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What does the history of dissent look like?

In the second volume of his landmark book, Discordant Notes, Rohinton Nariman brings to light ground-breaking cases and judgements which made remarkable additions to our Constitution, improved and improvised some laws and most importantly, gave the space to the citizens of this country to be able to think, re-think and re-learn freely.


Charting out the history of the dissenting judgements in the history of the Supreme Court of India, Nariman begins by quoting Professor Allan Hutchinson’s Laughing at the Gods: Great Judges and How They Made the Common Law, where he speaks of ‘judicial greatness’ as:


‘Great judges seek to make a critical accommodation with the legal tradition by combining heresy and heritage in a playful judicial style; they refuse to be hampered by customary habits of judicial mind. For them, law is not something to be mastered. It is a sprawling tableau of transformation in which experimentation and improvisation are valued as much as predictability and faithfulness to existing rules and ideas. They see possibilities and make moves that others overlook. Great judges flaunt conventional standards in the process of remaking them; their judgements are the exceptions that prove the rule. And, once they have done what they do, others are less able to view the world in the same way again.’

Discordant Notes by Rohinton Nariman
Discordant Notes || Rohinton Nariman


He then mentions that it is in this sense that he chose the four great dissenters for this book. Overlooking other prominent judges who wrote numerous dissents in their lifetime, he chose to write about the ones who might have given only six dissents, for example, but had brilliant oversight packed in them, insights that changed the course of future judgements in India.


Nariman named these four dissenters, the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ because just like in Book Six, ‘Revelation’ of the New Testament in the Bible, these are the people who give the world a chance to repent before they are consigned to the ashes. He states how each one of these four dissenters fulfills this role, some of them prophesying doom if their dissents do not become the law, and others offering a chance of redemption, if in the future, their view is accepted in preference to that of majority.


One of the first cases discussed in the second volume of Discordant Notes is the Keshava Madhava Menon v. State of Bombay (1951) case dissented by judge Sir Saiyid Fazl Ali. What came up for consideration before the Supreme Court was the interpretation of the expression ‘void’ contained in Article 13 (1) of the Constitution of India. The majority judgement, delivered by S.R. Das, J., on behalf of the three learned judges of the court, held that Article 13 (1) does not make existing laws which are inconsistent with fundamental rights void ab initio, but only renders such laws ineffectual with respect to the exercise of fundamental rights on and after the date of commencement of the Constitution, Article 13 (1) having no retrospective effect. Therefore, if prosecution for a criminal act was commenced before the Constitution came into force, it can be proceeded with according to that law, even after the commencement of the Constitution.


Fazl Ali, J., joined Mukherjea, J., dissented. For reference, Article 13 (1) reads as follows:


‘All laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent with the provisions of this Part, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.’


Fazl Ali, J referred to the original draft of the Constitution, in which the words ‘shall stand abrogated’ were used instead of ‘shall be void’ in Article 13 (1). He then observed that the Constitution makers used various expressions to convey precisely and thoroughly what they meant. While some articles used ‘invalid’, ‘ceased to have effect’ and ‘shall be inoperative’, ‘void’ is used only in two articles 13 (1) and 154 – and both of them deal with cases where laws are repugnant to other laws. Hence, the learned judge concluded that there is a precision and thoroughness of the framers of the Constitution with the strong sense in which the word ‘void’ has been used and cannot be completely ignored.


Nariman noted that this case is an important judgment, which was later followed in Behram Khurshid Pesikaka v. State of Bombay (1955) and Bhikaji Narain Dhakras v. State of M.P. (1955), as forming the foundation for what became known as the ‘Doctrine of Eclipse’, i.e. that pre-constitutional law cannot be said to be void from inception, but only ineffective if it violates a fundamental right, the fundamental right casting a shadow over such law.


Rohinton Nariman discusses and analyses many more such interesting cases and judgements and enlightens us with the kind of roads they fractured, mended and laid the foundation of, in this remarkable book. It speaks to anyone who decides to speak for themselves or for others, who decides to obtain knowledge in multi-dimensional spheres and most notably, for someone who decides to learn and re-learn.

Is Secularism a Colonial Concept?

How did India aspire to become a secular country? Given our colonial past, we derive many of our laws and institutions from England. We have a parliamentary democracy with a Westminster model of government. Our courts routinely use catchphrases like ‘rule of law’ or ‘natural justice’, which have their roots in London.

In Republic of Religion, eminent scholar Abhinav Chandrachud presents well-researched reasons to argue that the secular structure of the colonial state in India was imposed by a colonial power.

Find an excerpt from his narrative that sets up this argument while exploring the nuances of secularism as a concept.


Though scholars disagree on the meaning of secularism, broadly speaking, two factors go into making a secular state: no religion should be established by law as the official state religion and all citizens should have the freedom to practise their own religious beliefs.7 Unlike the US, England has an established religion. If India derives so many of her laws and institutions from England, how is it that there is no established religion in India?

