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The Hindu Notes for 16 August 2018

Lessons in alternative histories

Both Gandhi and Nehru would have grasped that the Dalai Lama was speaking to India’s present

Around August 15 every year, Indians tend to get more correct and prickly. The 15th is a precious day for us. We demand a salute to our state and status as a great independent nation. Any critique is summarily dismissed, often at the cost to our own understanding of the nation and its possibilities.

Consider a recent event. It was the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan arrival in India. It marked a great moment for India. Jawaharlal Nehru, defying the Chinese, offers refuge to the Dalai Lama and lets him set up his government in exile. It was a moment of hospitality and generosity, a Nehruvian moment which one senses as lacking today in this time of the Rohingya crisis and the National Register of Citizens threatening to extern lakhs of people.

Offered as gratitude

No one has spoken with greater gratitude to India than the Dalai Lama. His rituals of thanks to India as a civilisation and to the Indian regime have been many. By welcoming him to India, we added to the sense of India. Yet, newspapers reported that in the anniversary speech, he said India had missed a moral opportunity — that Mahatma Gandhi, to avoid Partition, offered Muhammad Ali Jinnah the Prime Ministership, and Nehru objected because he wanted to lead India. The newspaper reports came out boldly and literally. A few days later, true to a spirit of correctness, the Dalai Lama withdrew his statement, saying that he had hurt feelings.

At a level of formal correctness, the matter is closed, but India is the loser because our prickly sense of arrogance blinded us to the possibility of the story.

The Dalai Lama was not criticising Nehru. He was merely pointing to glimpses of history beyond Nehru. He was being thoughtful, provocative, in a pedagogic way, because he was confident in himself and the people he was talking about. As a spiritual leader and as an astute politician, he was using the occasion to open us to new possibilities. Anyone living in India knows that our sense of nationalism has blinded us to alternative possibilities. We conceive of history as a fait accompli and with a dose of fatalism.

Yet, what the Dalai Lama is pointing out is that what we saw as a moment of closure had its openings. The greatness of Gandhi recognised it and pursued it with a desperation. Gandhi tried to thwart Partition by offering Jinnah something he would not have dreamed of. Gandhi offered him the possibility of a giant leadership, the possibility of being leader of a ‘joint India-Pakistan’. Instead of Partition we could or could have had a united India. It was an act which required a surreal moral courage. It was an appeal to Jinnah to go beyond divisive politics. It was almost a utopian solution to a communal fissure.

The Dalai Lama suggests that Nehru refuted such a possibility. The historian in him must have seen it as impractical; the politician in him must have read it as insulting, wondering whether Gandhi had lost his sense of the bloody reality facing India. Jinnah, Nehru and Mountbatten were responding at the level of realpolitik. It is the level at which history took place and Partition became inevitable.

A moral imagination

The Dalai Lama understands history. As a political leader, he has an acute sense of it. But as a spiritual leader, he is suggesting decades after the event that history could have been transcended morally. He was suggesting that Gandhi had the moral imagination to gift Jinnah a stunning possibility. He was merely asking Jinnah to move beyond his pettiness. He was asking Nehru for a sacrifice beyond all his calibre and sacrifices. Looking back, one cannot discount the power of this possibility. In a futuristic sense, it might be India’s greatest gift to Pakistan, a vision of a united nation. Nehru sacrifices his future and Jinnah’s immediate greed becomes the glue in a moment of strife-torn politics. Consequently, there is no Partition. Pakistan does not become a military state. There is none of the idiocy of the genocide in Bangladesh.

Possibilities sound stupendous and the thinker is almost giddy. The Dalai Lama is merely invoking Gandhi’s plea, a plea that might have prevented two genocides. He is not condemning Nehru. He is only saying that Gandhi’s moral imagination transcended the conventional grids of history.

The Dalai Lama’s commentary is timely. He is asking a jingoistic nation state to think out of the box and create a situation where the ethical is experimental and theology goes beyond mere patriotic catechism, and looks at playful possibilities to questions which need answers even today.

