Recycle Old Vehicles: Curb Pollution, Create Business

The government must motivate people to give up 15-year-old vehicles by incentivising the process. Next, it must draft a sound scrappage policy and build a chain of recycling units across the country

We don’t expect our leaders to be aware of the works of the two world’s leading environmental economists Martin Weitzman, the recluse who passed away on August 27 and the Nobel laureate William Nordhaus. Even then they, specially the ones living in Delhi who are exposed to inhaling toxic air, should be well aware that the millions of end of life vehicles (ELVs) are the principal culprits for fouling the city environment.

As early as 2000, New Delhi drawing lessons from the standards in the US where the focus is on emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) and the European Union where the concern is more about carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) formulated Bharat Stage Emission Standards (BSES). In phases, the norms were made more stringent and once a new stage is set, all new vehicles will have to compulsorily conform to it.

Now the government in an attempt to ensure that all new vehicles still do less harm to air quality is leapfrogging Bharat Stage V to BS-VI to be effective from April 1, 2020. This definitely is an environment positive move, though introduction of improved technology will mean higher prices for vehicles. Definitely a small price to pay for air quality improvement. The automobile industry’s concern is that this is to happen when it is facing the worst demand slump in two decades.

Sales of cars and SUVs fell for ten months in a row till August 2019. Every manufacturer, except for new entrants like South Korean Kia and Morris Garages (popularly known as MG) owned by Chinese state enterprise SAIC, has been forced by sharp demand collapse to cut production and shut factories and showrooms. But in the process countless number of workers had to be laid off. Unfortunately our finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman instead of acknowledging what is happening in the automobile industry is one manifestation of the economy being gripped in a deep economic crisis wanted us to believe that shared mobility and young people using Ola and Uber services are the cause.

No doubt lowering of Goods & Services Tax (GST) from the peak slab 28 per cent to 18 per cent could prove to be an effective stimulus for demand revival. Many states with their finances in a bad shape are expectedly demurring. But as the situation is, the GST Council should be able to reach a consensus that cars up to a value of say Rs10 lakh will attract 18 per cent GST to encourage middle class to own vehicles. The empirical evidence through all economic crises here and elsewhere is that buying by the rich and the very rich are immune to market swings. Therefore, let the exchequer continue to get the maximum from sales of the likes of BMW, Benz, Aston Martin, Porsche and Bugatti, all recession proof.

To return to ELVs from the current automobile crisis. We have on the registers of regional transport authorities, a disturbingly large number of 28 million ELVs, predating introduction of BSES seriously compromising air quality, particularly in our principal cities. Ideally, 15 year old vehicles should be sent to scrap yard. This is based on global experience that emission level of old cars is ten times more than the ones in ideal condition. In the case of ageing trucks, their emissions are at least eight times higher than the new ones. The question is why ELVs in such numbers are still running in already highly polluted cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata without the authorities taking action against the owners? Obviously, the authorities don’t want to offend the urban middle class and transport companies in which many politicians have a stake.

Even while a vehicle scrappage policy is under consideration for quite some time, the lawmakers are not able to decide whether the owners will be forced to surrender more than 15 year old vehicles for dismantling or the scheme will be principally voluntary but with such built-in incentives that will motivate people to surrender ELVs. Back in 2016, the government was toying with a voluntary vehicle fleet modernisation programme. But nothing came out of that. In recent weeks minister for highways and transport Nitin Gadkari and Sitharaman have spoken of the need for a well considered scrappage policy.

They will do well to heed the advice of industry veteran Pawan Kr. Goenka, managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra. He says in our kind of situation the scrappage policy cannot be mandatory but has to be motivational for ELVs surrender. “People who are doing with old vehicles belong to the lowest economic bracket among vehicle owners. You should not force them to give up their vehicles. That will not be right. It has to be voluntary and incentivised. It’s also important to offer a considerable incentive to motivate people to send ELVs for scrapping,” Goenka says.

Environment and replacement of scrapped vehicles by new ones using the vehicle surrender linked incentive money are not the only issues involved in the scrappage programme. Apply the circular economy concept, you will find in ELVs sent for ‘depollution. dismantling, baling and shredding’ have a lot of wealth in the form recovered metals, specially steel, which is an important feedstock for steelmakers using electric arc furnaces (EAFs) and induction furnaces (IFs).

The thriving unorganised vehicle recycling units through their highly unscientific and environment compromising process are annually generating around 28m tonnes of steel scrap against requirements of 35m tonnes by the steel industry. Therefore the deficit of 7m tonnes are imported from the European Union, UAE, the US, Japan, etcetera, at considerable outgo of foreign exchange. The steel ministry has estimated that EAFs and IFs here will need 55m tonnes of scrap by 2030-31.

Ministry officials say considering the large local ELV population, India is well placed to generate enough scrap to meet the steel industry’s future demand for this raw material and imports could be eliminated. But for this to happen, the country must build a chain of authorised recycling units in different parts of the country equipped with automated plant and machinery. Why only self-reliance, there is potential to create modern recycling units close to ports which will facilitate import of ELVs from south and south-east Asia and the Far East and then export steel scrap. Unlike India, many countries in this part of the world do not have blast furnaces (where iron ore is used) and make all their steel through EAFs and IFs. They will be ready buyers of any surplus steel scrap that this country may generate in future.


Is India Giving The Devil A Foothold In Kashmir?

The international community has given India a long rope on Kashmir. But with the lockdown in the Valley, murmurs on human rights have begun and are likely to gather momentum

India’s decision to scrap Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate the state has been a shot in the arm for Prime Minister Imran Khan. It has given Pakistan the perfect opportunity to exploit Delhi’s action to its advantage.

India-Pakistan ties will continue to deteriorate. It could go out of hand if there is a major terror strike in Kashmir. Delhi is bound to retaliate and the world community would scramble to restraint the two nuclear armed neighbours. In such a case US President Donald Trump will certainly try to weight in. He has been waiting in the wings nudging both sides to talk.

China is likely to bat for “all weather friend” Pakistan in such an event. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is at the centre of President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The two countries are now bound not just by strategic ties but vital economic considerations.

Indian and Chinese troops have got into a scuffle in Ladakh this week and is a hint of more aggressive patrolling by China on the border. It possibly has nothing to do with Ladakh becoming a union territory, but China had objected to the Indian move soon after March 5. China already occupies 38,000 sq km of Aksai Chin as well as 5,800 sq km in Shaksgam Valley of J&K. India has constantly made the point that the CPEC runs through Indian territory which Pakistan occupied illegally in 1947.

