Thursday, November 22, 2012

India’s anti-corruption movement: hopes belied

(I wrote this piece to explain, in response to a query from an overseas friend, what went wrong with India’s anti-corruption movement of the last two years and why I have no hopes from a faction of the leadership of the movement that has decided to join the electoral fray.)
The anti-corruption movement 2011-12 has been the biggest countrywide upsurge of the citizens in India since the 1970s. The movement held out hopes of broad democratic reforms amid the tightening stranglehold of the elite over decision making and resources and its ongoing war against the majority of the population. The movement was a stupendous success before it came crashing down.

Jan Lokpal Andolan – a movement of the Indian citizens demanding an independent, especially empowered institution for investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption – started in early 2011 amid a string of scandals involving central and state ministers, legislators and other powerful people.
Some of these corruption scandals – 2G spectrum scam and Commonwealth Games scam, to name just two – have been unprecedented in terms of the estimates, mostly official, of the public money siphoned off.
One such estimate, made by India’s public auditor, has it that the 2G spectrum scam cost the public exchequer US$ 32.15 billion in revenue lost.
Early 2011 coincided with the time when a period of high economic growth, which started around 2004 and translated into a carnival of rising incomes and consumption for the urban, middle class Indians, had been petering out.
So the biggest beneficiaries of high growth among the working households, who probably account for no more than 250 million of India’s population of 1.21 billion, were realising that the party was finally over.
And that they had probably been taken for a ride; they’d barely realized while the jamboree was on that they had been inveigled into paying for everything – for privately provided education, healthcare, transport, housing, savings instruments and even for using roads – amid a generally inflationary environment.

Bleak scenario
While publicly provided services, on the other hand, had fallen into neglect since the advent of neo-liberal economic ‘reforms’ in 1991, they went rapidly to seed after they were deserted by the educated and politically significant middle classes.
Thus the majority of the population, which includes the most vulnerable, the poorest and the barely educated, had since been left with hospitals, schools, transport and other public services that are plagued with cutbacks and corruption indulged in often by members of the same middle classes that stopped using them in favour of private services.     
This bleak scenario, where the urban Indians were also supposed to be learning to look over their shoulders for 'global financial crises' and 'recessions' that would take away their jobs, was heightened by what appeared to be an open loot of public resources that, by all accounts, has continued to the present day despite the anti-corruption movement.
The organisers of the Jan Lokpal Andolan, especially Arvind Kejriwal, a Delhi-based activist who is considered the main planner of the movement, underlined the fact that India had no agency outside the government-political control that could independently investigate complaints of corruption against the high and mighty, collect evidence and take the cases to the courts for trials.
Their solution: a legislative proposal for such an agency that was drafted, for the first time in India, not by bureaucrats, but by a group of citizens through a process that allowed a degree of wider public participation.
Only the corrupt will dispute the fact that India has no system worth its salt to seriously fight corruption. India’s anti-corruption apparatus does not even qualify as a pretense, not only because all investigative agencies are under the thumb of the political executive, but also because the government after government have demonstrated their willingness to influence those agencies to undermine investigation into their crimes and use them as a bargaining chip in striking deals over complaints of corruption against the members of the opposition.
Further, the political class has by all accounts corrupted the Parliament itself, which is constitutionally empowered to call the government to account, striking mutually convenient deals and even buying and selling votes behind closed doors.
The judiciary too has failed the ordinary people. Justice is delayed as a rule and processes in lower courts are known to be blighted by graft. The Supreme Courts and the high courts have also been facing allegations of corruption against their judges without demonstrating the honesty to come out clean in the eyes of the citizens.
The higher judiciary has shown no moral courage in the face of enormous social injustice and has very often demonstrated its own class bias by failing to take the side of the underprivileged.

War against bottom of the pyramid
In fact, corruption is just a symptom of the open class warfare being waged by the elite against the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, i.e. the majority of India’s population. The country is now a proper plutocracy, ruled by the propertied and the wealthy. Most of the members of Indian parliament are those whose assets, even going by the deflated self-declarations, are valued Rs. 10 million each at the very least; and they go up to Rs. six billion or probably more.
Needless to say, there is a cushy equation between the politically powerful and the capitalists as is evident in the public policies that subserve Big Business and the granting of lucrative public procurement contracts and licences for exploiting natural resources to the cronies.
The neo-liberal state has also been using its ‘eminent domain’ under the archaic Land Acquisition Act, 1894, to transfer land from farmers to the capitalists at prices that impoverish the former and stupendously enrich the latter.
And public services and assets are being turned into means of private profit through ‘public-private partnerships’. The PPP concessions not only exclude all those who cannot afford to pay, but also constitute an assault on constitutional rights of the citizens and government’s accountability to the public.

Massive turnouts
Led by Anna Hazare, an elderly activist who first earned fame for leading the socio-economic rejuvenation of his village in western Indian state of MaharashtraJan Lokpal Andolan was successful in drawing the chastened, alarmed and increasingly miserable middle classes out of their homes and into the streets.
It is this politically significant constituency which then attracted the attention of the national TV channels which, in turn, helped to turn the protests into a massive nationwide affair.
Though the anti-corruption movement remained anchored in large cities and overly dependent on the corporate-controlled mass media, it also drew support from the under-classes in the rural areas and smaller urban areas.
Jan Lokpal Andolan has also been described as the first that reached the scale of a countrywide citizens’ movement since the huge rallies against Indira Gandhi government led by 'Loknayak' Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s. For the youth and all those under 40, the movement provided their first experience of a nationwide grassroots movement.
In its makeup and core demand, the movement appeared to be a landmark in citizen awakening and held out the promise of wider democratic reforms in the way the country had been governed by the elite who inherited from the British a colonial mindset, not to mention the colonial laws and conventions. Leaders of several social movements, such as Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan, either supported the anti-corruption movement or saw it as a fillip to their own democratic causes.
At its peak, the movement was successful in extracting a promise from the Parliament that an “independent” anti-corruption agency at the centre as well as separate such agencies at the states would be established. The promise, however, has remained a promise.
The entire political class, across the ideological spectrum, came together to express its horror over the audacity of “a few self-appointed champions of morality” to challenge the “sovereignty” of the Parliament.
“Laws are made in Parliament. Not on the streets,” was the refrain of the politicians who showed their true ‘democratic’ colours by pouring scorn on the people who sent them to the legislatures as their representatives.

United colours of corruption
The cynical attitude of the political parties became increasingly explicable when the leaders of movement highlighted the cases of corruption of the members of Parliament that have been stuck at various stages of investigation or trial without being taken to their logical conclusion.
It was pointed out, especially, that about a dozen members of the central council of ministers, including the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who has since become the President of India, face serious allegations of corruption based on credible evidence surfacing in the public domain.
“These cases will never see the light of the day. How can they when the investigative agencies are controlled by the people who are to be investigated?” said leaders of the movement.
With no credible answer to this question, the government tried to brazen it out, ignoring the last round of the agitation in July-August this year which, however, also exposed the weaknesses of the leaders of the movement.
What happened in July-August was nothing short of a fraudulent end to a very successful citizens’ movement just when it was badly needed to be sustained for a long haul for achieving not just the objective of enacting an independent anti-corruption agency, but also for broader set of governance reforms.

People duped, betrayed
Into the eighth or ninth day of the agitation in New Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, the main strategist of the movement, revealed his own electoral ambitions by staging a coup of sorts. It was announced, clearly under Kejriwal’s influence, that the movement would not gain anything by continuing the protests and needed to give people a “political alternative”.
The pretext was a letter received from “23 eminent citizens” who having expressed concern over the health of fasting protesters urged Anna Hazare, the leader of the movement, to discontinue the agitation and prepare “to give the country a political alternative”.
The gathering present at the protest site as well as supporters elsewhere were asked to send text messages – ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the “political alternative” – a farce staged in a crude attempt to mask the decision that had already been taken under Kejriwal’s influence.

