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COVER STORY

04-08-2017

At a crossroads

India-China border fence

Briefing

Cover Story

Himalayan face-off

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

THE SITUATION ON THE SIKKIM BORDER involving the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is being described as the most serious crisis to break out along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the last 40 years. Since the middle of June, Indian and Chinese soldiers have been facing each other on a Himalayan plateau in the Doklam area, on the border with Sikkim. The latest confrontation has been described as the most serious crisis since the 1962 India-China war. No shots have been fired along the border between the two countries since 1975, and there have been no shots fired yet. After India and China signed the “Peace and Tranquillity Agreement” in 1993, followed by other major agreements such as the “Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination” and the “Border Defence Cooperation Agreement” in 2012 and 2013 respectively, the border between the two countries has been relatively calm.

The crisis between the two countries first came into spotlight around the time Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting the United States in late June. The military standoff at the tri-junction where the borders of China, Bhutan and India meet was triggered by the construction of a motorable road by the PLA from Doka La in the Doklam area. The Indian government claims that the road, when completed, will connect Lhasa to the Chumbi valley in the disputed tri-junction area. Indian military planners and security experts are of the opinion that this move by the PLA poses a serious threat to India’s national security.

The Bhutanese Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint with China in June, claiming that the construction was taking place on Bhutanese territory and that the road was heading towards a Bhutanese military camp in Zumpeiri. The Ministry noted that the construction activity was in violation of the 1988 and 1998 written agreements between the two countries which pledged to maintain peace and tranquillity along the border between the two countries until a final settlement of the boundary question was made. The Bhutanese statement claimed that the road building affected the prospects for the demarcation of the boundary between the two countries. Bhutan’s Ambassador to India, Maj. Gen. (Retd) V. Namgyel, handed a formal “demarche” to the Chinese Embassy in Delhi on June 20 demanding a halt to the Chinese road-construction activities.

Indian troops moved into the area where the road construction was going on. The Indian government initially gave the impression that the PLA had trespassed into the Indian side of the LAC. The jingoistic Indian media had a field day and went to town condemning Chinese “aggression”. This sparked a reaction from the nationalistic section of the Chinese media. There was even talk in sections of the Chinese media of another war looming with India and about India not learning from “the lesson of 1962”.

Visuals were shown on Indian television of Indian and Chinese soldiers pushing and shoving each other. It later turned out that the visuals were of an incident which happened more than seven years ago.

It was only after the Indian Army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, who had rushed to the area, disclosed that Indian troops had entered the Doklam area at the invitation of the Bhutanese government that the hyper-nationalistic narrative of the Indian media was toned down. Gen. Rawat flew to Sikkim to meet the commanders of the 17 Mountain Division, which had been given the task of protecting the Sikkim border area. India is raising the 80,000-strong elite Mountain Strike Corps to guard the 3,500-km-long border with China. Beijing was quick to demand the withdrawal of the Indian troops who, they claimed, had crossed over from the Sikkim border.

China insists that the Sikkim-China sector of the LAC is a settled border in accordance with the 1890 “Article One of the Convention between Great Britain and China, Relating to Sikkim and Tibet”. It says that its recognition of Sikkim after it was taken over by India was based on this convention. China warned that if India did not adhere to this treaty which, it claimed, clearly defined the Sikkim section of the Sino-Indian boundary, the legality of Sikkim’s accession to the Indian Union could be reopened.

The 1890 agreement clearly stated that “the boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its effluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet”. Doklam has been under Chinese control for a long time. China has also quoted a letter from Jawaharlal Nehru to his Chinese counterpart, Zhou En-lai, in 1959, conceding the validity of the Anglo-Chinese convention of 1890. Referring to the road construction in Doklam, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that its activities there were “acts of sovereignty on its own territory”, adding that it “was completely justified and lawful”.

It came as a surprise, therefore, when Indian troops were given the go-ahead to move into the area. The foolhardy move must surely have been cleared by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). India currently has only a part-time Defence Minister. Arun Jaitley holds the key portfolio, but his major preoccupation is with the Finance Ministry. All the important decisions seem to be made in the PMO and the Army headquarters. The last time India decided to send troops across the borders, it resulted in the 1962 war. The psychological and political scars left behind in India by that war are yet to heal. Gen. Bipin Rawat has said that India is ready to fight a war simultaneously on two fronts, with Pakistan and China, at short notice.

Graphic evidence provided by the Chinese side shows that the Indian troops crossed the “water-parting” which defines the boundary. They have remained there since the end of June. It looks likely that the standoff may continue for quite some time. The Indian Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, told the media in Singapore that he was hopeful of “differences” being resolved soon while insisting that “no part of the border has been agreed on the ground”. The Chinese government has ruled out talks on the issue until the Indian troops withdrew to their side of the border. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson reiterated that the latest standoff was a “dispute”, not a matter of mere differences regarding the Sikkim border. He said that the present dispute was completely different from previous incidents between the two sides at undefined sections of the border between the two countries. On June 20, the Chinese government announced that it would not allow Indian pilgrims going to Kailash Mansoravar to use the Nathu La route in Sikkim, until the present crisis was settled. Global T imes, a tabloid-style newspaper which reflects Chinese popular sentiment and has the tacit backing of the Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial that China should have a rethink about its recognition of Sikkim as part of India in 2003.

The Indian government, after initially helping whip up a nationalist frenzy in the media, is now looking for an honourable way out of the impasse. The Indian side had hoped that Prime Minister Modi would be able to meet with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. The Chinese government, taken aback by the unexpected move by the Indian Army, quashed all talk of a Modi-Xi meet. In fact, the Chinese government denied that there was a meeting between the two in Hamburg, as reported by sections of the Indian media. Modi and Xi had extremely cordial talks in Astana during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit there in June. In Hamburg, they did greet each other and exchanged pleasantries. The Indian Foreign Office claims that the two leaders did find the time to discuss the current crisis. The Chinese side has since made a statement that normal trading and cultural ties will not be affected by the ongoing crisis.

According to Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, Modi and Xi had reached a “consensus” on two important points when they met in Astana—that at a time of global uncertainty, India-China relations were a factor of stability, and that India and China should not allow differences between them to become disputes. The Indian National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval, will be in Beijing between July 26 and 27 to attend a BRICS NSA meeting hosted by China. As the meeting is hosted by Doval’s Chinese counterpart, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, the military stalemate along the border will be discreetly discussed on the sidelines despite the tough stance taken publicly by China.

The current standoff, if not resolved quickly, has the potential to turn into a full-blown dispute that could have wide-ranging consequences for the geopolitics of the region. The last serious standoff between the two militaries took place in 1986 in Sumdorang Chu near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. That dispute has some similarities with the present one. The Sumdorang Chu standoff lasted more than eight months. Both sides retreated to their original positions across the LAC following the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China that year.

China’s Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, said in early July that there was no question of the PLA withdrawing this time. He reiterated the Chinese government’s position that there would be “no compromise” and that the “ball was in India’s court”. Beijing has been saying that “withdrawal of Indian troops” was a precondition for talks on the latest dispute. The Chinese envoy pointed out that “it was for the first time that Indian troops crossed the mutually recognised boundary and trespassed into Chinese territory, triggering a close range face-off between Chinese and Indian troops”. He said this was the first time that such a serious incident between the two countries had occurred on the Sikkim sector of the Sino-Indian boundary. When asked about the possibility of hostilities breaking out, he said that it was up to the Indian government to decide whether or not to “exercise the military option”.

The Indian government reiterated that the decision to move troops to stop the Chinese road construction activity was initiated after close consultations with the government of Bhutan. India told China that the construction of the road violated a written agreement between Indian and Chinese Special Representatives on the border issue that the status of the boundary at any tri-junction would be resolved only with the participation of the third party. A statement from the Indian External Affairs Ministry said that New Delhi was “deeply concerned” by the road construction activity that represented “a significant change in the status quo with serious implications for India”. India claimed that the Chinese construction activity in Doklam undermined a 2012 agreement under which the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and Bhutan will be finalised in consultation with all the three concerned parties. The ongoing face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers is happening at a place located only a few kilometres from the tri-junction where the borders of the three countries meet.

India views the rise in road and railway construction activity across the LAC with increasing suspicion. Chinese roads extending into the Chumbi valley particularly are viewed with extreme suspicion as the valley is located close to India’s Siliguri corridor, known in military parlance as “the Chicken’s Neck”, connecting mainland India with the north-eastern States of the country. It is just 30 km wide at its narrowest point. India’s security analysts like to describe the Chumbi valley as “a dagger” pointing towards the “Chicken’s Neck”. Many Indian security analysts are of the view that the military importance of the Siliguri corridor is being over-hyped. They say that India has a strong military presence in Sikkim and Bhutan to deter any adventurism from China. Even in the worst-case scenario of the Siliguri corridor falling into enemy hands, the Indian Army can bypass the corridor and send troops and reinforcements to the north-east through Nepal and Bangladesh.

China occupies a narrow strip of land in the Chumbi valley, with the areas controlled by India and Bhutan flanking it. In 1996, China offered to swap with Bhutan 495 sq km of its territory in the Pasamlung and Jakharlung sectors in lieu of 269 sq km of territory in Doklam. Bhutan has been holding separate border talks with China since 1984. Before that, India was acting on behalf of the kingdom. China and Bhutan have held 24 rounds of boundary talks already. After initially issuing the “demarche” on the latest border flare-up, Bhutan has been noticeably quiet. Sections of the Chinese media have accused India of arm-twisting Bhutan into filing the “demarche”. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson alleged that India used Bhutan as “a cover up” for its “illegal entry” into Doklam. There is an apparent unease in the kingdom as its two giant neighbours square off at its doorstep. Senior Bhutanese officials want the dispute to be settled at the earliest through talks between India and China.

For all practical purposes, India still runs Bhutan’s defence and foreign policies. The 1949 “Friendship Treaty” between India and Bhutan put the running of Bhutan’s external policy in the hands of India. The treaty was revised in 2007, allowing Bhutan, at least on paper, to conduct its own foreign and defence policies. Article 2 of the revised treaty states that India and Bhutan “shall cooperate with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither country shall allow the use of their territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.”

But when an elected government in Bhutan tried to chart a slightly independent course, India imposed an economic blockade and played a role in getting the party led by the then Prime Minister, Jigme Thinley, defeated in the elections held in 2013. In 2012, Thinley, in talks held with his Chinese counterpart, had agreed to resolve border disputes and establish diplomatic relations. China and Bhutan had signed an “Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity” along the border in 1998. Chinese sources has said that a border deal acceptable to both sides is ready. China’s Ambassador to India has gone on record stating that India had no right to interfere in the China-Bhutan boundary talks and that it was not entitled to make territorial claims on behalf of Bhutan.

India, of course, is averse to a separate deal between China and Bhutan. It insists on a comprehensive settlement of the border dispute that includes all the three countries. Public opinion in Bhutan is said to be strongly in favour of resolving the border dispute bilaterally with China. The feeling among the Bhutanese is that once this issue is resolved, Bhutan can have a truly independent policy. Bhutan has full diplomatic ties with more than 50 countries including Japan but not with its immediate neighbour, China. This fact rankles influential sections of the ruling establishment and the public in Bhutan. The Indian government’s decision to send troops into Doklam and drag Bhutan into its confrontation with China will not go down well with the populace there. The Indian move on the Sikkim border may prove to be counterproductive in more ways than one. Internationally too, there has been little diplomatic support for India. During a recent visit to Paris, U.S. President Donald Trump was effusive in his praise for the Chinese President, saying that they will be able to do business together. As it is, India has very few “all-weather friends” in its immediate neighbourhood.

Geopolitical implications

Border manoeuvres

From the middle of June, a face-off between Chinese and Indian troops, with the latent danger of escalating into a major conflict between the two emerging economies in Asia, has been brewing in the remote Doklam area (The Chinese call it Donglang) in the Sikkim section of the India-China frontier. The Chinese say that Indian troops have infringed China’s sovereignty, as the face-off was taking place on Chinese territory. To buttress their claim, the Chinese point to the 1890 convention between China and Britain, which, in their view, defined without ambiguity the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim.

Doklam is at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan. It is part of the strategic Chumbi valley, leading to the Dok La pass which connects Tibet with Sikkim. China and Bhutan have a territorial dispute over Doklam. In 1998, both sides agreed not to change the status quo in the area until a final settlement between the two countries was achieved. The current standoff commenced after the Chinese began to construct a road in the disputed area.

The Chinese citation of the 1890 boundary convention as the touchstone of their narrative on the current crisis needs to be discussed in some detail. Certain questions in deciphering the fine print, arise: Were only the guiding principles for defining the boundary agreed upon by the two parties—China and Britain—or was there more to it? Was the boundary demarcated post-delineation? That would have meant dispatching personnel from both sides and actually fixing boundary markers, which would have made the agreed border on the ground visually discernable without a shadow of doubt. In case the boundary was demarcated, was it demarcated along the entire length of the Tibet-Sikkim border, or only partially, along certain segments of it? Did the entire boundary go through the process of delimitation, that is, enter the post-demarcation phase, where the final frontier was depicted on an agreed map by the two parties? In the fog of high-decibel claims and counterclaims by either side, answers to many of these questions lie obscured in a grey zone.

The location of the standoff is also contested by India and China. The Indian side claims that the face-off is taking place at the tri-junction of China, Bhutan and Sikkim. According to the Indian narrative, the boundary along the tri-junction has not been finalised, implying that contrary to Chinese claims, the entire Sikkim-Tibet boundary is yet to become a done deal. The Indian side also points out that any finalisation of the boundary would have to involve Bhutan. But tripartite talks between India, China and Bhutan, that are necessary to finalise the border, have simply not begun.

It is well known that the border between China and Bhutan is far from settled. Since 1984, the officials of the two sides have held 24 rounds of talks over their disputed border. In the past, the Chinese have offered 495 sq km of territory in the northern part of the Himalayan nation to Bhutan. In return, they insisted that Bhutan give China 269 sq km of the disputed territory in the west—an area of rich grazing pasture, central to the livelihood of Bhutanese pastoralists. The Chinese have claimed four areas in western Bhutan: Charithang, Sinchulimpa, the Dramana pasture land and Doklam, the present bone of contention. This western alignment is geopolitically sensitive as it provides China another access point to the Chumbi valley, the channel leading to India’s underbelly, the narrow Siliguri corridor, called the “chicken’s neck”. At its narrowest, the Siliguri corridor is only 30 kilometres wide. It is a thin sliver of land connecting the north-east with the rest of India.

In a statement issued on June 30, India insisted that the India-China boundary in the Sikkim sector was yet to be finalised. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) pointed out that India and China had reached an understanding in 2012 reconfirming their mutual agreement on the “basis of the alignment”. “Further discussions regarding finalisation of the boundary have been taking place under the Special Representatives framework.”

Regarding tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries, it said that those will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. “Any attempt, therefore, to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding.”

Contesting the Chinese view, the Bhutanese have gone on record to contend that the Doklam area is very much a disputed one. Vetsop Namgyel, the Bhutanese Ambassador to India, categorically stated that “Doklam is a disputed territory and Bhutan has a written agreement with China that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, peace and tranquillity should be maintained in the area.”

According to the Indian narrative, the current standoff was triggered by the Chinese decision to build a strategic road in the Doklam tri-junction area. The Indian troops responded to the Chinese initiative following a complaint by Bhutan. The Chinese government and Chinese security analysts questioned India’s move on behalf of Bhutan. Some accused India of disrespecting Bhutanese sovereignty. In an interview with Frontline, the Chinese scholar, Dr Hu Shisheng, Director of the Beijing-based Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said: “Maybe if this is a disputed area, this should be a disputed area between China and Bhutan, but not directly between China and India.”

Analysts, however, say that India could not have stayed aloof to the escalating crisis. India is obligated to side with Bhutan as the two countries have special ties which have been legally affirmed by the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007. Article 2 of the Friendship Treaty, which succeeded the 1949 Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship between the two countries, affirms that India and Bhutan shall “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests”. It adds: “Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.”

Consistent with the 2007 treaty, the June 30 statement by the MEA highlighted that in keeping with the “tradition” of maintaining close consultation on matters of mutual interest, Bhutan and India “have been in continuous contact through the unfolding of these developments”.

In an interview with The Hindu, former Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon underscored that though the area of the standoff is Bhutanese territory, “we are there because of Bhutan and we have a certain relationship and certain obligations to Bhutan. In this case, China’s actions have disturbed the status quo, and that needs to be addressed”.

The Indian side has also said that India’s security considerations were a major factor driving the military standoff.

It is well known that China has developed an excellent road and rail network in the direction of the Chumbi valley. The Qinghai-Tibet railway has already reached Shigatse, not far from the border with Nepal. From there, the Chinese plan to extend the railway to Yadong, which is inside the Chumbi valley. Yadong is the base for reaching Nathu La. The pass, which connects Tibet with Sikkim, is only 31 km away along a winding road up a mountain.

The road network between Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, and Yadong, a distance of around 500 km, is excellent. Vehicles usually manage to cover that distance in less than eight hours. Departing from Lhasa, the Kamba La pass, at a dizzying height of 16,000 feet (4,800 metres), is the first major landmark that is crossed enroute Yadong. This pass is in Tibet’s Shannan prefecture, also known for its turquoise blue Yam Dro Yum Tso lake, an emblematic point of reference in Buddhist religious calendar. Further ahead lies the Tibet-Bhutan junction before the road descends steeply towards Yadong, located at a height of around 9,000 feet (2,700 m).

From a Chinese military perspective, there is one major problem with this road to Yadong. It is too narrow for major military manoeuvres. Greater tactical space can be acquired if a new road is constructed through the Chumbi valley via the disputed tri-junction area, with Dok La as the access point to India. But if the new road is constructed, the vulnerability of the Siliguri corridor would, arguably, be significantly enhanced, a situation that New Delhi well recognises and wants to nip in the bud.

Chinese security experts do recognise India’s strategic compulsions, despite disagreeing with the tactics that the border forces adopted. “My personal understanding [is] that this time the Indians did it on purpose. The reason is to stop the potential strategic construction. But this should not be the way,” said Hu, when asked whether India’s security considerations may have been a factor in the standoff as the construction of a new Chinese road would have added to the vulnerability of the Siliguri corridor.

Hu stressed that India should have used diplomatic channels instead of adopting a military stance if it perceived the road construction by China as “threatening”. However, analysts in India say that once new “facts on the ground” in the form of a finished road by China are established, it would be hard for diplomacy to achieve any tangible results.

China blamed India for the standoff, insisting that Indian troops had “trespassed” into Chinese sovereign territory as there was no ambiguity in the boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that “successive” Indian governments had agreed to this “settled” boundary in the Sikkim sector. However, Beijing did not produce any documentation to prove India’s acceptance of this boundary after the 1962 war, a watershed event that completely redefined India-China ties, including the boundary question.

To illustrate its assertion, the Chinese Foreign Ministry cited letters written by Jawaharlal Nehru to the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. In a media briefing on July 3, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson cited two letters written by Nehru in 1959 where he “had explicitly recognised many times that the (1890) Convention has defined the boundary between Xi Zang (Tibet) of China and Sikkim”.

While it is true that Nehru had acknowledged that the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet “was defined by the 1890 Convention and demarcated by the two sides on the ground in 1895,” his letter also excluded the tri-junction area with Bhutan from his endorsement of the boundary. In a letter written on September 26, 1959, Nehru said that the “rectification of errors in Chinese maps regarding the boundary of Bhutan with Tibet is therefore a matter which has to be discussed along with the boundary of India with the Tibet region of China in the same sector”.

Article 1 of the 1890 convention, signed in Calcutta (Kolkata), states: “The boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its effluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi, on the Bhutan frontier, and follows the above-mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nepal territory.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, using unusually harsh language, described India’s alleged incursion into its territory as a “betrayal”. It has also been consistently demanding the pull-back of Indian forces as the pre-condition for talks. Besides, full-blown “mind games” are also being played. The Chinese Defence Ministry reminded India of the 1962 debacle. It also tested a new lightweight tank in the Tibetan highlands, and pointedly publicised the event.

On his part, the Indian Army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, expressed India’s ability to simultaneously fight a two-and-a-half-front war, implying that India was fully capable of fighting China, Pakistan and internal dissidents, all at the same time.

The standoff at Doklam is emblematic of a growing competition between China and India for a larger geopolitical and geo-cultural role in Asia and the Indian Ocean area. India views China’s 21st century Maritime Silk Road as a doctrine that endorses encroachment of India’s regional standing in the Indian Ocean, with countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives among the main battlegrounds. The reinforcement of China’s ties with Pakistan through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also seen as an expression of Sino-Pak entrenchment in the Indian Ocean area, via the development of Gwadar port. It can also significantly expand the scope of China-Pakistan military collaboration on land, should the need arise.

China’s closer bonding with Nepal and the perceived additional pressure on Bhutan in the wake of the current standoff are seen as an attempt to change the India-centred status quo in South Asia.

Additional points of friction are also likely to emerge as India seeks to leverage its geo-cultural space, especially in South-east Asia as part of its Act East policy. Besides, ties with the United States, Japan and Russia are likely to feed into the evolving equation between China and India, with ripple effects being felt far beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the two countries.

In the interview with The Hindu, Shivshankar Menon advocated a new modus vivendi to govern India-China relations. “My own sense is that both of us must sit down and work out a new modus vivendi to govern the relationship. We have both since the ’80s been rubbing up against each other in the periphery we share. So we do need a new strategic dialogue to discuss how we should sort out problems.” Perhaps a fresh attempt to harmonise rising national aspirations, tactics and strategy in the shared regional and global space by the two countries may be the way forward.

India-China Relations

Western tilt

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

In his decade-long term as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi made as many as four official visits to China, and was fulsome in his praise of that country and its development model. Chinese companies reciprocated by funnelling most of their investments in India into the State of Gujarat. Most of the $900 million that Chinese companies had invested in India before 2013 went to Modi’s home state.

After taking over as Prime Minister in 2014, Modi gave the impression that his main focus was on the Indian economy, and there was a hope that Sino-Indian relations would improve. China was the only country which had the wherewithal to pour in foreign direct investment (FDI) into India in a big way and have a decisive impact on the economy.

Initial bonhomie

The Chinese newspaper Global Times hailed Narendra Modi’s national ascendancy, predicting that the new Indian Prime Minister “was ready to do business” with China. Many Chinese commentators claimed that Modi’s right-wing nationalist views could turn out to be an advantage. They compared him to Richard Nixon, the right-wing United States President who had reached out to China and helped its rise to the high table of international diplomacy and politics. In the phone call exchanged between Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Modi after the latter’s electoral victory, both sides pledged to further enhance cooperation, especially in the economic arena.

Modi told Li that “developing relations with China was one of the most important tasks of Indian diplomacy” and that his government attached “great importance” to India-China relations. Li reciprocated by saying that China was ready “to enhance mutual trust” and that he regarded India’s speedy economic growth as an opportunity for China.

From the outset, the Chinese side has been saying that it wants to cooperate with India, especially on the plans to develop the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC). The Chinese side conveyed to the Modi government that it very much wanted India to be a part of its ambitious Belt Road project which would help integrate the Asian economies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first world leaders to visit New Delhi after Modi became Prime Minister. During his September 2014 visit, President Xi even broke with protocol to first go to Ahmedabad where he was hosted by Modi. Before his visit, Xi said in a special article that the combination of China as the “world’s factory” and India as the “back office” could be the two engines that would drive the world’s economy. The two leaders were shown holding hands on the banks of the Sabarmati river.

But even as the Chinese President was being serenaded in Ahmedabad and Delhi, the unresolved border issue cropped up in an untimely fashion. A face-off had erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the Line of Actual Control [LAC] on the Ladakh border with China. The Indian side blamed the Chinese army for the provocation. However, observers were left wondering about the timing of the incident, as it coincided with the Chinese President’s visit to India. The last thing the Chinese side wanted was to divert the attention from their President’s state visit to random incidents along the border.

During the Xi visit, China had pledged to invest heavily in India’s infrastructure programmes. Prime Minister Modi paid a return visit to China in 2015. But despite the apparent bonhomie between the two leaders, the strain in the political relationship was beginning to show.

Pro-American tilt

It did not take much time for China’s illusions about Modi to evaporate. India’s pro-American tilt, which had begun under the previous Manmohan Singh government, was further accentuated under Modi, despite India being a member of the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] grouping. The BRICS grouping is supposed to be a trendsetter for the multipolar world that many predict will come sooner than later. But the Modi administration preferred to put most of its eggs in the American basket. The Obama administration’s military “pivot to the East”, which was a blatant attempt to encircle an emerging China, had New Delhi’s support. While on an official visit to Japan in 2014, Modi spoke about the need for some countries to change their “expansionist mindset”. At the time of the visit, Japan, along with some South-East Asian countries, had been crying hoarse about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

The Modi government has given up all pretence of pursuing a policy of “strategic autonomy” which previous Indian governments claimed to have adhered to. It seems more keen to transform India into “a frontline state” in the looming confrontation between the West and China. New Delhi has already given refuelling and basing facilities to the U.S. military. In return, the U.S. has designated India as a “Major Defence Partner”, making it eligible for advanced weapons purchases from Washington.

The Chinese side is particularly unhappy with the participation of the Indian armed forces in annual trilateral Malabar naval exercises with the U.S. and Japan. It started as a quadrilateral exercise in 2006 with Australia as the fourth partner, but pressure from China forced the Australian government at the time to withdraw from the exercises after the first year.

The head of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command recently revealed that the U.S. and Indian navies were sharing information about the movements of Chinese submarines and ships in the Indian Ocean. This year’s Malabar exercises, held in the second week of July in the Bay of Bengal, focussed on war games targeting Chinese ships and submarines capable of sliding stealthily into the Indian Ocean through the Malacca Straits. The Malacca Straits are a “choke point”, connecting the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. This year’s exercise was the largest held so far, with aircraft carriers of all the three countries participating.

After their meeting in Washington in June, President Donald Trump and Modi vowed to further expand the “global strategic partnership” between the two countries. In a provocative move, India has also taken Washington’s side in the South China Sea dispute, at a time when most of China’s neighbours in the region have preferred to keep a low profile on the issue. The Philippines, which is a party to the dispute, now wants to negotiate a settlement with China.

Further, India has not so far mellowed on its stance on China’s Belt Road initiative, despite all the other countries in the region, barring the exception of Bhutan, signing up and joining the grouping. Even Japan and the U.S., which had criticised the Belt Road initiative, sent high-level delegations to the One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit in Beijing held in May this year. India’s main objection to OBOR is related to the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an important component of the Belt Road initiative. China plans to invest more than $40 billion in CPEC and has developed the Gwadar port in Pakistan, which will serve as an important export hub. Such a large infusion of funds will no doubt bolster Pakistan’s ailing economy. However, India has based its objections to the CPEC project because it passes through the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. Incidentally, India had not objected when China built the Karakoram highway through the same area earlier. China has repeatedly stressed that the route of the CPEC does not in any way reflect a change in China’s Kashmir policy.

New Delhi is angry with Beijing, and holds China responsible for blocking its membership of the prestigious Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The Obama administration had assured India that it would facilitate its entry into the NSG, taking China for granted. The Chinese position is that entry into the NSG is by consensus and has signalled that if its “all-weather ally” Pakistan is also allowed to join, it will drop its objections to India’s membership.

The other issue which the U.S. and India jointly pursued was to put the Pakistani militant Masood Azhar on the United Nations’ “terror list”, again without consulting China, a permanent member of the Security Council. Given Pakistan’s sensitivities about the issue, China has not obliged despite Prime Minister Modi personally raising the topic with President Xi. China and Pakistan are cooperating in counterterrorism operations.

In the three years that the NDA has been in power, New Delhi has tried to up the ante on the Tibetan issue. It has allowed the Dalai Lama to make a high-profile visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. While Tawang holds a special place in the heart of Tibetans, China wants Tawang to be part of Tibet and has conveyed that its return could provide the solution for the long-festering boundary problem between the two countries. Another Tibetan spiritual leader, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, who was initially viewed with suspicion by New Delhi but has been allowed to move freely all over India except Sikkim, also made a highly publicised trip to Arunachal Pradesh. Even as the Doklam standoff was under way, there were reports that Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-exile, had hoisted a Tibetan flag on the banks of the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. The LAC between India and China runs through the middle of the lake. The spokesman for the Tibetan exiles in India claimed that this was the first time a Tibetan flag was hoisted on Indian soil. He pointed out that the lake is shared between Tibet and Ladakh.

The Chinese side was also not happy with the Indian government giving permission to Tibetan and Uighur dissidents to attend conferences organised by pro-government think tanks in Delhi. Beijing is also closely observing the growing links between India and Taiwan. China considers Taiwan as one of its provinces, and reacted furiously when President Trump initially tried to deviate from the long-established “One China” policy of the U.S.

Burgeoning trade & cultural ties

Despite the stormy political headwinds buffeting the relationship, China remains India’s biggest trading partner. India is a member of the New Development Bank (NDB) co-owned by the BRICS countries, and was among the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank (AIIB), which is being projected as a rival to the World Bank. Trade between the two countries is expanding annually at 15 per cent since 2007. At the same time, India’s trade deficit with China is also increasing. It currently stands at $51.1 billion. According to many Indian analysts, the Indian government has failed to effectively explore the huge Chinese market or promote policies that would attract Chinese capital inflows.

Chinese companies have already invested more than $30 billion in India, mostly in the automotive and consumer electronics sector. The Chinese company Vivo outbid large Western multinationals to bag the sponsorship deal for the next IPL cricket tournament in India. The Alibaba group, one of China’s biggest companies, is the largest investor in the Indian e-commerce firm PayTM. The Shanghai Urban Construction Group, another leading Chinese company, has a joint venture with the Indian firm, Larsen & Toubro. Indian companies, on the other hand, seem to be more interested in investing in the West than in the booming Chinese economy.

Despite the occasional bouts of tension between the two countries, India has grown to be an attractive tourist destination for Chinese travellers. There is a religious revival of sorts going on in the Chinese mainland, and Buddhist places of pilgrimage are becoming popular. Several Chinese multibillionaires are followers of Tibetan Buddhism and make regular trips to meet spiritual leaders from Tibet based in India. But as the Doklam standoff continues, a few roadblocks in trade ties seem to be emerging. Trade talks between the two sides are currently deadlocked. The issues relate to China’s imports of bovine products, rice, fruits and vegetables from India and its exports of fruits and dairy products to India. Indian officials have been complaining of lack of access for the country’s bovine meat to China, at a time when the government in Delhi is cracking down on the country’s meat industry. The Chinese are unhappy with India’s ban on its milk and dairy products.

The Indian political establishment, while continuing to view China as a rival for influence in the subcontinent, is aware that peaceful coexistence is a better option than waging war simultaneously on two fronts. The burgeoning business and cultural ties between the two countries are an illustration. The Indian actor Aamir Khan is said to be a crowd-puller in China. The last couple of his movies have generated millions of dollars at the box office in China.

History of a dispute

The Pan Tsu-li moment

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.” Substitute Indian for British and chauvinism for morality in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s famous lines, and you get an accurate description of the Indian mood whenever there is a clash between India and any other country; especially a neighbour.

Dr Bhartendu Kumar Singh, Joint Controller of Defence Accounts (Air Force), wrote an able paper on the Daulat Beg Oldi crisis during August 15-May 5, 2013, in which he remarked: “It took three weeks of diplomatic parleys to resolve the crisis. However, an impatient media sensationalised the developments through inflated reporting and some politicians and strategic experts joined them in belittling the government by identifying the DBO crisis as symbolic of India’s capitulation before the Chinese might…. The Indian media hijacked the platform during the crisis. What we had, therefore, was a media-driven foreign policy.” (“The Daulat Beg Oldi Crisis”, Air Power Journal, Volume 8, No.4.)

The present crisis in the Chumbi Valley is far more grave. It is as grave as the crisis of 1961 (Forward Policy), which led to the war of 1962. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, having whipped up public opinion since 1959, had become its captive. There is scarcely an informed press report that tries to reckon with the Chinese version. But at stake is something far more than the immediate crisis over the land in Doklam. What is at stake is the future of India’s relations with China. One had thought that we had arrived at the Pan Tsu-li moment in our relations with China. By the second week of July 2017, India has crossed it. In 1959 the crossing proved disastrous. Now, nearly 60 years later, we would do well to take a calmer view of the options we face than we did then. Let me explain.

Every border dispute or a territorial dispute, as with China, has two elements: the land itself and the wider relationship or power equation between the parties. Independent India was born in 1947 with a territorial dispute with China and its leaders were fully conscious of it. The McMahon Line was in dispute. The Government of India’s White Paper on Indian States, published in 1950 after the Constitution had come into force, showed that from the tri-junction of India, Afghanistan and China in the west right up to the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China the border was “undefined”. Tri-junctions are fixed with the consent of all the sides and borders are defined with the consent of both sides. The British were well aware of it. In a Note in 1896, A. Stapleton, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, wrote: “Any boundary line that we may draw can only be arbitrary, until it has the consent of the Chinese authorities.” India’s boundary dispute with China is as old as 1842.

In his famous letter of November 7, 1950, Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel invited Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s attention to the dangers on “our northern and north-eastern frontiers”, specifically “the policy in regard to the McMahon Line”. Nehru’s reply of November 18 said: “The fact remains that our major possible enemy is Pakistan. If we begin to think of, and prepare for China’s aggression in the same way, we would weaken considerably on the Pakistan side.” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Volume 10, pages 335 and 344.) There was no reference to the Aksai Chin in Ladakh. No one thought of it.

However, on July 1, 1954, Nehru unilaterally altered India’s map to show a settled boundary in the west which was not open to negotiation and ordered old maps to be destroyed. Prime Minister Zhou En-lai’s letter to Nehru dated January 23, 1959, said that “border disputes do exist between China and India”, on the Aksai Chin. Nehru’s reply of March 22 contested that and cited a Treaty of 1842 between China and Ladakh. In 1842, there was no linear boundary, only border zones ( ilaqas). The Treaty of 1842 was a non-aggression pact concluded after a war. If it defined the boundary, why did the British (a) set up two boundary commissions to negotiate with China after making Kashmir part of the Empire in 1846; (b) keep deliberating from 1847 to 1905 on possible boundaries to offer to a China reluctant to respond; and (c) make a formal offer in writing on March 14, 1899? Nehru could not possibly have been unaware of all this when he wrote as he did two months after Zhou’s letter. He wanted to shut the door on any discussion on the border. He was well aware of the Army’s stand on the Aksai Chin—the territory was of no strategic importance.

It was in this context that China’s Ambassador to India Pan Tsu-li made a statement to Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt on May 16, 1959. After a recital of grievances, it concluded: “On the whole, India is a friend of China, this has been so in the past thousand and more years, and we believe will certainly continue to be so in one thousand, ten thousand years to come. The enemy of the Chinese people lies in the east—the U.S. imperialists have many military bases in Taiwan, in South Korea, Japan and in the Philippines which are all directed against China. China’s main attention and policy of struggle are directed to the east, to the west Pacific region, to the vicious and aggressive U.S. imperialism, and not to India or any other country in the Southeast Asia and South Asia. Although the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan have joined the SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation], which is designated to oppose China, we have not treated those three countries as our principal enemy; our principal enemy is U.S. imperialism. India has not taken part in the Southeast Asia Treaty; it is not an opponent, but a friend to our country. China will not be so foolish as to antagonise the United States in the East and again to antagonise India in the West. The putting down of the rebellion and the carrying out of democratic reforms in Tibet will not in the least endanger India. You can wait and see. As the Chinese proverb goes the strength of a horse is borne out by the distance travelled, and the heart of the person is seen with the lapse of time. You will ultimately see whether relations between the Tibet region of China and India are friendly or hostile by watching three, five, ten, twenty, a hundred… years. We cannot have two centres of attention, nor can we take friend for foe.…

“Our Indian friends! What is your mind? Will not you be agreeing to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China, but not south-westward of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so. Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the leader of our country, talked on many occasions with Mr. R.K. Nehru, former Indian Ambassador to China, who could well understand and appreciate it. We do not know whether the former Indian Ambassador conveyed this to the Indian authorities. Friends! It seems to us that you too cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over? Allow me to take this opportunity to extend my best regards to Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of India.” (Emphasis added throughout.) R.K. Nehru disagreed with Nehru on China.

Compromise rejected

Nehru had Dutt scold the Ambassador on May 23 (“language which is discourteous and unbecoming”). Pomposity led him to overlook the obvious fact that the language belonged to Mao Zedong. Four years later, Pan Tsu-li’s prediction came true with the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of May 2, 1963 (White Paper, Volume I, page 73-79).

In between Nehru rejected Zhou’s offer of a compromise in New Delhi on April 22 and 23, 1960. “We made no claim in the eastern sector to areas south of the line, but India made such claims in the western sector. It is difficult to accept such claims and the best thing is that both sides do not make such territorial claims. Of course, there are individual places which need to be readjusted individually, but that is not a territorial claim.” Thus, China accepted the McMahon Line alignment while inviting India to accept the status quo in the Aksai Chin. Nehru rejected the proposal.

How on earth could Nehru have got China to vacate the Aksai Chin? The India-China boundary dispute is pre-eminently susceptible to a solution; each side has its vital non-negotiable interest secure in its possession. China has the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway through the Aksai Chin; India has the McMahon Line. The Aksai Chin is of no value to India. Nehru himself said on August 31, 1959, in the Rajya Sabha: “The territory is sterile. It has been described as a barren, uninhabited region without a vestige of grass and 17,000 feet high.” On September 10, in the same House, he said, “We may get excited about the sacredness of the Indian soil and the Chinese people may get excited about something they hold sacred, if they hold anything sacred. That is a different matter, but the fact of the matter is that nothing can be a more amazing folly than for two great countries like India and China to go into a major conflict and war for possession of a few mountain peaks, however beautiful the mountain peaks might be, or some area which is more or less uninhabited.”

