Killing federalism

A country of over 1 billion diverse people cannot be governed from New Delhi alone, or indeed under a ‘tyranny’ of the majority – decentralised administration is the surest path to progress and development.

One reason for the rise of regional parties is perception or reality of insufficient representation of a state’s interests at the Union level. Unlike the United States Senate, India’s Rajya Sabha is not consitituted to give equal weight to all constituent states – large states continue to wield greater power just like in the Lok Sabha. This itself suggests the uncertain priority given to federalism by the constitution’s founding fathers. But as Kuldip Nayar argues, the recent waiver of residency requirements for a Rajya Sabha seat is a mockery of the entire concept of federalism.

Some 75 members, roughly one-third, retire this year from the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of 250. For the first time, the state assemblies will elect members without the residential qualification. When the Constitution was framed, it was made obligatory that only those people who were normally a resident of that state would be returned to the Rajya Sabha. The amendment passed last year dropped the domicile condition, making the election of anyone from anywhere possible.[Kuldip Nayar/Indian Express]

Already the dangers of population based proportional representation is creating a sad irony: progressive states that have been able to check overpopulation tend to lose seats in the national parliament. This gives a state no incentive to tackle the very real problem of overpopulation. Major political parties colluded in the move to pervert the institution of the Rajya Sabha. In doing so, they have may have created yet another component of a centrifugal force that can threaten national unity.

India’s healthcare priority

The Economist makes a timely point.

When silence is not golden: One subject not being discussed in India’s current election campaign is AIDS. Yet, on the most conservative of estimates, 600,000 Indians already have the disease and 4.58m are infected with HIV, the virus that causes it. That means India ranks second only to South Africa in terms of its number of infections—and that with only about 0.9% of the adult population HIV-positive, compared with over 20% in South Africa. If India’s rate were to rise by just a few percentage points, not only would millions more Indians be condemned to live with—or, more likely, die of—AIDS, but so would millions of their neighbours. India’s population alone is much bigger than the whole of Africa’s. Throw in that of Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, and you have the makings of a regional pandemic affecting nearly a quarter of the world. [The Economist]

More generally, it is time that there is a deep rethink on India’s healthcare system. What passes off as a healthcare system today is a number of ill-equipped apathetic underfunded government hospitals which are hotbeds of corruption and squalour. Being essentially free of charge, the government hospitals are unable to attract good doctors or invest in modern facilities, while attracting large numbers of poor patients. Black markets and corruption are the inevitable result.

Its time to move away from “free” medical care to a co-payment model. The health insurance system is totally isolated from hospitals and pharmacies. These have to be brought together into a coherent healthcare system – not an easy task for any country, but nevertheless one of the top social priorities for India. The involvement of the private sector into the public healthcare system will be a necessary first step.

AIDS is shocking because of sheer numbers – but there are a number of deadly diseases that diminish lives in India. Along with specific campaigns to tackle ‘branded’ diseases it is equally important to put in place a healthcare system that can take care of a billion Indians; a large number of whom earn less than one dollar a day.

The penalty is death

The Age, an Australian newspaper, reminds us that the death penalty is a human-rights issue. A timely reminder, as an Australian national is facing the death penalty in Singapore for drug-smuggling. Now Singapore is well-known for its zero-tolerance policy for dangerous crimes something which is reflected in the low crime rates in the city-state. The paper argues

The fact that most of Singapore’s executions have been for drug offences suggests that the death penalty has failed to deter the trade in illegal drugs, too. The Age has long opposed use of the death penalty in any circumstances. It is a resort to barbarism, even when it is imposed on those who have themselves committed great acts of barbarism [The Age]

This is wrong. While drug-dealing has not been eliminated totally, Singapore’s record on curbing drug addiction and trafficking is the best in the region. That drug addiction affects not just individuals, but families and societies is well known: in a way, drug dealing is a crime against society and deserves the highest punishment.

Gandhi and Chauri Chaura

Time Man of the Year 1930It is my belief that Gandhism has a template that can be used to resolve many of the long-standing, seemingly intractable disputes raging around the world – the Palestinian struggle, the Sri Lankan Tamil queston, and yes, even Kashmir. It requires strong, principled leadership which goes beyond paying lip service to ‘peace processes’ and is able to stand down its violent, extremist components.

Gandhi did so – and the best example is Chauri Chaura. After a violent mob razed a colonial police station, he had no hesitation in calling the entire non-cooperation movement off, setting back the entire freedom struggle by a decade according to some. Niranjan Ramakrishnan has a great piece in Counter Punch, titled The Great Trial of 1922: Gandhi’s Vision of Responsibility

Stopping the non-cooperation movement following Chauri Chaura was one of Gandhi’s most significant acts — a cleansing of the body politic, in effect. Years later, despite several heapings of criticism, from being called a confused man to being called a British lackey, he did not waver on the correctness of the decision. Writing in 1928, he said, “[to] this date I have felt that I have served the country by calling off the non-co-operation movement. I am confident that history will look upon it as a form of perfect satyagraha and not as an act of cowardice.” [CounterPunch]

From court records

Religion-based citizenship is a bad policy

The government of India has announced that it is granting citizenship to Pakistani Hindus who have spent five years in India. The announcement makes it appear that citizenship was granted to the Pakistanis just because they were Hindus (or vice versa), and implies that religion was a basis for the government’s decision.

Citizenship laws are clear – one can become an Indian citizen by birth, naturalisation or registration. The constitution is clear on who qualifies. Nowhere is religion a criterion.

While what the government has done may not be unconstitutional (for they seem to have met the minimum requirements for citizenship) the implied signals are misleading. And if it there is an official government policy on granting citizenship on religion it is wholly wrong and against the spirit of the constitution.