Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Post-Corona Scenario - Thoughts About an Uncertain World

Headed Somewhere - Picture Credit Travel Triangle
The world is engulfed by the Chinese corona virus epidemic, and it is difficult to believe predictions today that the problem will ebb away in three months. Crystal ball gazing often tends to be more accurate than expert opinion in the world, and in a world where conservatism of estimation is always favored, you can only remain under-prepared for the real situation. What is certain though is that the world will alter definitely in ways that we can perhaps not imagine, unless we look at the pre-epidemic situation to realize that globalism and globalization have proven to be a double edged sword. 

Corona virus epidemic has led us to seeing visuals of animals coming out in the open and 'reclaiming wildlife'. Romanticism of a new kind is setting in about the times, and questions on the modern lifestyle are being increased by ordinary people with unparalleled frequency. While the questions would of course be welcome, the romanticism seems questionable. Would people really want to go back to the 'gold old days'? The advancements we have today certainly help us to deal with several things. Science helped us progress, defeat epidemics and make our lives better. Technology gave us more spare time to create and imagine a better world. Would many of us really want to give all of that up? Would we be able to give up our mobile phones, our laptops and live like monks? It is perhaps better to be realistic on these fronts. We may perhaps go half way and see things changing, lifestyles altering in irreversible ways, but it is nowhere harking back to a good old days scenario as aspired by many.

In the developing world, particularly the countries on the cusp as I call them, one certain thing I predict is that people start demanding a spring break like in Europe and US. Or ask for greater work from home options. Work from home is the big success emerging for India and as I see it many tiger economies post lockdown will also appreciate its merits of cost savings on an organizational level. This kind of situation, often seen in the west, will become the norm for several companies, with working mothers being the biggest beneficiaries in these countries, thus bringing in more female participation. The kind and nature of this participation would remain questionable to an extent, but one can certainly expect this trend to become the norm very soon.

A major social transition as I see among people is that people may actually become even more conservative in their daily behaviours across the world, and particularly so in the new emergent economies. Fiscal prudence for the rainy day as a policy shall actually get doubly reinforced, as that is the key lesson many would like to take away from the epidemic. In the west, one would note even more interesting social phenomena. People may not become more religious with time; however, a greater sense of fatalism in their outlook for life can certainly be envisioned, creating a generation of brooders in all likelihood. I do not buy the nonsense of an impending population boom - in asuch an uncertain social environment, it makes little sense among people today to bear children, knowing not if they shall actually survive or not. Things are not like the good old days either, and children are deemed as a cost by a large number of people today, whether we like it or not. The indicator I would like to watch out for though is the reproductive rates - a continued fall over a 2-year time across the world would also help us make sense about how people view the world post corona. A rise in this rate, or at least a stability in the global numbers, would in my opinion, correlate with an overall sense of optimism and hope, though as I see it, there would be a fall for a couple of years, even in increasingly fatalist societies. Increasing sense of isolation and poor mental health among large sections of population would certainly be worrisome in my opinion.

On the economic front, there would be serious moral disruption of a kind difficult to deal with. In the west, one may actually see people scaling back on consumption. What is essential may get redefined there permanently for them, as one saw in Japan and Korea over the years. In countries like India, a fundamental question will now arise on the path that we want to take ahead. There is no easy answer on this, as a moral hazard of a different kind has started to emerge. The social messaging and the power of advertising will certainly take an irreparable hit - to what extent though is unpredictable.

One could argue that China has won and will be the winner economically from here. Such claims often ignore the stark reality that China may have very well lost its biggest market in a single stroke. Who will buy their products in a fatalist world where consumption loses relevance altogether? Much of this is true for the 'world's factories' - other emerging economies like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and even big economies like Indonesia and India to an extent will suffer short term damage - will it last? Perhaps. Even financial centres like Singapore and Hong Kong face hard choices - is a financial/knowledge economy so useful when this expertise race proved to have faltered at a time when the world needed it desperately? Even in times of such advancement, requiring six months to build a vaccine or three months to even come up with procedures replicating 100 year old techniques would make one question the very power of knowledge in today' society.

In the western world, Europe was anyway moving towards irrelevance slowly. This outbreak of the Chinese corona virus will just hasten it. The world will certainly not be the same anymore, as we see the old ageing population being left out to die to save the young ones. Problem is, the number of young in Europe is so few that the numbers that survive henceforth would by default reduce it to insignificance. With no consumption power, those economies are doomed, and little can be done to revive it for years to come. The increasing fatalist sense will further kill the zeal to do something about it, one fears. US will certainly become weaker than before, as it realizes the systemic weaknesses that plague them and are irreparable. How will it deal with this crisis and after would always remain a study to fascinate. However, the population will lose confidence in its own ability to deal with the crisis increasingly, come what may. A political divide that was nearly impossible to bridge will rip the country apart, and one could dare to say that nothing short of a civil conflict could arise in the near future. What emerges from it is impossible to predict - whatever emerges from it would certainly not have the same strength as before is certainly predictable. The economic power will certainly collapse, and a military state of sorts may just be visualized. Far fetched, but in an uncertain world, who would want more tensions to be added to their kitty? I am by nature a pessimist, and may have painted a negative picture. However, I like to search for hope where I see it. There is a change that is certainly coming for sure. I do not call it a bitter winter night - what I see is a long day of summer. Good things can certainly be expected, but to come to that point, a churning would be necessary. That churn is coming for sure. Let us wait and watch. And I hope at least that after the corona epidemic blows over, the world becomes a better place for one and all.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

राम मंदिर निर्णय के समय का भाव

जब राम मंदिर का निर्णय घोषित हुआ था, तब मन में चंद विचार आये थे। उन्हें आज यहाँ छोड़े जा रहा हूँ।

