Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I never knew that I will end up celebrating Abdul Kalam.... well that's what politics is all about!!!

V.Krishna Ananth

The Mahabharata has always appealed to me because it raises a set of questions that can form the basis of a lesson in jurisprudence. I recall my son, whom I had forced into reading an abridged version of the epic, reacting that this was a story of deceit and foul-play. He was hardly in his teens at that time. The story of Karna, the way Drona was overwhelmed and the several instances in the epic cannot but make anyone feel the way my son did.

But then, that is why I think the Mahabharata must be prescribed as a text in jurisprudence. For this will help look at law as not merely a collection of texts and prescriptions but in a larger context. President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s decision to refuse assent to the amendments to the Office of Profit Bill can neither be condemned nor lauded.

It is possible that the Presidential action will soon be condemned on grounds that President Kalam has overstretched himself in the same way Giani Zail Singh act (with Rajiv Gandhi when he refused consent to the Post Office Amendment Bill) was condemned by a set of self appointed custodians of democracy. The argument would be that the wish of the legislature, which is directly elected by the people, cannot be made subservient to that of the President, who is only a titular head of the state.

Recall the debate when Indira Gandhi, aided by legal and political luminaries, took it upon herself to make Parliament superior to the judiciary and went on to say that Parliament had the right to amend all aspects of the Constitution. The debate was thankfully settled by the Supreme Court in the Keshavananda Bharti judgement that the last word on amendments to the Constitution will be from the apex court and that Parliament cannot tinker with the basic structure of the Constitution.

Now, coming back to President Kalam’s action on the Office of Profit Bill; the President has the powers to ask Parliament to reconsider its provisions; but then, in the event it is endorsed by Parliament and passed once again without any changes, the President cannot refuse assent. It is another matter that the Act can be challenged in the court. In that sense, the President’s action in this instance is only one that involves moral standards rather than legal. And the legal limitations are there only in order to ensure that the titular head of the state is not allowed to trample upon the popular will. In other words, to ensure the superiority of Parliament on legislative matters and this should lead anyone to conclude that Kalam had over reached himself.

The other way too look at this episode would be to celebrate President Kalam’s action and rest assured that the people of this country and its democratic edifice are safe as long as Kalam is there at the Rashtrapathi Bhawan. Recall that the legendary Ramnath Goenka had posed such faith and confidence on Zail Singh and hoped that he would save democracy in India by sacking Rajiv Gandhi.

Well. I would want to see the latest episode involving Kalam and his missive about the Office of Profit Amendment Bill in the same way as Mahabharata treats the various personalities and the episodes. In other words, rather than concluding, like my son did, that the Pandavas won the war just by deceit and foul-play and hence condemn the Pandavas for that, I would say that the Pandavas had to win the war and it is rather unfortunate that they could win only through deceit and foul-play.

The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006, brought in and passed by Parliament had to be prevented from becoming the law. This law was immoral because its only intention was to ensure that Sonia Gandhi could wield as many offices of profit as she wanted and remain a member of the Lok Sabha and yet don the mantle of a renunciate. And in the process, it also ensured that Somnath Chatterjee was saved from being disqualified as MP. It also enlisted some offices that the BJP MPs held as exempted from the disqualification clause of the Act. In other words, the Bill and its objectives were immoral.

The Congress-Left combination and the rhetoric of secularism rendered ineffective all legitimate means to defeat this amoral legislation. And left it to President Kalam to intervene. Like in the Mahabharata, the end should justify the means. And even if means that such interventions by the President can weaken the democratic edifice in the long run, it makes sense to celebrate Kalam’s act this time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This appeared in The Tribune Chandigarh some time ago. Thought it is relevant now!!!!!!!!!!