It was mainly due to China’s efforts that the United Nationals Security Council held a closed door discussion on Kashmir last month. At the end of the Chinese foreign minister Wang Wang Yi’s recent visit to Pakistan, Kashmir was part of the joint statement. All this is not surprising. It will be interesting to see how far China is willing to go in support of Pakistan on Kashmir. Much will also depend on how the second informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping pans out later this year. As of now Xi is scheduled to come in October, tentative dates are 11-14, though a formal announcement.

There is no silver lining in sight for India and Pakistan for now. India’s talks and terror cannot go hand in hand, now has Pakistan’s insisting on no dialogue unless Kashmir’s former status is restored. There is no way that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will do so. Abolishing article 370, is part of the BJP’s ideological commitment.

The international community has given India a long rope on Kashmir. Some in India are crowing that Pakistan has been unable to get the world community to condemn India. That is correct. But human rights issues are looming over the government and despite claims that the internet and mobile services are partially lifted and the curfew like situation will eventually end, the ground reality is different. The murmur on human rights has already begun, and is likely to gather momentum.

Islamabad has been on the backfoot for nearly a decade trying to deflect accusations about the terror networks operating from its soil. Islamabad efforts to hammer the point that it has borne the brunt of terror strikes on its people and security forces did not get much traction. This is mainly because it is well known that Rawalpindi has used terror outfits against both India and Afghanistan. Also both the US and NATO forces had first-hand experience of Pakistan’s double dealing.

Now Islamabad is getting a chance to point fingers at India’s action in Kashmir. For once the world is willing to listen, as Pakistan’s foreign minister as well as its diplomats are putting across their views on Kashmir in America, US and the Gulf to expose India.

At the UN, Pakistan will hope to catch the world’s eye on Kashmir. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be addressing UNGA on the 27th of this month. Pakistan’s leader Imran Khan will speak after Modi’s address. He will certainly talk forcefully on the past UN resolutions in Kashmir, and point to flagrant violations of people’s rights in Kashmir. Much of Indian diplomacy must now necessarily be centred on defending its position on Kashmir.

India and Pakistan are back to square one, with each country attacking the other in international forums. This week it was at the Human Rights Council in Geneva where India and Pakistan clashed. Pakistan claims it got 50 countries to support a joint statement at the Human Rights Council Chief, calling for respect and protection of fundamental human rights of the people of Kashmir, lifting of curfew and ending the communication shutdown and released of those detained. It is a throwback to the late 80s and 90s when Kashmir was a constant presence in all bilateral meets in Europe and US. Indian diplomats will have to work overtime to counter Pakistan. Balochistan will be highlighted by India. It will be a grueling few months for foreign minister Jaishankar and his team.

Not that any of this matters in the long run. What is important is for the Modi government to begin talking to the people of Kashmir. Muscular policy and a strong nation is part of the BJPs ethos. But needs to be tempered with concern for their well being. The sooner the government begins to reach out with compassion to the people of Kashmir the better.

The current partial lockdown cannot continue indefinitely. The main aim of the government was to be able to tell the world that there was no major loss of life. That’s commendable, but people’s voices also need to be heard. India is still a democracy and while the rest of the country, as well the Jammu area have welcomed the government move, the voices of the valley need to be heard.

Home Minister Amit Shah has said the removal of article 370, would help the authorities to fight terrorism effectively. He plans to rid Kashmir off terrorism and bring development back to the state. At the same time the Centre hopes to introduce new faces in politics. But for this government needs to begin a dialogue with people. The sooner India begins to take some corrective measures the better it will be able to manage the diplomatic fall out over Kashmir. There is no need for the government to waste energy on convincing the people of the country. Most Indians support Prime Minister Modi’s decision. The first move was meticulously planned but what next, is a legitimate question to ask the government.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval claims that the majority of Kashmiris are happy with the removal of special status. Who are these people? Possibly, the Hindus of the state who are ardent supporters of the BJP. But they don’t represent the views of the entire population.

Prime Minister Modi needs to take a leaf out of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s book. The PM is a great orator and should try to convince Kashmiris that India cares for them. Winning hearts and minds of Kashmiris is vital unless Delhi wants to give Kashmir in a platter to Pakistan.


How To Pull Indian Economy Up By The Bootstraps

Boosting consumer spending; incentivising investment in manufacturing; and pro-active wooing of foreign capital are three things crucial to jump-starting India’s economy

When former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made some dire observations on the state of the Indian economy recently in a video statement, it wasn’t surprising that a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson would quickly label him as being “a puppet” who was being used by people behind the scenes (read: Congress leaders). Such facetiousness is not unexpected of BJP spokespersons whose flippant one-liners serve little purpose than to make a mockery of the very people who utter them. Dr Singh is an accomplished economist with a distinguished career—besides being prime minister for two terms, he has been India’s finance minister, governor of India’s central bank (the Reserve Bank of India) and has headed the erstwhile planning commission. When Dr Singh speaks (and he rarely does) on the economy, it would be wise to listen.

In his statement, released to the press and aired on news TV channels, Dr Singh attributed the Indian economy’s travails—slow growth; lack of investment; demand, and jobs—to an “all-round mismanagement” by the Modi government. In the last quarter, GDP growth had sputtered to 5%; the manufacturing sector’s growth had dropped to an abysmal 0.6%; and companies had to resort to large-scale lay-offs (in the auto sector alone, an estimated 350,000 people are estimated to have lost jobs).

Dr Singh called the poor state of the Indian economy a manmade phenomenon and blamed a number of decisions that were taken by the Modi regime during 2014-2019 for the economic debacle, particularly actions such as demonetisation and a haphazardly-implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.

While the Modi government, now into its fourth month in power after it was re-elected should heed voices such as Dr Singh’s, here is a road-map that could significantly help in getting the economy back on tracks.

Reviving consumer demand. There are no sure-fire quick-fix solutions to boosting consumer spending but a number of factors can be made to act together, complementarily, to increase consumer confidence (currently at a low level in India) and make people fork out for consumer products. Chief among them is the interest rate. India’s monetary policy has in the past six years been weighted towards tackling inflation, which spiralled out of control in 2013. However, inflation rates in recent years have been moderate—and they now hover at levels lower than the 4% that the central bank thinks are normal. This could be a cue to reduce interest rates in order to boost demand and consumer buying.

Selective tax cuts on goods and services, property, and other indirect forms of taxation could also help in boosting spending and, thereby, mitigating the resulting loss in revenue from tax cuts by the increased volume of transactions.

