Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali from performing in Mumbai has brought onstage a direct confrontation between the ill-liberals and liberals on one side, and nationalists and ultranationalists on the other. Ironically, a Pakistani citizen like Ali has become the symbol of the fight for cultural freedom in India as if his own country is the paradise of pluralism and tolerance.

Some semantic saviours of secularism have tried to paint the musical prescription as a rift between Hindus and Muslims. It is appalling that the BJP government couldn’t convince its alliance partner to refrain from preventing a well-beloved singer from entertaining the Mumbai audience. The Shiv Sena, like the Muslim League or Owaisi’s obstreperous outfit, is entitled to sing its communally divisive tune. But none of them have the right to impose their choices—cultural or otherwise—on the entire state or country. The Shiv Sena has always been allergic to anyone from Pakistan, be it cricketers or artists, performing in Mumbai. This time it sang its revolting raga to the convenient composition of nationalist idealism. “Some people may have a problem with what we did, but we have no regrets. We have done our national duty. This is a tribute to all our martyrs who died at the hands of Pakistan’s cowardly hands. Raising war memorials is not enough, you need to give a stern reply and that is what we have done,” surmised an editorial in the party mouthpiece Saamna. Expectedly, others wearing jingoistic badges on their sleeves joined Sena’s offensive orchestra against Pakistan’s cultural invasion.
Popular Bollywood singer Abhijit Bhattacharya was the first to tweet in favour of the ban: “These shameless people have no self-respect, no work except terrorism. So-called Hindu political parties just shout 4 mileage bt never tk action agnst these Dengue Artists from terrorist country. These qawwals don’t come here on their merit but due to paki Dalals.” Predictably, he was savagely set upon by the secular cabal of Shabana Azmi, Mahesh Bhatt and Wendell Rodricks, who wear blinkers against Pakistan’s own attitude to their artistic colleagues across the border. Since it was a Hindutva political party that opposed Ali, leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal naturally played to their galleries and adopted the singer. They have invited him to perform in Kolkata and Delhi. Even committed Hindutva outfits disapproved the Shiv Sena attack and ban on Ali’s show. The RSS too expressed displeasure with Shiv Sena’s action. But all these conciliatory contortions couldn’t force Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to call his ally’s bluff by ensuring that the concert went ahead as planned.
Ever since the change of government at the Centre in 2014, the actions and averments of fringe elements have dictated and defined the discourse on individual liberty. It can’t be denied that a few self-proclaimed torchbearers of Hindutva have been emboldened by the administration’s inaction towards their shoot-from-the-hip statements. On the other hand, the literati and chatterati class has been deliberately ignoring the assault on Indian culture, entertainment and minority citizens in Pakistan. Not one of those who are now in the forefront of defending Ali have taken up cudgels on behalf of Indian artistes and films prevented from playing in Pakistan. Their silence has provided a handle to individuals with extreme ideological leanings to convert every opportunity as a pledge to defend India’s pride. Those offended by Pakistan’s direct support to terror and Kashmiri separatists wonder why India should be a remunerative oasis for Pakistani singers, actors and other entertainers to hawk their talent. Come festival season, India is flooded with hordes of Pakistani showmen camping in various cities. They are invited by the rich and mighty to perform at private functions such as weddings. Revenue authorities’ estimate says Pakistani singers and artists take away over $77 lakh every year from India. A few years ago, noted Pakistani singer and B-Town balladeer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained at the IGI Airport in New Delhi after he and two of his troupe members were caught with $1.24 lakh in undeclared foreign currency.
None of these virtuosos who benefit commercially from the Indian market do ever speak against Pak-sponsored terror or plead in favour of liberal visas for Indian artists and journalists. But they host sumptuous parties for Indian socialites who visit Pakistan, who in turn take up their cause at home. Can a Lata Mangeshker, an Anupam Kher or even any of the Khans perform to packed audiences in Pakistan? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Pakistan has banned for short and longer duration over a dozen Indian films during the past 10 years. Over half of these films like Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Chennai Express, Agent Vinod, The Dirty Picture and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag had popular Indian Muslim celluloid icons like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan , Saif Ali Khan, Imraan Hashmi and Farhan Akhtar. All of them have done India proud but Pakistan found their films a threat to its cultural identity. Saif Ali’s Phantom was banned by a Pak lower court after the terror outfit Jamaat-ud-Dawa led by Hafiz Saeed filed a petition against its screening. Saeed is a prime suspect in 26/11 Mumbai attacks. None of the famous flag-bearers of freedom of expression in India and abroad have ever taken out candlelight marches or resorted to social media frenzy to condemn the macabre melody of the Pak establishment. Indians, however, have rarely rejected any effervescent entertainment from Pakistan. A large number of TV serials made in Pakistan draw huge TRPs in India and are regularly telecast in India.
Even after almost seven decades, Pakistani opinion-makers have not been able to change the anti-India mindset of their rulers. They have, however, been highly successful in creating a powerful, well-connected coalition of socially savvy illiberals who are united by qawwals and cuisine to fill their pockets in India. It is time they realised that India, under PM Modi, even though backed by some hot-headed supporters, will not allow music and entertainment by Ali and ilk to dilute and divert the fight against terror, and that too with money earned in India.; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, October 5, 2015

Owaisi and Ilk can talke backseat ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ October 04, 2015

Owaisi and Ilk Can Take Backseat, the Change They're Driving is not the Sort India Needs

AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi addresses a rally in Aurangabad

“My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist,” the immortal line delivered by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan in the eponymous film, went viral in 2010, sending the message that the majority of Muslims oppose violence. In 2014, the minority audience has been captivated by a leader whose name is Owaisi, who appears to be an error-ist.

