India cannot achieve its strategic objectives if Kashmiris remain targets of harassment, and minorities are vilified
In recent months, those with experience in monitoring Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan had been getting distinctly uncomfortable. There were signals emanating from Pakistan pointing to a new turn. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was trying to make overtures to India and conveying that his government would be one with a difference, a ‘Naya-Pakistan’ as he called it. Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had earlier attempted to confound observers through a long interaction with the media, which came to be touted as the Bajwa Doctrine, and was ‘supposed’ to be a hand of friendship.
The offer to open the Kartarpur Corridor and the fast-track progress to the conduct of ceremonies to launch the construction of the project were uncharacteristic. His presence at the ceremony on the Pakistani side appeared to reflect total consensus and support of the Army.
It was somehow the wrong time for Pakistan to be making peace overtures when the Indian elections were approaching. Pakistan could not have expected any big and strategic decisions, and sure enough India’s response to everything was lukewarm. The circumstances did not permit any traction unless a firm commitment was given about the withdrawal of all support from across the border to terrorists.
New terror tactics
Whenever Pakistan starts to speak the language of peace, it raises hackles in India because it seems evident that something unusual is in the offing and overtures are primarily there to bait India. It has been proved again at Pulwama, with the most dastardly act perpetrated since the beginning of the 30-year-long proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir. Two issues are of relevance here. The first is that the return of the car bomb and the improvised explosive device (IED) to the Kashmir theatre was predicted for the last one year. The trend had died out after the last effective IED attack, on an Army bus in July 2008, and the last car bomb attack, again on an Army bus on the very same road, in 2004. IEDs had been rampant earlier but car bombs were few and far between. It was the progressive improvement in the fabrication of IEDs and car bombs in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the internal security environment of Pakistan that probably gave an impetus to perceptions about their potential usage once again in Kashmir.
The Pakistani experience had also much to do with religiously radicalized young men strapped with explosives detonating themselves at gatherings of people — the suicide bomber as against the suicide fighter. Suicide bombing was neither experienced in earlier years nor has it manifested itself yet in Kashmir. Its threat potential, of course, remains live and its entry could further change the nature of the proxy war.
Pakistan’s deep state has been aware that the Indian security forces have achieved much in the last two years in terms of neutralization of terrorists, although almost the same number have been added through fresh recruitment or infiltration. In order to reduce the domination and effectiveness achieved by the security forces and to limit their freedom of movement, the reintroduction of these devices could achieve much. That is because the unpredictability factor of IEDs and car bombs is so high that it forces a larger than normal deployment of security forces.
Sign of Pakistan’s confidence
The second relevant issue, or observation, is that Pakistan’s self-confidence has been increasing. This has been despite the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) surveillance, its reduced foreign exchange reserves and a failing economy. The backing from China and, most importantly, Pakistan’s enhanced geostrategic and geopolitical significance in the light of the U.S. decision to pull out in full from Afghanistan have also contributed to it.
The moment that decision on Afghanistan was taken, Pakistan once again acquired leverage with the big powers and all stakeholders for peace in Afghanistan. The realization that it held the key to the return of the Taliban, the upholding of all its agreements with the foreign forces and future stability, gave Pakistan a strategic boost.
The U.S. started courting it in a reversal of President Donald Trump’s policy which had questioned the utility of such nations which had taken excess U.S. funding as aid and never delivered strategic advantage to it.
It is the first sign of Pakistan’s increasing confidence that can be seen in the Pulwama attack executed by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), an organisation virtually sponsored and owned by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Initial investigation suggests careful planning, infiltration of an ‘IED doctor’ (a technical person capable of fabricating IEDs) and a module fully functional at work with a network of overground workers. An apparent risk analysis in Pakistan would have revealed that with the internal health and state of equipment of the Indian armed forces under intense negative discussion in India, the feasibility of a response would be remote.
An energetic impetus to terror would follow and this would probably have an effect on the electoral prospects of the current National Democratic Alliance government, besides preparing ground for extended violence into the future. Time and again Pakistan has been wrong in the assessments it makes.