In the coming pages, we will see that secularism was artificially imposed by the British colonial government in India even though it did not fully exist in England. The law in England assumed only Christianity to be the one true religion, and Indian religions like Hinduism and Islam were considered to be ‘heathen’. Therefore, though England had an established religion—Christianity through the Church of England—it could not declare an Indian religion, like Hinduism or Islam, as the official religion of India. It could not force Christianity on India probably due to the fact that this would have made the colony ungovernable.8 Instead, it decided to separate religion and the state in India. Though government officials in England were entangled with the administration of churches there, colonial officials felt uncomfortable associating with ‘false’ Indian houses of worship like temples and mosques and therefore assigned them to the administration of Indian trustees.

British officials adopted a policy of secularism in India—in contrast to England—which will be referred to here as ‘colonial secularism’. Though ‘secularism’ is itself a relatively new9 word and one of imprecision,10 broadly speaking, colonial secularism in British India meant that the government did three things. Firstly, the colonial state would not endorse or get itself entangled in the administration of any local religions. So it disentangled itself from the management of temples—a function which was historically performed by Indian rulers—and handed temple administration over to trustees. This was despite the fact that a parallel nineteenthcentury campaign to disestablish the Church of England failed in the metropole.11 Further, before taking up office, public officials in India were made to solemnly swear or affirm their oaths, though they might have had no conscientious objection to swearing in the name of God, Vishnu or Allah. In other words, any mention of the word ‘God’ was removed from the oaths administered to public officials in India—an accommodation which was only available to Quakers and some others in England. Secondly, the colonial state provided heightened protection to religious minorities, often feeding into a sense of paranoia that they would be left helpless without its imperial

intervention. So the personal laws of different religious groups were, in theory,12 left alone,13 though England did not have a separate set of ‘personal’ laws for its religious minorities like Catholics and Jews. Adopting the old Roman strategy of retaining the laws of conquered territories in order to make them more easily governable, colonial officials decided against adopting a uniform civil code in family law matters. Cow slaughter, though reviled by much of India’s majority Hindu populace, was permitted to be carried out by Muslims during the festival of Bakr Id and Hindus who objected to it were considered ‘hypersensitive’. Seats on legislative bodies were filled by voters on the basis of separate electorates. Thirdly, the government tacitly, though nervously, encouraged Christian missionaries to preach Christianity and obtain converts though a Hindu or Muslim preacher who might have tried to do the same in England would have put himself at risk for criminal prosecution.

Secularism is one of the most celebrated ideals of a diverse India. Republic of Religion is a unique narrative presenting a never-before explored perspective and colonial ties that can potentially lie behind this term.



Words Do Matter- A History of the Preamble from Conception to Completion

Universally regarded as the chief architect of the Constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s specific role as chairman of the Drafting Committee and his undeniable authorship of the Preamble became blurred in the haze of conflicting theories about how the Preamble came into being. Formally adopted on 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India has been a subject of interest to many but in Ambedkar’s Preamble, Aakash Singh Rathore establishes the presence of Dr. Ambedkar’s thoughts and beliefs in the intellectual origins of the Preamble and its most central concepts.

Rathore writes ‘Stated succinctly, the Preamble trumpets our collective aspirations as a republic; indeed, it articulates the principles that precondition the possibility for our unity as a nation.’

Read on for a peek into the history of how the Preamble acquired its meaning –


                   When securing justice implied removal of injustice

Throughout the writings and speeches of Dr. Ambedkar there has been an emphasis on the urgent implementation of policies to instate social justice even more than economic and political justice. When the Preamble was in its nascent stages, many voices raised the need to flesh out the justice clause and debated the inclusion of Nehru’s tripartite formulation of ‘Justice- social, economic and political’, which finally appeared in the Preamble as it was. However, there were no amendments suggested by Dr. Ambedkar to the justice clause even though there was an important underlying difference in his understanding of the concept-


‘In an effort to frame the Objectives Resolution, Dr Ambedkar had put forth his own ‘Proposed Preamble’, which although following Nehru in the tripartite division of social, economic and political, gave substantive meaning to the term ‘justice’ by speaking of the removal of inequalities. That is, where Nehru’s text spoke of securing justice, social, economic and political, Dr Ambedkar’s text interpreted ‘securing justice’ to mean removing social, political and economic inequalities.’


       When political liberties nudged social freedoms out of the Preamble

While debates swirled around the subject of freedom and liberty, there was a battle for terms to occupy place of pride in the Preamble. Positive freedoms such as thought, expression, belief, faith, worship which featured on Nehru’s list were pitched against other terms of value on Dr. Ambedkar’s list such as speech, religion and the freedom from want and fear. The final list that made its way into the Preamble established the distinction between fundamental rights and Directive Principles of State Policy.


The main components of economic justice, and many of social justice, were relegated to the Directive Principles as they were considered too controversial for inclusion into other binding sections of the Constitution. Similarly, the more robust, labour related freedoms were dropped from their privileged place in the Preamble. Thankfully, however, most of the terms found a place within the body of the Constitution itself, with some eventually being included as fundamental rights.’


                          When the inequality clause was flipped over

The rather concise equality clause remains unchanged from the way it was drafted and added to the Preamble. However, the clause ‘EQUALITY of status and of opportunity…’ is the briefer version of what was proposed in Nehru’s Objectives Resolution. Another turn in the history of this clause was that Dr. Ambedkar had, in fact, proposed an ‘inequality’ clause!


