‘Do not insist on forcing us to do something that goes against the oath of our office’

Raj Ghat, Delhi is a memorial to Mahatma Gandh...

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INDIAN EXPRESS

Vandita Mishra: The Anna Hazare movement has been gaining momentum. In your interaction with MPs, do you see a shared sense of siege because of what is happening right now?

There is near unanimity in the country and amongst parliamentarians that corruption is a national issue. However, there is equal unanimity amongst parliamentarians that the way forward to address corruption is not to call into question the entire constitutional edifice where parliamentary supremacy in the matter of law-making is non-negotiable. In a republic inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, you can’t completely ignore the constitutional means for addressing a national malaise. But you should address corruption in a way consistent with the sanctity of our Constitution.

Coomi Kapoor: Are you saying unconstitutional means are being used? All they are doing is building up public opinion so that parliamentarians take into account the views of the public for this long delayed Bill.

The right to dissent, the right to protest and the right to mobilise opinion is given and it is respected and accepted. This is the reason why Anna and his team are fasting at Ramlila Maidan. In fact, the state is making all arrangements to facilitate the protest. What is an issue is the inclination to put a gun to the government’s head and say this is the Bill that you must legislate into law and you must do so by such and such time irrespective and in derogation of the established procedure of law-making as per the Constitution. How can you, in the name of advancing a laudable national objective, completely negate the permissible means under your Constitution? Now the argument is that we, the people of India, come first in the Constitution, therefore, everything else is subservient to the will of the people. Even with this I have no quarrel. But how do you determine the will of the people? The Constitution ordains that you determine the will of the people after every five years through an election. If you insult the collective judgment of the people of India, you are not advancing democracy. This is my view as a citizen of this country, as a constitutionalist, as a lawyer. The Constitution is intended to be a bulwark against the impulses of transient majorities. Majorities will come and go but the Constitution is supposed to be an enduring edifice.

Dilip Bobb: The general impression is that the government is now employing delaying tactics. How do you convince them that you are with them and not against them?

Let me tell you what this government has done so far: it’s not as if PM made his appeal for the first time last Tuesday–he used every opportunity to say that any peaceful contestation can be the subject of a debate. He has said, let us have a stronger Lokpal Bill based on a larger political consensus. He said he was not against the protest, he was concerned about Anna’s health. But don’t insist on forcing us to do something against the oath of our office. As a duly-elected government, we are voted into power and we want to uphold the Constitution of India. In the parliamentary process of law-making, the Standing Committee is a time-tested process which has produced very good legislation. Today, the atmosphere in the country is such that there is an earnestness to push for Lokpal as an instrument to remove corruption. But to say, do it by tomorrow and discount the Standing Committee procedure, to say that you want a bill to be rammed through in a manner that tomorrow somebody can ask why we have consciously ignored contrary views–that’s where we have issues. The same Constitution that gives me the right to the validity of my views, gives to the other the right to contest those views. But if you insist on deadlines, you are negating the first principle on which this republic is founded. What prevents another group from saying they will sit at Rajpath? If the government starts to buckle on issues of principle, the government will have no right to ask the citizens to comply with the law.

Coomi Kapoor: But the government has buckled, firstly by making Anna Hazare a member of the official drafting committee. Then you said the PM has to be out of the Lokpal and you buckled on that too. There has been a series of retractions from the government which shows that things are not that hard and fast.

There are give and take situations but there has never been a negation of an express constitutional stipulation. There is no bar on the Standing Committee to take into consideration the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Coomi Kapoor: But earlier the government had said it was not possible?

The difference is in what was being said by the Anna camp–that the Standing Committee should discuss “our” Bill. The process of law is that the Cabinet prepares a format which goes to Parliament, and that Bill is presented to the Standing Committee. There is no precedent for anyone insisting that the government takes only their Bill; if the government agrees with their Bill, it can present it to the Standing Committee as its own–there is no difficulty in that. But to tell us to disown our own Bill and to discuss only ‘your’ Bill amounts to law-making being outsourced to people who, as per the Constitution, cannot be the lawmakers. And the day you make a deliberate departure from the expressly stated and incontrovertible stipulation of the Constitution, you violate your oath of office. No government worth its name can consciously negate the fundamental principles of the Constitution.

Maneesh Chhibber: You said you can’t outsource lawmaking to anybody. So what is the National Advisory Committee (NAC) doing?

NAC is doing nothing other than submitting its suggestions. Name one law which NAC has insisted upon, the manner in which Anna Hazare is insisting. I cannot recall NAC ever insisting on anything.

Pradeep Kaushal: Why did you outsource drafting of the Lokpal Bill to the committee where half the members were from civil society?

It was a limited decision made in order to ensure that their views were fully taken on board. There is no constitutional or legal bar to not associate somebody with the draft. The bar is on the Bill we eventually bring before Parliament. After the drafting committee came to a conclusion, the ministers accepted some of Hazare’s suggestions and did not accept others. Then they presented the Bill to the Cabinet, which, in turn, endorsed it to make it a government Bill. That was presented before Parliament. We associated with these people purely to make sure that they had a full say in giving their inputs while the members of the government in that committee were formulating the draft.

Vandita Mishra: People say the government’s case is being made on too many legal, technical grounds and there is not enough of a political input.

Political issues are responded to politically as the PM has done last week. It is a political response of a sensitive and responsive PM who is concerned about the way things are developing, about the health of Anna Hazare. Legality and politics are not mutually exclusive to the extent that lawyers are able to backseat constitutional and legal issues and package them as part of the political response. I don’t see any inconsistency or mutual exclusivity between the two

Vandita Mishra: But what is the single largest source of hostility to the government?

