Read The Hindu Notes of 25th December 2018 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 25th December 2018
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 25th December 2018
  • The case against surveillance

    Regardless of which government enhanced powers of surveillance, reform is long overdue

    The case against surveillance
  • Last week, a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notification authorising 10 Central agencies to intercept, monitor, and decrypt online communications and data caused a furore in both Parliament and the wider civil society. The notification was described as an incremental step towards a surveillance state. The government’s defence was equally swift: it protested that the notification created no new powers of surveillance. It was only issued under the 2009 Information Technology Rules, sanctioned by the previous United Progressive Alliance government. The 10 agencies had not been given a blank check; rather, specific surveillance requests, the government contended, still had to be authorised by the MHA in accordance with law.
  • But whatever one makes of the government’s defence, the MHA notification lays bare the lopsided character of the surveillance framework in India, and highlights an urgent need for comprehensive reform.
  • The problem

  • The existing surveillance framework is complex and confusing. Simply put, two statutes control the field: telephone surveillance is sanctioned under the 1885 Telegraph Act (and its rules), while electronic surveillance is authorised under the 2000 Information Technology Act (and its rules). The procedural structure in both cases is broadly similar, and flows from a 1997 Supreme Court judgment: surveillance requests have to be signed off by an official who is at least at the level of a Joint Secretary.
  • There are three features about the current regime. First, it is bureaucratised. Decisions about surveillance are taken by the executive branch (including the review process), with no parliamentary or judicial supervision; indeed, the fact that an individual will almost never know that she is being surveilled means that finding out about surveillance, and then challenging it before a court, is a near-impossibility.
  • Second, the surveillance regime is vague and ambiguous. Under Section 69 of the IT Act, the grounds of surveillance have been simply lifted from Article 19(2) of the Constitution, and pasted into the law. They include very wide phrases such as “friendly relations with foreign States” or “sovereignty and integrity of India”.
  • Third, and flowing from the first two features, the regime is opaque. There is almost no information available about the bases on which surveillance decisions are taken, and how the legal standards are applied. Indeed, evidence seems to suggest that there are none: a 2014 RTI request revealed that, on an average, 250 surveillance requests are approved every day. It stands to reason that in a situation like this, approval resembles a rubber stamp more than an independent application of mind.
  • The illusion of a trade-off

  • To arguments such as these, there is a stock response: the right to privacy is not absolute. Surveillance is essential to ensure national security and pre-empt terrorist threats, and it is in the very nature of surveillance that it must take place outside the public eye. Consequently, the regime is justified as it strikes a pragmatic balance between the competing values of privacy and security.
  • This is a familiar argument, but it must be examined more closely. First, let us clear a basic misconception: it is nobody’s case that privacy is absolute. The staunchest civil rights advocates will not deny that an individual reasonably suspected of planning a terrorist attack should be placed under surveillance. The debate, therefore, is not about ‘whether surveillance at all’, but about ‘how, when, and what kind of surveillance’.
  • In this context, the evidence demonstrates clearly that a heavily bureaucratised and minimally accountable regime of surveillance does nothing to enhance security, but does have significant privacy costs. For example, while examining the U.S. National Security Agency’s programme of mass surveillance, an American court found that out of more than 50 instances where terrorist attacks had been prevented, not even a single successful pre-emption was based on material collected from the NSA’s surveillance regime. Indeed, such a system often has counterproductive effects: a government that is not checked in any meaningful way will tend to go overboard with surveillance and, in the process, gather so much material that actually vital information can get lost in the noise. In the famous ‘privacy-security trade-off’, therefore, it is exceedingly important to assess the balance on the basis of constitutional principles and fundamental rights, rather than blindly accepting the government’s rhetoric of national security.
  • After the Supreme Court’s 2017 judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (‘the right to privacy case’), the constitutional contours within which the questions of ‘how, when, and what kind’ have to be answered have been made clear. Any impingement upon the right to privacy must be proportionate. One of the factors of the proportionality standard is that the government’s action must be the least restrictive method by which a state goal is to be realised. In other words, if the same goal — i.e., protecting national security — can be achieved by a smaller infringement upon fundamental rights, then the government is constitutionally bound to adopt the method that does, indeed, involve minimal infringement.
  • Under these parameters, there is little doubt that on the three counts described above — its bureaucratic character, its vagueness, and its opacity — the existing surveillance framework is unconstitutional, and must be reconsidered. To start with, it is crucial to acknowledge that every act of surveillance, whether justified or not, involves a serious violation of individual privacy; and further, a system of government surveillance has a chilling effect upon the exercise of rights, across the board, in society. Consequently, given the seriousness of the issue, a surveillance regime cannot have the executive sitting in judgment over the executive: there must be parliamentary oversight over the agencies that conduct surveillance. They cannot simply be authorised to do so through executive notifications. And equally important, all surveillance requests must necessarily go before a judicial authority, which can apply an independent legal mind to the merits of the request, in light of the proportionality standards discussed above.
  • Second, judicial review will not achieve much if the grounds of surveillance remain as broad and vaguely worded as they presently are. Therefore, every surveillance request must mandatorily specify a probable cause for suspicion, and also set out, in reasonably concrete terms, what it is that the proposed target of surveillance is suspected of doing. As a corollary, evidence obtained through unconstitutional surveillance must be statutorily stipulated to be inadmissible in court.
  • And last, this too will be insufficient if surveillance requests are unopposed — it will be very difficult for a judge to deny a request that is made behind closed doors, and with only one side presenting a case. There must exist, consequently, a lawyer to present the case on behalf of the target of surveillance — even though, of course, the target herself cannot know of the proceedings.
  • Root and branch