Hopes belied
After giving a new meaning to “politics” and defining what “politics” should ideally mean, Jan Lokpal Andolan subverted its own great success under the weaknesses and narrow political ambitions of its leaders.
The hopes of a “political alternative” which could have been achieved by putting public pressure on a thoroughly corrupt system to reform itself were thus shattered.
It would be fair to say that it was the failure of the entire movement – the leadership as well as the public who supported it. That’s because the ordinary supporters tolerated a leadership that baulked at democratizing the decision making of the movement which then became vulnerable to the whims and fancies of a few.
Having betrayed the trust of the people, Arvind Kejriwal has since been staging his own private protests and demonstrations in order to get a few seats in the central and states legislatures.
The people, however, are smart enough to see through the charade.
Since public support has vanished, Kejriwal’s press conferences exposing the instances of corruption against the high and mighty, whom he joined in the electoral fray, have amounted to nothing more than some lively coverage in the media with no hopes of any reform.
Meanwhile, India is sliding back down the abyss of corruption, a vicious class warfare and is more firmly in the grip of the wealthy elite that has been destroying whatever is left of our democratic institutions.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In honour of Shekhar Gupta, the ‘profound intellectual’ of our times

With commiserations to India’s PR industry…

If you have never learnt any economics
Of growing GDP, with herbs and tonics
And wonder why ‘reforms’ by Congress party,
Such as FDI in retailing, in amounts so hearty,
Should upset ‘mango men’ of ‘banana republic’
But not the Vadras, their Hoodas and goondas
Not even socialist Manis and Jairams so green,
Nor capitalists of Mumbai and their PR machine
Then you take a lesson in the dismal subject,
From an editor hell-bent on ‘National Interest’
He is clearly an intellectual so very profound
Balding pate, specs, throwing hands around
Scribbles he his columns with vim and style
On the subject of ‘reforms’ worth their while,
Of which he is so confident as to be masterly,
A la Adam Smith that he sees himself to be,
You could measure the depth of his intellect, 
From his belief that FDI is Right, all else Left
Scorn he pours on activists and the communist
Whom he deems outmoded, himself modernist,
“Aspirational” is the term he drops quite often,
As though fancy words are equal to erudition
For Congress’ well being, he has passion unbound,
Putting PR agents to shame, journalism unwound,
‘Your achievements,’ says the Guru to the party
Are years of ‘free markets’ and ‘brilliant growth’
Damn! If you cannot even have them flaunted,
Though I am doing my bit to have them planted
In ‘National Interest’, in pages of Indian Express,
Which courts, not the public, but Big Business
That’s his idea of journalism − of courage undone
Not for nothing is he Congress’ Padma Bhushan
Headed to Rajya Sabha, for all you know
Like the DDA flat he left for a bungalow
Now if you are a reporter under his thumb
Tell your ‘editor’ not to be so very dumb
As to play the PR game behind journalism
Better to suck, full time, the corporate bum,
Leave alone expounding of economics too,
It’s not the job of so fine a poodle like you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fraud at PHFI and the role of the chief executive

Confronted with evidence of forgery at Public Health Foundation of India, an assistant professor employed by the organization makes remarks that reveal ‘production’ of documents and undermining of the RTI Act, 2005, by chief executive K. Srinath Reddy. It's notable that Reddy has long been the sidekick of Rajat Gupta, former global head of McKinsey and a convicted fraudster. 

I was forwarded, on 11 September 2012, an email written by one Dr. Giridhar R. Babu of PHFI – reproduced at the bottom of this article – in which he defended his organization’s forgery and fraud with remarks that are not only childish, but also show that president Dr. K. Srinath Reddy has himself been engaged in ‘production’ of documents and interfering with the functions of a public information officer (PIO) under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

(PHFI, whose governing council is currently chaired by Infosys’ N.R. Narayana Murthy, provided me a forged document as part of generally misleading information in response to my RTI request dated 05 July 2012.
The document in question purports to be a copy of the detailed list of the members of PHFI’s governing council as on 31 March 2006, signed by president K. Srinath Reddy on 03 August 2006, but bears clear evidence of recent tampering or forgery.
PHFI response, dated 13 August 2012, calls into question the veracity and accuracy of information it has been providing to other RTI applicants and to the Central Information Commission or CIC.
It transpires that PHFI – which remained non compliant with the RTI Act for most of its existence since its inception in February 2006 – provided misleading information to Mr. Kishan Lal, a Mumbai-based citizen, as well as to the CIC.
It was Mr. Kishan Lal’s request for information, dated 06 September 2011, which eventually led to the CIC holding on 14 February 2012 that PHFI was a public authority under the RTI Act and should start complying with the law.
One can clearly see a pattern of a falsification and forgery at PHFI that needs urgent response and corrective measures from the government whose representatives sit on the governing body of this organization.)

I would like to believe that Dr. Giridhar R. Babu’s remarks, which he has described as “facts”, can be used as evidence in a court of law and at the Central Information Commission.

1. About the five-page forged document, Dr. Babu says, “The names are entered correctly in the document provided to Mr. Bajaj”.
So PHFI made out this document especially for Mr. Bajaj by “entering the names correctly”, by labelling the document as ‘Details of the Governing Council, As at 31st March 2006’, by stamping each page of it with PHFI seal, by Dr. Reddy signing each page of it with the last page clearly bearing the date 03 August 2006 and place New Delhi, and by giving the addresses and occupations of the members of the board – except a few – as they were on 31 March 2006.

It’s clear that PHFI takes great trouble in manufacturing documents for RTI applicants. Instead of just typing out the names of the members of the board on a plain paper, they went through the rigmarole described above just to make me believe that I am being sent a copy of the composition of the governing council as stamped, signed and certified on 03 August 2006.

My RTI request was only for “a list of the members of PHFI’s governing body, including the chairperson, which came into effect on 27 March 2006, with their designations”.

2. Dr. Babu bolsters his assertion that the document was especially made out for Mr. Bajaj by adding, “The designations were wrong and was entirely due to the clerical error of a junior staff who entered the current designation instead of earlier designations. This was an inadvertent error, a clerical one, without any reason behind it”.

3. Dr. Babu then adds, “These minor and harmless errors were not noticed by PIO. Subsequently Dr.Srinath Reddy has seen the names but not taken cognizance of the incorrect designations”.

So the PIO at PHFI, in her statutory role, is completely innocent of the fact that a document is being manufactured to resemble an originally signed and certified list of the members of the governing council to be sent to an information seeker under RTI Act 2005.

The PIO is innocent enough not to wonder that the requested information might as well be provided on a plain paper instead of being made to look like the composition of the board as signed, stamped and certified on 03 August 2006.

And why, on earth, does PHFI have to make out a list of the members of the board as on 31 March 2006 to be provided to an RTI applicant? Where is the originally certified document?

Dr. Srinath Reddy, on the other hand, not only dutifully signs each stamped page of the document that says, ‘As on 31st March 2006’, but also signs it alongside the date of 03 August 2006 to make the RTI applicant believe that they are getting the real McCoy.

So according to Dr. Babu, Dr. Reddy has not only been violating the RTI Act 2005 by interfering in what information is to be provided and in what manner under the law (which is the statutory duty of the PIO), but actually producing documents and committing forgery in the process.