My sense is that people tend to think we are not with them in the fight against corruption. As time has gone by and as the debate is put in the correct perspective, it is clear that this is a choice between the right ends and the right means. People are tending more and more to agree with our perspective. The letter PM wrote and the public appeal made earlier to Anna Hazare to give up his fast were intended as a decisive signal to bring the national discourse back from an idiom of confrontation to an idiom of rational discourse and dialogue.

Maneesh Chhibber: Would you agree that Anna Hazare’s arrest was a wrong move?

I have already said that if I had been in-charge of the situation on the ground, I would not have sent Anna Hazare to Tihar jail. I think the right course would have been to notify a place like a guesthouse to detain him on a preventive basis. I think things moved too fast and these nuances got lost.

Dilip Bobb: What is your personal stand on the issues of the Lokpal covering PM, the bureaucracy and the judiciary?

Constitutionally, it is completely impermissible. How do you expect the government to consider these demands? On the judiciary: we have a constitutional procedure to discipline judges. As for PM, he has repeatedly said he has no problem being under the ambit of the Lokpal. But it is not as if this PM is the only PM under contemplation. What is under contemplation is the office of the PM, who has been described as the keystone of the Cabinet arch. And if the keystone is disturbed, the arch collapses. It is my personal view that no prime minister should be subjected to a system of inquiry or prosecution where immediately on the receipt of a complaint, the entire regime is triggered. It is not the absence of laws that have prevented prosecution of PMs. We have had two PMs who have been prosecuted even without the Lokpal. We are being unfair to those honest officers in the government who actually prosecuted PMs and former PMs. It is not because of the absence of laws that corruption in the country is growing, It is because of the general decline in the moral fibre of most people that the country is going down.

Maneesh Chhibber: Very recently, the government removed CBI from under the RTI. Is that probity?

I believe the reason for keeping CBI out of RTI is ensure the integrity of the investigation as the accused can use RTI to get information about what stage the investigation is at, which might destroy the integrity of the investigation.

Raj Kamal Jha: This is hypothetical but if the same debate had happened under UPA-I, do you think you would have been on a stronger wicket than UPA-II under the shadow of CWG and 2G? What role has that shadow played in the current discourse?

I do agree that the atmosphere created in the country with allegations related to 2G and other issues have had an impact, consciously or unconsciously, on the sentiments of the people, and the sentiments of the lawmakers, even the judiciary. In fact, we are all impacted at a certain level–and rationality and objectivity sometimes become the casualty. I saw this phenomenon in the indictment of Justice Sen.

Coomi Kapoor: Did the prevailing atmosphere influence the views of parliamentarians who were not in favour of Justice Sen’s impeachment?

I believe, as a lawyer and not as a parliamentarian, that in a criminal case, two views are possible and if the prosecution has not proved its point to the hilt, the benefit of the doubt must go to the accused. That is not to say that the same principle applies when we have debates on issues such as this in Parliament. The parliamentarians, in their collective wisdom, took a view that the judgment would advance the cause of substantive justice for a cause.

Kaushal Shroff: The Jan Lokpal Bill states that seven members should approve any investigation against the PM, of whom at least four would be judicial members. Wouldn’t they understand the gravity of the issue involved and the repercussions of investigating a PM?

The fundamental issue is the environment in which our democracy operates. The imminent possibility of a mala fide prosecution or investigation into the conduct of the prime minister in the discharge of his extremely critical duties can have the effect of destabilising governments. This is the view that is taken by those who dispute the necessity of the PM in the Lokpal. There are others who believe that there are sufficient safeguards to see an abuse of the law doesn’t take place. If Parliament in its wisdom decides to put the PM under the Lokpal, so be it. But there are two strong views and somebody has to decide which view must prevail. Which is that instrumentality in the scheme of our constitutional order which takes the final call? Parliament, in its collective judgment, where all shades of political opinion are reflected.

Vandita Mishra: Some people in your party say Rahul Gandhi should step into the Anna Hazare negotiations.

Rahul Gandhi enjoys a preeminent position in the party. He has a very incisive instinct on many issues. His counsel is always available to the party. As the Congress general secretary, he doesn’t have to ask anyone before intervening. For all you know, he may be involved in giving his advice in the manner he deems fit. It is his call how to intervene, when to intervene and on what issues to intervene.

Sourabh Jyoti Sharma: Transparency International Report 2010 says the judiciary is the second most corrupt institution in India after the police. Do you want to bring a stronger Judicial Accountability Bill in Parliament?

The Judicial Accountability Bill will be brought before Parliament. The government remains committed to it. There is a broad consensus on it. We need to ensure that there is an adequate mechanism to deal with allegations of lack of probity in the judiciary.

Sourabh Jyoti Sharma: What is your view, as a lawyer, on the collegium system of judicial appointment?

On judicial appointments, the experience has been mixed. I don’t think the collegium system has always achieved the desired results.

Unni Rajen Shanker: Many people are talking for the government in the media. Are you being briefed before you talk?

There is so much information on the issues at hand, we almost drink, eat and breathe these issues. The senior people who go on TV channels do have their own perception of what is required to be said and if there is a doubt in their minds, they are always free to seek clarification.

Vandita Mishra: What is the feedback your parliamentarians are getting from the ground, from outside big cities like Delhi? Do they face the same outrage or is there a distinction to be made?

Nobody disputes that the issue of corruption has caught the imagination of the country. The point of contestation is how does the nation together move forward in a direction that will minimize the scourge of corruption and show that the fundamentals of our body politic are not constantly being eroded by this menace. It is a great tragedy that the current UPA leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh known for their deep commitment to probity in public life should have to bear the brunt in a very unjust and a very unfair manner just because an atmosphere in the country has been created where the responsibility for all that is wrong lies with the government. Look at the series of initiatives the government has taken on corruption: has anyone else take such corrective measures?