Increased government spending is yet another factor that can have a multiplier effect on the economy and lead to a rise in overall spending. The government has recently been handed a windfall of Rs 1.76 lakh crore by the Reserve Bank of India but as of now there is little public awareness of what it plans to do with that. Could it not be channelled into government spending and, therefore, create ripples of upbeat consumer confidence all-round?

Increasing domestic investment. One of the Indian economy’s biggest problems is that its manufacturing sector has remained sluggish for a prolonged period. Industry contributes less than 30% of India’s GDP, while the services sector contributes nearly 55%. During the Modi regime 1.0 several big plans, including the “Make In India” scheme, were flagged off. But this has led to little in terms of outcome. Partly the decline in the manufacturing sector’s growth is on account of the travails of small and medium sized enterprises, which were hit hard by demonetisation and the complexities of the new GST system. While demonetisation cannot be reversed, it is possible for the government to take a close look at GST and see whether it can be further simplified.

Lower interest rates too will obviously boost manufacturing as will the measures to increase consumer demand. The central government could also work with states to see how each of them could incentivise domestic investment in manufacturing—either by proffering tax reliefs or other incentives. Japan’s manufacturing boom in the post-World War II era was catalysed by its powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which worked closely with different Japanese industries to grow markets for Japanese products—both domestically as well as globally. India has the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Ayog. It replaced the earlier Planning Commission and works mainly as an advisory think tank. It may not be a bad idea to make NITI work like MITI did in Japan during the 1960s and 70s.

Encouraging foreign investment. India liberalised its policies on foreign direct investment (FDI) in 1991 and since then, in absolute terms, FDI has increased year-on-year. But in recent years, despite the government’s attempts to attract more foreign investment—both direct as well as through equity infusions—the growth rate of FDI has faltered. A good measure of FDI growth is by looking at foreign investments as a percentage of gross fixed capital formation (GFCF). And here’s the bad news. Gross FDI as a proportion of GFCF has actually dropped sharply in India: from over 32% in 2008-09 to a little over 8% in 2018-19. The government may tom-tom the “success” of its Make In India and other incentives but the numbers speak volumes.

Recently, foreign investment was opened up for the coal sector. And foreign investment limits were relaxed for retail businesses and for online media. However, those may not be enough to boost FDI significantly. India’s coal has lower calorific value than in many other countries; besides, although India has the world’s fifth largest coal deposits, global concerns about fossil fuel and its environmental effect have dampened the enthusiasm of multinational energy giants in expanding their coal businesses.

The need of the hour could be to actually form industry-government alliances in India that could target specific groups of foreign investors by way of roadshows where the objective should be to seal deals and hammer out incentives such as tax rebates. What India needs now is more than a flurry of announcements. The government-industry alliances could be sector-wise, or even as initiatives by separate state governments with leading businesses in their respective states. What India needs now to boost the economy is not a flurry of announcements at hyped-up press conferences, but focused and single-minded action.


Can India Implement Ban On Single-Use Plastic?

Plastics manufacturers are trying to find fixes of popular concerns but the petrochemical industry has a strong lobby and this is why violations of environmental norms happen with impunity

It is not a day too soon there is promise of India coming down with some force on the single use plastic, which the quintessential bottle holding still water principally represents. In the available order in the country, hardly anything of importance will move till the prime minister himself will herald a campaign. For example, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a five-year mission launched with great fanfare in 2014 coinciding with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi took wing nationally because Narendra Modi made it his signature policy. Even then, we will be far from a ‘clean India’ by this yearend because of citizenry apathy. Hopefully, he will do better with putting a stop to the use-once-and-discard plastic items.

On the Independence Day speaking from the ramparts of Red Fort, Modi said: “Can we free India from single use plastic? The time for implementing such an idea has come. May teams be motivated to work in this direction.” Earlier on the World Environment Day in 2018, the then minister for environment, forest and climate change Harsh Vardan said attempts would be made to phase out use of single use plastic by 2022. Not unexpectedly, nothing worth telling has happened since the minister spoke. Except for a good number of states notifying full or partial ban on single use plastic.

But as is not uncommon in India, the state level fiat is respected more in violation than in observance. What is to be remembered is that the petrochemical industry has a strong lobby and this is the reason why violations happen with impunity. Is it any surprise then that the country’s leading retailers such as Big Bazaar, Reliance Retail and V Mart are far from being environment friendly as they continue to give buyers the bought items in plastic bags? An example of the triumph of convenience and consumer preference over keeping the environment clean.

Plastics, the emblem of postwar consumerism are described as the workhorse of modern economy. They are finding a wide range of applications because of their light weight, robustness, easy formability and price advantage over competition. Riding on these strengths, global annual production of plastics advanced from 15m tonnes in 1964 to over 350m tonnes presently. Consulting firm McKinsey says in case the present rate of demand growth is sustained, albeit defying the spasm of popular disgust against the harmful effect on environment and health, then plastics output will take a leap to 600m tonnes by 2034. Confidence about demand growth is high among producers, particularly in the US. The North American market is seeing record amounts of capacity in the pipeline.

Not surprisingly green activists and others are alarmed by the development. The concern is because not only are there emissions of enormous quantities of greenhouse gases in the course of production of plastics, the environment suffers further damage as overwhelmingly large portions of used plastics go into landfills, or are burnt or are left to litter everywhere from city streets to seashores to foothills of mountains. We do this without realising that plastics escaping the established waste collection system will be floating on the earth for centuries, all the time causing harm to the environment. The intended life of single use plastic products is not even a year but for the laxity on the part of administration in India and elsewhere they virtually get an infinite life.

A report co-authored by McKinsey, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum estimates the negative externalities of plastics at $40bn, including pollution impact and that is more than the industry’s annual profits. The report gives the warning that if the future demand growth for plastic products remains at the current rate then the global plastic-waste volume will climb to 460m tonnes a year by 2030 from 260m tonnes in 2016. The present waste volume is already a major environmental concern. But the waste size forecast for the future will take the problem to “a whole new level,” says the report. A chart prepared by culling information from multiple sources shows the recycle rate of plastics at lower than 40 per cent compares poorly with steel at 80 per cent, aluminium cans and glass at 78 per cent and beverage carton at 43 per cent. What particularly raises despair is the rate of recycling rate at a pathetically low of 10 per cent for polyethylene, which is the most commonly produced plastic.

