Eyes wide shut : Ethics of governance

eye-shutA new chapter was recently added to the old debate on the relationship between the political executive and the senior bureaucracy when the Chief Secretary of National Territory of Delhi accused a couple of legislators of the ruling party of assaulting him in the presence of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister. Notwithstanding the special status of Delhi as a Union Territory State with confusion about the supremacy of the elected government, it was a moment of reckoning for civil servants. And having spent a large part of my life in government, it set me thinking on the subject of coexistence of politicians and civil servants in a democratic set up.

It has been my recurrent discontent that the civil servants do not pay much attention to reflecting on the essence of public service adequately, and that they have failed to create sufficient energy in their transactions with the citizen. They do not see the need to force changes in the existing mode of administration. They underestimate their designated role in the system and are content to live in their comfort zones. They do not realise that their action reinforces the status quo.

It is a truism that the craft of state building requires both a political executive to envision the wishes of the people and a permanent civil service to help translate them into reality. It is also true that the subject of politician-bureaucrat relationship has not attracted much attention from the political thinkers in our country. I for one consider this relationship as critical in a growing democracy like India. Since the politician does not show much interest in resolving the problem, the civil servant will have to try to steer the relationship in the best interest of the State while keeping the institutional integrity intact.

arvind-kejriwal-delhi-chiefOver the years, a number of incidents relating to the unsettled relations between the political bosses and bureaucrats have been making news. Top civil servants being shown the door unceremoniously and public scolding of district officials by the ministers are common occurrences in some states. There have been several cases of constructive cooperation between the two in acts of organised corruption. But an allegation of physical assault on the chief of the civil service in a State was something unusual. I refrain from expressing my views on the incident because the facts are unclear and vehemently disputed.

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evm-in-indiaSO, what is the truth about the dark shadow of doubt that continues to linger over Indian Electronic Voting Machine (EVM)—that they can be hacked or rigged to fix elections. The controversy acquires a fresh lease of life after every election in a country where the electoral machinery is in a state of perpetual motion. If the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are considered as the limbs of a well-functioning democracy, then the sanctity and fairness of the electoral process through which India elects its legislators to give itself a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” is its lifeblood. In case, this lifeblood gets contaminated by toxic pathogens such as rigging, booth capturing, ballot stuffing or hacking of EVMs leading to manipulations of votes cast, then the health of democracy is at grave peril.

Therefore, it’s pertinent to ask two questions. 1. Is it possible to hack Indian Electronic Voting Machines? 2. Have they been hacked to alter the outcome of an election? The short answer to the first question is: yes, technologically speaking, it’s possible to hack or manipulate EVMs. That’s what a number of computer scientists confirmed to gfiles, both on record and off the record.

evm-install-engineerThe answer to the second question, however, is a lot more complex. We don’t know whether elections have been compromised because the Election Commission of India (ECI) has continuously stonewalled all attempts by independent computer security experts to test the machines for vulnerabilities that could be exploited to manipulate votes. It has steadfastly denied critical information that would enable people to dispel or confirm the doubts that continue to persist about the integrity of the machines. It’s for these two reasons that all political parties across the spectrum, from the left to the right, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently in power in 21 states across the country, have fanned the controversies and conspiracy theories about EVM fixing, especially after losing an election battle. In this cross-current of accusations and counter claims, the core issue of whether the EVMs are really vulnerable to manipulation tends to drift away from focus.

For the moment, the people of India have to rely on ECI’s claims that all is well and EVMs are tamper-proof despite offering no demonstrable evidence or an independent audit report to back up its assertions. Several of the claims made by the ECI in its latest Electronic Voting Machines in India: A status paper, have been questioned by computer scientists and security experts that gfiles spoke to.

David D. Dill is a Professor of Computer Science at the Stanford University. He is acknowledged globally as an expert on computer security and electronic voting. He has worked for over 15 years in the US towards making election results trustworthy. He remains sceptical about ECI’s claims. “I have heard presentations from the ECI at a conference in the U.S. a few years ago and found them unconvincing,” wrote Dill in an email response to a set of question sent to him by gfiles. He goes on to offer an even stronger counter. “Claims that a machine cannot be hacked are almost always false, and often demonstrated to be false in the most embarrassing possible way,” says Dill.

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Governance : UN against illicit tobacco trade

tobacco-tradeIllicit cigarette smuggling has over the years created a multitude of problems for India. It negatively impacts financial health resulting from tax arbitrage; it has also led to a sharp rise in anti-social activities as elements actively indulging in illicit cigarette trade are using the proceeds to fund their terror operations. In addition, it has resulted in the loss and export of jobs which are directly proportional to the spread of the illicit cigarette market and finally, it has a serious impact on domestic tobacco farmers causing tremendous distress and anguish.

Cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting has been a serious point of concern for both the government and industry as the penetration of illicit cigarettes has seen a constant rise over the years. There has been a decline in sale of legal cigarettes between 2011-2017. It is a matter of fact that the legal sale of cigarettes in India by volume fell from 110 billion stick units in 2011-12 to 81 billion stick units in 2016-17 and recent studies indicate that this is expected to fall further by 2020. The illicit cigarette sticks sold in the country as per Euromonitor is approxi-mately 24.8 billion.