‘It may come as some surprise, however, that in Dr Ambedkar’s ‘Proposed Preamble’ from States and Minorities (March 1947), there was not really an ‘equality’ clause at all, at least not a positive one. Instead, there was an ‘inequality’ clause:

(iii) To remove social, political and economic inequality by providing better opportunities to the submerged classes.’


When the term ‘fraternity’ brought Gandhian ideas into the constitutional draft

One of the main pillars on which our Preamble stands upright is the ‘fraternity clause’. However, this clause did not feature in any of the preliminary drafts to the Preamble and Constitution of India. Added by Dr. Ambedkar, this clause went on to become the only universally applauded clause in the Constituent Assembly for its inclusion of an aspect of morality amongst mostly legal and constitutional principles.


‘On 6 February 1948, the clause first read: Fraternity, assuring the dignity of every individual without distinction of caste or creed.

This is purely the Ambedkarian formulation of fraternity, quite in line with the history of Dr Ambedkar’s articulation of the concept in his own writings, dating back to the 1930s… It drew upon fraternity as a resource for upholding individual dignity, which remains perpetually degraded due to the distinctions of caste.’

The terms ‘JUSTICE, LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY, Dignity and Nation’ contain layers of meaning and form the basis of the progressive and liberal values espoused by the Preamble.

‘It is these six words that allow us to hack into the DNA of Dr Ambedkar’s preamble, gaining access to many of its secrets.’  establishes Rathore as he takes us back into the intense debates and discussions within the Constituent Assembly and the Drafting Committee that decided the final inclusions in the Preamble.

To know more about the journey of the soul of India’s Constitution, read Ambedkar’s Preamble!


Uncovering the secret history of the Constitution of India

Although Dr Ambedkar is universally regarded as the chief architect of the Constitution, the specifics of his role as chairman of the Drafting Committee are not widely discussed. Totally neglected is his almost single-handed authorship of the Constitution’s Preamble, which is frequently and mistakenly attributed to B.N. Rau rather than to Ambedkar.

With Ambedkar’s Preamble, Aakash Singh Rathore sets out to establish how and why the Preamble to the Constitution of India is essentially an Ambedkarite preamble. It is clear that its central concepts come from Ambedkar’s writings and speeches. In doing so, the book spotlights fundamental facts about modern Indian history – which makes this a highly relevant read today.

The excerpt below gives us a glimpse into Ambedkar’s role within the Drafting Committee:

Justice: The Story of B.R. Ambedkar

On 21 February 1948, Dr Ambedkar, in his capacity as chairman of the Drafting Committee, was ready to submit the first draft Constitution that had been prepared over the forty-two sittings. The meetings began on 27 October 1947, the first since the one on 30 August when Dr Ambedkar had been elected chairman. He sent it to the president of the Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, who had it widely published on 26 February, so that interested members of the public could consider it. The draft was also sent to all members of the Constituent Assembly, asking them to submit their views by 22 March 1948. A number of amendments were suggested, some specific to the Preamble, but not one of them was about the concept of justice.

Front Cover of Ambedkar's Preamble
Ambedkar’s Preamble || Aakash Singh Rathore

The Drafting Committee reconvened on 23, 24 and 27 March 1948 to evaluate the many comments and suggested amendments they had received. Since the committee had introduced both phraseology and substance that seemed to depart from the Constituent Assembly’s earlier decisions, president Prasad decided to assemble a high-powered Special Committee to look carefully into the matters in question—the draft Constitution, the numerous amendments suggested, the Drafting Committee’s opinions on them, and so on. The Special Committee was chaired by Jawaharlal Nehru and consisted of the who’s who of the Constituent Assembly. It included members of the Drafting Committee, of course, but also principal members of the Union Constitution Committee, as well as the Provincial Constitution Committee. Meeting on 10 and 11 April 1948, many of the names who subsequently enlivened the CAD included Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Khushal Talaksi Shah, Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani, Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, Thakur Das Bhargava, and, of course, B.R. Ambedkar, who never missed a Drafting Committee or related meeting. Also present was Naziruddin Ahmad, whose suspicion that the Drafting Committee was prone to taking ‘secret’ and unilateral decisions was now beginning to crystalize.

The minutes of the Special Committee meeting on 10 April 1948 were unusually curious. They began: The committee considered the matters referred to in the letter of the Chairman of the Drafting Committee to the President of the Constituent Assembly of India, dated the 21st February 1948. Preamble: The consideration of the amendments to the Preamble was held over and it was decided that the final settlement of the Preamble should be left to the decision of the Constituent Assembly.

This was unusual because the entire reason behind assembling the Special Committee was to try and scrutinize the changes that the Drafting Committee had introduced to the draft Constitution, one of the most crucial being the unanimously adopted Objectives Resolution. As we shall soon discover, one of the earliest points in Dr Ambedkar’s letter to the president of the Constituent Assembly was to do with the unilateral changes introduced by the Drafting Committee into the Preamble. It appears that Nehru was true to his word and that he ensured—rather to the displeasure of Naziruddin Ahmad—that the Drafting Committee was given the latitude to adapt the Objectives Resolution to the changing times.

A narrative like Ambedkar’s Preamble is crucial for our times today – especially in helping us develop new and important insights into the most important document for our country.  

Examining the Muslim Demographic through ‘Siyasi Muslims’ – Excerpt

How do we make sense of the Muslims of India?

Do they form a political community?