आज वह क्षण आ गया, जिसकी प्रतीक्षा लगभग 500 वर्षों से अनेकों लोग, अनेकों गुट, अनेकों भक्तजन कर रहे थे। वह लल्ला, जिनके दर्शन की आस में अनेकों आँखें खुलकर बन्द हो गयीं, आज अश्रुलिप्त हैं यह कल्पना कर के सम्भवतः उनके प्रभु को उनका स्थान, उनका घर अंततः मिल ही जाएगा। आज अनेकों महापुरुषों, जीवित या जीवनपर्यन्त, की तपस्या और त्याग का फल उन्हें प्राप्त हुआ है। उन्होनें सर्वस्व त्याग दिया, उनके जीवन में अनेकों यातनाएं सहीं, क्योंकि उनकी आस्था इस एक स्थान की पवित्रता में हैं। इस आस्था पर अनेकों प्रश्न उठाए जाते हैं। परन्तु क्या मात्र हिंदुओं की आस्था ही प्रश्नों का उत्तर देने के लिए है? 

पूछा जाता है - मन्दिर क्यों होना चाहिए? ऐतिहासिक तथ्य को नकारने का ठीकड़ा हमारे ही सिर फोड़ना होता है। वैसे ही आस्था क्या है? क्या नास्तिकता और निरीश्वरवाद एक प्रकार की आस्था नहीं है? आप प्रत्यक्ष को नकार दूसरों के सत्य को झुटलाने का प्रयास बन्द करें, तो बहुत बड़ा उपकार होगा इन महात्माओं का। वहाँ स्कूल, अस्पताल, विश्वविद्यालय क्यों नहीं बनाते? क्यों, और अन्य स्थान नहीं है? उनका अगर अभाव है तो इसे वहाँ बनाकार कैसे पूरा किया जाएगा? ये छद्मवादी सोच आपकी असफलता को छुपाने का एक अत्यंत घटिया प्रयास है, अतः यह विचारज्ञान बाँटने की चेष्टा न करें।

प्रगतिशील, शिक्षित होकर कैसे आप मन्दिर का समर्थन कर सकते हैं? शिक्षित है, अभद्र नहीं। हम अपनी संस्कृति, अपनी आस्था, अपने विश्वास और अपनी धरोहर को नकारना नहीं है हमारी प्रगति का भाग। हमारे पूर्वजों ने अपने प्राणों की आहुति इस तरह की अत्यंत तर्कहीन वक्तव्यों को सुनने के लिए नहीं दी थी। उनके साहस, शौर्य और अदम्य आस्था ने उन्हें पराजय स्वीकारने के जगह धर्म के प्रति प्रयासरत रहन सिखाया। उनसे प्रेरणा लेता हूँ, उन्हें नमन करता हूँ और उनके दिखाए धर्मपथ पर चलकर अपनी सभ्यता और अपनी संस्कृति का मान ऊँचा रखने का निरन्तर प्रयास करता रहूँगा, यही प्रार्थना करता हूँ।

और हाँ, प्रार्थी हूँ आप सभी वर्ग विशेष बुद्धिजीविओं से के हमारा, हमारी आस्था और विश्वास का नहीं तो सर्वोच्च न्यायालय की अवहेलना न करें। 

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:। 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Government of India Announces Major Relief on Deadlines and Compliance

Nirmala Sitharaman and Anurag Thakur at Yesterday's Press Conference (source: PIB)
In yesterday’s press conference via video conferencing, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in English and her deputy Anurag Thakur addressed the media and clearly stated that the aim of these announcements was to help companies and individuals to ease out worries sitting in the mind of the people with respect to various kinds of regulatory requirements. Ms. Sitharaman noted that as efforts of the lockdown to flatten the curve for the Covid-19 spread are being undertaken, she also assured everyone of an upcoming economic package. The first step however, as Mr. Thakur stated, was to ensure that the first step is taken in the direction of addressing statutory and regulatory compliance related issues.

Relief on Income Tax Compliance and Regulation Deadline for filing IT returns for FY18-19 have been extended to 30 June 2020. Moreover, a reduced interest rate of 9% shall now be levied till 30 June 2020 instead of the mandatory 12%.

On the delay in deposit of TDS, only reduced interest of 9% will be charged till 30 June 2020. Further, all other notice dates on filing etc. stand extended to 30 June 2020, as also the Aadhar-PAN linking date.

Vivaad se Vishwaas scheme deadline has been extended to 30 June 2020 and from now to 30 June 2020, there will be no 10% additional charge. Also, with respect to due dates for issue of various stages of intimation and compliance with the other regulations where time limit was expiring in March, the deadline has been extended to 30 June 2020.

Compliance Deadlines Extended, Penalties Waived Off on GST The last date for filing March, April and May 2020 returns and composition returns have been extended to 30 June 2020 in a staggered manner. Further, companies with less than ₹5 crore turnover will not be charged interest, late fee or penalty. For larger companies above ₹5 crore, these charges shall be waived during first 15 days; post which only reduced interest at 9% shall be charged. Also, the date for opting for composition scheme now stands extended to 30 June 2020.

Sabka Vishwas Scheme Extended for Customs and Central Excise; No Interest
Sabka Vishwaas Scheme deadline has been extended from 31 March 2020 to 30 June 2020. During this period, no interest shall be levied for this period for those with turnover less than ₹1.5crore.

Compliance and Regulations under MCA Requirements Relaxed A moratorium on MCA-21 Registry from 1 April to 30 September 2020 has been brought in, and there shall be no additional fee charged for late filing. Also, the mandatory requirement on Board meetings is being relaxed by 60-day period for next two quarters. The Companies Auditors Report Order 2020 shall now be applicable from FY2020-21 instead of 2019-20. Another important announcement was that the absence of Independent Directors from all meeting altogether during the year 2019-20 shall not be seen as violation.