4. Dr. Babu then makes some truly laughable assertions: “Also, there is no date mentioned beneath the signature of Dr.Reddy. If he had mentioned date, then it would could have been construed as deliberate attempt to provide wrong information”.

Well, date is “mentioned” not beneath the signature of Dr, Reddy, but alongside and it is 03 August 2006. Why does Mr. Giridhar require the date to be mentioned “beneath the signature” – and not alongside – for a document to constitute a “deliberate attempt to provide wrong information”?

There is no reason for anyone to add date beneath their signatures, when the document they are signing on already bears a date.
One would have to discard such a document if one really wanted a date different from the one it bore.

5. The response I received from PHFI, dated 13 August 2012, is not the only false or falsified information that PHFI has been providing under RTI Act 2005.
The evidence I have reveals a pattern of fabrication and provision of misleading information, not only to the RTI applicants but also statutory authorities like CIC.

(a) For example, PHFI sent what it described as a “certified true copy” of its Memorandum of Association (MoA) to Mr. Kishan Lal with a copy to CIC Mr. Shailesh Gandhi on 28 March 2012, which listed only eight members as registering themselves as society. (K. Srinath Reddy, R.A. Mashelkar, Rajat Gupta, Gautam Kumra, Prashanth Vasu, Ashok Alexander, Ajay Bahl and Raman Sharma.)

After Mr. Kishan Lal pointed out that this “certified true copy” does not even have signatures of the founding members and demanded that he be sent “copies of signed documents submitted to Registrar of Societies”, PHFI produced for him, on 25 April 2012, another MoA that showed 16 persons as the founding members.
(The additional eight − Probal Bhaduri, Anirudh Lakshman-Katre, Gautam Verma, Ishila Bhattacharya, Kumal Katre, Bishambhar Basu, Rameshwar, Sanjay Kumar − have been added at the back of the last page of the MoA in type-written script.)

(b) Through its response of 28 March 2012, PHFI informed Mr. Kishan Lal and the CIC that “The Governing Council with 21 members came into effect on March 27, 2006.”
And through its response of 13 August 2012, PHFI informed me with another “certified true copy” that its Governing Council that came into effect on 27 March 2006 had 24 members.

(c) Through its response of 13 August 2012, PHFI informed me that the meeting of PHFI’s governing council on 09 February 2006 was attended by “the first members of the Society” (which would purportedly mean 16) while the copy of the minutes of the meeting that she sent me showed that the meeting was attended by only five members of the society (Reddy, Kumra, Vasu, Alexander and Sharma).

And the additional eight names, appended in type-written script at the back page of the MoA, purportedly join PHFI on 08 February 2006 and resign the very next day, as the minutes of the meeting of the governing council show.

(d) That’s not all.
The four of the original eight (Kumra, Vasu, Bahl and Sharma) disappear from the governing council on 27 March 2006 and four government bureaucrats − Nirmal Ganguly, Prasanna Hota, Sujatha Rao and RK Srivastava – make an appearance, without there being any public announcement that the four bureaucrats had ever been authorized by the government to join PHFI board.

(Bear in mind that PHFI had earlier informed Mr. Kishan Lal and the CIC that “The Governing Council with 21 members came into effect on March 27, 2006”.)
If PHFI decides finally to stick by the number 24, can it show us all the letters of authorization from the government for the four bureaucrats to join its board?

(e) There is a lot more I can point out.
For example, in the MoA showing 16 members, Mr. Rajat Gupta − a US citizen − has given the registered address of PHFI as his address, which would be unacceptable for such function as registration of society under law.

In the same MoA, Messrs Reddy and Mashelkar have given their office addresses (AIIMS and CSIR), which is an illegality − within the larger illegality that they were prohibited by the rules as government employees to participate in the formation of such an organization and from soliciting funds; they had no authorization from any public authority for doing so, I have been informed under RTI Act.

The following is the email written by Dr. Giridhar R. Babu of PHFI.
Prabir’s question made me respond to this.
Firstly, the entire matter is under appellate process at PHFI and would be resolved at the earliest.
From what I found out, here are the facts:-
1. The names are entered correctly in the document provided to Mr.Bajaj.
2. The designations were wrong and was entirely due to the clerical error of a junior staff who entered the current designation instead of earlier designations.
3. This was an inadvertent error, a clerical one, without any reason behind it.
4. These minor and harmless errors were not noticed by PIO. Subsequently Dr.Srinath Reddy has seen the names but not taken cognizance of the incorrect designations.

It is clear that there was erroneous information provided but it was inadvertent, minor and without any intention to hide any information. A strong term such as "forgery" can be used when the erroneous information is provided with view of 'material gain' or "malicious intention". However, in this case, it was purely a clerical error without any intentions. Also, there is no date mentioned beneath the signature of Dr.Reddy. If he had mentioned date, then it would could have been construed as deliberate attempt to provide wrong information. Every organization will have some clerical errors as part of their routine activities.

The earlier information was sent in good faith. After completion of appellate authority's action, Mr.Bajaj will be sent in the response from PHFI. What we have here is an obvious clerical error that was not subsequently noticed by PIO. I am certain that the response of PHFI would be made available in public domain soon after completion of action by appellate authority, before which I thought this response would help to allay some misconceptions.

warm regards,
Giridhar R Babu

With PHFI, falsification is the truth

Recently subjected to the RTI law, Public Health Foundation of India seems to have been unravelling like the plot of a B-grade movie from Bollywood. As it turns out, the very formation and continued existence of the organization is based on fraud.

On 14 February 2012, in a significant decision, the Central Information Commission noted “with some dismay that the highest levels of public servants in India did not accept the citizen’s enforceable right to information in PHFI, despite the government substantially funding it and exercising some control”.
The CIC was referring to Public Health Foundation of India remaining non-compliant with the RTI Act 2005 for six years since its inception in February 2006 despite the presence of T.K.A. Nair (Advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh), Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Deputy Chair, Planning Commission) and a few other high-ranking bureaucrats on its governing board.
The phrase “highest levels of public servants in India”, however, might well apply to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, who personally implanted PHFI into the heart of India’s public health policy and administration while describing it as a “public-private partnership” (PPP).
In that decision, the CIC countermanded the will of “the highest levels of public servants in India” by ruling that PHFI was a public authority under Section 2(h) of the RTI Act 2005 and must start complying with the law.
Subsequent developments not only vindicate the CIC, but also suggest, quite scandalously, that the public and private patrons of PHFI have been hiding a lot from the citizens.

Fabrication given away
In August 2012, in response to my RTI request, Kalpana Swamy, the public information officer (PIO) at PHFI, sent me what appears clearly to be a forged document as part of information that’s dubious and contradictory in general.
The document in question came as a five-page ‘Annexure B’ with PHFI’s response dated 13 August to my request dated 05 July. It is purported to be a photocopy of an officially certified document setting out the composition of the governing council of PHFI as on 31 March 2006.
The original document has ostensibly been stamped with PHFI’s seal and signed by president K. Srinath Reddy on 03 August 2006, but contains several instances of asynchronous information that shows that it has recently been forged.
(a) For example, R.A. Mashelkar, who was Secretary of DSIR (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) and Director General of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) in March 2006, has been listed as ‘CSIR Bhatnagar Fellow, National Chemical Laboratory’ which he became only after his retirement in December 2006.
(b) K. Sujatha Rao has been listed as ‘Former Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’. Rao retired from her post as Secretary of the health ministry in November 2010.
(c) The “occupation” of Rajat Gupta – the prime mover in the formation of PHFI and its chairman until March 2011, who is going to jail after being convicted of securities fraud in the US – also seems to be a recent addition. According to publicly available information, he was Senior Partner at McKinsey & Co. in the year 2006, but has been listed in the forged document as ‘Former Partner, McKinsey and Co.’.