Does the imagined conflict between Islam and modernity affect the Muslims’ political behaviour in this country?

Are Muslim religious institutions-mosques and madrasas-directly involved in politics?

Do they instruct the community to vote strategically in all elections?

What are ‘Muslim issues’?

Is it only about triple talaq?

While these questions intrigue us, we seldom debate to find pragmatic answers to these queries. Examining the everydayness of Muslims in contemporary India, Hilal Ahmed’s Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India offers an evocative story of politics and Islam in India, which goes beyond the given narratives of Muslim victimhood and Islamic separation.

Here is an excerpt from Siyasi Muslims Triple Talaq as an MCQ:


The question of ‘triple talaq’ is posed as an objective-type MCQ (multiple choice question)! We are given two options—support it (say yes) or oppose it (say no). The meaning of yes and no are also premeditated in this schema: Yes refers to closed Islamism, while No stands for gender equality and progress.

This dominant (and somewhat stereotypical) representation of the triple talaq issue is based on a  few strong assumptions about Muslims in general and Muslim men in particular:

  • The Muslims of India constitute a single, closed, homogeneous community, which is inevitably male-dominated.
  • This male-dominated community is governed by a few established Islamic norms which are highly anti-women in nature. Islamic religiosity as well as Islamic practices, hence, are intrinsically patriarchal.
  • The Islamic clergy functions as the true representative of the community. It has an ultimate right to interpret religious texts and, at the same time, speak on behalf of all Muslims.

These convictions, interestingly, are often presented to us as hard facts—not merely by the government, political parties and the ulema class but also by those who prefer to be identified as ‘liberals’. As a result, a media-centric discourse of political correctness emerges, which virtually freezes any possibility of a nuanced and meaningful discussion on the nature and functions of patriarchy among Muslims.

The recent debate on triple talaq is an example of such stereotypical public imagination. No one bothered to look at the arguments and positions of various Muslim women’s groups on the status of Muslim women in India, the internal debates among them on the question of Muslim patriarchy, their varied interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, their critical responses to the much-debated idea of the Uniform Civil Code and, above all, their critique of Muslim personal law and the role of the ulema in nurturing the anti-Muslim attitude of Hindutva politics.

The triple talaq debate, surprisingly, is seen as a battle between the conservative ulema represented by the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the committed BJPled NDA government. The discussion in the Parliament on the triple talaq bill and, later, on the triple talaq ordinance seems to ignore the nuanced arguments made by Muslim women’s groups, especially the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). The purpose, therefore, of this chapter is to clarify and contextualize the public debate so as to make sense of the various aspects of the controversy. In addition, an attempt is made to analyse the politics of triple talaq in the wake of emerging Hindutva.

Let us begin with a few frequently used terms:

  • ‘Triple talaq’ refers to a practice which empowers a man to divorce his wife by saying ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ in one go.
  • ‘Mehr’ is a sum of money or other property to be delivered to the bride by the bridegroom at the time of the nikah as a prerequisite for the solemnization of their marriage, as specified in the nikahnama.
  • ‘Iddat’ is the period of time (approximately three to four months) during which a divorced woman/widow cannot remarry another man.
  • Nikah’ is a contract of marriage between a man and a woman. The nikahnama is a document which specifies the terms and conditions of this agreement.
  • ‘Sharia’ or ‘shariat’ is a collection of rules and norms that have been codified following the Quran and Hadith (laying out the sayings and acts of Prophet Muhammad). Since this codification is subject to various interpretations, there are various shariats among Sunnis and Shias.
  • Nikah halala’ is also a frequently used term. Once a woman has been divorced, her husband is not permitted take her back as his wife unless the woman undergoes nikah halala, which involves her marriage with another man who subsequently divorces her so that her previous husband can remarry her.

The practice of triple talaq, we must note, is legitimate among Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi shariat. Although we do not have adequate statistical information about the sect-wise population of Muslims in India, it is believed that Sunni Hanafis are in the majority, at least in the northern states. But there are four other schools of Sunni shariat—Hanbali, Shafi, Maliki and Ahle- Hadith. These schools have their own interpretations of rituals and customs and specific norms for divorce.

The AIMPLB itself recognizes this Islamic religious plurality in India. In fact, one of the stated objectives of the AIMPLB is:

To promote goodwill, fraternity and the feeling of mutual cooperation among all sects and schools of  thought     among Muslims, and to generate the spirit of unity and coordination among them for the common  goal of safeguarding the Muslim Personal Law.1

There are two questions are important here: Does the AIMPLB determine the everyday conduct of the religiously diversified Muslim communities? If so, do Muslims, particularly the followers of the Hanafi shariat, practise triple talaq precisely because of their religious adherence to Islam?

Know more in Hilal Ahmed’s Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India

Chanakya and the Art of War-Excerpt

Each and every one of us wants to become successful. We aim to fight and win in businesses, careers, relationships and, ultimately, in life. However, most of us fail to reach our full potential because of various speed breakers.

In Chanakya and the Art of War, Radhakrishnan Pillai decodes the war secrets of Chanakya as relevant to our personal and professional lives. Be it an army fighting enemy soldiers across the border, the police encountering internal challenges, a politician who wants to win an election, or the common man fighting for survival, Chanakya has a plan for every situation. In the game of life, Chanakya teaches you the winning strategies by putting into practice the Art of War.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

We are constantly at war.

It may be an external war—at our workplaces, our homes, amongst friends, relatives and/or with the government and its systems.

It may be an internal war—inside our heads, with time, with decisions, with what is right and what is wrong.

This is unavoidable when we live in a world full of different people and different views. From the day we are born to the day we die, the external or internal wars will continue. From womb to tomb, we will always face difficult choices.

After a point, everyone realizes that they cannot walk away from such wars. Everyone has to fight—some win, some lose. This is where the difference in our attitude towards the war becomes known. We either accept defeat, or fight on to emerge a winner.

Most of us often compromise and give up. It is a good feeling, although temporary, that there was no bloodshed, that we avoided facing an extreme situation. But later, when we sit down and analyse, we realize that we have actually lost the war in the name of compromise.

The problem continues to exist. Sooner than later, it re-emerges in a different way. The quick-fix of compromise is temporary in nature because we have not fixed the leak. The tooth now requires an extraction. That one rotten apple has already spoilt the whole bunch.

We must make sure we win the war once and for all, rather than be under the illusion that a compromise has closed the issue.

The art of winning a war can be learnt by understanding some rules and then applying them in a practical manner to real-life situations. There are various formulae and techniques. Just because we have never been exposed to a war does not mean the ‘art of war’ is not meant for us.

Swami Tejomayanandaji, the spiritual giant from Chinmaya Mission, says: ‘If you don’t stand up for something, you will fall for everything.’

True that.

Are we all just living a life of compromise and adjustment? Have we become so weak that we cannot even voice our views? Have we forgotten the skills of negotiations and strategy?

Let us not simply allow life to happen to us, let us make life happen according to our wishes. We can decide what we want, and yes, we can emerge a winner. The good news is that there is a method and a system to do this.

It starts with building some basic leadership qualities. Yes, the answer lies here.

Leaders are strong men and women who stood up with conviction, squared their shoulders and faced the challenges that came their way. They were the only hope when others around them felt hopeless. They had nothing else but tremendous will power. World history is never complete without the stories of such great leaders from various nations and backgrounds. Initially, they were ordinary people, but their extraordinary leadership qualities made them shine in situations that were challenging and difficult.

Today, the life stories of such leaders guide us. They inspire us. They bring hope and possibilities. They are the guiding beacons of societies. Their stories must be told to our children. They should be discussed at dinner tables, their books should be read by all, and more research should be done on these great men and women.

Emerging as a winner in war is not just the work of the military and armed forces. It can be part of our basic nature. If every individual is taught the art of war, she/ he will be better equipped to focus on the means and the ends towards which they are working so hard. Winning a war requires many skills. Studying our opponent, understanding human psychology, the right timing and place, keeping motivation levels up—all these and more.

If we master the art of war, we can be successful in every field of life.

Chanakya and the Art of War  draws upon lessons from the great teacher, philosopher and strategist Chanakya’s masterpiece, Arthashastra, which can help us overcome those speed breakers to become innovative and influential and realize our true potential. AVAILABLE NOW.

Jaya Prada: the Multilingual Celebrity – an excerpt from ‘Democracy on the Road’

On the eve of a landmark general election, Ruchir Sharma offers an unrivalled portrait of how India and its democracy work, drawn from his two decades on the road chasing election campaigns across every major state, travelling the equivalent of a lap around the earth.

In this excerpt from his book, Democracy On The Road, Ruchir Sharma talks about Jaya Prada’s election contest against Noor Bano in the 2009 elections.

We found yet another spin on the byzantine turns of Indian alliance politics unfolding in the city of Rampur, best known for its Mughlai cuisine, lilting poetry and Rampuri chakus—the long knives once favoured by small-time villains in Hindi movies. As we often do we arranged a meeting with the DM, the district magistrate, and outside his office I noticed a wooden board listing all the previous DMs of Rampur.

The list ran long, implying that the tenure of any one DM was quite short—likely because state governments come and go so quickly, and each new ruling party brings its own roster of local officials. I asked the DM about this and he said with a wry smile that Hinduism recognizes four sequential stages of life, from Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and finally Sannyasa (renunciation). But the life of a district magistrate bounces between these stages in no apparent order, and they ‘can never be sure which will come next’.

In Rampur, Congress candidate Noor Bano, a scion of Rampur’s royal family, was plotting her comeback against the former film star Jaya Prada, whose rootless career symbolized the fluid loyalties of Indian politics. We met Jaya Prada in a luxury suite at The Modipur Hotel, itself a classically Indian mash-up of garishly colourful decoration and gold-plated religion, with miniatures of Hindu gods dotting the makeshift dining-room temple where Jaya Prada prayed.

Jaya Prada had been a coveted ally not for her Hindu piety or her caste but for her multilingual celebrity: she was the rare actress who had starred in both Telugu and Hindi films. After appearing in more than 300 movies over three decades, she became a favourite of Chandrababu Naidu and later a member of parliament representing his Telugu Desam Party in the Rajya Sabha.