When the dispute arose in 1959, Nehru ought to have calmly balanced India’s stake in good relations with China against that useless territory. What did India’s national interest demand?

Pakistan’s overture

Pan Tsu-li’s warning came true. On October 24, 1959, President Ayub Khan disclosed at a press conference that Pakistan’s Foreign Office had received a map showing certain areas of Pakistan as part of China. Pakistan approached China “for a peaceful settlement of the border question by demarcating the northern frontiers.” ( Dawn, October 24, 1959).

Ayub Khan’s memoirs record how and why he went about this task in some detail. In August and October 1959, there were armed clashes between the troops of India and China in Longju, in the east, and at the Kongka Pass in Ladakh, respectively. Ayub Khan was concerned at the risks of patrolling. “A similar situation could arise on our own undemarcated borders in the Sinkiang and Baltistan areas. We had been receiving reports from time to time that Chinese patrols were coming up to Shamshal. …I thought it might be a good idea to approach the Chinese and suggest to them that the border be demarcated. After all, neither side had anything to gain by leaving the border undefined. I inquired whether any attempt had been made in the past to demarcate this border and I was shown the relevant maps and papers. Some attempts had been made by the British. I asked our experts to mark what from our point of view constituted the actual line of control on the map, and this was done. We also found that we could legitimately claim control up to a point opposite the Shamshal Pass. The people of Shamshal village could, according to custom, take their cattle for grazing in a fertile valley on the other side of the Pass where the Chinese had established a couple of posts. They also used to get salt, a rare and valuable commodity, from the soil in that area. I mentioned this matter at a Cabinet meeting, but the feeling was that the Chinese were unlikely to respond to any suggestion for the demarcation of the border. I felt that there would be no harm in preparing a memorandum and getting in touch with the Chinese authorities. This happened towards the end of 1959.”

China ignored Pakistan’s overture. Pakistan was America’s ally, whereas India was non-aligned. It took China two years to respond with a query about what the basis of an understanding would be. Pakistan replied: the facts of history and present realities. The upshot was the 1963 agreement, under which Pakistan received 750 square miles of administered territory. It did not cede territory as the United States and India alleged then. Pakistan adopted a professional approach. It delved into the archives. Nehru’s aides S. Gopal and Jagat Mehta, courtiers at the core, spurned them. Outside India every scholar on the subject lauds the 1963 agreement.

Pressure of public opinion

Two factors inhibited, and still inhibit, India. One is public opinion and the other is pride. Zhou taunted in a letter to Nehru on April 20, 1963: “But if the Indian government, owing to the needs of its internal and external political requirements, is not prepared to hold negotiations for the time being, the Chinese government is willing to wait with patience.”

Nearly half a century later, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, now Foreign Minister, told an Indian correspondent in September 2011 that China was not sure “if the Indian political establishment had arrived at a democratic consensus that would be required to sustain the difficult negotiations. …I am not sure if the condition concerning mutual understanding and mutual accommodation is agreed to by Indian friends.” In sum, he thinks India is not ready to make the concessions necessary to secure a compromise. And even if it is, its leaders lack the guts and the political clout to put it through. Wang Yi is highly educated and one of the best Foreign Ministers today.

Vijay Nambiar, India’s Ambassador to China and High Commissioner to Pakistan, felt that “the Chinese seem to think India is unprepared” for an open debate on the package proposal ( Force, April 2005).

China hardens stand

China hardened its stand. Gone was Zhou’s offer of 1960. In February 1979, Deng Xiaoping told A.B. Vajpayee, then the External Affairs Minister, that the eastern sector was the area of the largest dispute. Zhou had suggested that it was the western sector. On June 21, 1980, Deng Xiaoping proposed a package deal. “Then this question can be solved with [ sic] one sentence. For instance, in the eastern sector, we can recognise the existing status quo—I mean the so-called McMahon Line. This was left over from history. But in the western sector, the Indian government should also recognise the existing status quo.” Since the mid 1980s, China has been insisting that India must first make a concession in the eastern sector. Only a political dialogue at the very highest level can break such an impasse.

On a visit to China in April 1986, my friend Cheng Ruisheng, former Counsellor at the Chinese Embassy and Ambassador in the early 1990s, asked me, “Why don’t you give us Tawang?” This demand has acquired an edge—and it is an impossible one. In October 1986, the journalist Ghanshyam Pardesi reported after a visit to Tawang: “The children do not understand the Tibetan language but speak chaste Hindi.” No Indian government which cedes Tawang to China will survive even for a day.

China knows that, of course, and knows also that India’s own two impossible demands do not reflect a desire for compromise. One is the agreement with Pakistan. It is based squarely on Britain’s offer to China on March 14, 1899, as varied by Curzon in 1905.

The other is India’s insistent proposal to demarcate on the ground the Line of Actual Control. China has demurred to it for two decades and more, lest it freeze the status quo. Its approach is well known and India has studiously ignored it while crafting the six accords of an interim character. The talks since 1981 have gone nowhere. China never, for once, altered the approach which Zhou Enlai had defined way back in November 1959. The leader of the Chinese team, Ma Gong Dafei, said in Beijing on October 20, 1983: “Personally, I feel that it is important to hold talks on the boundary question at the ministerial level.” This reflected the Chinese emphasis on a political approach. In 1984, China renewed its suggestion for conducting the talks at the political level. When Gong said “the important thing is to reach an agreement on the question of principle” and added that the “specific question would have to be left to experts”, he clearly meant, in the context of his remarks on the level of discussions, a political agreement on a broad framework that experts could later elaborate in concrete terms. In 1987, China’s Ambassador to India, Tu Guoweei, said that the package settlement must be effected “at one go” and cover “all three sectors”. The expert Jing Hui wrote: “The border issue has to be solved politically” ( Guoji Wenti Yanjiu, January 13, 1988).

On April 14, 1988, Vice-Premier Wu Xueqian said: “If the talks are carried at higher political levels then they can only be about some principles and if concrete issues of the boundary question are not settled on principles, then they cannot be settled”—by officials. Cheng Ruisheng said at a seminar in New Delhi in January 1999: “The border issue can be settled by way of a package deal involving territorial concessions on a give-and-take basis.”

A strong thread of continuity in China’s approach runs for 60 years, from 1959 to this day. India ignored the hints, with two consequences. China concluded that India was not ready or willing for a compromise and hardened its own stand. Gone are the offers of old.

Only a Prime Minister of India who has sagacity and political clout can attempt such a result and only detached, informed writings can demolish cherished myths. China’s Borders: Settlements and Conflicts by Neville Maxwell can help. It is a collection of selected papers (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, New Castle upon Tyne, 289 pages, £49.99). It is marred by his pronounced bias but provides an Introduction to the Henderson Brooks Report, suggestions on how to settle the dispute and, what is more, gives a close analysis of the Sino-Soviet/Russian Boundary Dispute as well as the Hong Kong Settlement. No student of the subject can afford to ignore this book.

Indian readers will do well in particular to study the young scholar Sana Hashmi’s work China’s Approach Towards Territorial Disputes: Lessons and Prospects (Knowledge World, New Delhi, 260 pages, Rs.1,280). This outstanding work, published under the auspices of the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, with which the author was associated for five years, covers with a wealth of detail all the territorial disputes in which China was involved.

China’s border disputes

As well as providing excellent maps to illustrate those disputes, the author provides in the appendix excerpts from the treaties and agreements on the boundaries. These, together with a careful analysis of China’s approach, spread over 200 pages make the work indispensable to any serious student of boundary disputes.

Sana Hashmi records: “China has a land border of approximately 20,000 km and a coastline of about 18,000 km. China shares land borders with 14 countries, namely; Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Vietnam and Tajikistan. It also has a maritime boundary with nine countries namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. With such a vast neighbourhood, it is obvious for any country to have disagreements over adequate demarcation of its neighbouring countries. Clearly, China is a country with disputed borders. Ever since China came into existence as a nation-state, it strived towards laying claims of sovereignty over the territories which it regarded as its ‘lost territories’. China, an emerging power, has long-standing land border and maritime disputes with many of its neighbours. However, barring India and Bhutan, China has resolved all its land border disputes and is yet to settle its two maritime disputes. Since its inception, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has participated in 23 territorial disputes. In this context, M. Taylor Fravel demonstrates that China pursued concessions in 17 of these 23 conflicts and further clarifies that China has resorted to violence less and offered concessions in most of the conflicts vis-a-vis its boundary disputes.” The solitary exceptions are India and Bhutan, which feels itself bound by India’s “advice”. We need to ask ourselves why the border dispute with India alone is unresolved, whereas all others, 12 in all, are settled. The answer lies in the fateful map revision of 1954 and with it the resolve that the boundaries are not negotiable; India’s rejection of Zhou’s offer in 1960; and India’s incapacity or unwillingness to negotiate.

Bhutan boundary

The author’s analysis of Bhutan’s boundary is relevant to the present crisis. “The major problem between China and Bhutan lies in defining the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-China border. With respect to the China-Bhutan common boundary, while the northwest part of the boundary constitutes Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in Samste, Haa and Paro districts, the central parts constitute the Pasamlung and Jakarlung Valleys in the Wangdue Phodrrang district. The disputed territory with Bhutan has strategic importance for China. First, the disputed territory shares a border with Tibet. Secondly, the Doklam plateau lies immediately east of the Indian defences in Sikkim, which not only has a commanding view of the Chumbi valley but also overlooks the Silguri Corridor further to the east.”

But Doklam is an issue between Bhutan and China, not between India and China. The 1890 Convention between Britain and China defined Sikkim’s boundary in Article 1, which reads thus: “The boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters which flow into the Sikkim Teesta and its effluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier and follows the above mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nipal [ sic] territory”; that is, it goes eastward. The language of Article 1 clearly establishes that Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier was fixed as a tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, which was then a British protectorate.

In its statement on July 7, China alleged that Indian troops tresspassed the Sikkim section of the India-China boundary 2,000 metres away from the Mount Gipmochi. China’s demands on Bhutan are twofold—give up the contested areas in the strategic west in exchange for those in the north; that is, widen the strategic Chumbi valley; and establish diplomatic relations.

The author opines: “China’s willingness to resolve its dispute with Bhutan is relatively greater in comparison to India. Consequently, a survey of recent developments in the China-Bhutan boundary dispute also suggests that China has made remarkable progress in convincing Bhutan to go for the final settlement.

“After approximately 30 years and 22 rounds of negotiations, while the boundary issue remains unresolved, the possibility of a final settlement does not seem to be bleak and impractical. Progress is slow but there have been regular talks, which is indicative of the political will between the leadership of the two states. However, India remains central to the China-Bhutan boundary question. Bhutan’s treaty obligations with India do not allow it to go for a comprehensive resolution without the consent and involvement of India, and China’s interests lie in settling the dispute with Bhutan as soon as possible so that it can use it to leverage its position in its future negotiations with India.”

Deng Bingguo, former Special Representative on the Boundary Question, made a significant remark recently. “Both sides are determined to seek a political settlement and neither side intends to seek a settlement of the boundary question based on the status quo.” He mentioned three criteria: “historical evidence, national sentiments and the actual state” ( China-India Dialogue). He asked for—Tawang.

This is where we stand. Are we at the Pan Tsu-li moment? In 1959 China warned India against estrangement on two fronts, China and Pakistan, and said that China could not afford to antagonise India either since it faced danger from the United States. It now looks askance at India’s growing partnership with the U.S. and Israel, its relationships with Vietnam and Japan, and its position on the South China Sea.

Chinese scholars watch India more carefully than Indian scholars watch China. In Lin Qian’s essay “China’s Indian Studies”, one is struck by the range of the areas covered ( CIR Magazine, May-June 2008).

India’s relations with Vietnam arouse concern and hope. Dr Li Li’s essay on “India’s Engagement with East Asia and the China Factor” ( CIR, September-October, 2010) ends on a note of ambiguity. “As far as China is concerned, India’s Look-East Policy has two faces. On the one hand, India views China as ‘a key component’ deserving partnership. On the other, China is a principal target of India’s Look-East Policy, through which India desires to win in its competition with China. As India grows rapidly, it will definitely get more involved in East Asia. However, the ambiguity of India’s Look-East Policy will further complicate regional cooperation and integration. A broader East Asian integration will only take off after the clarification of India’s Look-East Policy and a building-up of China-India mutual trust.”

India’s policy on the South China Sea is discussed by Vice Admiral (Retd.) Raman Puri and Brigadier (Retd.) Arun Sehgal. They hold that India is concerned with freedom of navigation and “it has no strategic interests beyond economic engagement and security of its trade” ( Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, October-December 2011).

In that case, will it not be more sensible for India to express its concerns directly to China, rather than in joint statements with the U.S.? They send a different message.

Between U.S. and China

In truth, we have crossed the Pan Tsu-li moment and moved unthinkingly to a relationship with the U.S. which bids fair to suck us in closer still. But it is retrievable. All countries, including China and Russia, seek good relations with the U.S. India would be remiss in ignoring the U.S. But its interests vis- a -vis China are not identical with those of the U.S. They do not coincide. An America which could forge an entente with China in 1972, without taking Japan into confidence, can be trusted to repeat its performance. China is a neighbour with whom a policy of confrontation would be unwise, even dangerous. The U.S. is in decline, distrusted by allies in Europe and elsewhere.

India’s immediate neighbours, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, even Bhutan, cannot neglect China, and India must be self-confident enough not to allow its relations with them or with China to be affected by their interaction. India is paying for its Big Brother role in the region. It has not the capacity to dictate to them. It should have the wisdom to cultivate them. The results will be tangible.

In this context the speech by China’s Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, at the United Service Institution of India on May 5, deserves greater note than it has received. He has an Indian background, having done research on India in a Chinese think tank. This is his second posting in New Delhi. His wife, Dr Jiang Yili, was the first Chinese to get a PhD from Delhi University. As China’s Ambassador to Pakistan during the Mumbai blasts, he played a helpful role. China has never concealed its differences with Pakistan on terrorism. He pointed out that China no longer supports the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir but supports “a settlement through bilateral negotiation in line with the Shimla Agreement”.

More significant still is his plea that “we need to set a long-term vision for China-India relations”. He made a specific proposal: “Start negotiation on a China-India Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation.” The Ambassador could not have made such a precise proposal without the backing of the Chinese leadership. His plea “strive for an early harvest on the border issue” suggests that China is now eager for a settlement in order to put the dispute behind us.

Willingess to negotiate

But is India ready even to begin a substantive meaningful process? To begin with, India must realistically stop opposing the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963. Its Article 6 itself envisages revision after a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. What India needs to do is to realistically define the concessions that it can now offer to China and justify to the Indian public.

Adjustments are possible. In 1914, McMahon himself recognised that his line “admitted of more detailed and exact definition”. On April 8, 1947, L.A.C. Fry, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said: “The Government of India must stand by the McMahon Line” but it would be prepared to discuss its “rectification” on “reasonable grounds”. The Line was not described in words. It was simply drawn on a rather smaller-scale map in red ink with a thick nib. In that terrain, that makes a good difference. Now, a century later, we can draw on aerial cartography. In some parts India has gone beyond it; in others, China has done so. There is room for adjustment, provided its basic alignment is not disturbed. The Ladakh sector cries for adjustment.

India must demonstrate that it is willing and able to arrive at a fair compromise by “give-and-take”. It is for China also to demonstrate that. No Indian government can cede Tawang ever.

However, on June 2, 1986, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Shuqing told visiting Indian journalists that the Chinese “have no intention of recovering the totality of the disputed area” in the eastern sector but “some adjustments will have to be made”. There could be no “unilateral concessions”. He amplified: “If India makes some readjustments and concessions in the eastern sector; and then we could also make corresponding adjustments and concessions in the western sector.”

The “peace dividends” an accord will yield are incalculable. But no accord is even conceivable except in a certain atmosphere created by careful political moves. India has moved in the opposite direction. The Chumbi Valley rift reflects rashness.

Chumbi Valley facts

What are the facts? Sutirtho Patranobis, Beijing correspondent of Hindustan Times, reported on June 29: “The Donglang or Doklam area is located at the narrow but strategic tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan and not far from Nathu La pass. It is under Chinese control and lies within the Tibet Autonomous Region, but is claimed by Bhutan” ( Hindustan Times, June 30). Patranobis repeated the observation in Hindustan Times of July 1. Bhutan said on June 29 that on June 16 the Chinese Army “started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army Camp at Zomphiri”.

The effect of the construction, as Shashank Joshi wrote, was “pushing the area under its [China’s] de facto control about 5 km southwards” ( The Hindu, July 10), which is why India speaks of China “trying to alter the present status quo” (Arun Jaitley; Times of India, July 1). China was building a road on disputed territory but one under its control. Indian troops crossed the internal boundary east of Sikkim. Hence the conflict. Given the realities of the terrain and the advances of modern warfare, did five kilometres warrant a conflict?

Indian troops “pro-actively”—that is, by use of force—“blocked Chinese troops and construction workers from building a motorable road towards the Zmpiri Ridge on the Doklam plateau” (Rajat Pandit from New Delhi; The Times of India, July 11). Would India have acquiesced in that? What makes South Block imagine that China will?

In 1959-62, Nehru thought that an attack on India would mean a world war. In 2017, Modi and his advisers have nightmares of the worst scenario. In 1961 India’s Forward Policy sought forcibly to evict China from the Aksai Chin, which was in its occupation. In 2017, it has thrown down the gauntlet to no apparent gain and at great risk. The best course is to propose a modus vivendi based on India’s withdrawal and China’s assurances of respect for international boundary.

The U.S. will be of little help yet it seeks a tighter embrace. The Malabar Exercises have a political aim. A U.S. Commander said that “the exercise would have direct impact on China”. In direct quotes: “They will know that we are standing together” ( The Times of India, July 11). What impact will this have on India’s pretensions to Great Power status? How will its neighbours—already moving in China’s direction—react to it? Our best course is to befriend them, and also China.

Even in the best of times, Asia’s two largest countries had an uneasy equation. Luo Jialun was an educationist, historian and political activist of the May Fourth Movement in 1919. He was China’s first Ambassador to India from February 1947 to January 1950, when he returned to Taiwan.

In a documented article entitled “An Assessment of Ambassador Luo Jialun’s mission to India 1947-1949”, Fang Tien Sze wrote: “Though the ROC [Republic of China] was a firm supporter of India’s bid in the U.N., it did not appreciate India’s attempt to claim a leadership position for itself. Nehru decided to convene an International Conference in Delhi from 20 to 23 January 1949 to discuss the Indonesian situation. It was attended by 19 countries including Australia and New Zealand. Despite advocating the solidarity of Asia, Nehru viewed India as entitled to a special role in world affairs as the natural leader of the third world ( The Hindu, 2006). And the meeting was seen as Nehru’s effort to promote India’s leadership in regional and global affairs. Although the ROC also attended the meeting. Luo did not heartily endorse India’s initiative. He suggested that the ROC should not be actively involved in the event, and that the Foreign Minister need not to come to attend it. Luo did not hide his concern about Nehru’s intentions. The main purpose of the meeting, Luo believed, was to establish a Delhi-based permanent regional organisation headed by India. He analysed that Nehru was trying to take advantage of the ROC’s decline and failure to be the leader of the Asian coalition.…

“In his eyes, Indian leaders gradually became overly enamoured with seeking a leading place for India in the world. In July 1949, he wrote to the former Foreign Minister Wang Shih-chich saying, ‘…it is hard to imagine that a newly independent state is so conceited and outrageously arrogant’.” (China Report, 50, 3 (2014), pages 189-201.) Any different from Zhou En-lai’s remarks on Nehru?

If India cherishes its independence and pride, it must rely on diplomacy, shun the worst-case scenarios, adventures and alliances, while building up its economy and military might. India’s interest lies in lasting peace, and that can be secured only through compromises and conciliations.

India & Israel

Natural allies

JOHN CHERIAN the-nation

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the first world leaders to congratulate Narendra Modi after he led his party to a sweeping electoral victory in 2014. The two leaders have known each other for some time and have seemingly formed a mutual admiration society. When Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he made a few trips to Israel. After taking over as Prime Minister, one of the first announcements he made was about making a visit to Israel. It has, however, taken him more than three years to fulfil his fervent desire to be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Jewish state. Israel’s wars on Gaza have brought it much international opprobrium, but the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government dispatched President Pranab Mukherjee to Israel in 2016 even as the Palestinians were protesting on the streets of Jerusalem, Ramallah and other occupied cities.

The Indian President, in fact, faced protests from Palestinian students when he visited Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) is based. Modi, during his visit, did not even bother to go there. Unlike some other world leaders, Modi does not pretend to shed even crocodile tears over the fate of Palestinians. On paper, India still supports Palestinian statehood. When P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas visited New Delhi in June, the Indian Prime Minister reassured Palestinians of India’s continuing commitment to a two-state solution. The Palestinian side has conceded that India has the right to strengthen its relationship with Israel but said that it should not come at their expense. China and India are Israel’s biggest defence customers.

The huge profits Israel earns from arms sales is ploughed back into military research and production, which is used to further strengthen its oppression and occupation of Palestinian land. During Modi’s visit, Netanyahu described the bilateral relations between the two countries as a “marriage made in heaven”. When Netanyahu was in Beijing earlier this year, he said that Israel was the perfect junior partner China needed as it ascended to superpower status, and he used the words “marriage made in heaven” to describe the status of Israel-China relations. Israel’s relationship with both India and China is purely transactional despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) claim of ideological affinity with the ruling right-wing Likud Party led by Netanyahu.

The P.A., which has very little credibility in the eyes of ordinary Palestinians, is not in a position to influence many governments in the world. Its own wealthy patrons such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are building strong relations with Israel. Brajesh Mishra, who was National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the first NDA government, had in a speech delivered to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential Jewish lobby group in Washington, called for a Washington-Tel Aviv-New Delhi axis in international politics. Today, that axis is a reality and has expanded to include Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Iran, not Israel, is today the designated arch-enemy of Gulf monarchies such as Saudi Arabia. Palestinians, with a disunited leadership, are more isolated and even more at the mercy and whims of Israel and its patron, the United States, than ever before.

BDS movement

One of the few positive developments for the Palestinian cause is the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the apartheid policies of the Israeli state. The BDS movement has been gaining momentum in the U.S. and Europe. Many European countries have put a ban on Israeli products originating from the occupied territories. Many progressive political parties in the West have been critical of Israel’s policies against the Palestinian populace in the occupied territories. These policies mimic the apartheid policies that were in place during white minority rule in South Africa. In Israel, Jewish and Palestinian students go to separate schools. The education Palestinian students receive is inferior in every respect.

On the West Bank, Palestinians are being slowly pushed into enclaves similar to the “Bantustans” the apartheid regime had set up in South Africa. Another concrete manifestation of this policy is the construction of a “separation wall” that inhibits the freedom of Palestinians in many ways. The Israeli land acquisition law prohibits the sale of land to non-Jews. More than 12 per cent of the land in Israel belongs to the Jewish National Fund. The land was seized from the Palestinians in the first place. Then there is the issue of the Gaza Strip where a million and a half people, packed like sardines, are being blockaded and starved by Israel and Egypt.

All these factors do not in any way have an impact on India’s relations with Israel. In fact, India under Modi has been abstaining from voting on United Nations resolutions criticising Israel for its inhuman treatment of Palestinians. India has consistently been abstaining from voting on a Palestinian-supported resolution calling for a probe by the International Criminal Court into the war crimes committed during the 2015 Gaza offensive, which claimed 1,500 lives and wreaked havoc on the already fragile infrastructure of the blockaded enclave. India started abstaining from these votes after a phone conversation between Netanyahu and Modi in 2015. The Palestinian Ambassador to India, Adnan Abu Alhaja, termed India’s decision “shocking”. Since then, India has been voting in favour of similar resolutions criticising Syria and other countries, which makes its pro-Israeli tilt obvious.

It is no secret that the BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, had a soft corner for the Zionist project. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh considers Israel a model state where the Palestinians are denied their legitimate rights and neighbouring states are kept overawed by its military might. When the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was allowed to set up its office in New Delhi in 1975, all the major political parties supported the move. The only exception was the Jana Sangh, which organised a demonstration against the PLO delegation that came to open the office. India-Israel bilateral relations started openly flowering after the Congress government established full diplomatic relations in 1992. Before that, military and security relations between the two countries were mainly conducted under the radar. Israeli politicians, senior Ministers and spy chiefs used to make covert visits to India. The security establishment of both countries have had a close relationship since the mid 1960s.

The high-level formal visits started after the first NDA government came to power. In 2000, the then Indian Home Minister, L.K. Advani, became the first senior Indian leader to visit Israel along with a high-level delegation. Since then the floodgates have opened, with Indian Chief Ministers and leaders of all political parties making a beeline for Israel to witness first hand Israel’s claims of prowess in the fields of agriculture, water management, counterterrorism and waging war. Every two or three years, Israel inevitably wages a war. During peacetime, it focusses on “surgical strikes” and “targeted assassinations”. Most of these strikes, which have started occurring with increasing frequency, have been on Syrian Army targets fighting the forces of al Nusra and the Daesh.

The next “inevitable” war of self-defence, according to Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, will once again be against the hapless people of Gaza. In the 2008 conflict, Israeli forces dropped more than a hundred tonnes of munitions on the besieged enclave. It was during the first NDA regime that one of Israel’s premier warmongers and war criminals, the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, visited India. Among the many atrocities he has been credited with is the bloody massacre of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

Modi’s Israeli hosts gave him a red-carpet welcome. Netanyahu personally chaperoned Modi during the visit, and the two leaders were seen in various “hugging” postures and holding hands on a deserted beach on the Mediterranean coast. The two leaders held secret talks on improving counterterrorism coordination. It is not known whether Israel has sold the “Pegasus” spyware to India as yet. It has been in the news recently after revelations that the Mexican government had used it to snoop extensively on opposition leaders and journalists. NSO, the Israeli company that makes it, claims that it sells the spyware to governments on the understanding that it will only be used against criminals and for counterterrorism purposes. It is widely known that the Indian government depends on Israeli expertise for its counterterrorism measures on the Line of Control and in the Kashmir valley.

During the Indian Prime Minister’s visit, the two countries inked many agreements in the areas of defence technology, agriculture, water conservation and space research. India has launched Israeli satellites. The agreements signed include the setting up of a $40-million India-Israel Industrial R&D and Technical Innovation Fund. Israel sells more than $1 billion in arms to India annually and, along with Russia and the U.S., is among the country’s top three arms suppliers. According to official Indian sources, many other multibillion-dollar deals with Israel are in the pipeline, including a $2-billion deal to buy surface-to-air missiles, the purchase of two more Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft and four more Aerostat radars at the cost of $1.5 billion.

Modi did not mention the Palestine issue even once during his Israel visit. Only one out of the 22 paragraphs in the two-page joint statement released during the visit mentioned the Palestinian issue. There was no explicit reference to the two-state solution. Instead, the two sides “underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region”. The joint statement “reaffirmed their support for an early negotiated solution between the two sides based on mutual recognition and security arrangements”. Even Australia, which has an avowed pro-Israeli position, had insisted on mentioning the need for a “two-state solution” in the joint statement put out after Netanyahu’s visit to that country in January this year.

Israel wants to create a weak Palestinian state pockmarked with Israeli settlements. The Israelis want to further curtail Palestinian sovereignty by not allowing Palestinians to have their own army or an independent foreign policy. A headline in T he Times of Israel that appeared during Modi’s visit proclaimed: “Modi visit shows that Israel can improve foreign ties without a peace process”. After Donald Trump took over as President of the U.S., he has generally ignored the Palestinian leadership and said that the “two- state” solution is not sacrosanct. He casually said that his administration could live with either a “one-state” or a two-state solution. New Delhi seems to have taken its cue from Washington.

Iran

Netanyahu did not embarrass the Indian Prime Minister by publicly raising the bogey of Iranian-sponsored terrorism in the region. The Israeli Prime Minister has been targeting Iran from all forums, including the U.N. and on state visits to countries that have a good relationship with Tehran. The Iranian leadership was no doubt closely watching the bonhomie Modi and Netanyahu were publicly exhibiting. Iran is also a so-called “strategic partner” of India’s. During Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he said that Iran was the principal sponsor of terror in the region, supporting the extreme position taken by Israel and Saudi Arabia. The further tightening of military and strategic relations between Tel Aviv and New Delhi will make Tehran doubly cautious. In June, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticised the Indian government’s handling of the civil unrest in the Kashmir valley.

Violent turn

THE situation in the strife-torn Darjeeling hills further deteriorated when four more protesters were killed, taking the death toll to seven in the past one month. Since June 8, the region has been on the boil, with the renewal of the violent agitation for a separate State of Gorkhaland. On the night of July 7, three weeks after the declaration of an indefinite shutdown in the hills, Tashi Bhutia, a resident of Sonada and a member of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), was shot dead, allegedly by security forces, when he ventured out to buy medicines for his brother. The incident triggered a violent reaction, further intensifying the protest movement.

On July 8, angry mobs went on the rampage, torching public property, including the toy train station at Sonada and a local police station, and attacking the offices of the ruling Trinamool Congress, the office of the superintendent of police, and the building that housed the Department of Food and Civil Supplies.

This was one of the most violent outbursts since a total bandh was declared in the Darjeeling hills on June 15 by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the single most powerful political force in the hills. Two more protesters, Suraj Bhushal and Samir Gurung, were killed allegedly in police firing, in separate incidents. Ashok Tamang, who was seriously wounded in the police firing on that day, succumbed to his injuries on July 11. Three weeks earlier, on June 17, three protesters were killed when the police allegedly opened fire. That incident propelled the Gorkhaland movement to a point of no return and the hills descended into political chaos.

This is the first time since the establishment of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) in 1988 during the tenure of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government that the Gorkhaland agitation has taken such a bloody turn. Before the setting up of the DGHC, between the years 1986 and 1988, more than 1,000 people were killed in the struggle for separate Statehood, spearheaded at that time by the GNLF led by Subash Ghising. Subsequently, the GJM ousted the GNLF to take control of the hills.

“The situation now is very volatile here. Anything can happen any time. There have been seven deaths so far. It was a clear case of police brutality in which innocent, unarmed Indian citizens who were Gorkhaland supporters were murdered in unprovoked incidents of shooting,” Niraj Zimba, a GNLF leader, told Frontline.

After the DGHC was replaced by the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in 2011, a fragile peace prevailed in the hills. That came to an end in June this year with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to make Bengali a compulsory language of study in all the schools in the State. The GJM’s protest meetings against the move snowballed into a violent movement, with a renewed call for separate Statehood after the police raided the house-cum-party office of GJM chief Bimal Gurung on June 15. The Gorkhaland movement under the GJM today has the support of all the major hill parties. On June 29, a 30-member Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) was set up with representation from all the hill parties.

However, after nearly a month of continuous bandh and constant clashes between the police and the protesters, both the State government and the GJM need a way out of the impasse. According to informed sources, the GJM leadership is fast running out of ideas to take the agitation forward, particularly since both the Trinamool Congress in the State and the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre have made it categorically clear that they are opposed to the idea of the formation of a separate State of Gorkhaland. At the same time, the passions of the masses have been roused to such an extent that any compromise on the issue of Gorkhaland will be rejected outright.

“The situation is such that we can do without food and basic amenities, but we will not accept anything less than Gorkhaland. [The ongoing] strike is not an issue here. People here are immune to bandhs. We had 40 days and 40 nights of complete shutdown in 1986 during the agitation for Gorkhaland. For us, Gorkhaland is more important than our hunger and our difficulties,” said Zimba.

In what is being interpreted in political circles as an act of desperation, the GJM brought the GMCC meeting forward to July 11 from the scheduled date of July 18 to decide a course of action. “There has been a growing feeling among the people that the movement lacks a sense of direction and that the leadership is clueless about how to take it forward,” said a political source in Darjeeling. At the July 11 meeting, the parties decided on a “fast unto death” agitation. “From July 15 onwards, one leader of each political party will go on a fast unto death. The indefinite bandh in the hills will also continue,” said Roshan Giri, general secretary of the GJM.

Mamata Banerjee said on July 8 that she was agreeable to talks with the leaders of the hill parties once order was restored in the region. However, the leaders of the movement have no intention of talking to the State government. “We heard that the Chief Minister was ready to hold talks if peace and normality returned to the hills, but I believe none of the political parties want to talk to the State government. Since Independence we have been talking to the State governments but nothing has come of these talks. Now talks will be held only with the Centre, provided the Centre holds the talks on the single-point agenda of Gorkhaland,” said Zimba.

Mischievous virals

the-nation

THE tensions in Baduria in Basirhat subdivision of North 24 Paraganas district heightened further when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and right-wing Hindutva forces began to fish in troubled waters and incite communal feelings with public statements and posts made on social media. On two occasions, BJP delegations led by senior party leaders from the State and the Centre tried to enter the riot-affected area in spite of the prohibitory orders that were in force.

Video clips and pictures unrelated to the Basirhat flare-up began to crop up in various social media sites, spreading hate and panic. A video of an incident in Comilla in Bangladesh was uploaded with the claim that it had taken place in Basirhat. One person posted a still from a Bhojpuri film depicting a woman being assaulted by a group of leering men and attributed it to the Baduria riot with a caption “Baduria! The honour of Hindu women is under attack. Those Hindu friends who are still with Trinamool Congress, are you Hindu?”

The person who put up the post was arrested, but his message had already gone viral. According to the fact-checking website Alt News, Vijeta Malik, a BJP leader from Haryana, had shared the post with the message in Hindi which said: “The situation in Bengal is a major cause for concern for Hindus.” Another Delhi-based BJP leader, Nupur Sharma, uploaded a photograph from the Gujarat riots of 2002, and passed it off as the Basirhat flare-up. On July 10, the Kolkata police registered a case under non-bailable sections against her. Another picture on social media showed a man and a woman with bleeding injuries, and the caption claimed that they were the parents of the teenager who had uploaded the objectionable post in Baduria and were assaulted for no fault of theirs. It was later found that the picture was from an incident that had taken place in West Bengal a year ago. There have been innumerable such posts made with the sole purpose of provoking and inciting anger.

The State police tweeted on July 7: “Some people are posting old videos of other countries/regions as incidents of West Bengal. This is highly condemnable. Please check Facts with us. We appeal to all not to pay heed to these malicious videos aimed at creating mistrust among communities.”

Coming down heavily on the BJP for stoking communal fire in the State, Mamata Banerjee said at a public rally on June 10 that “the BJP has turned Facebook into fake book to incite communal riots in the State for its own gain”. Referring to the various “fake posts”, she said “a BJP leader from Hyderabad suggested in his social media post why Bengal should not be turned into another Godhra”. She stated categorically that this was not a place where hatred and violence would take root.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

Terrorism

Chilling act

SHUJAAT BUKHARI the-nation

AN attack on a bus carrying Amarnath pilgrims on July 10 has come as a chilling reminder of the grim security situation in the Kashmir valley. While the attack was projected as one aimed at triggering communal violence, the ground reality is that it is part of the larger security problem Jammu and Kashmir has been struggling with for the past few years. Of the seven pilgrims who were killed in the firing, five were women. It appears that they were unmindful of the risks involved in travelling in a private bus so late in the evening. When the news about the attack spread, it was, as usual, clothed in confusion.

The first version that came from the police was that the bus, which in fact was not part of the convoy of vehicles that had been provided security cover, was caught in a crossfire after militants attacked a police party. A subsequent version made it known that the bus was the target, although officials in the security grid are not yet ready to confirm that “it indeed was an attack on Amarnath yatris and they were the real target”.

It is interesting to note that Botingoo (Anantnag), where the attack took place, is situated hardly 200 metres from an Army camp. Why the police came under attack first also raises questions. But the fact is that the police patrol the area as a matter of routine.

The public outrage over the attack, which was precipitated by the round-the-clock coverage of the incident on national television channels, made the State government act swiftly to ensure that investigation into the attack was done in a time-bound manner. In Srinagar, the police said that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based militant organisation, was behind the attack. They even named its commander, Abu Ismail, as the mastermind.

Ironically, the LeT not only disowned the attack but also condemned it. Calling it a reprehensible act, LeT spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi told local news agencies: “Islam does not allow violence against any faith. We strongly condemn such acts. India wants to sabotage the freedom struggle of Kashmiris; therefore, it uses such attacks to fulfil its nefarious agenda.” However, officials dismissed the statement saying that the intense reaction to the attack in Kashmir forced the organisation on the back foot.

The police are going by the presence of militants in the area and are using the records of past events to accuse the LeT. One police officer said: “Hizbul Mujahideen is not known for such attacks. This kind of targeted attack can only be the handiwork of the Lashkar.” The government has set up a special investigation team (SIT) headed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, South Kashmir Range, S.P. Pani, to get to the root of the attack. Given his stint in the elite National Investigation Agency (NIA), he is not wanting in investigative skills. Informed sources said he would be assisted by a Superintendent of Police, two Deputy Superintendents of Police, and officers of other ranks. The SIT will also investigate the attack in which Station House Officer Feroz Dar was killed along with five others in June. “It is difficult to divulge anything at this stage as the investigation has just begun. We have some leads and we are working on them. In 10 days’ time, we may be able to reach some point,” Pani told Frontline.

conflicting versions

A look at the conflicting versions that have emerged about the attack, shows why investigations on attacks such as these have never made any headway. One police official said that the militants “are at liberty to choose their target and timing”. On June 25, the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Zone, Munir Khan, sounded an alert about a possible attack on the yatra. The police say that the attacked bus was on its own. “The pilgrims had completed the formalities of darshan on July 8 and later travelled to Srinagar and, after sightseeing trips, were moving out of security bandobast,” said Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh.