Bias in education

V. Krishna Ananth

THE verdict by the Supreme Court granting absolute control to managements of engineering and medical colleges in the private sector on admissions has raised a lot of debate. In an era where the market, rather than social commitment, is peddled as the mantra, such a verdict was only to be expected. The point is that it came a little late in the day!
And when that happened, we find the parties, across the spectrum, expressing in favour of changing the law. Well, the statutes will have to be changed and one will expect such a consensus emerging when leaders of political parties gather later this month in a meeting convened by Union Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh.
It is also likely that such a statutory change will be challenged before the courts by the forces against change. The forces of the status quo, after all, cannot be expected to accept changes.
Recall, for instance, the fact that the status quoists were able to stall the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for at least four years. The Indira Sawney and others v/s Union of India case settled the dispute for the time being and declared that there was nothing unconstitutional about reservation for the Other Backward Classes in Central Government jobs.
The fact is that this small measure to achieve socio-economic justice was delayed by 10 years in the first stage (it was announced in 1990 despite the report of the Mandal Commission submitted in 1980) and by few more years until November 1993, when the apex court upheld the August 8, 1990 order.
While all this and a whole lot of other battles fought through the judiciary were necessary to ensure a semblance of equity in opportunities for state and central government jobs, the experience in the education sector has been equally challenging.
But then, the fact that parties across the spectrum are now under pressure to speak up for the Dalits and the Other Backward Castes and notwithstanding the fact that they do so only because they are forced to do and not because they are committed to the ideal of affirmative action, is something that must be factored in at this stage of the debate.
In other words, the forces of the status quo, entrenched as they are in all walks of our public life and everywhere in the political establishment, have managed to devise other means to deny the Dalits and the OBCs what is their due. And in the process, they have managed to ensure the marginalisation of a whole lot of socially deprived sections.
Let us now wonder, in broad terms, the profile of students who aspire and manage to gain admissions in the engineering and medical colleges run by private players in terms of the schools they come from. It will not be wrong to conclude that a majority, if not all, studied in schools run by private players.
Putting it differently, only a small section of the students in the engineering colleges run by private managements studied in the schools run by the government. That is, because, most such government schools in villages do not have the minimum number of teachers and lack all necessary facilities.
It is a fact, acknowledged even by the governments in various States, including Tamil Nadu, that several primary schools in villages have only two teachers. That is, just two teachers for five classes! And even these teachers go on leave, are employed for electoral roll revision and other jobs.
The fate of the students who are sent to these schools can be imagined. So much so, parents who manage to earn little money decide to send their children to private teaching shops. And most such shops, run in the name of schools, are set up and run from small houses. The one where 96 kids died in the fire on July 16, 2004 in Kumbakonam is just one example of the kind.
Coming back to our government schools, while several children drop out after their primary education, some land in the high schools and a smaller number go to the higher secondary schools in villages and small towns.
True, they get free bus passes and are blessed with bicycles in Tamil Nadu if they continue to study after their class X. But then they are certainly not equipped to compete with children whose parents are rich enough to send their children to unaided private schools.
Consider the social profile of children whose parents are not rich enough to educate their wards in private schools. They happen to be the Dalits, the backward castes and other deprived sections of society.
And in the event these children decide to join an engineering college or a medical college in the private sector, their parents will have to borrow huge sums of money. This, they cannot afford.
And they all end up joining the arts colleges where the fees are not as high as they are in the private professional colleges.
The point is, the poor and the socially deprived are even otherwise excluded from pursuing higher studies in professional colleges.
Hence, the imperative for the powers and the political classes is to ensure that all schools are of the same kind. The idea of common schools. Anil Sadagopal, a Gandhian and an educationist of repute has made a case for this in his recommendations to the government.
The Constitution has been amended now and Article 21 contains a clause that all children between 6 and 14 have the fundamental right to education. The Union Government will now have to enact details of the Bill to enable implementation of this fundamental right.
It will be useful and meaningful if all parties raise this issue and ensures that the necessary changes to the law on reservation in educational institutions are brought about soon. But then, these changes will not make sense without ensuring a common school system.
In other words, abolish the system where the rich can send their children to schools that are well equipped and the poor are condemned to sending their children to schools without a building, to schools without an adequate number of teachers and schools without blackboards and schools where nothing is taught.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A tamil translation of this appeared in dinamalar (tirunelveli)

V.Krishna Ananth

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued suo-mottu notice to the Police Commissioners of Delhi and Mumbai to explain on the use of ``force’’ on striking medicos. The NHRC has also declared that ``no civilized state can justify use of brutal force on peaceful demonstrators.’’ Well, the Commission seems to have woken up, at long last, to do its duty. The NHRC, after all, exists to check the violent acts by the State.

But then, there is no way one can gloss over the fact that the NHRC had not shown such concern in the past. One does not recall such a prompt action when the police force went about killing several tribals in Kalinganagar in Orissa. One does not recall such concerns being expressed when the police use ample force to put down an agitation by adivasis in Wayanad in Kerala a few years ago. One does not recall such concerns coming from the NHRC when the Joint Special Task Force (JSTF) of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Governments went about killing a couple of hundred innocent tribals and subjected several more to inhuman torture in the name of nabbing Veerappan.