When did a serving minister go to jail, when did we send the top bureaucrats to jail? It is said this was done because Supreme Court wanted it to be done. Who went to Supreme Court and asked, through CBI that the Supreme Court monitor the investigations so that the people of India should not think anybody was being protected? We must at least be given credit for vigorously pursuing the cases of corruption. The proof of the pudding is in its eating. Judge me not by what I say but by what I do and this government has taken conscious, purposive and strong action where strong prima facie cases of corruption have been an issue. One more thing; these are the people who have been behind bars for the last several months and whose bail applications have not been granted. As a lawyer I ask myself, is bail the rule and jail an exception or jail the rule and bail an exception? As early as 1977, Justice Krishna Iyer said bail is the rule as it subserves the cause personal liberty and jail in an exception. You must jail only those people who are hardened criminals who can pervert and thwart the course of justice. I sometimes wonder whether someone can be denied liberty merely because the atmosphere is in favour of hanging those without convicting them. At another level, there are proposals that nobody can contest an election if there is a charge of a criminal offense against him. It is said this is the best way to eliminate criminals from politics.

But it is a dangerous path to follow. We have a great law and a great legal architecture but we also know that laws are abused. It is easy to have a false charge against someone in a mofussil town. Years of reputation built in public affairs, a man’s political career can be destroyed. The answer to the criminalization of politics is not in riding roughshod over fundamental principles that are intended to safeguard your liberties and your inalienable rights embedded in the Constitution. Let us not tinker with the fundamental principles of our republic on account of impulses of the moment. All constitutions are designed to secure the nation against intensities of the momentary impulses. If you tinker with the Constitution, you will never be able to restore its integrity.

Vandita Mishra: The burden of your argument is that there is an atmosphere in the country and the government is an unfortunate victim of that atmospehere. Would you not admit to a single mistake the government has made in contributing to this atmosphere? Has the absence of Sonia Gandhi made a difference?

Sonia Gandhi’s absence is deeply felt at all critical moments and even otherwise both in the party and in the government. Her presence, her guidance, her sage counsel and advice has been a great source of strength to the UPA government and Congress. I will be the last person to say this government, or any government, is infallible. There could be a bona fide error of judgment like sending Anna Hazare to Tihar Jail. Governments do make mistakes but as long as they are bona fide and are redressed and corrected, I think the benefit of doubt must remain with the government.

People throw out governments when they don’t find their explanations convincing. The choice is not between a perfect government and an imperfect government, the choice is between a bona fide governance and misgovernance.

Transcribed by Chinki Sinha & Geeta Gupta

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The government against satyagrahas, then and now

Though Gandhi never called himself a Hindu nat...

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ERA SEZHIYAN IN THE HINDU

The events that marked the supreme authority of the British regime in India are now being blatantly followed by the United Progressive Alliance government. But time is running out.The term ‘satyagraha’ (satya is truth, and agraha is firmness) was coined by Gandhiji to designate his struggle of ‘passive resistance.’ He initiated it in South Africa during his agitations from 1894 onwards against the oppressive British regime there.

As president of the Congress in 1924, Gandhiji transformed the party into a fighting organisation, and launched several satyagraha agitations to involve people in constructive programmes. The Calcutta Session of the party (in December 1928) gave an ultimatum to the British government that unless Dominion status was given to India by December 31, 1929, the Congress would launch a Civil Disobedience Movement. When no favourable response was received, at midnight on December 31, 1929, the Indian National Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, or Purna Swaraj. The party’s Working Committee gave Gandhiji the responsibility to launch the first act of civil disobedience.

Salt satyagraha

Gandhiji chose to begin with a satyagraha against the Salt Tax imposed by the British. The Salt Act of 1882 gave the British the monopoly on the manufacture of, and collection of tax on, salt. Several leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress president at that time, had felt that there were more important issues to be taken up as a part of the demand for full independence. But Gandhiji felt that the salt tax was a richly symbolic choice since salt was something that was used by nearly everyone in India. He believed that the protest would dramatise the demand for Purna Swaraj in a way that would be meaningful to even the least Indian.

On March 2, 1930, Gandhji wrote to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, offering to stop the march if 11 demands were met, including a reduction in land revenue assessments, an end to the enormous exploitation of the people, and the misuse of public funds by the British. Gandhiji added: “If my letter makes no appeal to your heart, on the eleventh day of this month I shall proceed with such co-workers of the Ashram as I can take, to disregard the provisions of the Salt Laws. As the Independence Movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil tax.”

The Viceroy’s reply simply expressed the opinion that Gandhiji was “contemplating a course of action which is clearly bound to involve violation of the law and danger to the public peace.” Gandhiji selected the first batch of 78 satyagrahis, all members of the Sabarmati Ashram. On March 6, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel set out to make arrangements in the villages and regions through which the Dandi March would pass. On March 7, Sardar Patel was arrested as he was about to address villagers at Kheda; he was sentenced for three months. There was speculation that Gandhiji and the satyagrahis too might be arrested.

On March 12, at 6.30 a.m., Gandhiji started off with his satyagrahis on the Dandi March. After covering 241 miles in 24 days, they reached Dandi on April 5. A large number of journalists from India and abroad had camped there. For them, Gandhiji wrote a short note: “I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might — Dandi, M.K. Gandhi.” On the morning of April 12, Gandhiji raised a lump of salt in his hand and declared: “With this, I am shaking the foundation of the British Empire.” He then boiled it in sea water, producing salt illegally. Gandhiji’s satyagraha became a mass satyagraha throughout India. Then, the government resorted to repressive laws. Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested on April 14, and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment under the Salt Act. On April 28, C. Rajagopalachari was arrested, to be sentenced to six months’ rigorous imprisonment after he and his satyagrahis entered the Coromandel coast at Vedaranyam.

