Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Art of Living (Irresponsibly)

The Art of Living Foundation decides to organize a World Culture Festival. The venue they choose is the the ecologically sensitive area along the banks of the Yamuna river, between Delhi and NOIDA.
The space required for the event - a staggering 1000 acres of marshland along the riverbank. The stage itself is expected to have an area of 7 acres. And an 3.5 million people are expected to storm into the Capital over three days.

The 1000 acres consisting primarily of shrubs and grass, is reported to have been reportedly  flattened, with most of the flora and fauna destroyed. This is in preparation of the event. What will happen when 3.5 million people attend the festival? All of them will eat, litter, use the area to urinate and defecate, and pollute the environment to an extent that is only left to imagination. What will happen to the already congested roads when the additional traffic burden related to 3.5 million additional people hits the City?

This scenario brings to focus many issues. 

One, is there any semblance of law enforcement related to environment in this Country? (If this is the state of affairs in the National Capital, one shudders to think what would be happening in smaller metros, towns and villages). Can any Organisation - Government or private take the liberty of deciding to upset a protected and environmentally sensitive area to organise an event of this scale, without fear of consequence?

Second is this Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's idea of the Art of Living? When environmentalists argued that using the floodplains of the Yamuna would cause irreparable damage, he called it "the biggest joke of the year" He has conveniently ignored that the event has no police or fire safety clearances.There are bridges, towers, dirt tracks and automobile parking areas in a "no construction"zone. For a Guru who preaches on the importance of moral and social values in life, such blatant disregard for the laws related to the environment (by the Guru's own admission - a few trees have been 'trimmed'), and the ethical consideration of putting to risk a protected zone, and inconveniencing the citizens and State agencies, for a private affair, just brings out the hypocrisy of the 'Guru' and his followers.

Last but not the least, is the issue of calling in the Army to help organize this event in the form of building pontoon bridges within the area, and conducting security related jobs. 
The role of the Army is to defend the frontiers of the Country. The Army Regulations state that the Army may be called for duties other than guarding the borders - like helping the civil authorities to maintain law and order, providing aid to civil authorities in times of a natural calamity or disaster such as earthquake or floods, and lastly "for any other duty that the Govt. may deem fit to call the Army". It is this last clause of the rule book that the Government has latched on to, and used, in this case. 

The other question is - why is the Ministry of Defence (read The Defence Minister) going out of this way to provide explanations that are 'lame' to say the least. The argument that it is only the Army that can be relied upon to ensure security of 3.5 million people is laughable. In other words, the Delhi Police, the CRPF, Rapid Action Force, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (a para military force of UP), the Home Guards or even the BSF, are collectively a bunch of incompetent Forces. If that is true, why do they exist? 

Exercising discretionary powers to call the Army to help organize a private event  is setting a very dangerous precedent.Tomorrow the Army could be called to organize political rallies or meetings, but the ruling Government. And this is just one example. The question then arises if the Govt. exercises its discretion to use this last clause, where is the line going to be drawn?

The damage caused by this event will be irreversible, and the extent will only be known in the aftermath. Who will be accountable? Can the damage be compensated by a fine of few crores Rupees paid by the Art of Living Foundation? 

And does the Government of the day have a moral stand on this serious issue? Isn't it serious enough for the Prime Minister to set an example, exercise his authority and come out openly rather than sit on the fence to see and decide on whether he inaugurates the event or stays away from it depending upon what the National Green Tribunal has to say?



Friday, February 19, 2016

What is Ánti-National'

What happened in JNU a little over a week back, is unprecedented.

In independent India, for decades institutions like the JNU have fostered a culture that promoted free thinking and speech, anti-establishment voices, protests and so on. The thought process largely was, that in a true democracy, the voice of dissent must be not only allowed, but encouraged. There are numerous instances in World history, where such strong voices forced the establish to change not only National policy but even political changes at National level. The movement against the US involvement in the Vietnam war, for instance, began among peace activists and leftist intellectuals on college campuses. Later this movement gained national prominence in 1965, after the United States began bombing North Vietnam in earnest.

Closer - at home, the Anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 in Tamil Nadu, where the Congress led Government tried to enforce Hindi as a language in Tamil Nadu, ultimately resulted in significant political changes in the State.The DMK won the 1967 elections, and the Congress was never able to recapture power in the State ever since. Amongst the many peaceful protests that Mahatma Gandhi led, as part of the freedom struggle, the 'Salt March' is a relevant example.

What began in JNU that afternoon, was a peaceful gathering until there were reports of anti India slogans being chanted amongst the protesters. What followed was immediate police intervention - nay - a crackdown, arrests and detentions, of which many people who were not even related to the gatherings or protests, were made victims.