ON June 27, 2018, the conditions for the entry into force of the first legally binding instrument adopted under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) were met, paving the way to eliminate illicit trade of tobacco products.

The Protocol was developed in response to the growing international illicit trade in tobacco products, which poses major health, economic and security concerns around the world. It is estimated that one in every 10 cigarettes and tobacco products consumed globally is illicit.

fctc-cop8This achievement is a milestone in the history of tobacco control, as the Protocol contains a full range of measures to combat illicit trade distributed in three categories: preventing illicit trade, promoting law enforcement and providing the legal basis for international cooperation.

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STATESCAN : Chandigarh ‘Metropolis’ as Punjab Capital?

metropolitan-city-PunjabBY definition a Metropolis is a large city or conurbation which is a significant economic, political, and cultural centre for a country or region, and an important industrial / commercial hub. A big city belonging to a larger urban agglomeration, but which is not the core of that agglomeration, is not generally considered a metropolis but a part of it.

Edict of Chandigarh as set by Le Corbusier at the foundation of the City in 1950 reads thus: “The city of Chandigarh is planned to human scale. It puts us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which the citizens can live a full and harmonious life. Here the radiance of nature and heart are within our reach.” The edict was meant to enlighten the present and future citizens of Chandigarh about the basic concepts of planning of the city, so that they become its guardians and save it from individualistic whims.

chandigard-beautiful-cityThe last thing Le Corbusier wanted was for Chandigarh to become a Metropolis and, worse, a part-Metropolis. This is what he said: “People say that life must come in the city from other source or activity especially industry. An industrial city is not the same as an administrative city. One must not mix the two…. We must take care that any temptations do not kill the goal, which was foreseen at the moment of the foundation of the city.”

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Book Extract : How Babri Masjid fell, brick by brick

born-to-serverTHE atmosphere in Lucknow was surcharged with the developments relating to the Babri Masjid. Both the Central Government and the State Government had given an assurance to the Supreme Court that they would protect the Babri Masjid. On the other hand the Kar Sevaks were coming to Ayodhya from all over the country. There was no way of stopping them from going to Ayodhya. Police did search them to ensure that no arms were being carried. Every day the gathering of Kar Sevaks was increasing. The Supreme Court was keeping a watch on the situation and taking an assurance from the State Government that all precautions to protect the Babri Masjid had been taken.

One day Kalyan Singh went to Delhi to see the Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. I accompanied him to the Prime Minister’s residence. While I sat outside, both of them proceeded inside. After an hour Kalyan Singh came out and sat in the car with me. He turned to me and said, “Yogendra, do you know what the Prime Minister told me.” I looked at him. “The Prime Minister told me that the ASI had, in the course of its digging under the Babri Masjid as per directions of the Supreme Court, actually found remnants of a temple at the location.” This confirmed the fact that the Babri Masjid had been built after razing a temple on that place. I was surprised but Kalyan Singh felt quite relieved. This is what his party had been saying always.


With Nirmala Maa of Sahaj Yoga and her husband CP Srivastava who was Joint Secretary to Lal Bahadur Shastri

As the Kar Sevaks gathered in Ayodhya, the Central Government rushed Central para-military forces to the temple town. The strength of the central forces increased day by day as did the strength of the Kar Sevaks. It was an explosive situation under the watch of the Supreme Court, the Central Government, the State Government, as well as the Muslim and Hindu communities.

Then came 6th December 1992. The Chief Minister, together with Lalji Tandon and Sri Om Prakash Singh were closeted together in front of a TV in the Chief Minister’s house. I sat outside the Chief Minister’s room. Lunch was served to all of them. They were glued to the TV even while they lunched. Some Kar Sevaks had got on top of the Babri Masjid. The Central forces were trying to pull them down. LK Advani and many other dignitaries were sitting on an erected platform nearby and were giving speeches.

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Globe Scan : US-China-Russia-India : New Wars of 21st Century

THE global order is in a flux. Leading world powers like the US, China and Russia are hedging their bets and working out strategic options in an environment beset by uncertainty. India too is carefully weighting alternatives, as it plays footsie with the US, tries to maintain its age-old friendship with Russia, and struggles to manage complex ties with China, the Asian dragon.

US President Donald Trump has turned the American policy on its head. The old certainties of a multilateral trade regime and liberal values of democracy and human rights are no longer sacrosanct. He walked out of the Paris Climate Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership, UN Human Rights Council, and the Iran nuclear agreement. He is quibbling with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) for the latter to pay its dues and not rely on the US to foot the future defence bills for European security. Trump, a billionaire tycoon and a Reality TV star, is not an establishment man, and is bent on doing everything differently from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who is disliked by the former’s supporters. As a deal maker in business, Trump believes in bilateral, and not multilateral, negotiations.