While these leaders were being arrested, Gandhiji was going to other places near Dandi to defy the salt law. The climax of the campaign came when Gandhiji was arrested on May 4, 1930. He was resting at the Karadi Camp three miles from Dandi. At midnight, the District Magistrate, along with several police officers armed with pistols and 30 policemen bearing rifles, entered the room. Gandhiji asked about the charges under which he was being arrested. The Magistrate said it was under Regulation 28 of 1927 which allowed imprisonment without trial. At 1.20 a.m. the police put him in a lorry on the way to Yerwada Jail in Poona.

Gandhiji’s arrest and internment led to hartals and strikes across in India, and there were sympathetic demonstrations all over the world. On May 12, a second batch of satyagrahis led by Abbas Tyabji was arrested. On May 21, Sarojini Naidu and Manilal Gandhi were arrested; some 2,500 satyagrahis being led by them were beaten ruthlessly by 500 policemen commanded by British officers. In this action, four persons were killed; more than 300 persons were hospitalised with severe injuries. Still the satyagrahis observed absolute non-violence and discipline.

Reports on Gandhiji’s campaign during the Dandi March appeared each day in 1,350 newspapers across the world. Time magazine declared him Man of the Year, commenting on his march to the sea “to defy Britain’s salt tax as some New Englanders once defied the British tea tax.” The Press Ordinance promulgated by the Irwin regime caused 67 Indian newspapers and 55 printing presses to be shut down. Over 80,000 Indians were jailed without trial under the Salt Law.

The civil disobedience movement continued until early 1931. The rest is part of the political history of India — from the Gandhi-Irwin Pact leading to the Second Round Table Conference, to the Quit India Movement, and the emergence of independent India.

The Salt Satyagraha challenged the very existence of the British regime in India. Sir Charles Innes, who was a provincial Governor, wrote thus about the events of 1930 struggle: “England can hold India only by consent. We cannot rule it by sword.” It is true that the 1930 Salt Satyagraha was not successful with respect to many of its aims and demands. However, it was a historic turning point: thereafter every political move on the part of the Congress was to assert Purna Swaraj as the basic demand.

Hazare’s satyagraha

The events that marked the supreme authority of the British regime in India — and the stupid atrocities committed by it — are now being blatantly followed by the United Progressive Alliance government.

Anna Hazare’s movement has become a symbolic protest against the most corrupted government of free India. At least, Lord Irwin’s government arrested Gandhiji under a primitive Salt Act after the event. The high lords of the UPA government, living in the ivory towers of power and authority, sent the police to arrest a person who was planning to observe a peaceful agitation — without rhyme or reason. It was a mockery of governance to arrest a person in the morning and to order him to go out 12 hours later.

While Gandhiji invited openly the press in India and abroad to support his ‘battle for Right against Might,’ the UPA government, creating crisis after crisis, blames the media for every discord that is created.

Demand for ombudsman

During the Lok Sabha Debates on Demands for Grants of the Ministry of Law on April 3, 1963, Law Minister A.K. Sen said on the demand for an Ombudsman in India that it was a matter for the Prime Minister to decide. However, he observed: “In this country, my own view is that to make it effective, a constitutional provision should be made, as of the Election Commissioner or of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I think that if you really want to set up an effective organisation like Ombudsman with over-riding powers and spreading over the entire field of governmental activity, you will have to give him some constitutional position.”

The Lokpal Bill was introduced in May 1968. When it was considered on August 13, 1969 in the Lok Sabha, S.M. Joshi said: “Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru speaking at the AICC at Jaipur on 3 November 1963 said that the system of Ombudsman fascinated him; for the Ombudsman had overall authority to deal with charges even against the Prime Minister and confidence of all.”

As far as I know, that is the only remark on the subject recorded in Parliament Debates. None from the government side contradicted that statement.

While it is desirable to establish Lokpal as a constitutional authority, I feel that the government and the civil society team should come around to some sort of a bill. Hitherto the members of the public who have been supporting Anna Hazare have been non-violent and disciplined. In the event of a critical situation arising, things could turn ugly. After some time, amendments could be brought in to make the legisaltion more effective.

If UPA-II is certain of the support of Parliament and the people to its position on the issue, let it go to the electorate, or conduct a referendum on the specific issue of the Lokpal Bill.

(Era Sezhiyan is an eminent parliamentarian and author.)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2389518.ece

Ambedkar’s way & Anna Hazare’s methods

JAN LOKPAL BILL

JAN LOKPAL BILL

BY SUKHADEO THORAT IN THE HINDU

Following Dr. Ambedkar’s example, Team Anna should use constitutional methods and enhance people’s faith in them. Otherwise it will convey the message that only coercive and unconstitutional methods work.

A group of people, with placards showing Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, staged a demonstration in Delhi a few days ago against Anna Hazare‘s proposals on the Lokpal and the methods used by his team. More often than not, Dalits look with suspicion on any attempt to tamper with the Constitution. Team Anna has, however, suggested that its Lokpal bill would benefit Dalits more than anyone else. This led me to look at Dr. Ambedkar’s position as compared to the mode of agitation being deployed by Anna Hazare and his team.

In his last, visionary speech after the submission of the drafted Constitution on November 25, 1949, Dr. Ambedkar warned of three possible dangers to the new-born democracy. These related to social and economic inequalities, the use of unconstitutional methods, and hero-worship.

