Monday, May 24, 2021

Who Caused Spurt in Covid-19 cases Elections, Kumbh, and Kisan Agitation? By Amba Charan Vashishth Of late, a new tirade has been launched to make the present NDA government led by Shri Narender Modi responsible for the latest spurt in the number of Covid-19 patients in the country. They are advancing three main reasonss: general elections to five State assemblies whose five-year term was expiring in May this year, elections to panchayats in some states, and the Kumbh mela. Modi baiters now advance the argument that in view of the Covid-19 pandemic general elections to four states and one union territory should have been avoided. They seem to ignore the provision of Article 172 of the Constitution which provides that “(1) Every Legislative Assembly of every State, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date appointed for its first meeting and no longer and the expiration of the said period of five years shall operate as a dissolution of the Assembly”. Article 324 vests in the Election Commission (EC) the responsibility of “superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State and of elections to the offices of President and Vice President held under this Constitution”. Clause (4) of the same Article further stipulates: “Before each general election to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of each State,…….the President may also appoint after consultation with the Election Commission such Regional Commissioners as he may consider necessary to assist the Election Commission in the performance of the functions conferred on the Commission by clause (1). NO ROLE FOR UNION GOVERNMENT Provisions of the Constitution make it clear that the Central Government has nothing to do with the way, when and how the elections should be conducted. It is the prerogative of the EC alone. For performing its duty to ensure a free and fair election the EC, election commissioners and its officials make a number of visits to the state(s) where elections are due. Meetings with the political parties in the state are also held to have their views in the matter. The Central government comes into picture only if and when EC thinks the deployment of central forces is vital for the conduct of free, fair and peaceful election without a sense of fear among the electorate. The Covid protocol was already in force in the states going to the poll when EC announced the election schedule and enforcement of Model Code of Conduct for political parties. The political parties and the general public were expected to comply with the protocol during this time too. Neither the EC nor the ruling party at that time held the protocol — wearing of mask, maintaining a six feet distance with others and frequently washing hands — in abeyance during the period of elections. PANDEMIC PROTOCOL To raise a finger at the elections for the spurt in corona cases amounts to excusing the failure of the political parties of their simultaneous duty towards fighting the virus. Does the election time make the citizens oblivious of their duty towards the family, the society and the nation? In fact some political leaders are trying to compensate their failure to win the support of the electorate with mud-slinging on the issue of spread of corona virus. Since the term of the five state assemblies was nearing the end, the EC was bound by the Constitution to hold elections to ensure that the new assemblies were constituted in time. In the absence of any political party demanding postponement of elections, how could the EC or the Union government move on their own to postpone the elections. If this had to be done, it could only have been done either by dissolving the state assemblies and imposing Presidents’ Rule or by extending the term of the present assemblies. In every option consent of other parties was needed in Parliament. How could the support of political parties be taken for granted? In that case the Modi government would have been accused of partiality and helping one or the other parties in power at that time. Had the people on their part performed their duty to religiously abide by the Covid protocol, there would have been no need for the state governments to re-impose lockdown or curfew, as they had to do at present. There were leaders who first condemned the lockdown and when it was withdrawn, they shouted why was it done. Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on record having opposed the demand for lockdown on May 5 and demanded its imposition the very next day. On our part, we are derelict in the performance of our duty towards the society and the nation. In fact, we take pride in defying the law. More than3 lakhs of our fellow citizens have fallen victim to this virus. Yet we are not faithfully abiding by the Corona protocol. According to a latest report released in the third week of May, 50 percent of Indians do not wear mask at all. Of these 50 percent who wear it, 64 percent of them do not wear it properly, meaning they hang it over their chin and do not cover their nose which they should. That means only 18 percent of Indian citizens wear it properly. And then we have the cheek to hold the government responsible for the misery the nation is passing through. KUMBH MELA Much is also being made of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. First, it