Three thoughts on Independence Day

New mantras for a new India

It’s been a tradition on this blog to post three thoughts for quiet contemplation on Independence and Republic days. Today, there’s a song to go with them.

Hum Hindustani (1960). Music: Usha Khanna, Lyrics: Prem Dhawan, Singer: Mukesh

The three thoughts: A mantra for the alternative; who says nationalism must be intolerant and what is wrong with asking women to learn martial arts.

The three thought archive:
Three thoughts on on Republic Day 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005;
and on Independence Day 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

What’s wrong with asking women to learn martial arts

A government that can’t prevent women from being molested on the streets is unlikely to do better against criminals and terrorists.

Excerpt from today’s DNA column:

Imagine the Indian Army begins to conduct training camps to train all of us on how to use firearms to defend ourselves against foreign attacks. Imagine they provide booklets on how to make grenades that you could throw at invading soldiers. Imagine the army chief saying that our soldiers can’t be expected defend every single part of the country, overstretched as they are, having to go abroad on UN peacekeeping missions, helping census officials, conducting elections, delivering humanitarian relief and constructing buildings for events like the Commonwealth games. Would we buy this logic?

Yet, this is precisely what we are doing with respect to our police forces. In the face of rampant sexual harassment of women (let’s not trivialise these crimes anymore by calling them ‘eve teasing’) the Delhi police force has decided to rely on D-I-Y methods. It is training women in self-defence techniques, martial arts and handing out pepper-spray recipes outside schools and colleges. Some may see these measures as practical and pragmatic, but they should worry us deeply. For they represent an abdication of the State from its fundamental responsibility – using its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to ensure that there is rule of law. [Read the rest at DNA]

Laws that don’t befit the Indian republic

Which outdated laws should we get rid of, and why?

The recent surge of opinions on whether India—a liberal, democratic republic—ought to retain the colonial-era crime of sedition on its rule books is a good opportunity to discuss the general topic.

Which of those laws, or crimes under the Indian Penal Code, according to you, must be repealed? Why?

(Note: Be brief—that’s the best guarantee that people will read you. Restrict your comment to 150 words or less, per law.)

Restoring order in Jammu & Kashmir

A new Takshashila discussion document charts out a thirteen point plan

You can download Takshashila fellow Sushant K Singh’s 13-point plan here (185 KB, PDF).

The immediate goal for New Delhi and Srinagar should be to restore peace and security in the violence-affected districts of Jammu & Kashmir so that normal activity can resume. This has to be done by suppressing violence, arresting ring-leaders of protesters and actively countering separatists’ plans to direct the pace and scope of social, economic, political and religious life by issuing protest calendars.

The political process in the Valley can only be reactivated fully once the security situation has been brought under control. However certain steps can be initiated to restart the political process immediately. These will have to be undertaken at many levels simultaneously within the state. [Takshashila publications]

Amartya Sen’s wrong idea of justice

Social justice is not justice, and it is dangerous and wrong to conflate the two

It’s not out yet, but we are at imminent risk of being drenched by a book on the principle of justice written by an celebrated expert on…economics. Now, no one would give too much credence to a book on nuclear physics written by a professor of English literature,if not for the Law of Indian Expertise (LIE). That law says that an Indian who has achieved distinction in one area is immediately considered an expert in all others. If you have a Booker or a Nobel, you will immediately be taken seriously by many people on almost anything…including nuclear physics.

According to the Times of India Amartya Sen’s latest book, “The Idea of Justice”, is “his most ambitious book yet.” When Rashmee Roshan Lall asked him to summarise his key argument, Dr Sen’s response was incomprehensible.

Justice is a complex idea (I was not surprised that it took me 496 pages to discuss it), but it is very important to understand that justice has much to do with everyone being treated fairly. Even though that connection has been well discussed by the leading political philosopher of our time, John Rawls, I have argued that he neglects a couple of important connections. One neglect is the central recognition that a theory of justice has to be deeply concerned with systematic assessment of how to reduce injustice in the world, rather than only with the identification of what a hypothetical “perfectly just society” would look like.

There may be no agreement on the shape of perfect justice (and also perfect justice will hardly be achievable even if people did agree about what would be immaculately just), but we can still have reasoned agreement on many removable cases of manifest injustice, for example, slavery, or subjugation of women, or widespread hunger and deprivation, or the lack of schooling of children, or absence of available and affordable health care. Second, analysis of justice has to pay attention to the lives that people are actually able to lead, rather than exclusively concentrating only on the nature of “just institutions”. In India, as anywhere else, we have to concentrate on removing injustices that are identifiable and that can be remedied. [TOI]

Hasan Suroor’s report in The Hindu is more helpful. It says Dr Sen has argued “that there was no such thing as “perfect” justice; that justice was relative to a situation; and that instead of searching for “ideal” justice, the stress should be on removing the more visible forms of injustice such as subjugation of women, poverty and malnutrition.”

It is unjust to criticise Dr Sen’s book before reading it. But it is not unjust to criticise what he says about its contents.

Going by what Ms Lall and Mr Suroor write, he is engaged in the dubious enterprise of conflating “justice” with “social justice”. This is a dangerous argument: for delivering justice is the basic function of the state, and to do this efficiently, a parsimonious definition of justice is necessary. The simplest definition of justice is the redressal of a violation of rights. On the contrary, Dr Sen’s definition is expansive—covering everything from gender inequality to poverty to malnutrition. The more you ask a justice delivery system to do, the less efficiently it can do it, everything else being the same. Since Dr Sen professes to be concerned with practical delivery of justice, he contradicts his own objective by enlarging the scope of what justice should mean.

Then comes his reported contention that “justice is relative to a situation”, which is slippery and dangerous. Justice is the response to an objective evaluation of a deviation from a normative code—for practical purposes, a written or an unwritten constitution. In a rule-of-law environment, justice cannot be “relative to a situation”, but rather, has to be uniform across situations. If violation of rights is objective, how can the redressal be relative and just at the same time? (It’s like saying that justice should be, as a norm, different for a poor burgler caught stealing from Mukesh Ambani’s house and well-fed burgler caught stealing from mine.)

Dr Sen’s line is dangerous because it threatens to reduce the importance of individual rights and freedom, and supplant them with the discourse of social justice. It is dangerous because the premise of justice being relative befits an environment where the law of the jungle prevails, where the more powerful can make subjective decisions that the less powerful have to accept as justice. In a rule-of-law enviroment, the more powerful might still violate the rights of the less powerful, but it can’t be passed off as “justice”.

Related Post: Dandaniti, Arthashastra and Andre Béteille’s observation on Indian constitutional morality

Australian rules

Attack victims must make their case within the bounds of Australian law

Both SM Krishna, India’s foreign minister, and Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, have advised Indian students against—pardon the cliche—taking the law into their own hands. First, Mr Krishna urged the students “to be patient and show restraint…and concentrate on (studies) rather than retaliate”. Then Mr Rudd warned that “it’s unacceptable for anyone to commit an act of violence against any student of any ethnicity anywhere in Australia. It’s equally unacceptable for so-called reprisal attacks and for so-called vigilante action as well.” While Mr Rudd’s attempt to draw an equivalence between the two can be debated, what is indisputable is the fact that where there is rule-of-law, violation of the law has no justification.

But if there is rule-of-law in Australia, why do the Indian students feel the need to set-up “vigilante groups” to protect their compatriots? This is, first, a question for the Australian government and Australian society to contemplate. At the very least it suggests that the response of the Australian state after the first few attacks was found wanting.

Be that as it may: there is no excuse for violating the law. The Indian government must spare no attempt to ensure the safety and security of Indian nationals anywhere in the world. Where they are innocent victims, the government must do what is necessary to protect them and ensure that justice is done. But if they are accused or guilty of an offence, the government’s job is not to apologise or shield them, but rather, that due legal processes are followed and their rights are protected.

Tailpiece: On the matter of racism: Australia is not a racist country. There are racists in Australia, some of who attack foreigners. But it is incorrect and unfair to extend this argument and characterise the whole country as racist. There are anti-racists too and they are speaking up.

Friday Squib: A poet and a revolutionary

But then…

So what if you are one of the top leaders of one of India’s largest underground Maoist party. You still need to get in touch with the wife. In an interview with Romita and Aveek Datta, Mint‘s intrepid reporters, Communist Party of India (Maoist) politburo member Koteshwar Rao says:

My wife Maina is now at Dandakaranya—she is in charge of a group in Bastar (district of Chhattisgarh). We met in Hyderabad when I was state secretary (of Andhra Pradesh) and she was a comrade. The last time we met was two years ago. We communicate through letters—use of mobile phones has been banned by our central committee. I write poems to her and make sure the Indian postal department delivers them to her. I wrote poems after the landmine attack on Buddhbabu’s convoy and also on the day somebody hurled a shoe at (George) Bush. [Mint]

Now before female readers of this blog start forwarding this to their significant others, they should also know that in the very next breath, Mr Rao says that he doesn’t have kids, because “the leadership expects the women in our party to undergo sterilization after marriage.” His interviewers didn’t ask him why vasectomies were not similarly expected of the men in the party. Especially after the comrade declared that his party works for “women’s liberation”.

My op-ed in Mint: Who wants to be good Taliban?

US counter-insurgency in Afghanistan, Pakistan army’s choices and implications for India

In today’s Mint. Sushant & I argue that General Kayani’s political decisions will depend on the course and outcomes of US negotiations with ‘moderate’ Taliban. We suggest that while moderate Taliban is an oxymoron it is also “a label of convenience, using moral connotations to render realpolitik-driven compromises acceptable” and will be applied to whoever the US negotiates with. Excerpts:

So who might end up as the ‘good’ Taliban in the coming months? Mid-level commanders of the militias fighting Western forces are one likely set of contenders—a combination of political accommodation, financial rewards and astute exploitation of inter-tribal rivalries might help distance them from their top leaders. Another set of contenders are the warlords (now called Taliban commanders) who might not share deep loyalties to the al-Qaeda leadership and the Pakistani establishment. How all this will fare is difficult to say, though the cards are heavily stacked against its success. Nevertheless, its course and outcome will determine General Kayani’s political moves in Pakistan.

If the United States decides to engage the type of individuals and groups that are backed by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, General Kayani is likely to want to quickly arrest Pakistan’s political unravelling. The army can then expand its own bargains with the Pakistan Taliban, and relieved of pressure, go back to being its usual self: wielding power, cornering economic opportunities and fighting India.

If, on the other hand, the designation of ‘good’ Taliban does not square with the interests of the military-jihadi complex, then General Kayani has every reason to wait and allow matters to worsen. For the ‘bad’ Taliban will continue to hurt US forces in Afghanistan until Washington folds or quits. Pakistan’s military leadership very likely believes that the United States cannot simultaneously accept the failure of a nuclear-armed Pakistan and the triumph of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

What does this mean for India? There is an urgent need for India to protect itself from the fallout of Pakistan’s Talibanisation. This involves, first, ensuring that the Omar Abdullah government succeeds in ending the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. The new central government will have to imaginatively wind down the visible security presence in Kashmiri towns and villages even as it strengthens vigilance along the LoC and within the state. Second, the internal security lessons of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai must be learnt. And finally, India simply cannot continue the unserious approach to political violence: there must be zero tolerance of vandals, rioters, “sainiks” of one form or another and terrorists.

On the external front, the only way to save Pakistan is to put it under international management. The United States, to paraphrase old Winston, can be trusted to do the right thing after it has exhausted all other options. It is in India’s interests to see that it exhausts them fast enough. [Mint]

Read the rest at LiveMint. (Thanks to Swami Iyer for asking the right question)

Reading the Arthashastra: The rule of law

The science of punishment and the science of government

The concept of dandaniti, variously translated as the science of punishment, the science of chastisement, and in Dr Shamasastry’s translation, even as the science of government may be better understood to be the imposition of the rule of law. Dandaniti is central to Rajdharma—the morality of governance—and is discussed at length in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata. In the Arthashastra, Kautilya suggests why and how the rule of law ought to be applied.

That sceptre on which the well-being and progress of the sciences of Anvikshaki, the triple Vedas, and Varta depend is known as Danda (punishment). That which treats of Danda is the law of punishment or science of government (dandaniti).

It is a means to make acquisitions, to keep them secure, to improve them, and to distribute among the deserved the profits of improvement. It is on this science of government that the course of the progress of the world depends.

“Hence,” says my teacher, “whoever is desirous of the progress of the world shall ever hold the sceptre raised (udyatadanda). Never can there be a better instrument than the sceptre to bring people under control.”

“No,” says Kautilya; for whoever imposes severe punishment becomes repulsive to the people; while he who awards mild punishment becomes contemptible. But whoever imposes punishment as deserved becomes respectable. For punishment (danda) when awarded with due consideration, makes the people devoted to righteousness and to works productive of wealth and enjoyment; while punishment, when ill-awarded under the influence of greed and anger or owing to ignorance, excites fury even among hermits and ascetics dwelling in forests, not to speak of householders.

But when the law of punishment is kept in abeyance, it gives rise to such disorder as is implied in the proverb of fishes (matsyanyayamudbhavayati); for in the absence of a magistrate (dandadharabhave), the strong will swallow the weak; but under his protection, the weak resist the strong. [Arthashastra I:4]

In other words, Kautilya eschews a harsh imposition of punishments in favour of their measured but efficient use.

Now it is not known whether Ravikiran Rao referred to fourth chapter of Book I of the Arthashastra but his article on counter-terrorism policy in this month’s Pragati but some of his arguments reflect the Kautilyan view—especially the need to have a co-operative citizenry.

Beyond terrorism, there is abundant evidence that the modern Indian state is failing in its practice of dandaniti. In this week’s Economic & Political Weekly, Andre Béteille has an excellent essay on constitutional morality in India, where he says that the people of India “are destined to oscillate endlessly between the two poles of constitutionalism and populism without discarding the one or the other”. When even the chiefs of India’s famously disciplined armed forces brazenly disobey orders issued by constitutional authority, and internal security is almost entirely cast in the framework of competitive communalism, you know that the pendulum is well into the populism phase. A swing back towards constitutionalism is way overdue.

Even if Prof Béteille is right and endless oscillations are destiny, the modern day dandaniti should aim to keep their amplitudes small.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

Three thoughts for the Republic

On justice, trade for security and ending competitive intolerance

For reflection on Republic Day: No turns in justice; Security lies in trade; on putting an end to competitive intolerance;

Related Links: Three thoughts on Independence Day 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 & on Republic Day 2007, 2006, 2005