  • To implement the suggestions above will require a comprehensive reform of the surveillance framework in India. Such a reform is long overdue. This is also the right time: across the world, there is an increasingly urgent debate about how to protect basic rights against encroachment by an aggressive and intrusive state, which wields the rhetoric of national security like a sword. In India, we have the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment, which has taken a firm stand on the side of rights. Citizens’ initiatives such as the Indian Privacy Code have also proposed legislative models for surveillance reform. We now need the parliamentary will to take this forward.
  • A solution in search of a problem

    The argument that a centralised judicial recruitment process will help the lower judiciary does not hold up

  • Last week, in its report, ‘Strategy for New India@75’, the NITI Aayog mooted the creation of an All India Judicial Service (AIJS) for making appointments to the lower judiciary through an all India judicial services examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in order to maintain “high standards” in the judiciary.
  • Similar proposals were made by the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on three different occasions this year as a solution to the problems of vacancies in the lower judiciary and a lack of representation in the judiciary from marginalised communities. This last argument appears to have caught the attention of Dalit leaders such as Ram Vilas Paswan, a Minister in the Central government, who voiced support for the AIJS following the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment, earlier this year, that diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
  • In our opinion, the AIJS is not a solution to these problems and the government would be well advised to reconsider its stance. So, how serious is the problem of vacancies, and is centralisation the solution?
  • The facts speak

  • The argument that the creation of the AIJS and a centralised recruitment process will help the lower judicial services is based on the assumption that the current federal structure, that vests the recruitment and appointment for the lower judiciary in the hands of State Governors, High Courts and State Public Service Commissions, is broken and inefficient. On facts, however, this assumption does not hold up.
  • Going by the latest figures published by the Supreme Court in its publication Court News (December 2017 and the last available figures), many States are doing a very efficient job when it comes to recruiting lower court judges. In Maharashtra, of the 2,280 sanctioned posts, only 64 were vacant. In West Bengal, of the 1,013 sanctioned posts, only 80 were vacant. Those are perfectly acceptable numbers.
  • However, there are States such as Uttar Pradesh where the situation is shocking. Of the 3,204 sanctioned posts, 1,348 are vacant, i.e. 42% vacancies. These numbers show that the problem of vacancies is not uniform across different States. The solution is to pressure poorly performing States into performing more efficiently.
  • Further, the argument that the centralisation of recruitment processes through the UPSC automatically leads to a more efficient recruitment process is flawed and not a guarantee of a solution. For example, the Indian Administrative Service — its recruitments are through the UPSC — reportedly has a vacancy rate of 22%, while the Indian Army’s officer cadre, also under a centralised recruitment mechanism, is short of nearly 7,298 officers.
  • Impact on State politics

  • Will the creation of an AIJS lead to more representation from marginalised communities and women? The second argument in support of the AIJS is that its creation, along with provisions of reservations for the marginalised communities and women, will lead to a better represented lower judiciary. Dalit and tribal politicians are supporting the AIJS on these grounds. The fact is that several States already provide for reservations in their lower judicial service.
  • For example, at least 12 States, which include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala, provide for caste-based reservation in the direct recruitment examination for district judges from the bar. In addition, U.P., Karnataka, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh provide women with special reservations. Karnataka also recognises two additional categories of reservation within caste-based reservation — for those from a rural background and those from Kannada medium backgrounds. Karnataka is an example of how States are best suited to assess the level of intersectional disadvantage of various communities residing in the State.
  • Unlike States, the Centre almost never provides reservation for women in the all India services. On the issue of caste, an AIJS may provide for SC/ST reservation along with reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) but it should be noted that a recent Supreme Court ruling has held that SC/STs can avail the benefit of reservation in State government jobs only in their home States and not when they have migrated. The same principle is usually followed even for OBC reservations. Thus, instituting an AIJS would mean that nationally dominant SC, ST and OBC groups would be at an advantage as they can compete for posts across the country, which they would otherwise be disqualified from because of the domicile requirement. Thus an AIJS will have consequences for State-level politics.
  • As originally enacted, Articles 233 and 234 of the Constitution vested all powers of recruitment and appointment with the State Public Service Commission and High Courts. During the Emergency, Parliament amended Article 312 of the Constitution to allow for the Rajya Sabha to pass a resolution, by two-thirds majority, in order to kick-start the process of creating an all India judicial service for the posts of district judge. Once the resolution is passed, Parliament can amend Articles 233 and 234 through a simple law (passed by a simple majority), which law will strip States of their appointment powers. This is unlike a constitutional amendment under Article 368 that would have required ratification by State legislatures. In other words, if Parliament decides to go ahead with the creation of the AIJS, State legislatures can do nothing to stop the process.
  • Course correction?

    Revenue and optics seem to play a greater role in GST decisions

  • Under attack on how the indirect tax regime has panned out, the Goods and Services Tax Council on Saturday announced a set of feel-good moves to reassure diverse stakeholders. For consumers, the peak tax rate of 28% levied on cinema tickets above ₹100, large screen television sets or monitors, digital cameras and lithium ion batteries, among others, was bought down to 18%. For businesses still coping with compliance niggles, more time has been granted for filing this year’s annual returns; the promise of a simpler return filing system has been dangled (by July next year); and a single, fungible e-cash ledger has been proposed to replace the present system in which credits available under Central GST cannot be set off against State GST dues. Last but not the least, concerns expressed by several States about revenue trends since the GST’s introduction in July 2017 have been taken on board, and a ministerial group will be tasked with assessing the structural patterns affecting revenue collections in some States. This is an accommodative gesture from the Council, whose chief — Finance Minister Arun Jaitley — cited recent revenue trends that suggest compensation payable to the States has reduced substantively from last year. It is anyone’s guess how much of a role the recent reverses suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assembly elections played in the latest decisions to slash rates or to ease the burden on businesses.
  • GST rationalisation is still a work in progress. It has long been clear that traders need a simpler filing system, faster refunds and other mechanisms to ease their cash flows. Consumers, for their part, are yet to get a clear definition of what qualifies as a good or service for the ‘sin’ category. From over 200 items that were initially kept in the 28% ‘sin’ goods rate bracket, it is now down to just 28 items, which include cement (hardly a luxury for a country with a massive infrastructure investment agenda) and auto components. That the original rates were neither thought-through nor reviewed prudently is apparent with the Council’s decision to reduce the 28% levied on disabled persons’ carriage parts and accessories to 5%. Since cement yields ₹13,000 crore in GST and auto parts another ₹20,000 crore, the Council has resisted rate cuts on these items for now. This is the problematic part — revenue and optics considerations seem to have a greater role in rate setting than the nature of the goods or services to be taxed. The Prime Minister announced impending cuts in the 28% slab, and reacted positively to the film industry’s demand for lower GST. Seeking to correct popular perception ahead of the elections is one thing. But frequent tweaks to the structure, and an impression that rates can be altered by lobbying the powers-that-be, risk ruining the promise the GST held for investors wary of India: a predictable, simple and stable tax regime.
  • A disquieting exit