In a way, the pilgrims had ignored the standard operating procedure set for the yatra. But that is not unusual as pilgrims, after completing their religious obligation, spread out to different areas for sightseeing.

The annual Amarnath pilgrimage is a huge project that involves months of preparation at the highest level of the State government. Scores of meetings take place under the supervision of the Governor, who heads the Shri Amarnath Yatra Shrine Board. An estimated 90,000 police, paramilitary and military personnel are deployed to ensure an incident-free yatra every year, and almost everything comes to a standstill in the areas of Pahalgam and Sonmarg (the two base camps on the yatra route), which remain a tourist attraction for three months in a year. Until July 12, that is, in 15 days since the beginning of the yatra on June 29, as many as 57,393 yatris had visited the Amarnath cave shrine. The number is expected to reach 2.5 lakh on August 7, the day of Shravan Purnima, after which the shrine will be closed until next year.

This is not the first time that militants have attacked the 40-day yatra. The biggest strike was in 2000 when 35 yatris were killed in the Pahalgam base camp. According to the police, the attack was carried out by the LeT. In 2001, an attack in Sheshnag claimed 13 pilgrims and in 2002 nine people were killed in a similar attack in Pahalgam.

How far the investigations into the latest attack will succeed in bringing out the facts remains to be seen given the fate of such investigations in the past. The July 10 attack presented a grim picture of a situation that has gone out of control, with militancy touching a new level.

Against Kashmiri ethos

A redeeming feature of the situation is the overwhelming disapproval of the attack voiced by Kashmiri society. Not only did the political class, cutting across the ideological divide, come together to condemn the attack in unequivocal terms, but civil society, the business community and the common people vehemently criticised the act, saying it was “against our ethos”.

Civil society and business community members organised separate sit-in protests. Social media exploded with reactions and local newspapers condemned the incident in their editorials.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti rushed to Anantnag at midnight to be with the victims. Opposition parties and separatist leaders minced no words in calling the attack a dastardly act. Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, who have been jointly leading the separatist movement for the past one year, said in a statement: “The incident goes against the very grain of Kashmiri ethos. The Amarnath yatra has been going on peacefully for centuries and is part of yearly rhythm and will remain so. Our heart goes out to the families of the bereaved and we express our heartfelt condolences.”

Mehbooba Mufti appreciated the people’s response to the attack by saying that the spirit of Kashmiriyat is alive and that people have rejected such dastardly acts despite being victims of violence for decades. “The vehemence with which every section of society, irrespective of ideology, condemned the killings shows that the ethos for which the State is known is intact and vibrant,” she said. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also saluted Kashmiris and their spirit.

The unity displayed by Kashmir in condemning the violence that targets a faith has certainly come as a silver lining in the darkness that has enveloped the valley. The real challenge before the Central government is how to deal with the growing unrest that is resulting from the absence of a political approach to solve the Kashmir problem.

Will state violence against civilians stop? Is there a space for political dialogue to resolve the problem? People also want to know if an average Indian will oppose the violence unleashed against Kashmiris. Killing, maiming and blinding of Kashmiris by the police and other security forces have been the norm for some time. Unfortunately, it is being “approved” as a policy to deal with Kashmir. Will Delhi reciprocate the gesture from Kashmiris in the wake of the attack on Amarnath yatris is the big question.

CUBA

Art of resilience

On June 16, United States President Donald Trump addressed a large audience in Little Havana, Miami, alongside Marco Rubio, the Cuban American senator who ran against Trump in last year’s presidential campaign. Everything about the event appeared designed to be symbolic for the largely Cuban-American crowd gathered on the day, right down to the location: the Manuel Artime Theatre was named after a former ally of Fidel Castro who had led Brigade 2506 which participated in the attempted Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. To thunderous applause, Trump accused his Democratic predecessor of striking a completely “one-sided deal” with Cuba when he chose to take forward relations beginning in December 2014.

The changes brought in by President Barack Obama included allowing U.S. banks to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions; reducing restrictions for U.S. citizens to enable them to travel individually and not just in a group; increasing telecommunications connections between the two countries; and the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana and vice versa. “We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” Obama said at the time.

Trump, by contrast, insisted that he would “very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services... enforce the ban on tourism... enforce the embargo”. “My action today bypasses the military and the government, to help the Cuban people themselves form businesses and pursue much better lives,” he said.

The precise details of Trump’s plan for future relations are yet to be unveiled, but one thing is clear: one of the most tangible changes brought in by the Obama administration, the ability of U.S. tourists to travel individually to Cuba, which has led to a sharp rise in the number of people visiting the island, is likely to be reversed. On the face of it, the announcement appears plain bad news for Cuba. Within the past couple of years, rapid changes have taken place, which are easily discernible to the casual visitor: planes of several major U.S. airlines stand aside the growing international presence at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, while cruise ships can be sighted off many parts of the coastline. The U.S. embassy stands imposingly on the Malecon (the broad esplanade in the heart of Havana), having reopened just under two years ago. Visitors can use sites such as Airbnb to book accommodation, often at far higher rates than domestic websites and requiring people to meet with U.S. requirements that they confirm the purpose of the visit, which has to fall into 12 broad categories including family visits, attending workshops or exhibition or “supporting the Cuban people”.

Not much had changed anyway

But there is much that is not moved at all: without an Act of Congress, Obama was only able to change so much and the trade embargo remains in place, as it has been since 1962. Its impact continues to be seen everywhere: from the empty shelves in stores (those fortunate enough to get supplies of desired items from toilet paper to beer can attract queues, even in Havana) to the potholed multi-lane highways that criss-cross the country. Out of the main cities, where “modern” cars compete for space with 1950s gas-guzzlers, horse-drawn carts and other non-motorised forms of transport are a common sight. With little access to the infrastructure that has changed telecommunications across much of the rest of the world, Internet access remains patchy and slow. Commercial advertising is rare, and billboards along roadsides are far more likely to carry revolutionary slogans than try to persuade one to buy the latest face cream.

Scarcity has created many efficiencies, too: a visitor often gets the sense that every resource is being put to its maximum possible use. Driving across the country, it is rare to come across uninhabited terrain that is not given over to agricultural production of some sort or another. Farmers stand by highways selling their produce, including delicious mangoes, guavas and coconuts. Less-used roads are put to other uses, such as the drying of rice. There is even a section of a four-way highway, on the way to the tobacco-growing region, that sometimes doubles as a landing strip for aircraft.

The fact that the country is already pushed to the max means that the tourism boom has not been a straightforward blessing. Anecdotal evidence, culled from speaking to people across the country, suggests that shortages have increased in the past couple of years as thousands of extra tourists have tested the nation’s supplies and infrastructure. Prices have also risen to the extent that price caps have been brought in by the government for certain agricultural produce.

The tourism boom has also left some divisions. Those working in areas related to tourism (taxi drivers; owners of casas, or private residences in which foreigners are able to stay) have done well. But the largesse has not fallen evenly. Monthly salaries of employees in the public sector can be what those in tourism make in a day, and this can be particularly harsh at a time when prices are rising rapidly. A former lawyer who had earned tens of euros a month contrasted that with the hundreds he was able to make monthly as a driver for tourists travelling across the country. The impact of the uneven reaping of benefits can be seen by those visiting—in Havana and other cities, dilapidated buildings that have not been repaired in decades stand next to tastefully done-up apartment blocks or gleaming new projects on their way up.

The complex impact of the U.S.’ tourism ban is one reason why in the days immediately after the Trump speech, many reacted with a mixture of acceptance and defiance (and of course little sympathy with Trump’s reasoning that what he was doing would help “free” the Cuban people from the government and military). Steady numbers of tourists from other parts of the world would continue to keep business steady, the owner of one casa insisted, even as he received cancellations from U.S. travellers who were due to arrive in the coming months. Another said that whatever the impact of the tightening of restrictions by the U.S., things could never return to the difficulties of the 1990s, particularly as Cuba had now inured itself, to a certain extent, tothe impact of international developments. (Cuba’s gross domestic product, or GDP, fell by 34 per cent between 1990 and 1993 as the collapse of the Soviet Union hit its major source of supplies, including energy. But the period ultimately helped the country develop agricultural and other sectors, leaving it more resilient than ever before.)

The coming months and year will be riddled with uncertainty for Cuba. President Raul Castro is set to step down in 2018 after his second five-year term, and his successor will be decided by the National Assembly following elections.

The most likely candidate is Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old party stalwart, favoured by Fidel Castro, but a low-profile and private figure thought to be behind some recent reforms, including opening up of Internet access. Whatever happens, one has the sense that the island that has dealt with much over the decades will keep its cool.

North Korea

Nuclear rhetoric

JOHN CHERIAN world-affairs

The successful test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea on July 4 has added a new dimension to the crisis in the Korean peninsula. Donald Trump had pledged after taking over as the President of the United States that he would not allow Pyongyang to gatecrash into the elite club of nations possessing this kind of missile technology. “It won’t happen,” he tweeted in January. He followed it up by stating that North Korea “is a problem, a problem that will be taken care of”, leading some commentators to speculate that Trump was weighing immediate military options. During his meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, Trump said that the U.S. would take care of the North Korea problem if the Chinese side was incapable of doing so.

But less than seven months into Trump’s presidency, the North Koreans have conducted an array of successful missile tests. Many of the missile tests conducted last year failed for a variety of reasons. North Korea seems to have more than made up for those failures. Washington and Tokyo have reluctantly acknowledged that Pyongyang now has the capability to hit parts of mainland America and its intermediate-range missiles can easily target U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam. North Korea has now joined a dozen or more countries that have long-range missile capabilities.

The ICBM, named Hwasong (Mars)-14, launched on July 4 travelled more than 1,200 kilometres and was airborne for over 37 minutes. It reached an altitude of more than 2,800 km, according to the U.S. military’s Pacific Command, which monitors such launches. (The International Space Station orbiting the earth is only 400 km above the earth.) American experts say that such a missile will have an actual range of around 6,700 km, which would allow it to reach the American state of Alaska. The Hwasong-14 uses solid fuel, which enables quick loading and firing. The North Korean official media hailed the ICBM launched as “a momentous event in the history of the country”. The timing of the launch was not a coincidence. Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader, called it a “gift” to the U.S., which celebrates its Independence Day on July 4. “As a proud nuclear power that possesses not only nuclear weapons but also the most powerful ICBM that can target any part of the world, North Korea will root out the United States threat and blackmail of nuclear war and solidly defend the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region,” the statement from the North Korean government said.

At the beginning of his term, Trump had militarily threatened North Korea by emphasising again and again that “all options were open” against the country. In June, he dispatched an American naval armada, consisting of aircraft carriers and submarines, streaming towards the Korean peninsula. But as most observers of the region had predicted, North Korea did not blink. In the first week of June, North Korea successfully tested land-to-sea cruise missiles. In February, it successfully launched the Pugkusong-2 medium-range missile. Pyongyang claims that its long- and medium-range missiles are nuclear capable and that it has miniaturised its nuclear arsenal. The Pentagon, as well as experts in Seoul and Tokyo, have doubted this claim, but they realise that it is only a matter of time before North Korean scientists achieve this goal too.

More threats by the U.S.

After the July test, Washington once again ratcheted up its threats to take recourse to military action. President Trump blamed China for not putting sufficient pressure on North Korea. After Xi Jinping’s first meeting with Trump earlier in the year, Beijing had imposed additional sanctions on North Korea and even halted the purchase of coal. The export of coal is a source of much-needed hard currency for Pyongyang. But as recent history has shown, the North Koreans have a tendency to be more resolute and innovative in the face of adversity. China is the country’s biggest trading partner. But when it comes to politics, the North Koreans have been hewing a lonely furrow for decades.

In a telephone conversation with the Chinese President after the North Korean ICBM launch, Trump once again warned that the U.S. would be willing to take unilateral action if China was not able to rein in its neighbour. “Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all,” Trump tweeted. His administration then went ahead and imposed sanctions on a leading Chinese bank for having dealings with the North Korean government. Then the U.S. announced the sale of weapons worth $1.4 billion to Taiwan and branded China as a “human trafficker”. China did issue a statement condemning the missile test stating that it violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. However, China has not instituted the kind of harsh sanctions that the U.S. wants it to impose on its already impoverished neighbour.

China and Russia

In a statement issued immediately after the launch, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman urged all the parties involved in the Korean dispute to remain calm and stressed that the situation in the region “is complicated and sensitive”. The last thing that China, which shares a long border with North Korea, wants is a war on its doorstep and U.S. troops on its borders. Besides, it is aware that the U.S. and Japan are using the North Korea card to surround it militarily.

The recent stealthy installation of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea is an indication. China has demanded that the system be removed at the earliest. The newly elected South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, had strongly voiced his opposition against its installation during his campaign.

After a meeting between President Xi and President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the first week of July in Moscow, the two countries issued a joint statement calling on the major parties involved in the Korean peninsula to sign up to a de-escalation plan drafted by China. It envisages a moratorium on the North Korean ballistic missile programme coupled with a freezing of the frequent joint military exercises and missile tests that the U.S. military conducts with the South Korean army.

“The situation in the region affects the national interests of both the countries,” the statement said. “Russia and China will work closely to advance a solution to the complex problem of the Korean peninsula in every possible way.”

In the same declaration, Moscow and Beijing called for the removal of the THAAD missile systems from the Korean peninsula. The statement accused the U.S. of using the North Korean issue as an excuse to further its military infrastructure in the region and change the balance of power. “The deployment of THAAD will cause serious harm to the strategic security interests of regional states, including Russia and China,” it said.

President Putin in an interview with the TASS news agency said that it was in the mutual interests of Moscow and Beijing that “there is a comprehensive resolution of the problem of the Korean peninsula in order to preserve lasting peace and stability in north-eastern Asia”. The joint statement urged the “confronting parties” to sit down for talks, agree on the principles of non-confrontation and pledge to make the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. At the same time, the document stressed that the international community should take into consideration “the sensible concerns” of North Korea.

South Korea’s dramatic gesture

At a time when Trump is calling for a military response to North Korea’s move, Moon Jae-in of South Korea made a dramatic offer in a speech he made in Germany ahead of the G20 summit. He said on July 6 that he was willing to meet Kim Jong-un for talks and proposed that the reunion of long-separated families from the two Koreas should start again. He also called for the demilitarisation of the border between the two countries. At present, it is the most heavily weaponised international border. The South Korean capital, Seoul, is within the artillery range of North Korean guns. Moon, who had promised during his presidential campaign to pursue peace talks with the North, said that sanctions should only be used as a tool to get the North back to the negotiating table. The U.S. has been using “sanctions” as a weapon to induce regime change in Pyongyang.

While running for the presidency, Trump had told a reporter that he would be willing to meet with Kim Jong-un and “do a deal”. He still has not completely ruled out a meeting with the North Korean leader “under certain circumstances”. But right now, the U.S. President is adopting a belligerent position, boasting that he is handling North Korea “very well, very firmly” without diplomacy. Ordinary South Koreans are worried about the war jargon that Trump routinely uses. Any attack on the North would evoke an immediate response. Much of the collateral damage would be borne by South Korea and Japan. Nearly half of South Korea’s population lives less than 100 km from the border with the North.

The U.S. had considered a “surgical strike” on a North Korean reactor in 1994. But better sense prevailed after the Bill Clinton administration realised that it would lead to open hostilities resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The Clinton administration in its last years focussed on finding a diplomatic solution. A breakthrough seemed imminent after the then Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, visited Pyongyang.

The advent of George W. Bush and the “war on terror” brought the situation back to square one on the Korean peninsula. The North was put in the so-called “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq and on the list for regime change.

In the wake of the ICBM test, the U.S. may have to put the military option on the back burner for the foreseeable future, notwithstanding Trump’s tough rhetoric. U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis recently said that a war with North Korea “would be tragic on an unbelievable scale”. North Korea is now a de facto nuclear power armed with delivery weapons.

Many prominent Americans, like former President Jimmy Carter, have been long urging a negotiated settlement. North Korea’s basic demand is diplomatic recognition by the U.S. and the signing of a comprehensive peace treaty containing a guarantee that the U.S. will not attack it. North Korea had once disavowed its nuclear ambitions in exchange for nuclear reactors from the West and economic aid. It was only after Washington reneged on its commitment that Pyongyang chose its current course. It knows that a nuclear deterrent is the best guarantee against regime change.

The Judiciary

A wake-up call

V. VENKATESAN the-nation

ON May 9, the Supreme Court’s seven-judge bench convicted and sentenced the then sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court, Justice C.S. Karnan, to six months’ imprisonment for contempt of court. The bench said in its order that detailed reasons would follow later.

On July 5, in a departure from the convention of pronouncing judgments in open court by all the judges who delivered it, the Supreme Court uploaded the detailed judgment on its website, supremecourt.gov.in, and left it at that. The surprise was that all the seven judges purportedly signed it on May 9 itself, while two of them signed a separate but concurring judgment on July 4.

The surprise turned into a serious anomaly as one of the seven judges who delivered the order on May 9, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, retired on May 27, and would have been unavailable for signing the detailed judgment, which was uploaded on July 5, if it was dated after his retirement.

Will this anomaly vitiate the May 9 order of conviction and sentence, and as a consequence, the detailed judgment uploaded on July 5, although the latter only vindicated the former? Although the anomaly, on the face of it, seems to be a technical flaw, the Supreme Court had held in many cases earlier that a judgment delivered after the retirement of a judge or without his signature could not be legal and the case would have to be heard afresh.

Justice Karnan, who retired on June 12, went into hiding, making it impossible for the West Bengal Police to execute the Supreme Court’s May 9 order. However, on June 20, he was arrested in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and lodged in Presidency Jail, Kolkata.

In a review petition filed in the Supreme Court against the May 9 judgment, Justice Karnan raised the issue of propriety of uploading the judgment on July 5, while pretending that it had been signed by all the seven judges on May 9 itself. Observers, however, doubt whether the Supreme Court would agree with his interpretation that the May 9 decision should be considered as void on this ground, and, therefore, grant him liberty.

The detailed judgment uploaded on July 5 was vulnerable on other grounds as well. The main judgment, authored by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar on behalf of himself and the other six judges, concluded that Justice Karnan’s actions constituted the grossest and gravest contempt of court.

The bench claimed that it carefully examined the text of the letters written from time to time by Justice Karnan levelling allegations of corruption against other judges. It said it had also examined the suo motu procedure adopted by Justice Karnan to pass orders that were derogatory to the administration of justice before he was issued notice for contempt. The bench also analysed the orders passed by him suo motu even after the issuance of the contempt notice to him.

“His demeanour was found to have become further aggressive, after this court passed orders from time to time, in this case.... His public utterances turned the judicial system into a laughing stock. The local media, unmindful of the damage it was causing to the judicial institution, merrily rode the Karnan wave. Even the foreign media had its dig at the Indian judiciary,” the bench said in its judgment.

The bench gave a list of 33 judges against whom Justice Karnan had levelled “obnoxious” allegations. The list included several judges of the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court.

The main reason for sustaining the contempt charge, it would appear from the judgment, was that none of the allegations levelled by him was supported by any material. “His allegations were malicious and defamatory, and pointedly by name against many of the concerned judges. He carried his insinuations to the public at large, in the first instance by endorsing his letters carefully so as to widely circulate the contents of his communications to the desired circles.... And later through the Internet he placed his point of view, and the entire material, in the public domain,” the bench explained.

No specific ground

Although the main judgment gave a fairly good account of the sequence of events that culminated in the May 9 order, it did not invoke any specific ground under the Contempt of Court Act to justify his conviction.

But the bench explained why it gagged the media from publicising any further statements issued by Justice Karnan on May 9. “During the course of hearing of the instant contempt petition, his ridicule of the Supreme Court remained unabated. In fact, it was heightened as never before. In this process, he even stayed orders passed by this court. One of the orders passed by him restrained the judges on this bench from leaving the country. By another order, he convicted the judges on this bench, besides another judge of this court, and sentenced them to five years imprisonment, besides imposing individual costs on the convicted judges,” the bench said, and continued: “The instant restraint order [on the media] does not prevent or hinder any public debate on the matter, academic or otherwise. We have not restricted the media in any manner other than to the limited extent expressed above. We hope and expect that a meaningful debate would lead to a wholesome understanding of the issue from all possible perspectives.”

The bench recorded in the judgment that none of his actions could be considered bona fide, especially in view of the express directions issued by the court on February 8 requiring him to refrain from discharging any judicial or administrative work.

On May 1, in order to restrain his abuse of suo motu jurisdiction, the Supreme Court passed another order restraining courts, tribunals, commissions and authorities from taking cognisance of any order passed by Justice Karnan. Therefore, the question why the Supreme Court took cognisance of his orders itself for the purpose of contempt proceedings even while asking others to ignore them remained unanswered.

Furthermore, if the media merely reported both the Supreme Court’s direction to other judicial bodies not to take cognisance of Justice Karnan’s orders and Justice Karnan’s orders—because they had news value—it was not clear why the Supreme Court sought to restrain the media from reporting whatever Justice Karnan would say from May 9. Specifically, should the bar apply to statements of Justice Karnan that may not be contemptuous of the court or even those he may make after his release from prison? The court had no answers.

While concluding that he committed contempt in the face of the court, the bench did not cite a single instance of his behaviour that amounted to this offence, as he appeared before the court only once, on March 31 during the contempt proceedings, and on that day the bench did not record any of his actions that amounted to contempt of the court.

The separate judgment, authored by Justice J. Chelameswar on behalf of himself and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, held that the frequency and gravity with which Justice Karnan made allegations against his colleagues and the manner in which such allegations were made public “certainly would have some adverse impact on the reputation of the individual judges against whom allegations are made, the image of the Madras High Court and perhaps is likely to undermine the credibility of the judiciary in this country”.

Justice Chelameswar concluded that the post-notice conduct of Justice Karnan, when he passed several judicial orders, which, even on a cursory glance, were contemptuous in nature and content, brought disrepute to the judicial system and had the potential of shaking the confidence of the average citizen in the system. Such conduct and action, if tolerated, would certainly reflect an element of weakness in the system; no such weakness can be allowed to enter the system, he held. He held Justice Karnan guilty both for scandalising the court and for interference with the proceedings of the Supreme Court.

Appointment of judges

Justice Chelameswar, however, added that the case highlighted the need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges to the constitutional courts, for that matter any member of the judiciary at all levels, and the need to set up an appropriate legal regime to deal with situations where the conduct of a judge of a constitutional court required corrective measures, other than impeachment, to be taken.

Justice Chelameswar cautioned that there were various other instances (mercifully, which are less known to the public, as he put it) of conduct of some of the members of the judiciary which certainly would cause some embarrassment to the system.

Justice Karnan is sure to ask, “If so, why single out me, rather than punish those guilty in other instances?” Has Justice Karnan been punished only because media publicised his contemptuous actions? As he did not have any control over the media, should he suffer only because the media reported his actions and not of others, which may be equally contemptuous? The unfortunate conviction and sentencing of Justice Karnan is indeed a wake-up call for the judiciary.

G20 Summit

At odds with the rest

VIJAY PRASHAD world-affairs

UNITED STATES PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP went to Poland before he arrived in Hamburg (Germany) for the G20 meeting. In Poland, Trump gave a fiery speech about defending the West. “The fundamental question of our time,” Trump said, “is whether the West has the will to survive.” Then Trump elaborated on this theme: “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” Trump’s most direct statement came in his punch line: “The West will never be broken.”

So much history lay within this speech. It was Trump’s clearest statement of his views. He sees himself as the defender of “the West” and of its “civilisation” and “values”. Other leaders, he suggests, are too weak. They are unwilling to stand for “the West” against its enemies. Trump did not specify the nature of the enemies. He did not directly say against whom he is defending the West. But, given his other statements, it seems clear that his enemies are Islam and liberalism.

The key phrase in his speech was “the will to survive”. It alludes to the language of Nazism, which often spoke of the importance of the “will” and the necessity to struggle to “survive” against Judaism, liberalism and communism. Trump’s speech echoed the book The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World Supremacy written by the American scholar Lothrop Stoddard in 1920. Racial paranoia runs from Stoddard’s popular book of 1920 to Trump’s awkward speeches of the present. The fear of the “rising tide of colour” and of the end of “white world supremacy” absorbs Trump as much as it did Stoddard, although the American President is more shy in his comments. He does not openly talk of race. Everything is in code. It is easier that way. But Trump’s code is thin. It is obvious that he is obsessed about race and religion, that he worries about darker bodies that want to enter the U.S. either to take away jobs or to kill others. It is a bleak picture of humanity, ceaseless in struggle on racial lines. Little wonder that the other leaders of the G20 are embarrassed by Trump. He openly speaks in the language of race, whereas they prefer innuendo. Few of these leaders come out and defend a more robust liberal view of the world against Trump’s racist paranoia. They prefer to ignore him, which is why he spent large parts of the G20 meeting sitting by himself or roaming around the conference table haplessly.

Complicity

For the past several G20 meetings, unity has been hard to forge. After all, tensions between the West and Russia have detained the members. They have not been able to forge a common agenda. Since its ninth summit in Australia in 2014, the G20 has been a hesitant body. The slow end of U.S. dominance and the emergence of new powers have confounded the group. No world leader has emerged to set an agenda. The U.S. has slowly shrunk its commitments to world affairs as the other powers have not been able to drive a project that is acceptable to the majority of the membership. It was serendipitous that Germany was the host this year, with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the helm. She has positioned herself as the new leader of the West. Although with the U.S. still the main military power and still an enormously important economic power, the shift of the mantle from the U.S. President to the German Chancellor is more media speculation than reality. Without new leadership, the G20 appeared in a shambles. With the U.S. against the Paris climate accord, the 19 other powers sought to put forward their own agenda. But even here, the confidence of the 19 to act on their own was minimal. They suggested that the Paris process was “irreversible” and that the pledges to cut emissions would be met. But this is not entirely the case in the final document the G20 produced.

A concession was made to the U.S. The G20 document says: “The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.” There is no condemnation of U.S. policy with energy and towards climate change. No statement of disapproval that so many of Trump’s Cabinet members do not even believe in climate change. Part of the hesitancy might come from the fact that many of the other G20 countries are also complicit in the maintenance and expansion of the carbon order. A new report from Oil Change International shows that many of the other G20 countries—such as Canada, Italy, Germany, France, South Korea and Japan—spend over $72 billion a year of public money to subsidise oil, gas and coal production. Given their own complicity in the carbon order, these countries could not take a firm stand against the U.S.

No one stood up at the G20 and rebuked Trump for his racist paranoia. Not one of the leaders felt comfortable articulating a more liberal world order, with refugee protection and minority protection fundamental to it. There was no defender of the United Nations or anyone willing to speak about the importance of the U.N.’s recent vote against nuclear weapons. None of the leaders would stand up and condemn the arms sales that saturate the world order, eating into precious public funds and driving wars that dislocate people. Dullness defined the G20, where business deals took centre stage, with world leaders more interested in being seen as important than as leaders.

Welcome to hell

Angela Merkel hoped to show Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Germany had a liberal attitude to dissent. Over 100,000 protesters gathered in Hamburg. They came to stand against austerity and war, against the mayhem produced by the leadership of the G20. “G20: Welcome to Hell”, said the protesters. A hundred of them painted their bodies in silver and walked through the streets as zombies. One poster read: “ Krieg Beginnt Hier ” (War Starts Here). It bore the attitude of the protesters. They did not come to march silently. They came to create a ruckus. This is what Angela Merkel did not understand. Her people are angry. They did not want the G20 to leave without feeling the anger of the people. When the protests became a riot, Angela Merkel sent her crack riot police to stop the demonstrations. Tear gas and water cannons, both instruments familiar to the other leaders of the G20, took hold. Sneers against Turkey and Russia came off as insincere. Dissent was quelled in Hamburg. It meant little that Angela Merkel distinguished between peaceful protests and violent ones. This distinction is familiar to Turkey’s Erdogan. A long march from Ankara had just entered Istanbul. Erdogan wants to paint this as the work of terrorists. A crackdown is on the horizon. He will likely refer to Angela Merkel’s violence in Hamburg as an example.

From the streets of Hamburg, the Australian journalist Chris Uhlmann reported that Trump seemed an “uneasy, lonely, awkward figure” at the G20 meeting. He said that Trump “has no desire and no capacity to lead the world” and that Trump “has pressed fast forward on the decline of the United States as a global leader”. The West, Trump said in Poland, “will never be broken”. But if the evidence from Hamburg is to be believed, the West, or at least the G20, is in deep disarray. Clarity is not available. No combined project is visible.

The goat doctors of Mhaswad

social-issues

Sangeeta Tupe excuses herself to answer her mobile phone during the interview. It is most probably a “call”, guesses Rajshree Jadhav. She is right. Wearing a white lab coat, Sangeeta says they need to rush right away and, like gynaecologists, the two leave to attend to the said house call.

Meet the goat doctors of Mhaswad—a team of seven feisty women who have broken every stereotype by qualifying to treat and artificially inseminate goats. Taking into account the sizeable goat population in the region, the Mann Deshi Foundation came up with the idea of inseminating goats just like other cattle. The women underwent training at the Nimbkar Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) and learnt how to inject semen straws into a goat on heat. For each house call they are paid Rs.150, and undertake at least 25 such visits a month. This is in addition to the Rs.4,000 they earn from the Foundation.

“I had actually gone to learn tailoring when the Mann Deshi bus came to the village. When I heard about this programme, I thought why not try and help villagers look after the goats in our area,” says Sangeeta Tupe. “Initially, my family was shocked at my choice. Today, my daughter is so proud when they call me a doctor.”

Nanda, another member of the team, says that she had to support herself and her son after her husband left her. “From a timid person who would not have dreamt of speaking to a group of people, I have now gained enough confidence to conduct awareness programmes. Even government officials have congratulated me on the work we do!”

While “goat doctoring” seems a radical career choice at first for women in the rural belt, it does not appear all that unusual once you witness the deep connect between people and the animals they work with. In a traditional patriarchal set-up, it is difficult for a woman to leave the house especially when a call comes at odd hours, but the goat doctors have been so successful at what they do that such perceptions have undergone a complete change. Today, the respect they command from the villagers makes their families immensely proud, says Sangeeta.

It is fascinating to watch Sangeeta and Rajshree in action. They ride to the farm on a two-wheeler, with a nitrogen can carrying the semen straws placed in front. They inspect the goat on heat, which has been separated from the other animals. Satisfied with its condition, they instruct the goat’s owner to hold the animal—no easy task as he has to hold both its hind legs up in the air. Sangeeta has to be quick and strong. While the legs are up, Sangeeta takes a semen straw and swiftly but carefully inserts it into the goat. The procedure is done in less than a minute.

“We have seen that the kids born from insemination turn out to be healthier specimens, so we call the goat doctors as soon as we know the animal is on heat,” says Gulab Rokade, owner of a goat farm. “There are plenty of goats in this region. The milk is expensive at Rs.200 a litre, but there is enough demand from the cities for dairy products, and the mutton is of good quality as well. These animals are our livelihood, so we have to give them the best treatment. The goat doctors are very reliable,” says Rokade.

“The turning point for us came when we treated and revived a young goat. The villagers were so impressed that the initial suspicion gradually gave way to demand,” says Sangeeta. Their strike rate is clearly excellent. Of the 3,000 goats inseminated since the programme started, as many as 2,265 have delivered. The doctors keep a record of all the inseminated animals in files and regularly monitor them.

“People used to think we delivered milk as the nitrogen containers resemble milk cans,” says Rajshri. “Now they recognise us and offer us such a warm welcome.”

Interview: Chetna Gala Sinha

‘We want to empower a million women by 2020’

ANUPAMA KATAKAM social-issues

For close to three decades, Chetna Gala Sinha has lived and worked tirelessly on women’s issues in the remote Mhaswad town in Satara district, western Maharashtra. In 1997, she banded together with a group of local women and founded the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, India’s first rural cooperative bank owned by women. That was the beginning of an extraordinary journey that has seen several thousands of women become entrepreneurs through microenterprise. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline:

Mhaswad is in interior Maharashtra. How did you get here decades ago?

I was part of the Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) movement in the 1970s and we worked in far-flung villages across Maharashtra. At first I worked in the slums of Mumbai, but the movement took me out of the city.

I settled down in Mhaswad, where we had earlier worked with Sharad Joshi [founder of the Shetkari Sanghatana]. Due to the severe drought conditions, there was a lot of migration, mostly by men, to the city while the women were left behind, entrusted with looking after the home and the land. The area also has a large population of nomadic communities where, again, it is the women who are responsible for earning a livelihood.

There were cooperative societies, but they did not address the needs of women. I found that the main concern of the women was to have some financial savings of their own. The challenge was to design a product that would suit this need.

You started the first bank for women in a rural area. Why did you look at microfinance as a tool for empowerment and not go the NGO way instead?

When I began working with the community, I had no idea I would start a bank. I did realise that the community issues of the women and their realities were very different from what we had assumed them to be. It was the case of Kantabai Salunke that proved to be the turning point. Kantabai Salunke, a blacksmith, told me she wanted to save her earnings, but no bank would open an account for her because they said her savings were too meagre. We realised that what was required was a bank that would open accounts for women to put away their small savings.

I had the expertise and knew that a financial product would be far more effective than an NGO, which is answerable to funders. I also knew that we could not have macro products brought down to a micro-level. We took a risk as we were aware that we may not get funding. There were also concerns as to how we would sustain ourselves. At first, the licence was rejected because the RBI said the thumb impressions of the women could not be accepted in lieu of signatures. Six months later, armed with the ability to sign their names, the women went back to the RBI, and we got our licence.

Soon we realised that it was difficult for women to come to the bank as it cut into their working day. That is how we came up with the idea of doorstep banking, where our team goes to the bank account holder’s home and helps her with her financial needs. Over the years, we have learnt from experience and improvised our services. We base our work on ground-level realities and the financial needs of women in the area.

You have been in this field since the 1970s. Could you tell us a little about your journey?

I believe that it is a constant learning experience for us. We often assume that women in the rural belt lack awareness. But that is not the case. They are very much aware. The idea is to understand their needs and empower them using tools that will work for them.

An example I always give is that of the nomadic goatherd who came to us for a loan to buy a mobile phone. When we asked her why she needed one, she replied that she was often away from her children for weeks on end and wanted to stay in touch with them. She also wanted to learn to use a mobile phone. Similarly, when demonetisation happened, most women were open to using digital technology. Clearly, they are aware of developments and what works—we only have to be instrumental in facilitating the process.

Sometimes, it goes beyond just a bank account or loan. Once we had given a loan to a woman who sold snacks from a handcart and who wanted to set up a permanent stall. When she set up the shop, she was informed by the authorities that she needed a licence without which she could not operate the gas cylinder and the shop. That was a lesson for us as well—that there are aspects other than the loan that need to be tackled. So we set up a helpline and three chambers of commerce for rural women. We also set up a business school and offer courses to support women entrepreneurs. Today, we have a dozen business schools—some run out of buses—that offer about 15 courses, and have trained some 200,000 women so far.

We believe that control over finances is crucial. We want to teach the women how to manage their finances. Many women whom we have mentored now run successful businesses, and we are working towards linking them to bigger markets. Recognition is also critical and powerful in empowerment. Our clients are, of course, most diligent and prompt about repaying loans.

Your thoughts on microfinance as a growing sector with positive results.

I feel that banks have not done enough research to understand how bankable women are. Microfinance has been a very effective tool for women to pursue other forms of livelihood and make their lives more comfortable. But it is rather limited and reaches only a small percentage of the people in need. The banking sector has to be more innovative with regard to rural India. We have to move beyond microfinance loans to microenterprise loans that really help women expand their businesses.

While the problem of agrarian distress is widely known, loan waivers are not the only solution. We have to look at it comprehensively and holistically. If you provide openings and opportunities for people in distress, there is a better chance at improvement. The distress is largely due to government policies. They have not designed the agriculture markets in such a way that the farmer will be helped. We need the market on the farmers’ side. The M.S. Swaminathan Commission had suggested to the Agriculture Price Commission that it should be farm cost price plus 50 per cent for produce. Why can’t these guidelines be followed?

Did you face much resistance in such a patriarchal environment?

We have an annual programme where we felicitate entrepreneurs. At this event, we make it a point to acknowledge and appreciate the many men who have supported their wives and daughters. Including the male fraternity is an integral part of the process, and they, too, share in the pride and dignity when they see their wives and daughters achieve success.

Mann Deshi is a model that has shown tremendous success. What has been your most gratifying aspect of the Foundation’s work and what are you striving towards?

No doubt, the many success stories of our women are what continue to make our work truly gratifying. It is the hard work and indomitable spirit of the women that gives us the energy to go forward.

When we set up the community radio station, we thought that the women would host awareness campaigns, advocacy sessions, etc. While they do that as well, we soon found that the women had a treasure trove of music to share. The poignant songs they sang on the plight of farmers were a window into their world. The deep connection they share with their animals and land is very telling.

Their art and music have enriched me in countless ways. Our vision is to empower one million women across the country through Mann Deshi by 2020.

Issues in Focus

End of the Gulf dream?

A DECREASE in the number of emigrants from Kerala, especially to the Gulf countries, and a fall in remittances in the two years from 2014 are some of the key findings of the Kerala Migration Survey (KMS) 2016 that have caught much media attention in recent months.

The survey, undertaken by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, found that the number of emigrants had fallen by over 1.5 lakh, return emigrants by 2.14 lakh and remittances by Rs.7,853 crore (see tables).