needs to be understood that no Mela — and for that matter, the Kumbh Mela — is organized by any social or religious organization, and least of all, any government. This is being held since times immemorial. What the government does is only to take steps needed for a smooth and orderly holding of these melas. Last time it was held in Allahabad when in UP the ‘secular’ government of Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav was in power. Azam Khan, the then Minister in Yadav ministry was incharge of the arrangements. One could see advertisement in newspapers and big hoardings with photographs of the then CM and the Minister welcoming the people. An anecdote in this connection is relevant. Seeing lakhs of people gathered to take a dip in the holy Ganga during the Kumbh, the then Viceroy of India said to Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya: You must be having to spend enormous money to gather so many people for the Kumbh. Panditi told the Viceroy: Sir, only an aanna (six paisa today). Amazed, the Viceroy asked: What do you mean? Panditi explained calmly: That is the cost of the Jantri today. It is mentioned there when will the Kumbh be celebrated and people assemble at their own will. Kumbh is much more different from other melas and celebrations like the Navratras, Shri Amarnath Yatra, Chardham Yatra and Kailash-Mansrovar Yatra, Ganesh Utsav, Durga Puja etc. Except for Navratras which are held twice a year, all are annual events. Kumbh comes after 12 years and Ardh-Kumbh after six years. Our elders tell us that in olden times when means of communication, roads, trains and buses were scarce, people who wished to go to Kumbh or Chardham yatra would meet all their relatives and friends before launching upon their mission saying they may or may not return alive as it took 2 to 5-6 months to return back. Some really did not return because if they fell ill there was none to look after and give medicines they needed to cure them. Yet, it was their religious sentiment to have a dip in the holy Ganga that the trials and travails that lay in the journey did not deter them from this arduous mission. If a person as old as 70 or more wishes to take a dip in Ganga during Kumbh he will not deter from doing so because of Covid as by the next Kumbh he would be more than 82 and there is no guarantee that he would live till that time. His sentiment to go now will further strengthen his determination. So, we need to appreciate the strength of his wish. KISAN AGITATION It is about six months that many kisan organizations, mainly from the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and UP, are sitting on dharna on the national highways leading to the national capital, New Delhi. They have never observed the Covid protocol of wearing mask and maintaining two yards social distancing. They have even refused to get vaccinated. A few days of the Kumbh makes our ‘secular-liberal’ intelligentsia, some in the media and political parties cried hoarse that the Mela has spread Covid-19 in the country. But chained by political and electoral considerations these gentlemen have turned blind, deaf and dumb to the role of kisan dharnas contributing to the spike in Corona pandemic. The states of Punjab, Haryana. Rajasthan and UP, in fact, owe the spurt in the virus to farmers who keep returning to their villages and then going back to the dharna sites. That speaks volumes for the hypocrisy of our intelligentsia and a section of the media. *** The writer is a Delhi based political analyst and commentator.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

In West Bengal Didi’s Changing Face Before, During and After Polling By Amba Charan Vashishth Political power, generally believed, is a great elixir of life. The latest living example is that of the West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Ms Mamata Banerjee. Because of an injury she received on her leg on April 01 she declared that she will campaign for the party sitting on a wheelchair. She did so till the last day of polling on April 29. This gave the impression that she was not medically fit to stand on her legs. The news of her party returning to power with a mandate greater than the last assembly elections instantly gave her a jerk powerful enough to make her stand on her legs to meet the media. Her recovery was a great matter of relief and satisfaction to one and all. As the Election Commission (EC) of India announced an 8-phase polling schedule for the West Bengal, Ms. Mamata Banerjee came out with hammer and tongs against both the NDA government at the Centre and an institution of the Constitution, the EC. She went to the extent of demeaning the EC, by calling it a ‘BJP Commission’. She shot more than five letters to the EC highlighting her doubts over free and fair election in the State. She even opposed the deployment of Central armed forces to the State for the conduct of free and fair elections. The extent of violence that was unleashed before, during, and after the polling and declaration of results has only applauded the farsightedness of the EC decision to order an 8-phase polling and deployment of central forces. What would have been the situation had these two steps not been taken, it is anybody’s guess. No other State in the country has witnessed