More Relaxations on Directorship Norms, Smoothing Operations Newly incorporated companies who are required to file commencement of business within six months are being granted an extension of another six months to comply with this requirement. Also, Company Director inability to comply with the minimum residency requirement of 182 days under Sec 149 of companies Act shall not to be considered as violation. Also, the deposit reserve requirement of 20% shall now have to be complied with by 30 June 2020, and the deadline for investing 15% debentures maturing during particular year into specified instruments also stands extended from 30 April 2020 to 30 June 2020

IBC Provisions Relaxed for MSMEs Threshold for default has been raised from ₹1 lakh to ₹1crore to prevent triggering of insolvency proceedings against MSMEs with immediate effect. Further, the government will keep track of the situation, and if needed, it will suspend Sec 7, Sec 9 and Sec 10 of IBC after 30 April 2020 for six-month period.

Compliances Eased to Combat Supply Disruptions in Fisheries Sector In major steps for the fisheries sector, the validity of all sanitary import permits (SIPs) for import of shrimp root stock and aquaculture inputs that were expiring between 1-15 April 2020 shall be valid for another three months. Further, up to 1-month delay in arrival of consignments are to be condoned and shall be overlooked. Rebooking of quarantine cubicles for cancelled consignments in Aquatic Quarantine Facility in Chennai shall be allowed without additional booking charges. Also, the period taken for verification of document, grant of NOC for quarantine shall be shortened from 7 days to 3 days

No Banking Charges, Digital Transaction Favoured Debit card holders can withdraw cash from any bank ATM free of charge for next three months. There is complete waiver of minimum balance requirement fee on bank accounts as well. Moreover, the bank charges for digital trade transactions for all trade-finance consumers are being reduced.

Monday, March 23, 2020

India Discovers Its Innate Hinduness in the Garb of Janata Curfew

The Janata Curfew witnessed on 22 March 2020 was more than a success. Glitches here and there apart, the manner in which an entire nation chose to stand up and acknowledge the people who help it was truly unprecedented. This is a moment that will be remembered in popular history and will become a part of folklore in the years to come, and will perhaps make Narendra Modi into a tour de force, a legend in some senses.

What made is very interesting to note however was the innate Hinduness of society that came out that evening at 5pm. It started five minutes earlier, but went on fifteen minutes. Whatsapp groups had already started to circulate the temple aarti bell and shankha sounds to play - not suprisingly, that was the predominant sound that people responded to with enthusiasm. The atmosphere was nothing short of eclectic. Those who have attended vibrant aartis would recall how the powerful sounds really vibrate with the aatma, making you go into a deep meditative state.

People joined in, playing their own shankha from their kitchens, pooja ghar, temples, and brought out their bells, big and small, along side plates and metal pans to add to the melee of sounds. It was as if a humongous aarti was ongoing to Devi Jagadamba, seeking Her blessings in the fight with the deadly pandemic that has taken the world into its fold in the most sinister way possible. In this aarti, the entire nation stood up to do their bit of the seva for Jagadamba, pleasing Her, the Kolahala Priya, to come and drive away all the evil, to chase it away to its destruction and to save Her children from the crisis.

Well yesterday, She did not disappoint, as the vibration and positive vibrations that one felt within did not disappoint anyone who wished to seek Her blessings. But what seemed clear yesterday was that India need not fear - its innate Hinduness will always give it reason to be joyous. And one man certainly has the nerve of this nation, and can connect to its people in ways unimaginable, such is he blessed.

Leaving you with the sight from my own society to end this post. And frankly those who were making fun of it - the joke's on you dolts.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Rama Lives in Penury While Jesus Thrives in Jagan Reddy's Andhra Pradesh

Jagan Mohan Reddy and his YSR Congress party has time and again shown its keenness to prop up Christianity, which Jagan personally adheres to. However, when it comes to celebrating the native Hindu traditions of Andhra Pradesh, it seems the government develops an ostrich like mentality, and buries its head in the proverbial sand.

The annual Bhadradri temple’s Sita-Rama wedding festival, celebrated on Rama Navami, has always been a sight to behold. Lakhs of devotees from across the country throng the temple in Bhadrachalam Andhra Pradesh to view this divine sight. The Jagan Reddy government has apparently declined to allocate funds for the Kalyana Mahotsavam this year, despite being a state festival for Andhra Pradesh.

Speaking to a Hans India reporter, a senior temple official was quoted that even though the Seetha Rama Kalyanam was declared as state festival, all they get is a pair of silk robes and pearls costing about ₹20,000.

The temple, the official said, earns about ₹2 crore/month, but of that ₹90 lakh goes to the staff salaries and about Rs 40 lakh to the Telangana State Endowments Department towards the payment of goodwill fund, leaving the temple with only ₹60 lakh.

Ongoing Land Encroachment Scam Abetted by Government?

The story also revealed that Bhadradri Sri Rama has agriculture land admeasuring about 917 acres. Of this, most of the 847 acres in Purushottapattanam of East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh is under encroachment and the case is pending before the High Court. The government has not taken any steps to remove encroachments and restore ownership. Similarly, temple lands to an extent of nine acres in Pathabandla and another 5.25 acres in Jaggavaram in West Godavari district, 3.87 acres of land located in East Godavari of Andhra Pradesh is under encroachment, with no support on recovery from the government. Similar was the case with its land holdings in Telangana.