During his election campaign, Trump raged against China for illegal trade practices, which hurt American businesses. He charged China with “raping” US interests, manipulating its currency to make exports more competitive. He promised to fix China.

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Globe Scan : Sino-Indian ties : Chinese envoy’s googly

Chinese-Ambassador-to-IndiaON June 18 the Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui took diplomatic watchers by surprise with an elaborate but a contentious statement suggesting a trilateral summit under Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to settle boundary issues between India and Pakistan. The occasion and the context in which the envoy made the comment left little doubt that it was not an off the cuff remark. He was speaking at a seminar organised by the Chinese Embassy on the subject, ‘Beyond Wuhan: How Far and Fast Can China-India Relations Go’.

India was quick to dismiss the statement as “personal opinion” of the envoy while reiterating that all issues between India and Pakistan are to be settled bilaterally and that there was no scope whatsoever for a third party intervention. Response of New Delhi to the suggestion of the Chinese envoy was restrained and matter of fact. In the past India had strongly rejected similar ideas as tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of the country. Even China sought to distance itself from the speech of its envoy but there were few takers for the avowal….
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Bric a Brac : Nitish for PM

bjp-party-symbolSpeculation on the results of the 2019 general elections has already begun. There is a discomfort in the ruling BJP leadership. We’ll tell you why. It is learnt that the patriarchal RSS has undertaken an internal survey of all parliamentary constituencies. And, the top leadership was shocked to receive the data from the psephologist, who has predicted that BJP may not have more than 160-180 parliamentary seats in 2019 at present. There is another theory that hinges on whether the BJP loses the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram. The detractors of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are waiting for that day to attack. If BJP loses the next round of assembly elections, then the onslaught will be against Party President Amit Shah. Insiders reveal that it is yet to be seen when Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will hold the assembly elections. Observers disclosed that there may be slight postponement of the four state elections and preponement of parliamentary elections. The interesting part of the story is what will happen if the BJP gets only 160-180 seats in 2019. First, Amit Shah will have to go as party president and a new BJP head will have to be selected by the RSS. In all probability, in the above given scenario Narendra Modi would have to pave the way for a new incumbent if allies are not ready to move ahead with him as the PM. Who will be the new incumbent? It will depend on the allies and the RSS. Among the allies, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in all likelihood will jump in the fray and claim the post. He has good relations with most of the leaders. Indications of such a move are already visible with the election of JDU’s Harivansh Narain Singh as Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. gfiles end logo

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Bric a Brac : Gesture of Rijiju

kiran-rijijuParliament is a forum for discussion and debates of national importance. Sometime the debates are heated and sometimes humorous but the ministers generally never lose their tempers. Even if a minister loses it, he or she generally meets the MPs after the debate and expresses regrets. MP Sugata Bose is the grandson of veteran freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose. He is highly educated and has been a professor of history at Harvard University. As the Assam National Citizens Register (NCR) case became the burning topic in Parliament, Sugata Bose fired many questions at the ruling party. The questions was so scorching that the Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju – who was representing the government in the House – lost his temper. Rijiju’s reply to Bose was such that the latter was taken aback for a while. But instead of extenuating the matter, he decided on quietly taking his seat. Rijiju’s reply was that people who are questioning the NRC are anti-nationalists. However, Rijiju soon realised what he had said. As soon as the session ended, he went straight to Sugata and apologised that he didn’t intend to question his patriotism, rather he was carrying his party’s line on the matter. Boss smiled. He knew that when minister is a good pawn of the party, such things happen. gfiles end logo

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Bric a Brac : Power, Pawar and Patels

Sharad-PawarSTUNG by Congress’ taunt that Sharad Pawar’s NCP never takes the front seat, the Maharashtra politician appointed Vandana Chavan as the joint opposition candidate for the post of Rajya Sabha’s Deputy Chairman. Prickled by his boss’ decision, Praful Patel opposed it vehemently. In Parliament, he told friends and whoever else was willing to listen, that this was a bad move for various reasons. One, the opposition candidate, even if a joint one, was likely to lose. Two, NCP was a puny party, and the largest of the opposition parties should have taken the initiative to appoint a consensus candidate. Three, Pawar’s decision may actually break the bonhomie among the various opposition parties. But it wasn’t such a simple-and-shut scenario. Over the years, the NCP has played a blow-hot, blow-cold game with both the Congress and BJP. Its senior leaders, including Pawar and Patel, have adopted varying political strategies. This was openly evident during the Rajya Sabha election of Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s Political Advisor, from Gujarat. The NCP played a chaotic and confused game – it initially said it would support Ahmed, and later did a U-Turn and maintained that it would go with the BJP. Finally, Ahmed scraped through, but only because the Election Commission disqualified two Congress MLAs’ votes for showing their ballots to others. After the election, the Congress disqualified several MLAs as they defied the party’s whip to vote for Ahmed Patel. The curious case of NCP, Congress and BJP, as well as Pawar and two Patels is like to take more mysterious turns in the near future. gfiles end logo

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