The Dalai Lama, as a great teacher, is not only referring to a past as a forgotten fragment but he is also referring to the present and suggesting that the Gandhian conundrum has desperate relevance today. It could become the spiritual turning-point for rethinking Kashmir or even Assam. I am sure he knows that history cannot be reversed. I feel that like a Zen monk, he is ironically, tragically, asking if history has to be repeated so that genocide becomes an everyday way of life. Nehru and Gandhi would have grasped the point. I am not quite sure that the current regime peddling patriotism as a commodity would.

One must thank the Dalai Lama for his courage and the sheer relevance of his story. Exile along with spirituality makes his compassion more hard-headed. He is seeking imaginations beyond the current conventions of thought. There is a search for a realism which goes beyond the hard-hearted nationalism of today. He is suggesting that the national security state living on surveillance is too arid a concept. Compassion opens minds and opens us to the mind of the other. His was not a knee-jerk critique of Nehru, but he was imagining a Nehru beyond the current pantheons of Nehru ambushing history instead of being ambushed by it; a Nehru who could have jump-started an unbelievable era of history. We could have had an alternative polity which would have been an experiment in pluralistic federalism. All the Dalai Lama is suggesting is that a playful civilisation like India must not be a blinded nation state. He is opening us to ideas that are futuristic and lifesaving. I think India needs to remaster the art of listening, the acuteness of debate and discourse from our spiritual past. We need to listen to the Dalai Lama. He was not insulting us or our hospitality. In fact, he was repaying it with gratitude, with laughter and humour, with sincerity.

The echoes today

The question is, will India respond? All he is suggesting is the civilisational creativity India showed to Tibetans as honoured refugees now be applied to Assam, the Rohingya. India does not have a Gandhi but his teachings are alive, and one needs to invent a Gandhian solution within a Nehruvian framework. For a spiritual leader, politics is the art of the impossible. The Dalai Lama is explaining that India’s spirituality has the realism to show our humdrum politicians the magical everydayness of an alternative solution. He is telling us India is a civilisation, that its Gandhis, its Nanaks, its Kabirs, its Buddhas can find a solution to the current impasse. It is a wonderful gift at a time when we celebrate freedom.

Shiv Visvanathan is an academic associated with the Compost Heap, a group in pursuit of alternative ideas and imagination

Questioning a crackdown

The case for restricting the manufacture of oxytocin is neither rigorous nor reasoned

The decision of the Ministry of Health to restrict, from September 1, the manufacture of oxytocin only to the public sector unit, Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (KAPL), has sparked fears of shortages and a disruption of supplies of this drug. Oxytocin — which is considered to be a critical drug in maternal health care — is made primarily by the private sector. The restriction is because of alleged misuse of the drug by dairy farmers on milch cattle to stimulate milk production. The Ministry now hopes to control distribution channels and prevent misuse.

The allegations regarding misuse have been made by the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, for over a decade. Minutes of the meetings of the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) and the Drugs Consultative Committee (DCC) — (statutory bodies under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940 — record several representations by Ms. Gandhi to the government to do something about the misuse. The minutes also cite experts from the medical and veterinary sciences who advised the DTAB that oxytocin is required in the treatment of both humans and animals. Further, two studies by the Central government, by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Dairy Research Institute, conclude that the use of oxytocin does not have an adverse effect on either people or animals. With cattle, the danger of misuse is that it may cause addiction, in which case cattle do not react to normal milk ejection stimuli. Both studies have been cited by the Ministers of Health and Agriculture in Parliament while responding to queries about the adverse effects of the drug.

Basis of official response

So why has the Health Ministry restricted the manufacture of the drug to only the KAPL? The official answer cited by the Ministry in its order (under Section 26A of the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940) is a judgment by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in a public interest litigation (PIL) initiated by the court after it came across newspaper reports of oxytocin misuse. As is often the case with such PILs, the court appointed an amicus to assist it. After hearing the matter for two years, the court passed a judgment in 2016 blaming oxytocin for a number of diseases, including breast and uterine cancers, male impotence, excessive hair growth in women and balding for men. However, the court did not cite a single scientific study to support these claims. Worse, it appeared to be unaware of the scientific studies commissioned by the Central government. Towards the end of its judgment, the court directed the State government to consider the feasibility of restricting manufacture to the public sector.