Then she not only switched parties, she switched to a new state and a capital city nearly 1500 kilometres away. After falling out with Naidu she had left his party in 2004 and accepted an invitation to join Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in UP. Milling about Jaya Prada’s expansive hotel suite in Rampur we found a mix of her relatives and their kids, Samajwadi Party functionaries and Muslim clerics—all moving around carefully so as not to knock over the Hindu statuettes.

Asked how her transition across state, party and religious lines had gone so far, Jaya Prada smiled and said, ‘AP+UP=JP’, or Andhra Pradesh plus Uttar Pradesh equals Jaya Prada, the kind of formula that could describe the hybrid backgrounds of many itinerant Indian politicians.

There were, however, signs of strife. Some Samajwadi Party members appeared to be secretly manoeuvring to tar Jaya Prada as an immoral ex-starlet, apparently as punishment for showing insufficient respect to their local party boss, the Muslim leader Azam Khan. Though Jaya Prada carried herself with cinematic aplomb, her optimistic glow did crack once—when she described these machinations against her.

She was particularly upset about photos that had surfaced online, doctored to show her in compromising poses. Leaving the interview we made our way past Bollywood movie star and Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan, who had flown in to campaign for Jaya Prada and appeared quite angry that a bunch of journalists had kept her waiting.

Next we went to see the Congress stalwart whom Jaya Prada unseated back in 2004, Noor Bano, and found her dressed sari-tosandals all in pure white, but dark with resentment at losing her Lok Sabha seat to this film industry interloper from Andhra Pradesh.

Bano, seventy, pitched herself as the opposite of a ‘shifty’ ex-actress: as a daughter of Rampur royalty, she was not a migrant politician and could be relied on to remain true to the locals. Whatever progress the Rampur area had enjoyed of late had nothing to do with Jaya Prada or the Samajwadi Party, Noor said. It was all the work of the national government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which had done so much for farmers and the poor.

The most uplifting thing about the Jaya Prada versus Noor Bano battle was that it pitted two women against each other, in a country where women had been rising in politics but at a painfully slow rate. The number of women in the Lok Sabha had risen from just nineteen in 1977 to fifty-nine here in 2009, and we had seen how the constant struggle to command respect in a male-dominated political culture had left many prominent female leaders battle-hardened and suspicious, including supremos like Jayalalithaa and Mayawati. The one clear thing about the Rampur contest was that a woman would win, and be beaten by a woman.

Democracy on the Road takes readers on a rollicking ride with Ruchir and his merry band of fellow writers as they talk to farmers, shopkeepers and CEOs from Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu, and interview leaders from Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi.


Of Marxists and Mamata – an excerpt from Ruchir Sharma’s ‘Democracy on the Road’

On the eve of a landmark general election, Ruchir Sharma offers an unrivalled portrait of how India and its democracy work, drawn from his two decades on the road chasing election campaigns across every major state, travelling the equivalent of a lap around the earth.

Here is an excerpt from Ruchir Sharma’s book, Democracy on the Road that talks about the power packed campaign led by Mamata Banerjee in May 2011.

Leading the opposition charge was Mamata Banerjee, a Bengali Brahmin who split from the Congress to form her own party in 1998 and had been railing against Marxist ‘tyranny’ for years, mostly to no avail. The Tata conflict, and a second deadly government attempt to acquire agricultural land in and around Nandigram in the district of Purba Medinipur, had given Mamata’s campaign against Marxist rule new momentum and credibility.

We saw Mamata for the first time at a rally in Kolkata, where she sprang out of the helicopter and race-walked past party supporters, a big boss in a diminutive frame, dressed austerely in a white sari with a blue border. Her bearing broadcast immediately that she had no time for the usual campaign greetings; she was a one-woman dynamo running a lifelong crusade, eager to topple communism yesterday.

A poet herself, Mamata promised not only to restore English instruction but also to bring back the poetry of Bengal greats such as Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, and the stories of Bengal heroes like ‘Binoy, Badal and Dinesh’, which the Marxists had expunged as too bourgeois, and replaced with party-approved literature. While English is an aspirational language all over India, perhaps only in Bengal could a politician campaign on promises to restore local poetry to the school curriculum.

She promised that under her All India Trinamool Congress (TMC)—the ‘party of the marginalized’—things would be different. Bengal would have modern schools, colleges and health clinics, with no proof of party loyalty required for access. Non-party members would no longer have to travel out of state for medical treatment. Her campaign slogan promised ‘poriborton’, the Bengali spin on ‘parivartan’ or change. As interesting as what Mamata said was what she didn’t say. Neither the Congress nor the BJP had cracked 7 per cent of the vote in recent Bengal elections, and they hardly bore mention in Mamata’s speech. The caste and religious undercurrents that drive much of Indian politics barely surfaced either, since Bengal was divided mainly between Marxist party members and everyone else. Tapping popular frustration with thirty-four years of Marxist rule, Mamata’s party won in resounding fashion, taking 184 of the 294 state assembly seats, and she became the new chief minister. The Marxists finished a distant second….

Economic growth had picked up at least moderately since the communists departed. Infant mortality was falling. Construction was booming all over the capital, spilling into the outskirts. Amit Mitra, state finance minister under Mamata, told us investment was flowing into cement and fertilizer plants, small- and medium-size companies were growing rapidly and that Tata had begun to expand again in the state.