As against the growing public discontent over the poor rate of plastic recycling, the World Steel Association and International Aluminium Association are upholding the virtues of circular economy under which not only the end of life metal products are collected and shredded for recycling but facilities have been built in production systems for optimum reuse of water and energy. Public anger besides that is forcing more and more governments to take action against single use plastics – as many as 127 countries have either banned or levied taxes on disposable plastic bags – the industry will have to contend with competition emerging from alternative biodegradable products such as wood fibre bottle, recently unveiled by brewer Carlsberg. Is it not time for jute goods makers to put their house in order to regain the market lost to plastic bags used in packing foodgrains and sugar? Unfortunately, ownership of jute mills, except for a few, has moved from respectable corporate houses to traders who lack foresight.

Modi hasn’t spelt it out in any detail, but his angst must be occasioned by almost a third of all plastic packaging leaks amounting to more than 8m tonnes a year finding its way into the oceans polluting waters. No wonder we read frequently reports of marine species such as whales, turtles and fishes perishing due to their unwittingly ingesting plastics thinking these to be food and choking themselves to death. To everyone’s horror, microplastics have been found in the remote reaches of the Arctic. Not only in tap water, but plastic fibres are found in more than 90 per cent of bottled water.

No wonder then plastics manufacturers are finally trying to find fixes of popular concerns. Some independent companies are working on breaking down plastics into their components for conversion into new materials. Scientists say waste polyethylene is a potential carbon source that could be made into value added polymers. Noticeable progress has been made in laboratories to turn waste plastics into a pliable wax like substance to which then is added other elements resulting into bioplastics. We don’t have at this point any estimate of how much of waste plastics in India could be recycled. But developed countries are targeting 70 per cent recycling by 2030. McKinsey has recommended decoupling of plastics from fossil feedstocks by way of exploring and establishing renewably sourced feedstocks. But this will be a journey which will meet with serious opposition from the powerful oil industry.

Opposition Unity

Why Regional Satraps Are Muted On Kashmir Issue

Most regional parties, which were extremely vocal on issues that impact Indian federal structure, have chosen to remain nonchalant on the abrogation of Article 370 for political reasons

Participating in the debate on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the bifurcation of the state in Parliament last month, former finance minister P Chidambaram was perhaps the only speaker who focused extensively on the Modi government’s decision to unilaterally alter the status of a state and its far-reaching implications for the country’s federal structure.

Describing the move as “a misadventure, a catastrophic step”, Chidambaram maintained that the dismemberment of a state would lay down a dangerous precedent as the government would henceforth be able to carve out every other state in the country in a similar manner.

The former minister went on to underline: “All that they have to do is dismiss the elected government, impose President’s rule, dissolve the elected assembly, and ensure Parliament takes the power of the state assembly. The government then moves a resolution, Parliament approves it and the state is dismembered.”

That the Modi government’s decision on the division of Jammu and Kashmir has far-reaching implications for other states can hardly be denied. And yet most regional parties, which are otherwise extremely vocal on issues which have an adverse impact on federalism, have been nonchalant on this aspect. In fact, several regional parties including the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Telugu Desam Party, Aam Admi Party, YSR Congress, and Biju Janata Dal, which are not official members of the ruling alliance welcomed the government’s decision on Article 370 but were silent on the move to bifurcate the state.

And even parties like the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal (U), which opposed the move referred to the bifurcation only cursorily. Instead, the arguments put forth by the representatives of these parties focused on the stealth with which the Modi government brought the Bills to Parliament without circulating them in advance which would allow MPs to scrutinise the provisions in detail.

For instance, Trinamool Congress spokesperson Derek O’Brien described the government handling as “procedural harakiri” while Tiruchi Siva of the DMK only went as far as to say that the Centre should have taken the consent of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly before going ahead with this move.

The DMK subsequently took the lead in organizing a protest rally of opposition parties in Delhi last month but here again, the leaders who participated did not attack the Modi government either on the abrogation of Article 370 or the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They drew attention to the arrest of political leaders in the state and demanded their immediate release and also that normalcy be restored at the earliest and the clampdown on communication is removed. The day-long event was, at best, a token protest. Opposition leaders followed this up by attempting to visit the Kashmir Valley but were turned back from the Srinagar airport by the security agencies who said they were instructed not to allow them out.

Delhi chief minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal, who has been campaigning for full statehood for Delhi which is presently a Union Territory with an assembly, surprised everyone when he came out in support of the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370. But Kejriwal was unfazed when confronted with the contradiction in his stand, pointing out that a peaceful state cannot be compared with a disturbed border state.

Opposition leaders privately agreed that that the decision to divide Jammu and Kashmir could impact other states but said they were hemmed in from launching a severe attack against the Modi government on its J&K policy because it enjoyed widespread public support.

That’s the reason, they said, they had confined  their criticism to the faulty process adopted by the government in this case, the arrest of political leaders and the overall lockdown in the state. “We are constrained because we cannot go against public sentiment,” a DMK leader pointed out. Consequently, DMK chief M K Stalin did not go beyond describing the decision as a “murder of democracy” while charging the BJP of not respecting the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Ironically, even the Trinamool Congress has been muted in its criticism. Though Derek O’Brien described August 5 as “Black Monday” and a dark day for the country’s constitution, his party chose to walk out during the debate in Parliament instead of voting against the Bills.

Like other opposition parties, Trinamool Congress is also hemmed in by its dipping graph in West Bengal and the BJP’s growing popularity in the state. “Did you notice the number of times Amit Shah mentioned Shyama Prasad Mukherjee in his speech,” a Trinamool Congress MP pointed out, adding, “Ultimately we have to fight elections in our state.”

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, founder of the Jan Sangh which later became the BJP was a staunch opponent of Article 370 and had waged a consistent battle against this provision. The BJP has been projecting Mukherjee as an icon of West Bengal in its campaign against the Trinamool Congress.

Assembly elections are due in West Bengal next year and given the religious polarization fanned by the BJP in the state, a beleaguered Mamata Banerjee has little option but to do a fine balancing act.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders pointed out that if the opposition genuinely had strong views on the latest developments in Kashmir, it should have organized mass protests on the streets. “But they cannot do so because the people are not with them,” remarked a BJP leader.


Can India & Pakistan Settle Kashmir Through Talks?

Having failed to generate world attention on the Kashmir’s status, Pakistan may rely back on terror attacks. But such acts will now carry a high risk of Indian retaliation as happened in Balakot

I wrote this elsewhere on August 5, the day India ended special status of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, and find that perception reinforced a month hence. The credit/blame for ratcheting up the Kashmir issue for South Asia and the world should go to United States President Donald Trump.

