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Rajdeep Sardesai
Thursday , January 27, 2011 at 23 : 54

Rajdeep Sardesai's blog: State of the Republic


On Republic Day eve, the five top news headlines perhaps reflected the state of the nation. The first was the tragic story of the Malegaon additional collector, Yeshwant Sonawane, burnt alive by the oil mafia while checking kerosene theft. The second headline was the finance minister claiming that the government could not reveal the names of those who had stashed black money abroad. The third headline was of the BJP's Ekta Yatra being stopped at the Jammu-Punjab border amidst noisy protests. The fourth was the Deoband chief being pushed to quit because he had allegedly made pro-Narendra Modi remarks in Gujarat. The fifth headline was of a young student who attacked the father of murdered teenager Arushi Talwar outside a Ghaziabad court with a cleaver. Anyone who watched the news that night would have been instantly aware of the multiple challenges that confront the Indian republic as it enters its 62nd year.

Take the Sonawane case. That oil mafias exist in this country and kerosene adulteration is hugely profitable is no secret. An estimated 40 per cent of kerosene is diverted for adulterating diesel or petrol or for resale. Six years ago, when IIM graduate Manjunath was killed by the oil mafia in Uttar Pradesh, the government promised a 'clean up'. The kerosene 'marker' system that was introduced was discontinued after it was found to be an ineffective adulteration check.

The fact is that the muscle of the oil mafias has less to do with policing and more to do with flawed government policies. The petrol pricing policy of the country actually 'incentivises' adulteration. If petrol costs almost 60 rupees a litre and subsidized kerosene is 12 rupees a litre, the price differential is a great temptation for oil black marketers. Documentary evidence suggests that a small percentage of the subsidy on kerosene reaches the poor, exploited as it is by rapacious middlemen. Yet, governments seem reluctant to review their oil policies that result in the killing of honest and brave officers like Manjunath and Sonawane.

If flawed policies aid crime, they encourage corruption too. For the first fifty years of independence, almost entirely governed by the Congress, punitive rates of taxation virtually encouraged India's super-rich not to disclose their entire income and park it overseas instead. Tax evasion for a long time was directly linked to high rates of taxation and the unfriendliness of the tax administration. Draconian powers with tax officials created a system which thrived on bribery and corruption.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee speaks now of a five-pronged strategy to deal with black money and creating an appropriate legislative framework. He speaks of a proposal to introduce an amnesty scheme to bring back black money by setting up a task force. Good idea, but only a temporary measure if the past is any guide. And what purpose will another expert committee meant to identify the quantum of black money stashed abroad really serve? Creating another bureaucratic web to tackle the problem of black money is hardly the solution; it will only accentuate the problem.

The truth is there has been a marked reluctance to really go after the prime beneficiaries of black money. The government says a secrecy clause in the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Germany prevents it from naming the individuals with foreign bank accounts. But why should this secrecy clause concern a third country, in this case Liechtenstein? Unless you name and shame those who have thrived on a black money economy, a long-winded prosecution process will be no deterrent.

If corruption has stained the Congress's khadi, religious extremism has tainted the BJP's saffron. The BJP claims its ekta yatra was driven by a nationalistic spirit, a belief that unfurling the tricolor at Lal Chowk would send a firm signal to Kashmiri separatists. What it has ended up doing instead is only further polarizing an already deeply scarred border state. Hoisting the tricolour is a legitimate constitutional right, but when seen through the prism of confrontational street politics, it appears as a sign of political opportunism. If a message was to be sent to the separatists, then it should have been done by focusing on what the BJP's own prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee once described as the need for 'insaniyat' in the valley. Unfortunately, walking the path of 'insaniyat' in the Kashmir valley is arduous; it's so much easier of course to prove ones patriotism by waving a flag.    

While the BJP is playing with fire, so are the Deobandis who want to remove their head, Maulana Vastanwi for his alleged support to Narendra Modi's government in Gujarat. Vastanwi reportedly said that he was happy to see Muslims participate in Gujarat's growth story. If that is indeed what he said, why should that arouse such a strong reaction within the Deoband leadership? Or would they prefer that the Muslims of Gujarat remain marginal and isolated in their ghettoes? If the BJP's yatra only creates avoidable tension in the valley, the resignation of the Maulana will only feed into the worst kind of stereotype of a frozen mindset, one that breeds communal prejudice.

And then there is the story of Utsav Sharma, a fine arts graduate who seems to be in the habit of making murderous assaults outside courtrooms. Sharma may be suffering from a psychological disorder, but he is in a way symptomatic of a rising culture of mindless violence: be it ragging, road rage or honour killing, there are many Indians out there who seem to relish the idea of taking the law into their own hands. Not the ideal way to celebrate 61 years of the Indian constitution.

Post-script: Oh yes, the news on Republic Day eve also carried the list of Padma awardees, many of them truly accomplished and deserving. But how about an award for the aam admi, the average upright citizen who keeps the idea of India alive in these tough times?


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More about Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai was the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He has 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.


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