It is ironic that a state festival cannot get any funds from the state government, whereas funds are available for stipends to Church pastors across the state. In September 2019, the Jagan Mohan Reddy government had passed a government order as per which ₹5,000/month would be paid as an honorarium to Christian pastors. As part of the election manifesto, Reddy had also promised ₹10,000 to ₹35,000 for maintenance of temples; however, that money is clearly nowhere to be seen, given the apathy of the temple.

What is even more outrageous is that just four months ago in November 2019, as a bonanza for Christians, Jagan Reddy’s government had decided to enhance the financial assistance from ₹40,000 to ₹60,000 for pilgrims visiting Jerusalem in Palestine whose annual income is up to ₹3 lakh. For those pilgrims whose annual income is above ₹3 lakh, the permissible financial assistance was to be enhanced from ₹20,000 to ₹30,000.

Controversy regarding the support to evangelical mafia is nothing new. In December 2019, news stories had surfaced that the Jagan Reddy government’s schemes were allegedly aimed at encouraging ordinary Andhra citizens to convert. Scholars like Dr. Gautam Sen of the London School of Economics was quoted on persistent anecdotal evidence of frequent accounts of travellers suggesting conversion of ordinary Andhra citizens to Christianity, despite their Hindu names and no outward signs of their newly acquired Christian faith.

“Money and other services are clearly being offered and the Jagan government’s intervention in favour of Christians is fuelling the spate of conversions. Jagan Mohan Reddy has proved to be a stronger evangelist than his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy,” Dr Sen was quoted by the Sunday Guardian.

Minority appeasement of a new kind is clearly being pursued, and actual number of Christians is certainly being underreported in Andhra Pradesh. With an evangelical agenda being pursued by the Jagan Reddy government, it is indeed depressing to note that sites with significant cultural and religious significance for Hindus are being neglected in the name of appeasement.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

How Maulana Kejriwal Stoked Delhi's Communal Cauldron

Picture Credit: Abhijit Majumder

Several news media establishments were gloating over the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) victory, and making pointed references to Hanumana bhakti of Arvind Kejriwal. References were being made about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) being happy about this demonstration of Hindu-ness by Arvind Kejriwal.

Truth, however, could not be farther away from facts. Arvind Kejriwal and AAP indulged in minority appeasement and communal polarization to secure minority votes in Delhi. They seemed to have repeatedly engaged tactics to fan communal passions, both in Delhi and in Punjab. Here are some instances that highlight their efforts. Frankly, this emboldening came at the back of the continued hankering for Muslim votes. Kejriwal left no stone unturned with his tacit involvement, a few instances of which are shown below

July 2014 - Posters came up in Okhla with Arvind Kejriwal’s photos, saying he will ensure a re-investigation of the Batla House encounter. Kejriwal denied it at the time, even questioning the police about its inaction against Amanatullah who was putting up the posters.

February 2015 – Amanatullah Khan, after coming to power, demanded re-investigation into Batla House encounter, put up posters.

March 2016 – Amanatullah Khan booked for hate speech, asked for the releasing a cleric arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on suspicion of having Islamic State links.

January 2019 - Arvind Kejriwal announces salary hike for Imams of all mosques in Delhi

July 2019 – Hauz Qazi Durga temple of Old Delhi was vandalized. AAP MLA Imran Hussain was accused of instigating the mob that undertook this provocative action. However, the party took no action against Hussain.

December 2019 – Seelampur – Abdul Rehman who led violent anti-CAA crowds in the Seelampur Jaffrabad region, was rewarded with an election ticket by Arvind Kejriwal's party. I do not know any other way to read this story.

December 2019 – Manish Sisodia spread fake news, accused Delhi Police of setting bus on fire to deflect criticism from their core votebank, who had indulged in blatant rioting that month in and around Jamia Nagar, Nizamuddin and Bathla House.

December 2019 – Despite the Shaheen Bagh instigation by Amanatullah Khan was again given the ticket for this place like Abdul Rehman.

Such actions only embolden the virulent anarchist elements. Had Kejriwal been truly serious about governance, such minority appeasement actions would never have occured.


Friday, February 7, 2020

India Shows Magnanimity While Pakistan Government Chooses to Abandon Them in Wuhan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has always exhibited a humanitarian side to its pragmatic foreign policy. While emerging as a global player, India continues to help countries in times of emergency and concern, be it Nepal, Sri Lanka or the recent case of Madagascar. The humanitarian effort does not stop there though – India has not offered to evacuate Pakistani students stuck in Wuhan, China, due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told the media that India will consider evacuating Pakistani students if Pakistan PM Imran Khan-led government's requests for the same. "No such request has been received by us from the government of Pakistan. But if such a situation arises and keeping in mind the resources available, we can look into it," he said.


It comes at a time when Pakistan’s government had refused to airlift students from Wuhan, the epicentre of deadly coronavirus. Over 560 deaths have been attributed to coronavirus, while it is estimated that 28,000 people in mainland China have been infected by it.

Earlier, videos had emerged on the social media of Pakistani students in Wuhan, lamenting how their own government had abandoned them, and asked them to learn from India. As of January 3, four Pakistani students had also been diagnosed for coronavirus in Wuhan.

The Pakistani government had earlier come under severe criticism for asking their citizens to stay behind in China. In a tweet dated 31 January, the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, had tweeted about how Pakistanis should do not leave that place, and should rather work to help those stuck there.