Things were not hunky-dory in the troubled state, now sliced into two union territories. But Trump set the timetable for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to implement his party’s long-held political agenda.

Modi felt cornered when Trump offered to mediate/adjudicate on Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan, claiming that Modi had asked for it, He said this before visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22 in Washington.    

Asking Trump to mediate goes against Modi’s grain. This is also not the position of his government and the party. Even in the past, India has always thwarted, except when expedient, any outside move to discuss Kashmir.

Trump possibly misread Modi’s mind. His announcement in Khan’s presence infuriated the Indians. Anxious to get Pakistan’s fullest cooperation in quitting Afghanistan, Trump may have thought he was giving Khan and his military mentors an additional reason to play the ball. This has boomeranged with consequences for Kashmir.

Look at the compulsions of all three players, Trump needs Khan to evacuate. Khan wants to make the best of this in money and military terms and firm up Pakistan’s position as the principal guarantor of everything happening to Afghanistan. Trump’s linking Kashmir was a bonus.

But having furthered Indo-US relations to where they are Modi has no real compulsion or incentive to seek Trump’s good offices on the Kashmir issue.

Now, having worked within its own territory, India doesn’t need any mediation.

India’s problem lies elsewhere. Special constitutional provisions, Articles 370 and 35A that have been abrogated were diluted, anyway, over the years and were largely symbolic. Annulling them has caused a huge set of issues – political, social, economic and psychological – for an entire state of 12.5 million people (2011 census figures) used to a way of life for seven decades.

Their lockdown is complete with communications snapped, movement restricted and despite official claims, a complete disruption of lives. Their future uncertain, mood is one of anger and disenchantment.

Like its geographical location, a Muslim majority state topped India’s image of a secular democracy. This erstwhile princely state’s accession was under unique circumstances and the provisions were definitely ‘temporary’. But undoing them has sent negative signals far and wide. History students ask if this belatedly justifies Hindus and Muslims being two separate ‘nations’, which led to the Partition.

Despite virtual separation of a Hindu-majority Jammu and a Buddhist-majority Ladakh, the challenge persists from a Muslim populace that forms a majority in the Kashmir Valley, with sections of it espousing separatism, some even preferring Pakistan.      

Trying to solve this over a long period is Modi’s most formidable challenge. There is no denying it is a long haul and as of now, the conditions are grim.  

Modi needs to reach out to the people, particularly in the Valley, sooner than later. All political players have been clubbed together. Indications are that curbs could ease on mainstream political parties with release of their chiefs from house-detention. But the government would be tough for separatists and worse for those looking for political and/or armed support from across the border.  

Frankly speaking, there are no principles – it’s realpolitik at work. 

If street protests ensue and India puts them down with a heavy hand – both are stark possibilities — one can expect denunciation of human rights violations. But in today’s world, human rights violations taking place daily in different parts of the world have, regrettably, lost their salience as instigators of international pressure.

As for Pakistan, raising the nuclear specter as it is wont to, Khan has warned of a third world war. Putting school children in front, he has unleashed a weekly national campaign where he attacks Modi, his faith and government as ‘fascist’, ‘Hindu supremacist’ etc. He seems unmindful of the risk he is putting the religious minorities in his own country, already discriminated socially and economically and frequently targeted by Islamist militants.

Khan tells the world community to intervene – or else. But things have changed since 9/11. With emergence of aggressive ‘nationalist’ leaders across the world, everyone has things to hide and people to get tough with.

Pakistan is unhappy that the world doesn’t listen to its angry laments. Except Turkey and its all-weather friend China that has its own compulsions with India, everyone wants the issue to be resolved bilaterally.

The Pakistan Senate passed a strong resolution. But it loudly wailed that the world is indifferent to the “Kashmir cause”. A restive opposition demands Khan to do more. Support came in the form of a resolution by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) asking India to roll back its action and follow the UN resolutions. But “the bubble of an Islamic ummah has burst,” said former Senate Chief Raza Rabbani. Dawn newspaper editorially noted that the OIC had been “a mere spectator.”

That Saudi Arabia’s Aramco signed a deal with India’s Reliance and the UAE conferred its highest civilian award on Modi last month, says Pakistan, demonstrates that economic gains with and from India have influenced prominent Muslim nations. 

The Kashmir glue binds Pakistan. From Tehreek-e-Labaik to the liberal human rights bodies alike, all are united, although the latter have eschewed jingoism. Khan’s position is unenviable. Caught napping, the military has taken control of the discourse. Any criticism comes only from analysts safely ensconced in the West.

Since Kashmir issue was born with the Partition and has been linked to its very raison d’etre, Pakistan is unlikely to give up.    

In India, criticism, if not outright opposition to Modi’s action, is strong, reflecting diversity. Pakistan and Kashmir do not rouse sentiments down south. It’s a relatively strong democracy, but the opposition is divided and on back-foot. Modi has made it a Kashmir-versus-the rest issue. Politically, this reinforces his party’s predominant position.   

Serious differences are voiced on legal and constitutional aspects. India’s Supreme Court has shown no inclination to do anything immediate and/or drastic, giving the government time to restore normalcy, while constituting a 5-judge bench to hear the petitions.

Pakistan’s stakes are high, but it is working from a position of disadvantage. One, it cannot alter the new reality through pulic protests and diplomatic campaign. Two, India is, or ought to be, well prepared to meet the local situation, ruthlessly as and when required, and can take care of cross border moves.

It leaves scope for only terror attacks. But the surprise element of such attack(s) also carries high a risk of Indian retaliation as had happened at Balakot after Pulwama.  

Talks on laying a corridor across Punjab border to Sikh shrine at Kartarpur and consular access to alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav in Pakistani prison are two discernible signs of attempts at restoring a semblance of calm.

Given this situation, any substantive talks are far away. Everyone says: no war. Both sides are claiming the full territory. There is scope only for a negotiated settlement. Can that be based on on-ground realities? Will the neighbours agree to keep what they control? For now, this possibility is into an uncertain future.

The writer can be reached at

Sonia Gandhi Rahul And Manmohan

Will Cong Come Out Of The Retirement Mode?

The Grand Old Party will do well to take a leaf from the BJP’s organisational reforms by assigning leadership roles to its Gen-Next leaders

When the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, met here earlier this month to pick Rahul Gandhi’s successor, it eventually settled on Sonia Gandhi after day-long deliberations. The difference between the two national parties and their fortunes could not be more symbolic than this step. Congress has become a pensioners’ party while BJP is the dynamic youth orientated national force.

The decision by Congress to reinstate Sonia Gandhi as leader was a major victory for the party’s old guard which had been working behind the scenes for nearly two months to see that Rahul Gandhi loyalists were denied the party’s presidency. By proposing Sonia Gandhi’s name, the party seniors silenced those who were pushing for a younger leader and also ensured that their hold on the party organization remained intact as they are essentially her camp followers.

The entire exercise ended up exposing the divide between the party’s old guard and the Gen Next leaders with the former having the upper hand. Consequently, the much-needed generational shift in the grand old party was effectively thwarted.

In fact, this battle between the two groups is not new. Afraid of losing their preeminent position in the party organization, the old guard has been blocking Rahul Gandhi’s plans since he was the party vice-president. Even after he took over as party chief, the Nehru-Gandhi scion had to tread carefully to ensure that he did not alienate the old-timers, known for their proximity to Sonia Gandhi.

That Rahul Gandhi was unable to shake them off was evident when it came to the appointment of chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan after the Congress won the assembly polls in the two states last year. He had to willy-nilly endorse senior leaders Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot as chief ministers, overlooking the claims of younger leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot.  

This ongoing turf war between Sonia Gandhi’s loyalists and Rahul Gandhi’s supporters in the Congress stands out in sharp contrast to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has, over the past few years, placed young leaders in key positions of power without creating any major ripples in the party.

The first move in this direction was made after veteran BJP leader L.K.Advani fell foul of the party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, with his complimentary remarks on Mohammad Jinnah. Advani’s protégés Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were given the responsibility of leading the charge against the Manmohan Singh government in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, respectively. Both leaders were in their fifties then. Shortly thereafter, 52-year-old Nitin Gadkari was promoted as BJP president. Though dethroned, Advani retained a say in party matters through Swaraj and Jaitley, both mentored by him.

However, the BJP and the RSS woke up to the need for a further generational change after the party lost two consecutive elections in 2004 and 2009. It was clear that seniors like Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were not inspiring younger and new voters and that it was time to take drastic decisions.

By then, three-time Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had positioned himself for a larger national role. Undoubtedly, his projection as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial face came up for opposition from Advani and his supporters in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But, after a few hiccups, their resistance was eventually worn down. And once Modi proved his credentials in the electoral arena by leading the party to an emphatic victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, there was no looking back.

Modi and his confidant Amit Shah have since moved fast to bring in younger leaders. Party seniors were been gradually sidelined and even second-generation leaders made way for a younger set. But unlike the Congress, the change-over has been a smooth affair.

Senior leaders were first denied ministerial berths in 2014 by laying down an upper age limit of 75 years. In the recent general election, these leaders, including Advani, Joshi, Shanta Kumar, Sumitra Mahajan, B.C.Khanduri and Kalraj Mishra were not even given tickets.

At the same time, Modi, assisted by BJP president Amit Shah, has picked new chief ministerial candidates which went against all conventional logic. For instance, Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, was appointed a chief minister in Maharashtra where power has always been with the all-powerful Maratha community. Similarly, Manohar Lal Khattar, a non-Jat, was chosen as chief minister of Haryana where it is the Jat community which dominates. It’s the same story in Jharkhand and Assam.

Though there were initial murmurs in the party, there were no protests or counter moves to all these decisions, thus ensuring the emergence of a new-look BJP.  

The Congress can certainly take a few lessons from the BJP which successfully managed to reverse the trend of electoral losses by taking some tough measures. It was a gamble but it paid off. The result is that the BJP is the central pole of Indian polity today while the Congress is struggling for survival.

The Congress too needs to disturb the status quo and go in for major changes without being afraid of rocking the boat. But to do so, it needs a powerful and charismatic leader who also has capabilities of winning elections for the party. The BJP has that advantage.

Congress increasingly gives the impression of a party seeking ‘retirement’ as Sonia Gandhi with Manmohan Singh in tow, both shuffling when walking, are the face of Congress. But where is the new dynamic youthful strides going to come from?

Unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi has not measured up to the task, which has allowed the old guard to retain its vice-like grip on the party while Gen-Next leaders continue to wait in the wings.


Citizen Register – Is India Going The Myanmar Way?

As final Assam National Register of Citizens is released, leaving 1.9 million people stateless and homeless, a massive humanitarian tragedy is likely to confront the state

A time bomb is ticking in Assam as the state braces to cope with the fall-out from the final publication of the National Registrar of Citizens released on August 31. A massive humanitarian tragedy may confront the state as roughly 1.9 million people are likely to become stateless and homeless. The figure is from the final NRC which was released on August 31.

Is India now going the Myanmar way? The Muslim Rohingyas are stateless with no rights. Time and again they are attacked and have no access to either government health care or any other facilities provided for ordinary citizens. The plight of the Rohingya refugees have caught the imagination of the world. India risks the same outrage from the international community, unless it has thought through what it aims to do. Kashmir is already in focus. Add the plight of four million stateless people and Delhi will have a major human rights problem in hand. Will the rest of the world be as accommodating as they have been so far with Kashmir?

Neither the Centre nor the Assam government have given a clue of what they intend to do with this mass of people whose lives are being torn apart. It has been a haphazard exercise ridden with mistakes. That could be overlooked considering the huge numbers. Yet as people are at the centre of the NRC, mistakes take a deadly toll on individuals and families. There are several instances reported of the grandparents considered as Indian citizens while the sons and daughters are blacklisted as foreigners. Much depends on the official behind the desk who has enormous powers over these hapless individuals. Time and again the BJP government, both at the Centre and the state have assured people that they have the  right to appeal and that not a single genuine citizen need worry. But assurances on paper and what happens on the ground are two different things.

 Where will these people be kept? At the moment Assam has six detention camps that operate out of make-shift facilities in local prisons in Goal Para, Dibrugarh, Silcher, Tezpur, Jorhat and Kokrajhar. According to reports 10 more are going to be built. But when? And what happens to them after Saturday? According to reports in the local newspapers, Assam’s first stand-alone detention centre is being constructed in the border district of Goalpara, which will be able to keep 3,000 people. But that is a drop in the ocean considering the numbers.

 As most of the stateless are allegedly from neighbouring Bangladesh, has Dhaka been consulted? Has Sheikh Hasina’s government agreed to take back at least some of these detainees? Nobody knows. Delhi is keeping its cards close to its chest. When foreign minister S Jaishankar was in Dhaka earlier this month and asked at a news conference about the NRC, he said it was India’s internal problem and he would not answer any questions on the process.

