#India- Blundering on land and #Aadhaar #UID #Biometrics

Praful Bidwai, http://www.pratirodh.com/

Aadhaar-UID system is fraught with serious flaws which will affect poor the most.

The fanfare with which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi launched a service delivery scheme in Rajasthan based on the Aadhaar (foundation) unique identity (UID), and celebrated the issue of the first Aadhaar number topping the 200-million mark, should make the Indian National Congress a very worried party indeed—assuming it has a good survival instinct and basic grasp of practical politics.

To put it starkly, the Congress and with it, the United Progressive Alliance, is sleepwalking into a minefield with plans to roll out Aadhaar-enabled service delivery schemes in 51 districts in India, and later extend them to the entire country.
The Aadhaar-UID system is fraught with serious flaws and uncertainties, which will affect poor people the most. To make the provision or entitlement to the Public Distribution System (for food), payment of wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), and delivery of old-age pensions and scholarships dependent on Aadhaar is to expose them to unacceptable risk.
Yet, the Rajasthan government has linked 10 schemes to Aadhaar, including those listed above, and entitlements to subsidised medical treatment, the Mukhyamantri BPL Gramin Awas Yojana (rural housing for those officially recognised as BPL, or living below-poverty-line), and the Asha Sahayogini scheme for women who raise public awareness about health, nutrition and sanitation and mobilise people for health facilities.
What is wrong with Aadhaar? First of all, the 12-digit Aadhaar identity number generated by the Unique Identity Authority of India for each citizen is neither unique nor reliable. The biometric techniques it uses, involving a photograph, fingerprints and an iris scan, is untested and riven with uncertainty. Experts point to many technical errors, including indistinct fingerprints due to calluses, and poor iris scans due to cataracts. The UIDAI mission director has himself admitted that fingerprints are not likely to work reliably for authentication. These errors could end up excluding up to 15 percent of the population.
Second, Aadhaar is susceptible to some of the same factors—e.g. bureaucratic lethargy, callousness towards the poor, and influence of the powerful—that result in inaccurate compilation of BPL lists, leading in many cases to the exclusion of 40 percent of poor people. Technology provides no assurance of authenticity for Aadhaar. Every exclusion of the genuinely poor from Aadhaar will heap yet more injustice upon them besides costing the UPA heavy erosion of political support.
Third, last year Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 (to give legal backing for the whole exercise), and termed the project “directionless” and “conceptualised with no clarity of purpose”. It also called the technology used “untested, unproven, unreliable and unsafe”. It raised concerns about privacy, identity theft, misuse, security of data and its duplication and also noted serious differences of opinion within the government, including objections by the Planning Commission.
These are matters of great gravity. No computer is foolproof against hacking; and data loss or theft has serious consequences. The Committee strongly disapproved of the hasty manner in which the UID scheme was approved and said that going ahead with it would be “unethical and violative of Parliament’s prerogatives”.
Faced with these objections, UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani promised that the Aadhaar number would not be used as mandatory proof of identity for the provision of public services. But the opposite is happening. It’s even proposed to make Aadhaar compulsory even for opening a bank account.
India is moving towards converting public-service provision into Aadhaar-based cash transfers so the state can wash its hands of its obligations to the people. Dr Singh has just up a high-level committee on cash transfers. But cash is no substitute for creating services/facilities, which don’t exist.
Even more politically disastrous is the UPA’s deception on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Bill. Land is probably the most important site of people’s struggles in defence of their livelihoods and survival rights.
The Bill was meant to be a generous improvement over the colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894 and was touted as a major gain for farmers, and a great legacy of UPA-2, comparable to UPA-1’s NREGA. Originally, it was to exclude tribal lands and limit the acquisition of irrigated multi-cropped land to five percent of the total, to require the consent of 80 percent of both land losers and those whose livelihoods depend on land (e.g. agricultural workers, rural artisans, etc), to apply to ongoing land acquisition where possession hasn’t been taken, and to provide compensation at four to six times the market value of land.