When Mamata came to power in 2011, she had fired police officials who did not toe her party line, and harassed critics who posted mocking cartoons of her on social media. She was seen as erratic, volatile, an autocrat who brooked no challenge within her own party. Mamata’s writ still ran large, but she was settling down and opening up, as the Marxists fell into disarray. During the last campaign, Mamata had refused to meet us because some of our companions had ties to leading Marxists in Delhi, but this time she called them up to the stage before a Kolkata rally and greeted them warmly.

As Mamata went on the offensive there were flashes of the old paranoia, and over the course of the campaign she would attack everyone from Modi and the media to the Election Commission and the security apparatus for conspiring against her. Her crowds lapped it up. As soon as her Kolkata rally ended and Mamata made it past her security cordon, she was mobbed by supporters, young and old, who wanted to kiss her hand, touch her feet, or receive her blessings.

Over this five-week campaign, Mamata would claim to walk 1000 kilometres in the sweltering heat of April and May to address more than 160 meetings, and while the numbers were implausible, her energy and her centrality to the TMC were not in question. The joke in Kolkata was that ‘there is only one post in the TMC and Mamata holds it. Everyone else is a lamppost.’ She was running a highly centralized government in which her word was the only one that really mattered, yet she was delivering enough to ordinary people to win them over. Many said Mamata had executed on her promises to improve roads and electricity. She had offered subsidies to bring down the price of wheat, vegetables and rice, which were selling for a few rupees per kilo. She had also given free bicycles to girls as an incentive and means to get to school, and offered wedding subsidies to young women.

In the end the TMC won easily. After five straight terms under Marxist party leaders, Bengal may simply not have been ready to throw out Mamata after one. Her personal charisma prevailed over the imploding Marxists and their opportunistic alliance with the Congress. She had mellowed, growing open enough to industry to win business support, remaining generous enough with the public purse to win votes from the poor.

Mamata was also riding the growing wave of voter support for single leaders, whose unmarried status seemed to confirm their claims of all-in devotion to public service. Among India’s twenty one most populous states, there were no unmarried chief ministers in 1988, but by 2016 there were seven, including Mamata, seemingly lifted by growing voter distaste for nepotism inside political parties, and the corruption that flows naturally from running parties as a family business. Mamata had in fact remained far more ascetic in her personal tastes than many other supremos. Even as chief minister she lived in her small ancestral home in the Kolkata neighbourhood of Kalighat. Passing by the home we were stunned to see it in a state of decay with a dilapidated grey tiled roof and rotting bamboo shafts—a stark contrast to the sandstone palaces Mayawati had built for herself in UP. Mamata’s image as a single leader with no taste for diamonds had made her largely impervious to the corruption charges that so often topple Indian governments, and helped her secure this second term.

Democracy on the Road takes readers on a rollicking ride with Ruchir and his merry band of fellow writers as they talk to farmers, shopkeepers and CEOs from Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu, and interview leaders from Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi.

The Great Disappointment of the ‘Modifesto’: Ten Facts Proving that ‘Achche Din’ Remain a Distant Dream

As the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government completes its current term ahead of the General Elections 2019, it is time to evaluate its performance, specifically in terms of its management of the economy.

Salman Anees Soz—international development expert, economic and political commentator and consultant at the World Bank, conducts a critical assessment of five years of the brand of economics Prime Minister Narendra Modi has championed, often referred to as ‘Modinomics’. The Great Disappointment takes a look at the rhetoric of the 2014 ‘Modifesto’ that actively denied the achievements of previous governments and announced that a government led by Narendra Modi would match their cumulative performance within its first term.

Brought into power with the biggest political mandate in almost three decades, did the NDA government succeed in gainfully transforming India’s economic trajectory or did it squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity?

A realistic look at GDP growth under Modinomics is not very promising

The 2016–17 survey notes that ‘GDP growth slipped from 7.7 per cent in the first half of 2016–17 to 6.5 per cent in the second half. Quarterly real GDP growth also shows a deceleration in the third and fourth quarters relative to the first two quarters. The slowdown in these indicators predated demonetization but intensified in the post-demonetization period.’ What that survey could not have predicted is that in the following quarter, economic activity slowed and the growth rate slumped to 5.7 per cent, the slowest pace in three years.

The much-touted tax reform failed to hold up structurally

Early on, the GST’s technology infrastructure could not keep up with the volume of transactions, and the government once again seemed unprepared for the scale of reform. It was demonetization redux and gave another major opportunity to the government’s critics to paint it as incompetent. Yashwant Sinha said that the GST ‘would make a fine Harvard University case study of everything that was wrong with the rollout of a tax reform’.

The agricultural crisis worsened in the last five years

Agricultural exports declined from US$42 billion in 2013– 14 to US$38 billion in 2017–18. They were lower in the intervening period. Agricultural imports went up by about 50 per cent during this time Interestingly, investment in agriculture (measured by gross capital formation as a share of agricultural GDP) fell from 17.7 per cent in 2013–14 to 15.5 per cent in 2016–17.

While the decline in global crude oil prices caused a reduction in fiscal deficit, oil prices for consumers in India are higher than ever

An analysis by the Mint newspaper showed that ‘almost the entire reduction of about 0.6% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in India’s fiscal deficit between FY14 and FY16 could be attributed to the sharp fall in crude prices’.  The current account balance improved. The government liberalized diesel prices sooner than anticipated on account of this sharp decline. However, instead of passing on the benefits of lower crude prices to consumers, the government retained much of the gain through progressively higher excise duties on petroleum products.