In the past Bangladesh had said that they would take back those people who had relevant papers to show they were from that country. A majority of the stateless are poor, illiterate peasants who have no papers to prove their identity. India has excellent relations with Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government. Delhi is unlikely to do anything to upset that equation.

But what will the government do with the four million alleged foreigners. For one it is impossible to keep them under detention indefinitely. People of Assam are happy that finally foreign nationals have been identified. They have long struggled for this. The student’s agitation in the late 70s was all about protecting the identity of the local Assamese. The 1985 Assam Accord had promised to identify foreigners and deport them. Not much had happened however. The fear of being reduced to a minority in their own homes is something that has haunted the Assamese for decades. The fear was that Assam would be the second Muslim majority state after Kashmir. Ironically with the abrogation of article 370 and 35 A of the constitution, which forbids “outsiders’’ from other Indian states from buying land in the state is now no longer applicable. Kashmiris worry that in a couple of decades, the state will no longer have a Muslim majority.  Ironically in Assam the government is proposing to ensure that the Assamese majority keep their status intact.   

The only way out to deal with the alleged foreigners is to allow people to remain but ensure that they have no voting rights. This will assuage the Assamese that illegal voters will not have a say in the elections. There is concern in the local BJP unit in Assam that as much as 40 percent of the foreigners identified are Hindu Bengalis from former East Pakistan and current Bangladesh. The Amendment to the Citizenship Act was brought in with these people in mind. The amendment allows for all Hindu refugees to seek Indian citizenship. There have been demonstrations by local units of the BJP in Assam that Hindus should not be humiliated in this fashion. The government will find a way out for the Hindu Bengalis, considering that the BJP has already got the Citizenship Amendment ready to take care of that contingency. 

Can the rest of the people, identified as foreigners continue to live and operate out of Assam? A stateless population will be exposed to all kinds of atrocities, as Myanmar has proved. The BJP seems to be playing with fire, considering there is talk of having NRC across India. That would be disastrous and light the fires of social tension across the country. Will any government in its right mind push this self-destruct button?


Khadi Inc Bucks Slowdown, Creates Jobs & Wealth

Like it or not, Modi has lent glamour to the khadi fabric and contributed to its popularity and profitability. This is evident from the Khadi Commission’s balance sheets in the last five years

Amidst India’s current economic slowdown — from aviation to biscuits to cars – the ‘desi’, or the native, is defying the depressing trend. 

Rooted in soil and traditions, khadi or khaddar, the hand-spun, hand-woven fabric and an array of home-made products of daily use in drawing room, kitchen and toilet are selling better than the branded domestic and multinational stuff.

This is no mere patriotic song; it means jobs and money. And it’s voluntary and now, market-driven.

The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) ought to be on the national and global bourses except that it is a statutory government corporation established by an Act of parliament.

After long years of neglect and charges of bad performance despite being heavily subsidized, it has entered the profit trajectory.

Its annual turnover of Rs 75,000 crore in 2018-19 is more than double of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). India’s largest corporate manufacturer/marketer, the British-Dutch MNC accounted for Rs 38,000 crores in that year.

KVIC’s growth has been phenomenal in the last five years. From relatively low Rs 33,000 crores during 2014-15, it jumped to Rs 50,000 crores two years later, growing at 25 percent annually. Buoyed by the latest performance chart, the target for 2019-20 is 20 percent higher, at Rs 80,000 crores.

Proportionately, others do make greater profits. But KVIC, more than just a corporate success story, should be viewed for depth and extent to which half-a-million people work for it directly, making it one of the largest employers. And indirectly, another 15 million collaborators are spread across individual homes and farms and small and medium manufacturing units.

This defies the current phase of growth without producing jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector.  

This is the India that has grown over a century since M K Gandhi launched khadi or khaddar in 1918. Before he involved the masses in the fight for political freedom, this was his first mass-based venture bringing the rural India under the spell of productive self-reliance that meant work and gave a sense of dignity. Thus, khadi was not mere a piece of cloth but became a way of life.

It’s an unlikely story that explains why and how India sustains despite poverty and vagaries of nature.

Gandhi started spinning himself and encouraged others. He made it obligatory for all members of the Indian National Congress, then in fore-front of the freedom movement against the British, to spin cotton themselves and to pay their dues in yarn.

He collected large sums, including from industrialists and thus involving them directly, to create a grass-roots network to encourage handloom weaving. Ironically, handloom thrives today even as many textile mills have closed.

Charkha (spinning wheel) was the symbol of Gandhi-led movement. It became part of the Congress flag, eventually to be replaced by the Ashok Chakra in the national tricolor.

Tragically, people in the present century need to be reminded of all this. The political class has discarded khadi. Economic reforms have pushed urban India away from this cost-effective, climate-friendly fabric.

The other reminder is to people discarding khadi. The white cap that carried Gandhi’s tag is fast disappearing with the ebbing of the Congress party and its political culture.

It began early: Babu Jagjivan Ram who swore-in 400 Congress winners in 1984 Lok Sabha polls lamented before senior journalist Vijay Sanghvi that leave alone Gandhi cap, none was even clad in khadi. Today, the party has moved farther way from the common man it once represented.

This has naturally opened space for political appropriation and re-branding by the present dispensation that was not part of the Gandhi-led movement.  Last century’s “Nehru jacket” is now popularized and marketed as “Modi jacket”. The current premier patronizes khadi in its multiple hues and textures. He has also clothed several world leaders in khadi.

Modi has lent glamour to the fabric and contributed to its popularity and profitability. This is evident from the KVIC’s balance sheets in the last five years. The sale of khadi products has reached USD 1.56 billion in the last five years.        

Modern textile technology has helped immensely in softening khadi’s cotton yarn and its bleaching and blending. KVIC is collaborating with top textile brands Arvind for denim and with Raymond.

Helped by fashion designers, khadi helps the elite make fashion statement if only to help them to “rise above” the class that chases the easy-to-maintain global brands or their local imitations which are mass-manufactured and hence relatively cheaper.

It has gone digital. A pair of trendy Western wear is available for a modest Rs 2,000. The high range could be a few hundred rupees for a meter of fabric. 

The challenge lies in marketing. Leaving out main markets in major cities where it is given peppy look, Khadi Bhandars across India wear traditional, desolate look.