Emigration from Kerala steadily increased after 1998, when the first migration survey, conducted in that year put the number of emigrants from the State at 14 lakh and annual remittances at over Rs.13,000 crore. The KMS 2016 found, for the first time, a decrease in the number of emigrants from 24 lakh in 2014 to 22.4 lakh in 2016 and a fall in remittances from Rs.71,142 crore in 2014 to Rs.63,289 crore in 2016. The number of return emigrants also came down from 12.5 lakh in 2014 to 10.3 lakh in 2016.

However, remittance flows had weakened all over the world during the two years. According to the World Bank, remittances to developing countries dropped by 2.4 per cent, to $429 billion, in 2016, after a decline of 1 per cent in 2015. India, the largest remittance-receiving country, had in fact recorded the maximum fall with a decrease of 8.9 per cent.

Is the dwindling of funds from abroad a temporary phenomenon? How seriously will it affect the “money order economy” of Kerala, which had 2.1 million, or 86 per cent, of its emigrants working in the Gulf countries in 2014?

In the past decade, international migration patterns from India changed dramatically, with Kerala, which had been sending the largest proportion of workers abroad for a long time, being overtaken by comparatively poorer or more populous States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.

Yet, the concern that the results of the CDS’ survey has caused is not surprising. India, whose per capita income is one of the lowest in the world and where the rate of unemployment is high, received the largest quantum of remittances (an estimated $72 billion in 2015), more than the $64 billion that reached the more populous China that year, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016.

However, until a few years ago, only some States in India contributed substantially to emigrant outflow on a large scale, especially to the Gulf countries, and which resulted in the huge inflow of remittances. They included States such as Kerala, which, researchers say, is among the most remittance-dependent regions in the world.

Ever since the Gulf oil boom of the 1970s when the first regular stream of young, unskilled or semi-skilled emigrants began to leave for West Asian shores in search of jobs, Kerala had come to depend heavily on its workers’ remittances, which had offered a lifeline to thousands of poor households, improved lives and livelihoods, and became a source of funding for the State’s development.

For India as a whole, the huge remittance that came in thus was not so big when considered as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP). But, for industrially backward Kerala, where educated unemployment was high, the remittances constituted an estimated 36.3 per cent of the net State domestic product and contributed significantly to household consumption. Interestingly, remittances were 1.2 times the revenue receipts of the State government, 1.5 times the government’s annual expenditure and over five times the amount the State used to get until recently as revenue transfer from the Centre.

Any sign of the State losing even a part of this inflow is always a concern in Kerala, but researchers at the CDS, one of the few organisations in the country that conducts periodic surveys to monitor migration from and to a State, have been forecasting a fall in emigration numbers for some time now, irrespective of whether the recent downturn proves to be a temporary one or not. During the global financial crisis of 2009, for example, remittance flows fell but revived somewhat in later years.

The Migration and Development Brief published by the World Bank in April 2017 says that remittance flows to developing countries have been impacted in recent years by weak economic growth in Europe, the Russian Federation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as exchange controls, burdensome regulations and anti-migrant policies in many countries.

Reasons for the fall

According to the report, the recent fall in remittances to India and the South Asia region as a whole was a result of lower oil prices, fiscal tightening in the GCC countries, “nationalisation” policies aimed at lowering the unemployment rate of nationals that slowed employment of foreign workers and impacted remittance flows to South Asia.

It also says that remittance growth in the region is “likely to remain muted” because of low growth and fiscal consolidation in GCC countries. India’s remittance growth in 2017, for example, is forecast to be only 1.9 per cent. The economic slowdown in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait has also adversely impacted Indian migrant workers in those countries.

The bulk of migration from India (as also Kerala) has so far been to the six GCC countries. The KMS 2016 found that 41.5 per cent of Kerala emigrants were in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 22.5 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 8.4 per cent in Qatar, 7.6 per cent in Oman, 5.5 per cent in Kuwait and 3.8 per cent in Bahrain. In contrast, only 3.8 per cent were in the United States, 1.5 per cent in the United Kingdom, 1.2 per cent in Canada and 0.7 per cent in Australia. All the GCC countries, except the UAE, registered a fall in emigration during the 2011-16 period, the survey found.

According to a report, “The Future of Migration from India: Policy, Strategy and Modes of Engagement”, published by the India Centre for Migration, Ministry of External Affairs, in 2013, the attractiveness of the Gulf countries for emigrants has come down because of a combination of factors, such as stagnating wages, rising costs of living, a growing trend of imposing restrictions on foreign workers and the declining fortunes of the Gulf itself. The Nitaquat law in Saudi Arabia and increasing Emiratisation in the UAE as also the absence of justiciable workers’ rights, including the freedom of assembly, raise serious questions about the human rights record of the Gulf countries, the report said.

Kerala’s concerns

But apart from such issues that affect all regions of the world equally, Kerala has special reasons to be cautious about the current fall in the number of emigrants and reorient its policies. The State has the lowest population growth rates in India. Its fertility and mortality rates have fallen to very low levels, and an ageing population is growing fast, with an average Keralite expected to live beyond 70 years.

Demographers have been forecasting significant changes in the age structure in Kerala, including a decrease in the school-age population, a decrease in the proportion of the labour forces in about two decades from 2001, a decline in the young working-age population, a doubling of older working-age population in two decades ending in 2021 and more unemployment among the older age than among the youth “in the foreseeable future” (see “Shades of grey”, Frontline, August 24, 2012).

In contrast, many of the States that are overtaking Kerala in terms of the number of unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled workers that reach the GCC countries have a demographic advantage with their growing population of youth in the 20-34 age group (a key factor in determining the number of emigrants from any State, country or region). Paradoxically, States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have overtaken Kerala in terms of the number of emigrant workers, are now exactly in the same demographic context that Kerala found itself in in the 1970s, with the advantage of an ascendant working-age population in the 20-40 years (see “Pointers to a negative growth rate”, Frontline, September 16, 2015).

Professor Irudaya Rajan, an expert in demography and migration studies, told Frontline that the CDS, which has conducted seven large-scale migration surveys in Kerala since 1998, was planning to organise another survey in 2017-18 with the support of the State government. Over the past two decades, the quantum of emigrants has “shown an increase but, significantly, with declining trends”, he said. For instance, the increase during 1998-2003 was 476,559 persons, whereas it was 354,934 persons during 2003-08 and 206,903 persons during 2008-14. However, between the last two surveys, there has been a decline in the stock of emigrants for the first time—by 128,623 persons.

Data provided by the annual reports of the External Affairs Ministry also show that the proportion of the emigration clearances granted to emigrants of Kerala origin to the total clearances given in India stood at 21.29 per cent in 2008 (it was 37.49 per cent in 1997) and then declined steadily over the past few years to reach 4.83 per cent in 2016. According to the emigration clearance data, one out of every five emigrants who left India in 2008 was a Keralite. In 2016, this dropped to one out of 20 persons.

Irudaya Rajan said: “The rest of India in general is experiencing ‘demographic dividend’, whereas Kerala is experiencing ‘population ageing’. The fertility rate of Kerala is below replacement level (less than two children over the last 20 years). As a result, the proportion of children below 14 years, which was 42.6 per cent in 1961 (the first Census of Kerala after its formation in 1956), declined to 35.0 per cent in 1981 and 23.4 per cent in 2011, during the latest population Census. The child proportion (the future working youth) declined by almost half in 50 years. On the other hand, the migrant-prone age group (20-34) increased from 22.5 in 1961 to 27.1 in 1991 (when Kerala experienced a demographic dividend) and declined to 23.1 in 2011—almost reaching the same level of 1961 (the end of demographic dividend). This is one of the reasons why Kerala now has an influx of internal migrants from other states of India, what we describe as ‘replacement migration’.”

Another facet of the issue, he said, was that after the global financial crisis in 2009, the wages in the Gulf failed to bounce back to original levels. Given the high wage rates in their own State, wages in the Gulf today are not as attractive to the Kerala emigrant as they were some time back. But they are still attractive to the new migrants from comparatively poorer regions of India such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar or neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka.

“Given the conditions in Kerala and the rising educational and skill levels, its young emigrants are also increasingly reluctant to embrace unskilled, blue-collar jobs. Instead, in the last few years, many Keralites used their work experience in the Gulf countries to move to English-speaking countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, where, unlike in the GCC countries, they can apply for permanent resident status. This is an emerging trend—‘step migration’ by Keralites—from Kerala to the U.S. or the U.K. and such other countries via, say, Dubai. Educated women from Kerala, too, are moving out in larger numbers, with countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. being their preferred destinations.”

So, should Kerala and India as a whole be concerned because of the fall in the number of emigrants and remittances in a State long considered as a key emigrant region? Irudaya Rajan said: “From our studies for over two decades, what we believe is that because of the demographic trends, the population of the State would soon stabilise at around 36 million to 37 million, and emigration from Kerala (to the Gulf mainly) would stabilise at around 2.3 million to 2.4 million. Nearly 90 per cent of emigration from Kerala now is to the GCC countries whose economy depends a lot on the price of oil, and the current price regime may continue for long. Therefore, Kerala could be affected very much in the coming years. But there is no cause for alarm, I think. Kerala only needs to refocus on improving the ‘quality’ of its emigrants rather than placing hopes on their ‘quantity’.”

Development Issues

Lending a helping hand

ANUPAMA KATAKAM social-issues

Mhaswad is a small remote town in Satara district, Maharashtra’s sugar bowl. Located in the rain shadow region, it faces perennial drought, and agrarian distress is widespread. However, a unique movement involving several thousands of women has quietly gained momentum over the years in this region, breaking boundaries and turning rural women into successful entrepreneurs, goat doctors and athletes.

The movement, started by the Mann Deshi Foundation in 1996, uses development tools such as microenterprise to empower women and help them find alternative livelihoods. Run entirely for and by women, the Foundation has so far reached out to three lakh rural women.

The change began when Chetna Gala Sinha arrived at Mhaswad in the 1970s as an activist with the Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) movement. She settled down in this town in the 1980s and subsequently set up the Mann Deshi Foundation to support poor rural women in a range of socio-economic activities. An economist, Chetna Sinha realised that the most pressing need of the women was an independent savings bank account (see interview). When the banks in the taluk turned blacksmith Kantabai Salunke away saying her savings were too meagre to set up an account, she turned to Chetna Sinha, who then worked on the idea of setting up a cooperative bank for rural women. Initially, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rejected the licence as the women shareholders were unable to sign documents, but it finally granted approval after the founders taught themselves to sign (even as they told off the RBI official saying it was not their fault that they were illiterate).

Gender equality is an integral part of the Foundation’s mission, and a visit to its office bears testimony to this. The newly constructed two-storey building with the Foundation’s beautiful logo is abuzz with energetic women. Some work at the Foundation, while others come in for vocational training or to use the bank on the ground floor. “We believe it is very important to employ and train women in all kinds of work, particularly to break stereotypes,” says Vanita Shinde, the chief administrative officer. “You will see that with our goat doctors programme.”

Currently, the Foundation supports six major initiatives: the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, the Mann Deshi Udyogini (a business school for rural women), the Mann Deshi Chamber of Commerce for Rural Women Entrepreneurs (CCRW), the Mann Deshi Water Conservation Programme, the Mann Deshi Champions (sports programme) and the Freedom Ride Project. According to Chetna Sinha, the sahakari bank currently has 80,000 account holders across its branches, including a few in Karnataka and Assam. In 2016, the Foundation spread its operations to Gujarat. In all, it has trained 77,000 women entrepreneurs and increased their annual incomes by Rs.49 crore.

Microenterprise, a winner

Chetna Sinha believes that microenterprise has been a highly successful tool in uplifting lives in rural areas. Women who want to run a tea stall or a small shop, who tailor saree blouses or prepare food products such as pickles need only a small amount of capital to kick-start their enterprise. Since banks rarely served such clients, the sahakari bank endeavoured to fill that gap and is today the second largest microfinance bank in India.

“The challenge is not so much in lending the money, but in promoting and marketing the business and in ensuring the quality of the product. We have developed a support structure which assists in non-financial issues as well,” says Chetna Sinha. “It is critical to understand finances, human resources, space management, marketing, distribution and transport. This is why we started business schools as well,” she says.

A microenterprise is defined as one with fewer than 10 employees and annual sales amounting to less than Rs.6 lakh. The loans required to set up the business are arranged through microfinance, a regulated and growing sector in the country. There are close to seven crore people engaged in microbusinesses across India, says a report from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. “Growing at 11 per cent annually, microenterprise has the potential to pull millions of people out of poverty and generate tremendous employment,” says the report.

Sceptics charge that microfinance fixes interest rates that are much too high for poor people. India’s lending rates could typically be between 20 to 24 per cent, says the Ministry report. Those working in the sector point out that the loans are so small that the interest rate actually does not play a large part. “For the poor the fact that a bank is willing to lend money is enough. If not for the bank they would have to go to a moneylender who could charge from 36 to 60 per cent interest. More importantly, though the loan size is so small, it is paid back within 20 to 30 months. So the interest hardly builds up,” says Rajnish Dhall of Micro Housing Financing Corporation, Mumbai. “In fact their diligence in repaying the loan is really commendable.”

“Microfinance plays a crucial role in a developing economy as it helps a vast underserved population that is starved of capital from formal sources. The customer has the opportunity to use the capital in a genuine microenterprise but has traditionally been unable to obtain the requisite finance except from moneylenders who charge a usurious rate,” says an investment banker who works closely with microfinance. “It serves a double purpose—it provides an entrepreneur the ability to fulfil a social need and an opportunity to build a credible, scalable lending business.”

Wearing a nine-yard Maharashtrian-style saree, Radhabai Jadav, who looks well into her sixties, walks into the bank to deposit a small amount of cash. “This is the money I earn from a small tea stall on the highway nearby,” she says. “Some of it goes towards household expenses, but I make it a point to deposit a small amount every week. I feel secure.”

The sahakari bank, which began as a cooperative bank in 1997, has grown and evolved into a financial institution that serves close to three lakh women through its eight branches spread across Satara district, Pune and even in pockets of Karnataka. In the past two decades, it has lent Rs.50 crore in loans and Rs.100 crore in working capital. The bank charges 19 per cent reducing interest and has a 97 per cent repayment rate. The bank’s mission is to “increase financial literacy, income, assets and control of finances in [the women’s] personal and family life”.

“Most women find it difficult to make the trip to Mhaswad. It costs money and takes time. To solve this, we started doorstep banking. Our mobile bank goes to villages to help our clients bank,” says Vanita Shinde. “In these areas, there are so many issues that need practical solutions, so we keep developing and customising finance and credit products to support women entrepreneurs.”

Vaishali Pise’s success story explains the sahakari bank’s microenterprise model: “Three years ago we had nothing. Our handcart that sold vada pav at the bus station had been removed. We tried to find another spot, but it did not give us enough income. It was also a struggle because I had to prepare the food at home beforehand, which compromised on freshness and taste. Finally, the municipality allotted this corner to me; we were able to sell better and make more money as buses stop here. I approached the Mann Deshi Bank for a loan of Rs.10,000 to rent the shop behind the cart. Today, I have a handcart where we make pakoras and vada pav. We prepare food in the rented shop for the hospital nearby. From earning Rs.400-600 a day, I now make up to Rs.2,500 thanks to hospital catering. I have also begun to stock bakery products.” When Frontline asked Vaishali Pise if she had plans to expand her business, she said, “Yes, of course. One day I want to own a hotel on the highway.”

Rural B-Schools

Among Mann Deshi’s achievements are a unique B-School model that encourages women to not only set up and expand businesses but also earn an MBA. “It is much more than a school,” says Sunita Tarlekar from Mahud village. “While several women come to the Foundation for classes, our most successful ‘schools’ are mobile buses that go from village to village and teach vocational skills, besides imparting training in financial and computer literacy. The bus is divided into sections for tailoring lessons, beauty salon training and business and computer skills. Initially the villagers were a little apprehensive, but when they saw results and also that it did not interfere with their household chores and farming, it was easier for many women to join training.”

Unmindful of the blazing afternoon sun, a group of women sit happily in the shelter of the village temple, with the Mann Deshi bus parked nearby, learning to cut and sew, crotchet, embroider, make henna designs or understand beauty treatment techniques. “There is little work in the fields as there is no rainfall. I might as well learn something new to help my family. My neighbour told me about the bus. I wanted to learn tailoring. One day I will open my own shop,” says Sunita Laxman Madve from Pulshi village.

In 2016, the Mann Deshi business school reached 62,934 women across 953 villages. Of them, 50,606 took the business development course, and 37,448 women had either started or expanded their businesses. According to the Foundation, the programmes increased their individual annual incomes by Rs.13,200. Surveys showed that 44 per cent of the women had increased their assets by buying goats, cows, gold and machinery. The most popular businesses women chose to set up or expand were dairy, goat and poultry farming, catering, ladies’ shops, grocery shops and street stalls.

To support the businesses, the Foundation set up a chamber of commerce that mentors and provides advice on business problems. The mentors include successful entrepreneurs such as Priti Anilrao Dahekar, who runs a turban business. Earlier Priti used to work for a turban business, earning barely Rs.2,500 a month. She took a loan from Mann Deshi and started her own business. Today she earns upwards of Rs.25,000 a month, employs 15 women in her enterprise, and also helps with guidance and advice at the chamber of commerce.

While the bank and its supporting activities form the core of its work, the Foundation has also developed solutions for various crises that have cropped up from time to time in the region. In 2012, when the State experienced a severe drought, further crippling the already arid Mann region, in which Mhaswad falls, the Foundation set up a cattle camp where animals were given water, fodder and shelter. Eventually, drought-struck families moved in, and what began as a temporary arrangement lasted for close to two years. “We surveyed about 14,000 cattle and 4,000 farmers living in the camp. In spite of the heat and harsh conditions, it was better than the situation in their villages,” says Vanita Shinde.

“The songs they sang to keep their spirits up and the way they looked after their cattle inspired us to work on water conservation and search for a permanent solution to the crisis,” says Chetna Sinha. In the past five years, the Foundation has engaged professionals and engineers and worked towards restoring unused percolation tanks. Additionally, it has built six check dams. The immediate result has been that close to 400 hectares have been irrigated, benefiting as many as 21,660 households. A report by the Block Development Officer (BDO) credits the Foundation with increasing agricultural production with its water conservation efforts and also says the increase in economic activity has considerably reduced seasonal migration.

An Olympic village

Many years ago, Mann Deshi helped a young athlete by giving her a bicycle that would take her to school and for athletics training. That girl is Lalita Babar, the 27-year-old steeplechase athlete who represented India at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“The Mann region is home to the shepherd community and we have seen that the girls are very strong and athletically inclined,” says Chetna Sinha. Realising that the energy of rural children could be channelled into sports and athletics, the Foundation set up the novel Mann Deshi Champions (Sports Programme). Since its inception in 2011, the programme has trained 1,000 athletes, of whom 32 have excelled at the State and national levels.

One of them is 19-year-old Reshma Kewte, who used to graze her buffaloes near the training field. “I would watch them from the fence. One day I asked if I could join them. I really liked the training and would go every day. My parents thought I was taking the cattle for grazing!” she said. Kewte is a long-distance runner and was placed sixth in the Pune International 21-km marathon. “I want to reach the Olympics,” she says. Prabhat Sinha, who is in charge of the programme, says they hope Reshma will get into the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. “Her parents have no idea about her athletic prowess. They are simple shepherds with little knowledge of this world. Her courage and commitment is truly outstanding.”

Another success story is that of Sarita Bhise, who is now a member of the Indian women’s field hockey team. Also from the shepherd community, Sarita Bhise would spend weeks away from home grazing cattle. When she went to school she would run the entire five kilometres to reach her classes. Her sports teacher spotted her and told her to approach Mann Deshi’s sports academy.

Then there is the case of a 14-year-old who asked the Foundation to give her a job during the holidays so she could earn a little money to buy a bicycle. It would get her to school faster, she told them. That was how the bicycle programme was born. Over 9,000 bicycles have been given to girls in the past 15 years. “We believe in holistic development,” says Chetna Sinha. “We learn from the community, look at specific areas of need and then work towards solutions. It also has a trickle-down effect. The girl who goes to school on a bicycle might start a business or become a professional. The athlete will also give back to her community. The women who run businesses have already impacted the community and it will only get better.”

Above all, it is the grit, determination and survival through harsh conditions that make Mhaswad’s women who they are.

Public Health

Project in peril

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

ONE of the seemingly significant interventions by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre has been in the arena of health care. Beginning with the unveiling in March of the National Health Policy (NHP) aimed at universal health coverage at affordable prices, followed by a cap on the prices of cardiac stents—despite the soaring maximum retail price (MRP) of other medical devices—and the Prime Minister’s exhortations that doctors should prescribe generic medicines instead of branded ones, the Centre appeared to be committed to guaranteeing certain aspects of health care. One of the first things it did was to rename and rebrand the Jan Aushadhi (people’s medicine) Scheme, which was launched by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in November 2008. Around the same time, the Department of Pharmaceuticals, under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, set up the Bureau of Pharma Public Sector Undertakings of India (BPPI) as a nodal agency to implement the Jan Aushadhi Scheme, after procuring drugs from public sector pharmaceutical companies.

In its new avatar, the scheme came to be known as the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana, with an appropriate acronym, PMBJP. In September 2016, the Narendra Modi government declared that by March 2017 it would set up 3,000 centres under the revamped scheme as part of its declared commitment to health care. On the basis of some confidential correspondence, made available to Frontline, on the quality and availability of medicines at the centres, procurement issues and the functioning of the process itself, it transpires that not all is well with the scheme. One of the critical elements that the PMBJP seems to be relying on is the private sector for both procurement and delivery of services. The NHP 2017 declared that the critical gaps, which a former Health Secretary described as a “hole” in health care, would be filled by a “positive and proactive engagement with the private sector” to achieve national goals. It is in this spirit that the Jan Aushadhi centres have been envisaged, which is part of the problem as well.

The NDA government began a Jan Aushadhi centre opening spree, with a target of 3,000 stores by March 2017. More than half of the target has been met, but medicines are not available at the stores. Some internal correspondence has revealed that there are serious issues pertaining to the quality of service and the procedures followed.

A confidential note—a copy of which is available with Frontline—and sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and BJP president Amit Shah points out the pitfalls in the scheme in its current form. It recommends procurement from public sector undertaking (PSUs), and says that “more than fifty per cent of the drugs procured were slow-moving drugs with very low demand from the market”. The procured drugs, it points out, constitutes only 25 per cent of the 563 “drug bucket” of the BPPI. It further states that orders worth more than Rs.4 crore have been given to new vendors with no track record and that procurement is done at rates higher than the MRP, which is causing a loss to the BPPI. The note also says “we must buy generic drugs from PSUs or branded companies as they would not compromise with the quality”, adding that preference can be given to companies that had foreign direct investment (FDI) certification. Market surveys from the BPPI and feedback from consumers, it states, indicated that “PSU manufactured drugs had a better consumption rate and acceptability than drugs manufactured by private (manufacturers) because they were more effective”.

Hinting that drugs past their expiration dates are also sold at the stores, the note states: “We need to discard all ‘expired drugs’ lest they be sent out to the stores by mistake. This could prove to be fatal for the organisation and the Ministry.” It says no company has been blacklisted despite the drugs supplied not matching the prescribed quality. The note, which seems to have been prepared by someone familiar with the process, states that there are lacunae in the “quality and testing procedures”, that quality procedures are not “transparent”, that various complaints have been registered regarding the poor quality of the goods supplied, and that the procurement department is hesitant in sharing the details of the selection of vendors. (The Chief Executive Officer of BPPI, Biplab Chatterjee, told Frontline that details of vendors were given on the website but it was not so.)

The note also alleges that the quality assurance team is unwilling to share “procedures and checks undertaken while procuring drugs”; that there are no guidelines to take action against discrepancies in the quality of goods ordered; and that the Central warehouse stored 80 per cent of the stocks and the rest was stored in Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL) facilities that did not have the mandatory drug licence, fire safety measures and waterproofing arrangements. According to the note, around 12,000 memoranda of understanding were signed in the past few months but there has been no follow up by the marketing team. More importantly, at a conceptual level, there was no strategy for collaborating with the State governments to “penetrate into government medical centres such as CHCs [community health centres], PHCs [public health centres], dispensaries and district hospitals, where the maximum target audience arrived”.

Frontline spoke to some store owners in Punjab regarding the supply chain of medicines. One store owner in a district government hospital, who has worked for six years, complained that he had not received his salary for the past 18 months. He said doctors did not prescribe medicines that were available at the centres. “There is no provision to make it mandatory. Patients come to us for cheap medicines, but in the absence of supplies, we are unable to provide them. They go away. We are in a small district centre. The patient footfall is much higher in bigger districts,” he said.

A senior official familiar with the sector said pharma PSUs should not be shut down. “When Patanjali can run a successful business, why cannot pharma PSUs be made profitable? It is a good business model. The land is there, the building is there and the staff are committed. Why doesn’t the government work on that? There is a lot of money to be made in the pharmaceutical sector. The basic salts don’t cost much,” he said, adding that the government should procure at least 20-25 per cent from the Central PSUs as the quality was good. He said while centres in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh had some medicines, the entire range of medicines for psychiatric problems and eye and skin ailments was not available. “If the government put pressure on doctors to prescribe only those medicines available at the Jan Aushadhi centres, the doctors will strike work,” he said.

The new approach

A booklet published by the Union government, which traces the decade-old history of the scheme, states that the “noble project launched by the Government of India in 2008 has not reached anywhere near the desired objectives”. The booklet is critical of the fact that “much reliance was placed on the CPSUs for supply of medicines to the Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana” and that “experience is that the CPSUs were not able to cope with the increasing demand of medicines and the range of medicines which were needed to be kept… as the CPSUs had a limited coverage of therapeutic groups and dosage forms”. The booklet explains that the CPSUs were able to cover only 130 of the 319 medicines identified for availability at the PMBJP kendras and that around 85 products covering only about 11 therapeutic groups were made available. It also pointed out that while the original plan was to provide one centre in each of the 630 districts in the country, only 157 were opened, of which several of them became non-functional.

The booklet was a critique of the scheme during the UPA’s tenure. In February, while responding to questions from the opposition, mainly the Left parties and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Mansukh Mandayva, gave the assurance that PSUs would not be sold to foreign companies. He was clear that the major pharma PSUs—IDPL and Rajasthan Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (RDPL)—would be closed while there would be a strategic sale of Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals (BCPL) and Hindustan Antibiotics Limited (HAL). He was only reiterating a Cabinet decision taken earlier this year.

When Biplab Chatterjee assumed charge in September 2016 after a four-decade-long career in the multinational pharmaceutical sector, including a stint with Abbot, there were around 400 Jan Aushadhi centres. He told Frontline that the number crossed 1,700 after he took over. Chatterjee said that “the purpose of this mission is so great and good that I would expect the media to be completely with it so that the benefit will pass on to the people”.

Forty per cent of the population contributed to the domestic turnover of the pharmaceutical industry, which was about Rs.1.2 lakh crore, while 60 per cent did not have access to branded medicines, he said. “We export generic medicines to 184 countries and one out of seven medicines consumed by mankind is made in India. The PMJAP [Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana] seeks to bridge this anomaly—the idea is to provide drugs of the same quality that we export to the people in the country at a price that everyone can afford. Of the various manufacturers, there are 1,400 manufacturers who are World Health Organisation-good manufacturing practice [WHO-GMP]-approved. We procure the products from the WHO-GMP manufacturers through e-tendering. The product basket is based on data from the All India Chemists and Druggists Association and also prescription data. The idea is to pick up a thousand combinations prescribed by doctors. The BPPI identifies the product basket. We are the implementing agency of the PMJAP. We have to ensure the identification of the product up to their availability at the end stage.”

He said procurement from CPSUs was less and it was done mainly from the private sector. “We select products randomly and send them to NABL [National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration] laboratories. After we get the certification, the product is rendered salable. That is the way we ensure quality. We also have a quality committee. The mandate from the government is that the prices cannot be more than 50 per cent of the average prices of three branded products. We are able to procure at much lower prices. The entire benefit is passed on to the patient. Jan Aushadhi is the best model. There are reports in the media that products are procured at high prices. These prices are fixed by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority [NPPA], not us,” he explained.

Negligible procurement

“For one reason or the other, CPSUs did not make profit. The CPSUs decided to create the BPPI. It had a lot of hope, but none of the plants did well. Only Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Ltd (KAPL) and IDPL made some profits last year. The vision was there in 2008, but over a period of time, the PSUs did not sustain. The plants made losses; they have high overheads. Many of the CPSU products do not come under L1 pricing. The quotation and bidding is more expensive. They have to quote covering their expenses. We don’t even buy from the CPSUs,” he said.

Chatterjee said there was a lot of demand. The challenge of his team was to “weed out the negative perception” about Jan Aushadhi. The first thing that was done was to make the products available. There was no procurement seven to eight months before Chatterjee took over. He said there was a lot of response to “open stores from the private sector”. The BPPI advertised to encourage people to own stores. Earlier, Jan Aushadhi stores existed only in government hospitals and procurement was only from CPSUs.

“It didn’t work. This government understood. It tweaked the policy by giving more individual incentives and other things. So Jan Aushadhi was taken out of the premises of government hospitals. Hindustan Antibiotics Limited is requesting me to give orders. But it has to come within our price range. In order to sustain PSUs, we cannot affect supplies to people. The government is giving Rs.2.5 lakh as support to any premise, government or private. For government centres, it is in the form of a grant. Private operators are given certain criteria to operate a store, including getting a drug licence. They are connected to distributors,” he said.

“There are hurdles. Doctors don’t prescribe Jan Aushadhi medicines. They still prescribe brand names. There is propaganda that Jan Aushadhi is not giving quality medicines. The generic contribution to the market is very low; over a period of time, there will be a branded segment and a generic segment. If you go to any chemist’s shop, you won’t get everything. I am not saying we are 100 per cent perfect, but we have taken steps to take procurement under our fold. The other problem is that we are not able to reach our products from our Central warehouse to the States. Many distributors are appointed from the old time,” he said.

He was confident that by mid July there would be a drastic improvement in the situation. He felt the complaints were exaggerated. He said there were a large number of stores in Kerala and “if one or two products were not there, they created a huge uproar”. But there were complaints from other States as well. The Kerala BJP president, Kummanam Rajasekharan, had written to Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers Ananth Kumar complaining of a nodal officer, about whom complaints had been sent earlier to Chatterjee. The nodal officer, according to a complaint by a proprietor of a Thirumala-based store, had “allotted shops to BJP workers after too much pressure from BJP leaders”. Another complaint pertained to the sale of branded medicines from a Palayam-based store in Thiruvananthapuram.

Elsewhere, an Ahmedabad-based distributor, Ramesh Mehta of Mehta Trading Company, wrote to the CEO in June about discontinuing his distributorship for reasons including lack of timely payment from the head office, lack of standard quality drugs and shortage of drug supplies from the Centre, among other things. Mehta, who was in charge of supplying to 80 stores, had mailed several letters to the Centre since May and finally, on June 13, discontinued his distributorship. A copy of the email correspondence is with Frontline.

Irrational combinations

The Indian chapter of the People’s Health Movement, Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan (JSA), wrote to Ananth Kumar on June 8 drawing his attention to several unscientific and irrational fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) under the PMBJP, which, it said, should be removed from the list of provisioned medicines. There were 90 unscientific FDCs of the 580 medicines in the price list, “most of which were combinations of vitamins, supplements or antibiotics having no pharmacological validation”. Only a dozen FDCs were rational while only half a dozen on the PMBJP list were included in the National List of Essential Medicines, or NLEM (2015). The WHO list of essential medicines had approved 33 rational FDCs while the NLEM had 24 such FDCs.

Chatterjee dismissed the JSA’s criticism on the grounds that the intent of the BPPI was to give maximum products according to the prescription. “If a product is banned, Jan Aushadhi will not prescribe it. Banned products are not prescribed. There are some pundits who feel some combinations are wrong. These are opinions. If they are bad, the government will not prescribe them. We procure products that are permitted by the government,” he said. The “product basket”, as of May 2017, has more than 1,100 items, 1,000 medicines and 154 surgicals and consumables.

If the government can cross-subsidise the private sector, it can adopt a similar approach with the pharma PSUs. In its chapter on pharma PSUs, the annual report of the Department of Pharmaceuticals notes that RDPL “has embarked upon expansion, modernisation and upgradation programme (Phase II) to quality for WHO-GMP certification to become eligible for exploring international markets as well as for participating in the internationally funded projects of Government of India and other government”. On BCPL, it says that “ointment & Betalactam Block and Panihati Project have been completed while Cephalosporin Block is under commissioning. Besides, OSD Project & ASVS Project are being commissioned”. Both RDPL and BCPL have been slated for strategic sale despite the favourable noting in the annual report (see “Perilous prescription”, Frontline, February 3, 2017).

In April 2016, the Union Cabinet directed the Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs, Shipping, Transport and Highways, Information and Broadcasting, and Chemicals and Fertilizers to examine the status of public sector pharmaceutical companies. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was excluded from an exercise that had to do with the health of the people. After three meetings in 2016, the Ministers recommended that “after liabilities have been met, balance sheet cleansed and the Voluntary Separation Scheme/Voluntary Retirement Scheme effected, the Department to close IDPL and RDPL and HAL and BCPL be put up for strategic sale”. All PSUs barring KAPL were considered “sick or incipient sick”.

A people’s medicine scheme cannot depend on the private sector alone in spite of a huge amount of cross-subsidisation. The pharma PSUs have not been found wanting in quality, as government reports have pointed out. By opening Jan Aushadhi centres without supply and quality assurances, without weeding out irrational and unscientific FDCs from the list, as pointed out by stakeholders, and without substantially increasing the health budget, any mass movement to achieve universal health coverage is bound to fail.

History of a dispute

The Pan Tsu-li moment

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.” Substitute Indian for British and chauvinism for morality in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s famous lines, and you get an accurate description of the Indian mood whenever there is a clash between India and any other country; especially a neighbour.

Dr Bhartendu Kumar Singh, Joint Controller of Defence Accounts (Air Force), wrote an able paper on the Daulat Beg Oldi crisis during August 15-May 5, 2013, in which he remarked: “It took three weeks of diplomatic parleys to resolve the crisis. However, an impatient media sensationalised the developments through inflated reporting and some politicians and strategic experts joined them in belittling the government by identifying the DBO crisis as symbolic of India’s capitulation before the Chinese might…. The Indian media hijacked the platform during the crisis. What we had, therefore, was a media-driven foreign policy.” (“The Daulat Beg Oldi Crisis”, Air Power Journal, Volume 8, No.4.)

The present crisis in the Chumbi Valley is far more grave. It is as grave as the crisis of 1961 (Forward Policy), which led to the war of 1962. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, having whipped up public opinion since 1959, had become its captive. There is scarcely an informed press report that tries to reckon with the Chinese version. But at stake is something far more than the immediate crisis over the land in Doklam. What is at stake is the future of India’s relations with China. One had thought that we had arrived at the Pan Tsu-li moment in our relations with China. By the second week of July 2017, India has crossed it. In 1959 the crossing proved disastrous. Now, nearly 60 years later, we would do well to take a calmer view of the options we face than we did then. Let me explain.

Every border dispute or a territorial dispute, as with China, has two elements: the land itself and the wider relationship or power equation between the parties. Independent India was born in 1947 with a territorial dispute with China and its leaders were fully conscious of it. The McMahon Line was in dispute. The Government of India’s White Paper on Indian States, published in 1950 after the Constitution had come into force, showed that from the tri-junction of India, Afghanistan and China in the west right up to the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China the border was “undefined”. Tri-junctions are fixed with the consent of all the sides and borders are defined with the consent of both sides. The British were well aware of it. In a Note in 1896, A. Stapleton, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, wrote: “Any boundary line that we may draw can only be arbitrary, until it has the consent of the Chinese authorities.” India’s boundary dispute with China is as old as 1842.

In his famous letter of November 7, 1950, Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel invited Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s attention to the dangers on “our northern and north-eastern frontiers”, specifically “the policy in regard to the McMahon Line”. Nehru’s reply of November 18 said: “The fact remains that our major possible enemy is Pakistan. If we begin to think of, and prepare for China’s aggression in the same way, we would weaken considerably on the Pakistan side.” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Volume 10, pages 335 and 344.) There was no reference to the Aksai Chin in Ladakh. No one thought of it.

However, on July 1, 1954, Nehru unilaterally altered India’s map to show a settled boundary in the west which was not open to negotiation and ordered old maps to be destroyed. Prime Minister Zhou En-lai’s letter to Nehru dated January 23, 1959, said that “border disputes do exist between China and India”, on the Aksai Chin. Nehru’s reply of March 22 contested that and cited a Treaty of 1842 between China and Ladakh. In 1842, there was no linear boundary, only border zones ( ilaqas). The Treaty of 1842 was a non-aggression pact concluded after a war. If it defined the boundary, why did the British (a) set up two boundary commissions to negotiate with China after making Kashmir part of the Empire in 1846; (b) keep deliberating from 1847 to 1905 on possible boundaries to offer to a China reluctant to respond; and (c) make a formal offer in writing on March 14, 1899? Nehru could not possibly have been unaware of all this when he wrote as he did two months after Zhou’s letter. He wanted to shut the door on any discussion on the border. He was well aware of the Army’s stand on the Aksai Chin—the territory was of no strategic importance.

It was in this context that China’s Ambassador to India Pan Tsu-li made a statement to Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt on May 16, 1959. After a recital of grievances, it concluded: “On the whole, India is a friend of China, this has been so in the past thousand and more years, and we believe will certainly continue to be so in one thousand, ten thousand years to come. The enemy of the Chinese people lies in the east—the U.S. imperialists have many military bases in Taiwan, in South Korea, Japan and in the Philippines which are all directed against China. China’s main attention and policy of struggle are directed to the east, to the west Pacific region, to the vicious and aggressive U.S. imperialism, and not to India or any other country in the Southeast Asia and South Asia. Although the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan have joined the SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation], which is designated to oppose China, we have not treated those three countries as our principal enemy; our principal enemy is U.S. imperialism. India has not taken part in the Southeast Asia Treaty; it is not an opponent, but a friend to our country. China will not be so foolish as to antagonise the United States in the East and again to antagonise India in the West. The putting down of the rebellion and the carrying out of democratic reforms in Tibet will not in the least endanger India. You can wait and see. As the Chinese proverb goes the strength of a horse is borne out by the distance travelled, and the heart of the person is seen with the lapse of time. You will ultimately see whether relations between the Tibet region of China and India are friendly or hostile by watching three, five, ten, twenty, a hundred… years. We cannot have two centres of attention, nor can we take friend for foe.…

“Our Indian friends! What is your mind? Will not you be agreeing to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China, but not south-westward of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so. Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the leader of our country, talked on many occasions with Mr. R.K. Nehru, former Indian Ambassador to China, who could well understand and appreciate it. We do not know whether the former Indian Ambassador conveyed this to the Indian authorities. Friends! It seems to us that you too cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over? Allow me to take this opportunity to extend my best regards to Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of India.” (Emphasis added throughout.) R.K. Nehru disagreed with Nehru on China.

Compromise rejected

Nehru had Dutt scold the Ambassador on May 23 (“language which is discourteous and unbecoming”). Pomposity led him to overlook the obvious fact that the language belonged to Mao Zedong. Four years later, Pan Tsu-li’s prediction came true with the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of May 2, 1963 (White Paper, Volume I, page 73-79).

In between Nehru rejected Zhou’s offer of a compromise in New Delhi on April 22 and 23, 1960. “We made no claim in the eastern sector to areas south of the line, but India made such claims in the western sector. It is difficult to accept such claims and the best thing is that both sides do not make such territorial claims. Of course, there are individual places which need to be readjusted individually, but that is not a territorial claim.” Thus, China accepted the McMahon Line alignment while inviting India to accept the status quo in the Aksai Chin. Nehru rejected the proposal.

How on earth could Nehru have got China to vacate the Aksai Chin? The India-China boundary dispute is pre-eminently susceptible to a solution; each side has its vital non-negotiable interest secure in its possession. China has the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway through the Aksai Chin; India has the McMahon Line. The Aksai Chin is of no value to India. Nehru himself said on August 31, 1959, in the Rajya Sabha: “The territory is sterile. It has been described as a barren, uninhabited region without a vestige of grass and 17,000 feet high.” On September 10, in the same House, he said, “We may get excited about the sacredness of the Indian soil and the Chinese people may get excited about something they hold sacred, if they hold anything sacred. That is a different matter, but the fact of the matter is that nothing can be a more amazing folly than for two great countries like India and China to go into a major conflict and war for possession of a few mountain peaks, however beautiful the mountain peaks might be, or some area which is more or less uninhabited.”

When the dispute arose in 1959, Nehru ought to have calmly balanced India’s stake in good relations with China against that useless territory. What did India’s national interest demand?

Pakistan’s overture

Pan Tsu-li’s warning came true. On October 24, 1959, President Ayub Khan disclosed at a press conference that Pakistan’s Foreign Office had received a map showing certain areas of Pakistan as part of China. Pakistan approached China “for a peaceful settlement of the border question by demarcating the northern frontiers.” ( Dawn, October 24, 1959).

Ayub Khan’s memoirs record how and why he went about this task in some detail. In August and October 1959, there were armed clashes between the troops of India and China in Longju, in the east, and at the Kongka Pass in Ladakh, respectively. Ayub Khan was concerned at the risks of patrolling. “A similar situation could arise on our own undemarcated borders in the Sinkiang and Baltistan areas. We had been receiving reports from time to time that Chinese patrols were coming up to Shamshal. …I thought it might be a good idea to approach the Chinese and suggest to them that the border be demarcated. After all, neither side had anything to gain by leaving the border undefined. I inquired whether any attempt had been made in the past to demarcate this border and I was shown the relevant maps and papers. Some attempts had been made by the British. I asked our experts to mark what from our point of view constituted the actual line of control on the map, and this was done. We also found that we could legitimately claim control up to a point opposite the Shamshal Pass. The people of Shamshal village could, according to custom, take their cattle for grazing in a fertile valley on the other side of the Pass where the Chinese had established a couple of posts. They also used to get salt, a rare and valuable commodity, from the soil in that area. I mentioned this matter at a Cabinet meeting, but the feeling was that the Chinese were unlikely to respond to any suggestion for the demarcation of the border. I felt that there would be no harm in preparing a memorandum and getting in touch with the Chinese authorities. This happened towards the end of 1959.”

China ignored Pakistan’s overture. Pakistan was America’s ally, whereas India was non-aligned. It took China two years to respond with a query about what the basis of an understanding would be. Pakistan replied: the facts of history and present realities. The upshot was the 1963 agreement, under which Pakistan received 750 square miles of administered territory. It did not cede territory as the United States and India alleged then. Pakistan adopted a professional approach. It delved into the archives. Nehru’s aides S. Gopal and Jagat Mehta, courtiers at the core, spurned them. Outside India every scholar on the subject lauds the 1963 agreement.

Pressure of public opinion

Two factors inhibited, and still inhibit, India. One is public opinion and the other is pride. Zhou taunted in a letter to Nehru on April 20, 1963: “But if the Indian government, owing to the needs of its internal and external political requirements, is not prepared to hold negotiations for the time being, the Chinese government is willing to wait with patience.”

Nearly half a century later, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, now Foreign Minister, told an Indian correspondent in September 2011 that China was not sure “if the Indian political establishment had arrived at a democratic consensus that would be required to sustain the difficult negotiations. …I am not sure if the condition concerning mutual understanding and mutual accommodation is agreed to by Indian friends.” In sum, he thinks India is not ready to make the concessions necessary to secure a compromise. And even if it is, its leaders lack the guts and the political clout to put it through. Wang Yi is highly educated and one of the best Foreign Ministers today.

Vijay Nambiar, India’s Ambassador to China and High Commissioner to Pakistan, felt that “the Chinese seem to think India is unprepared” for an open debate on the package proposal ( Force, April 2005).

China hardens stand

China hardened its stand. Gone was Zhou’s offer of 1960. In February 1979, Deng Xiaoping told A.B. Vajpayee, then the External Affairs Minister, that the eastern sector was the area of the largest dispute. Zhou had suggested that it was the western sector. On June 21, 1980, Deng Xiaoping proposed a package deal. “Then this question can be solved with [ sic] one sentence. For instance, in the eastern sector, we can recognise the existing status quo—I mean the so-called McMahon Line. This was left over from history. But in the western sector, the Indian government should also recognise the existing status quo.” Since the mid 1980s, China has been insisting that India must first make a concession in the eastern sector. Only a political dialogue at the very highest level can break such an impasse.

On a visit to China in April 1986, my friend Cheng Ruisheng, former Counsellor at the Chinese Embassy and Ambassador in the early 1990s, asked me, “Why don’t you give us Tawang?” This demand has acquired an edge—and it is an impossible one. In October 1986, the journalist Ghanshyam Pardesi reported after a visit to Tawang: “The children do not understand the Tibetan language but speak chaste Hindi.” No Indian government which cedes Tawang to China will survive even for a day.

China knows that, of course, and knows also that India’s own two impossible demands do not reflect a desire for compromise. One is the agreement with Pakistan. It is based squarely on Britain’s offer to China on March 14, 1899, as varied by Curzon in 1905.

The other is India’s insistent proposal to demarcate on the ground the Line of Actual Control. China has demurred to it for two decades and more, lest it freeze the status quo. Its approach is well known and India has studiously ignored it while crafting the six accords of an interim character. The talks since 1981 have gone nowhere. China never, for once, altered the approach which Zhou Enlai had defined way back in November 1959. The leader of the Chinese team, Ma Gong Dafei, said in Beijing on October 20, 1983: “Personally, I feel that it is important to hold talks on the boundary question at the ministerial level.” This reflected the Chinese emphasis on a political approach. In 1984, China renewed its suggestion for conducting the talks at the political level. When Gong said “the important thing is to reach an agreement on the question of principle” and added that the “specific question would have to be left to experts”, he clearly meant, in the context of his remarks on the level of discussions, a political agreement on a broad framework that experts could later elaborate in concrete terms. In 1987, China’s Ambassador to India, Tu Guoweei, said that the package settlement must be effected “at one go” and cover “all three sectors”. The expert Jing Hui wrote: “The border issue has to be solved politically” ( Guoji Wenti Yanjiu, January 13, 1988).

On April 14, 1988, Vice-Premier Wu Xueqian said: “If the talks are carried at higher political levels then they can only be about some principles and if concrete issues of the boundary question are not settled on principles, then they cannot be settled”—by officials. Cheng Ruisheng said at a seminar in New Delhi in January 1999: “The border issue can be settled by way of a package deal involving territorial concessions on a give-and-take basis.”

A strong thread of continuity in China’s approach runs for 60 years, from 1959 to this day. India ignored the hints, with two consequences. China concluded that India was not ready or willing for a compromise and hardened its own stand. Gone are the offers of old.

Only a Prime Minister of India who has sagacity and political clout can attempt such a result and only detached, informed writings can demolish cherished myths. China’s Borders: Settlements and Conflicts by Neville Maxwell can help. It is a collection of selected papers (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, New Castle upon Tyne, 289 pages, £49.99). It is marred by his pronounced bias but provides an Introduction to the Henderson Brooks Report, suggestions on how to settle the dispute and, what is more, gives a close analysis of the Sino-Soviet/Russian Boundary Dispute as well as the Hong Kong Settlement. No student of the subject can afford to ignore this book.

Indian readers will do well in particular to study the young scholar Sana Hashmi’s work China’s Approach Towards Territorial Disputes: Lessons and Prospects (Knowledge World, New Delhi, 260 pages, Rs.1,280). This outstanding work, published under the auspices of the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, with which the author was associated for five years, covers with a wealth of detail all the territorial disputes in which China was involved.

China’s border disputes

As well as providing excellent maps to illustrate those disputes, the author provides in the appendix excerpts from the treaties and agreements on the boundaries. These, together with a careful analysis of China’s approach, spread over 200 pages make the work indispensable to any serious student of boundary disputes.

Sana Hashmi records: “China has a land border of approximately 20,000 km and a coastline of about 18,000 km. China shares land borders with 14 countries, namely; Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Vietnam and Tajikistan. It also has a maritime boundary with nine countries namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. With such a vast neighbourhood, it is obvious for any country to have disagreements over adequate demarcation of its neighbouring countries. Clearly, China is a country with disputed borders. Ever since China came into existence as a nation-state, it strived towards laying claims of sovereignty over the territories which it regarded as its ‘lost territories’. China, an emerging power, has long-standing land border and maritime disputes with many of its neighbours. However, barring India and Bhutan, China has resolved all its land border disputes and is yet to settle its two maritime disputes. Since its inception, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has participated in 23 territorial disputes. In this context, M. Taylor Fravel demonstrates that China pursued concessions in 17 of these 23 conflicts and further clarifies that China has resorted to violence less and offered concessions in most of the conflicts vis-a-vis its boundary disputes.” The solitary exceptions are India and Bhutan, which feels itself bound by India’s “advice”. We need to ask ourselves why the border dispute with India alone is unresolved, whereas all others, 12 in all, are settled. The answer lies in the fateful map revision of 1954 and with it the resolve that the boundaries are not negotiable; India’s rejection of Zhou’s offer in 1960; and India’s incapacity or unwillingness to negotiate.

Bhutan boundary

The author’s analysis of Bhutan’s boundary is relevant to the present crisis. “The major problem between China and Bhutan lies in defining the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-China border. With respect to the China-Bhutan common boundary, while the northwest part of the boundary constitutes Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in Samste, Haa and Paro districts, the central parts constitute the Pasamlung and Jakarlung Valleys in the Wangdue Phodrrang district. The disputed territory with Bhutan has strategic importance for China. First, the disputed territory shares a border with Tibet. Secondly, the Doklam plateau lies immediately east of the Indian defences in Sikkim, which not only has a commanding view of the Chumbi valley but also overlooks the Silguri Corridor further to the east.”

But Doklam is an issue between Bhutan and China, not between India and China. The 1890 Convention between Britain and China defined Sikkim’s boundary in Article 1, which reads thus: “The boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters which flow into the Sikkim Teesta and its effluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier and follows the above mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nipal [ sic] territory”; that is, it goes eastward. The language of Article 1 clearly establishes that Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier was fixed as a tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, which was then a British protectorate.

In its statement on July 7, China alleged that Indian troops tresspassed the Sikkim section of the India-China boundary 2,000 metres away from the Mount Gipmochi. China’s demands on Bhutan are twofold—give up the contested areas in the strategic west in exchange for those in the north; that is, widen the strategic Chumbi valley; and establish diplomatic relations.

The author opines: “China’s willingness to resolve its dispute with Bhutan is relatively greater in comparison to India. Consequently, a survey of recent developments in the China-Bhutan boundary dispute also suggests that China has made remarkable progress in convincing Bhutan to go for the final settlement.

“After approximately 30 years and 22 rounds of negotiations, while the boundary issue remains unresolved, the possibility of a final settlement does not seem to be bleak and impractical. Progress is slow but there have been regular talks, which is indicative of the political will between the leadership of the two states. However, India remains central to the China-Bhutan boundary question. Bhutan’s treaty obligations with India do not allow it to go for a comprehensive resolution without the consent and involvement of India, and China’s interests lie in settling the dispute with Bhutan as soon as possible so that it can use it to leverage its position in its future negotiations with India.”

Deng Bingguo, former Special Representative on the Boundary Question, made a significant remark recently. “Both sides are determined to seek a political settlement and neither side intends to seek a settlement of the boundary question based on the status quo.” He mentioned three criteria: “historical evidence, national sentiments and the actual state” ( China-India Dialogue). He asked for—Tawang.

This is where we stand. Are we at the Pan Tsu-li moment? In 1959 China warned India against estrangement on two fronts, China and Pakistan, and said that China could not afford to antagonise India either since it faced danger from the United States. It now looks askance at India’s growing partnership with the U.S. and Israel, its relationships with Vietnam and Japan, and its position on the South China Sea.

Chinese scholars watch India more carefully than Indian scholars watch China. In Lin Qian’s essay “China’s Indian Studies”, one is struck by the range of the areas covered ( CIR Magazine, May-June 2008).

India’s relations with Vietnam arouse concern and hope. Dr Li Li’s essay on “India’s Engagement with East Asia and the China Factor” ( CIR, September-October, 2010) ends on a note of ambiguity. “As far as China is concerned, India’s Look-East Policy has two faces. On the one hand, India views China as ‘a key component’ deserving partnership. On the other, China is a principal target of India’s Look-East Policy, through which India desires to win in its competition with China. As India grows rapidly, it will definitely get more involved in East Asia. However, the ambiguity of India’s Look-East Policy will further complicate regional cooperation and integration. A broader East Asian integration will only take off after the clarification of India’s Look-East Policy and a building-up of China-India mutual trust.”

India’s policy on the South China Sea is discussed by Vice Admiral (Retd.) Raman Puri and Brigadier (Retd.) Arun Sehgal. They hold that India is concerned with freedom of navigation and “it has no strategic interests beyond economic engagement and security of its trade” ( Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, October-December 2011).

In that case, will it not be more sensible for India to express its concerns directly to China, rather than in joint statements with the U.S.? They send a different message.

Between U.S. and China

In truth, we have crossed the Pan Tsu-li moment and moved unthinkingly to a relationship with the U.S. which bids fair to suck us in closer still. But it is retrievable. All countries, including China and Russia, seek good relations with the U.S. India would be remiss in ignoring the U.S. But its interests vis- a -vis China are not identical with those of the U.S. They do not coincide. An America which could forge an entente with China in 1972, without taking Japan into confidence, can be trusted to repeat its performance. China is a neighbour with whom a policy of confrontation would be unwise, even dangerous. The U.S. is in decline, distrusted by allies in Europe and elsewhere.

India’s immediate neighbours, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, even Bhutan, cannot neglect China, and India must be self-confident enough not to allow its relations with them or with China to be affected by their interaction. India is paying for its Big Brother role in the region. It has not the capacity to dictate to them. It should have the wisdom to cultivate them. The results will be tangible.

In this context the speech by China’s Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, at the United Service Institution of India on May 5, deserves greater note than it has received. He has an Indian background, having done research on India in a Chinese think tank. This is his second posting in New Delhi. His wife, Dr Jiang Yili, was the first Chinese to get a PhD from Delhi University. As China’s Ambassador to Pakistan during the Mumbai blasts, he played a helpful role. China has never concealed its differences with Pakistan on terrorism. He pointed out that China no longer supports the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir but supports “a settlement through bilateral negotiation in line with the Shimla Agreement”.

More significant still is his plea that “we need to set a long-term vision for China-India relations”. He made a specific proposal: “Start negotiation on a China-India Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation.” The Ambassador could not have made such a precise proposal without the backing of the Chinese leadership. His plea “strive for an early harvest on the border issue” suggests that China is now eager for a settlement in order to put the dispute behind us.

Willingess to negotiate

But is India ready even to begin a substantive meaningful process? To begin with, India must realistically stop opposing the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963. Its Article 6 itself envisages revision after a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. What India needs to do is to realistically define the concessions that it can now offer to China and justify to the Indian public.

Adjustments are possible. In 1914, McMahon himself recognised that his line “admitted of more detailed and exact definition”. On April 8, 1947, L.A.C. Fry, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said: “The Government of India must stand by the McMahon Line” but it would be prepared to discuss its “rectification” on “reasonable grounds”. The Line was not described in words. It was simply drawn on a rather smaller-scale map in red ink with a thick nib. In that terrain, that makes a good difference. Now, a century later, we can draw on aerial cartography. In some parts India has gone beyond it; in others, China has done so. There is room for adjustment, provided its basic alignment is not disturbed. The Ladakh sector cries for adjustment.

India must demonstrate that it is willing and able to arrive at a fair compromise by “give-and-take”. It is for China also to demonstrate that. No Indian government can cede Tawang ever.

However, on June 2, 1986, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Shuqing told visiting Indian journalists that the Chinese “have no intention of recovering the totality of the disputed area” in the eastern sector but “some adjustments will have to be made”. There could be no “unilateral concessions”. He amplified: “If India makes some readjustments and concessions in the eastern sector; and then we could also make corresponding adjustments and concessions in the western sector.”

The “peace dividends” an accord will yield are incalculable. But no accord is even conceivable except in a certain atmosphere created by careful political moves. India has moved in the opposite direction. The Chumbi Valley rift reflects rashness.

Chumbi Valley facts

What are the facts? Sutirtho Patranobis, Beijing correspondent of Hindustan Times, reported on June 29: “The Donglang or Doklam area is located at the narrow but strategic tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan and not far from Nathu La pass. It is under Chinese control and lies within the Tibet Autonomous Region, but is claimed by Bhutan” ( Hindustan Times, June 30). Patranobis repeated the observation in Hindustan Times of July 1. Bhutan said on June 29 that on June 16 the Chinese Army “started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army Camp at Zomphiri”.

The effect of the construction, as Shashank Joshi wrote, was “pushing the area under its [China’s] de facto control about 5 km southwards” ( The Hindu, July 10), which is why India speaks of China “trying to alter the present status quo” (Arun Jaitley; Times of India, July 1). China was building a road on disputed territory but one under its control. Indian troops crossed the internal boundary east of Sikkim. Hence the conflict. Given the realities of the terrain and the advances of modern warfare, did five kilometres warrant a conflict?

Indian troops “pro-actively”—that is, by use of force—“blocked Chinese troops and construction workers from building a motorable road towards the Zmpiri Ridge on the Doklam plateau” (Rajat Pandit from New Delhi; The Times of India, July 11). Would India have acquiesced in that? What makes South Block imagine that China will?

In 1959-62, Nehru thought that an attack on India would mean a world war. In 2017, Modi and his advisers have nightmares of the worst scenario. In 1961 India’s Forward Policy sought forcibly to evict China from the Aksai Chin, which was in its occupation. In 2017, it has thrown down the gauntlet to no apparent gain and at great risk. The best course is to propose a modus vivendi based on India’s withdrawal and China’s assurances of respect for international boundary.

The U.S. will be of little help yet it seeks a tighter embrace. The Malabar Exercises have a political aim. A U.S. Commander said that “the exercise would have direct impact on China”. In direct quotes: “They will know that we are standing together” ( The Times of India, July 11). What impact will this have on India’s pretensions to Great Power status? How will its neighbours—already moving in China’s direction—react to it? Our best course is to befriend them, and also China.

Even in the best of times, Asia’s two largest countries had an uneasy equation. Luo Jialun was an educationist, historian and political activist of the May Fourth Movement in 1919. He was China’s first Ambassador to India from February 1947 to January 1950, when he returned to Taiwan.

In a documented article entitled “An Assessment of Ambassador Luo Jialun’s mission to India 1947-1949”, Fang Tien Sze wrote: “Though the ROC [Republic of China] was a firm supporter of India’s bid in the U.N., it did not appreciate India’s attempt to claim a leadership position for itself. Nehru decided to convene an International Conference in Delhi from 20 to 23 January 1949 to discuss the Indonesian situation. It was attended by 19 countries including Australia and New Zealand. Despite advocating the solidarity of Asia, Nehru viewed India as entitled to a special role in world affairs as the natural leader of the third world ( The Hindu, 2006). And the meeting was seen as Nehru’s effort to promote India’s leadership in regional and global affairs. Although the ROC also attended the meeting. Luo did not heartily endorse India’s initiative. He suggested that the ROC should not be actively involved in the event, and that the Foreign Minister need not to come to attend it. Luo did not hide his concern about Nehru’s intentions. The main purpose of the meeting, Luo believed, was to establish a Delhi-based permanent regional organisation headed by India. He analysed that Nehru was trying to take advantage of the ROC’s decline and failure to be the leader of the Asian coalition.…

“In his eyes, Indian leaders gradually became overly enamoured with seeking a leading place for India in the world. In July 1949, he wrote to the former Foreign Minister Wang Shih-chich saying, ‘…it is hard to imagine that a newly independent state is so conceited and outrageously arrogant’.” (China Report, 50, 3 (2014), pages 189-201.) Any different from Zhou En-lai’s remarks on Nehru?

If India cherishes its independence and pride, it must rely on diplomacy, shun the worst-case scenarios, adventures and alliances, while building up its economy and military might. India’s interest lies in lasting peace, and that can be secured only through compromises and conciliations.

Preoccupations

Marching to a different drummer

Jayati_Ghosh

MEETINGS of global leaders, such as the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, increasingly have a ring of farce about them. The inability to come to an agreement on pretty much anything of significance is leavened only by sideshows and the media obsession with which global leader met with whom for how long, who sat in for which President at the “high table”, and similar trivia. Meanwhile, there is abject failure on the part of these leaders to recognise the pressing need for urgent and coordinated global action to solve many current problems, ranging from the terrible state of the world economy to wars and conflicts, and the instabilities and inequalities created not just by the forces of globalisation fostered by these same governments but their own direct actions.

But such meetings sometimes have at least one positive outcome: they become the occasion for public mobilisation and calls for action around the issues that really matter to most people and thereby help in spreading ideas for a more positive policy agenda. In Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany and one with a long history of Left groups and progressive movements, this was very much in evidence. For several days before the G20 summit as well as during the summit, there were alternative gatherings, processions and protests that were predominantly peaceful and also thoughtful, imaginative and, ultimately, quite inspiring.

The mainstream media have portrayed what happened in Hamburg in early July in a very different light, focussing almost exclusively on violent protests. It is interesting that the authorities predicted violence well before any actually occurred, and so there was a massive police presence that effectively created a lockdown of the central part of the city. To any visitor to the city, the huge show of force well before any untoward incident was startling to say the least: massive deployment of fully armed riot police in black gear and helmets on the streets; barricades put up all over with no apparent reason, even in peaceful neighbourhoods; convoys of police cars sweeping through roads with sirens blaring when there was no apparent reason for it; and helicopters constantly swirling overhead in a somewhat menacing fashion for several days and nights.

The few stray incidents of violence, when they did occur, were mostly about problems at barricades and preventing what started out as peaceful marches because some of the marchers were masked. There was some violent activity by a few dozen members of the Black Block movement, a group of hard Left anarchists that came to prominence in the 1980s during anti-nuclear and anti-eviction movements in the city. Others could even have been the work of agents provocateurs as some participants in the demonstrations pointed out that the authorities needed something to justify their massive and expensive security operations.

Global Solidarity Summit

But these were, in fact, very much the tinier parts of what became quite a moving demonstration of people’s concerns. Discussions, protests and demonstrations were variously thoughtful, creative and humorous, and even the most massive marches were peaceful. A two-day Global Solidarity Summit of activists, people’s movements and members of civil society held just before the G20 summit was an impressive gathering put together by more than 75 different organisations, which in itself was no mean feat. The energy and enthusiasm at that alternative summit were palpable. At the opening plenary session, many of those who came had to listen from outside the hall as it could accommodate only around 900 people. Even at the closing session, which went on until 10 p.m., the hall was still full, as if two long and full days of intense, packed discussions around alternative strategies had only whetted people’s appetite for more.

Outside there were other, livelier events. At the fish market, young people gathered to listen to speakers, musicians and others who came and performed. At another place, a “performance art” demonstration by a thousand artists took the novel form of a “zombie march”: apparently semi-dead people with grey clothes and faces and arms painted grey walked slowly, sombrely and heavily through the streets to imply that this phase of capitalism was turning us all into zombies. At the culmination, they tore off their grey clothing to reveal bright colours below and danced to celebrate their liberation from zombiehood, and to point to better possibilities ahead.

Then there were five separate but simultaneous “rave demos” across the city in which trucks blaring music preceded hordes of young people dancing along on the streets, for hours. The next day, the streets were still full of the confetti and glitter they had left behind, sending a cheerful and even joyous message that could make one smile despite the ominous police cars with their sirens, the lines of armed policemen and the helicopters flying overhead. There were large rallies and gatherings at different places, including the university.

The municipality had refused permission for protesters to camp at the usual designated ground, so organisers of the various events could not put up the people, especially the young, who had flocked to Hamburg. True to a city with its progressive credentials, churches and theatres opened up their doors to house them, while some young people simply shacked down by the harbour and on any grassy bits they could find.

The climax of all these events was an enormous, and peaceful, march of around 100,000 people through some of the main streets. This contained all sorts of people from various walks of life: mostly young, but also some old grizzled lefties (whose views are suddenly finding renewed resonance and traction among the young across Europe); trade unionists and other groups representing different interests; young parents pushing prams; migrants; and so on. The mood was serious but also lively, with lots of positive energy, as the very size of the gathering and its variety allowed participants to draw strength from it.

In her memoirs, the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote about how solitude is a form of death, while participating in and identifying with something greater than oneself gives one life and a reason for that life. So these collective occasions are important because of the wider message they send out of greater hope and the public mobilisation that they might result in. They also provide sustenance to the people who participate, who realise they are not alone and that together they can be a potent force for change.

If something as indicative of the sorry state of the world as a G20 meeting can inadvertently result in public affirmations of the continued power of progressive ideas, clearly all is not lost even in Europe.

Communalism

Manusmriti in Modi era

ZIYA US SALAM social-issues
  • 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.
  • 3/17. A Brahman who marries a Shudra woman, degrades himself and his whole family, becomes morally degenerated , loses Brahman status and his children too attain status of shudra.
  • 13/18. The offerings made by such a person at the time of established rituals are neither accepted by God nor by the departed soul; guests also refuse to have meals with him and he is bound to go to hell after death.
  • 3/240. Food offered and served to Brahman after Shradh ritual should not be seen by a chandal, a pig, a cock, a dog, and a menstruating women.

--Prescriptions from Manusmriti, an ancient law book with 2,690 verses, said to be the word of Brahma, and authored by a man who used the eponym Manu.



SOME of these rigid codes may not make it to the public domain in the coming days, but other less controversial suggestions doubtlessly will if the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s (RSS) cultural affiliate, Sanskar Bharti, has its way, The organisation is trying to come up with a sanitised version of Manusmriti by removing some of the rules of conduct that offend women and Dalits, keeping in mind the modern-day notions of gender equality and discrimination against the marginalised sections of society. The organisation, in coordination with the Union Ministry of Culture, plans to organise seminars, festivals and deliberations in order to change the perception that Manusmriti is necessarily anti-Dalit and anti-women and, after sustained research, hopes to come up with a please-all version of the code book. Manusmriti, which is said to date back to circa 200 B.C., is a set of rules for society, reiterating the watertight, hierarchical caste structure. It is believed to be the fountainhead of the varnaashram dharma, the four stages of human life a devout Hindu is told to strive for. There have been many versions of Manusmriti, each of which was written after a gap of hundreds of years, thus making it subject to interpretation and criticism. The proposal to revive Manusmriti stems from a book, Bharat Gaatha, penned by Dr Surakant Bali, an RSS follower. Bali claimed that Manusmriti was a work from memory, and hence open to interpretation and variation.

However, an attempt to revive the book has gone awry. Some scholars claim that Manusmriti is not the work of one individual. Rather the text was composed across 400 years. Some even claim that in Hindu scriptures there are 14 Manus and none of them exhibited any literary prowess to put together a treatise of socio-legal order. Some quote Dayananad Saraswati in their defence. They wonder, too, about all the fuss about producing a sanitised version of the book. Among them is the former professor of history of Allahabad University, R.K. Singh, who defends the idea of women’s protection said to be propagated by Manusmriti. “It is wrong to believe that women are subjugated by Manusmriti. It only said that when a girl is young she is under the protection of her father. As a grown-up lady, she is under the protection of her husband. In old age, her son looks after her. What is wrong with that? If you see the incidents of rape and assaults on women these days, you will agree that this injunction is for women’s safety. It does not curb their freedom.”

He believes that “regarding subjugation of women in Manusmriti, it would be better appreciated if the relevant verses are read in a coordinated and objective manner rather than by picking up isolated phrases”.

The renowned historian D.N. Jha has distanced himself from such pious sentiments. “The composition of the text stretches over centuries [200 B.C. to A.D. 200] and is not authored by one person. The text we have now is full of contradictions because Brahmins have made interpolations from time to time. Even if the explicit anti-Dalit and anti-woman passages are deleted, the inherent bias of the text cannot be removed. If the RSS wants to make it woman-friendly or Dalit-friendly, it should think of rewriting the text de novo but then it won’t remain Manusmriti. It will become Modismriti,” he says.

The veteran historian Harbans Mukhia, known for his outspokenness, states: “The question whether Manusmriti will be relevant in today’s age assumes that being anywhere around two millennia old the text would possibly have lost its relevance in the 21st century, aspirational India; this is problematic. It is one of the foundational texts of the Brahminical order of Hindu society. Even as Hindu society, like others, has seldom totally conformed to any overarching vision and even as it has been evolving over centuries, the Brahminical vision has held its sway. Hence, immense discrimination against lower castes and women as prescribed by Manu, the lawgiver. Therefore, it remains an important course of understanding Hindu society, past and present.”

Would Manusmriti as the guiding principle of social life not run parallel to the Constitution? Would there not be two competing visions? “Yes, indeed, such is firmly the case. The proponents of Hindutva have frequently expressed their abhorrence of the Constitution, which grants equality to everyone irrespective of all other markers of one’s identity, and voices have been raised to throw the Constitution into the dustbin and install the Manusmriti as the genuinely Indian law to govern India. The voices have become more voluble with the installation of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government, and they imitate the Islamic state model,” says Mukhia.

However, keeping in mind the modern-day principles of gender equality, would not a sanitised Manusmriti be fine? “How safe can the Manusmriti be made? That is the problem with Hindutva guys, the problem of inequalities which is the foundational principle of Manusmriti and the demands of equality that are the foundational principles of 20th and 21st century societies. In their view, all they need to do is to tinker with some of the most strident prescriptions of inequality and discrimination and everything will be hunky-dory. The vision of a highly hierarchical social organisation is at the heart of Manusmriti. It is not at the margins which can be suitably revised,” says Mukhia.

But is not the suggestion of a revised version of the book itself an admission of the limitations and anomalies of the book? Jha agrees: “The RSS may have been thinking of reworking Manusmriti for quite some time. If it does, it will be a major assault on our Constitution. The Manusmriti is not relevant in today’s India. It goes against the basic features of our Constitution, revised or otherwise.”

Mukhia chips in: “For all you know, the Sangh Parivar might even announce that it recognises some of the little shortcomings of the grand law book and is willing to amend it if it can replace the Constitution. Its chief target is the principle of equality of all enshrined in the Constitution. M.S. Golwalkar had proposed in ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’ the denial of franchise to some section of Indian society, that is, the minorities. That is what rankles them most. India must return to the golden age when a Dalit would be harshly punished if his passing shadow fell on a Brahmin’s body! And a mlechha would remain way out of the sight of a pure Aryan, and women would produce lots of children. Didn’t we hear a few months ago a celibate sadhu advising Hindu women to produce 10 children each? Or was it a Taliban speaking? Anyway, ‘revising’ a two-millennia-old sacred text because of your current politics? Is that how history is going to be rewritten?”

Talking of history being rewritten, revising Manusmriti is part of the same exercise, very much in tune with the RSS philosophy of confining women to homes. R.K. Singh says: “I don’t know the purpose the revised version of Manusmriti will serve. Evaluation or relevance of any book has to take into account the time, place and circumstances in which it was written/composed. Evolution of human society and societal values is a dynamic process and evaluation of the book has to be seen in that perspective. If you can read Dayanand Saraswati or Satyarth Prakash, you will realise there are many interpolations, many interpretations, each at variance and conflict with the other. Today, Manusmriti needs rational interpretation. We must understand that through centuries, certain words and instances got changed. Most scriptures were inherited through word of mouth. Even Dayanand Saraswati challenged the originality of the text. The new version has to be authenticated by scholars for it to have any credibility. What is needed is unbiased and objective study and research of the whole thing by eminent unattached scholars and social historians.”

The text Dr B.R. Ambedkar publicly set fire to in December 1927 and, more recently, the book former members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad consigned to flames following the BJP’s handling of the Jawaharlal Nehru University issue may just be back in the public psyche, to begin with.

The Judiciary

A wake-up call

V. VENKATESAN the-nation

ON May 9, the Supreme Court’s seven-judge bench convicted and sentenced the then sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court, Justice C.S. Karnan, to six months’ imprisonment for contempt of court. The bench said in its order that detailed reasons would follow later.

On July 5, in a departure from the convention of pronouncing judgments in open court by all the judges who delivered it, the Supreme Court uploaded the detailed judgment on its website, supremecourt.gov.in, and left it at that. The surprise was that all the seven judges purportedly signed it on May 9 itself, while two of them signed a separate but concurring judgment on July 4.

The surprise turned into a serious anomaly as one of the seven judges who delivered the order on May 9, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, retired on May 27, and would have been unavailable for signing the detailed judgment, which was uploaded on July 5, if it was dated after his retirement.

Will this anomaly vitiate the May 9 order of conviction and sentence, and as a consequence, the detailed judgment uploaded on July 5, although the latter only vindicated the former? Although the anomaly, on the face of it, seems to be a technical flaw, the Supreme Court had held in many cases earlier that a judgment delivered after the retirement of a judge or without his signature could not be legal and the case would have to be heard afresh.

Justice Karnan, who retired on June 12, went into hiding, making it impossible for the West Bengal Police to execute the Supreme Court’s May 9 order. However, on June 20, he was arrested in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and lodged in Presidency Jail, Kolkata.

In a review petition filed in the Supreme Court against the May 9 judgment, Justice Karnan raised the issue of propriety of uploading the judgment on July 5, while pretending that it had been signed by all the seven judges on May 9 itself. Observers, however, doubt whether the Supreme Court would agree with his interpretation that the May 9 decision should be considered as void on this ground, and, therefore, grant him liberty.

The detailed judgment uploaded on July 5 was vulnerable on other grounds as well. The main judgment, authored by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar on behalf of himself and the other six judges, concluded that Justice Karnan’s actions constituted the grossest and gravest contempt of court.

The bench claimed that it carefully examined the text of the letters written from time to time by Justice Karnan levelling allegations of corruption against other judges. It said it had also examined the suo motu procedure adopted by Justice Karnan to pass orders that were derogatory to the administration of justice before he was issued notice for contempt. The bench also analysed the orders passed by him suo motu even after the issuance of the contempt notice to him.

“His demeanour was found to have become further aggressive, after this court passed orders from time to time, in this case.... His public utterances turned the judicial system into a laughing stock. The local media, unmindful of the damage it was causing to the judicial institution, merrily rode the Karnan wave. Even the foreign media had its dig at the Indian judiciary,” the bench said in its judgment.

The bench gave a list of 33 judges against whom Justice Karnan had levelled “obnoxious” allegations. The list included several judges of the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court.

The main reason for sustaining the contempt charge, it would appear from the judgment, was that none of the allegations levelled by him was supported by any material. “His allegations were malicious and defamatory, and pointedly by name against many of the concerned judges. He carried his insinuations to the public at large, in the first instance by endorsing his letters carefully so as to widely circulate the contents of his communications to the desired circles.... And later through the Internet he placed his point of view, and the entire material, in the public domain,” the bench explained.

No specific ground

Although the main judgment gave a fairly good account of the sequence of events that culminated in the May 9 order, it did not invoke any specific ground under the Contempt of Court Act to justify his conviction.