Pattern of misleading info
Further, while the ‘Annexure-B’ lists 24 persons as making up the governing body that came into effect on 27 March 2006, the same PIO at PHFI had earlier informed Kishan Lal, a Mumbai-based RTI applicant, with a copy to CIC Shailesh Gandhi, that, “The Governing Council with 21 members came into effect on March 27, 2006”.
(This information was provided as part of the same case that resulted in PHFI being held a public authority – decision No. CIC/SG/C/2011/001273/17356; I had represented Kishan Lal at the CIC.)
The day of 27 March 2006 is important, being the eve of PHFI’s “launch” by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Strangely, the ‘Annexure-B’ shows four top bureaucrats − Nirmal Ganguly, Prasanna Hota, K. Sujatha Rao and R.K. Srivastava − as members of PHFI board on 27 March 2006, even though there is nothing in the public domain that attests to the government authorizing these four to join the board on or before that date.
There are more such mysteries about the composition of the board as also instances of dubious and contradictory information in PHFI’s response of 13 August.
PHFI’s baleful influence also seems to have spread to the Union health ministry one of whose CPIOs sent me an itemized “PHFI Response” in reply to another request that was specifically addressed to the government, not PHFI.
The first point in my request, for instance, enquired as to whether the health ministry recognized PHFI as an ‘autonomous body’ and, if it did, whether it obtained the approval of the Cabinet for the formation of the organization as an ‘autonomous body’.
In his reply of 16 August, the CPIO not only allowed this and other points in my request to be answered by PHFI, but labelled the itemized response generally as “PHFI Response”. Needless to say it is full of misleading information.

The larger deception
Since the CIC decision of 14 February, a lot more has come out in the open that shows that the very formation and existence of PHFI is based on fraud.
For more than six years the government has been advertising PHFI, alternatively and according to its convenience, as a “public-private partnership” or an “autonomous body” or an “autonomous PPP” – the last descriptor being compounded from the preceding two and invented especially for PHFI.
These promotions include several formal statements made to the Parliament and a parliamentary committee.
For example, in mid-2006, PHFI was introduced as a PPP to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, which was considering the demand for grants (2006-07) of the department concerned.
On 24 November 2006, Panabaka Lakshmi, the then minister of state for health, described PHFI as an “autonomous body” to the Rajya Sabha.
On 31 August 2007, speaking again in the Rajya Sabha, Lakshmi described PHFI as an “autonomous public-private partnership”.
It transpires now, according to government’s own responses to RTI requests, that PHFI was never intended to be and never was a “PPP” or an “autonomous body” in the senses that the government rules assign to these two descriptors.
In responding to Kishan Lal, for instance, in another case that went up to the CIC, the health ministry not only denied the existence of any PPP initiated by the government in the health sector, but also the existence of any “PPP policy for the social sector, viz. education and health.”.
Needless to say no contractual agreement was ever signed between the supposed ‘private partners’ and the supposed ‘public partners’ to form PHFI.
In other words, PHFI is not only a law unto itself, but is meant to be a durable, flexible, first-AC-railway-coach-like arrangement carved within the government for the well connected to use as they like and when they like.
The “autonomous body” cover has been even more fraudulent. (“PHFI cannot be defined as an autonomous body,” I was informed by the health ministry hiding behind its “PHFI Response” of 16 August.)
It was needed only for the “grant-in-aid” of Rs 65 crore, which the government had earlier approved as a “one-time contribution” to PHFI corpus on 06 July 2006, to pass muster. Setting up PHFI as an “autonomous body” was out of question for the government and its private collaborators as it would have meant meeting the very elaborate conditions laid down by the General Financial Rules 2005 (GFR 2005) for forming such bodies.
One of those conditions is a prior Cabinet approval, which was never obtained and never intended to be obtained. In fact, the so called “grant-in-aid” of Rs 65 crore was rendered illegal from the moment it was conceived because it was provided in violation of GFR 2005.
As for “autonomous PPP”, this special coinage simply meant, ‘Let me pull some more wool over your eyes’.

Here is more wool
Insinuating PHFI − which amounts to a corporate coterie sprinkled with an Amartya Sen and a Mirai Chatterjee (of SEWA) to make it palatable − into the public health set-up has not been just about the misuse of certain descriptors, but is much more than that.
The government misled the citizens, the Parliament and the parliamentary panel into believing that PHFI would limit itself to public health education and, at the most, some research work that can be put to use in policy making.
While the parliamentary panel – for instance – was specifically assured against its serious misgivings that “this experiment will be confined to the area of public (medical) education only”, PHFI was turned gradually into virtual government.
It has been allowed to participate directly and widely in policy formulation, bag very lucrative public procurement jobs without any competitive bidding, and even receive aid as part of the health-related agreements that the Centre signs with the foreign governments.
PHFI acted − to take a few examples − at full public cost as the secretariat for the High Level Expert Group on Universal Health Coverage that was chaired by its president Srinath Reddy and whose report is meant to be a blue print for national health policy for many years to come.
PHFI was chosen without any competitive bidding as technical partner in the National Initiative for Allied Health Services (NIAHS), a Rs 1100 crore project of the health ministry for expanding paramedical capacity. (The list of handsomely paid central and state projects that it has bagged is too long to be given here.)
And PHFI received a hefty funding from the Norwegian government as part of the Norway India Partnership Initiative (NIPI) for reduction of child mortality in five states.

Encouraging corruption
The parliamentary panel was also given an exaggerated sense of government’s ability and intent to influence decision making in PHFI board. It transpires that the government has never had any significant power − or even intention − to influence any decision in PHFI board, not even the ability to convene a meeting.
PHFI’s rules not only limit the number of government representatives on the board to a meagre proportion of the total membership, but also give non-government members (read Big Business) the super-majority to decide who would be recognized as a “government representative”.
“MS Ahluwalia is a member of the PHFI board as MS Ahluwalia, not as deputy chair of the Planning Commission,” a counsel for PHFI informed the CIC on 24 January at a hearing that this writer attended.
This “individual capacity” membership of the board – a new record in pushing public servants into lawlessness and corruption – was termed by the CIC as “untenable”.
“It is difficult to assume that senior public servants can be on the board of an organization like PHFI, which has numerous interactions with the government, in private capacity. In fact, this would necessarily imply a conflict of interest. The Commission can only assume that such public servants must necessarily be acting on behalf of the government, when they are required to take executive decisions as members of the board… Any other conclusion would be an improper slur on their integrity,” the CIC wrote in its decision of 14 February.
This “improper slur on their integrity” was, nevertheless, written into the rules of PHFI with the connivance of the “senior public servants” themselves.

Illegal origins
Government’s covert and overt support to PHFI has been illegal − from its deliberately obfuscated beginnings to the present time. It was illegal when, in February 2006, Srinath Reddy, then head of the cardiology department at AIIMS, and R.A. Mashelkar, then Secretary-DSIR, were encouraged to team up with Rajat Gupta, his two McKinsey colleagues and two corporate lawyers to register PHFI as a society.
The Central Civil Services (conduct) Rules 1964 don’t allow a government employee to form an organization that will replicate or resemble the work of his parent organization on a significant scale and explicitly prohibit him from soliciting funds.
Information obtained through RTI shows that Reddy’s “deputation” from AIIMS to PHFI – effected by a ministerial fiat – was irregular and arbitrary; neither the AIIMS rules allow any such deputation, nor the proposal was ever placed before AIIMS governing body.
(Reddy is currently improving public health and public finances by drawing a salary of Rs 60 lakh a year plus a bungalow.)
In fact, “deputations” of all government employees to PHFI can only be regarded as illegal because PHFI does not fit any description of any organization to which rules would allow public servants to be seconded.
Information released by DSIR under RTI shows that it hastily certified PHFI as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (SIRO) without there being any worthwhile record of research work and without ever visiting the latter’s facilities.
Likewise, PHFI’s public health management courses have no recognition or accreditation from any statutory regulator in the country.