In Asaduddin Owaisi’s quest for nation-wide acceptability, the 46-year-old barrister from Lincoln’s Inn has committed an error of judgment. Like many other Muslim leaders in the past, he too pursues the notion that he is the chosen one meant to carve out a political niche by communally pandering to his community’s fears. In the past few weeks, he has not missed any opportunity to project himself as the saviour of minority interests, as if it is the only course open to him to survive and thrive in politics. In that respect, he has something in common with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, also a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, who fought for a separate nation for Muslims, taking the divisive position that India wasn’t doing justice to his community. Most of India’s Muslims rejected this thesis. Owaisi, however, had till recently limited his ancestral political fiefdom to in and around Hyderabad, where Muslims form the largest chunk of the electorate. His latest gambit to delve into the Bihar poll fray reflects his dream to acquire the label of a pan-India Muslim leader. He is putting up over 40 candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies. He and his brothers are known more for their acerbic speeches against the majority community than for crafting a road map to improve the conditions of impoverished section of minorities. Perhaps because they are his vote bank. Besides, in Bihar, it is unclear how a leader contesting less than 20 per cent of seats can bring about any transformation in a caste-ridden state. 
Having tasted political blood in Maharashtra, where his party with the tongue-twister moniker, ‘All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’, did fairly well in both the Assembly and municipal elections, Owaisi has expanded his battlefield to other parts of the country. He appears at every spot where any communal accident or incident takes place. Last week, he  popped up in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim was lynched to death because he was suspected to have stored beef in his larder at home.
Owaisi has every right to practice his kind of politics. He is one of India’s few Muslim leaders, who is widely travelled and well educated. The question is why does an erudite leader like him indulge in communal politics? A study of the rise and fall of leaders in India since the early 20th century reveals that ones who took up the cause of extreme elements could never become national leaders. None of the Hindu Mahasabha satraps could acquire national stature because the overwhelming majority of Hindus disapproved of their actions. Jinnah floated the Muslim League because he failed to get his spot in the sun, pun intended, in the Indian National Congress. Owaisi and his type do not perceive themselves as leaders of an inclusive India. Most Muslim leaders are involved in combat to capture the majority of minority sentiment, not realising that it wouldn’t serve their mission to impact the nation’s governance. It is surprising that even after 68 years of Independence, the country doesn’t have a single Muslim leader with pan-India acceptability among his own community, let alone others. India has produced leaders like Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Dr Zakir Husain and more who spoke for the nation as a whole, not just for its 17-crore Muslims. India has the largest Muslim population after Indonesia. It should give enough of a headstart for any leader who empathises with the angst of his community. It is true that the benefits of economic development have not reached the minorities fully. All political outfits have ritually obliged a few Muslim leaders by giving them symbolic posts in the government or party. After the fall of Babri Masjid, the voice of the moderate Muslim has been drowned in the cacophony of protests of a psychologically wounded section of the community. Instead of exploring reconciliation, insane elements in both the Muslim and Hindu communities took to violence. Since then, they have been talking in terms of revenge and rivalry rather than friendship and fraternity. Owaisi and his ilk are forgetting that when anyone who practices the rhetoric of extremism becomes the darling of just the fanatic fringe, they are hated by the silent, peace-loving majority. He can draw some consolation from the fact that electoral expansionism may have paid some dividends, but like many others of his plumage, he too is a victim of diminishing returns.
Owaisi is seen as a leader who divides those voters who are expected to fight what he and fellow travellers call the Hindutva forces. But it wasn’t a coincidence that all the AIMIM candidates lost their deposits in the Bengaluru civic elections. Even organisations such as Sanatan Sanstha are rejected by the majority of the Hindu and secular elements because the DNA of India is genuinely secular. Owaisi is advised to ponder why any Google search throws up only the names of film stars while looking for India’s top Muslim leaders. Of 20 names, 18 are from tinseltown and academia. Isn’t it a tragedy that in a country where over 16 per cent of the population is Muslim, not one prominent political activist is considered the legitimate face of the community? Indian voters have always rejected extremist elements. The Muslim League has been reduced to a party in a few districts of Kerala. The Shiv Sena hasn’t been able to cross the Vindhyas, as well as the numerous smaller offshoots of the saffron type. Even the Ram Sene’s antics couldn’t get them an entry into Goa.
The Indian Muslim needs a voice that resonates over the political landscape, which speaks up for their genuine demands. Today’s minority leaders are seen as pocket borough paladins or vote bank small-timers. It is a matter of concern that India’s moderate and progressive Muslims scholars and opinion leaders are staying schtum on the rise of the extremist elements in politics. None can deny the reality that Muslims are an integral part of India’s unique identity as a tolerant nation. It is time they found leaders who speak for an Inclusive India and not a Divided Bharat. The voice of Owaisi is as dangerous for Muslims as the venomous statements made by fringe Hindu elements for the rest of the country. 
Owaisi’s Facebook page sports the slogan: ‘Bihar, change will come.’ Mr Owaisi, keep the change. Yours is not the sort India needs.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla