Friday, July 29, 2016

Setback at The Hague-ISRO

The verdict against Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration tribunal in The Hague is yet another example of how its dispute with Devas Multimedia has been mishandled by the Centre from day one. As a sovereign state, India has the right to cancel agreements and licences given to private entities if it concludes that there are irregularities or gaps in the manner in which they were inked. The Supreme Court’s verdict in the 2G spectrum and coal block allocation scams highlights this in no uncertain terms. That the agreement between Antrix and Devas over use of spectrum and lease of transponders was flawed has been reiterated by several independent agencies. For instance, the report of the High Powered Review Committee comprising B.K. Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission, and Professor Roddam Narasimha, Member, Space Commission — appointed on February 10, 2011 — reflects several concerns. The Cabinet Committee on Security, based on an internal inquiry, faulted the deal on technical, commercial, managerial and financial grounds. A one-man committee appointed by the Department of Space also found loopholes in the drafting of the contract.

Despite such documentary evidence in support of scrapping the deal, it is baffling how India’s legal hawks failed to defend its position effectively. A reading of the final award of the International Court of Arbitration (International Chamber of Commerce) given in September 2015 reveals that Antrix may have conceded too much ground to Devas Multimedia by failing to nominate an arbitrator or have a say in fixing the terms of reference for the arbitral tribunal. The ICC ruling, which ordered Antrix to pay $672 million to Devas, reveals Antrix did not even send its nomination for the three-member arbitration tribunal to the ICC. Rather, it chose to petition the Supreme Court to start separate arbitration against Devas, a plea that failed. Antrix wrote to the court raising concerns about the appointment of one of the members on the panel but did not pursue the matter; no further challenge was made despite the ICC asking it to file an appeal under relevant rules. On several other occasions Antrix did not turn up for the initial proceedings, including a preliminary conference that was held to discuss draft terms of reference. It is also not clear why the Centre used the force majeure clause in the agreement to cancel the deal. Instead, the findings of the various committees could have been used to establish that facts related to the deal were misrepresented and not fully disclosed to the entire chain of decision-makers. The Centre can still make changes to its legal strategy when Devas comes after it to enforce the arbitration award.

Source:The Hindu

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Reaching out to the Valley

Two weeks after protests in the Kashmir Valley caught the authorities by surprise, a semblance of calm has been restored. It is a tenuous one, built on extended curfews, and it has come at a huge price. Even as the government faces difficult questions about the blunt tactics employed to disperse crowds of stone-pelters across Kashmir, there is an evident effort at political outreach.

Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh sought an all-party meeting to address the problem. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired another such meeting in Srinagar that asked Delhi to engage in a larger political dialogue with all stakeholders, “including separatists”. These are important, necessary steps.

But given the record of outreach in the Valley, the Centre needs to get its framework for a political conversation right. If the proposal to include stakeholders in a larger process is to be credible, the idiom must be genuine. Regrettably, far too much of the vocabulary on Jammu and Kashmir is platitude and hollow cliche.

The challenge before the government is to demonstrate that it is not reaching out as an automatic response learnt from some worn-out troubleshooting manual — but to show it has acknowledged the outrage, weariness, and distress in the Valley. That it cares enough to be open to being nudged out of its certitudes.

Former Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s suggestion this week that India assure the people of Kashmir that it is conscious of the spirit of the grand bargain promised at accession almost 70 years ago has invited a rebuttal from a senior BJP Minister at the Centre. Even the Congress party has reacted cautiously to the wide-ranging interview to India Today TV in which he emphasised the importance of carrying Kashmiris along.

But if national politics means to respond to the cries of agony from the Valley this month, it must adopt Mr. Chidambaram’s touchstone — that the issue in the Valley is not about land but about people. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had forged a way forward by seeking talks within the framework of “humanity”, thereby sidestepping the issue of allegiance to the Constitution.

The gains of that breakthrough have long since been dissipated. Mr. Chidambaram’s appeal that India accept an “asymmetric devolution of powers” for J&K, which it has recommended for the Tamil provinces in Sri Lanka, is one such idea that could open a route forward. It should not be reflexively dismissed.

Source: The Hindu

Scandals and boycotts that have been a blot on Olympism

If the Olympic Games helped heal the wounds of two World Wars, violation of its spirit slashed open fresh ones, wracking it to the roots at times.

While incidents of esprit de corps that the movement embodied far outweighed those that assaulted it, forever etched in public memory will be episodes that the world could well have done without.