    James Mattis’s departure heightens concerns about the Trump White House

  • While the string of high-profile departures from the Donald Trump White House is longer than in the case of any of its recent predecessors, last week’s announcement by the President that Defence Secretary James Mattis would step down by the end of February 2019 set alarm bells ringing in Washington and beyond. Soon after, Mr. Trump said he had advanced Mr. Mattis’s exit, and that Patrick M. Shanahan would be acting Defence Secretary from January 1. Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, was a respected voice within an otherwise chaotic and impulsive administration. In his letter of resignation, he indicated that he did not share his boss’s worldview on “countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours”, including China and Russia; and that he believed in “treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors”. The trigger was reportedly a phone conversation between Mr. Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, during which Mr. Trump abruptly decided to concur with Mr. Erdoğan on withdrawing roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. This has been attacked on both sides of the aisle, for fear that it could pave the way for a Turkish retaliation against Kurdish forces in Syria, which have been critical to efforts in recapturing more than 95% of the territory taken by the Islamic State, and cede space in Syria to Russian and Iranian interests.
  • Mr. Mattis’s departure comes at a fraught juncture for the Trump administration. On the one hand, Democrats are on the front foot after taking over the House of Representatives. They will doubtless double down on the multiple investigations working their way through the Congressional and judicial systems, relating to possible covert Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election as well as to the Trump Foundation and conflict-of-interest questions. Mr. Trump’s supporters are as incensed as his critics over questions around his stalled campaign promise to build a border wall with Mexico to stymie undocumented immigration. A budget-related shutdown of the government has begun, and the anxiety of the financial markets is palpable. To lose a trusted adviser, considered by many to be the last “adult in the room” in the proximity of a tantrum-prone Commander-in-Chief, is to risk isolation on the global stage. Mr. Trump’s decision to bring troops home from wars in faraway lands is in keeping with promises made during his campaign. But such a move could prove to be rash and self-defeating. Mr. Shanahan, who has been Mr. Mattis’s deputy in the Department of Defence, will have to deal with the reality that the balance of strategic power has slipped further from Washington’s grip.
  • The decades that transformed China

    Forty years ago, Deng Xiaoping began ‘reform and opening up’. Now China may be at another crossroads

  • The December 1978 Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) might sound obscure, but its global repercussions were of seismic proportions. Deng Xiaoping’s series of economic policies, termed “reform and opening up”, went on to catapult China from an agricultural backwater into a manufacturing powerhouse that shapes the world’s economic architecture.
  • As China celebrates the 40th anniversary of “reform and opening up”, it holds the world’s largest foreign reserves ($3.05 trillion in October), and boasts the second-largest economy (with a GDP of $12.2 trillion in 2017). Its share of the world’s economy has ballooned from 1.8% in 1978 to 18.2% in 2017. In doing so, it has defied decades of predictions that its uncomfortable blend of authoritarian politics and economic liberalisation was unsustainable.
  • A country of contradictions