All this was diluted under pressure from the industry, commerce and urban development ministries, and Big Business lobbies, to make the Bill “investor-friendly”. In the Group of Ministers headed by none other than Mr Sharad Pawar, said to be one of our biggest landowners, the 80 percent consent norm was downgraded to “approval” by two-thirds of land losers—never mind the livelihood losers. Tribal land can still be acquired, but as the “last resort”. Contrary to earlier promises, even double displacement would be permitted, albeit in “exceptional” cases. But permitted it will be.
The proposed National Manufacturing and Investment Zones have been exempted from the Bill. It will only apply to future, not ongoing, land acquisitions. And the states have been asked to follow a “sliding scale” of compensation, of between two and four times the market value. Besides, “linear projects” like railways, highways and power lines have been exempted altogether.
Relief and rehabilitation obligations on private buyers, earlier mandatory for acquisitions above 100 acres, have been left to the discretion of the states. Instead of taking rehabilitation responsibility till the project is completed, promoters will only make a one-off payment into an escrow account and won’t have build infrastructure or amenities for the affected people. The account will be managed by a special agency. How responsive it will be to people remains to be seen.
Since then, Ms Sonia Gandhi has intervened to restore the 80 percent consent norm for land losers, but that’s a relatively minor change which only partially undoes the harm. The truth is, even in its modified form, the LARR Bill would at best be a cosmetic improvement over the 1894 Act. No wonder the National Alliance of People’s Movements has called it retrograde because it will transfer “precious natural resources to private corporations and fuel corruption and land conflict”.
The main positive feature of the Bill is that it mandates a Social Impact Assessment, including of whether a project serves a public purpose, and evaluate its presumed benefits and social costs for the project-affected families, with public hearings to be held at the site. The SIA report would be examined by an Expert Group, with some non-governmental representatives, including two social scientists, which can recommend the scrapping of a project.
Another positive feature is that the loss of a house would be made up through the grant of another house, and families affected by irrigation projects would get one acre of land in the command area—although they might lose much more.
However, as past experience with the corrupted Environmental Impact Assessment process vividly shows, the SIA is no guarantee that the project would be properly assessed. Besides, the Bill has accepted the industry lobby’s demand that the SIA be completed within six months—a virtually impossible task if an in-depth assessment is to be made and critically scrutinised.
As for compensation, it took many years even to estimate the social and environmental damage from the Narmada dam projects, leave alone compensate people for it. Thousands of displaced families, who were promised “land for land”, still remain un-rehabilitated, as the recent moving jal satyagraha in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh showed.
India has displaced 60 million people from land since Independence—equalling the entire population of Britain. Land is now the hottest subject of contestation between the people, on the one hand, and corporate interests and the state, on the other. Not only is land crucial to people’s right to live with dignity. It’s also tied up with the central question of control over the natural resources which it holds, including water, forests and minerals.
Under the present neoliberal model of capitalism, corporations invade nature in ways they have never done before to take over land, water and air, and forcibly turn them into commodities. All Third World countries, and especially fast-growing ones, are witnessing a modified repetition of what England saw in the 18th century—Enclosures of the Commons, or common property resources, including farmland and pastures—only at a faster pace, and with greater ruthlessness.
The UPA is facilitating this to feed corporate greed. Clearly, Ms Gandhi has decided to abdicate her responsibility to exercise a moderating influence on the UPA and push pro-people measures. She has probably convinced herself, perhaps against her own instincts, that GDP growth is all-important; to engineer it, India needs investment, whatever the cost. The UPA will end up paying heavily for this Himalayan misjudgment.
(The article was first published in The Kashmir Times)

Vedanta made huge donations to both Congress and BJP



2012-07-28 -The cat is finally out of the bag the Vedanta group has given donation to the tune of `850 crore to the Congress party and `440 crore to the BJP. No sane person or company parts with such huge amounts without getting back something in return. There’s no such thing as a free meal.