The story involving the JSTF is further strange. The Sadashiva Panel, appointed by the NHRC to look into the allegations of torture and rights violation had, in fact, pointed to several instances where the policemen violated the rights of the poor villagers. And yet, the NHRC, has not done anything to show that it intends fulfilling its mandate. For these reasons, the NHRC’s action now – to issue notice to the Police Commissioners in Delhi and Mumbai – look somewhat like a cruel joke.

Let it be clarified at the outset that the police in Delhi and Mumbai were not justified in using force. But then, it is also important to find out the extent of force that was used. It appears that the demonstrators were lathi-charged and this is something that the police have resorted to several hundred times in the past too. In any case, the police is there to ensure law and order and this cannot be ensured without use of some force.

One will have to live in an ideal world to expect that the policemen are engaged only to regulate traffic and to help the old aged men and women and children to cross the road. It will take several decades for us in India to see this happen. There is nothing wrong in dreaming such a social transformation. And if that has to be realized, we as a people must do everything to put a stop to discrimination based on caste, religion and other denominators.

And this democratic objective can be achieved only if we agree to accept, among other measures, the principle of affirmative action. In other words the idea of reservation in jobs and in institutions of higher education, for social groups that were denied of educational and other such opportunities is a necessary step to achieve this objective. And this indeed is the issue that will have to be debated in this instance.

It is possible to look for partisan and self serving motives behind Union Human Resources Development Minister, Arjun Singh’s moves in pushing for a legislation to set aside 27 per cent seats in IITs, Medical Colleges and IIMs to the OBCs. This is what sections in the media and elsewhere are attempting now. It may be true that Singh is doing all this to carve out a space for himself in the political theatre and looking forward to become the Prime Minister.

But then, this explanation is only a way to couch the status quoist approach these eminent men and women in the media and elsewhere stand by. Let it be understood that these people had argued against reservation in jobs (when the Mandal Report was implemented) and argued that the more effective way to uplift the OBCs was to give them preferential treatment in educational institutions. And when this is now becoming a reality, they are out in the open to argue that reservation in institutions of higher learning will not help and that the need is to improve the quality of education in primary and secondary schools run by the government!

Well. The state of primary and secondary education, particularly in schools run by the various State Governments is pathetic. Poor parents now prefer to send their children to private teaching shops (if they can afford the high cost of education) rather than government schools. And that is because they know that their children will not reach anywhere by going to the government schools where there are no teachers, no blackboards and nothing that is needed to study.

And reservation or no reservation, these poor children, mostly belonging to the OBC communities and the Dalits cannot aspire to reach the portals of the IITs, IIMs and the Central Medical Colleges.

And this should have come to the notice of the NHRC long ago. This must have been addressed to by the media commentators long ago. And this must have drawn the attention of the students in our medical colleges, IITs and IIMs long ago. They all did not agitate all these days against the pathetic state of our government schools all these years because it did not affect them. Instead, it helped the rich and the powerful sections in our society to claim to themselves all the seats in the elite educational institutions, heavily subsidized by the government and then land in high paying jobs.

The issue now is that a section from among the OBCs will find a place in these educational institutions and then move on to demand their own place under the sun. And it is natural that the NHRC and other such institutions are worried about. The status quo is being shaken and they are out again in the name of protecting the rights of a section whom they represent.

Monday, May 15, 2006

This is how I look at the poll results from Tamil Nadu!

V.Krishna Ananth

The outcome of the last round of assembly elections in five States were more or less on expected lines. The Left Front was poised to retain power in West Bengal Bengal and also wrest Kerala given the state of the Congress. In Assam, meanwhile, the Congress seemed to have retained power thanks to the crisis in the Asom Gana Parishad. In Pondicherry, Chief Minister, Rangasamy, by endearing himself to the people with his simple lifestyle had earned himself and to the Congress party yet another term.

The verdict from Tamil Nadu, however, marks a significant departure from the political trajectory of the State. It may be true that Tamil Nadu has had a minority-led Government in the past. After the first general elections in 1951-52, the Congress party, fell short of a majority in the Madras State Assembly. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Congress had won just 150 seats in the 375 member Madras Legislative Assembly then. And yet, the Congress formed its Government with C.Rajagopalachari as Chief Minister. Unlike in the present instance, Rajaji did not have letters of support from smaller parties. It is another matter that he managed a majority within months by effecting defections.