The Modi government has always put humanity as a prime factor of its foreign policy even when it comes to Pakistan. Late Sushma Swaraj as External Affairs Minister had issued visas to four Pakistani nationals who needed specialized medical treatment which was not available within Pakistan in 2017. Cricketer turned BJP MP Gautam Gambhir had also helped a Pakistani national by appealing to the Ministry of External Affairs to issue a visa for her treatment.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

A Few Statistics to Put The Economy in Perspective

UPA Era Statistics
NDA Era Statistics
10.4% (2009-14)
4.3% (2014 to 2019-20)
Forex reserves (US$ billion/₹ billion)
312 / 18,324
(23 May 2014)
419 / 29,240
(31 May 2019)
22,344 (8 May 2014)
38,564 (1 May 2019)
Private FDI Equity Inflows (US$ billion) (calendar year basis)
177 (2006-2013)
237 (2014-Sept 2019)
3.8 % (2006-2014)
12.2% (2014-2018)
NPA recovery
₹35,000 crore
₹70,000 crore

A reality check for all those who think the economy is slow. By the way, 8 year overall high on manufacturing and services, 3 consecutive months of ₹1,00,000 crore plus GST collections are also realities.

It is merely cyclical. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Kidnapping of Nahida Imtiaz - The incident that caused a spike in terrorist kidnappings in Kashmir

Nahida Imtiaz After She Returned Home in 1991 (courtesy: India Today)

Those following the issue of terrorism in the Kashmir valley may recall the infamous 1989 kidnapping of Rubaiyya Sayeed, the daughter of then Home Minister of India and later Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The harrowing episode had resulted in the release of hardcore militants of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). However, little is discussed about another kidnapping that had happened, just two years later. The target this time was another prominent Kashmiri politician – Saifuddin Soz.


On 27 February 1991, the Jammu and Kashmir Students' Liberation Front (JKSLF) kidnapped Nahida Imtiaz, the daughter of Saifuddin Soz. The JKSLF demanded the release of five terrorists put in jail by the security forces. At the time, Saifuddin Soz was a prominent leader of the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference led at the time by Farooq Abdullah. The JKNC had earlier abdicated power in 1990, letting the terror organizations run riot in the state.
The abduction, As reported by some journalists at the time, was seen as a desperate attempt by the Jammu & Kashmir Students' Liberation Front (JKSLF) to seize the leadership of the secessionist movement. A serious struggle was going on among the various terrorist organizations at the time to gain paramountcy. The pro-Pakistan Jamait-i-Islami expressed its willingness to hold talks with the Government as it saw itself losing out the popularity race in the Kashmir valley. This horrified other secessionist groups, particularly the JKSLF, Hizbul Mujahideen and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).


Abduction as a tactic to secure release of terrorists was gaining ground rapidly. The kidnappings of Professor Musheer-ul-Haq, the then vice-chancellor of Kashmir University, his personal assistant Abdul Gani and General Manager Hindustan Machine Tools, a manufacturing company, H L Kehra in April 1990 grabbed national headlines, with all of them later being slaughtered by their kidnappers.
The security forces, initially at a loss for a counter, fought back with a strategy. The state police adopted a tit for tat strategy, and saw success too. JKSLF was forced to free the Srinagar deputy commissioner's son Ghulam Abbas, after the police got hold of Javed Shalla, the group's deputy chief and forced the JKSLF to exchange the two. In this case, however, things went south.


Banking on their previous success with Ghulam Abbas, the security forces arrested the brother of kidnapper Mukhtar alias Omar Kachroo. However, within a matter of hours, they had to release his brother. Events of the time remain disputed, but what is definitely known is that there was a request from Soz's family to release the brother of Omar Kachroo saying Nahida would be killed if the same was not done.
Saifuddin Soz, as per some news reports from the time, made a big issue out of the same with the Prime Minister’s office. BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who was a senior minister in the then Prime Minister Chandrashekhar’s government, remembered how Saifuddin Soz bawled and threw a tantrum in front of him and the Prime Minister, begging them to save his daughter at any cost.


The kidnapping of Nahida Imtiaz was condemned roundly by other militant groups, prodded on by handlers in Pakistan. A R&AW intercept at the time had shown that during his Beijing visit at the time, then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to his information minister Maulana Kausar Niazi, and had asked him to tell the concerned people that kidnapping was un-Islamic and Nahida should be released.
Taking a lead from their handlers, groups like the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the JKLF condemned the actions of JKSLF and demanded that Nahida be released unconditionally as the abduction of a woman was against their religious tenets. Partly driven by the sense of public anger, even the likes of JKLF chief Amanullah Khan made an appeal for Nahida's release.


While the police at the time had refused to budge from their position, what really helped to secure the release of Nahida remains somewhat unclear. Pressure from repeated raids on JKSLF hideouts by security forces combined with public pressure did make the body climb down from their earlier demand of five militants. Dr. Swamy has always maintained that “her release was obtained within a week and without any quid pro quo”. However, there were news reports that secessionist Mushtaq Ahmed was released in exchange. Jagmohan, who was governor prior to this incident before being replaced by Girish Saxena, has maintained that five terrorists were indeed released in exchange of Nahida’s release. In any case, Nahida Imtiaz, daughter of Saifuddin Soz, returned home within one week.

This incident deeply emboldened the terrorists, who scaled up the terror activities in Kashmir. Within a month’s time, Indian Oil Corporation Executive Director K. Dorraiswamy was abducted by activists of Ikhwan-Ul Muslimeen in Srinagar on July 29, 1991. His release on August 21 was possible when the government set free six militants. This incident later proved to be the inspiration for Mani Ratnam’s 1992 classic Tamil film Roja. Between 1990 and 1995, militant kidnappings saw a spike, with a peak of 368 kidnappings in 1995 that included the kidnap of foreign tourists, most of whose whereabouts are remain unknown to this day.


One must feel grateful today that the Modi government has literally broken the back of terrorism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. While strong action was on from the start of Mr. Modi’s term in 2014, the decisive turn came in 2017, when the BJP withdrew support to Mehbooba Mufti. Since that time, there has been decisive action, which has sharply reduced the overall number of deaths due to terrorist activities. Further, India has taken the fight into enemy territory with military operations like surgical strikes and air raids, both of which have caused considerable damage to the capabilities of terrorists and their handlers alongside several other measures.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The People Left Behind in Assam

Linguistic Map of Assam - courtesy Sagir Ahmed

2012 and 2014 were two years that brought bad memories about ethnic violence of the Bodoland regions of Assam. In both these cases, there was direct conflict between the Bodo tribal factions of the National Democratic Front for Bodoland and the Muslims in the region, leading to severe violence. Issues of victimization and the unfairness of the rehabilitation politics have plagued the discussion. However, for those who have followed Assam politics and culture, this was neither the first conflict, nor is it expected to be the last one. In 2007, there were raids made by Bodo guerilla groups on Adivasi populations of Assam, flaring up the Faultline further.
In the first part of the series, there was discussion on the language-ethnicity faultlines that have caused much friction in Assam and had touched upon the various concerns on cultural concerns, with some socio-economic aspects causing the crisis. The piece was mostly centered on the Assam-Bengali conflict; however, there are several other ethnicities that Assam has housed. As senior advocate Upamanyu Hazarika informed in a documentary, there are 115 of India’s 500 distinct ethnicities housed in the state. It would therefore be unfair to exclude their concerns from a candid discussion on Assam. Doing some research, a depressing picture emerges. A state that was the sixth richest state in India in 1947 is today far behind on all social and economic indicators compared to the rest of India. The situation is especially acute for the tribal populations of Assam – however, as we examine the term itself, one notices how the faultlines emerged at the time very clearly, and still efforts to address them have been at best half-hearted, which I examine in this second part.
Ethnic Diversity of Assam – a mini-India
Assam is very much a cultural melting point. In some ways, it almost seems like a mini-India in some ways.  Just profiling some of the communities gives one a strong picture of the quaintness of the diversity.
As Guptajit Pathak noted in a paper, the Deori, which means Home of God, live in the places of Sadia Jorhat, Majuli, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Dhemaji, Jonai, Gogamukh, Silapothar, Bihpuria, Lakhimpur, Narayanpur, Gohpur etc. in Assam and are also present in Jaydam hill, Mahadevpur of Lohit District, Chusipol of Chuglung District of Arunachal Pradesh in India. The Deoris prefer to introduce themselves as “Jimsaya”, the meaning of which is partly as – “Ji means water “No” means “Man”, “Cha” means “Sun” and “Ya” means “Moon”, since they believe that they are born from the moon, the sun and the water.
Similarly, Dibyajoyti Das had noted how the Mishings, officially recorded as “Miri” in the list of scheduled Tribe of India under the Constitution order 1950, are originally a hill tribe of the Himalayan region of North East India, with the the first group probably entering the upper region of Assam valley between 13th and 14th century A.D. Further, the tribe is believed to be the second largest tribal community of the state. Mishing women are popularly known for their weaving skills and the Mishing chador-mekhela of different colours and designs are always accepted with great admiration among the non Mishing communities of Assam.
Creating Confusion with Definitions
On 10 January 2019, the Government of India had introduced a Bill in Parliament for declaring six communities — Adivasi (Tea Tribes), Chutia, Koch-Rajbongshi, Matak, Moran and Tai-Ahom — Scheduled Tribes after approval from the Registrar-General of India and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. This was following long standing demands and representations made at all levels for decades by the representatives from the communities in Assam. However, the plan has always been opposed by the recognised tribes divided into the Scheduled Tribe (Hills) and the Scheduled Tribe (Plains). They say most of these communities are educationally, politically and financially more advanced than them, besides outnumbering them. One has to get back to the pages of history again to gain context to these contestations. Reading upon the history of Assam, one sees the fact that Chutia, Koch and Ahom were all rulers at some stage in the history of the region, and so were some of the other. The answer however, doesn’t end there. To quote S E Gait –
…a line of Chutiya kings ruled the country east of the Subansiri and the Disang, with the exception of a strip to the south and south-east, where small Bodo tribes enjoyed a precarious independence. Further west, there was a Kachari kingdom, on the south bank of the Brahmaputra, which probably extended at least half-way across Nowgong district.
Further, the Koch-Rajbongshi, who had ruled the regions between Assam and Bengal from the late 15th century onwards, is another category that comes out, though as per Gait again:
In Assam proper it is the name of a Hindu caste into which are received the converts to Hinduism from the ranks of the Kachari, Lalung, Mikir and other tribes, and as the process of conversion is still continuing, the number of persons described as Koch is increasing rapidly.
The questions certainly demand introspection on who is a tribal in Assam and what problem the hill and plain tribal peculiarity poses. Dr. S K Chaube in 1973 had talked about the anomalies created from 1935 onwards in the classifications of tribes in Assam, much of which has caused the present mess. In 1935, classification of the tribals had been undertaken as part of the administrative reforms of the Government of India Act, there were provisions made to identify excluded areas, where no reforms would be allowed, and the Central as well as Provincial Legislature were banned from enacting any laws for these areas. Further, proposals for expenditure in these areas would not need any approvals from the Legislature, and these regions were exempt from scrutiny not wholly excluded from the applicability of any Act of the Provincial Legislature. But here also this would be determined by the Governor in Council and the Governor of the Province. As a consequence, there emerged a political category of Plain Tribes, since these tribes were particularly seen as people on the edge of mainstream Assamese Hindu society but not fully integrated into it. Subsequently, in 1947 the Bordoloi committee, headed by the Premier of Assam Gopinath Bordoloi, ended up listing several tribes on the lines of hill tribes and plain tribes. As per an answer given by a Minister of the government of Assam last year, the following are given scheduled tribe status in Assam:
Dimasa, Kachari
Khasi, Jaintia, Shantong, Panor, War, Bhoi, Lyngngam
Any Kuki Tribes including: –
Biate, Biete (ii) Changsan (iii) Changloi (iv) Doungel (v) Gamalhou (vi) Gangte (vii) Hanneng (viii) Haokip Haupit (ix) Guite (x) Haolai (xi) Hongma (xii) Hongsungh (xiii) Hrangkhwal Rongkhol (xiv) Jonglo (xv) Khawchung (xvi) Khawath lang, Khothalong (xvii) Kholhau (xviii) Khelma (xix) Kipgen (xx) Kuki (xxi) Lengthang (xxii) Lhanguin (xxiii) Lhoujen (xxiv) Lhouvum (xxv) Lupheng (xxvi) Misao (xxvii) Mangjel (xxviii) Riang (xxix) Sairhom (xxx) Selnam (xxxi) Singson (xxxii) Sitlhon (xxxiii) Sukte (xxxiv) Thado (xxxv) Thomgagon (xxxvi) Ulbah (xxxvii) Vaiphei
Man (Tai Speaking)
Any Mizo (Lushai) Tribes
Any Naga Tribes
Boro, Borokachari
Kachari, Sonowal
Miri (Miching)

(Excluding the Autonomous Districts and Including the BTC)

Instead of having simplified things, the chaotic measure still remains. A tribal who did not belong to the specific zone did not qualify for benefits of any kind, and lost his listing status.

The Adivasi Problem – Bad Goes to Worse
At that time, the Bordoloi committee conveniently left out the Adivasis from the listing. This was kind of ironic, since the Tea Tribes as they were called had been declared as Scheduled Tribes in their own states of origins. Of course, a deeper examination tends to reveal a redux of the native-outsider discourse playing itself out.
As Ashmita Sharma and Saqib Khan have shown, the Adviasis came into Assam from the tribal regions of central and eastern India. Initially people from the Bodo-Kachari tribes were recruited by the British government to work in the tea plantations and as coolies. As the tribal groups preferred cultivating their own lands and were unwilling to do wage labour and were unwilling to work on plantations or as coolies, the British procured labourers from the Adivasi regions of Eastern and Central India such as Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh through sardars and individual agents. As per Sharma and Khan,
The workers were recruited under two systems: the arkatti system and the sardari system. While the arkattis were hired as coolie recruiters to perform the function of recruitment on behalf of the private recruiting agencies, the sardars were employees from the plantations who were hired for recruiting labourers from their native villages. After recruitment, the sardars accompanied the workers to the gardens, worked alongside them and sometimes also served as field supervisors of the lowest rank in the power hierarchy in Assam plantations.
The Adivasis, including both tea garden and ex-tea garden workers, comprise nearly 20 per cent of Assam’s total population. However, their socio-economic condition is certainly among the worst. Adivasis are still considered outsiders, with statements claiming that the Adivasis in the state do not possess any tribal characteristics. Sharma and Khan note:
basis of this opposition lies in the apprehension that the entry of new communities within the domain of ‘tribal’ would deprive the already-recognised and socio-economically marginalised ethnic communities of Assam of the constitutional safeguards designated only for genuine ‘tribals’.
All political parties in the state have time and again promised to give them Adivasi status. However, these promises are yet to see the light of day. In the meantime, the socio-economic condition of the Adivasis remains poor. Mostly restricted to the tea gardens, it is believed that the exploitation has some level of state patronage, since if their lot improves, there would be no one left to pick the tea or work as coolies. Access to decent healthcare and reasonable quality education remain a pipe dream. Even in the tea gardens, there is massive exploitation of the Adivasis – they are paid lower than the minimum guaranteed wages, and are literally forced to work beyond their physical limits.

The Bodo Problem – Swept Under the Carpet
Bodos have been the biggest opponent of the inclusions. The Bodo concerns have been very clear – their interests cannot be compromised; and the government should be clear if it is a state level or a national level policy. The suspicions of the Bodos may be countered with time; however, the grievances of the people have never been given reason to fade away, which one can trace back to the genesis of the Bodo movement in the 1920s.
As pointed out by Shashi Bhushan Kumar, Socio-religious reformer Gurudev Kalicharan Brahma was instrumental in bringing about transformation of Bodo society in the early 1920s. Under his leadership, the Assam Kochari Youth Association (AKYA) and the Goalpara District Boro Association (GDBA) submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1928 in Shillong for reservation of seats in the state legislature and government services for the tribal communities of Assam. This in turn was, as Kumar pointed out, was selectively codified in the Government of India Act, 1935 and in this Act, the separate electorate for the plains was granted. In the post-independence era, the formation of the Bodo Sahitya Sabha (BSS) in November 1952 to unite all the Bodo groups of language and devise a standard Bodo language among the Bodo tribes that also acts as a literary language for all tribes. Subsequent to this, when the Assam movement started in 1979, the Bodos had in fact taken a contrary position, but the tensions came to a peak when the ABSU under Upendra Nath Brahma [ABSU (UB)] failed to bring in the other plains tribes for a new government, and the ABSU eventually revived its 1960 demand for Bodoland for the plain tribes. This was followed by the militant era where Bodo Security Force and National Democratic Front of Bodoland emerged to fight the Indian state. Only with the creation of the territorial council eventually came about, bringing a fragile peace to cut a long story short.
Sadly, not much can be believed to have changed for the Bodos on the ground.  It is well accepted now that the Bodos have been unable to improve their socio-economic conditions and educational status. Bodos are generally dependent on agriculture; however, as Shrabanti Maity has noted, 40 percent of the Bodos are landless labourers. Further, poor economic conditions and illiteracy have also meant that healthcare awareness is also very poor among the Bodos. Maity had diagnosed specific issues in her study on the Bodos of Udalgiri district in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) – unemployment, lack of infrastructure and transportation facilities, educational and vocational training facilities, fighting intoxicant abuse rampant, and most importantly,  a “Land Reform” policy, with full political cooperation.

There are No Winners in The Zero-Sum Game
Tribals in general alongside the Adivasis have been the biggest socio-economic victims of the strife of Assam, with no silver lining necessarily in sight. In a study done on the tribal farmers of Tinsukia district, where agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for the overwhelming majority of the tribal population in the district, Deka et al saw very depressing results. No efforts had been put in by the government to improve the ground situation. Access to mechanization and irrigation alongside the provision of pesticide and fertilizer for the farmers are a challenge. Again, the suggestions came back to the point of pitiful infrastructure, provide more training to the farmers and to undertake efforts to check the exploitation of tribals. Moreover, steps to ensure that the tribal farmers can avail the crop loan and crop insurance facilities are needed.
Even when it comes to forest goods, which they have a right to, things have only recently changed. Das et al have noted that with increased level of awareness after the project, respondents were seen to be involved more in different activities through community resources for their direct and indirect benefits. It can also be stated that because of intervention of NERCORMP(North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for upland areas), forest dwelling population from both the districts had increased their income from community/reserved forest areas in terms of collection as major forest products, minor forest products, cultivated forest products and value-added forest products. However, it has taken nearly two decades from when it started in 1999, supported by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government of the time.

There is an Ongoing Cultural Crisis as Well
Culturally too the tribals have not necessarily fared well. In fact, the tribal culture and languages within Assam has been the biggest casualty of the Assamese-Bengali fight within Assam. Compounded by a reactive poor language policy within the state, all tribals and the Adivasis have suffered. Link languages have just not emerged as per some observers. Tribal languages too have, despite support from the state government at various occasions, have seen a general neglect. For instance, despite having significant support at one point, as Pathak noted, and Deori Sahitya Sabha doing everything possible to develop the language, the number of speakers has become notably less. The Language is alive and is used only by the Debongiya Deoris the other two Classes Tengapaania and Borgoyan sepak in Assamese rather that speaking in Deori.
Similarly, Ch. Sarajubala Devi noted that while the Karbi community prefers Karbi language as one of the subject, funding for Karbi medium schools has remained an issue even with a government policy in place. Even children face problems, given the challenge of switching from one medium of instruction to another. As Devi noted:
People are aware of the problems in switching to either Assamese or English in the higher classes after Primary education, children though practically supposed to be conceptually clearer in mother tongue converting the concept in the school language needs lots of support and encouragement from the teacher concerned.
The Mising Agom Kebang, the literary organisation of Mising, is working for the introduction of Mising in Upper Primary level. The organisation is trying to open Mising medium schools at present; the efforts are yet to reap rewards. Only a handful of people are keen on this project and so the sustainability question in case of Mising is quite obvious.

 There is a desperate need to regain focus within Assam. Cultural concerns of those who matter right now are essential, and a large number of problems faced by the Tribes and Adivasis of Assam need to be addressed head on without getting distracted. The Sixth Schedule Area identification which the Assam Accord had promised, and which the governments have promised to implement, is just one step – much more is needed to address the problems of these communities. Linking it to the CAA is a dangerously facetious argument, since the problems of the Tribes are NOT because of refugees. Illegal migrants, zero attention to infrastructure, and brinkmanship from the major sides have essentially created a vacuum of governance. Efforts to address the socio-economic concerns have been sadly missing for the longest time possible. Filling this vacuum will definitely lead to assuaging concerned people across the board. Trust deficit has to be bridged by the Assamese and Bengalis. Responsibility towards these communities is even greater, given how they identify themselves so intrinsically with Assam.

·         Shashi Bhushan Kumar: The Bodo (Boro) Problems in Assam: Searching Remedies, Indian Journal of Public Administration, Vol LXII No 3 July-September 2016
·         Dr S K Chaube, Plains Tribals in Assam, North Eastern Affairs, Annual 1973
·         Deka et al, Socio-Economic Status of Tribal Farmers of Tinsukia District of Assam: A Case Study, Int.J.Curr.Microbiol.App.Sci (2017) 6(9): 2244-2248
·         Guptajit Pathak, Tribal Identity and Societal Formation:Reflection on Socio-economic Paradigm of Women Among the Deori Community in Assam, Criterion: An International Journal In English ISSN: 0976-8165
·         Dr. Ch. Sarajubala Devi, Tribal/Minority Languages in Education: A Case of Karbi and Mising of Assam, Language in India ISSN 1930-2940 Vol. 18:5 May 2018
·         Ashmita Sharma and Saqib Khan, The paradox of indigeneity: Adivasi struggle for ST status in Assam, Contributions to Indian Sociology 52, 2 (2018): 186–211
·         Dibyajyoti Das, Reflections on Burte-Dobur: A traditional practice among the Mishings of Sadiya, Assam, International Journal of Academic Research and Development, Volume 3; Issue 2; March 2018; Page No. 1443-1445
·         Shrabanti Maity, Multidimensional Poverty Status of Bodo Tribes Of Udalguri District, Bodoland, Assam, Journal Of Economic Development Volume 43, Number 1, March 2018
·         Das et al, Forest based livelihood pattern of tribal communities in Assam, India, Journal of Hill Agriculture 8(4): 455-461, October – December, 2017

A Post-Corona Scenario - Thoughts About an Uncertain World

Headed Somewhere - Picture Credit Travel Triangle The world is engulfed by the Chinese corona virus epidemic, and it is difficult to b...