Now it is quite clear why political parties go soft on mining companies. It is now also clear why both the major parties just seem to go through the motions when illegal mining is discussed in the assembly. You do not bite the hand that feeds you. It is quite clear why subsequent governments have turned a Nelson’s eye to illegal mining. Even if the local government is determined to take action the high command of both the parties will not allow it. In the end both the parties are happy and smug and it is the State of Goa and its people who are ultimately paying the price for these donations.

That Mining company donations to BJP or for that matter any party ruling the state will have no bearing on government decisions is something hard to swallow and will be believed only by the village idiot ! The very fact that the Vedanta group has given donations to both the main political parties makes it clear that this is not a donation based on the ideology of a political party. The donation is made on pure commercial reasons and with a quid pro quo in mind.

It is time that people wake up to the fact that mineral wealth belongs to the state and not to any political party and thus the benefits of such wealth should go to the people.

Contact Details:


original post here http://www.targetgoa.com/helpd.php?id=87


Dilli dur ast

India‘s obsession with a “strong centre” has led to the alienation of its provinces, and to the emergence of a “cancerous” class that feeds off the center’s riches. Garga Chatterjee takes a hard look at the origins and subsequent development of this Delhi-based India,in Friday Times, Pakistan’s First Independent Weekly Paper

Dilli dur ast 0 46 

The 1946 Indian elections showed that though the Indian National Congress was the largest force in the British-governed territories in the Indian subcontinent, there were others with considerable support, including the All India Muslim League, Communist Party of India and Scheduled Caste Federation, who won nearly 40% of the seats. The Congress sweep in Madras was largely due to the election boycott by Dravidar Kazhagam, a continuation of the Justice Party current. This was similar to the 1937 elections – a Congressite dominance in most provinces, but its marginality in populous provinces like Punjab and Bengal. The All Indian Muslim League (AIML) in the 1937 election had received a serious drubbing virtually everywhere it contested. Though compromised by the factor that these elections, 1937 or 1946, were far from representative in the absence of universal adult franchise (a point often forgotten when discussing the events of 1946-47), one thing is clear – significant sectors were not with the INC, for whatever reason.

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Some wanted a strong centre that would make sons of Bharatmata out of the wayward multitude that practiced ‘non-classical’ and plural Indic religions

A section of the Congress leadership always harboured ‘strong-centre’ ideas, though their inspirations were varied. It ranged from the necessity of a strong policy-driving centre congruent with ideas of command economy in vogue, the need of a tutelary centre that would provide the right lessons of modern citizenship so that a ‘sack of potatoes’ become ‘Frenchmen’, to the outright fantastic one that wanted a strong centre that would make sons of Bharatmata out of the wayward multitude that practiced ‘non-classical’ and plural Indic religions. Given the Congress’s clear marginality in more than one province at that point, the future of India was envisaged as a liberal union of provinces, where the centre would administer a few things and the provinces would have pre-eminence in most matters.

Centralizing hawks of the INC were kept in check, albeit briefly, by political realities and power equations. It was against this backdrop that the Cabinet Mission proposed its plan of a future self-governing Indian Union.

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The exit of the League due to the partition of India in 1947 suddenly changed the Indian political scenario

The ‘centre’ would be in charge of defence, communications and foreign affairs; everything else fell within the ambit of provincial rights. The centre would be the meeting ground of the provinces, not the imperial powerhouse from where the provinces would be governed. The latter was the British model of colonial domination – such systems do facilitate smooth extraction of resources from far-flung areas. They are hardly models of welfare where democratic aspirations of the people for self-governance have the priority. In the political class, there was briefly a sense of resignation (not necessarily agreement) to the basic thrust of the Cabinet Mission Plan as a way to contain the diverse aspirations that India constituted. The destruction of this thrust is a serious issue that goes largely undebated in post-partition India.

