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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Constitution of India

Finally did something I had been wanting to do for sometime- read up on the making of our constitution. It has been a fascinating and engrossing read spread over almost a week. Below is an abridged version of  that reading.

When the Constitution of India came into effect on 26th January 1950 it signaled both the culmination of a process steeped in history and a glorious end to the story of a country’s struggle to find its own place under the sun. India ceased to be a dominion of the British Crown and became a sovereign democratic republic. The lengthiest written constitution of any country in the world is an inclusive document, establishing the structure, functioning, powers and duties for a government system and its institutions and at the same time defining fundamental political principles, rights, directive principles and the duties of the citizens of India. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is widely regarded as its architect and its conscience keeper.

An aftermath of the uprising of 1857 was The Government of India Act, 1858, which brought India under the direct rule of the British Empire. The feelings of resentment which the events of 1857 had brought to the forefront, coupled with developments post 1857, gave momentum to the movement for a free India. As early as the nineteen twenties it was clear to those at the steering wheel of the movement that India’s future would be shaped by Indians themselves. In 1922 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi a.k.a Mahatma said “Swaraj will not be a free gift of the British Parliament. It will be a declaration of India’s full self-expression”. The demand for a Constituent Assembly was vindicated after the failure of the Simon Commission (1928-29) and the three Round Table Conferences of 1930, 1931 and 1932. It became an official demand of the Indian National Congress in 1935, and was accepted by the British in August 1940. The ‘August Offer’ made by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow included, among other things, permission to Indians to draft their own constitution. 

Origin of the Constituent Assembly

On June 3, 1947 Lord Mountbatten introduced the Indian Independence Act 1947 and scrapped the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Act was passed on July 18, 1947, a precursor to independence on August 15, 1947. The Constituent Assembly met for the first time on June 9, 1946, reassembling in the Constitution Hall on the evening of August 14, 1947 as a sovereign body and successor to the British parliament's authority in India.

Composition of the Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly had 385 members. B N Rao was the constitutional advisor of the assembly and Dr. Sachidanand Sinha its interim President. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly took place on Dec 9, 1946 .Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected as its President on Dec 11, 1947. The assembly was chaired by Prasad when it met as a constituent body and by G. V. Mavlankar when it met as a legislative body. The Constituent Assembly had 13 Committees. The Drafting Committee, which bore the responsibility of drafting the Constitutional document, was formed on August 29, 1947 under the Chairmanship of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar .

The Assembly met for the first time in New Delhi on December 9,1946, and its last session was held on  January24, 1950. During this period (two years, eleven months and eighteen days) it held eleven sessions, sitting for a total of 166 days. December 13, 1946 Jawaharlal Nehru introduced an "objective resolution", laying down the underlying principles of the constitution. This resolution was passed on January 22, 1947. July 22, 1947 the National flag was adopted and on January 24, 1950 "Jana Gana Mana“ was adopted as the national anthem, and the first two verses of "Vande Mataram"  became the national song. Rajendra Prasad was elected the first president of India.
During deliberations on the draft Constitution, the Assembly moved, discussed and disposed of as many as 2,473 amendments out of a total of 7,635 tabled. It was finally passed and accepted on Nov 26, 1949, a day  remembered as National Law Day. At the special session of the assembly held on Jan 24, 1950, a day on which the Gods above  literally showered their blessings, 284 members of the Assembly signed the official copies of the Indian Constitution which came into effect on Jan 26, 1950, henceforth celebrated as the Republic Day of India. From this day the Constitution of India became the law of all the States and territories of India. The defunct Assembly functioned as the  provisional Parliament of India until a new Parliament was constituted in1952.

The original Constitution of India is  beautifully calligraped by Nandalal Bose and  each page beautified and decorated by artists from Shantiniketan including the famous Beohar Rammanohar Sinha.  There was no typing or print involved. The original copies are kept in special helium-filled cases in the Library of the Parliament of India. 

Features of the Constitution
The Constitution laid down a parliamentary system of government with the executive being directly accountable to the legislature. Article 74 anoints  the Prime Minister of India as the head of government. Articles 52 and 63 state  that there shall be a President of India and a Vice-President of India with the President being a ceremonial head of state. The Constitution of India is Quasi-Federal in form because it has the features of a federation as well as unitary features. Each state and  Union territory of India has  a Chief Minister heading the government and a Governor (in case of states) or Lieutenant Governor (in the case of Union territories) as the ceremonial head . The state of Jammu and Kashmir was given a special status  through article 370. Panchayati Raj in rural areas and municipality in urban areas were introduced in the 73rd and 74th Amendment Act .

The Constitution, in its current form  consists of a preamble, 448 articles in 25 parts, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 98 amendments.
The words which give meaning to the spirit and intention of the makers of the constitution and are termed as “the soul of the constitution” are enshrined in the preamble.


