ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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A series of churns have been going on in our country for some time now — some quite visible, some not. Time alone will tell if the 2014 election will mark India's political watershed point of the century, when the Congress was decimated into irrelevance, and the BJP was elected to form the government with an independent majority under Narendra Modi. The world knows that the votes were for Narendra Modi, and the wave was the Modi wave. Sure, the Congress has every opportunity to resurrect itself again. But this can only happen if it frees itself from the vice-like grip of the Gandhi-Maino family, something that appears unlikely in the immediate future. Meanwhile, the Congress is furiously working backwards, for saving not democracy, but dynasty.
But, alas, the dynasty has fallen into crisis and Rahul Gandhi has done it again. He absconded from the scene, just a day before the Parliament session, and aborted the grand plans afoot to showcase him as the supreme leader of the Congress, leaving it even more rudderless and senile. Personally, I can only sympathise with the poor boy's predicament, suffering from an understandable case of nerves and stage fright. His string of failures, his dismal public performance and the ridicule showered upon him during the last Parliament elections must surely rankle within him, and he clearly would not want a repeat of it. But what is inexplicable is the complete lack of realisation by his mother and her sycophants that he just doesn't have the capacity or inclination to inherit the throne of Hindustan, which the Nehru-Gandhi-Maino family believe is their birthright. The decimated Congress performing its last rites, is in a state of terrific confusion and demoralisation. There appear to be signs of acute internal dissension, and desertions have started; the heir has bolted and the unwell mother does not have the will to overcome her "blind spot", or show any wisdom to revitalise her party through a non-famiglia leader. And within her family, she has no one to turn to, except her daughter and tainted son-in-law. Anyhow, this latest act of disappearance by the habitual absconder has triggered rings of speculation about intra-party divisions — mom's Old Guard versus son's Young Turks, and has brought in a great deal of new political entertainment. Some say that Rahul Gandhi is having a marvellous time somewhere in the UAE, where nobody is bothered about whoever he might be. Let him remain there in the best company.
Then we have a reverse story of a mentor who did not want his "mentee" to enter politics, but he did so with cold calculation and became Chief Minister of Delhi — Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. Clearly, Kejriwal, now Chief Minister of Delhi still finds it hard to resist his obsession with the dharma of dharna. But I do hope his landslide victory has set the BJP introspecting, and we hope the nation can see the result of the introspection soon.
The speed of the digital age seems to have spared nothing — not even development of dissension and power struggle within the fledgling Aam Admi Party, that came to power less than a month ago. Their power wars are now out in the open. The political atmospherics of the AAP seem to be getting increasingly similar to the present state of the Congress — power wars and intrigues, corruption accusations, dictatorship and concentration of power, et al. And finally, Kejriwal did a Rahul on his own party and governance, and fled the power wars for a naturopathy sabbatical in Bangalore.
The Kashmir developments are indeed historic, and a great step forward on the subcontinent. Democracy has proved victorious, and both the PDP and the BJP have compromised safely and effectively, supported by the moderate elements of the Hurriyat, and have defeated the evil designs of our neighbour. Mufti Mohammad's views on Afzal Guru's remains are indeed an irritant. But the furore over his statement giving some credit to Pakistan, the separatist leaders and militants for the smooth conduct of Assembly elections in Kashmir is, putting it mildly, churlish in the extreme, if not plainly ridiculous. Every right thinking person must first put the most charitable construction to what is said and if some possible construction makes it harmful, then politely draw the speaker's attention to the possibility of misunderstanding — it might just call for a clarification and not repudiation. Speaking for myself, I believe Mufti's statement is wise, and he deserves full marks for it. It praises Pakistan for desisting from vitiating our elections, and even if praise is not justified, it surely promotes a better comfort level for the dialogue that we both want.
But I do find some fault with Mufti Saheb for calling the moderate Hurriyat leaders separatists. They no longer are. After my respected friend Muzaffar Baig presented the PDP document entitled "Self Rule" at a public meeting in Delhi, which was also attended by Hurriyat leaders, I have never considered PDP or the moderate Hurriyat leaders as "separatists". My Kashmir Committee confabulations with the Hurriyat leaders and our agreement, publicly announced more than 10 years ago, is that all parties must rise above their traditional positions, abandon extreme stands and show the necessary flexibility and realism to achieve an acceptable, honourable and durable solution. Tinkering with Article 370 on one hand, and secession on the other, have been erased from the narrative. I am sure that Prime Minister Modi did recently silence some foolish noises about repeal of Article 370, and I have publicly advised Mufti Saheb to invite Professor Ghani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to join the Cabinet. Of course, my ailing friend Syed Ali Shah Gilani still speaks of self-determination, something that went into the archives of history long ago. Our bond with Kashmir is now unbreakable. Just to revive people's memory, I quote below the five salient features of the agreement reached between the Kashmir Committee and the Hurriyat in 2002, and declared publicly to the people of India: "1. Terrorism and violence are taboo. 2. A lasting and honourable peaceful resolution must and can be found. 3. The resolution must be acceptable to all political elements and regions of the state. 4. Extremist positions held by all for the last five decades have to be and will be abandoned. 5. Kashmiri Pandits will be rehabilitated with honour and rights of equality."
I think Kashmir is finally on the right track.
Speaking of the Budget presented on 28 March by the Finance Minister, I find it a rather enigmatic document that conceals more than it reveals. Though it is supposed to be the springboard for economic stimulus and investment, as of now, it appears more of an aspirational document for which a roadmap is still under preparation, especially for the Prime Minister's priority areas, such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat, skill development, agriculture revival. There is a promise of increasing state share of Central taxes from 32%-42%, reducing the fiscal deficit from 3.8 to 3%, and assumes a GDP growth of 8-8.5%, as against 7.4% this year. The higher GDP growth rests on further assumptions of infrastructure creation, land acquisition, and various clearances, green and brown, at the state and Central levels, inflation control, and a tax revenue growth of 15.8% as against a growth of 9.9% in the current year. Should these assumptions fail, or the revenue deficit widen, budgetary arithmetic will be in deep trouble. While there is more detail available in the budget document regarding infrastructure creation, there seems to be an absence of modalities regarding human resources development, especially in the face of changed cost sharing patterns expected between Centre and states in the health, food subsidy, women and child development and education sectors. The capacity and commitment of the states to utilise their additional share of taxes for public good will be put to test.
Regarding the question of black money, it is not clear if repatriated black money is factored in any of the miscellaneous receipt heads. Here's what the Finance Minister says: "Recognising the limitations under the existing legislation, we have taken a considered decision to enact a comprehensive new law on black money to specifically deal with such money stashed away abroad. To this end, I propose to introduce a Bill in the current Session of the Parliament."
Judging from the letter and tenor of his speech, it appears to me that the legislation he has in mind has every danger of being in violation of Article 20 (1) of our Constitution, that "No person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of the law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence."
I have on 29-11-14 sent a draft legislation for recovery of black money to the Prime Minister that conforms to the constitutional requirements of Article 20 (1), and I request the Finance Minister to act in accordance with it. I'm sure he would be grateful for this legal help from me.
Certainly legislation for black money repatriation that is ultra vires of the Constitution, and therefore null and void needs to be avoided by a government headed by no less a leader than Narendra Modi.