The HINDU Notes – 18th December 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 18th December 2019

📰 Time to defend India’s secularism

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act has imperilled the nation’s constitutional values, and no one can afford to be silent

•India’s secular structure faces a profound crisis. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, must be rejected for three reasons. First, it is against the letter and spirit of our Constitution. Second, it is divisive, deeply discriminatory and violative of human rights. Third, it seeks to impose the politics and philosophy of Hindutva, with its vision of a “Hindu nation”, on our entire people and on the basic structure of our polity. Our constitutional values are in peril, and no person who has faith in our democracy can afford to be silent and uninvolved in what is happening around us.

Against common citizenship

•Let us understand each of these three points. The first is that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is against the letter and spirit of our Constitution. Articles 5 to 11 of the Constitution deal with citizenship, and the Citizenship Act, 1955, lays down criteria for citizenship based on birth, descent, registration, naturalisation, and citizenship by incorporation of territory. By setting new criteria, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act goes against the premise of common citizenship regardless of differences of caste, creed, gender, ethnicity and culture. Further, Article 14 of the Constitution lays down that the “State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. It bears emphasis that Article 14 applies not only to citizens but to “all persons within the territory of India”.

•What do we mean by the spirit of the Constitution? We associate the drafting of our Constitution with the rich debates of the Constituent Assembly, and the wisdom of its members, amongst whom Babasaheb Ambedkar stands tall. It is often not recognised, however, that it was the heroism of millions of unsung freedom fighters that made our Constitution a reality. These men and women, who came from the working class, peasantry, and socially marginalised groups — whatever their religious persuasion — challenged the colonial authorities in their struggle for human rights and economic justice. This struggle had broader aims than the overthrow of colonial rule. These torchbearers of modern Indian history played a crucial role in creating the demand for social justice, and a Constitution with democratic and secular values in a society in which discrimination and inequality were deeply ingrained. Although the framing of the Constitution did not mark the end of the struggle for civil liberties and for an egalitarian society, it, nevertheless, was a milestone in our history.

•Our freedom fighters were also conscious that theirs was a struggle for a society free of caste and religious deprivation and discrimination, and free of the deep social and economic inequalities that characterise Indian society. This was true of the manifestos of the Left from the early 1920s; this aspiration was also reflected in the resolution of the Karachi session of the Indian National Congress in 1931, held after the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Confronted by the radical mass upsurge of the time, the Congress passed resolutions on the freedom of speech, press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and equality before the law.

•The national movement in British India was further strengthened by movements in the erstwhile princely States. Our forebears dreamt of an independent India where communal prejudice would be alien to the polity. It is not surprising that the threat to those parts of our Constitution that defend secularism, democracy, social equality, federalism, and individual and social diversity, should come from that section of the polity that did not participate in the freedom struggle. The surrender to British imperialism by the precursors of today’s forces of Hindutva, is a chapter of India’s history that is cast in stone. No amount of denial can change that unheroic past.

Violative of rights

•Our second point is that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is divisive, deeply discriminatory and violative of human rights. As I have written before, our national unity was won through struggle; the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is one of the many threats to its survival. Our hard-won Constitution recognises individual and social differences, and that we must weave the cord of unity by creating a sense of belonging and inclusiveness for all.

•The Citizenship (Amendment) Act attempts to create and deepen communal division and social polarisation in the country. The Act gives eligibility for citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, and specifically excludes Muslims from that list. In granting citizenship on the basis of religion, it discriminates against Muslims and rejects the basic concept of secularism.

•That the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is discriminatory and violative of human rights has been recognised by those who have come out on the streets in many States, in opposition to the Act. It is noteworthy that university and college students figure so prominently in the upsurge against the Act. Though pushed through in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, these young citizens of India have come together — much as students did during the anti-colonial struggle — to reject the attempt to divide India along religious lines. They have denounced this Act as discriminatory and violative of human rights.

The Right’s agenda

•Our final point, that the agenda of Hindutva and its ultimate goal of establishing a “Hindu Nation” underlie the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, is well established both by past experience and the present actions of the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. We mentioned earlier the absence of the forces of Hindutva from the freedom movement. It was in this period that M.S. Golwalkar propounded his theory of India as a “Hindu Nation,” where other religious communities had no rights of citizenship. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act is the latest blow by the BJP to the secular nature of our polity.

•When the Left has been in Government we have made every effort to use the machinery at our command to preserve communal harmony; elsewhere, we have organised the masses to ensure such harmony.

Notes from Kerala

•Kerala’s struggle for secularism and social equality has much to teach us. Historically, the different strands of Kerala’s social renaissance and, subsequently, the forces of the Left and other progressive sections, fought hard against social discrimination and communalism, and for social and economic equality.