The mind’s eye immediately latches on to images inextricably intertwined with events of the day. In spite of remarkable achievement and record-breaking endeavours, the 1968 Mexico Olympics brings back recollections of the ‘Black Salute.’ In the next edition, photographs of masked gunmen peering from a balcony recreate the horrors of what became known as the ‘Munich Massacre’.

The 1988 Games at Seoul will conjure up the portrait of a Ben Johnson, bravado getting the better of him as he approached the tape. The forefinger raised in triumph and a condescending look over his shoulder at the competition in his wake would tell the story of glory in its most fickle form. So would the Canadian sprinter’s big eyes reveal fear, as in a frightened rabbit, in a terrifying aftermath of sports’ most spectacular scandal ever perhaps.

The first edition to face the brunt was the 1916 Berlin Games. Laying bare its imperialistic designs, the Fatherland chose to cancel the sixth in the series of the modern version. Budapest had scored over Lyon and Amsterdam to host the 1920 Games. Politics came into play when the Hungarian capital was set aside, since the Austro-Hungarian empire had collaborated with Germany in WWI.

Antwerp was picked by a French-dominated International Olympic Committee (IOC), more comfortable with its Belgian neighbour. As member states of the Central Powers alliance, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey were seen as not welcome to the port city. Isolation of Germany was extended to the 1924 Paris Games, made famous by ‘Flying Scotsman’ Eric Liddell’s refusal to run on a Sunday as being contrary to his Christian beliefs.

The 1932 Los Angeles Games was rocked by ‘Flying Finn’ Paavo Nurmi’s exclusion, the IOC’s obsession with professionalism enforced strictly by Swedish officials, who accused the nine-time Olympic gold medallist of receiving too much money for his travel expenses.

Propaganda and ‘racism’
As if to make amends for the past, the 1936 Games were allotted to Berlin. Adolf Hitler however hijacked the event for propaganda purposes, prompting Spain’s Popular Front government to boycott it. A People’s Olympiad was proposed instead, which didn’t materalise following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Controversy dogged the Games further when Helene Mayer was the lone Jewish athlete in the German team, while Gretel Bergmann, Lilli Henoch and Wolfgang Furstner, also of the same ethnicity, were dropped, deemed as being racially undesirable. Hitler not shaking hands with Jesse Owens was seen as a racist snub to an African-American, but another view holds that the German Chancellor shook hands only with winners of his own country.

With the WWII raging, the 1940 Games originally scheduled for Tokyo and the 1944 edition were called off. Germany and Japan, the two major Axis powers vanquished in the war were not invited to the 1948 London Games, while the Soviet Union decided not to attend.

The boycott bug grew in dimension by the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Following the Suez Canal crisis, which found France and Britain assisting Israel in attacking Egypt, the last-named nation, Lebanon and Iraq avoided the Australian showpiece. Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands kept away following the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Politics and apartheid
South Africa was prohibited for the 1964 Tokyo Games for its policy of apartheid. Tanzania led a 22-African nation boycott of the 1976 Montreal Olympics in protest against New Zealand’s rugby union team’s visit to the country ostracised in the earlier edition. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the USA, a sporting super power too, boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games. The Soviets did likewise to the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Subsequent editions saw cheating through drugs assume alarming proportions, sports administrators appearing unequal to the task of stamping out the scourge.

Source:The Hindu

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Why not a Common Civil Code for all?

The recent progressive decisions of the Shani Shingnapur and Trimbakeshwar temple trusts to allow entry of women in the wake of a series of protests constitute a welcome development in what has been a long march towards gender equality. They also served to rekindle a countrywide debate on ending widespread gender discrimination, especially on religious grounds. It is a matter of concern that close to seven decades after Independence, women continue to battle discrimination in matters of religion even as they march shoulder-to-shoulder with men in various fields.

Perhaps, the time has come for us to take a close, hard look at the Goa Family Law and see if it could be emulated in the rest of the country. The Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 was continued in Goa after its liberation, and it should be the model for other States. The progressive law provides for equal division of income and property regardless of gender between husband and wife and also between children. It is also applicable in the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.

Importance of a Common Code

A Common Civil Code that would put in place a set of laws to govern personal matters of all citizens irrespective of religion is perhaps the need of the hour. It is, in fact, the cornerstone of true secularism. Such a progressive reform would not only help end discrimination against women on religious grounds but also strengthen the secular fabric of the country and promote unity. However, it can be implemented only when there is wide acceptance from all religious communities after discussing all the pros and cons as no decision, however reformatory, could be thrust on the people without their acceptance. All misgivings would have to be squarely addressed for progress to be achieved on this count.