Trampling democracy
“The PHFI initiative has been collaboratively developed over the last two years under the leadership of Rajat Gupta of McKinsey, the Ministry of Health, and Srinath Reddy,” The Indian Express wrote on 29 March 2006.
News reports such as these suggest that the government worked secretly with certain well connected manipulators and front men to plan the formation of PHFI. This sly and undemocratic way has often been portrayed by the cronies-in-arms as “smart ways of working together to overcome national challenges” or “innovative models of public-private partnerships”.
If these are really “smart ways of working together to overcome national challenges” or “innovative models of public-private partnerships”, why can’t they be encapsulated in a publicly discussed and properly formulated public policy?
Why do they fall foul of laws, rules and regulations as they actually did at every step in the design, formation and functioning of PHFI?
The criminal streak built in PHFI is best illustrated by the forgery described above and the fact that a soon-to-be-convicted fraudster was allowed to continue – until some protests – to chair a body privileged to influence public policy and having the representative of no less than the Prime Minister.
Also illustrative is the example given above of how the health ministry has allowed itself to be suborned by PHFI.
In fact, PHFI represents a new low in the ongoing degradation of the concept of democratic governance and rule of law; a new record in the ill-treatment of public health of a billion-strong population by the government; and the very worst of crony capitalism that India has ever known.

Whys and the wherefores
(a) Why would the government implant so deceptively what is essentially a private club into the sensitive area of public health policy where decisions would be of vital concern to a population of over a billion?
(b) If the government really wanted a PPP to take care of India’s public health policy and administration, why didn’t it first introduce a PPP policy in the health sector?
(c) Why would the government lavish vast public resources on an organization without demanding transparency, public accountability and public audit?
(d) Why would the government parcel out the ability to influence public policy and administration to people according to the influence they wield, the connections they have and their ability to pay?
(e) Why would the government choose to have no power to influence decision making in an organization packed with Big Business representatives, the prime mover among whom managed to commit fraud, get caught and convicted?
(f) Why would the government not see the obvious conflict of interests in the roles of Big Business in increasingly privatized provision of medical services while also wangling a seat in a forum privileged to influence policy that will affect the size of medical services market?
(g) How can the government accept the market principle in provision of health services while still gifting lucrative public procurement jobs to its cronies without competitive bidding?
The answers to these questions are a matter of life and death for us and our children.

This is the full and unedited version of the two-part article first published on 10-11 September 2012 on Moneylife website. The writer has since made his formal complaint about forgery, in the form of first appeal, to PHFI. He has also sent letters of complaint to a dozen members of PHFI’s governing body, including T.K.A. Nair, M.S. Ahluwalia, P.K. Pradhan (Secretary Health), Amartya Sen and Mirai Chatterjee, but has not received any reply from any of them. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Split and Stuck

The two fundamental divisions of Indian politics have lost their substance and stalled the country’s progress by deeply damaging the process of building political consensus.

Secular-Communal and Dalit-Upper Caste are the two great divides of Indian politics.
Hardly any national-level programme or policy can pass muster or an important social issue can be discussed without being made the subject of the political theatre  which often turns into vicious battles – staged around these two great divides.
Ever wonder what is behind this increasingly acrimonious politics and what has it yielded to the Indian society?

The disputants
The right sides of the two rifts –  labelled 'communal', ‘upper cast’ and 'casteist' – are generally taken to mean 'Hindutva' or 'caste Hindu' or 'Brahmanical' or just 'Hindu'.
The epithets, 'communal' and 'casteist', are often used together  i.e. those who are characterized as 'communal' are also deemed 'casteist' and vice versa.
The left sides – labelled 'secular', 'pro-Dalit' and 'Dalit' – are represented by people who see themselves as 'progressives' fighting the 'communal' and 'casteist' forces in the interest of India's 'oppressed communities', which are taken primarily to mean Muslims, Dalits, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs.

Hanging matter
Woe betide anyone who is accused of, or even whispered as, being a 'Hindutva sympathiser' or promoting a hidden 'Hindutva agenda' or being ‘Brahmanical’ or a 'caste Hindu'.
The use of supposedly 'Hindu' art and other associations  such as Bharat Mata, Vande Mataram, saffron robes  can also make one a 'suspect'.
The burden of proving otherwise often lies with the accused and the suspect.
Anyone with some claim to prominence, who believe they and their cause have nothing to do with any of the two great divides, may still have to demonstrate to the 'progressives' that they are not 'communal' and/or 'anti-Dalit'.

My way or the highway
Most of the 'progressives' take a one-way street.
"The very same folks who egged you on to write about their problems and to take the Hindutva beast by its horns would shrilly denounce you as an 'agent' of this or the other 'power' if, in your quest to be honest and balanced, you pointed out even some of the mildest of their faults. It was as if by definition the 'oppressed' were spotless angels who could do no wrong and their 'oppressors' wholly and incorrigibly demonic," writes Yoginder Sikand, who recently decided to give up his handsomely paid, 20 years' career in 'progressive social activism' after realising the “truly astounding hatred that often passed for progressivism”. 
Read Sikand's extraordinary confession describing the intolerance of 'progressives' who, he says, believe they are championing the ultimate "Cause" against not just communalism and casteism, but also “class oppression, gender injustice and imperialism” on The article[1] is titled ‘Why I Gave Up On 'Social Activism’.
After opposing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for many years, Namdeo Dhasal, the critically acclaimed poet, Dalit activist and the founder of Dalit Panther, joined hands in 2006 with the Nagpur-headquartered organisation to promote national unity and social harmony. This is what he had to say on the reconciliation[2].
"Leftist friends would pounce upon me with abuses and accusations that I have shifted camp, but I don't care, because I have only one mission  to strengthen national unity and social integrity. This cannot be achieved if we remain divided in thousands of castes and sub-castes and keep pouring venom against each other. Neither can politics help eradicate castes, which rather thrive on casteist divisions."

What sets them off?
Here is the opening paragraph of ‘Dalits in Hindu Rashtra: Time for another Sadbhavna fast Modiji’, an article[3] written by ‘progressive’ writer Subhash Gatade and published on on 24 May 2012.

“Justice Balakrishnan (ex-CJI, now chair of the NHRC), who has remained in news since his retirement altogether for wrong reasons, provided further ammunition to his critics with his recent visit to Gujarat. The manner in which he lauded the state government for its “innovative schemes for the upliftment of Dalits” and claims that “..future of the SC community seems to be fairly good in Gujarat as compared to many other states” is being seen as an attempt to clean chit and whitewash acts of omission and commission of a government which is still mired in the controversies surrounding the carnage in 2002.”

Here Gatade is suggesting that the approbation[4] of some of the governmental work for the welfare of the Dalit communities in Gujarat by NHRC Chairman Justice KG Balakrishnan (who himself was born in a Dalit family) in his official capacity is tantamount to an effort to “whitewash acts of omission and commission” of the Modi government  with allusion to the 2002 riots.
So this approbation  rather than the alleged failure of the Modi government to help the Dalits  is the primary provocation for Gatade to write the 3500-word article in which he argues that the state has performed poorly in protecting the rights of the Dalit communities. 

