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The Hindu Notes for 19th March 2019

Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 19th March 2019

A prayer for our times

Unsound judgments and faulty moral reasoning are not the lot of leaders alone — but also of those who support them

  • As all of us ordinary citizens recovered from the carnage in Pulwama, and wondered how the government would respond to this latest instance of cross-border terrorism, one television channel showed us poignant images of grieving relatives of the fallen soldiers. While a few, driven by moral hatred for the perpetrators, were understandably crying for revenge, others, even at this moment of utmost suffering, spoke of the futility of retaliation. “It would only bring similar suffering to fellow humans,” said one widow from the rural hinterland. Hers was a cry for peace, not for vengeful violence. “War can only be the last resort, after everything else has failed,” she wisely counselled.
  • War and patriotism

  • Yes, war is sometimes necessary, especially in self-defence. But one doesn’t have to be an unconditional pacifist to acknowledge the misfortunes it begets or to decry war mongering. Nor is readiness to go to war the only indicator of patriotism. True, patriots must be prepared to die in defence of their ‘patria’, their mother or fatherland. But one is not any less a patriot if one strives for everyone in his country living peacefully, happily, flourishing, leading life to its fullness. Fighting the daily challenges faced by their countrymen, seeking to improve their lot, always loving them and their habitat, and expressing this love in word or deed as the occasion demands is the everyday vocation of a patriot.
  • A country at war is different. War is disruptive, and because it is lethal and involves human sacrifice, a patriot must eschew any bravado about it. This is particularly expected from contemporary leaders, patriots who never themselves go to war; quite unlike the past where the ruler who declared war was expected to always lead from the front on the battlefield. After all, it is our Army officers and jawans who die, not the ones who call for and support war. Our rulers move about with elaborate security to protect their own lives. If they don’t allow others to play with their lives, they must ensure that no one plays with the life of their countrymen, most of all our soldiers. Decisions on war must then be taken responsibly, without haste, not for spectacular effect or as tactical ploys in a game.
  • The inner workings of the human mind are mysterious, however. For it is not these thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw those moving images on television. This reasoning is retrospective; thoughts that have occurred to me now, post-facto. At that time, a strange melange of emotions — feelings of grief, despair, shame, nostalgia — curdled up and then suddenly, from nowhere, the lyrics of an immortal song by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to tune by Jaidev and sung melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar in the 1961 Dev Anand classic Hum Dono, came unbidden to mind: “Maangon ka sindoor na chhutey, maa behenon ki aas naa tootey (may no one be widowed; may no mother or sister lose hope of their loved one returning).”
  • Prayer for peace and wisdom

  • In the film, these lines are part of a prayer for peace led by the wife and mother of a Major of the Indian Army missing in action — a prayer not only that their own loved one returns home safe but that no wife, mother or sister may lose loved ones in war. Death in war is an interruption, an anomaly. It takes away from us young, active, lively persons who have not yet lived their full life. When a soldier dies in the prime of life, he leaves many tasks unfinished, many relationships incomplete, millions of desires unfulfilled. And according to popular belief, when a person at the height of his powers meets a bloody, violent, untimely end, his prana or atman remains in limbo, trapped in no man’s land; it leaves the body without reaching wherever it is meant to go and keeps hovering around us. May this never happen to anyone, says the poet. “Deh bina bhatke na praan (may the spirit not abruptly detach from the body and wander restlessly).”
  • But this mellifluous song is more than a comforting prayer for peace. It subtly points fingers at those who injudiciously push us into war, at the economically strong and politically powerful who bring war upon us for their own benefit, to serve their own nefarious purpose. “O saare jag ke rakhawaale, nirbal ko bal dene waale, balwaanon ko de de gyaan (jnana) (you, who watch over the entire universe, you who empower the weak, may you also grant wisdom to the mighty).”
  • Jnana here refers not simply to knowledge, but to wisdom, moral insight, indeed to conscience. May the rulers rule with a conscience! May they be able to distinguish right conduct from wrong. Really, only such people should guide us when we are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to undertake morally retributive action.
  • And this is not all. The prayer then becomes a plea that we all be endowed with sanmati — to put our intelligence to good use, to have sound judgments, that all have a conscience. Why? Because unsound judgments, faulty moral reasoning and suspension of good sense are not the lot of leaders alone but also of those who support them and legitimise their actions. It is after all we, ordinary folks, who are swayed by war hysteria. Those without good sense get the leaders they deserve. May the gift of sanmati be bestowed on us. For only people with sanmati can rein in leaders who have lost all sense of good and bad, right and wrong.
  • A civilisational anchor