In fact, Article 44 of the Constitution declares that the state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India. During the debate in the Constituent Assembly, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, while supporting the need to frame a Uniform Civil Code, expressed the hope that its application might be purely voluntary. He also said: “I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that field. After all, what are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is full of inequities, discriminations and other things which conflict with our fundamental rights.” Babasaheb’s pragmatic words are of great relevance to the Indian social context today.

While there is a criminal code which is applicable to all people irrespective of religion, caste, tribe and domicile in the country, there is no similar code when dealing with respect to divorce and succession which are governed by Personal Laws. The Uniform Civil Code seeks to administer the same set of secular civil laws to govern all people.

Repeated judicial reminders

In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano, who had moved the apex court seeking maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure after her husband divorced her. The then Chief Justice, Y.V. Chandrachud, observed that a Common Civil Code would help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law. The Court directed Parliament to frame a Uniform Civil Code.

In the Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995) case, the Supreme Court had observed: “Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, while defending the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill instead of a uniform civil code, in the Parliament in 1954, said, ‘I do not think that at the present moment the time is ripe in India for me to try to push it through’. It appears that even 41 years thereafter, the Rulers of the day are not in a mood to retrieve Article 44 from the cold storage where it is lying since 1949. The reasons are too obvious to be stated. The utmost that has been done is to codify the Hindu law in the form of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, which have replaced the traditional Hindu law based on different schools of thought and scriptural laws into one unified code. When more than 80 per cent of the citizens have already been brought under the codified personal law, there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance, any more, the introduction of Uniform Civil Code for all citizens.”

In the John Vallamattom v. Union of India case in 2003, Chief Justice V.N. Khare had observed: “It is a matter of regret that Article 44 of the Constitution has not been given effect to. Parliament is still to step in for framing a common civil code in the country.”

In fact, the Supreme Court in October 2015 said there was total confusion due to various Personal Laws and sought to know if the government was willing to implement a Uniform Civil Code. It observed: “What happened to it? Why don’t you (the government) frame and implement it?” However, the apex court later declined to direct Parliament to bring in a Uniform Civil Code while allowing a PIL filed in this regard to be withdrawn.

A secular project at heart

Several eminent people, representing diverse fields, have put forth different arguments against the introduction of a Common Civil Code. The most common refrain has been that even the British did not try to codify Personal Laws based on religion and any attempt to bring in a common codification of laws would be tantamount to the state’s interference in religious affairs, particularly of the minorities. Nothing can be farther from truth. It would be apt to remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who once said: “We should get out of the miasma of religious majorities and minorities.” That, in reality, would be the precise endeavour of such a unified code. If one were to be wedded to rigid and bigoted views, why should there be any statutes and changes in them in sync with the times? As a society evolves, it enacts laws which protect and safeguard the rights and interests of all its citizens.

Contrary to a sustained campaign of misinformation, the whole concept of a Common Civil Code is not aimed against any particular religion or its customs, but to prevent oppression in the name of religion. It would naturally be based on internationally accepted principles of jurisprudence and would go a long way in providing a sense of security to people of various religious denominations.

Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, co-founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2015, observed: “From the Shah Bano case in 1985 till date, Muslim women have never been heard in matters concerning their lives thanks to the politics in our country. Certain orthodox and patriarchal males have… stonewalled any attempt towards reform in Muslim personal law. In the process, Muslim women have been denied their Quranic rights as well as their rights as equal Indian citizens. Almost all Muslim countries the world over, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and even Bangladesh and Pakistan in our neighbourhood, have codified personal laws governing marriage and family matters… Indian Muslims are denied this opportunity. As a result, we see instances of triple talaq and polygamy in our society.” They further stated that they had just published national research findings “with a primary sample of 4710 Muslim women across 10 states. An overwhelming 92.1% women want a total ban on oral/unilateral divorce and 91.7% are opposed to polygamy. 83.3% women said that codification of Muslim family law will help Muslim women get justice”.

It was also mentioned that BMMA had prepared a draft Muslim Family Law based on Koranic tenets concerning the age of marriage, mehr, talaq, polygamy, maintenance, custody of children etc. The important provisions of this draft law include a minimum marriage age of 18 for girls and 21 for boys and that the consent of both parties must be obtained without force or fraud, minimum mehr to be equivalent of one full annual income of the groom to be paid at the time of nikah. Further, it said that Talaq-e-Ahsan should be adopted as the method of divorce requiring mandatory arbitration over a 90-day period, oral unilateral divorce to be declared illegal, polygamy to be declared illegal, daughters to get equal share as sons through hiba or gift deed or will, compulsory registration of marriages, and the qazi to be held accountable for violations during talaq, polygamy and other such matters.