The  twenty five parts deal with matters such as Union and its Territory, Citizenship, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, The Panchayats, Elections, Languages, Finance, Property, Contracts and Suits, Trade and Commerce within the territory of India, The scheduled and Tribal Areas, Services Under the Union, the States and many more areas.


Schedules, Amendments, Judicial review

The twelve Schedules are lists in the Constitution that categorize and tabulate bureaucratic activity and policy of the Government. Amendments to the Constitution are made by the Parliament, the procedure for which is laid out in Article 368. As of June 2015 there have been 100 amendments to the Constitution. Judicial review is dealt with under Article 13 and states that the Constitution is the supreme power of the nation and all laws are under its supremacy.

Adoptions from Other Constitutions

The reason why the Indian constitution is  called one of the best constitutions in the world is that its makers borrowed  from other models those features they felt would benefit and help and safeguard the interests of the people of the country. Features and principles have been adopted  from the constitutions of  Britian, the United States of America, Canada Ireland, Germany, Australia,  France, the erstwhile USSR and Japan.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The BJP As We Knew It

Out of the many random questions that traipse their winding way through the empty corridors of my mind at hazy, lazy  moments, catching me unawares and without any answers is the question- whatever happened to the BJP as we knew it ? is the BJP of the present the same as the party we had waited for , through  the endless years of the UPA, to come to power at the center and lead us out of the maze of  mind boggling corruption, cosy cronyism and deafening silences? or is it  some other variant,  like a genetically modified brinjal, for which one has neither developed a taste nor an appetite?  The question, like a pesky, precocious child doesn't stop there. It carries on to ask- and if what we are now being subjected to is the genetically modified version then will we ever, for five years, five months,five days- ever- be able to see the old lotus- the one we had voted for-  bloom and savor its politics? 

 Much like a mathematics student trying to figure out the proverbial mystery of  X, I try and assemble the  strewn pieces of my  thoughts into a composite whole capable of answering the question. Like most questions in a person's life it soon comes down to the  'I' in the Id, or ,as in this case, the 'we' of a society. If the BJP as we knew it has  , like a truant monsoon, bypassed and cold shouldered us then how much responsibility should we ,the people of a sovereign socialist secular republic, own up to? However, applying oneself to the whole conundrum  becomes too painful a process and one does exactly what one should have  done in the beginning- close the doors to those winding corridors

But as the Sushma Swaraj / Lalit Modi/ Vasundhara Raje/  saga unfolded on television channels  and one witnessed, yet again, the bankruptcy of  morality, propriety, accountability and ownership by politicians and Very Influential People one realized that the dimming and damming of the saffron color has well and truly taken place. The BJP in which its leaders  both distribute and curry favors with those on the wrong side of the law has come a long way from the parent party, the Jan Sangh, founded by  Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. 

Here was a party which had been 'our party' for the longest time ever. It  could have taken the road less traveled but it seemed to have lost its will and way in those yellow woods and opted for the road where the leaves lay well and truly trampled by the GOP, the Congress.

The party in which its tallest leader, also the first non congress prime minister to complete a full term in office, believed in the ideology ,as revealed in his poetry, क़दम मिला कर चलना होगा (we will have to match steps and walk together)is now leaving no stone unturned to ensure that a democratically elected government in Delhi is not able to walk at all. It is another story that the said democratically elected government is also leaving no stone unturned in committing political hara-kiri.This was the party which won only two seats in the general elections of 1984 but still managed to make an impression. Now, the party has 282 seats of its own in the Lok Sabha but is going in the negative where making a positive impression is concerned. 

Did we, the BJP loyalists, wait all these years to see ministers and spokespersons look and behave as  replicas of the Congress ministers and spokespersons? The same bluster, arrogance and , now we know, the same core beliefs. Yes, the Congress, for us, had always been corrupt and arrogant. But for the BJP to behave in the same manner- no less than a body blow. 
One now knows exactly what made Charles Bukowski write, "Are there good governments and bad governments? No, there are only bad governments and worse governments.” (The Most Beautiful Woman  in Town and Other Stories).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Arvind Kejriwal accuses BJP and Arnab Goswami of conspiracy to keep him out of the news: Faking News