While the State government appears to have ignored these directions, the Central government, for some reason, decided to adopt the judgment as the basis of its order restricting manufacture to the public sector. The fact is that the High Court sought a study of the feasibility of restricting manufacture to the public sector; it never ordered the restriction to be imposed. From a reading of the government’s order under Section 26A of the said Act, it appears that the government has gone ahead to restrict manufacture without conducting any kind of feasibility study.

Going forward

While courts generally defer to the government when it comes to orders issued under Section 26A of the said Act, they can still set aside such orders if convinced that there is nothing on record to support the final decision. This standard of review was reiterated most recently in Union of India v. Pfizer (2017), where the Supreme Court concluded: “If the power under Section 26A is exercised on the basis of irrelevant material or on the basis of no material, the satisfaction itself that is contemplated by Section 26A would not be there and the exercise of the power would be struck down on this ground.”

An order restricting manufacture of a crucial drug such as oxytocin on the grounds of alleged misuse will have to based on a study of the degree of misuse, the demand for the drug, the manner in which the proposed restriction will affect the supply of the drug, and also its impact on public health. The government has not conducted such a study. The Delhi High Court, which is hearing a challenge against the government’s order, should signal to the government that regulation of drugs has to be rigorous and reasoned. It cannot resemble policy quackery.

Prashant Reddy T. is an Assistant Professor at the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad

The roadmap to military reform

We need to understand the Indian Air Force’s arguments on any piecemeal integration initiative

In the debate on reform in the Indian military, there is a need for clear policy-driven directives that meet India’s national security needs and challenges.

The roadmap to military reform

A recent historical overview would indicate just how confused things are, which doesn’t augur well for a ‘leading power’. The initial flavour of the debate in the decades following the Group of Ministers’ report, the Kargil Review Committee report, and the Naresh Chandra Committee report focussed on a restructuring of higher defence organisation as the first step. This was intended to improve synergy among different tools of statecraft (bureaucracy, military, research and development, intelligence, internal security mechanisms, and more). When very little traction was seen in converting this into structural changes within the Ministry of Defence, and sharing of expertise, the debate shifted to the second tier of reform in the operational realm. This has unfortunately pitted the three services against one another in a series of turf wars that have ranged from control over space to control over cyber and special forces.

Targeting the IAF

When these turf wars did not result in the proposed space, cyber and special forces commands that were to complement the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and the Andaman and Nicobar Command as stepping stones to integration, one more hat was thrown into the ring — that of standalone integrated theatre commands. Without considering any restructuring of higher defence organisation, creation of Chief of the Defence Staff, or debating whether these theatre commands would be accompanied by a dilution in the operational control of the respective service chiefs, the debate now largely targets the Indian Air Force (IAF) in a subtle manner as being the ‘spoiler’ in what is otherwise a largely consensual approach to integration.

It is important to reiterate some of the core arguments that the IAF has in opposition to any piecemeal integration initiative. If there is any service that is truly ‘joint’ in terms of participation in statecraft or military operations in tandem with other tools, particularly as first responders, it is the IAF. There has never been any recorded criticism or shortfalls in the contribution of the IAF reported by the Indian Army or Navy to the political executive at apex forums like the Combined Commanders’ Conference. If the flying task of the IAF in terms of its distribution between joint and exclusive tasks is scrutinised, conservative figures would reveal more than 60% as being committed to the former. The IAF is cognisant of its pivotal role in determining the trajectory of any limited high-intensity conflict in any kind of terrain.

Capturing ground beyond a few kilometres or taking physical control of vast maritime spaces for prolonged durations are no longer sustainable operations of war as they arguably result in avoidable depletion of combat potential. This causes unacceptable attrition in limited but high-tempo operations. It is in this context that air power would offer a viable alternative by shaping ‘battle spaces’ adequately before the other services enter combat.

The creation of large Naval and Army aviation arms demonstrates the IAF’s understanding that there is a need to complement its dwindling resources with air arms that could act as tactical responders at best till the IAF brings its cutting-edge skills into the area to act as a decisive sword-arm.