Blame it on Brahmins
Gatade’s description of Gujarat as “Hindu Rashtra” (in the headline of his article) does not seem to be intended to be just a figure of speech consisting in an exaggeration.
That’s because a lot of ‘progressive’ writers like Gatade believe that ‘Hindutva’ of which, they allege, Gujarat is a laboratory is not just equal to fascism, but it was the Hindu Brahmins who passed this dangerous ideology on to European fascists.
The following is what Dr. Rai Mohan Pal, another ‘progressive’ who has edited the Bulletin of the People's Union for Civil Liberties and the monthly Radical Humanist, has to say in an interview[5] published on PUCL website on 09 January 2004.
“Hindutva, as I see it, is the modern form of Brahminism. I believe that Brahminism and fascism share much in common, and just as the philosophy of fascism is based on the negation of human rights, so, too, is the philosophy of Brahminism.
In fact, Brahminism is a philosophy based on the gross violation of the fundamental rights of entire social groups — women, Shudras, Dalits and tribals, as well as groups such as Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs, who, when added up, form the vast majority of the Indian population…
MN Roy, the founder of the Radical Humanist movement, was the first to point out the fact that the roots of fascism lie in the ancient Brahminical religion, and he showed how European, particularly German, fascist philosophers borrowed concepts from Brahminical scholars and scriptures, concepts such as the Aryan race theory, the supremacy of the strong over the weak, the concept of the tyrannical superman and so on.”

An anti-fascist Brahmin
One of the more frequent describers of Hindutva as ‘fascism’[6] and its followers as ‘Hitler’ and ‘Goebbels’ (minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany) is Mani Shankar Aiyar, the Congress MP and Nehruvian socialist and secularist.
Born in a Brahmin family, just like Nehru, his political inspiration, Aiyar does not betray any trace of embarrassment in flinging at others the word ‘fascism’ which was invented, allegedly, by his caste members and spread across the world.
Anyway, Nehru and a Nehruvian like Aiyar do not impress the more ardent ‘progressives’ like Kancha Ilaiah.
In an article[7] on the recent controversy over the publication of Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon in an NCERT textbook, Ilaiah wrote: “Gandhi and Nehru now remain upper-caste heroes and agents of the state, whereas Ambedkar is a prophet of the poorest of the poor – the Dalits.”
Ilaiah would, perhaps, next demand a blasphemy law. If he does, it would be interesting to see how a ‘progressive’ lawmaker like Aiyar would react.

Not to put too fine a point on it…
Aiyar’s description of Hindutva as fascism sounds hollow to many, including Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, his younger brother and a well known columnist.
If Narendra Modi is a fascist for allegedly allowing the violence against Muslims to take place in 2002, so was Rajiv Gandhi – Mani Shankar Aiyar’s political patron and hero – who oversaw the slaughter of about 3000 Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, the younger brother argued in an article[8] titled ‘My murders are better than yours’ and published in The Times of India of 06 January 2008.
Rajiv Gandhi was neither tried for the pogrom in Delhi in 1984 nor did he ever apologize for it.
“The 1984 data are more suggestive of a pogrom than the 2002 data. The Hindu casualties in 2002 were a quarter of the total, suggesting two-way violence (even though Muslims suffered far more). But no Hindus died in Delhi, so it looks much more like a pogrom,” wrote Swaminathan Aiyar.
The Times of India also reported[9] on 09 August 2003 that “10 Janpath has maintained a deafening silence” over the involvement of Congress’ own cadre in the killings during the post-Godhra riots.
“We wrote letters to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, gave a list of Congress leaders involved in the riots, asked her to take action against them, but to no avail,” the paper quoted Mahmood As'ad Madani, general secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, as saying.
The younger Aiyar has questioned the Left parties’ certifying themselves as ‘anti-fascists’ by citing the history of their own involvement in political violence in the states ruled by them and the violent record of the regimes they support in other countries[10].
He has also made a mention of the taint of violence in regional parties like DMK, which was tolerant of the militancy of the Tamil Tigers, and Akali Dal, which had links with the armed Sikh secessionists.

Stalling national progress
If the whole point of being ‘progressive’ is to be an antidote to hatred, divisiveness and social exclusion and to promote social harmony, why are ‘progressives’ always pointing fingers at others – shrilly, self-righteously and without making any demonstrable effort to enter into a dialogue with the other side?
Why are ‘progressives’ reluctant to admit their own failings, fearful of discovering anything good in those they decry, and attack those of their camp who wish to give dialogue and reconciliation a chance?
It is easy to see that the political theatre staged around the two great divides of Indian politics – Secular-Communal and Dalit-Upper Caste – has neither helped resolve differences nor benefited any community.
This is self-defeating and self-perpetuating politics in that it accentuates the existing fault lines, creates more fractures in the society, and allows politicians to play endless games.
It has stalled India’s progress on every issue of national interest by damaging the process of building political consensus.
Playing the two rifts is anything but ‘progressivism’.
(End of matter)

[1] ‘Why I Gave Up On 'Social Activism’ by Yoginder Sikand 

[3] Dalits in Hindu Rashtra by Subhash Gatade,


[5] Dr. Rai Mohan Pal on Hindutva,

[7] Outlook, The Ethereal Realist, by Kancha Ilaiah,

[9] Congress cadres were involved in post-Godhra violence against Muslims,

[10] The reports on the following links give some idea of the Left’s involvement in political violence.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The tragedy of being Pakistan

Decades of military rule and Islamic extremism have brought Pakistan to its knees. What is striking about the current plight of Pakistan, however, is that it is neatly explicable, to a large extent, in terms of the 'two-nation theory'. The story of Pakistan is, in fact, an incredibly illustrative lesson of history, which every sensible person in the Subcontinent should pay sufficient attention to. This article also shows that Pakistan's constitution has destined the country to be anything but a democracy.   

One of the most remarkable political developments in South Asia in recent years was the mass movement led by Pakistani lawyers against the sacking, in March 2007, of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, by military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
The lawyers led some of the biggest citizen protests in Pakistan’s history against the illegal removal of Justice Chaudhry and the continuation of the military regime.
As the movement intensified, the Supreme Court resisted the machinations of the military regime and restored Justice Chaudhry in July 2007. The lawyers continued to lead the popular, non-violent protests through six weeks (November-December 2007) of emergency and suspension of the constitution when Chief Justice Chaudhry and a large number of top judges refused to take oath under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).
The democratic upsurge was instrumental in forcing Musharraf to resign as military chief in November 2007 and as President in August 2008, and saw to it that he did not rig the general elections of February 2008.
After the elections, the movement continued through a series of coordinated actions, demanding that the civilian government fulfill its promise of reinstalling the Chief Justice and other judges who had refused to take oath under the PCO.
In March 2009, when the government finally gave in to the popular pressure and reinstated the Chief Justice and other judges, it was a great triumph of hope for Pakistan. The civil society had gloriously reasserted its democratic instincts against a history of military coups, intrigues and political instability, and the possibility of a collapse of the Pakistani state.
A lot of that hope has since been belied. The lawyers who had led the democratic upsurge against the illegalities of a military dictatorship were showering rose petals, in January 2011, on Mumtaz Qadri for murdering Punjab Governor Salman Taseer because the latter had opposed the blasphemy law which has been used for harassing Pakistan’s minorities.
And the ‘civil society’ seemed to have been losing its nerve and democratic instincts in an atmosphere of savagery promoted by most of the Islamic clerics who advised the people not to be shocked or sorry for the cold blooded murder of a ‘blasphemer’.
In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for the minorities and a Christian, was killed, also for speaking against the blasphemy law, by extremists who claimed themselves to be the members of Al Qaeda and Taliban, the Islamist militant organisations.