But the bench explained why it gagged the media from publicising any further statements issued by Justice Karnan on May 9. “During the course of hearing of the instant contempt petition, his ridicule of the Supreme Court remained unabated. In fact, it was heightened as never before. In this process, he even stayed orders passed by this court. One of the orders passed by him restrained the judges on this bench from leaving the country. By another order, he convicted the judges on this bench, besides another judge of this court, and sentenced them to five years imprisonment, besides imposing individual costs on the convicted judges,” the bench said, and continued: “The instant restraint order [on the media] does not prevent or hinder any public debate on the matter, academic or otherwise. We have not restricted the media in any manner other than to the limited extent expressed above. We hope and expect that a meaningful debate would lead to a wholesome understanding of the issue from all possible perspectives.”

The bench recorded in the judgment that none of his actions could be considered bona fide, especially in view of the express directions issued by the court on February 8 requiring him to refrain from discharging any judicial or administrative work.

On May 1, in order to restrain his abuse of suo motu jurisdiction, the Supreme Court passed another order restraining courts, tribunals, commissions and authorities from taking cognisance of any order passed by Justice Karnan. Therefore, the question why the Supreme Court took cognisance of his orders itself for the purpose of contempt proceedings even while asking others to ignore them remained unanswered.

Furthermore, if the media merely reported both the Supreme Court’s direction to other judicial bodies not to take cognisance of Justice Karnan’s orders and Justice Karnan’s orders—because they had news value—it was not clear why the Supreme Court sought to restrain the media from reporting whatever Justice Karnan would say from May 9. Specifically, should the bar apply to statements of Justice Karnan that may not be contemptuous of the court or even those he may make after his release from prison? The court had no answers.

While concluding that he committed contempt in the face of the court, the bench did not cite a single instance of his behaviour that amounted to this offence, as he appeared before the court only once, on March 31 during the contempt proceedings, and on that day the bench did not record any of his actions that amounted to contempt of the court.

The separate judgment, authored by Justice J. Chelameswar on behalf of himself and Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, held that the frequency and gravity with which Justice Karnan made allegations against his colleagues and the manner in which such allegations were made public “certainly would have some adverse impact on the reputation of the individual judges against whom allegations are made, the image of the Madras High Court and perhaps is likely to undermine the credibility of the judiciary in this country”.

Justice Chelameswar concluded that the post-notice conduct of Justice Karnan, when he passed several judicial orders, which, even on a cursory glance, were contemptuous in nature and content, brought disrepute to the judicial system and had the potential of shaking the confidence of the average citizen in the system. Such conduct and action, if tolerated, would certainly reflect an element of weakness in the system; no such weakness can be allowed to enter the system, he held. He held Justice Karnan guilty both for scandalising the court and for interference with the proceedings of the Supreme Court.

Appointment of judges

Justice Chelameswar, however, added that the case highlighted the need to revisit the process of selection and appointment of judges to the constitutional courts, for that matter any member of the judiciary at all levels, and the need to set up an appropriate legal regime to deal with situations where the conduct of a judge of a constitutional court required corrective measures, other than impeachment, to be taken.

Justice Chelameswar cautioned that there were various other instances (mercifully, which are less known to the public, as he put it) of conduct of some of the members of the judiciary which certainly would cause some embarrassment to the system.

Justice Karnan is sure to ask, “If so, why single out me, rather than punish those guilty in other instances?” Has Justice Karnan been punished only because media publicised his contemptuous actions? As he did not have any control over the media, should he suffer only because the media reported his actions and not of others, which may be equally contemptuous? The unfortunate conviction and sentencing of Justice Karnan is indeed a wake-up call for the judiciary.

Issues in Focus

End of the Gulf dream?

A DECREASE in the number of emigrants from Kerala, especially to the Gulf countries, and a fall in remittances in the two years from 2014 are some of the key findings of the Kerala Migration Survey (KMS) 2016 that have caught much media attention in recent months.

The survey, undertaken by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, found that the number of emigrants had fallen by over 1.5 lakh, return emigrants by 2.14 lakh and remittances by Rs.7,853 crore (see tables).

Emigration from Kerala steadily increased after 1998, when the first migration survey, conducted in that year put the number of emigrants from the State at 14 lakh and annual remittances at over Rs.13,000 crore. The KMS 2016 found, for the first time, a decrease in the number of emigrants from 24 lakh in 2014 to 22.4 lakh in 2016 and a fall in remittances from Rs.71,142 crore in 2014 to Rs.63,289 crore in 2016. The number of return emigrants also came down from 12.5 lakh in 2014 to 10.3 lakh in 2016.

However, remittance flows had weakened all over the world during the two years. According to the World Bank, remittances to developing countries dropped by 2.4 per cent, to $429 billion, in 2016, after a decline of 1 per cent in 2015. India, the largest remittance-receiving country, had in fact recorded the maximum fall with a decrease of 8.9 per cent.

Is the dwindling of funds from abroad a temporary phenomenon? How seriously will it affect the “money order economy” of Kerala, which had 2.1 million, or 86 per cent, of its emigrants working in the Gulf countries in 2014?

In the past decade, international migration patterns from India changed dramatically, with Kerala, which had been sending the largest proportion of workers abroad for a long time, being overtaken by comparatively poorer or more populous States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.

Yet, the concern that the results of the CDS’ survey has caused is not surprising. India, whose per capita income is one of the lowest in the world and where the rate of unemployment is high, received the largest quantum of remittances (an estimated $72 billion in 2015), more than the $64 billion that reached the more populous China that year, according to the World Bank’s Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016.

However, until a few years ago, only some States in India contributed substantially to emigrant outflow on a large scale, especially to the Gulf countries, and which resulted in the huge inflow of remittances. They included States such as Kerala, which, researchers say, is among the most remittance-dependent regions in the world.

Ever since the Gulf oil boom of the 1970s when the first regular stream of young, unskilled or semi-skilled emigrants began to leave for West Asian shores in search of jobs, Kerala had come to depend heavily on its workers’ remittances, which had offered a lifeline to thousands of poor households, improved lives and livelihoods, and became a source of funding for the State’s development.

For India as a whole, the huge remittance that came in thus was not so big when considered as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP). But, for industrially backward Kerala, where educated unemployment was high, the remittances constituted an estimated 36.3 per cent of the net State domestic product and contributed significantly to household consumption. Interestingly, remittances were 1.2 times the revenue receipts of the State government, 1.5 times the government’s annual expenditure and over five times the amount the State used to get until recently as revenue transfer from the Centre.

Any sign of the State losing even a part of this inflow is always a concern in Kerala, but researchers at the CDS, one of the few organisations in the country that conducts periodic surveys to monitor migration from and to a State, have been forecasting a fall in emigration numbers for some time now, irrespective of whether the recent downturn proves to be a temporary one or not. During the global financial crisis of 2009, for example, remittance flows fell but revived somewhat in later years.

The Migration and Development Brief published by the World Bank in April 2017 says that remittance flows to developing countries have been impacted in recent years by weak economic growth in Europe, the Russian Federation, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as exchange controls, burdensome regulations and anti-migrant policies in many countries.

Reasons for the fall

According to the report, the recent fall in remittances to India and the South Asia region as a whole was a result of lower oil prices, fiscal tightening in the GCC countries, “nationalisation” policies aimed at lowering the unemployment rate of nationals that slowed employment of foreign workers and impacted remittance flows to South Asia.

It also says that remittance growth in the region is “likely to remain muted” because of low growth and fiscal consolidation in GCC countries. India’s remittance growth in 2017, for example, is forecast to be only 1.9 per cent. The economic slowdown in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait has also adversely impacted Indian migrant workers in those countries.

The bulk of migration from India (as also Kerala) has so far been to the six GCC countries. The KMS 2016 found that 41.5 per cent of Kerala emigrants were in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 22.5 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 8.4 per cent in Qatar, 7.6 per cent in Oman, 5.5 per cent in Kuwait and 3.8 per cent in Bahrain. In contrast, only 3.8 per cent were in the United States, 1.5 per cent in the United Kingdom, 1.2 per cent in Canada and 0.7 per cent in Australia. All the GCC countries, except the UAE, registered a fall in emigration during the 2011-16 period, the survey found.

According to a report, “The Future of Migration from India: Policy, Strategy and Modes of Engagement”, published by the India Centre for Migration, Ministry of External Affairs, in 2013, the attractiveness of the Gulf countries for emigrants has come down because of a combination of factors, such as stagnating wages, rising costs of living, a growing trend of imposing restrictions on foreign workers and the declining fortunes of the Gulf itself. The Nitaquat law in Saudi Arabia and increasing Emiratisation in the UAE as also the absence of justiciable workers’ rights, including the freedom of assembly, raise serious questions about the human rights record of the Gulf countries, the report said.

Kerala’s concerns

But apart from such issues that affect all regions of the world equally, Kerala has special reasons to be cautious about the current fall in the number of emigrants and reorient its policies. The State has the lowest population growth rates in India. Its fertility and mortality rates have fallen to very low levels, and an ageing population is growing fast, with an average Keralite expected to live beyond 70 years.

Demographers have been forecasting significant changes in the age structure in Kerala, including a decrease in the school-age population, a decrease in the proportion of the labour forces in about two decades from 2001, a decline in the young working-age population, a doubling of older working-age population in two decades ending in 2021 and more unemployment among the older age than among the youth “in the foreseeable future” (see “Shades of grey”, Frontline, August 24, 2012).

In contrast, many of the States that are overtaking Kerala in terms of the number of unskilled, semi-skilled or skilled workers that reach the GCC countries have a demographic advantage with their growing population of youth in the 20-34 age group (a key factor in determining the number of emigrants from any State, country or region). Paradoxically, States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have overtaken Kerala in terms of the number of emigrant workers, are now exactly in the same demographic context that Kerala found itself in in the 1970s, with the advantage of an ascendant working-age population in the 20-40 years (see “Pointers to a negative growth rate”, Frontline, September 16, 2015).

Professor Irudaya Rajan, an expert in demography and migration studies, told Frontline that the CDS, which has conducted seven large-scale migration surveys in Kerala since 1998, was planning to organise another survey in 2017-18 with the support of the State government. Over the past two decades, the quantum of emigrants has “shown an increase but, significantly, with declining trends”, he said. For instance, the increase during 1998-2003 was 476,559 persons, whereas it was 354,934 persons during 2003-08 and 206,903 persons during 2008-14. However, between the last two surveys, there has been a decline in the stock of emigrants for the first time—by 128,623 persons.

Data provided by the annual reports of the External Affairs Ministry also show that the proportion of the emigration clearances granted to emigrants of Kerala origin to the total clearances given in India stood at 21.29 per cent in 2008 (it was 37.49 per cent in 1997) and then declined steadily over the past few years to reach 4.83 per cent in 2016. According to the emigration clearance data, one out of every five emigrants who left India in 2008 was a Keralite. In 2016, this dropped to one out of 20 persons.

Irudaya Rajan said: “The rest of India in general is experiencing ‘demographic dividend’, whereas Kerala is experiencing ‘population ageing’. The fertility rate of Kerala is below replacement level (less than two children over the last 20 years). As a result, the proportion of children below 14 years, which was 42.6 per cent in 1961 (the first Census of Kerala after its formation in 1956), declined to 35.0 per cent in 1981 and 23.4 per cent in 2011, during the latest population Census. The child proportion (the future working youth) declined by almost half in 50 years. On the other hand, the migrant-prone age group (20-34) increased from 22.5 in 1961 to 27.1 in 1991 (when Kerala experienced a demographic dividend) and declined to 23.1 in 2011—almost reaching the same level of 1961 (the end of demographic dividend). This is one of the reasons why Kerala now has an influx of internal migrants from other states of India, what we describe as ‘replacement migration’.”

Another facet of the issue, he said, was that after the global financial crisis in 2009, the wages in the Gulf failed to bounce back to original levels. Given the high wage rates in their own State, wages in the Gulf today are not as attractive to the Kerala emigrant as they were some time back. But they are still attractive to the new migrants from comparatively poorer regions of India such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar or neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka.

“Given the conditions in Kerala and the rising educational and skill levels, its young emigrants are also increasingly reluctant to embrace unskilled, blue-collar jobs. Instead, in the last few years, many Keralites used their work experience in the Gulf countries to move to English-speaking countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, where, unlike in the GCC countries, they can apply for permanent resident status. This is an emerging trend—‘step migration’ by Keralites—from Kerala to the U.S. or the U.K. and such other countries via, say, Dubai. Educated women from Kerala, too, are moving out in larger numbers, with countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. being their preferred destinations.”

So, should Kerala and India as a whole be concerned because of the fall in the number of emigrants and remittances in a State long considered as a key emigrant region? Irudaya Rajan said: “From our studies for over two decades, what we believe is that because of the demographic trends, the population of the State would soon stabilise at around 36 million to 37 million, and emigration from Kerala (to the Gulf mainly) would stabilise at around 2.3 million to 2.4 million. Nearly 90 per cent of emigration from Kerala now is to the GCC countries whose economy depends a lot on the price of oil, and the current price regime may continue for long. Therefore, Kerala could be affected very much in the coming years. But there is no cause for alarm, I think. Kerala only needs to refocus on improving the ‘quality’ of its emigrants rather than placing hopes on their ‘quantity’.”

Public Health

Project in peril

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI the-nation

ONE of the seemingly significant interventions by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre has been in the arena of health care. Beginning with the unveiling in March of the National Health Policy (NHP) aimed at universal health coverage at affordable prices, followed by a cap on the prices of cardiac stents—despite the soaring maximum retail price (MRP) of other medical devices—and the Prime Minister’s exhortations that doctors should prescribe generic medicines instead of branded ones, the Centre appeared to be committed to guaranteeing certain aspects of health care. One of the first things it did was to rename and rebrand the Jan Aushadhi (people’s medicine) Scheme, which was launched by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in November 2008. Around the same time, the Department of Pharmaceuticals, under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, set up the Bureau of Pharma Public Sector Undertakings of India (BPPI) as a nodal agency to implement the Jan Aushadhi Scheme, after procuring drugs from public sector pharmaceutical companies.

In its new avatar, the scheme came to be known as the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana, with an appropriate acronym, PMBJP. In September 2016, the Narendra Modi government declared that by March 2017 it would set up 3,000 centres under the revamped scheme as part of its declared commitment to health care. On the basis of some confidential correspondence, made available to Frontline, on the quality and availability of medicines at the centres, procurement issues and the functioning of the process itself, it transpires that not all is well with the scheme. One of the critical elements that the PMBJP seems to be relying on is the private sector for both procurement and delivery of services. The NHP 2017 declared that the critical gaps, which a former Health Secretary described as a “hole” in health care, would be filled by a “positive and proactive engagement with the private sector” to achieve national goals. It is in this spirit that the Jan Aushadhi centres have been envisaged, which is part of the problem as well.

The NDA government began a Jan Aushadhi centre opening spree, with a target of 3,000 stores by March 2017. More than half of the target has been met, but medicines are not available at the stores. Some internal correspondence has revealed that there are serious issues pertaining to the quality of service and the procedures followed.

A confidential note—a copy of which is available with Frontline—and sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and BJP president Amit Shah points out the pitfalls in the scheme in its current form. It recommends procurement from public sector undertaking (PSUs), and says that “more than fifty per cent of the drugs procured were slow-moving drugs with very low demand from the market”. The procured drugs, it points out, constitutes only 25 per cent of the 563 “drug bucket” of the BPPI. It further states that orders worth more than Rs.4 crore have been given to new vendors with no track record and that procurement is done at rates higher than the MRP, which is causing a loss to the BPPI. The note also says “we must buy generic drugs from PSUs or branded companies as they would not compromise with the quality”, adding that preference can be given to companies that had foreign direct investment (FDI) certification. Market surveys from the BPPI and feedback from consumers, it states, indicated that “PSU manufactured drugs had a better consumption rate and acceptability than drugs manufactured by private (manufacturers) because they were more effective”.

Hinting that drugs past their expiration dates are also sold at the stores, the note states: “We need to discard all ‘expired drugs’ lest they be sent out to the stores by mistake. This could prove to be fatal for the organisation and the Ministry.” It says no company has been blacklisted despite the drugs supplied not matching the prescribed quality. The note, which seems to have been prepared by someone familiar with the process, states that there are lacunae in the “quality and testing procedures”, that quality procedures are not “transparent”, that various complaints have been registered regarding the poor quality of the goods supplied, and that the procurement department is hesitant in sharing the details of the selection of vendors. (The Chief Executive Officer of BPPI, Biplab Chatterjee, told Frontline that details of vendors were given on the website but it was not so.)

The note also alleges that the quality assurance team is unwilling to share “procedures and checks undertaken while procuring drugs”; that there are no guidelines to take action against discrepancies in the quality of goods ordered; and that the Central warehouse stored 80 per cent of the stocks and the rest was stored in Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL) facilities that did not have the mandatory drug licence, fire safety measures and waterproofing arrangements. According to the note, around 12,000 memoranda of understanding were signed in the past few months but there has been no follow up by the marketing team. More importantly, at a conceptual level, there was no strategy for collaborating with the State governments to “penetrate into government medical centres such as CHCs [community health centres], PHCs [public health centres], dispensaries and district hospitals, where the maximum target audience arrived”.

Frontline spoke to some store owners in Punjab regarding the supply chain of medicines. One store owner in a district government hospital, who has worked for six years, complained that he had not received his salary for the past 18 months. He said doctors did not prescribe medicines that were available at the centres. “There is no provision to make it mandatory. Patients come to us for cheap medicines, but in the absence of supplies, we are unable to provide them. They go away. We are in a small district centre. The patient footfall is much higher in bigger districts,” he said.

A senior official familiar with the sector said pharma PSUs should not be shut down. “When Patanjali can run a successful business, why cannot pharma PSUs be made profitable? It is a good business model. The land is there, the building is there and the staff are committed. Why doesn’t the government work on that? There is a lot of money to be made in the pharmaceutical sector. The basic salts don’t cost much,” he said, adding that the government should procure at least 20-25 per cent from the Central PSUs as the quality was good. He said while centres in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh had some medicines, the entire range of medicines for psychiatric problems and eye and skin ailments was not available. “If the government put pressure on doctors to prescribe only those medicines available at the Jan Aushadhi centres, the doctors will strike work,” he said.

The new approach

A booklet published by the Union government, which traces the decade-old history of the scheme, states that the “noble project launched by the Government of India in 2008 has not reached anywhere near the desired objectives”. The booklet is critical of the fact that “much reliance was placed on the CPSUs for supply of medicines to the Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana” and that “experience is that the CPSUs were not able to cope with the increasing demand of medicines and the range of medicines which were needed to be kept… as the CPSUs had a limited coverage of therapeutic groups and dosage forms”. The booklet explains that the CPSUs were able to cover only 130 of the 319 medicines identified for availability at the PMBJP kendras and that around 85 products covering only about 11 therapeutic groups were made available. It also pointed out that while the original plan was to provide one centre in each of the 630 districts in the country, only 157 were opened, of which several of them became non-functional.

The booklet was a critique of the scheme during the UPA’s tenure. In February, while responding to questions from the opposition, mainly the Left parties and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Mansukh Mandayva, gave the assurance that PSUs would not be sold to foreign companies. He was clear that the major pharma PSUs—IDPL and Rajasthan Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (RDPL)—would be closed while there would be a strategic sale of Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals (BCPL) and Hindustan Antibiotics Limited (HAL). He was only reiterating a Cabinet decision taken earlier this year.

When Biplab Chatterjee assumed charge in September 2016 after a four-decade-long career in the multinational pharmaceutical sector, including a stint with Abbot, there were around 400 Jan Aushadhi centres. He told Frontline that the number crossed 1,700 after he took over. Chatterjee said that “the purpose of this mission is so great and good that I would expect the media to be completely with it so that the benefit will pass on to the people”.

Forty per cent of the population contributed to the domestic turnover of the pharmaceutical industry, which was about Rs.1.2 lakh crore, while 60 per cent did not have access to branded medicines, he said. “We export generic medicines to 184 countries and one out of seven medicines consumed by mankind is made in India. The PMJAP [Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana] seeks to bridge this anomaly—the idea is to provide drugs of the same quality that we export to the people in the country at a price that everyone can afford. Of the various manufacturers, there are 1,400 manufacturers who are World Health Organisation-good manufacturing practice [WHO-GMP]-approved. We procure the products from the WHO-GMP manufacturers through e-tendering. The product basket is based on data from the All India Chemists and Druggists Association and also prescription data. The idea is to pick up a thousand combinations prescribed by doctors. The BPPI identifies the product basket. We are the implementing agency of the PMJAP. We have to ensure the identification of the product up to their availability at the end stage.”

He said procurement from CPSUs was less and it was done mainly from the private sector. “We select products randomly and send them to NABL [National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration] laboratories. After we get the certification, the product is rendered salable. That is the way we ensure quality. We also have a quality committee. The mandate from the government is that the prices cannot be more than 50 per cent of the average prices of three branded products. We are able to procure at much lower prices. The entire benefit is passed on to the patient. Jan Aushadhi is the best model. There are reports in the media that products are procured at high prices. These prices are fixed by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority [NPPA], not us,” he explained.

Negligible procurement

“For one reason or the other, CPSUs did not make profit. The CPSUs decided to create the BPPI. It had a lot of hope, but none of the plants did well. Only Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Ltd (KAPL) and IDPL made some profits last year. The vision was there in 2008, but over a period of time, the PSUs did not sustain. The plants made losses; they have high overheads. Many of the CPSU products do not come under L1 pricing. The quotation and bidding is more expensive. They have to quote covering their expenses. We don’t even buy from the CPSUs,” he said.

Chatterjee said there was a lot of demand. The challenge of his team was to “weed out the negative perception” about Jan Aushadhi. The first thing that was done was to make the products available. There was no procurement seven to eight months before Chatterjee took over. He said there was a lot of response to “open stores from the private sector”. The BPPI advertised to encourage people to own stores. Earlier, Jan Aushadhi stores existed only in government hospitals and procurement was only from CPSUs.

“It didn’t work. This government understood. It tweaked the policy by giving more individual incentives and other things. So Jan Aushadhi was taken out of the premises of government hospitals. Hindustan Antibiotics Limited is requesting me to give orders. But it has to come within our price range. In order to sustain PSUs, we cannot affect supplies to people. The government is giving Rs.2.5 lakh as support to any premise, government or private. For government centres, it is in the form of a grant. Private operators are given certain criteria to operate a store, including getting a drug licence. They are connected to distributors,” he said.

“There are hurdles. Doctors don’t prescribe Jan Aushadhi medicines. They still prescribe brand names. There is propaganda that Jan Aushadhi is not giving quality medicines. The generic contribution to the market is very low; over a period of time, there will be a branded segment and a generic segment. If you go to any chemist’s shop, you won’t get everything. I am not saying we are 100 per cent perfect, but we have taken steps to take procurement under our fold. The other problem is that we are not able to reach our products from our Central warehouse to the States. Many distributors are appointed from the old time,” he said.

He was confident that by mid July there would be a drastic improvement in the situation. He felt the complaints were exaggerated. He said there were a large number of stores in Kerala and “if one or two products were not there, they created a huge uproar”. But there were complaints from other States as well. The Kerala BJP president, Kummanam Rajasekharan, had written to Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers Ananth Kumar complaining of a nodal officer, about whom complaints had been sent earlier to Chatterjee. The nodal officer, according to a complaint by a proprietor of a Thirumala-based store, had “allotted shops to BJP workers after too much pressure from BJP leaders”. Another complaint pertained to the sale of branded medicines from a Palayam-based store in Thiruvananthapuram.

Elsewhere, an Ahmedabad-based distributor, Ramesh Mehta of Mehta Trading Company, wrote to the CEO in June about discontinuing his distributorship for reasons including lack of timely payment from the head office, lack of standard quality drugs and shortage of drug supplies from the Centre, among other things. Mehta, who was in charge of supplying to 80 stores, had mailed several letters to the Centre since May and finally, on June 13, discontinued his distributorship. A copy of the email correspondence is with Frontline.

Irrational combinations

The Indian chapter of the People’s Health Movement, Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan (JSA), wrote to Ananth Kumar on June 8 drawing his attention to several unscientific and irrational fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) under the PMBJP, which, it said, should be removed from the list of provisioned medicines. There were 90 unscientific FDCs of the 580 medicines in the price list, “most of which were combinations of vitamins, supplements or antibiotics having no pharmacological validation”. Only a dozen FDCs were rational while only half a dozen on the PMBJP list were included in the National List of Essential Medicines, or NLEM (2015). The WHO list of essential medicines had approved 33 rational FDCs while the NLEM had 24 such FDCs.

Chatterjee dismissed the JSA’s criticism on the grounds that the intent of the BPPI was to give maximum products according to the prescription. “If a product is banned, Jan Aushadhi will not prescribe it. Banned products are not prescribed. There are some pundits who feel some combinations are wrong. These are opinions. If they are bad, the government will not prescribe them. We procure products that are permitted by the government,” he said. The “product basket”, as of May 2017, has more than 1,100 items, 1,000 medicines and 154 surgicals and consumables.

If the government can cross-subsidise the private sector, it can adopt a similar approach with the pharma PSUs. In its chapter on pharma PSUs, the annual report of the Department of Pharmaceuticals notes that RDPL “has embarked upon expansion, modernisation and upgradation programme (Phase II) to quality for WHO-GMP certification to become eligible for exploring international markets as well as for participating in the internationally funded projects of Government of India and other government”. On BCPL, it says that “ointment & Betalactam Block and Panihati Project have been completed while Cephalosporin Block is under commissioning. Besides, OSD Project & ASVS Project are being commissioned”. Both RDPL and BCPL have been slated for strategic sale despite the favourable noting in the annual report (see “Perilous prescription”, Frontline, February 3, 2017).

In April 2016, the Union Cabinet directed the Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs, Shipping, Transport and Highways, Information and Broadcasting, and Chemicals and Fertilizers to examine the status of public sector pharmaceutical companies. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was excluded from an exercise that had to do with the health of the people. After three meetings in 2016, the Ministers recommended that “after liabilities have been met, balance sheet cleansed and the Voluntary Separation Scheme/Voluntary Retirement Scheme effected, the Department to close IDPL and RDPL and HAL and BCPL be put up for strategic sale”. All PSUs barring KAPL were considered “sick or incipient sick”.

A people’s medicine scheme cannot depend on the private sector alone in spite of a huge amount of cross-subsidisation. The pharma PSUs have not been found wanting in quality, as government reports have pointed out. By opening Jan Aushadhi centres without supply and quality assurances, without weeding out irrational and unscientific FDCs from the list, as pointed out by stakeholders, and without substantially increasing the health budget, any mass movement to achieve universal health coverage is bound to fail.

Uttarakhand

In-house feud

UTTARAKHAND, which is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is currently embroiled in a battle with the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways over a land scam which allegedly involves hundreds of crores of rupees. The Ministry is headed by former BJP president and senior party leader Nitin Gadkari. Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the scam in which, in addition to the State’s revenue officers, officials of the Ministry have been implicated. Gadkari had apparently asked Rawat to keep his Ministry’s officials out of the probe, but the latter did not comply.

A senior official in Rawat’s secretariat said: “The Chief Minister stands for zero tolerance to corruption, and there will be no compromise on this, irrespective of who is involved. The BJP had promised a CBI probe into this land scam during campaigning, and the Chief Minister is only fulfilling that promise. Let there be a probe and the truth will come out.”

The scam relates to land that was acquired during the previous Congress regime of 2011-16 in Uddhamsinghnagar district for the widening of National Highway No. 74 between Haridwar and Bareilly. The BJP, then in the opposition, went to town over it in the hope of putting senior Congress leaders in a spot. The party took it up enthusiastically during election campaigning in the State earlier this year. A preliminary inquiry conducted by the then Kumaon Commissioner has named senior National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) officials, besides State revenue officers. Rawat ordered a CBI investigation on the basis of this inquiry. This now causes embarrassment to the BJP. The NHAI functions under the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

According to the charges, the land use pattern was allegedly changed from “agricultural to non-agricultural, in the back date” to benefit certain owners at the time of acquisition. It is important to mention that compensation for non-agricultural land is higher than for agricultural land, and at times the difference is over 20 times. Those who benefited were handpicked for the favour, while some people who truly owned non-agricultural land received considerably lower compensation. The Kumaon Commissioner’s report found such irregularities in 11 villages of Rudrapur, Kashipur, Bajpur and Sitarganj tehsils.

The power to change the nature of land use resides with the Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDMs). Hence, five SDMs, Surendra Singh Jangpangi, Jagdish Lal, Bhagat Singh Phonia, N.S. Nagnyal and Himalaya Singh Martolia, who were posted in these areas during that time, were implicated. They were suspended on March 25, a week after Rawat took over as Chief Minister. One of them, Martolia, has since retired. So proceedings are now on against the other four.

The compensation is calculated and decided by special land acquisition officers (SLAOs). The former SLAOs of Udhamsinghnagar and Nainital districts, D.P. Singh and Anil Kumar Shukla, respectively, were suspended, also on March 25.

The NHAI officers who are responsible for the development, maintenance and management of national highways and also for scrutiny and release of compensation amounts have been implicated, too. The report says they failed to refer the alleged irregularities to the process of arbitration and are hence assumed to be guilty.

In a strongly worded letter dated April 5, Gadkari asked Rawat to refrain from taking action in the matter, especially against the NHAI officers. The letter said: “The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has taken up upgradation and expansion of the national highways in a big way and we have also paid special attention to road connectivity projects in Uttarakhand, especially Char Dham. However, I am greatly concerned that recent developments in the State: firstly an FIR [first information report] was lodged in the district Udham Singh Nagar in the matter of awards finalised by the CALA [Competent Authority on Land Acquisition] (SLAO), who is a revenue functionary of the State government, not only that, a CBI enquiry has also been ordered by the government of Uttarakhand on the matter in which NHAI officers are being implicated.”

Gadkari added: “I am constrained to say that the above action by the government of Uttarakhand are bound to have an adverse impact on the morale of officers and would impede the execution of projects.” In what can be construed as a veiled threat, Gadkari wrote: “In this background we would have to examine the usefulness of taking up more projects in the State.” He asked Rawat to “take immediate corrective measures to resolve the impasse”.

Interestingly, the Chief Minister not only ignored the letter but declared, following a meeting with Gadkari shortly afterwards, that there would be no “compromise with corruption”. Moreover, Gadkari’s letter became public and the local media went to town with it, deepening the controversy.

Meanwhile, the State government went ahead with the filing of an FIR, which also implicated NHAI officers. NHAI Chairman Y.S. Malik wrote to the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand on May 26 that the inclusion of NHAI officers’ names in the FIR was wrong because they had no role in the matter. Malik pointed out that revenue officials of the State government, SDMs in this case, were responsible for deciding the land use pattern in the acquisition process and notifying it. The CALA, which in this case would be the SLAO, decides the amount of compensation. SLAOs, too, are State officials.

The NHAI project director of Rudrapur and his subordinates and the regional officer of Uttarakhand should not have been included in the FIR, Malik wrote. He pointed out that the guilt of the project director and his subordinates was assumed on the basis of their “failure in filing appeal before the Collector/arbitrator which led to expeditious disbursement of compensation”, while that of the regional officer was on the ground of “disbursement to such landowners on a pick and choose basis”. He argued that both these grounds were not tenable. The NHAI has instructions from the Ministry not to go into too many unnecessary arbitrations because that would impede the progress of projects. He added that compensation could not be disbursed on a “pick and choose basis” because the money was kept in an account with the CALA. He also said that the NHAI referred award cases for arbitration wherever irregularities were noticed, and such cases numbered 74 out of a total of 150.

Malik asked the Chief Secretary to re-examine the issue and warned that the NHAI would find it difficult to post and retain officials in the State if the charges were pressed. The Chief Secretary did not reply. Now, the inclusion of the NHAI officials in the case has been challenged in the Uttarakhand High Court.

The way in which the communications between the Union Ministry, the NHAI and the State government were made public was extraordinary. The Chief Minister appears determined to have his way in the matter. A senior official in his media team said: “The Chief Minister is saddened that his ‘crusade’ against corruption has been portrayed as a personal battle with the Union Minister. It is not as if he is deliberately defying the Minister or trying to implicate somebody for personal gains. It is just his commitment to zero tolerance against corruption, and if indeed somebody is not guilty then that would come out in the CBI inquiry. Why make a fuss about it and why paint it as a State vs Centre fight?”

The official added that the special investigation team (SIT) instituted by the Chief Minister to conduct simultaneous inquiries had hinted at a scam running into Rs.240 crore. “This could just be the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Local BJP leaders are dismayed by the publicity that the case has drawn. “He [Rawat] is inexperienced, wish he had handled the matter with more maturity,” one of them said.

Two suspended SLAOs, D.P. Singh and Anil Shukla, told Frontline that an inexperienced Chief Minister had made a mountain out of a molehill. If anyone was at fault, it was the SDMs alone because they decided whether land was agricultural or not, they said. SLAOs only decide the compensation in accordance with defined norms and have no discretion in the matter, they added.

“I am happy that the CBI is now investigating…. In the meantime, I am enjoying my time as paid leave, having a picnic with my family and children,” said D.P. Singh. Anil Shukla said the allegations were a fallout of old grudges. “The CBI inquiry will establish if any wrongdoing has been done. I am clean, and I know it, so I am not bothered,” he said.

The NHAI regional officer declined comment, saying that the matter was now in court. The controversy is interesting because Uttarakhand is ruled by the party that also holds power at the Centre. Rawat is known to be close to the RSS, while Gadkari's name has often been mentioned in other controversies in the past.

The Railways

Fast-tracking privatisation

DIVYA TRIVEDI the-nation

PRIME real estate, in the form of government land owned by the Indian Railways, is up for grabs. And it is being given away by the government itself. The Railways recently announced a station redevelopment programme, to be taken up through a public-private partnership (PPP), which was expected to bring in investment to the tune of Rs.100,000 crore. On the face of it, it seemed like a good idea to generate non-tariff revenues for the fledgling finances of the Railways. But the finer details of the programme sent alarm bells ringing. It involves the leasing of 2,200 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of prime real estate across 100 cities. The station area and the land around it in the selected stations will be given to private players on lease for a period of 45 years. A station facilitation manager (SFM), who will be the representative of the contractor, will manage the entire railway station and all its commercial activities except the core function of running the trains. The land for commercial development will be “encroachment free”, with clear titles.

Railway stations in India sustain an ecosystem which goes far beyond their mandate. They do not intimidate even the most marginalised. The poorest travel in the general compartment. This move to privatise stations will have a far-reaching impact on the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people connected to the railway system. To begin with, all existing railway staff involved in commercial activities of the stations will have to be transferred out. The SFM’s staff, that is, private employees, will take over, according to R. Elangovan, vice president of the Dakshin Railways Employees Union.

There are 7,600 stations under the Indian Railways. Of them, 75 are categorised as A1 (earning more than Rs.60 crore per annum) and 332 as A (earning more than Rs.8 crore but less than Rs.60 crore). The programme envisages converting the A1 and A stations into world-class ones. The idea of building world-class stations was first mooted eight years ago by the then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee. Phase 1 of the programme, which began in February this year, includes 411 stations. Phase 2 will involve 100 stations and Phase 3, another 250. As of now, applications have been invited for 23 stations. These include Allahabad, Mumbai Central, Bandra Terminus, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Yesvantpur, Faridabad, Secunderabad, Pune Junction, Kozhikode, Thane Junction, Udaipur, Ranchi, Vijayawada, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Kurla, Mumbai), Kamakhya, Kanpur, Howrah, Indore, Jammu Tawi, Borivali, Visakhapatnam and Chennai.

Bidding process

Habibganj station, near Bhopal, was the first one off the block, with the contract for redevelopment going to the Bansal Group, which is primarily into the education sector. The process of bidding will involve the Swiss Challenge method, where a party with credentials can submit a proposal online and other parties will be invited to improve upon that. Whichever party is able to outline a better proposal at the lowest price will bag the contract. The Bansal Group received 17,245 sq m of land in four parcels on lease for 45 years through this process. It plans to develop an office-cum-shopping complex, a multispeciality hospital, a budget hotel and a five-star hotel. Additionally, it will have to maintain and operationalise the station for eight years. While the Habibganj project is being touted as a landmark one by the government, others pointed out that it was already a well-maintained and clean station.

“What is the point of redeveloping a station that already performs well? They should have taken up the Bhopal Junction for improvement,” said a resident. Habibganj station earned Rs.8,110.94 lakh in 2014-15. Redevelopment plans for other stations include building spas and helipads on the grounds. “Which traveller comes out of a suburban railway station and jumps straight into a spa? This notion of what development means is highly problematic and is bound to fail,” said another resident.

The project will come under the aegis of Indian Railway Station Development Corporation Ltd (IRSDC), a special-purpose vehicle formed by Ircon International Ltd (IRCON) and the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) to undertake station redevelopment projects. The visions and plans document released by the Railway Ministry in January this year talks of redeveloping stations by leveraging different approaches such as PPPs including the Swiss Challenge model, collaborations with the Ministry of Urban Development and State governments, and nomination to public sector units. It also states that 30 of the most profitable pieces of land will be prioritised for monetisation in the next two years; that goods sheds will be shifted from city municipal areas; that released prime land will be used for real estate development and for the development of modern commercial or hospitality complexes; and that satellite passenger terminals will be developed through monetisation of land assets. Two things are common in all the plans: releasing of land from the government and greater say for a private player.