Dr. Ambedkar first pointed to the contradiction between equality in politics in the form of one-person-one-vote and the inequalities in social and economic life. He argued that for political democracy to succeed, it needed to be founded on the tissues and fibres of social and economic equality. He warned that we must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment, or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy. Although we in India are trying hard to reduce the vast inequalities that exist, the working of political democracy is already under heavy stress due to discontent in some parts of country.

Dr. Ambedkar’s second, and more important, warning in the present context related to the methods to achieve social and economic objectives. He urged the people to abandon bloody as well as coercive methods to bring about change. This means abandoning methods of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, coercive forms of satyagraha and fast. Referring to the use of these methods during the British period, Dr. Ambedkar observed: “When there was no way left for the constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods.” But using them since that period, in his view, was “nothing less than the Grammar of Anarchy.” He advocated that “the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us as a nation.”

Dr. Ambedkar’s third warning related to “hero worship.” He was immensely concerned over the political culture of “laying down the liberties at the feet of great men or to trust them with powers which enable them to subvert their institutions.” He believed that there is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. No man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of the people of India than in the case of any other country, for in India, bhakti, or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in politics, unequalled in magnitude to the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world, argued Dr. Ambedkar. He went on to add that bhakti or hero-worship in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul, but in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

These views of Dr. Ambedkar also evolved through a much deeper commitment to constitutional methods and their use in the anti-untouchability movement during the 1920s and the 1930s. The 1920s and the 1930s saw a series of agitations led by Dr. Ambedkar to get public wells, tanks and Hindu temples opened to “untouchables.” In the present context, recalling two such incidents is very relevant, namely, the agitation for access to a water tank in Mahad, and for entry into the famous Kalaram temple in Nasik. In both cases, Dr. Ambedkar was up against violent high-caste Hindus, with the British sitting on the fence.

Dr. Ambedkar started the Mahad agitation in 1927, but the “untouchables” got access to the tank only in 1937 through a court order. The people of the high castes had managed a court order to ban the entry of “untouchables” into the tank on the grounds that it was a private tank. Dr. Ambedkar accepted the court order and discontinued a second march to the tank. But he fought through the courts and got justice in 1937, almost after 10 years. He did this using legal instruments and a peaceful mass movement, without the coercive means of fasts and hunger strikes.

Similarly, the agitation for entry into the Kalaram temple went on for four years, from 1930 to 1934. He discontinued the agitation in 1934 following opposition by priests, notwithstanding the support extended by Gandhiji. But he fought a legal battle, along with a peaceful agitation, for the next four years, and in 1939 ultimately secured entry to the temple for “untouchables.”

During the 1920s and the 1930s, Dr. Ambedkar combined mass mobilisation with legal methods in the anti-untouchability movement, but never allowed unconstitutional and coercive methods to take hold, despite instances of violent attack on “untouchables.” Once he came face to face with Gandhiji with the latter’s fast-unto-death and he had to compromise on the demand for a separate electorate with what is the present-day political reservation. Coercive means forced him to surrender the demand for a separate electorate, the consequences of which are visible today.

Team Anna should realise that the Indian Constitution provides ample opportunities for advocacy, through discussion and lobbying with parliamentary Standing Committees, Groups of Ministers, the Ministers concerned, the Prime Minister, courts, and above all through a peaceful agitation. With several political parties on their side, the possibility of reaching a middle ground is high. Experience with constitutional means shows that civil society activists, through their constant struggles, have persuaded the two successive United Progressive Alliance governments to acknowledge several basic rights and convert these into laws. The right to employment through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the right to information, rights under the Forest Act, the right to education, and now the right to food, are some of the revolutionary measures that civil society has been able to accomplish through constitutional methods. It is an opportunity for Team Anna to use constitutional methods and enhance the faith of people in these; otherwise Team Anna will convey the message that only coercive and unconstitutional methods work.

As Dr. Ambedkar observed, due to certain aspects of Indian culture our people are highly vulnerable to hero-worship. How a yoga teacher could convert yoga devotees into religious devotees and finally into political supporters within a few years’ time is a classic example of what hero-worship and bhakti can do. Another religious preacher has threatened that he would use his religious followers for political end which he thinks does not require discussion with them as they follow him in whatever he tells them to do.

Anna and his team should recognise that for a new democracy like ours, which is operating within the framework of undemocratic relations based on the caste system, constitutional methods and social morality need to be cultivated and promoted with a purpose. The Lokpal Bill is too important a piece of legislation to be passed under threat and unreasonable deadlines. All its aspects need to be discussed with extreme care and with consensus among all sections. Dalits have begun to express concern about its implications for them. In a society where the anti-caste spirit and prejudices are present in abundance, they feel that given its proposed wide-ranging powers, it may be misused.

The Commissioner for Scheduled Castes reported about 11,469 complaints by Dalit government employees during the period from 2004 to 2010 that were linked to caste prejudice. Several thousand more complaints under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, such as giving “false or frivolous information to any public servant and thereby cause such public servant to use his lawful power to the injury or annoyance of member of SC/ST” are waiting for justice. Therefore, Dalits have begun to seek safeguards against the complaints emanating from caste prejudices in the Lokpal Bill. I think the government has rightly brought the bill for an open discussion before the Standing Committee that comprises MPs from all parties, so that the Bill is discussed by all sections in a peaceful milieu and not under duress and force.

Anna Hazare knows that the road to social change is a difficult one. He helped Dalits in a number of ways, including by repaying loans taken by Dalits with contributions from villagers. Yet he could not bring about fraternity between them — Dalits continue to stay in segregated localities in his village. Corruption, like untouchability, is deeply embedded in the social fabric of our society. Therefore, besides legislation its eradication requires changes through education and moral regeneration.