a violence of that magnitude and deaths in recent times as the West Bengal. It was bad and sad that Mamata Didi was injured in an accident in her own vehicle on March 10, 2021 when she was on an election tour of Nandigram from where she had decided to contest the Vidhan Sabha election against her one-time top confidante and minister Suvendu Adhikari who had changed sides and joined the BJP. Initially, Ms. Banerjee alleged that some five-six outsiders had pushed her when she was alighting from her vehicle. A complaint was lodged with the EC who sought a report from the WB State Election Commission. On consideration of the State EC report and the videos of the incident the EC came to the conclusion that the Mamata injury was “accidental” and that at the time of incident she was surrounded by a heavy posse of police personnel providing security to her. Ms Mamata’s decision to undertake party’s election campaign sitting in a wheelchair was a well thought-out electoral strategy to garner f sympathy of voters. This seems to have, to an extent, stood her in good stead. Her example recalls of a similar game plan adopted by the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the general elections held simultaneously to Parliament and State assemblies in 1967, as was the practice till then. During the election campaign somebody threw a stone at her which injured her nose. Mrs. Gandhi conducted her party’s election campaign with a dressing on her injured nose attracting every voter’s attention. It looks this strategy also, to an extent, paid her adequately well. She was able to secure a majority for her Congress in Lok Sabha, though less than the Party’s performance in 1962. Congress lost power in many States giving birth, for the first time, to a new phenomenon of coalition governments in some States of the country. In the new scenario that emerged in India’s politics the socialist and communist parties joined hands with the then ‘communal’ Jana Sangh to form non-Congress governments. For them, then, Congress was their ‘enemy’ No.1. Ms Mamata Banerjee is, perhaps, the first chief minister of the country who led her party to a remarkable victory with a greater majority than the last Vidhan Sabha election (2016) but was him/herself defeated in that very election. But she also is the only person rejected by the people of her constituency, yet becoming a chief minister. There are a number of instances in the country where a non-MLA sworn in as chief minister failed to get elected within six months. In such cases, people’s verdict was respected and another individual was made the chief minister. But in the West Bengal case, peoples’ verdict was not honoured. On April 01 Ms. Banerjee had filed a complaint with the EC where polling was held in Nandigram alleging irregularities in the polling process and presence of outsiders at a polling booth in the constituency. On receiving a report from the State Chief Secretary and State Election Commissioner, on April 04 the EC rejected her complaint as “factually incorrect” and “devoid of substance”. Not only this, earlier in March Ms Banerjee had dashed 5 letters expressing apprehension of no fair and free elections in the State. She had called EC as “BJP EC” playing into the hands of the ruling party. She even objected to the deployment of Central forces which had been put on duty to inspire confidence amongst the voters. The commission said it is a matter of deep regret that a “media narrative was sought to be weaved hour after hour to misguide the biggest stakeholders, which is the voters, by a candidate who also happens to be CM of the state”. Before the final result of the Nandigram had been officially declared, Ms Banerjee tried to project herself as a great democrat expressing full faith in the electorate, by accepting what the people decided. "Don't worry about Nandigram”, she declared. “I struggled for Nandigram because I fought a movement. It's ok. Let the Nandigram people give whatever verdict they want, I accept that. I don't mind." "We have won so big in Bengal,” Ms Banerjee told reporters on May 02 evening. ”I respect the verdict of the people of Nandigram. Whatever their verdict is, I accept that.” She went on, "Whatever happened is for the best. I will not have to go that far regularly now, I am saved in that way.” At the same time, she added, "But, I also feel there was some mischief as after the news of my victory came things changed….. I will later move court on this issue.” In the same breath, she changed the track when she said, “but I will go to the court because I have heard there were some malpractices." One of her confidantes and TMC MP Derek O'Brien lost no time in calling the Nandigram election results "fishy". Advancing a strange logic he wondered that a party wins nearly three-fourths of all the seats in the state and the Chief Minister loses her seat. ”Expressing “utmost respect for the chair of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India,” he said, “I am sorry to say that they have come here to Bengal and acted as thugs and cheapshots, who have come here and made catcalls.” He expressed respect for the constitutional institution of the Election Commission but “not for the current people at the helm of affairs”. The (conduct of the) Election Commissioner, he said, “has been disgraceful and devious”. His opinion is analogous to a person expressing highest regards for a chief minister but saying that the chief minister’s office (CMO) is as bad and corrupt as it can be. TMC won 206 seats under the supervision and superintendence of the same members of the EC whom Ms Mamata called “BJP EC” and whom O’Brien after the election results called as having acted “as thugs and cheapshots, …….and made catcalls.” He also found their conduct “disgraceful and devious”. Members of the EC would have perhaps been angels for both of them if they had ensured that TMC romps home with all the 292 seats. It is the wont of the opposition parties to use the EVMs as the whipping boy for their rejection in elections. But surprisingly, this time, this element was missing though some of them before and during poll did air their apprehensions. In case the peoples’ vote went not in their way, they could say they had warned of it much earlier. But Ms Banerjee did not miss the opportunity to allege that “EVMs were tampered with in Nandigram” where she was defeated at the hands of her former protégé. She alleged that the returning officer rejected her request for recounting of votes “fearing threat to his life”. Yet it was not on the directions CM Mamata Banerjee but that of the EC that security was provided to him. After taking oath a prime minister or chief minister has never addressed the invitees to the swearing-in function. But Ms Banerjee broke this tradition and made a brief address after the oath. This prompted the Governor also to make an address. The BJP alleged that violence had been directed against BJP leaders/workers by the TMC workers. BJP National President JP Nadda rushed to the affected areas to express party’s solidarity and sympathy with the affected families. But, surprisingly, neither CM Bannerjee nor any of her party leaders found time to visit the bereaved families. That sends a clear signal as to who and which party was behind the orgy of violence after the results. Post-results it is expected of a winning party to show magnanimity, but it was missing in West Bengal. The Governor, as head and first citizen of the State, did find time to rub balm on the physical and psychological injuries inflicted on a section of the people. The scene of bewailing men and women who fell on Governor’s feet to seek justice and protection was so heart-rending that he couldn’t help using his handkerchief to wash his tears. But for TMC this action of the Governor was an “unconstitutional” conduct. But it looks, for the CM and her party, it is not their ‘constitutional’ duty to condemn violence or to fetch justice to the bereaved families. *** The writer is a political analyst and commentator

Monday, May 3, 2021

‘Time’ has to wait for a woman CJI by Amba Charan Vashishth A woman Chief Justice of India (CJI) is certainly an excellent idea with no noticeable oppositiont from any section of the people. We felt proud to have women as the President of India, Prime Minister, Governor and holding other high offices. Time and tide, it is said, wait for no one. But as things stand today, it looks, “time” has to wait for us to see that auspicious day when India will have a woman as CJI. No authority, as at present, is empowered to appoint a woman as CJI with the stroke of a pen. The time-honoured rule and tradition of respecting the merit and seniority binds the hands of the highest authority to do so. Therefore, the country has to wait for that happy “ time”. Women too would like to have a woman CJI on the strength of merit and not as a measure benefaction to them. On April 15, 2021 a special bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant observed, “Why higher judiciary? We think the time has come when a woman should be Chief Justice of India" (CJI). The bench added, “We have the interest of women in mind. There is no attitudinal change in it. Hopefully, they (women) will be appointed”. It certainly is a noble thought. Nobody can dispute it. No one can differ with it. The Supreme Court (SC) of India came into existence on January 26, 1950. Not a single woman’s name figures in the list of 48 CJIs the country had since then. It is not a commentary on the merit, efficiency and efficacy of women to hold the prestigious position. Whenever and wherever women got an opportunity they had acquitted themselves admirably well. At the same time, there seems hardly an instance where a woman has been denied opportunity only because she was a woman. There is also no dearth of women in the country who can be as fine a judge as male one to head the top court of the country. It is also a fact that although many eligible women in the bar had been found fit for being a judge yet many of them declined to shoulder the responsibility as they put their duty towards their family and children paramount. To a great extent they seem to be right too. They themselves are their family’s ‘present’ while their children are their ‘future’. They, it looks, preferred not to spoil their own — and, to a great extent, of the country’s — “future”. In the absence of the vital motherly love and care, many promising ’futures’ have seen to have gone astray smashing the dreams of parents’ ‘future’. The oldest democracy of the world, USA, has not been able to have a single woman to be President of the country