Apprehensions over reserves

With such a deep understanding of joint operations, it is impossible to imagine that the reservations expressed by the IAF leadership in supporting the creation of integrated theatre commands in isolation is tantamount to stonewalling. Dissection of the recently conducted exercise, Gaganshakti, would provide a quantitative analysis of this assertion. The main apprehensions of the IAF leadership not only revolve around how best to exploit its dwindling offensive resources if they are hived off to multiple theatre commands, but also how the limited availability of enabling equipment and platforms (AWACS, refuelers, electronic warfare platforms and more) could seriously jeopardise operations even in a single-adversary limited conflict. (This conflict could involve up to three of the proposed theatre commands, including the Indian Navy.) To explain the resource crunch, the U.S.’s Pacific Command (PACOM) and Central Command (CENTCOM) have their own air assets that are first supplemented by reserve units from the U.S. in emergency situations; they are not pooled in from other theatre commands. So, where will our reserves come from when the mantra today in the IAF is ‘to do more with less’?

It is not my mandate to argue why the Indian Army and Navy may be able to support the theatre command concept without much churning/ diversion of assets. I will only say this: please listen to the operational argument offered by the IAF and carry out an independent analysis of how India’s combat capability will be distributed if a theatre concept is to be viable.

India’s armed forces have little experience in training, staffing and exercising Joint Task Forces based on at least a division-sized land component. Creation of three division-sized task forces for operations in varied terrain, including out-of-area contingency operations, could be mulled over. These would be commanded by an Army, Navy and Air Force three-star officer, respectively, reporting to the Chairman of the Chief of Staffs Committee. This could offer real lessons in integration.

The solution for reform

Along with these turf wars has been an out-of-the-box proposition that a bottom-up approach may be the answer to India’s quest for integration. Historical evidence of military reform (in Prussia, the U.S., the U.K., France and now China) shows that successful reform has always been driven by either a multipronged and simultaneous approach at all levels, or a sequential one beginning at the top. Any other approach that leaves the bottom and the top unattended is fraught with risk.

National security reforms and restructuring are bound to have far-reaching consequences and call for political sagacity, wisdom and vision. Ideally speaking, a concurrent three-pronged approach to military reform would be ideal. Such an approach should respect the collective wisdom of past reports and take into account contemporary political and security considerations.

Arjun Subramaniam is a retired fighter pilot from the IAF and a military historian. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, U.S.

Probing an amendment

Recent changes to the anti-corruption law are very worrying

In the monsoon session, Parliament passed certain amendments to laws on corruption, which could have a far-reaching effect. Among them, the focus here is on two aspects: one requiring prior approval for initiating investigation into allegations of corruption against public servants, and the other requiring prior sanction for prosecution of public servants.

Need for approval

Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act has been amended, reinterring the requirement of prior approval for initiating investigation of corruption cases not only against Joint Secretaries and above, but all categories of public servants. The only exception to this are cases of traps in which such public servants are caught red-handed while taking bribe. Also, till now under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, previous sanction of the competent authority was required to prosecute public servants, under various sections of the Act. This safeguard has been extended to retired public servants.

One worrying factor is the amendment requiring prior approval of the government to even initiate an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into allegations of corruption against public servants. Under the law of the land, the police has unfettered jurisdiction to initiate investigation into a crime or acts of corruption, once it gets credible information. There are Supreme Court rulings that even the courts can’t interfere in this exercise of power by a competent investing agency. However, political authorities have been trying to appropriate this power from the CBI. It first came in the shape of the Single Directive under the Rajiv Gandhi government, which was confined to senior officers only. A long legal battle was fought before the Supreme Court, challenging the legality of the directive. The court eventually set it aside, in what came to be known as the Vineet Narain case. The bench, headed by the then Chief Justice of India, J.S.Verma, had held that the Single Directive was liable to be quashed as untenable in law.

While arguing in the case, the Attorney General had sought to justify the Directive on the ground that it was the Minister’s ultimate responsibility to Parliament for the functioning of the agencies. On this point, the Supreme Court had said: “All the powers of the Minister are subject to the condition that none of them would extend to permit the Minister to interfere with the course of investigation and prosecution in any individual case and in that respect the concerned officers are to be governed entirely by the mandate of the law and the statutory duty cast upon them.”