Yet, marketing of khadi and other products, even their exports, remains a unique example of public-private participation (PPP). Private entities buy from KVIC-affiliated and state government-run cooperatives. Encouraged, KVIC is looking for export markets after a survey in 21 overseas markets showed that khadi was the most recalled Indian brand, along with yoga. Its success could build on India’s ‘soft’ diplomacy.   

Having credited khadi for generating the overall ‘desi’ revolution, it must now be conceded that the fabric that sold for Rs 2,005 crores forms only 4.3 percent of the total KVIC turnover. Fuller credit is due to numerous items like papad, soaps and shampoos, herbal medicines and cosmetics, honey, handicraft material, brassware, vegetable oils and organic grains and pulses.

They are produced by nameless housewives, rural artisans including cooks, potters and painters and small entrepreneurs in both public and private sectors. They make and market goods with or without the KVIC supervision and umbrella and form a unique network that probably exists nowhere else. 

Industry experts attribute the organisation’s success to many domestic and international fashion designers preferring to work with sustainable and natural fabrics. There is also a buzz among millennial shoppers, who care about whether the clothes they wear or the products they use create jobs. Since khadi cloth is handspun and its products are mainly created by artisans in rural areas, the brand invokes good vibes in consumers.

In the last five years, the KVIC has promoted new schemes under Prime Minister Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) that have created 2.17 million new jobs. They include Honey Mission and Kumhaar Sashaktikaran Yojana (for potters’ empowerment). This includes distributing bee boxes and electric chaaks or potter wheels in the troubled Kashmir Valley and in Ladakh.  

Such a massive exercise cannot be a top-down process from capital cities without involvement of the makers-cum-beneficiaries. There is need for debate. For instance, where does one draw a line between preserving cultural heritage and industrial/commercial pursuit?

Handloom, for one, should be revived as a skilled occupation that offers livelihood with dignity for both the weaver and the physical environment around, says B. Syama Sundari, coordinator, policy research and advocacy at Dastkar Andhra, an organisation that   promotes handloom weaving as a viable rural livelihood. 

The writer can be reached at


Independence Day For A 5,000-Yr-Old Civilisation!

British rule in India was just a blip in the long history of the subcontinent. It is best to fold it away in the archaeology of power and reclaim the present as a continuum of many millennia

For a 5,000-year old civilisation to be celebrating ‘Independence’ Day is not only ‘naff’ but an admission that a superior culture has mastered and nurtured it into some sort of maturity. It gives too much respect for a 200-period of rule by the British, neglecting a thousand years of colonisation by other invading forces, including the Mughals, and a 5000 year of indigenous civilisation that was more advanced than the invading British.

Wouldn’t it be more dignified to drop ‘independence’ day and rename it with a new name signifying reaffirmation and continuity of an ancient civilisation that has seen much, experienced much and absorbed much.

The Mughals lasted nearly seven hundred years. Prior to them there were others who had been lords at Delhi, including Sikandar Lodhi. Why so much obsession with a mere 200 years of the British?

There is no doubt that the British were the first invaders who had brought the whole region under one ruler, the British Crown. It is also true that they introduced much of the infrastructure, institutions, constitutional and legal instruments and administrative systems that sustain both India and Pakistan in the modern era.

But much has changed in United Kingdom. It is no longer the Britain, the colonising power that had once thought of itself as a superior culture and power. Britain has learnt a lot from its experience during the colonial period and from the immigrant populations that have settled in its territory. It has metamorphosed. It now seeks partners rather than subordinates around the world.

But India hangs on to the memory of British colonisation more than seventy years after they left. It seems there are still wounds of history, of being brow beaten into modernity, of being oppressed for resources and of being nurtured to become ‘civilised’ as the British called it. It is release from this long period of misery, of being a student, of being shaped and finally matured that 15th august commemorates. Why else celebrate independence.

Every year India gives an update on its stage in development on this day as the Prime Minister stands at Lal Qila to read from the progress card. The PM also expresses aspirations for further improvements. The British delegation is also sat in the enclosure of diplomats, perhaps feeling bored, perhaps feeling a sense of satisfaction that they have started the country on a right path, or perhaps wondering what has all this got to do with them after decades.

With a history of 5000 years, a civilisation with tremendous depth and wisdom, why give the impression as if it only came of age on 15th August 1947? Isn’t it humiliating?

In fact the civilisations of India have always been free. That is why India did not end up with mass conversions either into Islam or Christianity. The civilisations have resisted enslavement through the ages. It is the State that was colonised, first by Islamic invaders, then by European (British, French and Portuguese) invaders. It is the State which seems to be celebrating its independence. But then why just from British. Why not from the Mughals?

Delhi feels like a spook town on this day of State celebration. There does not seem to be great enthusiasm on the part of masses to celebrate Independence Day with any popular cultural functions. There isn’t the razzmatazz, the family reunions, the fireworks, the town parades etc that the American Independence day is known for. It is not difficult to understand this difference. The USA is a new-born country, a recent community and one without a lineage. It was full of migrants who sought to forge their own country and way of life free from the British Crown.

India is different. The region had distinctive cultures and civilisations before the British and they have continued after the British left. The people have merely succeeded in throwing out the invaders who didn’t integrate with the indigenous. Nothing much changed in the everyday culture and the long history of the region in terms of its practices, or its people, or its belief systems. In fact there were some distortions introduced during the Raj, which are being corrected now.  The cultures of the region were there before 1947 and have continued since. Those who ruled the State have changed.

Perhaps rather than continue with a historical timewarp, why not call this day a regeneration day and name it ‘Bharat Divas’ giving its different regions a day to celebrate their distinctive cultures, customs, dances, etc. It will be a day of diversity and unity, a day of common celebration but with distinctive flavours and a day when people across the country can put their passions into being part of a whole yet with their own languages and ways.

It could be a very participatory day, as colourful as Diwali, but with a difference. Whereas Diwali is a religious festival of one religion, albeit the majority, the Hindus, a common Bharat divas will be secular, encouraging everyone irrespective of their background to celebrate a day of unity.

Imagine a day like this where parades take place with floats from different sections of society, with different cultural dances and different national dresses all celebrating their common nationality. It will be a tremendous reflection of the diversity of the region, its long surviving plurality and its colourful cultures.

The British period was but a blip in the long history of the region. It is best to fold it away in the archelogy of power and reclaim the present as a continuum of many millennia without giving importance to any one period. A Bharat Divas has more pride and more indigenous flavour to it. This day can be a celebration that Bharat finally started to revive itself.