Posted by

New Delhi. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal is an angry man today. The reason is that he and his party have been sidelined from the national news for the last four days.
From the time the Sushma Swaraj – Lalit Modi scandal broke out on Times Now no coverage has been given to the Aam Aadmi Party. The latter is used to being in the news, whether for the right reasons or wrong.
Arvind Kejriwal
Kejriwal accusing Arnab of conspiracy
Speaking to Faking News Manish Sisodia alleged that Arnab Goswami has sold himself to the BJP, “The Modi expose is just hogwash to keep us out of the news and thus out of public memory. Modi , the 56 inch chest one, knows that out of sight is out of mind and so has directed Arnab to keep unleashing a series of exposes of senior BJP leaders.”
Taking a deep breath a visibly agitated Sisodia continued, “Modi is playing very intelligent politics. He is sidelining us and getting publicity for his own party.”
All efforts to get a quote from Arnab Goswami and BJP spokespersons regarding the AAP allegation proved to be fruitless.
Meantime, Kejriwal has called for an emergency closed door meeting of senior party functionaries. It is believed that the party will draw up a list of exposes of its own ministers and leak them to the media channels friendly to it.
An AAP leader, on condition of anonymity, informed that the first expose will be of Sisodia.
“Manish ji is very excited about making national headlines. This has always been his dream. He and Kejriwal almost came to blows over who should be ‘exposed’ first. But then Arvind bhai was graceful enough to give way,” the leader told Faking News.

Friday, June 12, 2015

No space underground after Delhi Law Minister’s arrest, hundreds of MLAs go underground fearing arrest....

      A short  satirical piece by me which came out in Faking News

Going underground has acquired a new meaning with hundreds of MLA’s across India going into hiding. This follows the arrest of Jitender Singh Tomar, Law minister in the AAP government in Delhi.
Tomar has been arrested on charges of cheating, forgery and getting jobs on a fake degree. He is accused of fabricating his academic degree. Following Jitender Singh Tomar’s arrest unusual activity was witnessed in Vidhan Sabha’s across the country. MLA’s were seen rushing out of the Assembly buildings and being driven away to undisclosed destinations.

One MLA, on condition of anonymity, said that there was fear in the minds of his brethren that the government was now expediting the arrest of all those against whom cases are pending. He added that till now most of the sitting MLA’s were doing just that- sitting pretty- because nothing had ever come out of the cases filed against them.

 But now with the arrest of Jitender Singh Tomar, against whom a case had been filed just a few months back, it seemed that the central government had been infused with a sense of urgency to bring criminals to book.

The maximum number of MLA’s gone underground have been reported from Uttar Pradesh followed by Bihar. In some states the Chief Minister of the state and the Speaker of the house have also gone on a’ leave of absence’.

Of Stable Marriages and Unhappy Relationships

I have serious issues with a movie like Tanu weds Manu Returns. It shows a girl of the present times( read : smoking , drinking and playing the field) married for four years, certifying that her husband is a nut case and packing him off to a mental asylum. (If it were so easy I am sure most of us would have banished our husbands to a similar fate by now!!). The story doesn't end here( infact it begins ). She moons around in sarees in some location in England but then decides to come back to Bharat and immediately slips into dresses and towels as dresses. Her husband is bailed out of the asylum and also comes back to India only to fall in love with a ditto same copy of his wife. The movie ends with the original twosome acknowledging their love for each other.

We wondered at the naivety of the director. How did he convince the husband( a vapid Madhavan) to go back to a wife( a neurotic Kangana) who had told the world that he was mad? Would this have happened in real life? Didn't real marriages  have more substance in them? Did moments like those showing Kangana cosying up to different men actually happen ? Actually?

It was precisely when the post movie discussion was taking place that  the landline rang. Since I knew that no one else would move I stretched my hand to take the call. Two minutes into the conversation I wished I hadn't. Not because I don't like the people who had made the call. On the contrary , it was because I like them immensely it saddened me that they were in the midst of a huge row. The reason for the row: the husband's supposed 'interest' in women. That a picture perfect marriage of more than thirty years could descend to accusations, allegations, shouting and screaming left us in no mood to continue our dissection. We wandered  off to differents tasks.

Two days later another phone call, another conversation. This marriage also has everything , on the surface, going for it . The couple celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary last year but though the facade of happiness is being maintained  the cracks are not going anywhere. The two conversations left me shaken ( and stirred) to the core. For people of our generation, brought up to act out the 'happily ever after' ,to confess that while they have stayed put in their marriage but happiness has not is a big deal.

I am sure the two instances mentioned above are not isolated ones. If that is the case we need to ask ourselves why this is so. What are the reasons that the moral and social fabric protecting institutions like marriage is being ripped apart. I know there are no easy answers but then it's not a easy question.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Mess-Up That is the Common Law Test: A Parent’s Lament

There are moments in every parent’s life where certain images of their progeny get imprinted on the mind. Twenty-three years of motherhood have left their share of footprints on the landscape of my memory but no image has been so fraught with despair, fear, uncertainty and anger at self and at the system as the look on my son’s face when he reached home on the evening of 10th May after giving the entrance exam for the National Law Universities (NLUs) of India. Courage deserted me and I busied myself with everything that didn’t need to be done so that I could avoid asking him the question: How was the paper?