About tolerance

From Shah Bano to Shayara Bano, who recently filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, the focus has been on gender-friendly reforms of Personal Laws. With changing times, the need has arisen for having a Common Civil Code for all citizens, irrespective of religion, ensuring that their fundamental and constitutional rights are protected. Nobody need have qualms on this count. While emphasising that the foundations of secularism would only get further strengthened by introducing a Common Civil Code, I would like to recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “I do not expect India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side-by-side with one another.”

With the government seeking the opinion of the Law Commission to examine all aspects pertaining to Uniform Civil Code, the time has come for an enlightened debate in the country to arrive at a consensus at the earliest.

Author:M. Venkaiah Naidu-Minister for Urban Development & Information and Broadcasting, Government of India


Why the Turkish military revolted

The coup attempt in Turkey is the latest flashpoint in the often tense relationship between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country's military. Historically the Turkish military held considerable sway over politics. It's a popular institution with relative autonomy, which poses itself as a guardian of Kemalism, the country's founding ideology, and secularism. The rise of Mr. Erdogan to power in 2002 had challenged the military both ideologically and institutionally. In terms of ideology, Mr. Erdogan's AK Party's Islamist politics was fundamentally different from the military's Kemalist secularism. Mr. Erdogan's government also took a series of steps in its initial years such as limiting the jurisdiction of the military court and bringing the appointment of senior military figures under civilian control to weaken the military's influence in society and over state.

This was a formidable challenge given that the military had staged four successful coups in the past and made several other political leaders resign through other means. But his immense popularity and economic and political stability helped Mr. Erdogan take the risk which other Turkish politicians feared to do. He had also got several generals and other senior commanders arrested for allegedly trying to plot against the government. Despite the public opposition and warning from the military, the government supported the election of Abdullah Gul as the country's president in 2007. The military opposed Mr. Gul because of his previous association with an Islamist party. At this moment, Mr. Erdogan appeared to have tamed the strong military and established the authority of his civilian government over the whole of Turkish institutions.

But things have changed over the last two years. The paradigm shift in Turkey's foreign policy and its disastrous outcome, growing insecurity in the country, and the increasingly authoritarian nature of the AK Party rule all weakened Mr. Erdogan's once enviable political stature. When crisis broke out in Syria in 2011, Mr.Erdogan was one of the first leaders who called for President Bashar al-Assad's resignation. Since then he actively backed Islamist rebels in Syria. This was largely counterproductive. First, it deepened the Syrian civil war, sending a huge number of refugees into Turkey. Second, the hands of Islamic State were strengthened by the Syrian conflict. The IS is now occasionally attacking Turkey. Third, Turkey's involvement in Syria had turned Russia against the country. The Russian sanctions had seriously impacted the country's Central Asia plans. Lastly, the worsening of the ethnic tensions within Turkey is also linked to the Syrian crisis. Mr. Erdogan resumed attacking the Kurdish rebels in the country's Southeast after Kurds emerged as a major ground force in the war against IS, drew international support and their political wing posed electoral challenges to the AK Party.

Of late, however, Mr. Erdogan had tried to improve relationship with the military establishment. That may be because his government became increasingly reliant on the military in the wake of the new security challenges, particularly in the East. Mr. Erdogan focussed his opposition on the Gulenist wing of the military--followers of Islamist scholar and an Erdogan critic Fethullah Gulen--and aligned with the Kemalists. Mr. Erdogan calls the Gulenist wing a "parallel structure" within the government. In recent weeks, the government had also shown changes in its foreign policy. Mr. Erdogan met President Vladimir Putin of Russia and normalised Turkey's ties with Israel. The government had also said that it was ready to engage Syrian President Assad, in a major U-turn in its hostile approach towards the neighbouring country.

Besides, earlier this week, Mr. Erdogan signed a bill giving soldiers immunity from prosecution while taking part in domestic security operations.

But Saturday's coup attempt shows that Mr. Erdogan hasn't won completely in pacifying the discontents within the army. His initial response was that the "parallel structure" was behind the coup. But the question is whether the Gulenists are so powerful, even after the purge, to stage a coup against the Turkish government. It could also be a larger military revolt given that Mr. Erdogan is now weak and is dependent on the armed forces. The statement issued by the rebel forces that they have taken over the country to protect human rights and secularism matches the Kemalist rhetoric. Either way, it shows the further weakening of The Turkish state and portrays a grim picture about the future of the country's democracy.

Source:The Hindu