As news spread all over the Country, the Nation seems somewhat divided in opinion on the merit of a police crackdown in an educational institution. Also the fundamental issue of whether chanting slogans which may be construed as ani-India, in itself amounts to sedition, is debatable.

The ruling Government, the BJP and its allied wings - the ABVP et all, have been busy defending not only the crackdown, and also linking the violence inflicted upon the media outside the Patiala House Courts, as if to say, because anti_India slogans were shouted the other day, this violence, and beating up of innocent journalists is justified. Many spokesmen of the ruling Government, and the BJP have made statements amounting to this justification, in the last few days.

Many questions arise. Who decides what is anti National. What acts of omission or commission amount to being anit-National. What is the interpretation of the law relating to sedition in the current context? Does nationalism equal to 'jingoism' that way we have seen? Are people who are taking the law into their hands and victimising the protesters for chanting anti-India slogans and assaulting even reporters who are covering news - are they Nationalists?

Mere symbolism and optics is NOT nationalism. Waving the tricolour, thrashing innocent people even those that had nothing to do with the protest gathering in JNU, does not amount to Nationalism.

According to me here's what truly amounts to being anti-National in the Indian context.

  • A Government failing to uphold the Constitution of India in course of its governance, willingly or otherwise – is anti-National. 
  • The Police allowing an innocent man (until proven guilty), placed under their protective custody, to be thrashed up by rogues disguised as lawyers (on whom is placed the responsibility of protecting and upholding the Constitution of India) – is anti-National. 
  • Denying an Indian the freedom of expression -his fundamental right – is anti-National. 
  • Suffocating free thought, and conflicting opinion and the right to protest peacefully is anti-National. 
  • Arresting with an ulterior motive, any Indian, placing him in custody, getting remand extended, and yet not being able to charge him with a crime or a violation of the Indian Penal Code – is anti-National. 
  • Policemen either acting as a catalyst to accelerate violence and a deteriorating law and order situation, or looking the other way – by choice, or on orders – is anti-National. 
  • Irresponsible baseless statements from senior Ministers of the cabinet (placed in a position of huge responsibility) linking students to heinous crimes and terrorism, thus misleading citizens, – is anti-National. 
  • Thrusting upon Indians - one religion, and marginalising those in minority who practise other faiths – is anti-National. 
  • Vigilante groups – self-proclaimed guardians of religion and Indian culture, storming into premises, thrashing up innocent young people without provocation and yet not being booked under the provisions of the law– is anti-National. 
  • Rape – and violence against women – is anti-National. 
  • Corruption – practised by anyone – whether the Government, politicians or a common man - is anti-National. 
  • Failing in one’s civic duty and responsibility as a citizen of India – spreading dirt, polluting, violating the laws of the land or even traffic rules is anti – National 
  • Evading taxes – anti-National. 
  • Farmers committing suicides – and the Government not bothering – is anti-National. 

The question is how many of the self proclaimed 'Nationalist' we have seen on TV screens, making jingoistic statements openly threatening members of the media, not in the least the students who were detained or are in custody, fit into the above definitions of being anti-National? The other question is how many of these types of anti-National activity listed above, has the Government paid attention to, to implement a change?

The larger issue is of the role of the Government. Instead of letting the University administration handle the matter and institute disciplinary proceedings if the situation demanded, the Government went out of the way to instruct the police to éffect' a crackdown, arrests etc. The Government then turned a blind eye to the blatant instances of local goons, disguised as lawyers, take the law into their hands, and indulge in violence. All allies - senior members of the majority political party the student wing etc. cried foul and recommended drastic punitive measures. One senior member recommended 'sanitising' JNU, as if the students, faculty and administration were insects and termites.

Is this what is priority for the Government? What about running the economy, driving growth through robust policy changes, improvement in law and order, dealing with violence against women, addressing the situation relating to the pathetic state of the Indian farmer (even farmers in an otherwise prosperous state like Punjab, are committing suicides), and last but not the least, the Indian soldier. These issues, and the numerous other ánti-National' activities that are eating into the fabric of India, is what the Government needs to focus on.

The Government of the day needs to be cautioned. They came into power not because they were the first preference of the citizens of this Country, but more because citizens were sick and tired of state of affairs the previous Government had created. But the mandate can change and change quickly. Anti incumbency votes that led to the fall of the UPA-II, can also topple the NDA. Only the reasons could be different.

So unless there is immediate course correction, this unrest that began with the JNU incident, could spread across the Country, and ultimately result in the undoing of the NDA.