While the mortal remains of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were transported for last rites to cities and villages all over India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly promised retribution for the loss and emphasized that he had given the freedom of choosing the time, mode and place to the Indian Army. A rare political consensus, short-lived no doubt, has appeared in New Delhi, and the media is discussing military options. To be realistic, that is how the modern world functions, on the power of public opinion.
If that be so, what options does the Indian government have? The diplomatic one is already under execution although the energy of Indian diplomacy to paint Pakistan red must flow longer and focus on not only important capitals of the world but also significant international think tanks and media. The Most Favoured Nation status and measures involving control of water under the Indus Waters Treaty remain soft options, sans much optics.
It’s the military domain which is demanding Mr. Modi’s focus. A risk analysis would already be under way to examine a range of options or combinations. It could start with covert operations which can be ongoing, to trans-border raids several notches higher than the surgical strikes and targeting Pakistan Army resources as against terrorist infrastructure, and surgical air strikes against terrorist bases inside Pakistan. Ground-based operations restricted to Jammu & Kashmir and harking back to some of the options of yesteryear could form a part of the overall response. However, it should be remembered that Pakistan will not permit such actions without its military response, which too would be robust.
Time to be cool headed
The Indian national leadership would do well not to be guided by the immediacy of electoral considerations; national security interests transcend this. Whatever are the selected options, the two things that would make for stronger execution are political consensus and management of internal social cohesion. India cannot achieve its strategic objectives if Kashmiris remain targets of physical abuse and harassment, and minorities are vilified on social media. It is a difficult time for India and the leadership has to work overtime to ensure that the Indian armed forces have a ‘firm base’ to operate from; that is always a military need anyway.
How the 16th Lok Sabha fared
Important bills were passed; but going forward there must be debate on the anti-defection law
The 16th Lok Sabha had its final sitting last Wednesday, marking an end to a disappointing five-year period. This Lok Sabha was surpassed only by the preceding one in terms of the low number of hours it worked. It met for 1,615 hours, 40% lower than all full-term Parliaments. This shows a decline in the number of sitting days over the decades as well as a significant part of the scheduled time lost to disruptions. This Lok Sabha sat for 331 days (against a 468-day average for all previous full-term Lok Sabhas), and lost 16% of its time to disruptions.
Though there were no extreme incidents — an MP used pepper spray in the 15th Lok Sabha — MPs often broke the rules. The House was often disrupted by MPs carrying placards, entering the well, and even on occasion, blocking their colleagues from speaking. A big casualty was Question Hour — the Lok Sabha lost a third of this time and the Rajya Sabha 60%; consequently, just 18% of the starred questions in each House got an oral reply.
However, Parliament made some important laws. The Goods and Services Tax was implemented and the bankruptcy code was enacted. The IIM Act gave premier management educational institutions a level of autonomy not available to other public educational institutions. The Juvenile Justice Act allowed children (between 16 and 18 years) accused of committing heinous crimes to be prosecuted as adults. New Acts were passed: for treatment of mental health patients, and those with HIV/AIDS. Another Act was passed to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities.
There was some effort to address the issues of corruption, black money and leakages. The Prevention of Corruption Act was amended to make bribe-giving an offence. Laws were made requiring a declaration of assets held outside India, and to declare as fugitives those economic offenders who had fled the country. The Aadhaar Act was passed to create a biometric-based identity system.
This brings us to the manner in which some Bills were passed. The Aadhaar Act was passed as a Money Bill — and upheld (incorrectly in my opinion) by the Supreme Court. The Constitution defines a Bill as a Money Bill if it contains provisions that exclusively relate to taxes or government spending. Importantly, such Bills need majority support only in the Lok Sabha, with the Rajya Sabha having just a recommendatory role. Arguing that Aadhaar was primarily a subsidy delivery mechanism, and not an identity system seems like a stretch, but that was the majority decision of the Supreme Court. However, there has not been much conversation on the various Finance Bills that have been passed as Money Bills.