for the last 245 years of its independence. It is not that US people are anti-women or US women do not have the merit and capacity to hold the exalted office. The people of the country, women included, want the situation to evolve itself into the country electing a woman President. Nobody wants a woman to be imposed on them as President. In the 2016 election, Mrs. Hillary Clinton did emerge the first woman to win Democratic Party candidature for election to the office of President, though she lost the election by a blinker. In the 2020 election USA did elect Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden as its President with Mrs. Kamla Harris as his running mate as the first woman Vice-President. Yet it still remains a question as to when USA would elect a woman as the President. Why has come the “time” to have a woman CJI? Thankfully, the demand has not emanated from any political party with an eye for votes of women. Simultaneously, by no stretch of imagination can it be construed to mean that in the absence of a woman CJI justice was/ is not being administered to the people of the country, particularly women. But what the SC bench meant by saying “We have the interest of women in mind” is anybody’s guess. In the three pillars of democracy — executive, legislative and judiciary — the Constitution of India prohibits any discrimination in any matter on grounds of sex, caste, creed and region. Every institution of the Constitution — the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, the council of ministers, the Supreme Court/High Court, Governors, MPs, MLAs, MLCs and others, whether elected or nominated — and the bureaucracy function for all the people of India as a whole. They do not promote the interests of the political party, sex, creed and region they may belong. For some people India is not a living example of unity in diversity but just of diversity in the form of castes, creeds, men and women, regions and languages. They want this diversity never to end, but always cherished and preserved. They always look at every action of the government through the prism of these dividing factors. These gentlemen always support their cause and want preferential treatment to these sections to grind their axe in politics and elections. As per the spirit of the Constitution a person once elected he/she represents all the people of the constituency — men and women of all castes and creeds — in the Parliament of India, irrespective of the fact whether a section of them had voted for or against him. He is expected to serve the interests and promote development of the constituency as a whole. The same is true of members of the State legislative assemblies. They are not expected to be partial in their conduct. If anybody does, he is guilty of violating the oath he takes on assumption of office to discharge his/her duties without fear and favour towards every person and every group as per the law and the constitution. When we speak of giving representation to this or that section of society in the three pillars of government, it implies that the people in government, legislative bodies and judiciary do not discharge their duties in a fair and impartial manner to dispense justice to all. On the contrary, they discriminate between one section and the other. Therefore, there is need to give representation to left-out sections so that they could promote the interests of those castes and creeds to which they belong. Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India for more than 16 years. Does it mean that during her reign she promoted the interests and welfare of only women and the caste to which she belonged neglecting all others? Rajiv Gandhi was the youngest prime minister of the country. Does it imply that he was concerned only with the welfare of the youth to the exclusion of all others? Our prime ministers came off from different castes and regions. Did they further only the interests of their castes, creeds and regions? That certainly is not true. If that is the reality, then it is a shameless and grave defiance of the provisions of our constitution which provides for justice to all. So far, we did not have a woman CJI in the country. We had — and are having — some women judges who dispensed justice to one and all and were never weighted in favour of women and against men .The voice being raised for a woman CJI seems to imply as if without this the women in India had — and can — never get justice. Not many would, perhaps, subscribe to this notion. It is time we stop crying for giving representation to sexes, castes, creeds, regions to give a semblance of protecting everyone’s rights and dispensing justice to all. One wonders how is it possible to usher in “the time” to have “a woman CJI” right now. At present there is no woman judge at the top judiciary sufficiently senior to occupy the exalted office. This objective of the “time” to have “a woman CJI” just now can be realised only by disregarding the so far time- honoured rule of respecting an individual’s merit and seniority. Nobody would, perhaps, like to say goodbye to this principle. Perhaps women too would not like to occupy this office as a favour. They would want it as a matter of right on the basis of their merit. *** The writer is a Delh- based political analyst and commentator.