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Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce

In 1946, when the Cabinet Mission Plan was proposed, the India that was conceived in it had provinces with powers that would put today’s Kashmir’s moth-eaten ‘special status’ to shame. Senior Congressites like Abul Kalam Azad, Vallabh-bhai Patel and numerous other mandarins of the party publicly and privately were more than prepared to give this dispensation a shot. The problematic idea of a sectarian grouping notwithstanding, the plan was overtaken by a breakdown of agreements between the Congress and Muslim League. The intense ground-level hostility in ‘mixed’ provinces in 1946 no doubt seriously undercut the chances of a grand federal Indian union, in the immediate context of prevailing circumstances. Whether the League’s motive on a sectarian grouping of people was holy or cynical, anti-people or liberating, is a question I will not visit here. But what is true is that the exit of the League due to the partition of India in 1947 suddenly changed the Indian political scenario. Till then, the field was a contested one. Now, one opposing side had left. Virtually unchallenged in the legislature, the Congress centralizers started scoring goal after goal in the unguarded field. These goals for the Indian centre turned out to be disastrous same-side goals as far as a democratic federal union of India was concerned.

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Post-partition India was hardly any less heterogenous. Provincial autonomy with a federal non-imperious centre still made democratic sense. But without serious political opposition, the centralizing proponents of the Congress, smelling blood, took the strong-centre idea to the extreme. The lists that divide power between the union centre and the states in India are a stark testimony to this process by which states were reduced to dignified municipal corporations. They would thereafter be found forever standing with begging bowls, making depositions and cases in front of central government bureaucrats and ministers. The idea of a strong centre appealed to the elites of that generation: it provided an excuse for them to ‘shape the masses’ into what was the elite’s definition of an ‘Indian’, a presentable citizen of a new nation state.

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Opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
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The Delhi-based political class uses various excuses of ‘national pride’ like the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to bestow on themselves better life

The erosion of provincial rights in the post-partition Indian Union has seen a concomitant development of an army of carrion-feeders who have mastered the art of carrying the spoils from the length and breadth of the land to pad their Delhi nests. They are no different from Hindustan’s emperors and their hangers-on, who beautified capitals by squeezing the country. The earlier forms of ferocious extraction, of explicit carriage of loot to Delhi, are now replaced by the fine art of legislative injustice. The process has been honed to near perfection over the decades, now designed and lubricated to work smoothly without making a sound. Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce. It is peppered with infrastructure that India’s provinces have toiled hard to pay for. It is lavished with highly funded universities, art and cultural centres, museums that are designed to sap talent from India’s provinces and handicap the development of autonomous trajectories of excellence beyond Delhi.

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An impoverished rural family
An impoverished rural family
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The Delhi skylineThe Delhi skyline
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Of late, there is the perverse politics of infrastructure development. Who could oppose a cow as holy as infrastructure? In essence what infrastructure development in Delhi has become is the following – a method by which revenues extracted from India’s provinces are lavished in and around Delhi by making good roads, snazzy flyovers, water supply infrastructure, urban beautification projects, new institutes and universities, big budget rapid transport systems like the metro and numerous other things that India’s impoverished wastelands as well as other towns and cities can only dream of. This is the new ‘expansion’ of Delhi in which Delhi’s political class has major stakes. Essentially this is cash transfer of a very sophisticated kind. Delhi’s richer classes acquire nearly uninhabited land or rural farmland. The ‘centre’ chips in by ensuring the areas get ‘developed’ from scratch. This ensures that these areas become quickly habitable or investable by Delhi’s perfumed classes, thus pushing up real estate prices, making the rich of Delhi richer. This is backed up by real infrastructure that is backed up by real cold cash from India’s central government. The other real thing is the pauperization of India’s provinces, of the great cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Bhopal, which have been systematically decimated by this distributive injustice – more insidious, though equally corrosive. Delhi’s bevy of highly funded institutions, lavish research funds, impeccable infrastructure, creation of a semblance of high culture by governmental khairati, has made Delhi the centre of aspiration for the brightest in India’s provinces – an internal brain drain. Delhi poaches on the intellectual capitals of Kolkata and Chennai by the way it knows best, the baniya method.