Unabated violence
Assassinations carried out by Islamic extremists and terrorists are just one of the manifestations of the vortex of violence that the country has been sucked into. In a little over nine years since 2003, terrorist violence, which includes suicide attacks and Islamic sectarian killings, has claimed a total of 39,714 lives – 31 per cent of whom were civilian victims, 11 per cent security persons, and 58 per cent terrorists, according to New Delhi-based South Asia Intelligence Review.
Fatalities in the US-led war on terror, which has been fought on Pakistan’s north-western frontier, are in addition to what has been cited above.
Since 2004, for example, the US security forces have used unmanned aerial vehicles or ‘drones’ to strike at what they believe to be Taliban and Al Qaeda militants hiding in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and its border with Afghanistan.
A total of 316 drone attacks, which have often been off the mark, claimed lives that number between 2,412 and 3,063, according to Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based organization. The civilian casualties range from 467 and 815, children number 178, and total reported injured were 1,158 to 1,263.
Pakistan also has a history of violence blamed on a sub-nationalistic identity like Pashtun clashing with another like Mohajir or Balochs demanding a better deal from the federal government.

Failed state?
Here are a few more important events of the recent past that compel us to consider the scary situation as regards politics and governance in Pakistan, the status of war on terror, and how the Pakistani civil society is being savaged by Islamic extremism.

*It was reported in May 2011 that helicopters carrying a US special operations military unit entered Pakistan undetected and killed Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda and arguably the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Laden had reportedly been living in a large residential compound for several years in Abbottabad, a garrison town with heavy presence of Pakistan’s military.
In a country where the military establishment evokes awe, has largely been placed above criticism, and has gained primacy at a huge cost in terms of civilian democratic governance and ever larger financial budgets, the killing of bin Laden by the Americans exposed the revered institution to harsh criticism. Was the military (or ISI) deliberately hiding bin Laden? If not, how could it have been so incompetent as to be unaware of the presence of the most wanted terrorist in its own backyard?

*The incident has already led to a further straining of the uneasy relations between the military and civilian government of Pakistan as manifested in ‘Memogate’ controversy. It involved Mansoor Ijaz, an American-Pakistani businessman, alleging in November 2011 that Husain Haqqani, the then Pakistani Ambassador in Washington, asked him to deliver to the Americans a confidential memo on behalf of President Asaf Ali Zardari, asking for US assistance against a possible military takeover of the government.

*There have been multiple reports citing sources in western intelligence agencies that say Pakistan has been playing a double game in the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan with the ISI providing covert support to Taliban and Al Qaeda, particularly groups like Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura, while pretending to be an ally of the western forces.

*In May 2011, an audacious attack by the Taliban on Mehran naval base in Karachi destroyed Pakistan Navy’s two premier anti-submarine and marine surveillance aircraft. The attackers were dressed as naval officials and were aware of the security protocol at the base and carried themselves like soldiers, according to eye witnesses cited in media reports. The attack showed that certain elements within the Pakistani armed forces had joined hands with the Islamic extremists to subvert the State.

*Pakistan’s ISI and militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had coordinated with each other for the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, David Coleman Headley, who has been implicated for his role in the crime that killed 166 people, told Americans. The ISI provided military and moral support to the group, he said.

The rear-view mirror
Pakistan’s political instability has mired it in an economy that is a few decades behind Indian achievements in modern industry, and worsened the condition of the poor who make up, officially, over 17 per cent of the population of about 18 crore.
As suggested above, the military expenditure eats up an increasingly larger chunk of annual economic output at the cost of the needy citizens. The traditional hold of the military over foreign policy has left Pakistan as virtually a client state of the US. And modernization of a predominantly feudal society has become increasingly difficult because of Islamic extremism.
What is remarkable about the present plight of Pakistan is that its most serious problems are neatly explicable in terms of its history – particularly the two-nation theory, the rationale for the partition of the Subcontinent, and how Pakistani society and the state have evolved since then.
A 64 years of post-colonial history is long enough time to make sense of what Pakistan has come to be as compared to India and why.
Pakistan’s current situation can be broadly classified into the following two rubrics.
1. Stunted growth of democracy and constitutionalism under successive military rules
2. A problematic nationhood originating in the two-nation theory and struggle with Islamic extremism
It’s easy to see that each of these two problems traces its origin to the forces and the circumstances that created the state of Pakistan as a home for a part of the Muslim population of the subcontinent in a not-so-distant past.

A false start
Both India and Pakistan inherited the same systems of governance from the British in 1947, but have since performed widely differently in political development and stability. While India has been able to develop a functioning democracy with a few serious disruptions like the Emergency in 1975-77, Pakistan allowed the entire period of its existence since independence to be under the shadow of junta -- more than half of which was direct military rule.
The different attitudes and ways of dealing with a common legacy are evident right at the beginning. While ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the tallest leader of the Muslim League, the party that won Pakistan for the Muslims, he also made himself the first Governor-General of the newly independent dominion and the president of the constituent assembly. A powerful leader centralizing three powerful political or governmental roles into himself was hardly a good start, in addition to being unwarranted, if his objective was to foster democracy.
An evidence of the exercise of this unchecked power by Governor-General Jinnah, which is cited by some historians, was the dismissal in September 1947 of the government in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which was affiliated to Congress and was duly elected in the 1946 provincial elections.
Under British Raj, a Governor-General was also known as ‘viceroy’ (adjective: viceregal) in its role as the representative of the Crown. The viceregal tradition of exercise of vast powers would haunt Pakistan throughout its subsequent history as more governments were dismissed and assemblies dissolved by the Governor-Generals and Presidents.
Third Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad, for example, dismissed Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin’s government in 1953 and dissolved the constituent assembly itself in the subsequent year. The latter action, subsequently condoned by the judiciary, was taken in response to constituent assembly’s move to curtail the powers of the Governor General.
While India gave itself a constitution that established it as a republican and parliamentary democracy in 1950, Pakistani constituent assembly took nine years to draft a constitution during which a lot of developments took place that were detrimental to the fostering of democracy. The central authorities, for example, indulged their anti-democratic tendencies by imposing military rule in Punjab in 1953 following Ahmadiya riots.
The constitution that came into force in 1956 proved short-lived. In 1958, President Iskander Mirza abrogated the constitution, dissolved the national and provincial assemblies, and banned all political party activity. He placed the country under martial law and appointed General Ayub Khan the chief martial-law administrator.
(In a subsequent power struggle the same year, General Ayub Khan got Mirza arrested and exiled. He then ruled the country for more than a decade.)
The early Pakistani leadership thus steered their country away from patient nurturing of democratic culture and willy-nilly allowed the military rule to take root.