•All political parties and social groupings of different types in Kerala, other than the parties and organisations of Hindutva, have come together against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The peaceful satyagraha held in Thiruvananthapuram on December 16, attended by political parties, religious leaders, and cultural leaders is a symbol of our united determination to uphold constitutional values and basic human rights, and to oppose discrimination.

•We cannot postpone our protest and united resistance against this assault on secularism and democracy.

📰 Defence ties to get push at ‘2+2’ with U.S.

Jaishankar, Rajnath to meet Pompeo and Esper today

•Enhanced defence cooperation, furthering their Indo-Pacific strategy, and discussions on global challenges, including U.S. policy in Iran and Afghanistan, are likely to feature at the top of the agenda as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh sit down to the second “2+2” combined ministerial meeting with their U.S. counterparts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, on Wednesday.

•On the defence front, the two sides are expected to sign the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) and review steps being taken to operationalise the foundational agreement Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which was signed during the previous 2+2 talks. However, discussions on the last foundational agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA) are not concluded yet, as some differences still remain, official sources said.

•The ISA is crucial for U.S. companies bidding for big ticket Indian deals to partner with Indian private industry, especially the multi-billion dollar deal for 114 fighter jets.

•As part of efforts for co-development and co-production of military hardware, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) is also expected to be signed that “will act as a guide to coordinate projects.”

•In addition, there are several big ticket defence deals in the works, the progress of which will be reviewed. These include the 24 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Multi-Role helicopters worth $2.4bn and 13 BAE Systems built 127 mm MK-45 Naval gun systems, among others. However, threat of U.S. sanctions under CAATSA over S-400 air defence purchases from Russia remains a sticking point.

Quad grouping

•As part of the larger Indo-Pacific focus, the evolving cooperation between the Quad grouping comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. will also be discussed. While Washington has been pushing for greater military engagement, New Delhi has stated that it doesn’t see any military role for the grouping.

•“The 2+2 dialogue is the highest-level institutional mechanism between India and USA that brings together our perspectives on foreign policy, defence and strategic issues,” Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla told news agency PTI in Washington.

•“A lot of progress has been made in the areas of foreign policy and defence between our two countries and we are looking forward to a highly qualitative meeting,” he added.

CAA, Kashmir

•In addition, officials say U.S. concerns over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the protests, which the U.S. state department has spoken about twice now, will come up. “We are closely following developments regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act. We urge authorities to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly. We also urge protesters to refrain from violence,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington on Monday.

•U.S. officials in Delhi have also raised continuing restrictions in Kashmir, including the detention of political leaders as recently as last week, and have made regular requests repeatedly for the government to allow U.S. Embassy diplomats to visit Jammu and Kashmir.

📰 Bearing the brunt of slack laws

The tweaking of labour laws on safety and minimum wage has left a large section of workers in India without rights

•The huge fire that engulfed a residential-cum-production unit in a congested part of Delhi in the early hours of December 8, killing over 40 people, has exposed the precarity of the every-day life of workers in this country. Their unfortunate deaths have merely caused the authorities responsible to indulge in a blame game, without shame, while conveniently sidestepping the larger question of systemic labour rights violation.

•It is evident that numerous industrial clusters have mushroomed in the bylanes of residential localities and slums in our big cities, not merely due to a handful of erring officials of civic agencies but also due to the wider structure of episodic or literally, non-existent regulation of labour conditions in micro-, small- and medium-sized industrial and commercial establishments. In these scores of smaller establishments, the workers are mostly migrants, and tend to work long hours for meagre wages. Often, they are crowded into living quarters inside the production unit itself. Such pervasive informality stems from the limited coverage of labour laws, indicating that the hapless victims of the recent fire were victims of a much greater catastrophe — the lack of state regulation of several kinds of work relations and workplaces.

Out of reach laws

•Indeed, key labour laws in India consistently elude a large section of workers who are denied rights and benefits on the pretext of less regular work contracts, length of employment, nature of establishment (seasonal or perennial), size of the workforce, etc. It is only a minuscule section of organised workers who have actually been granted the same.

•Nevertheless, the present conjuncture is characterised by a new and more offensive attack on labour by capital. A dominant discourse on the “ease of business” aggressively projects India’s labour laws as a fetter on the development of the free market. Utilising the image of protection extended by the law to organised workers of mostly large industrial establishments, employers’ lobbies have successfully projected India’s labour laws as cumbersome, a hindrance to employment generation, and, thus, intrinsically “anti labour”. Any regulation or interventionist approaches to industrial relations have increasingly become a thing of the past.