Some ‘states’ in India are entities that vaguely existed before the modern idea of India was conceived, and will probably outlive the idea too

The largesse that Delhi gets touches other sectors too. The large concentration of central government jobs in and around Delhi ensures that those who live there or are from those areas are more likely to get them, especially the jobs in the lower rung. This artificial support to a certain geographical area with ties to the national capital goes against all principles of natural justice, let alone those of a federal union based on equality. The Delhi-based political class uses various excuses of ‘national pride’ like the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games to bestow on Delhi’s residents, and in effect themselves and their families, better infrastructure, inflated asset values, a better life, so to say – underwritten, as always, by India’s parochial and provincial masses. And the rest – the provinces, West Bengal, (East) Punjab – continue to pay for partition by paying for Delhi.

Even the media is a part of this process. A summary look at newspapers in Kolkata and Delhi will show that Delhi-based newspapers have page after page of central government advertisements – while the population of the two cities are not too different. The media is an integral part of that Delhi-based illuminati, also comprising of policy wonks, security apparatchiks, immobile scions of upwardly mobile politicians, bureaucrats, professors, defence folks, hangers-on, civil society wallahs, suppliers, contractors, importers, lobbyists and all the thread that connects them. This network of self-servers is curiously termed simply ‘Indians’ – largely devoid of the visceral rootedness that this large land provides to its people. Their regional identity is hidden shamefully, displayed diplomatically, cashed in cynically and forgotten immediately. This is a window to the mind of the deep state at Delhi. This deep state – eating away at our plural fabric, creaming at the thought of the Delhi-Mumbai urban corridor, holds a disproportionate sway over the billion who are not simply Indian. Their diversity is still a robust one, not a browbeaten domesticated version fit for the India International Centre’s consumption.

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The preference for things Delhi-based or things ‘Indian’ and not ‘provincial’ has resulted not only in cash transfer of epic proportions, but has surreptitiously helped to develop the ideology that the roots of success in India go through Delhi, by denying one’s own rooted identities, clinging onto some rung of a ladder to Delhi, moving away from one’s origins. In short, this distributive injustice serves to disincentivize aspirations that don’t hold ‘Indianism’ as the ideology, Delhi as the location. In the era of long indoctrination, Delhi has been built up as an imperial zoo, where provincial rustics have to come to gawk, to be awed, and expunge ourselves of our ‘parochial-ness’.

States, provinces, nations – none are designed to contain the aspirational trajectories of the plural multitudes in the Indian Union. Increasing democratization, transfer of the locus of power away from the centre, is a way of deepening democracy. There have been very few attempts to do this. The Sarkaria Commission of 1983 was a positive step in this direction with clear recommendations of making a more inclusive, federal and democratic union of India by transferring certain rights from the central list to the state list. Predictably, the commission’s report remains unimplemented. All too cynically, the centre has often tried to bypass the provinces by speaking over the heads of the state governments through its army of central bureaucrats and law enforcers posted as imperial minders in every district. This friction between the different levels, between the local bodies and the state governments, assures the centre’s stability. It has also withheld real grassroots empowerment by denying local bodies any power to veto top-down decisions and proposals that affect their own futures. The blatant disregard of these institutions when ‘higher authorities’ push a project through in the face of massive opposition to loss of livelihood, destruction of homestead and displacement shows what lofty catch-words peddled by the higher level of administration like ‘local empowerment’ or ‘deepening democratic institutions’ really mean, when push comes to shove.

Some ‘states’ in India are entities that vaguely existed before the modern idea of India was conceived, and will probably outlive the idea too. They are repositories of plural cultures that the myopic Delhi-based circus called Dilli-haat cannot even fathom, much less domesticate, package and consume. The union of India exists, but it is and never was an inevitable union. To take that myth seriously, for that matter to take foundational myths of any nation-state seriously, is a dangerous error – realities are glossed over by textbook-manufactured pride. The past of the constituents of the Indian Union were partially intertwined and largely not. To change this balance decisively, so that a Delhi-prescribed and Delhi-centric path to the future becomes a pan-Indian obsession, is the dream of a million or two and a nightmare for a billion.