It is, however, important to place on record in this context that the Madras State, then, included large tracts of Andhra, Kerala and the Mysore region. And this meant that the CPI (undivided then) won 62 assembly seats. All this changed after the linguistic reorganization of States and after the formation of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, the CPI’s presence in the Madras Assembly came down to just four seats in 1957. The Congress, led by K.Kamaraj by that time, secured 151 seats in the 205 member Assembly.

The point is that Tamil Nadu had been under a minority Government earlier too. In any case, it will be incorrect to describe the M.Karunanidhi Government, sworn in on May 14, 2006, that way. Though the DMK’s strength in the 234 member State Assembly is only 96, Karunanidhi had obtained letters of support from his pre-poll allies and with a combined strength of 163 MLAs in the House, the Government enjoys a majority in both the technical and moral sense.

The significance of the poll outcome from Tamil Nadu is at another plane and will have to be located in the increasing fragmentation of the polity on caste lines. And this is bound to reduce the importance of both the DMK and the AIADMK in the State’s political mosaic. In other words, there is no way that these two parties can ignore such formations as the PMK, the Left parties and the DPI. At another level, the poll results have also revealed the potential for the emergence of the Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam (DMDK), founded and headed by Vijaykanth as a force in the long run.

And these two tendencies could unfold, in the coming years, into a political culture that will be marked by a conflict between forces that will, on the one hand, try hard to sharpen the caste divide by adopting an exclusionary political agenda and on the other an attempt by Vijaykanth to reinvent a pan-Tamil agenda. And in the event, it is possible that he manages to gather such platforms as the Congress and the Left parties to his side.
In specific terms, while such platforms as the PMK, DPI and other smaller groups will try hard to construct their own exclusive caste based political support base, the DMDK seems to have the potential to cut across caste loyalties in the same way M.G.Ramachandran had achieved during the decade after 1977. It may be true that such a reversal may be too much to presume and that too at a time when the idea of caste is getting reiterated in all walks of life and more so in politics across the country, there is indeed a basis to see this happening given the large proportion of votes polled by the DMDK candidates in this election.

The point is that Vijaykanth began his political adventure without any of the advantages that such outfits like the PMK or the DPI had when the entered the poll scene. The PMK’s arrival in 1989 was preceded by a substantive consolidation of the Vanniya community through the agitation demanding MBC status to the community, the DPI symbolizes the Dalit assertion. These two parties, incidentally, are restricted to the Northern districts in Tamil Nadu and this also happens to be the traditional stronghold of the DMK.

The fact that Vijaykanth managed an emphatic win from Vridachalam against the PMK (right there in the Northern region of the State), his party nominees had crossed the 10 per cent mark in several constituencies in the region. This is certainly no mean an achievement for a party that was floated only months before the polls and without having the luxury of representing any particular caste group. It clearly shows promise. Interestingly, the Northern region is from where the DMK had established itself as a force, winning 5 out of the 7 Lok Sabha seats from this region in 1962 before it captured power in the State in 1967.

The DMDK has done well in the other regions too. Even in the Southern region, where the polarization between the Backward Caste Thevar community and the Dalits is complete, the DMDK nominees had crossed the 10 per cent mark in at least a dozen constituencies, in most other places, the DMDK had tilted the balance against the AIADMK. This, in a context where the AIADMK had emerged strong based on the unflinching support to the party from the dominant Mukkulathor community is not a mean achievement. The fact that the DMDK could overwhelm Vaiko in this region is also important.

Similarly, in the Coimbatore region, where the AIADMK had virtually swept the polls winning 13 out of 14 constituencies, the DMDK had secured at least 10,000 votes in all the segments.

All this suggest the potential for a new political culture in Tamil Nadu. This, however, will depend on the extent to which the DMK-led government manages to deliver its promises. The DMK leader has promised a lot. And this is where Vijaykanth could place his hopes. His support base, as it is, cuts across caste loyalties and consists predominantly of the generation that has matured, in the political sense, in the post-MGR era in Tamil Nadu.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Not sure if this will be published in any newspaper. Still felt like placing something on record!!!!!!!!