Apart from getting land on lease, a contractor will also have certain responsibilities. He/she will have to take care of housekeeping; landscaping; maintenance (park, beautification, etc); garbage collection, segregation and disposal; solid-waste management; reporting; pest and rodent control; disinfection; help desk management; facilities for differently abled people; installation, operation and maintenance of equipment and facilities as per joint inventory; parking; advertisements outside the rail display network area; retail (all existing stalls will come under their monopoly control); repair and maintenance of station assets (buildings, platforms and their shelters, roads, parking area, subways, etc.); provision of waste water collection, treatment and disposal system and its maintenance; water supply system and its network; and repair and maintenance of the electrical substation and power supply system. The SFM will also be responsible for the payment of all the usage charges relating to electricity, water required for the smooth operations of the station area handed over to them, and any other taxes and charges relating to station operations.

However, railway operational activities such as train operations, parcel handling and ticketing including platform ticketing, passenger and goods movement, overhead traction, signal and telecommunication, and track works will remain with the Railways.

Fast-forward mode

The process of privatising the Railways had actually begun much earlier, said A.K. Padmanabhan, vice president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). In August 2014, the government notified foreign direct investment (FDI) in suburban corridors through PPP in high-speed train projects, dedicated freight lines, rolling stock (including train sets and locomotive coaches manufacturing and maintenance facilities), railway electrification, signalling system, freight terminals, passenger terminals, infrastructure in industrial parks pertaining to railway lines/siding, and mass rapid transport systems. Two locomotive factories, at Madhepura (electric) and Marhowra (diesel), both in Bihar, costing about Rs.2,600 crore entailing FDI inflow in rolling stock manufacturing, were given to Alstom and General Electric (GE) respectively in 2015. “FDI in the strengthening and modernising of the railway network indirectly contributes to safety improvement,” said Rajen Gohain, Minister of State for Railways, in response to a question in the Rajya Sabha on April 7.

Said A.K. Padmanabhan: “It is a continuous process that started in 1991. It is just that neoliberal policies have been put on a fast-forward mode by this government now. After 1991, for the first time a party [the Bharatiya Janata Party] has an absolute majority in Parliament and their 2014 election promise was that they would get rid of the ‘policy paralysis’. That is exactly what they are doing. It is not just the Railways. From banks to insurance companies to defence production, they want to finish off public assets through disinvestment systematically.”

Since the Railways is a behemoth, it is impossible to sell it to any one person; no one would come forward to buy it as well. Since outright strategic sale was not possible, handing over the stations was one part of it, he said. But the process of outsourcing railway work has been going on for a long time now.

Design, finance, construction and maintenance including production activities have already been outsourced or privatised. For instance, the production of wagons for the Railways, except in certain workshops, has been privatised completely. Many activities in the coach and engine production units have been opened for outsourcing. In the name of fitting central buffer coupling and bio-toilets, both works have been privatised and they are carried out within the workshop’s production units, maintenance sheds and yards.

The power cars for Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains have been outsourced and are manned by private staff. Entire construction activities, like laying of railroads and construction of buildings, have been outsourced. Laying of signal lines and installation of telecommunication equipment, along with their maintenance, have been outsourced. Cleaning and washing of stations and coaches, onboard cleaning in running trains, cleaning of engines in sheds, and onboard housekeeping including providing linen have been outsourced. Providing water in coaches has been outsourced. Many private ticket counters, for both reserved and unreserved tickets, have been opened. Catering in both onboard and stationary units has been privatised through the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

Eight lines connecting private ports and industrial estates have been privatised through the PPP route. Many more are being added to the PPP route. But the operation of trains in these routes is with the Indian Railways. Container trains are run by the container corporation of the Railways, shares of which have been disinvested to the extent of 37 per cent.

“When Lalu Prasad was the Railways Minister, he allowed 15 private container operators to run container trains along with the Railways’ container trains, the operation of which rests with the Railways. Now, the Indian Railways has decided to allow private goods trains on the same pattern of container private trains, the operation of which will be with the Railways. The Cabinet has approved disinvestment in certain public sector units under the Railway Ministry, such as the IRCTC, the IRFC and the IRCON. In the Railways’ hospitals, doctors and paramedical workers have been appointed on contractual basis. Maintenance of buildings, including railway quarters, has been outsourced. More than seven lakh private employees are involved in such outsourcing. Even the government-stipulated minimum wage is not paid to them. Labour laws are not implemented. There is nobody to organise them,” said Elangovan.

New regulatory body

In line with the Bibek Debroy Committee recommendations, the Railway budget was made part of the general Budget in order to pave the way for qualitative privatisation. The Cabinet, in April this year, decided to constitute the Railway Development Authority (RDA) by an executive order, without amending the Railway Act. This authority will allow access to private train operators in both passenger and goods segments to run trains on existing tracks. Operation of trains will go to private hands, said Elangovan. “They will be provided a level playing field, meaning prime-time trains will be shared with them. Many of our present trains may go to private players. The authority will decide the fare and freight charges on a cost basis. At present, passenger fare is charged at only 53 per cent of the cost. Therefore, the fare will go up by 47 per cent. This will pave the way for more private trains. Private operators will be allowed to use the Railways’ facilities such as yards, sheds and workshops for maintenance of their coaches, wagons and engines. There will be private drivers and guards and ticket examiners, apart from other category staff on lower wages. The authority will come into force before August 31, 2017.”

It is just a matter of time before the largest public transporter in India, the Railways, is handed over, bit by bit, to private and unaccountable hands as the government fast-forwards the process of privatisation.

West Bengal

War of words

MAKING public a telephone call to her by Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, a visibly angry West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told a press conference on July 4: “Today the Governor said a lot of things to me and I have been highly insulted. The office of Governor is a constitutional post and he has to work as per the Constitution. I have not come to power thanks to the Governor. I have been elected by the people; the Governor has been nominated by the Centre. The language he used while speaking to me on behalf of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] was humiliating. I have never been so insulted in my life.”

Relations between the Trinamool Congress government and the Centre hit an all-time low with a bitter public spat between the Chief Minister and the Governor over a communal flare-up in Baduria town in the Basirhat subdivision of North 24 Paraganas district. Such a direct and strident confrontation between the nominated head of the State and the elected head of the government is unprecedented in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee said the Governor had “threatened” her. “I told the Governor that you cannot talk to me like this. The Governor was speaking like a block president of the BJP. Why should this happen? We are not servants. After today’s insult, I even thought of quitting…. The Governor cannot threaten me,” she said.

The phone call from the Governor came almost immediately after a BJP delegation met him at the Raj Bhavan and expressed grave concern over the communal tension at Baduria. An objectionable post on Facebook by a 17-year-old student unleashed communal fury on July 2. The police stood by helplessly as rioters went on the rampage. The violence continued unabated even after the arrest of the teenager. Private property was looted and destroyed, police vehicles were torched and one shopkeeper, Kartik Ghosh, was stabbed to death by miscreants. The violence spread to the surrounding areas. Four companies of the Border Security Force (BSF) were deployed to bring the situation under control. Although the violence had abated by July 8, the region continued to remain tense (as of July 11), and the security forces remained on high alert.

Governor’s reaction

The Governor expressed surprise at the “attitude and language used by the Hon’ble Chief Minister during the press conference”. A statement issued by the Raj Bhavan that evening said: “The talks between the Hon’ble Chief Minister and the Hon’ble Governor were confidential in nature and none is expected to disclose it. However, there was nothing in the talks for which the Hon’ble Chief Minister may have felt insulted, threatened or humiliated. The Hon’ble Governor did say to the Hon’ble Chief Minister to ensure peace and law and order by all means.” The statement further clarified that the Governor, being head of the State, “is the guardian of all citizens of the State and not of any particular party or section of society”.

The war of words did not end there. Rather the tones got even more abrasive and the attacks sharper. State Parliamentary Affairs Minister and Trinamool secretary general Partha Chatterjee said: “The Governor is the State’s constitutional head, can he speak in this manner, which is beyond the limits of his authority? We would clearly like to remind the Governor that Raj Bhavan can never become a BJP den. We strongly condemn the language he used with the Chief Minister, threatened her, hurt her feelings…. It has repeatedly come to our notice that Raj Bhavan has been instigating/helping those people who fan communal passions.” He pointed out that the Governor’s phone call came after a BJP delegation met him. “We had written to him on many issues earlier. We had written to the Centre repeatedly seeking financial assistance. But he never spoke out then. Today, he is behaving exactly like a [BJP] cadre,” said Chatterjee.

In a strongly worded press release, Raj Bhavan said Chatterjee’s statement was an “attempt to cover the lapses of the State government and divert the attention from the main issue of law and order”, and the allegations of the Chief Minister amounted to “insulting and humiliating the Governor and his Office”. It said her allegations were “baseless” and were “meant only to emotionally blackmail the people of West Bengal”.

“The Governor says that instead of making accusations against him, it is better for the Chief Minister and her colleagues to direct their attention to maintain peace and law and order in the State without making any distinction on the basis of caste, creed or community,” the press release from the Raj Bhavan read.

Mamata Banerjee announced a judicial inquiry into the communal outbreak and claimed that those responsible for starting the riots had come from across the border, from Bangladesh. Aiming her guns at the Centre, she wondered: “How did the border suddenly open up? The State government is not responsible for guarding the border; it is the Centre’s job.” The Trinamool Congress received another handle to attack the Governor with, when, much to the embarrassment of the BJP, senior BJP leader and the party’s national secretary, Rahul Sinha, described the Governor as a “sainik” (soldier) of the “Modi bahini” (Modi army).

“The cat is finally out of the bag. We have been saying for a while that the Raj Bhavan has been turned into a BJP office; Rahul Sinha’s statement confirms it,” said Chatterjee. The BJP, however, dismissed Sinha’s comment as his own. “The party does not agree with him. It is not the party’s stand,” said Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP national general secretary who is in charge of West Bengal. It was at Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s intervention that decorum was restored.

Governor’s role

Interestingly, neither Mamata Banerjee nor Raj Bhavan went into the details of the conversation that took place between the Chief Minister and the Governor. Even at her emotionally charged press conference, Mamata Banerjee did not mention what it was that she found insulting and threatening in the Governor’s words. Although the point of conflict remained unclear, the issue has once again revived the age-old debate on the role of the Governor and the scope of his functions and powers.

According to the former Advocate General and noted constitutional expert Bimal Chatterjee, there is really no boundary line to curb the functions of either the Governor or the Chief Minister. “It is their conscience, their sense of propriety and awareness of their duties, that ultimately dictate their functioning. I am not aware of any constitutional provision or legislation laying down the limits of a Governor’s functions and powers. I do not know of any provision that says that beyond this point a Governor is overstepping the boundaries of his powers and functions. The boundary is defined by the mutual respect for each other and the mutual consciousness of their respective responsibilities,” Bimal Chatterjee told Frontline.

The social scientist and professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University Biswanath Chakraborty pointed out that the Governor, being a constitutional head, had full right to aid and advice the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister, but it was up to the Council to use its discretion to heed the advice or not. The Governor can express concern and even caution the Chief Minister on a particularly sensitive issue.

“The Governor, I feel, is totally justified in expressing concern to the Chief Minister over the disturbance in Basirhat, as there was widespread lawlessness and no sign of any Central forces. He did his normal constitutional work. But the way the Chief Minister reacted is unprecedented. We have seen conflicts between the Governor and the Chief Minister in several States, including West Bengal, earlier, but we have never seen such a public outburst against the Governor by the Chief Minister. This goes against the spirit of the parliamentary form of government,” Chakraborty said. He also felt that the Governor’s repartee, particularly the second one, was unnecessary and it aggravated the situation. Many point to Tripathi’s long association with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the BJP to justify the apprehension of the Trinamool Congress that he is behaving in a partisan manner against the State government. “It is precisely for this reason that the Constitution framers had preferred the post of the Governor to be occupied by a non-political person,” he said.

Centre-State relations

The State government’s bitter feud with the Governor marked a new low in the relationship between the Trinamool government and the BJP at the Centre—a relationship that has never been cordial, despite the fact that Mamata Banerjee was once part of the National Democratic Alliance (1999 to 2001, and again in 2004). In her tirade against the Governor, Mamata Banerjee also launched a thinly veiled attack on the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Some people are destroying the country and then going abroad to talk of unity. They are setting fire to the harmony between communities and religions and then saying sweet words on religious unity in foreign lands,” she said.

The spat served to throw open the floodgates of grievances against the Centre. The main complaint of the State is that of non-cooperation of the Centre, particularly with reference to the deployment of Central forces to the Darjeeling hills, which have been on the boil since June 8.

“It has been a month since trouble broke out in the hills…. We have been asking for additional Central forces, but the Centre is sitting on the requisition…. This is a clear case of non-cooperation that goes against our federal structure,” Mamata Banerjee said.

Trouble seems to be erupting all at once in different places and in different forms for Mamata Banerjee, creating immense pressure on her government. The Darjeeling hills continue to burn as the movement for a separate State of Gorkhaland has taken a violent turn, communal flare-ups have led to a serious law and order crisis in the State requiring Central forces to quell the situation, and some of the most influential leaders of the Trinamool Congress are being summoned one after the other by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the Narada case (a sting operation carried out by the news portal Narada in which several top Trinamool leaders, including its Members of Parliament, Ministers, MLAs, and the Mayor of Kolkata, were seen accepting cash on camera).

“This is the first time since she turned her political career around in 2009 that Mamata Banerjee is facing challenges from every corner, and her past successes are fast collapsing. Most of the problems she is facing are also being exacerbated owing to the complete lack of support from the Centre,” Chakraborty said.

Gender

‘Hijra has become a political identity’

KUNAL SHANKAR social-issues

IN May 2017, after a long wait of three years, Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli finally received a letter from the Telangana government informing her that her name had been changed. She had applied for the name-change soon after the Supreme Court of India’s landmark judgment in April 2014 ( National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India, also known as the NALSA judgment) which recognised the transgender community as a third gender and granted it a legal identity in all spheres of life and society. It took another year for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to formulate rules that would enable transgenders to open bank accounts with their chosen names and gender identities. The letter from the Telangana government means that Vyjayanti, a transwoman, can now change her gender identity with her chosen name in all official records such as passport, voter ID and driver’s licence.

While progress has been slow and incremental, the NALSA judgment has given India’s transgender community a benchmark to compare any government decision regarding its rights and protection. At the ground level, it has resulted in sporadic but notable political mobilisation outside the NGO (non-governmental organisation) lobby circuit. It has also led to indignation against the 2016 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill introduced in Parliament by the Central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which, if passed, will replace the NALSA judgment as the law governing the transgender community. This law seeks to put in place a district-level screening committee headed by a doctor to ascertain the veracity of a person’s claim of gender identity, going against the Supreme Court ruling which allows for self-identification regardless of sex reassignment medical procedures.

Aged 38 and 40 respectively, Vyjayanti and Rachana Mudraboyina are rising trans activists in Hyderabad. They are part of a collective called Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti (THITS), which they say is a “non-hierarchical, unregistered and unfunded” political pressure group that comes together to fight instances of discrimination against the community. Both Vyjayanti and Rachana are scathing in their criticism of NGOs that “take money in the name of the community and do nothing for it”. They are also part of a vocal, politically rooted network of such collectives nationwide that have formed alliances with other causes such as Dalit and Adivasi rights, women’s empowerment, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) issues.

While THITS has made steady progress over the past five years, Vyjayanti and Rachana admit that there is a dire lack of visibility of transmen, not just in their own collective but across the country. They speak candidly of their challenges to collectivise; explain why transmen are under-represented; admit to undercurrents of caste discrimination within India’s trans community and how their own collective is attempting to address it; and specify where they view themselves on the political spectrum.

Excerpts from an interview Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli (VVM) and Rachana Mudraboyina (RM) gave Frontline:

Both of you have emerged as well-known activists in India’s trans movement. THITS, the collective that you are part of, has been vocal about instances of hate crime against the trans community. Do you think it is now time to address inequalities within the trans community in India? For instance, do you think caste is a factor in determining access, privilege and rights within the transgender community?

VVM: Yes, undoubtedly yes. When the state, the media and corporations interact with the community, the first few transgender people who have access to them come from dominant castes and privileged class backgrounds. They wield a lot of power. I am not saying this to discredit the good work that they have done. Some of their work and political positions might be problematic, but a lot of their work is really good.

So is there an inherent prejudice within the trans community along caste lines?

VVM: Yes. For instance, we know a renowned transgender activist who said, “I am born into a Brahmin family. I cherish Hindu culture.” Cherishing Hindu culture is okay, but being proud of her Brahminical roots could be interpreted as a sense of superiority.

True. Do you think this hinders the collectivisation of the community?

VVM: Yes.


You have chosen not to register your own collective, THITS, as a non-profit. Why?

VVM: I don’t want to say that all NGOs are corrupt, but I do believe that the NGO model in itself is a flawed one that often leads to institutionalised corruption, especially if it is the only available model for social justice. It decimates people’s movements because most NGOs are funded and the politics of funding requires them to stay silent on any discrimination or dual standards followed by their funding agencies. This includes the state, private corporations and so on. In practice, NGOs have done little good and much damage. That is not to say that there are no ethical NGOs at all; there are, but very few.

We are not a registered body. There is no hierarchy because we don’t want this to become a retirement home that we turn to for funding or income. Also, we don’t want to set up a hierarchy, because under the current Societies Registration Act or any other law, we need to have a board of trustees, which is invested with some power.

So if you are not going to do all of that, how are you going to sustain yourself—not only financially but also in terms of your outlook to the movement?

VVM: We work as a collective, like the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI). It is not registered. There is no board. There are many other such unregistered collectives which do a lot of good work in India.

We hold several rallies where we are able to call out a lot of powerful people. That is the main advantage of not receiving any funding. But yes, we need money to even organise a protest. We work on the principle that no cash changes hands. Say, if anyone wants to contribute to this event, we come together to declare cost heads—that we need so many sachets of water, loudspeakers, shamiana, and so on. We accept contributions only in kind. So when you supply, you supply, say, only audio equipment.


In the long run, do you see yourself as a political movement? If yes, what is your vision?

RM: THITS is a political collective. Before we set up THITS, we did try to set up an NGO, a society. We realised the problems inherent in setting up an NGO. We experimented a lot and ultimately decided not to register ourselves. After a couple of protests, advocacy and other kinds of intervention, we realised that this sort of collectivisation lent a greater political status not only to us but to the community as a whole. The community has better visibility now. THITS has become an emblem, a logo, of this community. Hijra has become a political identity. As a community, we see ourselves as political identities.

Have you considered joining mainstream parties? You must be aware of transwomen like Shabnam Mausi, who got elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in the late 1990s, and Madhu Kinnar, who is the Mayor of Raigarh in Chhattisgarh.

RM: Earlier, I used to hate politics. But after learning about the instances that you pointed out, and our own journey from the NALSA judgment to the 2016 Bill, we realise that there are a lot of structural discrepancies in the lawmaking process, where someone else talks and takes decisions on our behalf! So, yes, I am actively considering entering the political mainstream, at least for the sake of more representative policy interventions. There is such a wide gap even in communication, we thought that there is a need for us to sit in the lawmaking process at least to be able to shout at the people who are making those decisions.

Do you plan to form chapters in other States?

VVM: Many States in India have strong and vibrant collectives. For example, after the BJP government came up with this draconian, regressive Bill in August 2016, we protested within three weeks in Chennai, shortly before we left for the U.S. [to attend the State Department-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) for two months. The 2016 focus of IVLP was on trans issues]. A lot of people turned up and we organised a mass rally. Tiruchi Siva, Rajya Sabha member from the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam], who has been an advocate for the trans community, was our chief guest. Two busloads of trans people came from each district of Tamil Nadu. So that meant around 5,000-6,000 people protested at Valluvar Kottam [a central location in Chennai]. This feat was not pulled off by NGOs; it was organised by thirunangais[as transwomen in Tamil Nadu refer to themselves]—unaffiliated people.

Do you consider yourself a group coming from the Left? Or do you think that it is a movement that needs to get different persuasions together on rights-based issues?

VVM: Both. We suffer class discrimination and caste-based violence and exclusion too. We have barely succeeded in using the Nirbhaya Law for acts of sexual violence against transgender people—maybe once or twice. The base of the transgender movement has a lot of Dalit transgenders. We have leveraged and filed cases using the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

There are vast numbers of Dalit and Adivasi transgenders across the country. I speak from my experience in Telangana. Within the hijra system, almost everyone has been ostracised and thrown out of their families. That’s what brings us together.

Much as we would like to think that caste barely exists, we know for a fact that it does. Because we come together for sex work, we know that the Brahmin sex worker is treated preferentially over the Dalit sex worker.

Where do you belong in the caste hierarchy, if you do not mind me asking?

VVM: I do not come from a dominant caste, but I do have a class privilege.

Which has enabled you....

VVM: … to compensate for the lack of upper-caste status.

RM: I want to share a few problems we have experienced in this journey, with both the Left and the Right. Having been marginalised from multiple directions from the beginning, we prefer not to take any ideological positions but instead make alliances as broadly as possible with civil society, because we need their support to win our battles.

Let us try to define our struggle. It is the struggle to access the same things that men and women already have access to, democratically and legally. Our collectivisation is on these lines. Like Vyjayanti said, we would like to think that among us, caste, class and religion do not exist, but they are all there! Trans people have taken a gamble by embracing their gender identities openly, but some have benefited because of the privileges from various other layers of identity. That said, our collective has functioned democratically right from the beginning. No voice is weak or feeble and no one is higher than the other.

Coming back to the question of occupying political office—often gender identities and sexual orientation are seen through a moral lens, and the right wing normally defines this along binary lines. One could say that the BJP or the Shiv Sena have such stated positions. Therefore, one would assume they would not be your allies.

VVM: No, they are not.

RM: That’s why we see ourselves as part of the movements against caste discrimination such as the one at the University of Hyderabad after [Dalit PhD scholar] Rohith Vemula’s death. We participated in full strength in the hunger strike soon after his suicide. As Vyjayanti was saying, the leaders of the transgender community do not want to benefit because of caste or class privileges. We will be part of movements of other marginalised communities because of the natural intersectionalities, like Dalits, women and Adivasis.

In other words, you consider women, Dalits and Adivasis your allies.

RM: Yes. We will support them and we would want them to support us because we are a minority and we are highly stigmatised. As you say, people see us through a moral lens. So we need a louder and stronger voice.

You could make a case for trans activists with caste and class privileges to use them positively, could you not?

VVM: Yes, absolutely. We believe that there is nothing wrong in co-opting the rich. You need multi-pronged strategies. You need people in the system as well, have an engagement with it, or be part of it, to be able to make micro changes from within, so that you can enable others to get in. We don’t take money from them, but we can direct their resources to the beneficiaries.

How long has this sort of a mobilisation been going on in Hyderabad?

RM: THITS began with addressing issues of trans sex workers in 2012. There were about 10-12 incidents across the city every day—instances of police harassment, incidents of physical violence, cases of acid being thrown on transgenders. While we were against NGOs, we were also examining their strategies and trying to find ways to call their bluff and hold them responsible for their actions when they take money in the name of the community. We also tried to engage the community in a thinking process. For instance, a gang rape of a transwoman is never taken seriously. For every 10 transwomen, nine are gang-raped.

That is an alarming statistic.

RM: Yes, it is! And these are not isolated incidents. Several people go through repeated rapes. Trans people are habituated to violence, and they have become silent in order to cope with it. But we question the community on this silence. We ask, how does it help? Look at what happened in the Nirbhaya case, when men and women came together to address the gang rape of a woman. We are also capable of raising our voices! That is how people are motivated to fight for their rights. There is also a lot of colonisation of the LGBT community’s spaces and voices.

Was Nirbhaya a turning point for the trans community as well?

RM: Mainly for transwomen, yes. We feel connected to the issue, but had never been able to negotiate these incidents legally or as a rights-based approach. But now we feel Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which defines rape needs to be amended to include transgenders. We had given suggestions to the Justice J.S. Verma Committee to this end.

VVM: We had submitted a petition to the Verma panel to include transgender people, highlighting the fact that rape is not limited to men and women, and can happen between men; and between men and transgender women as well. We were just a fledgling organisation then, but we sent emails to the Verma panel, and other groups like People’s Union for Civil Liberties [PUCL] and the Bengaluru-based Alternative Law Forum. Justice Verma did recognise and include the transgender community in his report, but ultimately the Government of India did not take it into consideration while framing the laws.

Tell us about your alliances with partners in other States.

VVM: There are many dynamic and highly collectivised de-NGOised groups in Tamil Nadu, led by Grace Banu, Arunamma, Subhiksha from Karaikal, and Mohiniamma from Tiruchi. We met the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment along with them. We work in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, while Akkai [Akkai Padmashali, founder-member of Ondede] works in Karnataka. She does not run an NGO but handles a lot of cases, and so decided to register her collective in order to be recognised as an entity to sue and be sued.

So is this kind of politicisation happening across the country?

VVM: It is happening in the southern States, primarily in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and to some extent in Assam. Not in Maharashtra or in the north, unfortunately.

Often, there are complaints from within the LGBTQI community that the most visible faces of the community are gay men or transwomen, and that the voices and concerns of lesbians and transmen and other intersectional communities get marginalised. Are you trying to address this?

VVM: Yes, we have ourselves resented the domination of cisgender, gay and bisexual men inhabiting almost all spaces of power in NGOs and beyond. And at least in THITS, we have some transmen, like Karthik Bittu (a faculty member at the University of Hyderabad). We have other people who are not as open but are key decision-makers nevertheless as voting members of the group. They are equal stakeholders, and we try hard to check instances of hate crime against transmen. For instance, in November 2016, the anchor of a television talk show called Bathuku Jataka Bandi on Zee Telugu channel threatened a couple [a transman and a queer woman]: “I will thrash you and break your legs for doing this.” We organised a press conference to condemn this kind of hatred, but we did not want to appropriate the couple’s space. We supported them with their decisions and we made things happen. We try and get the stakeholders to lead struggles, unless they are uncomfortable with that and insist on us taking up their fight. We do not want to claim to be rescuers or messiahs, because we are not.

RM: I want to add to that. I agree with what Vyjayanti says about gay men and transwomen. But the two have occupied that space for very different reasons. Gay men have dominated the whole queer movement in general because, for one, the gay movement precedes most other movements led by the LGBTQI community. The trans movement is still in its nascent stage. On the other hand, the visibility of transwomen is because of their gender. It is hard for us to hide who we are. So while I agree with you, I think we are beginning to learn about movements and struggles led by other trans people. I am not saying we are perfect. Also, transmen—women transitioning into men—face a lot more stigma at home and outside. It is doubly hard for them. Once they get thrown out of their homes, or walk out, they get assaulted on the streets. Where will they go? Security is a bigger concern for transmen, another reason why they are not visible in the movement. Whenever there are such situations, we try to help in articulating their concerns.

In other words, the biological gender that transmen are born into becomes a double-edged challenge to overcome?

RM: Yes, and along with it so many things, like the roles women are expected to play in families and communities. Transmen attempt to break those gender norms.

VVM: I don’t think the discrimination faced by transmen is greater, or higher, but when you have a combination of misogyny and transphobia, then things get very scary. That said, as a community, there are only two livelihoods that have existed for transwomen universally—begging and sex work. At a structural level, neither of these livelihoods is what gay men, or transmen for that matter, or several others within the LGBTQI community would opt for in general. There is a different level of violence that we are exposed to, which does not make it easier. We are not competing in the “discrimination Olympics” here to compare who is beaten down more. What I am trying to say is, each individual within the queer community faces a different kind of discrimination, which tends to define their role or the degree of their involvement in the movement. It does not mean that they participate only to the extent of the kind of discrimination they face, either. In fact, I would argue that there is much greater solidarity within the queer community than in several other movements, but often the reasons why a particular community seems under-represented within this movement are not looked at holistically.

You have spoken about how NALSA was a progressive movement, but the current Bill in Parliament is a regressive move. Speaking about employment, how do you propose to fight for jobs in the government or the private sector? Is affirmative action something that should be incorporated in this Bill?

VVM: Since liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, the share of government jobs has been steadily declining. We have been consulting with lawyers on how to articulate our demand to include us on the reservation list. Lawyers have advised us to collect the number of rejections of job applications that could be traced to transphobia, because Article 16 [of the Indian Constitution] is about non-discrimination in public employment. For that, we will have to apply [for jobs] and get rejected so we can take the matter to court. Such a test case could be useful for others who wish to gain government employment.

Secondly, the bulk of employment is in the private sector now. In the U.S., for example, almost all private corporations call themselves LGBTQI-friendly, but they barely had any gender-nonconforming employees we could meet. In India, the majority of the multinational corporations are American and British, but they hardly have any transgender people either. It is very disappointing when an employer says, “We are women-friendly, but we don’t have a single woman employee, but believe us, we are women-friendly.” So we are trying to exhort and push them to hire transgender people, but that’s an uphill task. Because people in power do not feel obliged to do anything.

As you said, the bulk of the employment now is in the private sector, but the multinational corporations are really a tiny fraction of them. Your fight will still have to be largely with domestic companies. How are you going to address that? Unlike in the U.S., we do not have laws to impose affirmative action in the private sector.

VVM: Not by a long shot! [Laughs]. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill attempts to address this. In so many areas, we do not know how to make headway, frankly. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill, which is a Private Member’s Bill pending in the Rajya Sabha from 2014, incentivises the private sector. We want such incentives to remain [in the Act] so that it is not seen as reservation, because unless we are very confident of including reservation in the private sector, even talking about it is only going to open a can of worms and corporate giants will destroy this Bill. Incentivisation means that you don’t have to hire, but if you do, you will be rewarded. So it is like rewarding good behaviour through subsidies and tax incentives.

Among the political parties the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Republican Party of India and the Left have been asking for reservation in the private sector, pointing out that post-1991 jobs and education in the public sector have shrunk drastically. But that has been along caste lines. Would you not want to push that to include the LGBTQI community?

RM: Yes. We have supported these moves as well. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill to incentivise the private sector is a not a vertical line, it is a horizontal line. That is to say, apart from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Backward Caste communities, transgender people—especially the really poor among them—need to be considered as a base for incentivisation for the private sector. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill is the only hope we have to secure at least some employment and education.

Apart from this, we have the NALSA judgment. Before and after the NALSA judgment, several consultations took place with the LGBTQI community, where we suggested the formulation of policies that co-opt the existing structure of reservation for mainstream communities and gender-conforming men and women below the poverty line, and to extend it to the LGBTQI community as well. Plus a few other policy-level changes, which would enable the trans community to access education and employment on an equal footing. So we need to see our movement for equality not only from the time of the NALSA judgment, but the many incidents that led to the judgment.


A personal question. How have your families reacted to your politics?

VVM: My parents are ailing and not in any state of mind to understand all this. To put it bluntly, they have just been waiting to die. They are in palliative care. [Vyjayanti’s mother died shortly after this interview.] Not that they had been too supportive earlier either. They have loved me as parents do, but they did not respect me.

Has it been a fight for you?

VVM: I have never fought them. That is something I have not done. There are people who have invested a lot in their parents, engaged with them constantly, and tried to make them understand. I have done that to some extent, but... I have not been living with my parents since 2000. I have only been providing for them financially, between 2000 and 2013, and after that they have been terminally ill.

So getting support from my parents has not been a priority for me. I don’t think everybody needs to convince their parents, and I don’t think parents need to support everything that their children do or decide either.

RM: About my family, wherever there is patriarchal thinking, there will always be resistance to accept us. My family chose to disown me, and that’s the norm in the trans community. Every trans person comes to the understanding that this is not a one-day battle, or even one person’s battle, but a long battle that we are fighting, maybe not for ourselves, but for future generations of trans people. I feel we have witnessed so much discrimination that we have become numb to it. It feels monotonous, like the same music I hear all over again every time I hear it from a new trans person. But I have never given up because of this. We have to focus on the larger battles.

VVM: We want to be good parents, if and when we become parents. Perhaps that’s a way by which we can give our children what we ourselves didn’t experience. It’s a long story, but to cut it short, my father sent me to a psychiatric home when I was 20. I had to undergo electric shocks and I had to go through conversion therapy. I filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court during the review petition in the Koushal judgment stating that re-criminalisation of Section 377 (consensual same sex between adults) would open the floodgates to unethical and criminal medical and mental health practices.

My father gave me a pill that was supposed to transform me into a well-adjusted cisgender heterosexual man, “raging for women like a horse”, to use his own words. I don’t entirely blame him, but I do hold him responsible because he thought it was good for me. It led to a severe allergic reaction called toxic epidermal necrolysis, because of which I lost patches of my skin. I had to be treated like a burns patient. So when I hear some people who have made leeway and have made breakthroughs with their parents, more power to them! But I do think that those who don’t want to, should not beat themselves up about it. It is okay that your parents don’t fully accept you, because they have their biases.

Puducherry

Running amok

IN a scene that appears to have been taken straight out of an insurgency-ridden State, Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi conducted the swearing-in ceremony of three nominated Members of the Legislative Assembly, all belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), amidst tight security and secrecy at the Raj Nivas on the night of July 4.

To Kiran Bedi, the Union Territory, a weekend getaway for fun and frolic for many residents of Chennai, is under siege. Extraordinary measures are common in any place under a security scare. Kiran Bedi cited “compelling circumstances” to justify her out-of-line act.

The irony was surely not lost on the three MLAs who were sworn in: that three people’s representatives were being sworn in without a soul around them and in a hush-hush manner. The press was barred from the ceremony, considering the “developments of the day” and the “compelling circumstances”. One of the three MLAs told a Tamil television channel that he was not aware why he was summoned late on July 4 by the Lieutenant Governor. “He told me that he would at least have worn a decent shirt and brought his wife and kids,” a television journalist, who has him on record and played the byte for this correspondent, said.

As is her style, which has now crippled the functioning of the Puducherry government, Kiran Bedi clarified first on WhatsApp and then on Twitter. As is her style, which has now become a standing joke in the Union Territory, the explanation was repeated in different words in a press release.

The WhatsApp message was as follows, including explanatory notes in brackets: “For those who are seeking more information on Legal Provisions on Appointment of 3 MLAs to Legislative Assembly in Puducherry. According to the Union Territories Act the nomination of 3 MLAs to Puducherry Legislative Assembly is to be done by the Central Government (It only says this and nothing more). Ministry of Home Affairs sends the names to the Puducherry government (who then notify it. As was done in their case). The oath is/can be administered by Administrator (As was done in their case). Hence, the nomination and the oath is/was laid down under the UT Act.”

According to her interpretation, Kiran Bedi is law in Puducherry. The elected government has no role. No official of the Raj Nivas seems to have told her that India is run in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, not on an interpretation of some rules by an Under Secretary in the Home Ministry. In an earlier interview to Frontline, she did just that: she held that an Under Secretary in the Home Ministry writing to her saying that she had wide-ranging powers was enough for her to keep pushing an elected government to the point it cannot function.

The press release issued by the Lieutenant Governor’s Secretariat on July 5 (LGS/PRO/2017) said:

“The oath ceremony of 3 nominated MLAs was done against the background of their reporting the compelling circumstances they had been placed in.

“After which a careful decision was taken not to delay their taking the oath. Hence, without any public function being organised the oath was administrated in the LG’s office chamber itself…. Thereafter, immediately after the event, for the benefit of all the media equally, Raj Nivas released the photograph and a short video of the oath taking. We respect the right of the media to cover such occasions, however, as described, the developments of the day compelled it to be a limited event and not be a public function.”

Kiran Bedi, who was projected to be the chief ministerial candidate in Delhi and who could not manage to win her own seat in the Delhi Assembly elections held in 2015, clearly misused her office to please her political bosses. After all, it was her bosses who picked her after the crushing defeat she faced in Delhi and sent her packing to remote Puducherry, over 2,300 kilometres from Delhi. It is not clear if she actually managed to please anyone with this blatant act of partisan behaviour. To date, no ranking leader in the BJP’s central leadership has come out in defence of Kiran Bedi, although most political parties in the Union Territory, barring a few trying to cosy up to the BJP, have condemned her act.

It might be a coincidence that all these events unfolded soon after BJP president Amit Shah visited the Union Territory. Kiran Bedi did the BJP’s bidding by first nominating BJP leaders, and secondly, swearing them in, in blatant disregard of all established norms and traditions of the Union Territory.

One nominee, BJP president V. Saminathan, had contested the 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections from Lawspet and lost his deposit both times. Saminathan and another nominee, party sympathiser and educationist S. Selvaganapathy, have cases registered against them on major charges. Kiran Bedi takes pride in fighting corruption and graft and has been speaking about it at every turn in the Union Territory. But she not only nominated as MLAs those facing major charges but also conducted the swearing-in ceremony. The third nominee is the party’s Puducherry treasurer, K.G. Shankar.

Kiran Bedi believes that she is as powerful as the Delhi Lieutenant Governor (see interview in Frontline , June 9, 2017). But she conveniently forgets the fact that Delhi is governed by Article 239 AA of the Constitution and Puducherry by Article 240. The elected government in Puducherry has certainly more powers than the government in Delhi.

When this is pointed out, many BJP leaders, including its spokespersons, insist that the Union Territories Act, 1963, is the only rule that applies in this instance. They even make a case that the Constitution does not matter here. And therein lies the problem, and it is not a problem of perception or understanding, it is a problem of blatantly throwing all established norms to the winds. “Why have an elected government in Puducherry?” asks senior Tamil Nadu Congress Committee leader Peter Alphonse. “Let them nominate everyone. This is murder of democracy in broad daylight.”

Bandh call

Almost all political parties in the Union Territory are livid. For the first time in the history of independent India, a bandh was called against the administrator of a Union Territory. The ruling Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other political parties supported the bandh called for July 8. Puducherry is not known for bandhs or violence, despite the fact that a gang war has been claiming lives in the past few months. The Union Territory is largely a place for fun and frolic for the people from Chennai and even Bengaluru. For a city of this reputation to abide by a call for a dawn-to-dusk bandh on a weekend, supported by political parties, is a rarity. All shops and establishments remained closed, schools declared a holiday, and private inter-State buses and autorickshaws stayed off the roads. Most residents of Puducherry do not rely much on bus services in any case. It is a two-wheeler town. It has been a tradition in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry for private vehicles to operate during a bandh day. This time, it was different; most people preferred to stay indoors.