  • Contemporary China is rife with contradictions. Its ruling party espouses a communist, egalitarian ideology while presiding over the emergence of a hugely unequal, capitalism-driven society. The divergent interests of the urban middle class clash with those of peasants and migrant workers. It has the world’s largest number of Internet users (more than 772 million) and accounts for more than 40% of global e-commerce transactions despite being one of the world’s most censored digital environments.
  • And yet, the CPC has proved adept at squaring seeming circles and proved doomsday scenarios of its imminent collapse wrong, time and again. A crucial tool in achieving this feat has been the pilot project, poetically rendered as the Deng Xiaoping maxim, “crossing the river by feeling the stones.” This approach was characterised by experimentation and local policy tinkering, in order to establish what worked best in practice, before adoption at the national level.
  • The special economic zones (SEZs) promoted along China’s coast in the 1980s, for example, were not brought into existence based on a priori assumptions about their theoretical utility. The idea was for them to be laboratories that provided a controlled environment within which experiments could be conducted boldly. Eventually SEZs became the locomotive for economic growth, attracting unprecedented flows of foreign investment and transforming fishing villages like Shenzhen into global manufacturing hubs. This approach was used repeatedly over the years to test new policies, from cooperative medical care schemes to abolishing controls on the movement of workers from the countryside to the cities. Consequently, the CPC swapped the kind of abrupt, ideologically based upheavals that characterised Mao Zedong’s mass movements from the 1950s to the 1970s, for pragmatic solutions that worked.
  • What ‘worked’ was defined by certain parameters, most fundamentally the preservation of the CPC’s power. To this end, Beijing deployed a range of strategies including censorship and purges, but also the co-option of key constituencies like the urban middle class. By tying the prosperity of this group to the continuance of the party at the helm of policy-making, the CPC effectively neutralised what could have been its most formidable foe.
  • Critically, what was found to work best for preserving power was delivering on promises of economic growth. This self-interested focus on performance continued as over time, the middle classes began to demand improvements in their quality of life beyond opportunities for material prosperity. The party responded by stepping up environmental protection. Beijing’s air pollution is a case in point. From being a poster boy for foul air, the Chinese capital has transformed into a model to be emulated by cities like Delhi.
  • Far from sclerotic, post-reform-and-opening-up China has developed a problem-solving approach that makes its leaders more responsive to socio-economic challenges than is generally believed of autocratic governments. Reforms have extended beyond the economic realm into governance and administration. An example is the introduction of term limits and mandatory retirement ages for officials. Internal report cards issued to evaluate the performance of local bureaucrats are used to promote good governance, by linking promotions and bonuses to the meeting of economic and, increasingly, environmental targets.
  • This emphasis on outcome rather than ideology has its corollary in performance over process, which helps explain why a country like India continues to lag behind China on most parameters of development. The legitimacy of democracy absolves Indian governments from the necessity of performing. The CPC can afford no such luxury. Hence the counter-intuitive state of affairs where, despite political representation for the poor in India and the lack of political participation in China, Beijing trumps New Delhi on the delivery of basic public goods like roads, drains and schools.
  • The Xi Jinping era

  • The legacy of “reform and opening up” is crucial in explaining how China got to where it is today. However, its continued relevance in the new era under President Xi Jinping’s leadership has become the million yuan question. Despite Beijing’s formal commitment to further economic liberalisation, the ongoing trade war with the U.S. marks a path divergent to the one trod over the last four decades. Moreover, the CPC has still not resolved the contradiction between state control of the economy and the embrace of free markets, what in China is called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
  • There are other signs of a break from Deng-inspired policies — most notably, the recent scrapping of the presidential term limit that enables Mr. Xi to potentially continue in office indefinitely. Besides, while Deng preached economic openness and encouraged China to recruit overseas expertise, Mr. Xi emphasises self-reliance and warns of the threats posed by “hostile foreign forces”. The focus on peaceful economic integration is being supplanted by a trade war that some fear could degenerate into a new cold war. Nationalism has trumped the Dengist strategy of “hiding strength and biding time”. Even the pilot project approach of experimentation appears to be out of favour. An article in The Economist points out that while in 2010 some 500 policy-related pilot projects were in place at the provincial level, this number had plummeted to about 70 by 2016.
  • Is “reform and opening up” past its sell-by date? If so, what will replace it? And how will Beijing meet future challenges with the U.S. as an adversary, rather than the trade and investment partner it has been so far? The answers, while critical, are unclear. What is clear is that the CPC will need to walk several tightropes going forward, a balancing act that could prove tough for acrobats even as skilled as the Chinese.
  • Implementing NOTA in the right spirit