(Sukhadeo Thorat is Professor of Economics, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University. E-mail: thoratsukhadeo@yahoo.co.in)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2384849.ece?homepage=true

Obama praises Gandhi in speech to Indian Parliament

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THE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHRI BARRACK HUSSAIN OBAMA PRAISES THE INDIAN DEMOCRACY

New Delhi: Visiting American President Barack Obama addressed the Indian Parliament on Monday. He is just the second US President to address the House after former US President Bill Clinton.

Here’s the full text of Obama’s address:

Mr. Vice President, Madame Speaker, Mr. Prime Minister, Members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and most of all, the people of India.

I thank you for the great honor of addressing the representatives of more than one billion Indians and the world’s largest democracy.  I bring the greetings and friendship of the world’s oldest democracy – the USA, including nearly three million proud and patriotic Indian Americans.

Over the past three days, my wife Michelle and I have experienced the beauty and dynamism of India and its people. From the majesty of Humayun’s Tomb to the advanced technologies that are empowering farmers and women who are the backbone of Indian society. From a Diwali celebration with schoolchildren to the innovators who are fueling India’s economic rise. From the university students who will chart India’s future, to you – leaders who helped to bring India to this moment of promise.

At every stop, we have been welcomed with the hospitality for which Indians have always been known. So to you and the people of India, on behalf of me, Michelle and the American people, please accept our deepest thanks. Bahoot dhanyavad.

I am not the first American president to visit India. Nor will I be the last. But I am proud to visit India so early in my presidency. It is no coincidence that India is my first stop on a visit to Asia, or that this has been my longest visit to another country since becoming President.

For in Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged. And it is my firm belief that the relationship between the United States and India – bound by our shared interests and values – will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.  This is the partnership I have come here to build.  This is the vision that our nations can realise together.

My confidence in our shared future is grounded in my respect for India’s treasured past – a civilization that has been shaping the world for thousands of years. Indians unlocked the intricacies of the human body and the vastness of our universe. And it is no exaggeration to say that our information age is rooted in Indian innovations – including the number zero.

India not only opened our minds, she expanded our moral imagination. With religious texts that still summon the faithful to lives of dignity and discipline. With poets who imagined a future “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.” And with a man whose message of love and justice endures – the Father of your Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

For me and Michelle, this visit has therefore held special meaning. Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor, I have always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and in his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world.  And just as he summoned Indians to seek their destiny, he influenced champions of equality in my own country, including a young Martin Luther King. After making his pilgrimage to India a half century ago, Dr. King called Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance “the only logical and moral approach” in the struggle for justice and progress.

So we were honoured to visit the residence where Gandhi and King both stayed – Mani Bhavan. We were humbled to pay our respects at Raj Ghat. And I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world.

An ancient civilization of science and innovation. A fundamental faith in human progress. This is the sturdy foundation upon which you have built ever since that stroke of midnight when the tricolour was raised over a free and independent India. And despite the skeptics who said that this country was simply too poor, too vast, too diverse to succeed, you surmounted overwhelming odds and became a model to the world.

Instead of slipping into starvation, you launched a Green Revolution that fed millions. Instead of becoming dependent on commodities and exports, you invested in science and technology and in your greatest resource – the Indian people. And the world sees the results, from the supercomputers you build to the Indian flag that you put on the moon.

Instead of resisting the global economy, you became one of its engines – reforming the licensing raj and unleashing an economic marvel that has lifted tens of millions from poverty and created one of the world’s largest middle classes.

Instead of succumbing to division, you have shown that the strength of India – the very idea of India – is its embrace of all colours, castes and creeds. It’s the diversity represented in this chamber today. It’s the richness of faiths celebrated by a visitor to my hometown of Chicago more than a century ago – the renowned Swami Vivekananda. He said that, “holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character.”

And instead of being lured by the false notion that progress must come at the expense of freedom, you built the institutions upon which true democracy depends – free and fair elections, which enable citizens to choose their own leaders without recourse to arms; an independent judiciary and the rule of law, which allows people to address their grievances; and a thriving free press and vibrant civil society which allows every voice to be heard.  And this year, as India marks 60 years with a strong and democratic constitution, the lesson is clear: India has succeeded, not in spite of democracy; India has succeeded because of democracy.

Just as India has changed, so too has the relationship between our two nations.  In the decades after independence, India advanced its interests as a proud leader of the nonaligned movement. Yet too often, the United States and India found ourselves on opposite sides of a North-South divide and estranged by a long Cold War. Those days are over.

Here in India, two successive governments led by different parties have recognized that deeper partnership with America is both natural and necessary. In the United States, both of my predecessors – one Democrat, one Republican – worked to bring us closer, leading to increased trade and a landmark civil nuclear agreement.

Since then, people in both our countries have asked: what next?  How can we build on this progress and realise the full potential of our partnership? That is what I want to address today – the future that the United States seeks in an interconnected world; why I believe that India is indispensable to this vision; and how we can forge a truly global partnership – not in just one or two areas, but across many; not just for our mutual benefit, but for the world’s.

Of course, only Indians can determine India’s national interests and how to advance them on the world stage.  But I stand before you today because I am convinced that the interests of the United States – and the interests we share with India – are best advanced in partnership.

The United States seeks security – the security of our country, allies and partners. We seek prosperity – a strong and growing economy in an open international economic system. We seek respect for universal values. And we seek a just and sustainable international order that promotes peace and security by meeting global challenges through stronger global cooperation.

To advance these interests, I have committed the United States to comprehensive engagement with the world, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. And a central pillar of this engagement is forging deeper cooperation with 21st century centers of influence – and that includes India.

Now, India is not the only emerging power in the world.  But the relationship between our countries is unique. For we are two strong democracies whose constitutions begin with the same revolutionary words – “We the people.” We are two great Republics dedicated to the liberty, justice and the equality of all people. And we are two free market economies where people have the freedom to pursue ideas and innovations that can change the world. This is why I believe that India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.

Since taking office, I’ve therefore made our relationship a priority. I was proud to welcome Prime Minister Singh for the first official state visit of my presidency. For the first time ever, our governments are working together across the whole range of common challenges we face. And let me say it as clearly as I can: the United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality.

Together with our partners, we have made the G20 the premier forum for international economic cooperation, bringing more voices to the table of global economic decision-making, including India. We have increased the role of emerging economies like India at international financial institutions. We valued India’s important role at Copenhagen, where, for the first time, all major economies committed to take action to confront climate change – and to stand by those actions. We salute India’s long history as a leading contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions. And we welcome India as it prepares to take its seat on the United Nations Security Council.

In short, with India assuming its rightful place in the world, we have an historic opportunity to make the relationship between our two countries a defining partnership of the century ahead.  And I believe we can do so by working together in three important areas.

First, as global partners we can promote prosperity in both our countries. Together, we can create the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future. With my visit, we are now ready to begin implementing our civil nuclear agreement. This will help meet India’s growing energy needs and create thousands of jobs in both our countries.

We need to forge partnerships in high-tech sectors like defence and civil space. So we have removed Indian organizations from our so-called “entity list.” And we’ll work to reform our controls on exports. Both of these steps will ensure that Indian companies seeking high-tech trade and technologies from America are treated the same as our closest allies and partners.

We can pursue joint research and development to create green jobs; give Indians more access to cleaner, affordable energy; meet the commitments we made at Copenhagen; and show the possibilities of low-carbon growth.

Together, we can resist the protectionism that stifles growth and innovation. The United States remains – and will continue to remain – one of the most open economies in the world.  And by opening markets and reducing barriers to foreign investment, India can realize its full economic potential as well. As G20 partners, we can make sure the global economic recovery is strong and durable. And we can keep striving for a Doha Round that is ambitious and balanced – with the courage to make the compromises that are necessary so global trade works for all economies.

Together, we can strengthen agriculture. Cooperation between Indian and American researchers and scientists sparked the Green Revolution. Today, India is a leader in using technology to empower farmers, like those I met yesterday who get free updates on market and weather conditions on their cell phones. And the United States is a leader in agricultural productivity and research. Now, as farmers and rural areas face the effects of climate change and drought, we’ll work together to spark a second, more sustainable Evergreen Revolution.

Together, we’re going to improve Indian weather forecasting systems before the next monsoon season.  We aim to help millions of Indian farming households save water and increase productivity; improve food processing so crops don’t spoil on the way to market; and enhance climate and crop forecasting to avoid losses that cripple communities and drive up food prices.

And as part of our food security initiative, we’re going to share India’s expertise with farmers in Africa. This is an indication of India’s rise – that we can now export hard-earned expertise to countries that see India as a model for agricultural development. And that’s another powerful example of how American and Indian partnership can address an urgent global challenge.

Because the wealth of a nation also depends on the health of its people, we’ll continue to support India’s efforts against diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and as global partners, we’ll work to improve global health by preventing the spread of pandemic flu. And because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century, we’ll increase exchanges between our students, colleges and universities, which are among the best in the world.

As we work to advance our shared prosperity, we can partner to address a second priority – our shared security. In Mumbai, I met with the courageous families and survivors of that barbaric attack. And here in this Parliament, which was itself targeted because of the democracy it represents, we honor the memory of all those who have been taken from us, including American citizens on 26/11 and Indian citizens on 9/11.

This is the bond we share. It’s why we insist that nothing ever justifies the slaughter of innocent men, women and children. It’s why we’re working together, more closely than ever, to prevent terrorist attacks and to deepen our cooperation even further. And it’s why, as strong and resilient societies, we refuse to live in fear, we will not sacrifice the values and rule of law that defines us, and we will never waver in the defense of our people.

America’s fight against Al-Qaida and its terrorist affiliates is why we persevere in Afghanistan, where major development assistance from India has improved the lives of the Afghan people.  We’re making progress in our mission to break the Taliban’s momentum and to train Afghan forces so they can take the lead for their security. And while I have made it clear that American forces will begin the transition to Afghan responsibility next summer, I have also made it clear that America’s commitment to the Afghan people will endure. The United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan – or the region – to the violent extremists who threaten us all.

Our strategy to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaida and its affiliates has to succeed on both sides of the border. That is why we have worked with the Pakistani government to address the threat of terrorist networks in the border region. The Pakistani government increasingly recognises that these networks are not just a threat outside of Pakistan – they are a threat to the Pakistani people, who have suffered greatly at the hands of violent extremists.

And we will continue to insist to Pakistan’s leaders that terrorist safe-havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice. We must also recognise that all of us have and interest in both an Afghanistan and a Pakistan that is stable, prosperous and democratic – and none more so than India.

In pursuit of regional security, we will continue to welcome dialogue between India and Pakistan, even as we recognize that disputes between your two countries can only be resolved by the people of your two countries.

More broadly, India and the United States can partner in Asia. Today, the United States is once again playing a leadership role in Asia – strengthening old alliances; deepening relationships, as we are doing with China; and we’re reengaging with regional organizations like ASEAN and joining the East Asia summit – organizations in which India is also a partner.  Like your neighbours in Southeast Asia, we want India to not only “look East,” we want India to “engage East” – because it will increase the security and prosperity of all our nations.

And as two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security – especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years.  Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. That is why I can say today – in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.

Now, let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility. The United Nations exists to fulfill its founding ideals of preserving peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights. These are the responsibilities of all nations, but especially those that seek to lead in the 21st century. And so we look forward to working with India – and other nations that aspire to Security Council membership – to ensure that the Security Council is effective; that resolutions are implemented and sanctions are enforced; and that we strengthen the international norms which recognise the rights and responsibilities of all nations and individuals.

This includes our responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Since I took office, the United States has reduced the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and agreed with Russia to reduce our arsenals. We have put preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism at the top of our nuclear agenda, and strengthened the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime – the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Together, the United States and India can pursue our goal of securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials. We can make it clear that even as every nation has the right to peaceful nuclear energy, every nation must also meet its international obligations – and that includes the Islamic Republic of Iran. And together, we can pursue a vision that Indian leaders have espoused since Independence – a world without nuclear weapons.

This leads me to the final area where our countries can partner – strengthening the foundations of democratic governance, not only at home but abroad.

In the United States, my administration has worked to make government more open and transparent and accountable to the people. Here in India, you’re harnessing technologies to do the same, as I saw yesterday.Your landmark Right to Information Act is empowering citizens with the ability to get the services to which they’re entitled and to hold officials accountable. Voters can get information about candidates by text message. And you’re delivering education and health care services to rural communities, as I saw yesterday when I joined an e-panchayat with villagers in Rajasthan.

Now, in a new collaboration on open government, our two countries are going to share our experience, identify what works, and develop the next-generation of tools to empower citizens. And in another example of how American and Indian partnership can address global challenges, we’re going to share these innovations with civil society groups and countries around the world. We’re going to show that democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for the common man – and woman.

Likewise, when Indians vote, the whole world watches. Thousands of political parties, hundreds of thousands of polling centres. Millions of candidates and poll workers, and 700 million voters. There’s nothing like it on the planet. There is so much that countries transitioning to democracy could learn from India’s experience; so much expertise that India could share with the world.  That, too, is what’s possible when the world’s largest democracy embraces its role as a global leader.

As the world’s two largest democracies, we must also never forget that the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others. Indians know this, for it is the story of your nation. Before he ever began his struggle for Indian independence, Gandhi stood up for the rights of Indians in South Africa. Just as others, including the United States, supported Indian Independence, India championed the self-determination of peoples from Africa to Asia as they too broke free from colonialism. And along with the United States, you’ve been a leader in supporting democratic development and civil society groups around the world. This, too, is part of India’s greatness.

Every country will follow its own path. No one nation has a monopoly on wisdom, and no nation should ever try to impose its values on another. But when peaceful democratic movements are suppressed – as in Burma – then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent. For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protesters and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of a bankrupt regime. It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see.

Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community – especially leaders like the United States and India – to condemn it. If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often avoided these issues. But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It’s staying true to our democratic principles. It’s giving meaning to the human rights that we say are universal. And it sustains the progress that in Asia and around the world has helped turn dictatorships into democracies and ultimately increased our security in the world.

Promoting shared prosperity, preserving peace and security, strengthening democratic governance and human rights – these are the responsibilities of leadership. And, as global partners, this is the leadership that the United States and India can offer in the 21st century. Ultimately, however, this cannot be a relationship only between presidents and prime ministers, or in the halls of this Parliament. Ultimately, this must be a partnership between our peoples. So I want to conclude by speaking directly to the people of India watching today.

In your lives, you have overcome odds that might have overwhelmed a lesser country. In just decades, you have achieved progress and development that took other nations centuries. And now you are assuming your rightful place as a leader among nations. Your parents and grandparents imagined this. Your children and grandchildren will look back on this. But only you – this generation of Indians – can seize the possibility of this moment.

As you carry on with the hard work ahead, I want every Indian citizen to know: The United States of America will not simply be cheering you on from the sidelines. We will be right there with you, shoulder to shoulder. Because we believe in the promise of India. And we believe that the future is what we make it.

We believe that no matter who you are or where you come from, every person can fulfill their God-given potential, just as a Dalit like Dr. Ambedkar could lift himself up and pen the words of the Constitution that protects the rights of all Indians.

We believe that no matter where you live – whether a village in Punjab or the bylanes of Chandni Chowk…an old section of Kolkata or a new high-rise in Bangalore – every person deserves the same chance to live in security and dignity, to get an education, to find work, and to give their children a better future.

And we believe that when countries and cultures put aside old habits and attitudes that keep people apart, when we recognize our common humanity, then we can begin to fulfill the aspirations we share.  It’s a simple lesson contained in that collection of stories which has guided Indians for centuries – the Panchtantra. And it’s the spirit of the inscription seen by all who enter this Great Hall: ‘That one is mine and the other a stranger is the concept of little minds. But to the large-hearted, the world itself is their family.”

This is the story of India; it’s the story of America – that despite their differences, people can see themselves in one another, and work together and succeed together as one proud nation. And it can be the spirit of the partnership between our nations – that even as we honour the histories which in different times kept us apart, even as we preserve what makes us unique in a globalised world, we can recognise how much we can achieve together.

And if we let this simple concept be our guide, if we pursue the vision I have described today – a global partnership to meet global challenges – then I have no doubt that future generations – Indians and Americans – will live in a world that is more prosperous, more secure, and more just because of the bonds that our generation forged today.

Thank you, Jai Hind!, and long live the partnership between India and the United States.