The Raj Nivas area, from where Kiran Bedi operates, seemed like a fortress. Cadre belonging to a political party attempted to demonstrate in front of the Raj Nivas. Kiran Bedi became only the second Lieutenant Governor to have the dubious distinction of having a political party demonstrate in front of her palatial office-cum-residence.

It is also a fact that the Puducherry government did not nominate members to the Assembly despite being in power for about six months. Congress leaders defend this by saying that when almost all files that go to the Lieutenant Governor’s office get stuck there on one pretext or the other, a decision to nominate also would have met the same fate. When it is pointed out that such arguments are hypothetical, they say that it would be insensitive to be concerned only about nominating MLAs when serious matters of governance have not been sorted out with the Lieutenant Governor because of her intransigence.

Most politicians this correspondent spoke to described Kiran Bedi’s act as unprecedented and as one that would adversely affect the functioning of any government in the fledgling Union Territory. Some point to the example of S. Chandrawati in 1990, when the Janata Dal-DMK government was in power. Chandrawati had sworn in nominated MLAs, but at that time there was no Speaker or a Deputy Speaker for the Puducherry Assembly.

“The norm is that the Speaker does the swearing in. It has happened so many times and there has never been a problem. What is the hurry to swear in the MLAs? Did the Speaker refuse to swear them in?” asked a Congress leader. The usual practice is for the Cabinet to send a panel of three names to the Lieutenant Governor, who would then forward the names to the government. If the Lieutenant Governor had wanted names of three persons, she should have asked the Chief Minister and gone by his recommendation, he added. As such, there is no representation for Christians in the Assembly while the representation for fishermen is negligible.

Condemning the “back-door” entry of the BJP into the Assembly, Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy said this was a conspiracy hatched by the Lieutenant Governor and the BJP leadership. “I hope the court gives a fitting reply to this act. Kiran Bedi has not come to Puducherry to develop this place. She has come to develop the BJP,” he said. He said the time had come for the President to recall her from the Union Territory in the interest of protecting democracy.

Kiran Bedi’s main weapon against the politicians of Puducherry was that she was a crusader against corruption. That narrative is in tatters. But she does not seem flustered. For her, there is no need to search for a new story for a second coming as a champion of the people of Puducherry. On July 7, she was on Twitter, “feeling sad for our most beautiful part of India… Puducherry”.

On July 4, the three nominated MLAs met the Assembly Speaker V. Vaithilingam and requested him to swear them in. The Speaker told them he wanted to wait for the outcome of the case relating to the appointment, which was pending in the Madras High Court. K. Lakshminarayanan, former Minister and Parliamentary Secretary to the Chief Minister, had filed a public interest litigation petition in the Madras High Court against nominating members to the Puducherry Assembly without any consultation with and waiting for the choice of the elected government of the Union Territory.

The court posted the next hearing for July 23, a decision Kiran Bedi saw as her victory. “The judiciary is the final arbiter,” she said in a message mailed to many, including this correspondent, on July 11. “We can always go to it. Let truth prevail,” she added.

The BJP men claimed that if the appointments were improper, the court would have granted a stay, conveniently forgetting the long-standing tradition of courts being circumspect and extremely cautious when dealing with issues relating to State Assemblies.

A question of ideology

Modi & Zionism

A.G. NOORANI the-nation

It is perfectly correct for India to have good relations with the state of Israel. It is demeaning for any Indian to endorse the creed of Zionism. Judaism is an ancient and noble religion. Zionism is a modern political and divisive creed espoused by Theodore Herzl in 1895. To give an analogy, Hinduism is an ancient and noble religion. Hindutva is a poisonous political ideology espoused by V.D. Savarkar in 1923. Devout Hindus denounce Hindutva. Devout Jews denounce Zionism. In cultivating relations with Israel, India should not turn its back on Palestinians, still less condone the moral outrages perpetrated on the land of Palestine.

On July 5, The Times of India reported: “Most importantly [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi actually paid his respects to Theodore Herzl the father of the Zionist movement that created Israel. It is a remarkable moment.”

Very much so, especially given the fact that Modi also said that “[t]he people of Israel have built a nation on democratic principles” and embraced Israel as an ally on secularism. The Arabs in Israel itself are second-class citizens in a Jewish state; Arabs in lands occupied by Israel in 1967, 50 years ago, have no voting rights. Their lands have been grabbed over the years by Israeli settlements, and they are treated shabbily as serfs.

A state created through terrorism

Israel was created through terrorism. Inescapably. How else can you establish a Jewish state on Arab land? According to a British census, the population of Palestine in 1947 comprised 1,157,000 Arab Muslims, 146,000 Arab Christians and 580,000 Jews. Two years later, only 200,000 Arabs remained in the parts of Palestine that had become Israel. Another study showed that Jews owned 12 per cent of the land in 1946 in what became Israel and 77 per cent after the 1948-49 war.

The problem was foreseen as early as in 1936-39 by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. He said against the backdrop of the Arab Revolt of 1936-39: “We must see the situation for what it is. On the security front, we are those attacked and who are on the defensive. But in the political field we are the attackers and the Arabs are those defending themselves. They are living in the country and own the land, the village. We live in the Diaspora and want only to immigrate (to Palestine) and gain possession of (liskosh) the land from them.”

Years later, after the establishment of Israel, he expatiated on the Arab perspective in a conversation with the Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann: “I don’t understand your optimism…. Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural. We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel. It’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing. We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” (Benny Morris, 1948; The First Israel War, page 393. Also quoted by James Carrol in International Herald Tribune, September 8, 2010.)

What Henry Siegman, Senior Fellow Council of Foreign Relations, wrote in The New York Review ( February 8, 2001) confirms that: “At a meeting of Israel’s Cabinet, Acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami made a most unusual statement to his colleagues. As reported by Akiva Eldar in Ha’aretz on 28 November 2000, the statement was made by Ben-Ami in the course of a Cabinet debate over a document prepared by the Prime Minister’s office which purported to catalogue a long list of Palestinian transgressions. Ben-Ami opposed the distribution of the document on the ground that no one in the West would be surprised that a people under occupation fails to honour agreements with its occupier: ‘Accusations made by a well-established society about how a people it is oppressing is breaking rules to attain its rights do not have much credence.’

“Israelis have found it painful to acknowledge the injustice that the establishment of the Jewish state inflicted on the Palestinian people for fear that such an acknowledgement would de-legitimise the entire Zionist enterprise. They fear it may justify the claim of the most extremist Palestinians that it is not only the Occupied Territories that Israel needs to return but all of pre-1967 Israel as well.... But there can be no disagreement that enabling Palestinians to live as a free people in their own state and compensating the refugees who suffered most from the Nakba are not matters of Israeli magnanimity and altruism, but a sacred obligation to a people that has been greatly wronged, a wrong compounded by keeping the West Bank and Gaza under occupation since 1967.” Israeli settlements have rendered even that almost impossible.

Jewish takeover

In a terrorist campaign in the 1930s the Jews sabotaged public installations, dynamited government offices, raided military stores, and shot, killed, abducted and flogged British soldiers and government officials. Jewish terrorism was then severely condemned by Viscount Samuel, who was himself a Zionist Jew and the first British High Commissioner of Palestine, in the following terms: “The Jewish people have always taken pride in the good deeds performed and the distinctions won by their members; in the number of scientists, writers, musicians, philosophers and statesmen, who have come from the Jewish ranks. …Today these same people have given birth to a set of assassins, who, disguised in false uniforms, waylay soldiers and policemen, hurl bombs promiscuously, blow up trains. …I feel bound to say… that the Jewish population of Palestine and the Jewish Agency are blameworthy for not having … extirpated this curse which has brought shame upon all members of the Jewish community, on 23 April 1947.”

The Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe’s book The Forgotten Palestinians (Yale University Press, 2011) and his earlier work The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006) documented the plans made by Ben Gurion and his men to arrange the expulsion of the Arabs from their hearths and homes and get them decimated.

Judaism & Israelism

Moshe Menuhin, a devout Jew—father, incidentally, of Yehudi Menuhin—wrote in anguish in a scholarly work entitled The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time (1965, with a Postscript in 1969). He wrote in the Preface: “I have entitled this book The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time, but I almost prefer an earlier title, ‘Jewish’ Nationalism: A Monstrous Historical Crime and Curse. Please take your choice. Both titles mean the same thing to me. …As a conscientious Jew, I feel it necessary to set forth my views on Jewish history after studying and observing for many years the lofty and dignified Judaistic past of pure ethics, philosophy and religion, on the one hand, and the current decadent, tragic and revolting perversion of it into boisterous ‘Jewish’ nationalism—Judaism turned into rampant Israelism—on the other. …

“Advancing, evolving, universal and spiritual Judaism, which was the core of the Judeo-Christian code of ethics, is now becoming the tool, the handmaiden, of ‘Jewish’ nationalism, so that the ethical injunctions Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet have been transformed into the unethical, primitive and tribalistic ‘Covenant of the Chosen People’ and ‘Israel First’. So much so that Israelis regard themselves today as Israelis only, an elite, and not, God forbid, as Jews, who in their eyes are a lower breed of humans, traitors to the sacred cause of ‘Jewish’ nationalism unless they emigrate to the ‘sacred-secular Jewish Homeland’.”

Moshe Menuhin recalls how, on September 17, 1948, the highly respected United Nations Mediator Court Folke Bernadotte was murdered by the Israelis along with the French Observer Colonel Andre Serot. He made his will before flying from Stockholm to Tel Aviv: “Finally, after two months, the Israeli government’s atrophied conscience was awakened by world consternation and indignation over the crime. The principal Stern Gangster, Nathan Friedman-Yellin, and his aide, Matityahu Shmulevitz, were arrested. In December, Yellin and Shmulevitz were brought to ‘trial’ in an Israeli court at Acre. They posed smilingly for photographers and their ‘guard’ laughed brazenly. At his ‘trial’ in Acre Yellin whitewashed himself by delivering a harangue in which he attacked Court Bernadotte as an enemy of Israel. One of his condemnations of Bernadotte was this: ‘He stood in the way of Jewish absorption of the Kingdom of Transjordan as well as the whole of Palestine.…”

“Murderer Nathan Friedman-Yellin was soon amnestied, and in 1950, the Israeli government allowed the murderer to stand for election to the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) of which he became a member.”

Lauding Herzl

Israel exists, and India is entitled to deal with it. But India’s leaders do worse than convert affairs of the state into affairs of the heart and wilfully ignore history. Modi was tutored to laud Herzl only because he was the founder of Zionism, and at one remove, of Israel. He was born in Budapest; after an unsuccessful career as a playwright he became a journalist in Vienna.

Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basle in 1897. Zionist ideologues from all over Europe not only discussed the making of a Jewish Athens but also expressed a desire for a Zionist Sparta. It became clear to the leaders of the movement that a vast array of national traits had to be acquired before the Jews could “retake” Palestine and build their own homeland there. Moreover, there was a need to confront quite a few Jewish personalities and organisations that stood against Zionism. Many traditional rabbis forbade their followers to have anything to do with Zionist activists. They viewed Zionism as meddling with God’s will that the Jews should remain in exile until the coming of the Messiah.

David Fromkin wrote in his book A Peace to End All Peace ( 1989, pages 272-273): “The Zionist or Basle Programme was the main product of the first Zionist Congress. The manifesto explained that ‘the Zionist movement aspires to create an asylum for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel which would be guaranteed by international law’. The second Zionist Congress, in 1898, added the imperative of colonising Eretz Israel (Land of Israel) for that purpose. At the third Congress, in 1899, Herzl suggested replacing the search for international legitimacy with a chartered lease from the Ottoman sultan. He believed that money and European pressure would induce the sultan.”

In 1903, David Lloyd George, the future Prime Minister, was retained as lawyer for the Zionist project. He was a biblical Zionist like Arthur Balfour. “When Herzl, an assimilated Jew, conceived the idea of political Zionism, his notion had been that Jews needed to have a national state of their own— but that its location was not of primary importance. Of Jews and Judaism Herzl knew next to nothing. He was a fashionable journalist, the Paris correspondent of a Viennese newspaper who had forgotten his Jewish origins until the shock of French anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus case convinced him of the need to rescue the world’s Jews from their historical plight.

“As a man of the world, he knew how political business was transacted in the Europe of his time and began by establishing a Zionist organisation. He then commenced negotiations on its behalf with officials of various governments. Only after he had come into working contact with other Jews, and with Jewish organisations that for years had been fostering settlements in the Holy Lands, did he come to recognise the unique appeal of the country that the world called Palestine—the Land of the Philistines—but that Jews called the Land of Israel.…

“In 1902 Herzl held an important meeting with Joseph Chamberlain, the powerful Colonia Secretary in the Salisbury and Balfour Cabinets and the father of modern British imperialism. Chamberlain, too, believed in a national solution to the Jewish problem and listened sympathetically to Herzl’s fall-back proposal that a Jewish political community should initially be established across the frontier from Palestine, in the hope that Palestine would eventually become available, somehow or other. Herzl was talking in terms of either Cyprus or the El Arish strip at the edge of the Sinai Peninsula, next to Palestine, both areas nominally parts of the Ottoman Empire but in fact occupied by Britain. Chamberlain ruled out Cyprus but offered to help Herzl obtain the consent of the British officials in charge of Sinai.

“To apply for this consent, Herzl, through his British representative, Leopold Greenberg, decided to retain the services of a politically knowledgeable lawyer, and chose David Lloyd George, who personally handled the matter on behalf of his London firm, Lloyd George, Roberts & Co. The proposal foundered as a result of opposition from the British administration in Egypt and the Foreign Office sent letters to Dr Herzl on 19 June and 16 July 1903 informing him that his proposal was not practical.

“Chamberlain then suggested that he could offer an area for Jewish settlement within the jurisdiction of his own department and offered the prospect of settlement in Uganda.” The upshot was the Balfour Declaration and—Israel.

At odds: Gandhi & Savarkar

Mahatma Gandhi’s position was clear: “My sympathies are all with the Jews…. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.

“But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home of the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?

“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense as England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct. The Mandates have no sanction but that of the last war” ( Harijan, 1938).

In direct opposition was V.D. Savarkar’s stand. He said in a statement on December 19, 1947: “I am glad to note that the overwhelming majority of the leading nations in the world should have recognised the claim of the Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish State in Palestine and should have promised armed assistance to get it realised. After centuries of sufferings, sacrifices and struggle the Jews will soon recover their national Home in Palestine which has undoubtedly been their Fatherland and Holyland.…

“Judging from the Indian press in general our public seems to be misinformed by a sinister pro-Moslem propaganda regarding this Palestine issue. It must be emphasised therefore that speaking historically, the whole of Palestine has been, from at least two thousand years before the birth of the Moslem Prophet, the National Home of the Jewish people. A long line of their great prophets and kings, of Abraham and Moses, of David and Solomon, has endeared that country to them as their Fatherland and Holyland. The Arabian Moslems invaded Palestine only a few decades before they invaded our Sindh, and just as their fanatical fury exterminated the ancient Egyptians or Persians, they attempted to wipe out with fire and sword the Jewish people too. But they failed in this unholy ambition. The Fatherland or the Holyland of the Arabian Moslems lies in Arabia and not in Palestine.

“In justice, therefore, the whole of Palestine ought to have been restored to the Jews. But taking into consideration the conflict of self-interests of the powerful nations in the UNO, their support to the resuscitation of the Jewish state in a part of Palestine at any rate, wherein they still happen to be in majority and which includes some of their prominent Holy Places, constitutes an event of historical justice and importance.

“It is consequently to be regretted that the delegation which represented our Hindusthani government in the UNO should have voted against the creation of the Jewish state. The speeches of Shrimati Vijayalaxmi in particular were justly ridiculed when she declaimed melodramatically that the Indian government refused to stab the unity and integrity of the Palestine state in the back by carving out a separate Jewish state.” This is the outlook which the Sangh Parivar inherited.

In his magisterial work One Palestine, Complete, Tom Segev of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz wrote: “There is no basis for the frequent assertion that the state was established as a result of the Holocaust.” A.J. Balfour, the author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, confided in 1918: “My personal hope is that the Jews will make good in Palestine and eventually found a Jewish state.” The arch imperialist Winston Churchill was complicit in the plan. ( Churchill’s Promised Land by Michael Makousky, Yale University Press, 2007.)

Israel and Indian politics

As Minister for External Affairs, Jaswant Singh said in Tel Aviv on July 2, 2000, that the Muslim vote could not be ignored: “India’s Israel policy became a captive to domestic policy that came to be unwittingly an unstated veto to [ sic] India’s larger West Asian policy.” Some writers blamed Maulana Azad as the prime culprit.

Archival disclosures have demolished these myths sedulously fostered by the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the decades. It is the documents which record the truth. A Jawaharlal Nehru who could rudely snub Maulana Azad on Urdu, on March 12, 1954, would not have brooked any poaching on his prized turf, foreign affairs. He had invited the Jewish agency to the Asian Relations Conference in 1947.

It is well known that he was all for inviting Israel to the Bandung Conference in 1955. A threat of boycott by the entire Arab bloc defeated Nehru’s intentions. This is a matter of record. Why did he not cite the real reason—Kashmir?

Nehru’s policy paid handsome dividends in terms of realpolitik. Nehru was very conscious of it. From 1948 until 1957, Kashmir was a live issue internationally. Pakistan could not even contemplate taking it out of the Security Council, stalled by the Soviet veto, to the General Assembly. The Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser would not have supported it. Nor would some other Arab friends of India. Among the Colombo powers who mediated between India and China in 1963, Egypt was India’s staunchest supporter.

Conceived in “the national interest”, this policy was exploited by the Congress to seek Muslim votes on this, as on other equally false grounds.

Was it love for Israel or antipathy towards Muslims that inspired the Hindu right-wing supporters of Israel? Significantly, some noted Muslim-baiters have been the loudest fans of Israel. As a Persian saying goes, Na ba hubi Imam, valey be zidde yazid (Not for the love of Imam Hussain, but out of hatred for his opponent Yazid).

Do not be surprised if the Prime Minister of Israel reciprocates and on his next visit to India pays tributes to Savarkar to please Narendra Modi.

Gender

‘Hijra has become a political identity’

KUNAL SHANKAR social-issues

IN May 2017, after a long wait of three years, Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli finally received a letter from the Telangana government informing her that her name had been changed. She had applied for the name-change soon after the Supreme Court of India’s landmark judgment in April 2014 ( National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India, also known as the NALSA judgment) which recognised the transgender community as a third gender and granted it a legal identity in all spheres of life and society. It took another year for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to formulate rules that would enable transgenders to open bank accounts with their chosen names and gender identities. The letter from the Telangana government means that Vyjayanti, a transwoman, can now change her gender identity with her chosen name in all official records such as passport, voter ID and driver’s licence.

While progress has been slow and incremental, the NALSA judgment has given India’s transgender community a benchmark to compare any government decision regarding its rights and protection. At the ground level, it has resulted in sporadic but notable political mobilisation outside the NGO (non-governmental organisation) lobby circuit. It has also led to indignation against the 2016 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill introduced in Parliament by the Central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which, if passed, will replace the NALSA judgment as the law governing the transgender community. This law seeks to put in place a district-level screening committee headed by a doctor to ascertain the veracity of a person’s claim of gender identity, going against the Supreme Court ruling which allows for self-identification regardless of sex reassignment medical procedures.

Aged 38 and 40 respectively, Vyjayanti and Rachana Mudraboyina are rising trans activists in Hyderabad. They are part of a collective called Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti (THITS), which they say is a “non-hierarchical, unregistered and unfunded” political pressure group that comes together to fight instances of discrimination against the community. Both Vyjayanti and Rachana are scathing in their criticism of NGOs that “take money in the name of the community and do nothing for it”. They are also part of a vocal, politically rooted network of such collectives nationwide that have formed alliances with other causes such as Dalit and Adivasi rights, women’s empowerment, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) issues.

While THITS has made steady progress over the past five years, Vyjayanti and Rachana admit that there is a dire lack of visibility of transmen, not just in their own collective but across the country. They speak candidly of their challenges to collectivise; explain why transmen are under-represented; admit to undercurrents of caste discrimination within India’s trans community and how their own collective is attempting to address it; and specify where they view themselves on the political spectrum.

Excerpts from an interview Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli (VVM) and Rachana Mudraboyina (RM) gave Frontline:

Both of you have emerged as well-known activists in India’s trans movement. THITS, the collective that you are part of, has been vocal about instances of hate crime against the trans community. Do you think it is now time to address inequalities within the trans community in India? For instance, do you think caste is a factor in determining access, privilege and rights within the transgender community?

VVM: Yes, undoubtedly yes. When the state, the media and corporations interact with the community, the first few transgender people who have access to them come from dominant castes and privileged class backgrounds. They wield a lot of power. I am not saying this to discredit the good work that they have done. Some of their work and political positions might be problematic, but a lot of their work is really good.

So is there an inherent prejudice within the trans community along caste lines?

VVM: Yes. For instance, we know a renowned transgender activist who said, “I am born into a Brahmin family. I cherish Hindu culture.” Cherishing Hindu culture is okay, but being proud of her Brahminical roots could be interpreted as a sense of superiority.

True. Do you think this hinders the collectivisation of the community?

VVM: Yes.


You have chosen not to register your own collective, THITS, as a non-profit. Why?

VVM: I don’t want to say that all NGOs are corrupt, but I do believe that the NGO model in itself is a flawed one that often leads to institutionalised corruption, especially if it is the only available model for social justice. It decimates people’s movements because most NGOs are funded and the politics of funding requires them to stay silent on any discrimination or dual standards followed by their funding agencies. This includes the state, private corporations and so on. In practice, NGOs have done little good and much damage. That is not to say that there are no ethical NGOs at all; there are, but very few.

We are not a registered body. There is no hierarchy because we don’t want this to become a retirement home that we turn to for funding or income. Also, we don’t want to set up a hierarchy, because under the current Societies Registration Act or any other law, we need to have a board of trustees, which is invested with some power.

So if you are not going to do all of that, how are you going to sustain yourself—not only financially but also in terms of your outlook to the movement?

VVM: We work as a collective, like the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI). It is not registered. There is no board. There are many other such unregistered collectives which do a lot of good work in India.

We hold several rallies where we are able to call out a lot of powerful people. That is the main advantage of not receiving any funding. But yes, we need money to even organise a protest. We work on the principle that no cash changes hands. Say, if anyone wants to contribute to this event, we come together to declare cost heads—that we need so many sachets of water, loudspeakers, shamiana, and so on. We accept contributions only in kind. So when you supply, you supply, say, only audio equipment.


In the long run, do you see yourself as a political movement? If yes, what is your vision?

RM: THITS is a political collective. Before we set up THITS, we did try to set up an NGO, a society. We realised the problems inherent in setting up an NGO. We experimented a lot and ultimately decided not to register ourselves. After a couple of protests, advocacy and other kinds of intervention, we realised that this sort of collectivisation lent a greater political status not only to us but to the community as a whole. The community has better visibility now. THITS has become an emblem, a logo, of this community. Hijra has become a political identity. As a community, we see ourselves as political identities.

Have you considered joining mainstream parties? You must be aware of transwomen like Shabnam Mausi, who got elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in the late 1990s, and Madhu Kinnar, who is the Mayor of Raigarh in Chhattisgarh.

RM: Earlier, I used to hate politics. But after learning about the instances that you pointed out, and our own journey from the NALSA judgment to the 2016 Bill, we realise that there are a lot of structural discrepancies in the lawmaking process, where someone else talks and takes decisions on our behalf! So, yes, I am actively considering entering the political mainstream, at least for the sake of more representative policy interventions. There is such a wide gap even in communication, we thought that there is a need for us to sit in the lawmaking process at least to be able to shout at the people who are making those decisions.

Do you plan to form chapters in other States?

VVM: Many States in India have strong and vibrant collectives. For example, after the BJP government came up with this draconian, regressive Bill in August 2016, we protested within three weeks in Chennai, shortly before we left for the U.S. [to attend the State Department-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) for two months. The 2016 focus of IVLP was on trans issues]. A lot of people turned up and we organised a mass rally. Tiruchi Siva, Rajya Sabha member from the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam], who has been an advocate for the trans community, was our chief guest. Two busloads of trans people came from each district of Tamil Nadu. So that meant around 5,000-6,000 people protested at Valluvar Kottam [a central location in Chennai]. This feat was not pulled off by NGOs; it was organised by thirunangais[as transwomen in Tamil Nadu refer to themselves]—unaffiliated people.

Do you consider yourself a group coming from the Left? Or do you think that it is a movement that needs to get different persuasions together on rights-based issues?

VVM: Both. We suffer class discrimination and caste-based violence and exclusion too. We have barely succeeded in using the Nirbhaya Law for acts of sexual violence against transgender people—maybe once or twice. The base of the transgender movement has a lot of Dalit transgenders. We have leveraged and filed cases using the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

There are vast numbers of Dalit and Adivasi transgenders across the country. I speak from my experience in Telangana. Within the hijra system, almost everyone has been ostracised and thrown out of their families. That’s what brings us together.

Much as we would like to think that caste barely exists, we know for a fact that it does. Because we come together for sex work, we know that the Brahmin sex worker is treated preferentially over the Dalit sex worker.

Where do you belong in the caste hierarchy, if you do not mind me asking?

VVM: I do not come from a dominant caste, but I do have a class privilege.

Which has enabled you....

VVM: … to compensate for the lack of upper-caste status.

RM: I want to share a few problems we have experienced in this journey, with both the Left and the Right. Having been marginalised from multiple directions from the beginning, we prefer not to take any ideological positions but instead make alliances as broadly as possible with civil society, because we need their support to win our battles.

Let us try to define our struggle. It is the struggle to access the same things that men and women already have access to, democratically and legally. Our collectivisation is on these lines. Like Vyjayanti said, we would like to think that among us, caste, class and religion do not exist, but they are all there! Trans people have taken a gamble by embracing their gender identities openly, but some have benefited because of the privileges from various other layers of identity. That said, our collective has functioned democratically right from the beginning. No voice is weak or feeble and no one is higher than the other.

Coming back to the question of occupying political office—often gender identities and sexual orientation are seen through a moral lens, and the right wing normally defines this along binary lines. One could say that the BJP or the Shiv Sena have such stated positions. Therefore, one would assume they would not be your allies.

VVM: No, they are not.

RM: That’s why we see ourselves as part of the movements against caste discrimination such as the one at the University of Hyderabad after [Dalit PhD scholar] Rohith Vemula’s death. We participated in full strength in the hunger strike soon after his suicide. As Vyjayanti was saying, the leaders of the transgender community do not want to benefit because of caste or class privileges. We will be part of movements of other marginalised communities because of the natural intersectionalities, like Dalits, women and Adivasis.

In other words, you consider women, Dalits and Adivasis your allies.

RM: Yes. We will support them and we would want them to support us because we are a minority and we are highly stigmatised. As you say, people see us through a moral lens. So we need a louder and stronger voice.

You could make a case for trans activists with caste and class privileges to use them positively, could you not?

VVM: Yes, absolutely. We believe that there is nothing wrong in co-opting the rich. You need multi-pronged strategies. You need people in the system as well, have an engagement with it, or be part of it, to be able to make micro changes from within, so that you can enable others to get in. We don’t take money from them, but we can direct their resources to the beneficiaries.

How long has this sort of a mobilisation been going on in Hyderabad?

RM: THITS began with addressing issues of trans sex workers in 2012. There were about 10-12 incidents across the city every day—instances of police harassment, incidents of physical violence, cases of acid being thrown on transgenders. While we were against NGOs, we were also examining their strategies and trying to find ways to call their bluff and hold them responsible for their actions when they take money in the name of the community. We also tried to engage the community in a thinking process. For instance, a gang rape of a transwoman is never taken seriously. For every 10 transwomen, nine are gang-raped.

That is an alarming statistic.

RM: Yes, it is! And these are not isolated incidents. Several people go through repeated rapes. Trans people are habituated to violence, and they have become silent in order to cope with it. But we question the community on this silence. We ask, how does it help? Look at what happened in the Nirbhaya case, when men and women came together to address the gang rape of a woman. We are also capable of raising our voices! That is how people are motivated to fight for their rights. There is also a lot of colonisation of the LGBT community’s spaces and voices.

Was Nirbhaya a turning point for the trans community as well?

RM: Mainly for transwomen, yes. We feel connected to the issue, but had never been able to negotiate these incidents legally or as a rights-based approach. But now we feel Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which defines rape needs to be amended to include transgenders. We had given suggestions to the Justice J.S. Verma Committee to this end.

VVM: We had submitted a petition to the Verma panel to include transgender people, highlighting the fact that rape is not limited to men and women, and can happen between men; and between men and transgender women as well. We were just a fledgling organisation then, but we sent emails to the Verma panel, and other groups like People’s Union for Civil Liberties [PUCL] and the Bengaluru-based Alternative Law Forum. Justice Verma did recognise and include the transgender community in his report, but ultimately the Government of India did not take it into consideration while framing the laws.

Tell us about your alliances with partners in other States.

VVM: There are many dynamic and highly collectivised de-NGOised groups in Tamil Nadu, led by Grace Banu, Arunamma, Subhiksha from Karaikal, and Mohiniamma from Tiruchi. We met the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment along with them. We work in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, while Akkai [Akkai Padmashali, founder-member of Ondede] works in Karnataka. She does not run an NGO but handles a lot of cases, and so decided to register her collective in order to be recognised as an entity to sue and be sued.

So is this kind of politicisation happening across the country?

VVM: It is happening in the southern States, primarily in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and to some extent in Assam. Not in Maharashtra or in the north, unfortunately.

Often, there are complaints from within the LGBTQI community that the most visible faces of the community are gay men or transwomen, and that the voices and concerns of lesbians and transmen and other intersectional communities get marginalised. Are you trying to address this?

VVM: Yes, we have ourselves resented the domination of cisgender, gay and bisexual men inhabiting almost all spaces of power in NGOs and beyond. And at least in THITS, we have some transmen, like Karthik Bittu (a faculty member at the University of Hyderabad). We have other people who are not as open but are key decision-makers nevertheless as voting members of the group. They are equal stakeholders, and we try hard to check instances of hate crime against transmen. For instance, in November 2016, the anchor of a television talk show called Bathuku Jataka Bandi on Zee Telugu channel threatened a couple [a transman and a queer woman]: “I will thrash you and break your legs for doing this.” We organised a press conference to condemn this kind of hatred, but we did not want to appropriate the couple’s space. We supported them with their decisions and we made things happen. We try and get the stakeholders to lead struggles, unless they are uncomfortable with that and insist on us taking up their fight. We do not want to claim to be rescuers or messiahs, because we are not.

RM: I want to add to that. I agree with what Vyjayanti says about gay men and transwomen. But the two have occupied that space for very different reasons. Gay men have dominated the whole queer movement in general because, for one, the gay movement precedes most other movements led by the LGBTQI community. The trans movement is still in its nascent stage. On the other hand, the visibility of transwomen is because of their gender. It is hard for us to hide who we are. So while I agree with you, I think we are beginning to learn about movements and struggles led by other trans people. I am not saying we are perfect. Also, transmen—women transitioning into men—face a lot more stigma at home and outside. It is doubly hard for them. Once they get thrown out of their homes, or walk out, they get assaulted on the streets. Where will they go? Security is a bigger concern for transmen, another reason why they are not visible in the movement. Whenever there are such situations, we try to help in articulating their concerns.

In other words, the biological gender that transmen are born into becomes a double-edged challenge to overcome?

RM: Yes, and along with it so many things, like the roles women are expected to play in families and communities. Transmen attempt to break those gender norms.

VVM: I don’t think the discrimination faced by transmen is greater, or higher, but when you have a combination of misogyny and transphobia, then things get very scary. That said, as a community, there are only two livelihoods that have existed for transwomen universally—begging and sex work. At a structural level, neither of these livelihoods is what gay men, or transmen for that matter, or several others within the LGBTQI community would opt for in general. There is a different level of violence that we are exposed to, which does not make it easier. We are not competing in the “discrimination Olympics” here to compare who is beaten down more. What I am trying to say is, each individual within the queer community faces a different kind of discrimination, which tends to define their role or the degree of their involvement in the movement. It does not mean that they participate only to the extent of the kind of discrimination they face, either. In fact, I would argue that there is much greater solidarity within the queer community than in several other movements, but often the reasons why a particular community seems under-represented within this movement are not looked at holistically.

You have spoken about how NALSA was a progressive movement, but the current Bill in Parliament is a regressive move. Speaking about employment, how do you propose to fight for jobs in the government or the private sector? Is affirmative action something that should be incorporated in this Bill?

VVM: Since liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, the share of government jobs has been steadily declining. We have been consulting with lawyers on how to articulate our demand to include us on the reservation list. Lawyers have advised us to collect the number of rejections of job applications that could be traced to transphobia, because Article 16 [of the Indian Constitution] is about non-discrimination in public employment. For that, we will have to apply [for jobs] and get rejected so we can take the matter to court. Such a test case could be useful for others who wish to gain government employment.

Secondly, the bulk of employment is in the private sector now. In the U.S., for example, almost all private corporations call themselves LGBTQI-friendly, but they barely had any gender-nonconforming employees we could meet. In India, the majority of the multinational corporations are American and British, but they hardly have any transgender people either. It is very disappointing when an employer says, “We are women-friendly, but we don’t have a single woman employee, but believe us, we are women-friendly.” So we are trying to exhort and push them to hire transgender people, but that’s an uphill task. Because people in power do not feel obliged to do anything.

As you said, the bulk of the employment now is in the private sector, but the multinational corporations are really a tiny fraction of them. Your fight will still have to be largely with domestic companies. How are you going to address that? Unlike in the U.S., we do not have laws to impose affirmative action in the private sector.

VVM: Not by a long shot! [Laughs]. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill attempts to address this. In so many areas, we do not know how to make headway, frankly. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill, which is a Private Member’s Bill pending in the Rajya Sabha from 2014, incentivises the private sector. We want such incentives to remain [in the Act] so that it is not seen as reservation, because unless we are very confident of including reservation in the private sector, even talking about it is only going to open a can of worms and corporate giants will destroy this Bill. Incentivisation means that you don’t have to hire, but if you do, you will be rewarded. So it is like rewarding good behaviour through subsidies and tax incentives.

Among the political parties the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Republican Party of India and the Left have been asking for reservation in the private sector, pointing out that post-1991 jobs and education in the public sector have shrunk drastically. But that has been along caste lines. Would you not want to push that to include the LGBTQI community?

RM: Yes. We have supported these moves as well. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill to incentivise the private sector is a not a vertical line, it is a horizontal line. That is to say, apart from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Backward Caste communities, transgender people—especially the really poor among them—need to be considered as a base for incentivisation for the private sector. Tiruchi Siva’s Bill is the only hope we have to secure at least some employment and education.

Apart from this, we have the NALSA judgment. Before and after the NALSA judgment, several consultations took place with the LGBTQI community, where we suggested the formulation of policies that co-opt the existing structure of reservation for mainstream communities and gender-conforming men and women below the poverty line, and to extend it to the LGBTQI community as well. Plus a few other policy-level changes, which would enable the trans community to access education and employment on an equal footing. So we need to see our movement for equality not only from the time of the NALSA judgment, but the many incidents that led to the judgment.


A personal question. How have your families reacted to your politics?

VVM: My parents are ailing and not in any state of mind to understand all this. To put it bluntly, they have just been waiting to die. They are in palliative care. [Vyjayanti’s mother died shortly after this interview.] Not that they had been too supportive earlier either. They have loved me as parents do, but they did not respect me.

Has it been a fight for you?

VVM: I have never fought them. That is something I have not done. There are people who have invested a lot in their parents, engaged with them constantly, and tried to make them understand. I have done that to some extent, but... I have not been living with my parents since 2000. I have only been providing for them financially, between 2000 and 2013, and after that they have been terminally ill.

So getting support from my parents has not been a priority for me. I don’t think everybody needs to convince their parents, and I don’t think parents need to support everything that their children do or decide either.

RM: About my family, wherever there is patriarchal thinking, there will always be resistance to accept us. My family chose to disown me, and that’s the norm in the trans community. Every trans person comes to the understanding that this is not a one-day battle, or even one person’s battle, but a long battle that we are fighting, maybe not for ourselves, but for future generations of trans people. I feel we have witnessed so much discrimination that we have become numb to it. It feels monotonous, like the same music I hear all over again every time I hear it from a new trans person. But I have never given up because of this. We have to focus on the larger battles.

VVM: We want to be good parents, if and when we become parents. Perhaps that’s a way by which we can give our children what we ourselves didn’t experience. It’s a long story, but to cut it short, my father sent me to a psychiatric home when I was 20. I had to undergo electric shocks and I had to go through conversion therapy. I filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court during the review petition in the Koushal judgment stating that re-criminalisation of Section 377 (consensual same sex between adults) would open the floodgates to unethical and criminal medical and mental health practices.

My father gave me a pill that was supposed to transform me into a well-adjusted cisgender heterosexual man, “raging for women like a horse”, to use his own words. I don’t entirely blame him, but I do hold him responsible because he thought it was good for me. It led to a severe allergic reaction called toxic epidermal necrolysis, because of which I lost patches of my skin. I had to be treated like a burns patient. So when I hear some people who have made leeway and have made breakthroughs with their parents, more power to them! But I do think that those who don’t want to, should not beat themselves up about it. It is okay that your parents don’t fully accept you, because they have their biases.

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Oct 9,2020