    Maharashtra and Haryana have shown the way

  • In People’s Union For Civil Liberties v. Union Of India (September 27, 2013), the Supreme Court had ruled that a None of the Above (NOTA) option “may be provided in EVMs” so that voters are able to exercise their “right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy”. On October 29 that year, the Election Commission of India (ECI) said that if a situation arose where the number of NOTA votes exceeded the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared winner. This, it said, was in accordance with Rule 64 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961.
  • This provision made the NOTA option almost redundant. While it ensured confidentiality for a voter who did not want to choose any of the candidates and yet wished to exercise her franchise, the provision clarified that a NOTA vote would not have any impact on the election result, which is what interests candidates, political parties, and voters. Soon after this, candidates began campaigning against NOTA, telling voters that choosing the option meant wasting a vote.
  • What the court intended

  • The ECI seemed to have completely overlooked the spirit of the judgment, illustrated in the following excerpts: “For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives... This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote. Thus, in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose NOTA..., which will... compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate (emphasis added).
  • “Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the voters an opportunity to verbalize themselves unreservedly and by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice. By providing NOTA button in the EVMs, it will accelerate the effective political participation in the present state of democratic system and the voters... will be empowered. We are of the... view that in bringing out this right to cast negative vote at a time when electioneering is in full swing, it will foster the purity of the electoral process and also fulfil one of its objectives, namely, wide participation of people (emphasis added).
  • “When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates... there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity (emphasis added).”
  • Two reasoned orders

  • The State Election Commission (SEC) of Maharashtra was the first to understand the spirit of the judgment. It issued a reasoned order on June 13 saying, “If it is noticed while counting, that NOTA has received highest number of valid votes, then the said election for that particular seat shall be countermanded and fresh elections shall be held for such post.” This was commendable, but it stopped short of giving NOTA the teeth that the court wanted. It meant that the same candidates could contest the new election, which meant that the result could be the same as earlier.
  • It was not long before the final correction came forth. The SEC of Haryana, in an order dated November 22, stated that if “all the contesting candidates individually receive lesser votes than... NOTA,” then not only would “none of the contesting candidates be declared as elected,” but “all such contesting candidates who secured less votes than NOTA shall not be eligible to re-file the nomination/contest the re-election.”
  • The two SECs are within the ambit of the Constitution and various Supreme Court judgments to issue these orders for various reasons: they have powers identical to the ECI for elections that take place in their jurisdictions; they have plenary powers to issue directions in areas related to the conduct of elections where there is no specific legislation, till such time as Parliament or the State Assembly enacts such legislation; and there is no specific legislation pertaining to NOTA.
  • With two SECs showing the way, the remaining SECs and the ECI should follow suit so that political parties are compelled to nominate sound candidates, and are forced to accept the will of the people, as desired by the highest court in the land.
  • Jagdeep S. Chhokar is a former Professor, Dean, and Director in-charge of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Views are personal
  • Towns without musicians

    What is a gain for Chennai is a loss for some other parts of Tamil Nadu

  • Recently, while covering Cyclone Gaja, I stayed in Thiruvarur, the birthplace of the Carnatic Trinity (Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri) and of many other famous musicians. Thiruvarur V. Namasivayam, flautist N. Ramani, nagaswaram player T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai and mridhangam player Thiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam were born and trained in this temple town and then moved to Chennai in pursuit of a career.
  • It is not only Thiruvarur that is famous for its musicians. Anyone making a trip to Kumbakonam, Mayiladuthurai, Mannargudi, Nagapattinam, Thanjavur or Thiruvaiyaru will come across a place which is associated with a musician of fame. In no other field, as far as I know, is the name of a place associated with a renowned personality. Mudikondan Venkatarama Iyer, Thirukodikaval Krishna Iyer, Thiruvidaimarudur Sakarama Rao, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Thiruvavaduthurai Rajarathinam Pillai and Thiruvenkadu Subramania Pillai are some of the names that have dominated the music world and continue to evoke awe.
  • But things have changed today. “I am not able to find a music teacher in Thiruvarur to teach my daughter music,” nagaswaram player Edumbavan V. Ilayaraja, who lives in Thiruvarur, told me. This is the sad reality. The music seems to have disappeared in many places just like the water in the Cauvery when the monsoon fails. Barring nagaswaram and thavil players who are attached to local temples, musicians and dancers shifted their base to Chennai in the later part of the 19th century after the disintegration of feudalism and the fall of temples and courts. The establishment of music departments in Madras University and Annamalai University also provided opportunities.
  • “Fifty years ago, there was a music teacher in every village. His or her knowledge on the subject matched a well-known name in the field,” said Rama Kausalya, former principal of the Music College, Thiruvaiyaru. Ms. Kausalaya was taught by Appu Vaathiyar, grandson of Narasimha Bhagavathar, who was a disciple of Rama Iyengar, who learnt directly from Thyagaraja. “We used to pay ₹2 per month, and he was considered family by every student who learnt music from him,” she said. Harikatha exponent Kamala Murthy was perhaps the last artist of the previous generation who refused to leave Thanjavur till her last days.
  • Of course, events like the Melattur Bhagavatha Mela and Thyagaraja Aradhana attract a lot of musicians and music lovers to composite Thanjavur, the cradle of music. “But they leave after the events. There is hardly any opportunity for a musician to make a livelihood here. Only nagaswaram and thavil players continue to live here,” said nagawaram player Injikudi M. Subramaniam, recalling the return of late vocalist Kulikkarai Viswalingam to his native place after retiring from All India Radio.
  • While Ms. Kausalya acknowledged that Chennai provides many opportunities for musicians, the mass migration of artists from these towns to the city brings to my mind the story of the musician Malli in T. Janakiraman’s short story ‘Isai Payirchi’. After trying his luck in Chennai for many years, Malli leaves for his native village and tries to teach music to a Dalit, only to be ridiculed by the villagers. An angry Malli throws away his sruthi box. It is later found hanging on the fence surrounding his house.
  • Promise rights, get votes

    The inclusion of forest rights in its campaign helped the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh

  • Since the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly election results are out, it is possible to inquire whether the unhappiness of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) with their erstwhile elected representatives manifested in the voting patterns in the two States.
  • The results in Chhattisgarh were particularly startling in the SC/ST constituencies. The ruling BJP was able to garner just three ST seats compared to 11 in 2013, while the Congress and other parties increased their tally to 26 from 18. The BJP won 11% of the total seats and 10% of the reserved ST constituencies.
  • STs, who are also potential forest rights holders under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, constitute 52% of the total voters in the 29 ST constituencies. The proportion ranges from 20% in the Pathalgaon ST constituency to as much as 79% in Konta. Yet implementation of the FRA has been extremely poor. Innumerable reports point to the subversion of rights under the FRA and the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996.
  • It is a well-known fact that protesting tribals are designated as Naxalites and imprisoned. Tensions have been bubbling under the surface for a while. A partial reflection of these grievances was already visible in the 2013 elections, where the Congress did slightly better than the BJP in the ST constituencies; whereas in 2018, the BJP was wiped out in these constituencies. The inclusion of the FRA in its manifesto and campaign paid the Congress good dividends.
  • The results in SC constituencies were no less dramatic. The BJP won nine out of 10 SC seats in Chhattisgarh in 2013. This time it won only two, whereas the Congress and other parties increased their tally from one to eight. The FRA plays to the SC demand for land, but some analysts identify the dilution of the SCs and the STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (PoA), 1989, and harassment of Dalits by cow protectors as other important causes for their voting pattern.
  • Madhya Pradesh saw a much more competitive election between the two national parties, with the Congress taking a small lead largely due to a big swing in the ST/SC constituencies. While the BJP lost around 30% seats in the general category, it lost 48% seats in the ST category and 36% in the SC category. It would have been impossible for the Congress to form the government in the State without the massive swing in the reserved constituencies. It won 47 out of 82 reserved seats and only 67 out of 148 in the general category.
  • Overall, while the evidence may not be conclusive, and no single factor is ever responsible for electoral fortunes, it does seem as if forest rights made a difference this time. This is a warning for the new leaders that if they ignore FRA, PESA, and POA, it will be at their own peril.