FIR being filed against every shopkeeper who does not open his shop in Koondakulum

A warning to the TN Govt on Koodankulam

A warning to the TN Govt on Koodankulam (Photo credit: Joe Athialy)

Idinthakarai Update
April 5, 2012
On April 4 morning a police constable by the name Mr. Murugesan from Avaraikulam village beat up one Mr. Pathira Pandi from Koodankulam claiming the latter had asked the local shopkeepers to close their shops in support of our protest. Mr. Pandi suffered severe injuries on his face and chest. Since it is futile to complain to the local police about a local policeman, his family preferred not to file any complaint. They were also afraid of more police harassment including false cases.
We hear that the local police at Koodankulam are filing FIRs on every shopkeeper who does not open his shop. This is quite a new record on the Indian State‘s upholding of our civil rights.
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had demanded all the power from the Koodankulam nuclear power plant for Tamil Nadu. Some of the Congress party leaders had also supported her claim. But the junior minister at the power ministry in Delhi has clarified that Tamil Nadu would get only 50 percent power from Koodankulam, other states would get 35 percent and the central pool would receive 15 percent. The people of Tamil Nadu expect the Chief Minister to explain her stand on the Koodankulam project now. The people of Tamil Nadu would pay a heavy price for the mega nuclear park but we will get only 50 percent power. There are plans to give electricity even to Sri Lanka from the Koodankulam project.
148 people from the coastal village of Koottapuli have been released from the prison and they were accorded a hero’s welcome by the village people when they all reached their homes on April 4th evening. Earlier large crowds of people including anti-nuclear activists and cadres of several political outfits welcomed and honored them at Tiruchi and Tirunelveli. Some 50 more people may get their bail applications approved today. But there is no official word on cancelling all the false cases that have been foisted on us.
Today is the 161st day of the relay hunger strike. On the 160th day yesterday thousands of people from all the neighboring villages and even some distant towns in Tamil Nadu participated in the hunger strike.

We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink: Vikram Seth

The Speech upon Inaugurating the First Kolkata Literary Meet, 26 January 2012

Thank you very much for inviting me this Republic Day to inaugurate the first Kolkata Literary Meet – or KLM – or (most aptly of all) ‘Kolom’.

By the word ‘kolom’ I imagine we mean not only the pen but also the typewriter and the computer – in other words, any means of writing. The ‘kolom’ represents them all.

I am happy and honoured to be here – in this place, during this year, on this day, for this occasion.

In this place, because I am back where I was born.

During this year, because it is a century and a half since the birth of Tagore.

On this day, because it was today, more than sixty years ago, that we put into effect the book of law by which we as a nation live.

For this occasion, because it celebrates the word not as law but as literature, the expression of ourselves as human beings.

I shall call these the four ‘ko’s, following the Bengali style: Kolkata, Kobi, Constitution, Kolom: the place Kolkata, the year of the Kobi, the day of the Constitution, the occasion of Kolom.

Let me say a few words about each of these.



Kolkata is where my life began.

Birth is easy enough. I have no memory of it. Any pain or inconvenience was borne by my mother. I was born in the Elgin Nursing Home – which doesn’t exist any more – at 1.48 in the afternoon. I was called Amit. That is the name that appears on my birth certificate. I have seen the document. It is green in colour.

I was called Amit because when my mother was pregnant with me, her friend Kolyani Bannerji read Tagore’s Shesher Kobita to her and, as you know, the rather wimpish hero of that novel was called Amit. My mother, though from UP, speaks Bengali and loves Bengal. She decided that if I was a boy, I would be called Amit; if a girl, Ameeta.