Inherited disadvantages
It’s important to take a look at the nature of Muslim League and Congress as political legacies themselves if we are to understand the attitudes of the early leaders towards democracy. Being established in 1885 Congress had a headstart over the Muslim League, which came into being in 1906, in developing a nationwide mass base. While Congress drew its support primarily from the masses, Muslim League was dominated by the landed gentry and lacked a commensurate mass base. Congress’ secular outlook gave it an obvious advantage over Muslim League in gathering a nationwide support. Also without dispute is Congress’ more illustrious record of struggle for independence as is evident, for example, in the time that the various leaders of the party had served in prisons.
It’s easy to imagine the role that the Muslim League must have played in ensuring that the landed gentry dominated the political culture of Pakistan after independence.
Pakistan’s geographical inheritance reveals certain obvious disadvantages – in addition to the fact that the country was divided in two wings 1000 miles apart.
The obvious tolerance of the military rule in Pakistan has its origins in the admiration for the ‘disciplined’ soldiers that is found even to this day in what was once the western wing and the close ties between the dominant classes in Punjab, the largest province, and the armed forces.
The military has traditionally recruited heavily from the landed classes in Punjab and NWFP; the top and middle tiers of the armed forces have been dominated by people who belong to the gentry.
This intimate relationship has resulted in an ever growing weight of militarism in Pakistan and stunted growth of democratic culture, democratic institutions and citizenship.
It’s interesting to re-look at the ongoing Memogate controversy through the lens of the military rules that Pakistan has experienced since its early days. Is it any surprise that the military establishment and its intelligence wing is the real wielder of power and the civilian government lives under constant threat of being taken over?

Problematic nationhood
Bengali nationalism leading to the secession of the East Pakistan from the country in 1971 was a decisive disproof of the theory that the Muslims of the Subcontinent make up a separate ‘nation’. The persistence and assertion of cultural identities like Punjabi, Sindhi, Mohajir, Pashtoon and Baloch is a further disproof.
The two-nation theory has been harmful for Pakistan in a more insidious way, namely in the form of the efforts that have been made over the years to apply Islamic tenets to running the affairs of the State.
The current constitution, originally drafted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in 1973, designates the country as ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.
The preamble reads: “Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;
And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to establish an order;
Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;
Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;
Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah…”
Article 2 of the constitution says: “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan”.
Article 31 (1), under Principles of Policy, says: “Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.”
Article 227 (1) says: “All existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah and no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions.”
Article 228 (1) constitutes an Islamic Council that will advise the national and provincial assemblies on bringing legislations in compliance with Islamic principles.
The constitution also requires the President and the Prime Minister to be Muslims and all central and state ministers, chief ministers and governors to “strive to preserve the Islamic Ideology which is the basis for the creation of Pakistan.”
Article 260 also defines the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslim’ and declares Ahmadis, who consider themselves Muslims, as a non-Muslim community.
What that means is that an Ahmadi, such as Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, the first foreign minister of the country, who had also drafted Muslim League’s Pakistan Resolution in 1940, would be ineligible to become the Prime Minister or the President.

Who will decide?
Here is an imaginary dialogue between a Pakistani citizen and an apologist for the constitution; it discusses just a few of the innumerable questions that Islamic features of the constitution raise.
If the “order” that the constitution seeks to establish is to be based on “the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated by Islam,” then who will decide what Islam determines “democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice” to mean?
‘Article 31 (1)’ which requires the State to “provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah”. In other words, the State will ensure the provision of teachers who will interpret Islamic scriptures for the masses and define “democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice” according to those scriptures.
That sounds like a fairly grotesque way of promoting things like ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom.’ I see democracy simply as a way of life in which people make their own decisions rather than rely on a few wise men.
But the constitution does not stand for “democracy”; it stands for “democracy as enunciated by Islam”?
Then why use the word ‘democracy’ for a system in which we the ‘demos’ (people) would not even be able to decide what ‘democracy’ should mean to us without the help of a few wise men? What if those few wise men disagree with each other? Would the Shias agree with the Sunnis? Would the Hanafi school of law agree with the Malikis? Does the acrimony, and sometimes outbreaks of violence, between various sects of Islam (and schools of law, theology, etc.) suggest agreement on any issue of significance? Would ‘freedom’ have the same meaning for Pakistani women that Taliban realized for the female population of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a state recognized by Islamabad? Would ‘democracy’ be given the meaning that Taliban realized in its regime (1996-2001)? And if the Islamic teachers are to decide the very freedoms of individuals and the society, then why do we need a constitution? Why not just leave everything to the Holy Quran and Sunnah that the constitution seeks to implement?
Hasn’t the constitution made everything explicit – that Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan and that sovereignty belongs to the Almighty Allah, not to the people?
If Almighty Allah has the ultimate sovereignty, then everything depends on Holy Quran and Sunnah and its interpretation by the clerics. We have always had the scriptures as well as the clerics. Why did we need the constitution then?
The constitution and the State are just the facilitators.
I am not sure I ever asked for such facilitation.
Maybe your political representative or the party you or your father once supported did!!

More questions
The following are some more disturbing questions that Pakistan’s constitution raises.
If establishment of an Islamic order is the ultimate objective of the constitution, then how is Pakistani state different from the Islamists – many of whom get branded and outlawed as violent ‘extremists’ – who would also want a social and political order based only on Islam, not any man-made law?
Wouldn’t the likes of late Osama bin Laden of Al Qaeda and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of LeT claim the same objective for their activities? Why has the Pakistani state been collaborating with the US in cracking down on Al Qaeda and Taliban both of which would also want an Islamic order?
How would Pakistan argue against the use of violent Jihad as an Islamically legitimate way for some people to bring about an Islamic order if such a means were to be supported by some schools of theology based on their interpretation of Holy Quran and Sunnah?
Would the Pakistani government take sides in a theological dispute over whether a meaning given to ‘Jihad’ is Islamically legitimate or not? If yes, doesn’t that leave open the possibility of the future Pakistani governments siding with an interpretation of Islam that will be unacceptable to the global community?
Given the mounting evidence, is it constitutionally sound and Islamically legitimate for an arm of the Pakistani state to aid and abet militant individuals and groups, like the 26/11 attackers of Mumbai and the Taliban, who spread violence in other countries?

Religious land-mines
The Islamization of society that General Zia-ul-Haq, the fourth chief martial law administrator, brought about holds some important lessons for Pakistan.
Based on Islamic injunctions, the Hudood Ordinances, for example, were enacted in 1979 to criminalize adultery and non-marital consensual sex. They also made a rape victim liable to prosecution for adultery if she cannot produce four male witnesses to the assault.
The Hudood Ordinances have led to hundreds of incidents where a woman subjected to rape, or even gang rape, was eventually accused of adultery and jailed, according to human rights groups in Pakistan.
After a public outcry and recommendations of a couple of government-appointed committees, the Hudood Ordinances were amended by the Women’s Protection Bill 2006 which took rape out of the ambit of Sharia (Islamic law) and placed it into Pakistan Penal Code. The Bill does away with the need for the four witnesses and allows convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.
Opposing the amendment, the Islamist political parties said the Bill went against Articles 2a and 227 of the constitution, which say respectively that “Islam will be the state religion” and “No laws will be passed which are repugnant to the Quran and Sunnah.”
The constitution also insists that all important elected officials must swear allegiance to the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ – a term whose genesis has been discussed by Pakistani scholars Pervez A. Hoodbhoy and Abdul H. Nayyar in their book, ‘Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience’.
The authors quote former Chief Justice Mohammad Munir as writing that the Quaid-i-Azam never used the words ‘Ideology of Pakistan.’ Nor was that phrase known to anybody until 1962. That’s when a member of the Jamaat-i-Islami, a fundamentalist party, used these words (in the National Assembly) for the first time when the Political Parties Bill was being discussed.
“On this, Chaudhry Fazal Elahi (who was also the fifth President of Pakistan) objected that the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ shall have to be defined. The member who had proposed the original amendment replied that the ‘Ideology of Pakistan was Islam’, but nobody asked him the further question ‘What is Islam?’ The amendment to the bill was therefore passed.”
Given the state of Pakistani society and politics, Indians have a lot of reasons to feel proud and relieved. And it goes without saying that the two countries have a lot to learn from a shared and very painful history.
(End of the matter)

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