V.Krishna Ananth

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is caught in a trap once again. And the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh will have to be seen acting once again. He will have to ask his cabinet colleague, Dayanidhi Maran, to opt for a different portfolio. Well. He will be waiting, with a sense of desperation, for instruction from Sonia Gandhi to do this. It is, after all a fact that the Prime Minister’s prerogative in chosing his cabinet is more an abstraction than a reality and there is nothing incongruous about this.

In a sense, there is as much abstraction in the argument against Maran holding the Telecommunication portfolio as it is with the view that the Prime Minister shall steer clear of his party’s leader. The reality is that Dr. Singh is now the Prime Minister because his party leader had decided that way. In the same way, even if Maran was holding a portfolio other than Telecommnication, he could have done all that he did to promote the interests of his Sun TV network. And would not have faced the same set of allegations that he is now facing!

Let us presume that the charges against him on the issue of DTH licenses are based on substantive evidence. And that Maran is the cause for an inordinate delay in Jaya TV obtaining a license to launch a 24 hour news channel. Jaya TV had applied for the license in May 2004 and is now waiting for a judicial order for getting its application processed and cleared. Or that Raj TV was stopped from airing news and current affairs programmes (this private broadcaster was doing that without the necessary license) because Maran found it eating into his own Sun TV’s viewer base. Let it be stated once again that let all these be presumed to be true.

Now, all these and even more could have been accomplished even if Maran was not the Union Minister for Telecommunications. He could have managed all this even if he was Minister for Textiles. Dayanidhi Maran could have ensured this even if he was Minister without Portfolio! And that is because his party, the DMK, has so much clout with Sonia Gandhi. And with this, the Sun TV group, for whom the DMK chief M.Karunanidhi will stake anything could have got all they wanted without having to post one of its stake-holders (Dayanidhi Maran) as Minister for Telecommunication.

In other words, even if Dr. Manmohan Singh was to hold the portfolio, a telephone call from Karunanidhi to Sonia Gandhi will do to delay the necessary license to Jaya TV or to ensure that the Sun TV group bagged 67 out of the 338 FM Radio licenses. The Sun TV group could still have sold out 21 out of this 67 (because the law puts a ceiling of only 46 FM licenses to a single player) without having Dayanidhi Maran there as Minister for Telecommunications.

The ruling coalition being what it is and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh being what he is, Karunanidhi could have and will have done all that was needed to ensure that his grand nephew grew richer and mightier. And lest it be misconstrued, the Sun TV group was growing and expanding between September 1999 and November 2003 as well. That was a time when Karunanidhi could pull strings in the Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet as much as he can do now. The late Murasoli Maran was holding the Commerce Portfolio then and Dayanidhi Maran, then, was nowhere in the political scene.

The point here is that the Tata group could have been told that their application for award of DTH license will be processed and considered only if they agree to share the spoils of the business with Sun TV even if Dayanidhi Maran was not the Minister for Telecommunication. And the group would have done that because the profit from this business is indeed huge. Business houses, in any case, are used to such pressure. And there are very few instances where they have resisted such pressure. In other words, business houses have rarely shown the will or intent to fight against the illegitimate ways of the political class.

All this does not mean that there is no use making an issue of Dayanidhi Maran’s role in the Ministry of Telecommunication. There is indeed a clear case for Manmohan Singh to intervene and ensure that Dayanidhi Maran does not preside over the ministry when his own firm is among the players in the DTH business. This blatant incongruity should be corrected. But then, such a tinkering alone will not do. This should be accompanied by a commitment, in this instance, by the Sun TV group to stay out of the DTH business. Dayanidhi Maran owes that much to the DMK and Karunanidhi must ask his grand nephew to decide as to whether he wanted to be a political worker or a stakeholder in the Sun TV group.

Now, neither can Manmohan Singh ensure this nor will Sonia Gandhi muster the courage to convey this idea to Karunanidhi. And Karunanidhi himself will not think on these lines. The Left parties too cannot afford to place such a proposition before the DMK chief of in the Left-UPA steering committee. They have, after all, gained in their own small way in this context. Their own Kairali channel is a case in point. And hence there is nobody in the UPA who can be expected to call a spade a spade and ask Manmohan Singh to do something.

There is, however, a way out of all this. A movement against amorality is perhaps the only way out of this. The Maran-DTH-Tata episode, if it is true and the various other issues that have now come up against the Telecom Minister is rooted in the amorality that has come to guide most members of the political class. And there is no piecemeal solution to remove this canker. (EOM)