But my father’s family, who live in Panipat, had different ideas. The first-born son of each brother in the family had to have a name beginning with the syllable ‘Vi’. It was a family tradition. My father’s eldest brother had named his first-born son Vijay. My father’s second brother had named his first-born son Vinod. What was all this Amit nonsense? They vetoed the name and told my parents to think again. The name Amit (written in ink) was crossed out on the green birth certificate and the name Vikram was pencilled in. And since Kolkata is possessive of its children, although I am not Bengali, I have once or twice seen myself referred to in newspapers here not as Vikram, but (I am proud to say) as ‘amader Bikrom’. And I for my part certainly consider this city to be ‘amar Kolkata’.

I am always happy to return here, in fact or in fiction. I spent formative years of my childhood here – on three separate occasions. The parts of A Suitable Boy that I most enjoyed writing were the scenes set in Calcutta, whether it was with the garrulous Chatterji family (I especially enjoyed writing about the shocking Meenakshi), or at the Eden Gardens, where Lata’s three suitors, Kabir, Haresh and – yes – Amit, meet at an India vs England cricket match. In fact, the Bengali translation of A Suitable Boy by Enakshi Chatterjee (I am told it is a very good translation) is called Sot Patro, which of course makes one think immediately of Abol Tabol and the immortal Sukumar Ray, the father of another immortal, Satyajit Ray, who was no mean writer himself.



The thought of authors past leads me back to the second ‘ko’ or ‘Kobi’, whose 150th anniversary we are celebrating and have been celebrating this past year.

One can say many things about him. I will say just three.

The first is this. I apologise to him for the fact that my parents renounced the name of Amit. But since he himself, when asked by parents to name their children for them, saddled so many children with impossible names, I am sure he will be tolerant of our sacrilege.

Secondly, today of all days, when our thoughts turn to where we are going as a country and as a people, it is right that we should think of him, because he was the creator of what – after his death – became our national anthem, an anthem that is intriguing because it is so ambiguous – not only with regard to who exactly is being addressed, but also because it must be the only anthem in the world to end not on a shadaj but on a madhyam – not on certainty and finality but on ambiguity and continuity. Of course the national anthem is only the first of five stanzas of a song. But still, this ambiguity and continuity seem to reflect, at least to me, some aspects of the openness and open-mindedness of the poet himself – who was writing at a time when many people’s views were becoming closed and rigid.

The third point about Tagore has to do with the limits of reverence. I am not now talking about the tendency to revere Tagore himself, which is a mild malady in these parts. No, I’m talking about Tagore’s attitude to someone he himself admired: Gandhi. Tagore may have venerated him and called him the Mahatma, but he disagreed with a lot of what he said – on non-cooperation, for instance; or on modern science; or even on nationalism. He did not let his admiration gag his criticism, sometimes quite strong criticism. Other people disagreed with Gandhi too, some less reverently, some indeed very bitterly. Nehru and Patel disagreed with Gandhi on the question of accepting the inevitability of Partition. Bose disagreed with Gandhi about reserving the option of violence when used against the violence of foreign occupation. Ambedkar disagreed with Gandhi on the question of rights for Dalits, as opposed to pity and accommodation. In some cases, Gandhi used what some would consider unjustified tactics to get his way: a fast against Ambedkar, a boycott of Bose.

I say this because, though most of us may well think of Gandhi as one of the greatest Indians who has ever lived, we can and do criticise him. This highlights a general principle. There is no human being born since our species first came into existence whom we should consider immune from criticism. Let me repeat that. There is no human being born since our species first came into existence whom we should consider immune from criticism. No one. Whether from the fifth century BC or the first century AD or the seventh century AD or the twentieth century AD. No human being is above criticism.



This leads straight to the third ‘ko’ of what I wanted to talk about: the Constitution. ‘We the People of India’, in the famous phrase, gave it to ourselves on the 26th of November, but it came into effect two months later on the 26th of January, sixty-two years ago. The day was chosen because twenty years before that, Nehru, on behalf of the Indian National Congress, had declared Complete Independence or Purna Swaraj.