In many cases, the Modi government allegedly simply renamed its predecessor’s schemes

According to an analysis by the Quint, an online news site, the Modi government renamed nineteen out of twenty three schemes started by its predecessor, the UPA government. For example, the famous Jan Dhan Yojana is the new name of an existing scheme Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account (BSBDA). Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was originally Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan while the RGGVY (rural electrification) became DDUGJY.

One of the most touted ‘benefits’ of demonetization has evidently not materialized

There is no concrete evidence to indicate that demonetization led to a significant decline in terrorism. In fact, Prasenjit Bose, an economist, found that ‘total fatalities in terrorism-related violence in India have hardly seen any significant decline in 2017 (data till August 2017) compared to the two previous years, with violence in Jammu and Kashmir actually witnessing an escalation’.

Demonetisation has not shown a drastic increase in either direct tax collection or in the number of taxpayers

 Wilson quotes CBDT (Central Board of Direct Taxes) data to show that ‘there was an 11.6% growth in the number of income taxpayers in 2013–14, without any demonetisation. It then fell to 8.3% and 7.5% in next two years but increased to 12.7% in 2016–17 but again fell to 6.9% in 2017–18. So, the trend shows that there was no dramatic increase in the number of taxpayers.’ Wilson also notes that growth in direct taxes was much higher during the UPA’s ten years (average 20.2 per cent) as opposed to the Modi government’s four-year average growth of only 12 per cent.

Modi’s pitch to India’s youth was clear—if they voted for him, he would get them a job. Unfortunately, ground realities present a depressing picture

Total employment fell from 48.04 crores in 2013–14 to 46.76 crore in 2015–16. The failure to create jobs is becoming the biggest political challenge for the Modi government. There are constant reports in the media about the challenging jobs situation in India. The government’s response has been to latch on to questionable data on job creation to argue that India does not have an employment problem.

 The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme, the centrepiece of Skill India, has had negative reviews

The Sharada Prasad Committee, set up by the skill development ministry to review the performance of various sector skill councils, came out with negative reviews of the PMKVY. The committee noted that ‘no evaluation was conducted of PMKVY 2015 to find out the outcomes of the scheme and whether it was serving the twin purpose of providing employment to youth and meeting the skill needs of the industry before launching such an ambitious scheme’. In various stakeholder consultations, the committee reported that ‘all of them said in one voice that the targets allocated to them were very high and without regard to any sectoral requirement. Everybody was chasing numbers without providing employment to the youth or meeting sectoral industry needs.’

 The figures used to tout India’s GDP growth have come under the scanner after a suspicious change in methodology

India’s GDP data has been under the scanner ever since the CSO changed the methodology for calculating economic output in 2014–15. Most analysts were surprised after the publication of the new GDP series. Even the government’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian, and the then Governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan, cast doubt on the new CSO data. According to the Economist, investors  ‘roundly disbelieve India’s growth figures’.


Grab your copy of The Great Disappointment today!




Eight Things You Didn’t Know About The Indian Constitution

India became independent at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. Three years later the Constituent Assembly, whose members were nominated by elected provincial legislatures, promulgated a new constitution declaring the state to be a “sovereign democratic republic. ”

It has long been contended that the Indian Constitution of 1950, a document in English created by elite consensus, has had little influence on India’s greater population. Drawing upon the previously unexplored records of the Supreme Court of India, A People’s Constitution upends this narrative and shows how the Constitution actually transformed the daily lives of citizens in profound and lasting ways.

Know some interesting facts about the Indian Constitution in Rohit De’s book:

The Indian Constitution is the longest surviving constitution in the postcolonial world.

The Indian Constitution has been amended ninety-seven times to date. It was amended seventeen times in its first fourteen years, the period this book examines. At least half of these amendments curtailed judicial review or amended fundamental rights in order to reverse the impact of a Supreme Court judgement.

The original draft brought to the Constituent Assembly by B. R. Ambedkar did not have a provision for Prohibition. The amendment first arose during a debate on the final draft of the Constitution, which some members alleged was alien to the Indian ethos and the goals of the freedom movement.

The Indian Constitution was written over a period of four years by the Constituent Assembly.

Indians wrote the Indian Constitution, unlike the people of most former British colonies, like Kenya, Malaysia, Ghana, and Sri Lanka, whose constitutions were written by British officials at Whitehall.

Indian leaders were also able to agree upon a constitution, unlike Israeli and Pakistani leaders, both of whom elected constituent assemblies at a similar time but were unable to reach agreement on a document.

The Indian Constitution dominates, structures, frames, and constraints everyday life in India.

The Constitution of India in 1950 almost identically reproduced two-thirds of the text of the Government of India Act of 1935.

The objective of A People’s Constitution is to study “constitutional consciousness” as it exists in people’s minds. The book charts the dialectic between the Indian Constitution as “politics of state desire” and the Constitution as “articulating insurgent orders of expectations from the state.” Exploring how the Indian Constitution of 1950 enfranchised the largest population in the world, A People’s Constitution considers the ways that ordinary citizens produced, through litigation, alternative ethical models of citizenship.


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