The Finance Bill is traditionally introduced with the Budget, and contains all the legislative changes to tax laws. Therefore, it is usually a Money Bill. However, Finance Bills, in the last few years, have included items which have no relation to taxes or to expenditure of the government. The Finance Bill, 2015 included provisions to merge the regulator of commodity exchanges with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. The Finance Bill, 2016 included amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act which relate to donations to non-profits. The Finance Bill, 2017 went further and changed the compositions of 19 quasi-judicial bodies such as the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the National Green Tribunal and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), and repealed seven other bodies including the Competition Appellate Tribunal.
About half the clauses of the 2018 Bill were on issues unrelated to taxes. Even the Finance Bill, 2019 presented with the interim Budget amended the provisions related to attaching property under the money laundering law. It is difficult to see how these Bills would fall within the narrow definition of Money Bill, as defined in Article 110 of the Constitution.
A few other Bills, such as the Triple Talaq Bill and the Citizenship Bill, were passed by the Lok Sabha but will lapse as they were not passed by the Rajya Sabha. It is evident that the government was able to have its way on every issue in the Lok Sabha and was held in check only due to a lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha; even this check was bypassed occasionally using the Money Bill route. The government could do this as a result of the antidefection provision which gives complete control of all party votes to the party leadership. This law has converted MPs from being representatives of the people to delegates of the party. If the party in government has a majority of its own, it can have any provision passed; even coalition governments have to convince just a handful of leaders of their alliance partners.
Review the anti-defection law
Parliament plays the central role in our democracy by holding the government to account and scrutinizing proposed laws and financial priorities. With the end of the 16th Lok Sabha, it is time to ponder on how to make this institution more effective. An important step will be by reviewing the anti-defection law that has hollowed out the institution.
Supreme Court’s split decision flags the need to address complexities in Centre-UT ties
The Supreme Court’s split decision on the question of whether the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) has executive control over those in its service points to the inherent complexity of the relations between the Delhi government and the Centre. The disadvantages of not having full statehood status has been felt by many elected regimes in Delhi. But under Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party government, and with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the extent of acrimony has been severe. Battles have been fought in the political and judicial spheres over whether some subject or the other falls under the Delhi government or is the exclusive preserve of the Centre. A Constitution Bench ruling last year provided a framework to resolve such issues. It held that the Lt. Governor has to act either on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, or abide by the decision of the President on a reference made by him. The power to refer “any matter” to the President did not mean “every matter” should go that way. Specific issues were left to a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, which has resolved most issues. It has upheld the Delhi government’s power to appoint prosecutors, levy and revise stamp duty on property transactions and issue notifications under the Delhi Electricity Reform Act.
Both judges agree that there is no ‘service’ in the Delhi government, as all its employees come under the ‘Central services’.
Its civil servants are drawn from the DANICS cadre, a service common to various Union Territories. Justice Sikri believes that going by a Constitution Bench decision last year, the NCTD would indeed have the power to deploy officials within its own departments. However, the absence of a public service in Delhi means Entry 41 in the State List (services; service commissions) would imply that it is a matter inapplicable to ‘Union Territories’, and therefore, the LG need not act on the Delhi government’s aid and advice.
Therefore, he favours a solution under which transfers and postings of officers in the rank of Joint Secretary and above could be directly submitted to the LG, and those of others be processed by the Council of Ministers and sent to the LG. In case of any dispute, the LG’s view will prevail. Justice Bhushan, on the other hand, has ruled that once it is accepted that there is no ‘service’ under the NCTD, there is no scope for its government to exercise any executive power in this regard. A larger Bench will now decide on the question relating to control over the services. The more significant challenge is to find a way out of the complexities and problems thrown up by the multiple forms of federalism and power-sharing arrangements through which relations between the Centre and its constituent units are regulated.
Rajaji Tiger Reserve
Nagarahole Tiger Reserve
Ranthambore Tiger Reserve
Kaziranga tiger reserve
Orang tiger reserve
Agroforestry is a land use management system in which trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland. This intentional combination of agriculture and forestry has varied benefits, including increased biodiversity and reduced erosion.