The court quoted with approval, as has been done in scores of cases, the caution administered by Lord Denning in Regina v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1968). Indicating the duty of Police Commissioner, Lord Denning stated: “I have no hesitation, however, in holding that, like every constable in the land, he should be, and is, independent of the executive… I hold it to be the duty of the Commissioner of Police, as it is of every chief constable, to enforce the law of the land… in all these things he is not the servant of anyone, save of the law itself.”

The burden of the court order was that under the scheme of the criminal justice system and the rule of law, which we have adopted and have been practising, the police and the CBI are bound by the law and the Constitution to investigate a crime reported to them, if there is credible information. They have jurisdiction as per law and that the power to register and proceed with the investigation must remain unhindered. Once the investigation is complete and the police or the CBI is ready with the report on the investigation, other authorities come into play.

Political compulsions

But even after the Directive was set aside, the political class brought it back in the Central Vigilance Commission Act of 2003. This led to protests and was challenged before the court. In 2014, the Supreme Court set aside this provision of the Act. Inter alia, the court had observed, “The very power of CBI to enquire and investigate into the allegations of bribery and corruption against a certain class of public servants and officials is subverted and impinged by Section 6A.” It also observed, “The scheme of Section 155 and Section 156 CrPC indicates that the local police may investigate a senior Government officer without previous approval of the Central Government. However, CBI can not do so in view of Section 6A.”

The recent amendment, therefore, is retrograde in nature and is likely to be quashed if contested in the apex court.

N.K. Singh, a former Joint Director, CBI, is currently member the Janata Dal (United) National Executive

Sanitised stories

Bollywood biopics are either adulatory or a whitewash, but there are some exceptions that give hope

I saw Sanju on the day of its release and it left me cold. It reaffirmed my view that Bollywood rarely gets biopics right. Bollywood biopics are either adulatory or a complete whitewash because we don’t like to see our heroes flawed. A flawed hero, after all, is Bollywood blasphemy.

Sanju Biopic

Often these films are designed to give a new lease of life to the persons they are modelled on, or they transform into mouthpieces for the wronged central characters for whom they are making amends. Watch Daddy, based on the life of gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli, or Haseena Parkar, based on the life of Dawood Ibrahim’s sister, Haseena Parkar. These characters are not heroes by any stretch of the imagination, but if the film is a biopic, or is even loosely based on some real-life account, Bollywood follows a formula. Even Mary Kom, based on the boxer, or Rang Rasiya, based on the life of Raja Ravi Varma, furthers the myths created around the eponymous central character who is rendered a one-dimensional hero prototype. You ought not to think of these characters as regular people but as demi-gods or goddesses you must admire.

In fact, films such as Mary Kom, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (on Milkha Singh) and M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story have spawned a new genre: the Bollywood sports biopic film. Make a tearjerker rags-to-riches story, eschew all mention of caste and gender politics, include inane songs and some adrenaline-pumping sports sequences, and you have a sanitised Bollywood biopic. These films are mere spectacles. They do not intend to ignite any dialogue, even about things that are wrong with the sports ecosystem in the country.

An exception is Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz, which chronicles the struggles of a lower caste boxing champion. It is based on research on boxers from lower castes across U.P. and has begun conversations which will hopefully be sustained. The other exceptions in recent memory are Shahid, based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi, and Dirty Picture, based on the life of Silk Smitha. Dirty Picture features a deeply flawed female protagonist and exposes the abundant sexism in the film industry.

Coming back to Sanju, it is important to note that director Rajkumar Hirani and actor Sanjay Dutt are friends. In fact, Hirani almost single-handedly turned around Dutt’s career with his much-lauded Munna Bhai franchise. Bollywood’s proverbial bad boy did a role reversal in these films through his encouragement of Gandhigiri, which the audiences found most endearing.

I also often wonder what women are doing in these films. They are just straightjacketed ancillaries in a deeply patriarchal iconography.

But most of these biopics have silences woven into the script. Those, for me, are the real stories: to discover people for who they are and not showpieces meant for adulation.

The writer teaches literary and cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune