Voter registration is online

First register to vote. Then make sure you vote

Register to Vote

General elections have been announced. If you are not on the voters list, or are not sure that you are, just go over to Jaago Re and register online as soon as possible. Spread the word. Bug your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. Nag them until they sign up.

And on polling day, make sure you vote.

Mr Chawla must go

He should not have been appointed to the Election Commission in the first place

Let’s be clear: if the institution of the Election Commission is becoming politicised, and if the controversy over Navin Chawla’s continuance in that office leads to a constitutional crisis, the entire blame lies unambiguously at the door of the Congress Party.

Just how hard would it have been to find a decent, uncontroversial, experienced serving or former bureaucrat to occupy the office that acts as the most respected guardian of India’s electoral politics?

Why choose a person who the Shah Commission declared “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”?

So let’s not lose a sense of perspective amid all the sanctimonious sophistry about whether it was “proper” for Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy to have recommended Mr Chawla’s sacking. Appointing Mr Chawla to the Election Commission was an unpardonable act of cynicism by a party that has so totally run the country to the ground.

The only honourable course is the for UPA government to accept Mr Gopalaswamy’s recommendation and proceed to remove Mr Chawla. Or, perhaps, persuade him to ‘resign in order not to drag the office into controversy’.

Vote, you fools!

There are no shortcuts to good governance. Certainly not negative ones

A group of well-meaning citizens and organisations came together in Mumbai on 11th January and “discussed strategies for networking, shortlisting common activities and adding value to each others’  core competencies”. Among those present were members from Youth For Equality, Yuva, Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Praja. Also present were incipient political parties like Loksatta, Jago Party and the Professionals Party of India. [Update: See ADR’s clarification at the bottom of the post]

These groups “consensually decided” that  “a pan-India platform of groups, individuals and political parties should be formed  with an  initial focus on Mumbai in the lead up to the April-May Lok Sabha elections.”So far so good. Greater middle class engagement in civic life is a good thing. Until you see that these groups—which includes political parties and a well-regarded election monitoring NGO—“consensually” decided to

4. Have a single point “NO VOTE” campaign for the April-May 09 (Lok Sabha) elections. The plan is to tap into  public disgust with political incompetence by asking people to vote for candidates who add an alias “No Vote”to their name, thus giving voters an option to use a NO VOTE option even though there is no such provision in the Constitution. [via email]

What an astounding waste that will be! Some of the most promising, public-minded young people come together and decide not to vote! Just why couldn’t these ingenious people decide to put up one good candidate and campaign for him? Wouldn’t this send an even more powerful signal to those incompetent politicians?

Isn’t it tragic that when the decent citizens decide to engage in civic activities that they long neglected, they come back to trivialise, undermine and ultimately subvert Indian democracy? The Mumbai meeting did mention some other proposals to improve governance—but the adoption of as wretched an idea as a “no vote” campaign fatally undermines its credibility. The good people behind this ill-considered move would do well to jettison the “no vote” plan when they meet later this week.

On the importance of voting: A common bank of votes & notes, on DCubed; Vote, you fools! here on this blog; Rohit Pradhan’s article in Pragati; V Anantha Nageswaran in Mint

Update: ADR’s Professor Trilochan Shastry writes in an email:

We never said this. There is some mistake.

We are only saying there should be a button on the EVM saying “None of the above”. This is also a demand of the election commission.

If you have been sending out emails on this, please send out corrections as well.

The paragraph you have highlighted below is not from ADR.

Since the minutes of the January 11th meeting are of public interest, I have decided to make them available here, sans phone numbers and email addresses to protect privacy. The minutes indicate that the “no vote” plan was agreed upon consensually in the presence of an ADR representative. Professor Shastry’s clarification is therefore welcome.

Comical Gilani

The farce is with him

Yousuf Raza Gilani, who became Pakistan’s prime minister before he knew what was going on, and remains prime minister without knowing what is going on (and, is likely to still not know what is going down even after not remaining the prime minister) has upstaged the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson—historically, and arguably, ex officio the funniest man in Pakistan. Yes, yes, we know, this allegation too is baseless.

Mr Gilani, a decent person that he might be, still cannot triumph over human psychology. He’s got to prove—well, it’s not clear to exactly who—that he is, after all, constitutionally the chief executive. Never mind that between his civilian boss, his military ‘subordinate’ and his American ally there are few areas where there is room to prove anything. But he did sack his principal secretary, and then his national security advisor, who were both appointed by Mr Gilani’s civilian boss, Mr Zardari. For all we know, he might have even re-arranged the furniture in his office.

All these, of course, might gladden partisan hearts, who might rejoice in the arrival of another “Junejo”. But the neatest trick to spread the gladdening and rejoicing really wide is to blow hot on India and on Israel. Or, for the best effect, both. Mr Gilani did that yesterday, and how.

No, he didn’t compare India’s actions with Israel’s, an old, if evergreen analogy. Mr Gilani said something that should make you sit up and take notice (before falling off your chair). The world has double standards, caring more for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, than for the Palestinian people of Gaza. (No, he didn’t mention Congo or Darfur at all; places that might be on a different, fictional planet as far as the anti-Israel protestors are concerned).

As international opinion turns against Pakistan’s brazen denial of facts concerning the Mumbai attacks, the military establishment is trying to distance itself from the civilians. General Durrani’s post-dismissal comments, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s comments to Der Spiegel signal that it is the civilian leadership that is behaving unreasonably. With Mr Gilani as prime minister, the reasonable-sounding generals are almost believable.

On the topic of double standards though, the good Mr Gilani surely needs to contemplate why Pakistani people get out on the streets to protest against Israel, but express only silent sympathy, or just silence, for the victims of Mumbai?

Ballot proof

Guns and votes are not mutually compatible—an acceptance of one is an implicit rejection of the other.

In today’s Mint, Sushant K Singh and Rohit Pradhan have one of the best analyses of the Jammu & Kashmir state election verdict.

The traditional approach of viewing the state as a monolithic entity must be replaced by one which recognizes the heterogeneity across regions and demographics. It is also not necessarily a bad thing: Gorakhpur and Noida don’t vote on similar lines; why should Doda and Srinagar? It is more important to recognize that the rise of parties such as the PDP and the BJP lends democratic voice to hitherto under-represented groups and sentiments.
Many commentators continue to stress the importance of engaging the Hurriyat as a genuine representative of the valley. Not only has the Hurriyat repeatedly refused to participate in the elections, the voters of J&K have forcefully rejected its unequivocal call for boycotting the elections. Certainly, in a democracy, all politics need not be electoral and the Hurriyat has the right to engage in agitational, but peaceful politics. However, the self-serving dogma perpetuated largely by the Hurriyat leadership that it is the sole representative of the valley must be rejected. Entering into a dialogue with unelected apparatchiks of the Hurriyat insults and undermines those who have placed their faith in Indian democracy.
In fact, the emergence of the PDP presents New Delhi with a wonderful opportunity to take forward the political process in the state. With its plank of “soft separatism”—open borders, demilitarization of Kashmir and its emphasis on human rights, the PDP has emerged as a genuine mainstream alternative to the Hurriyat, occupying the same political space, but still proclaiming its faith in Indian democracy. [Mint]

“It is important not to underestimate the challenges India faces in Kashmir” they conclude, but “it is equally important…not to overestimate them.”

Think MacArthur and Marshall

The United States fixed Japan in six years. It should use the same formula in Pakistan

On September 2003, in the first week of its existence, The Acorn wrote:

There is no point in giving any aid to Pakistan without simultaneously strengthening its democratic institutions and disarming its military-intelligence complex. It needs more of a MacArthur like intervention which reforged Japan into a dynamic modern nation. [Can Pakistan be saved?]

For much of the last five years, the United States did neither. And then in 2008 it was forced into withdrawing support for General Musharraf’s dictatorship. That only caused the military-intelligence complex to claw back.

Yet Change.gov, the Obama-Biden transition website, has nothing much by way of change. It says “Obama and Biden will increase nonmilitary aid to Pakistan and hold them accountable for security in the border region with Afghanistan.” The United States continues to think that some variation of giving aid and supporting democratic institutions will somehow work, and the military-intelligence complex can be humoured, won over or simply left alone. Worse, despite being directly affected, India will continue to accept this.

The United States refuses to learn from its own history. Between 1945-1951, a period of just six years, General Douglas MacArthur occupied Japan, reconstructed its war-torn economy, demilitarised the state, fixed the education system and instituted a democracy that has endured since then. It should do the same with Pakistan—and it might not even have to drop two nuclear bombs either, for the Pakistan’s rulers know that much history. Hey, that’s what Robert Kagan was saying.

Update:: General MacArthur’s gameplan (linkthanks Pragmatic)

Flying in to Japan on August 30 a few hours after he had received from Washington the text of the initial policy he was to carry out, he paraphrased the actions he was to take:
First, destroy the military power. Punish war criminals. Build the structure of representative government. Modernize the constitution. Hold free elections. Enfranchise the women. Release the political prisoners. Liberate the farmers. Establish a free labor movement. Encourage a free economy. Abolish police oppression. Develop a free and responsible press. Liberalize education. Decentralize political power. Separate the church from state. [Winners in Peace/EScholarship]

Sounds just like the kind of agenda for Pakistan.

Vote, you fools!

A government that can’t protect us from rainwater can’t protect us from terrorists

What can ordinary citizens do? Well, go out and vote. Salil Tripathi on the attack on Bombay:

New York has been attacked, London has faced – and avoided – attacks. Israelis are used to dealing with terror. And yet, the perception about India is that it takes these attacks in, as if nothing has happened. Returning to normalcy is an important part of dealing with terror. Preventing terror, and making people feel secured without imposing arbitrary restrictions on their lives, without suspecting individuals because of the collective they may belong to – religion, caste, language – and inspiring a sense of security among those who want to trust the law: these are the things a government must do. And it is in that area that the state has failed its people.

Fixing that also requires greater political participation. South Bombay, the epicenter of the attacks, is among the wealthiest parts of the country. And yet, that parliamentary constituency routinely has low turnout during elections. Voters don’t turn out for municipal elections as well. They must register their voice, they must protest, through the power the Indian constitution gives them, and elect a government that delivers, and not one that gets in through default, due to overall apathy. India has a phrase – chalta hai – this will go on. That must not do. Bombay’s citizens cannot, and should not, go about being vigilantes. But they can be vigilant about their rights, through their right to vote. [FEER]

On what is ironic

Further adventures of the moderate Mirwaiz

Speaking from atop his wooden throne in Srinagar’s Jama Masjid earlier this month, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered a stinging attack on politicians who will contest the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections next month.

“I want to ask the Prime Minister of India,” the cleric and secessionist politician said in his October 10 sermon, “whether it serves any purpose to hold discussions with leaders who do not dare move among the masses unless they are protected by a cordon of guards.”

Mirwaiz Farooq’s fighting words would have had a great moral force had it not been for one uncomfortable fact: he is among the ranks of politicians he railed against. Like his secessionist colleagues Sajjad Gani Lone, Bilal Gani Lone, Abdul Gani Butt and Aga Syed Hassan, the Mirwaiz is protected by the Jammu and Kashmir police. In addition, the Mirwaiz—whose father was assassinated by jihadists — has invested in a bullet-proof car. [The Hindu]

Alas, Praveen Swami reports that the ‘moderate’ Mirwaiz has hardened his position, even to the extent of signing a secret deal with the not-at-all-moderate Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Mr Swami’s restates the simple old point—the Hurriyat hungers for power, not dialogue; and that instead of a dalliance with them, India should seriously involve the democratically elected politicians in finding a solution to the problems in Jammu & Kashmir.

On liberal nationalism

Connecting liberalism, nationalism and realism

Let’s start with an axiom: all individuals are free, and from this freedom, they possess certain inalienable rights. They possess these rights and freedoms at all times, but in a state of nature, their ability to enjoy the freedom and exercise the rights is circumscribed by their individual power. In Indian philosophy, the state of nature is termed as matsya nyaya, or the law of the fishes, a condition under which the stronger fish eats the weaker fish. Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century English philosopher, describes this as the time when “men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man (bellum omnium contra omnes).” Life, therefore, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

To better enjoy their rights and freedoms, individuals trade-off a part of their freedom for the security offered by a state. Hence Kautilya writes

People suffering from anarchy as illustrated by the proverbial tendency of a large fish swallowing a small one (matsyanyayabhibhutah prajah), first elected Manu, the Vaivasvata, to be their king; and allotted one-sixth of the grains grown and one-tenth of merchandise as sovereign dues. Fed by this payment, kings took upon themselves the responsibility of maintaining the safety and security of their subjects (yogakshemavah), and of being answerable for the sins of their subjects when the principle of levying just punishments and taxes has been violated.[Arthashastra I:13]

In Western philosophy, this trade-off forms the basis of social contract theories. In Leviathan, Hobbes argues that individuals cede all their rights in return for protection to a sovereign who is himself above the law. John Locke, writing after Hobbes, is more moderate: in his view, individuals surrender only some of their rights to a government that rules by the consent of the governed.

This trade-off forms the basis of modern liberal democratic states. The exact implementation differs from state to state, and depends on a number of factors. But most often, the social contract is codified in a constitution. Constitutions are not, and do not have to be either perfect or immutable. To varying degrees, they affirm the rights of the individual and offer an enlightened method to settle the differences between the interests of individuals. In sharp contrast to Hobbes’ Leviathan, modern constitutions also, to varying degrees, make the government itself subject to the rule of law.

The upshot is that the state is necessary for the practical enjoyment of individual rights and freedoms. The survival and security of the state—often termed “the national interest”—is directly connected to the ability of citizens to enjoy their freedom. Put in another way, the “national interest” is the well-being and development of all its citizens.

If we adopt this people-centric definition of the national interest, how should one regard territory? Is territorial integrity uncompromisable? Not quite. To the extent territory is necessary for the well-being and development of all citizens, holding the territory is in the national interest. Where territorial compromises enhance the well-being of citizens, they are in the national interest. In the state-centric formulation, the objective question is whether acquiring, keeping or parting with a particular piece of land enhances the survival and security of the state, or not.

While the establishment of a state allows individuals to enjoy their rights—abridged as they are—the relationship between states remains in the world of matsya nyaya or anarchy. To an extent, the development of international law and institutions like the United Nations allow states to pursue ‘rules-based’ relations. But the ultimate arbiter of international relations is power. It follows that to protect its national interests—whether expressed in the people-centric or state-centric terms—states have to maximise their power relative to others. This results in an international balance-of-power, which can be stable or unstable depending on the power dynamics obtaining at a particular moment in time. The objective of the state then, is to maximise its own power to ensure that the international balance-of-power is in its favour.

This is how liberalism, nationalism and realism are connected with each other. Liberalism (or libertarianism, in its American usage) is concerned about individual freedom. To enjoy freedom in practice, the individual gives up some of it to the state. The state, a nation-state in India’s case, exists to ensure the rights, freedoms and well-being (yogakshema) of its people. So ensuring the survival and security of the Indian state—by maximising its relative power internationally—is wholly consistent with allowing its citizens to live in freedom.

The grammar of anarchy challenges the idea of India

The right to protest does not imply that the protests are right

K Subrahmanyam’s piece warning against giving in to separatist demands makes a very important point—the tendency to tolerate and appease those who take to the streets to press their demands.

But the challenge facing India is whether we try to set right our governance and improve it or yield to the protesters. Disruption is being made part of India’s political culture by most of our political parties.

Not only Kashmir, but violent agitations elsewhere pose a challenge to the idea of India. The country has to seek a comprehensive strategy to deal with this challenge. Yielding to the Kashmiri secessionists is not a solution. It would be the end of the concept of India. [TOI]

Once the ‘grammar of anarchy’ is accepted as legitimate, accommodating the demands of those who use it—whether it is the Gujjars of Rajasthan, the Amarnath Samiti of Jammu or the Communists in various parts of the country—becomes merely a matter of rationalisation. Any number of principles can be trotted out for the purpose. Shouldn’t those who support yielding to separatist demands in Kashmir also support reservations as demanded by the Gujjars and oppose reservations as demanded by Youth For Equality? Does drawing the bigger, louder, angrier, more violent crowd help reconcile such opposing demands?

This is more than just about Jammu & Kashmir. It’s about the model that Indians accept as the way to reconcile the diverse interests of a diverse population. Mobs, general strikes and public demonstrations might be legitimate means for citizens to express their opinions. But this does not mean that society—and certainly not the government—should accept demands made in this manner. Here the media deserves a share of the blame: the profusion of media outlets has encouraged the tendency of “camera-friendly” agitations—remember Rage Boy—which in turn are blown out of proportion by breathless on-scene reporters and shouting anchors.

Related Link: The inaugural editorial of Pragati; and Harsh Khare calls for “a fundamentalist belief in the curative power of Indian democracy” (linkthanks Anand Sampath).