•Employers’ claims about the lack of labour market flexibility in India are of course unsustainable, given the high levels of employment of contract labour in all kinds of industrial and commercial establishments, steady growth of the informal sector, high labour turnover, the pattern of extended overtime put in by a majority of workers, the growing presence of apprentices and “fixed term” workers in industrial enterprises, the pattern of deskilling or high-skilled workers entering lower-skill segment jobs, as well as the presence of a weak trade union movement which is unable to prevent retrenchment.

•If we focus on the phenomenal growth of India’s informal sector and informal work relations, it is worth noting the specific context in which this development has unfolded. The context is one of deregulation of a large number of work relations; this is most evident in the watering down of the provisions of labour inspection, the growing paradigm of self-certification by employers of their compliance with labour laws, and the tweaking of many statutory labour laws on occupational safety standards, work hours, minimum wage, compensation, industrial disputes, etc. by successive governments, both at the State and Central level.

Retreat of the state

•Taken together, the exemptions provided to smaller industrial and commercial establishments from furnishing proof of their compliance with statutory labour laws, as well as labour law amendments aimed at diluting the authority of the labour inspectorate, have greatly enhanced the power of employers across the board. The “private power” of employers to unilaterally fix wages, extract overtime, manage leaves, determine compensation, etc. has substantially increased with the steady withdrawal of the state from regulation of labour-capital relations that exist in myriad workplaces — from an Anaj Mandi in bustling north Delhi, to a real-estate construction site in Borivali, Mumbai to a garment factory in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, to a brick kiln in Gaya, Bihar.

•Like it or not, promotion of the self-certification system, the continuous weakening of the labour inspectorate by successive governments and persistent dilution of labour laws pose uncomfortable questions, especially when we recognise the intense exploitation of labour by employers, who to stay competitive, consistently push down labour costs by circumventing labour rights. How can employers, who often tend to violate labour rights, themselves become law enforcers/certifiers in the new framework of deregulated industrial relations?

•The brutal reality is that workers contribute their sweat and blood in the making of this economy, and in return the economy gives them a pittance. How many more workers’ lives have to go up in flames before our conscience is awakened?

📰 In pursuit of structural reforms

Economic freedom should become the guiding principle of the nation’s policymaking

•The economic slowdown has pushed many people to demand more structural reforms from the government. But what exactly counts as a structural reform? Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram stated that the government does not understand what structural reforms mean. He also said that only a handful of reforms in the last few decades can really be classified as major structural reforms. Few critics of the government, however, care to elaborate on what they mean by structural reforms and why such reforms are so important. At best, they spell out land and labour reforms without offering a broader framework for a structural reform programme. This has led not only to the portrayal of incremental reforms as radical structural reforms that will imrove growth, but also to the adoption of bad reforms that only benefit special interest groups at the cost of the overall economy as actual structural reforms.

Free from government control

•When economists talk about structural reforms, what they mean are reforms that free the economy from the control of the government and allow markets to allocate resources. The classical liberal economists of the 19th century believed that a minimalist ‘night-watchman’ state that limited its role strictly to the efficient provision of police, and courts that protected people’s property rights and enforced contracts, could bring economic prosperity. Some even argued that the marketplace, in which multiple businesses compete to provide goods and services to consumers, can also offer better policing and legal services than an inefficient monopoly like the government. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised “minimum government, maximum governance” before he assumed power in 2014, the expectation was that he would turn India into a free market paradise. But in the last five and a half years, the role of the government in the economy has only increased significantly with measures such as demonetisation and GST severely undermining people’s economic right to own what they earn.

•A minimalist or limited government, in the classical sense, however, would allow private individuals to own and exploit all economic resources. No sector of the economy would be shielded from private ownership and there would be an active attempt to disinvest almost all the assets that are under the control of the government. It would allow individuals to freely buy and sell anything they wish at whatever price they deem fit through voluntary trade. People will also be allowed to keep almost all of what they earn from such free trade, and private contracts rather than onerous government regulations would be allowed to regulate commerce. Such unfettered free trade, while it benefits consumers, will likely create winners and losers among producers. A minimalist government, however, will have no legal powers to save any business, whether small or large, from failure. People will be allowed to freely enter or exit a market as they wish and compete against anyone they want. Such genuine free market competition would ensure that the production of goods and services rises, prices fall, and the standard of living of the masses increases many-fold as a result. It was through such a drastic cut-down in the role of the government in the economy that countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and China managed to achieve great economic prosperity.

A poor ranking

•The government has flaunted its performance in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking to prove its commitment to reforming the economy. But India’s performance in the ‘Index of Economic Freedom’ ranking (129 out of 180 countries), which cannot be easily influenced by cosmetic changes to a few laws, should be of concern. The ranking, which measures the degree to which an economy is market-oriented, also classifies India as a “mostly unfree” economy. If genuine structural reforms are to be expected, economic freedom should become the guiding principle of policymaking.

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