  • But who is this prayer addressed to? “Allahtero naam, Ishwar tero naam (You, whose name is both Allah and Ishwar). In this, his masterstroke, Sahir invokes not only Gandhi, but an entire, centuries-old religio-philosophical legacy of the subcontinent in which all traditions are believed to share the same semantic universe that enables the god of one religion to be translated into the god of another. This is inclusive monotheism at its best, where god is one but referred to in different traditions by different names. And so, the prayer is addressed to Allah, Ishwar, and implicitly to the god of every religion.
  • With men spewing venom, not satisfied with fighting a war with their own fellow countrymen, itching to go to war with others, nothing (empathy, reason, dialogue) seems to work. Helpless spectators, no longer in control of their collective life, in sight of a looming disaster on the horizon, often break into a prayer. What else can those stripped of agency do but hope that somehow good sense may prevail, that all of us be delivered from the collective insanity that shows no sign of loosening its grip? Thus, those who believe in one god, invoke him; those who believe in gods and goddesses, invoke them; and those who believe in neither, hope for some good fortune to fall in their lap! This is why this is a prayer for our times: we offer this prayer to you, Allah to some, Ishwar to others, that you miraculously bring an end to needless killings, wisdom and conscience to the rich and powerful, and peace and good sense to everyone.
  • A fatal margin of error

    The inconsistent and arbitrary application of the death penalty remains a matter of great concern

  • On March 5, 2019, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice A.K. Sikri (now retired) found Khushwinder Singh guilty and befitting of the death sentence (Khushwinder Singh v. State of Punjab). In 2013, the Fatehgarh Sahib sessions court had convicted and sentenced him to death for killing six relatives of his wife with the motive of committing theft. The last time the death penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court was in July 2018 in the Delhi gang rape case. Since then, the court has acquitted 10 death row prisoners and reduced the sentence to life imprisonment of 23 others. As Singh’s case moves closer to the gallows, the judgment highlights the processes that cause cases to slip through the cracks of the ‘rarest of the rare’ doctrine, which mandates a consideration of both the crime and the criminal. The judgment exemplifies the varied standards of legal representation that impacts the imposition of the death penalty.
  • A contrast

  • Singh’s death sentence stands in contrast to nine cases decided by three-judge benches headed by Justice Sikri since November 2018 which resulted in six commutations to life imprisonment and eight acquittals. In these judgments, the duty of the court to conduct an effective sentencing hearing was emphasised and factors such as good conduct in custody, education, age, social, emotional and mental condition of the offender, and the possibility of reform were highlighted as relevant considerations in the sentencing scheme. However, none of these factors appear to have been considered for Singh. The judgment declares at the outset that Singh’s lawyer “is not in a position to point out any mitigating circumstance”. Without commenting on the effect of that deficiency on the quality of the sentencing exercise being carried out by the court, it erroneously relies only on the pre-planned nature of the crime, its brutality and the number of victims to impose the death sentence. Grounds relating to the criminal such as his conduct in prison, his socio-economic and educational backgrounds, or the probability of reformation receive no comment from the court.
  • In late 2018, another three-judge bench of the Supreme Court reversed its own finding in M.A. Antony v. State of Kerala, involving the murder of six relatives of the accused. The court chose to commute the death penalty factoring the ‘lack of evidence’ to show that the convict was a hardened criminal or that he was beyond reform. The similarities in the nature of the crime between the cases of Singh and Antony are unfortunate and uncannily similar. In both cases, six family members lost their lives, including two children. The motive in both, according to the prosecution, was money and the victims were close relatives. Both convicts were middle-aged men with families of their own. While in Antony’s case, his socio-economic conditions and lack of criminal antecedents were considered by the court in deciding that there was a probability of his reformation, in Singh’s judgment, there is a complete silence on this aspect, providing yet another instance of the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.
  • Eliciting information

  • The irreversibility of the death penalty has fundamentally affected the jurisprudence around it. It is commonly accepted that a judge in adversarial proceedings cannot go on a ‘truth searching exploration’ beyond what is presented. Yet, death penalty jurisprudence is rife with examples where duty has been placed upon the courts to elicit information relating to the question of sentence, even if none is adduced before it. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan’s judgment in Ajay Pandit v. State of Maharashtra (2012), held that the court has a ‘duty and obligation’ to elicit relevant facts even if the accused was totally silent in such situations. In Santosh Kumar Satishbhushan Bariyar v. State of Maharashtra (2009), while discussing the responsibility of courts with respect to the sentencing scheme laid out in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, Justice Sinha opined that Bachan Singh makes no distinction on the roles and responsibility of appellate courts and therefore it was incumbent upon all courts to ensure the ratio laid down in Bachan Singh was ‘scrupulously’ followed, adding, “if anything, inverse pyramid of responsibility is applicable in death penalty cases”.
  • Unlike Khushwinder Singh’s case, in the past few months the Supreme Court has rightly considered evidence about the criminal by calling for medical records, reports of prison conduct, including poetry written by a convict post-incarceration to ascertain the appropriate sentence. This was not attempted in Singh’s case. At the core of the arbitrariness in death penalty sentencing is the inconsistent approach to mitigating factors. The Supreme Court has, unfortunately, not developed any requirements that guide the collection, presentation and consideration of mitigating factors. Very often, barely any mitigating factors are presented on behalf of death row prisoners; if they are, they are of poor quality. Judges are often left only with information concerning the crime to determine the punishment. And, undoubtedly, Singh is a victim of this. He ended up being defined only by his crime with no other information about his life coming up before the judges. The quality of legal representation continues to affect the administration of the death penalty, even when cases are decided by pro-active and sensitive judges.
  • The inconsistent and arbitrary application of the death penalty remains a matter of great concern to the judiciary. Justice Kurian Joseph’s parting words in Chhannu Lal Verma v. State of Chhattisgarh, calling for the gradual abolition of the death penalty, require serious introspection from the court and the body politic, and for us to recognise that the efforts to make the administration of the death penalty fairer are like chasing the wind. Our institutions may persist with attempts to ‘tinker with the machinery of death’ until there is a collective realisation that the death penalty is untenable in a fair criminal justice system. Till such time, the setting of established benchmarks for practice, and a system of oversight are necessary to ensure that the quality of legal representation does not become the difference between a sentence of life and death.
  • Papering over

    The BJP’s alliances in the Northeast are underpinned by political contradictions

  • The BJP is acutely aware that its presence has been patchy across regions and social groups, historically. Its storied victory in 2014, with 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, came primarily from the States in the north and the west. Barring Karnataka, the BJP has yet to have any notable presence in the southern States. However, in 2014 the BJP did make inroads into Assam by winning seven of its 14 seats, and it sensed an opportunity to expand its foothold in the State and further into the Northeast. The party has been roping in regional partners and expanding its individual strength in the region with remarkable aggression since then. It led an alliance to victory in 2016 in Assam, and in 2018 in Tripura it defeated the Left Front, which had been in power for five terms. As of today, four of the eight Chief Ministers in the region are from the BJP and it is a partner in ruling coalitions in three. The BJP has labelled its partnerships in the Northeast as a distinct entity, the North East Democratic Alliance, under the NDA umbrella.
  • Last week, the BJP managed to woo back the Asom Gana Parishad that had quit the alliance in January over differences on the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Besides reviving ties with the AGP, the BJP sealed agreements for the Lok Sabha elections with the Bodoland People’s Front, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, National People’s Party, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party and Sikkim Krantikari Morcha. These cover Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim, respectively. The BJP says it aims to win 22 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region. The Hindutva party’s foray into the Northeast in the past often involved legal sophistry and manoeuvring. With its strength saturated in its strongholds, the BJP has compulsions to look for fresh terrains to grow but its efforts in the Northeast are significant for more long-term reasons. The region has remained on the periphery of India’s geographical and cultural imagination. The BJP is considered, for good reason, a party of Hindu-Hindi nationalism with scant regard for the aspirations of people and issues of the region. In its efforts to woo the Northeast, here the party has soft-pedalled its strident cow protection agenda that has a sharp anti-minority edge. On amending the law to make the route to Indian citizenship easier for non-Muslims from neighbouring countries — a deeply divisive issue in the Northeast — the party has agreed to not talk about it during the election campaign. That does not mean the BJP is softening its stand on the issue. The fundamental contradiction between the ethnicity-oriented politics of the region and the BJP’s religion-inspired politics is visible in the debate on the Bill. But these alliances can also be the vehicle for negotiation and accommodation. Either way, it will be a tough balancing act.
  • ‘U.P.’s law and order has become a model for the country’

    The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister on encounter killings, cow protection, renaming places, and the Lok Sabha polls

  • Yogi Adityanath built himself the image of a firebrand Hindutva leader long before he became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. In this interview, conducted in Hindi, Mr. Adityanath talks about how ‘development for all’ is a corollary of his religious inspiration, and the many controversies of his tenure. Excerpts:
  • You have completed two years as Chief Minister. What is your scorecard?
  • The last two years have seen transformation and the well-being of the people of U.P. In the previous 15-20 years, U.P. became associated with certain traits that ruined the reputation of the State. We have changed that bad reputation. The State has made great strides in development and governance, in gaining trust and honour, in the last two years. We have been able to do this thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modiji’s guidance and the hard work of our officials.
  • You say you are for ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. In your earlier campaigns, your image was of a Hindu leader. As Chief Minister, are you the leader of only Hindus or the leader of all people?
  • I am a Hindu, and I have pride in that. A Hindu is interested in the welfare of all, not merely humans but all living beings. Sarve bhavantu sukhina, sarve santu niramaya. Sanatan Hindu dharma has given this message to the world. The well-being of everyone... that is Hindu philosophy. Everyone must follow this philosophy. As Chief Minister, I am happy that every class, caste, religion and citizen is benefiting from our programmes. We have implemented ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ with full commitment in U.P.
  • What is your biggest achievement?
  • U.P.’s law and order has become a model for the country. This used to be a State where every second day you had a riot, the mafia raj was widespread, gangs were being sheltered by the administration. We have been successful in changing that perception. Because of that change in perception, besides implementing Modiji’s flagship schemes in various sectors, U.P. is doing much more. The U.P. Investors Summit was a great success. We hosted the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, and the Kumbh in Prayagraj for 25 crore people. It was the most successful ever, and with a message of cleanliness and security.
  • So, are you transforming yourself from a Hindu hriday samrat (emperor of Hindu hearts) to a vikas purush (man of development)?
  • Listen, this is no transformation. The real Hindu vision is that nobody will be discriminated against or favoured. Everyone is equal. Development is for all. We are implementing that vision in U.P. We are today the first in the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. We are number one in the Swachh Bharat Mission, in tourism. India is the best destination for FDI, and U.P. is the best in India. Our procurement policy is farmer friendly. We ensure that the minimum support price is given to farmers, and the money reaches their bank accounts in 48 hours. No middlemen. We have added more land to the irrigation network in the last two years than in the 20 years prior to that.
  • So, the biggest change is in law and order. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of encounters by the police ever since you became Chief Minister. About 80 people have been killed by the police. Is this the only way to enforce law and order?
  • See, not a single one of the encounters was fake. If the criminal opens fire, the police will not keep their hands tied. Earlier, the police used to run and criminals used to chase them. Because criminals were being shielded by the administration, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s or the Samajwadi Party’s. Today, that is not the case. Today, there is the rule of law in U.P. Those who break the law will be confronted by the law. If someone fires at the police, or at innocent people, it is only natural they will be responded to in a language that they understand, by the police. Our officers have been killed, injured badly in the process, but the security of 23 crore people is my responsibility. It is also my responsibility to provide security to all those who visit U.P.
  • How are you so sure that no encounter was fake?
  • The Supreme Court and the Human Rights Commission have laid down norms to be followed, and those have been adhered to in each case.
  • But the application of law appears selective in U.P. For instance, in the use of the National Security Act (NSA). The police charged Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad under the NSA, but did not use it in Bulandshahr (when a Hindutva mob protesting against suspected cow slaughter killed a police officer).
  • No, that is not the case, we have applied the NSA in many cases. In Saharanpur, whether it was Chandrashekhar or the other side. Three from one side and three from the other were charged under the NSA, and the law was not specific to any group. Wherever we have used the NSA, it has been used in a non-discriminatory manner. In Bulandshahr also, strict action has been taken against the culprits. We have sent a strong message. There have been no riots in the State in the last two years. Look at the peaceful and calm manner in which the Kumbh was completed. I am pleased that we could do it.
  • Cow protection has been a big priority for you. How do you analyse the impact of your measures, given that farmers, many of whom are your supporters, are now complaining that stray cattle are ruining their farms?
  • See, what you are describing was the situation two months earlier. Things have significantly improved since then. This has been a legacy issue. Yes, we have shut down all the illegal slaughter houses. The National Green Tribunal and court orders on this predate our government. When illegal slaughter houses were closed, a large number of cattle were let loose. We have to protect them, and we also have to protect the farms. Originally our plan was to encourage the community to take care of these cattle. My idea was that cow protection will be done by the community, and we would support their efforts. But it did not succeed in many places. Low milk-yielding breeds are not viable for farmers. We are working on that. Secondly, we wanted to spread sex selection methods to have more female progeny — bulls are needed less as farming gets mechanised. Thirdly, we wanted to develop technology that could refill cooking gas cylinders with gas from dung so that cattle remain productive. But the farmers began saying we should take care of these stray cattle first. As of now, we have four lakh cattle being taken care of in shelters. We needed money for this. We used the MGNREGA for construction in some places. We introduced a cess on foreign liquor in some places. We also generated some money from mandis — this is related to the welfare of farmers, after all. Our measures for cow protection will continue.
  • You have been renaming places. What is the thought behind this?
  • If Bombay can become Mumbai, Bangalore can become Bengaluru, Madras can become Chennai, and Calcutta can become Kolkota, there is no reason why Allahabad should not become Prayagraj and Faizabad should not become Ayodhya. To re-establish our original identity, we have renamed these places. I am happy that people have welcomed this.
  • But there are no religious undertones in the case of the other cities you mentioned.
  • That is not the case. Mumbai is from Mumba Devi Mandir. You are from Kerala. How did Trivandrum become Thiruvananthapuram? It is after Bhagwan Vishnu. We are only restoring our heritage.
  • But aren’t Mughals also part of our heritage?
  • No. Foreign aggressors cannot be part of our heritage. Those who are our citizens today are our citizens. Their security and welfare are our responsibility. But if someone says that foreign ggressors are part of our inheritance, I will say that is slave mentality.
  • What are you going to fight this Lok Sabha election on?
  • Development, good governance and nationalism. In the last five years under Modiji, the BJP-led alliance has, through numerous welfare schemes, touched the lives of all people without any discrimination. There has been unprecedented progress in infrastructure, and external and internal security. All this is being achieved through nationalism. When Modiji came to power, dozens of districts were affected by Naxalism. Today, it is confined to five-six districts. The Northeast had several separatist incidents — all the extremists were neutralised through one surgical strike. Kashmir used to witness massive incidents of stone pelting. Today, it is under control. The surgical strike broke the backbone of terrorism and the recent air strikes in Pakistan-controlled territories... All this is unprecedented. People want India to be prosperous and resolute. Modiji is able to do all this because this is a stable government. He is a strong leader. The Opposition has no leader, and it does not have the right intentions.
  • You mentioned security. On this question, several BJP leaders, including Mr. Modi, have spoken about threats coming from those who ‘live in India but who speak the language of Pakistan’. What does this mean?
  • Direct or indirect support to terrorism, or to show softness towards terrorists, is unfortunate. For the Congress to promise that it will dilute sedition laws is an act of encouraging anti-national forces. To use ‘ji’ while referring to terrorists... I am surprised by the level of [Congress President] Rahul Gandhi’s understanding. He uses foul language for Modiji. Our Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, is being attacked in vicious language.
  • Unlike last time, your key opponents, the SP and the BSP, are now together. They won all three byelections after they came together.
  • Those were byelections. That won’t have any impact now. The BJP will win 74-plus seats in U.P. That is more than the 2014 tally.
  • And when will you become Prime Minister?
  • I am not in that race. I am happy in the service of U.P.
  • Are you planning to campaign outside U.P. too?
  • U.P. will be my focus, but I will campaign wherever the party asks me to.
  • You have apparently postponed the plan for the temple in Ayodhya. Meanwhile, you have announced a Ram statue in Ayodhya.
  • We are making progress. We won’t backtrack. Whatever we have announced, we shall do.
  • The temple or the statue?
  • Everything will be completed during our tenure.
  • Future-proofing cities

    It is important to build infrastructure that is resilient to shocks brought about by a changing climate

  • The stark statistics jump out at anyone trying to understand why resilient infrastructure is so important in a world that is urbanising at an unprecedented pace, not least here in India. Already around 34% of India’s population lives in cities and this demographic cohort is expected to grow in the years ahead. This growing rate of urbanisation and the subsequent increase in population density is bringing massive new investments in infrastructure. Bridges, roads, dams, power stations and electrical grids are just some of the services and facilities that need to be built to serve burgeoning urban populations. Half of the infrastructure needed in Asia by 2050 is yet to be built. It is estimated that, globally, $6 trillion needs to be invested in infrastructure every year until 2030 to meet current demands.
  • This level of investment provides a window of opportunity to ensure that all new infrastructure is made resilient to withstand future shocks, including those brought by a changing climate. Disasters in heavily populated urban areas can lead to high numbers of human casualties. It is sobering to note that unsafe infrastructure which collapses in an earthquake or tsunami kills more people than any other type of natural hazard, such as a tornado or a storm. Economic losses from disasters that damage infrastructure can reach huge proportions. The World Bank estimates that annual disaster losses are already close to $520 billion and that disasters push up to 24 million people a year into poverty.
  • Ensuring that all new investments in infrastructure are made in a risk-sensitive way can play a significant role in reducing economic losses from disasters. There is no excuse for infrastructure to continue to be damaged or destroyed by recurrent hazards when we know that a small investment — often just a small percentage of the total cost of investment — can make the infrastructure resistant to many shocks. The dividend is that money saved from relief and rebuilding costs can be invested in development objectives, such as education, health care or improved transportation, helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • One of the objectives of the Second International Workshop on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, being hosted on March 19-20 under the initiative of the Indian government and with support from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, is to pursue the creation of a global coalition for resilient infrastructure. The coalition will also ensure that new risks are not created, as enshrined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the global plan for reducing disaster losses. Such international cooperation and shared commitment are needed to “future-proof” our cities and lock-in resilience for generations to come.