But was this self-rule or independence intended to be limited to independence from foreign occupation? The writers of our Constitution, from Ambedkar on, most assuredly did not think so. It was to be independence from tyranny of all kinds, including tyranny of thought and expression and belief, the tyranny of those who think one should not speak one’s mind. These and other aspirations are embodied in the Preamble, the words that precede the actual Articles of law.

Among its succinct and inspiring words are these:

‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.’

Liberty is one of four words – the others being Justice, Equality and Fraternity – which are the keys to the Preamble and, indeed, to understanding the Constitution as a whole. So here it is once more: ‘LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.’

But let me ask you – not as writers or readers but as plain citizens, as ordinary Indians – Where is this liberty today? Yes, the liberty of faith and worship are alive and kicking, but what about the liberty of thought, expression and belief, those liberties that equally make us what we are and give expression, insight and dignity to our lives? We are opening our gathering here on Republic Day a mere two days after another gathering – based like ours on the word and the freedom of the word, on the mind and the freedom of the mind, on the heart and the freedom of the heart – ended with a disgraceful exhibition of the suppression of the word, the suppression of the mind, the suppression of the heart.

To avoid a gut reaction to particular names, let me present the situation to you without names – as a case study, if you like – so that you can see it in its full absurdity.

One of the most prominent and admired authors of our times was not permitted to appear and address an audience in person – and then, in the strangest twist to the tale – was not permitted even to appear on a screen to address them. No one was going to be compelled to hear him. As it happens, he was not even going to talk about a book of his which had proved controversial, and which had been published more than twenty years ago. Indeed, he had even appeared in person at the very same venue five years ago, and there had been no protest. And yet he could not speak to those who wanted to hear him.

People are not fools. It is election time. Everyone knows the truth. The whole affair was started because of power and politics and the misuse of religion; it was whipped up because of power and politics and the misuse of religion; and the government knuckled under and enforced this disgrace because of power and politics and the misuse of religion.

Frankly, this is madness.

God and the prophets do not need bullies to defend themselves.

God and the prophets do not need bullies to defend themselves.

Neither the bullies who shout nor the bullies who enforce.

We are a constitutional nation, not a religious dictatorship. Unless he or she threatens violence, you do not have the right to gag or bully or dictate to your neighbour – or decide what he or she can say or see or hear.

You do not have the right to go up to the three monkeys and with your own hands cover up their mouths and eyes and ears.

You cannot use the argument of ‘religious morality’ to do this. As Dr Ambedkar said, there is something more important in a republic, and it is known as ‘constitutional morality’.



I will now go to – or, rather, return to – the fourth ‘ko’ or Kolom. I have touched upon the word in law and literature. But especially when one thinks of Tagore, one also thinks of the word as a graphic form, a form of art. I am very happy that Sunil Gangopadhyay and I – as part of this inauguration – were asked to write the word ‘kolom’ in black paint on those white boards there. As you can see, Sunil Da has written it in Bengali and I have written it in English and Urdu. It is interesting that three of the world’s great civilisations, the Hindu, the Islamic and the Judaeo-Christian, are thus incorporated on those boards, just as they are part of our common discourse. This is the richness of our country; we cannot allow it to be filtered and thinned. This is the strength of our country; we cannot allow it to be contorted or distorted.

Let me end with the two opening lines of a poem by Tagore that I have known – in his own English translation – since I was eleven years old. It was one of our school prayers and it expresses his aspirations for India.

‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free.’

Let me repeat that: ‘Where knowledge is free.’

Those who try to cloud our minds with fear are the enemies of both knowledge and freedom.

We cannot let our republic, our beloved republic, our constitutional republic, our free and free-speaking republic, be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the Emergency. It must never happen again.

We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears.

We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink.

Kolome kali jeno na shokaye.

May the kolom flourish.

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