Under the National Law School of India Act, 1986, the first autonomous law school was set up in Bangalore. It admitted its first batch in 1987 paving the way for more NLU’s being set up in different states, each trying to come up to, and maintain, the standards of NLS, Bangalore. They succeeded in giving law as a profession a makeover and made it so attractive and competitive that they started attracting the best brains and talent. Parents like me , till now attached like a limpet to the idea of engineering and medicine as careers for their children, could no longer trot out any reasoned argument against law- specially when confronted with the placement and salary figures.

Till 2007 each NLU conducted its own entrance exam. The Common Law Admission Test was held for the first time in 2008 under the aegis of NLS, Bangalore. Like every entrance exam in India CLAT is tough by virtue of the fact that the number of seats on offer are extremely few—only 1336 in the 16 NLU’S. After removing the seats reserved for different categories only 1,069 are available to a general candidate. Total applicants this year? 40,000.

My son was aware of this fact and threw himself into preparations from the day his 12th board exams ended- giving himself a month and a half to prepare. My husband and I watched in secret pride as he gave mock tests daily, went through past papers, and did as many exercises as he possibly could of the different sections.

Fitting perfectly into the stereotypical role of middle class parents who know that 12th is THE year in their child’s life we kept dipping into the funds we had kept aside for the +2 year and for the entrances. By the time the exam day came near my son was pretty confident of getting a decent score. This confidence was bolstered by his mock exams scores. Till everything came crashing like a pack of cards not just for him, but for most of those who gave the CLAT this year. The disillusionment is not so much for his rank which is still good enough to get him admission into many of the NLUs – it is for that system that promises to deliver but lands up betraying.

Today the irony cannot be missed. The 40,000-odd candidates who appeared for the online Common Law Admission Test 2015 could have never imagined that even before they gained admission to the prestigious National Law Universities they would be a part of an engrossing legal and moral battle with all the classic elements of a courtroom drama. A drama to which they not only have a ringside view but are also divided neatly down the middle into the prosecution and the defence.

Prof. Gurdip Singh, Vice Chancellor, Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University (RMLNLU), Lucknow, and the convenor of CLAT 2015, could have  also never imagined that he would make it to newspaper headlines, television channels and be an objet de la haine in the homes of the  students who appeared for the CLAT this year.

Failures galore
The charges vary:  a paper which was inexplicably tough; questions were culled from previous years’ papers of management entrance exams (CAT); general shoddiness and lack of transparency. The FAQ 13 on the CLAT official website had stated that question papers and answer sheets would be mailed to the students right after the exam in the interests of transparency. Not only were students not mailed their question paper and the answer sheet but  FAQ 13  was also removed from the website.

Allegations also abound about a couple of coaching centres in Lucknow being in the know about the paper and concomitantly  students from these coaching centres performing very well in the exam; bucking tradition and custom no merit list was taken out;  the question paper being uploaded only after 20 days from the exam date-that too at the directive of the Allahabad High court. Furious and upset students claim that their papers have been tampered with. The number of questions they attempted in the exam is not being reflected in their answer sheets. Social media was afire with angry allegations and complaints soon after the test was conducted at the poor cut and paste quality of the paper.

The question paper itself has turned out to be the proverbial can of worms. The numbers vary from 30-40  but experts agree that many answers are wrong , questions wrongly framed and  there are questions which have no correct answer options. Gautam Puri, an IIM Bangalore alumnus, co-founder CL Educate, and someone who has been coaching and mentoring test takers for entrance exams for more than two decades says that he has never felt so pained and aggrieved at a question paper as he feels at the CLAT 2015 paper. In his tellingly titled post ‘Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum’ (‘Where have we come‘), he has divided the errors into two categories:
Category I has 25 questions that have incorrect questions or answer choices that have harmed the students and therefore corrective action needs to be taken.
Category II has errors in 5 questions that could be ignored (e.g. q. 22 and 23) because the student may have been able to solve, regardless. Arguably, the students should be compensated.
Cut-and-paste job
Unfazed by the allegations, Prof. Singh, has said on a television channel that an expert committee had been constituted to set the paper and once this paper (CLAT 2015) was set it was further whetted by a panel of four NLU VCs. A typical reaction to that claim is: In all their collective wisdom the expert committee and the panel could come up with a paper which is a cut, copy and paste job of past management entrance exam papers. Even this plagiarized job is a botched up one. The paper is riddled with grammatical and [typographical] errors. The VC also says that there is no error in the paper except for one typographical mistake. To give you an idea about how untrue this claim is, here are a few samples from the English section.
Question 2: The critics censored (A) censured (B) the new movie because of its social unacceptability.
The correct answer is of course B here but the official answer is A.
Question 25: The analogy given is Dulcet : Raucous. The relationship between the two is clearly antonymous in nature and the correct answer option  should be C, Palliative : Exacerbate. However, option B, Crazy : Insane  has been given as the official answer and one the ‘expert’ committee is sticking to. There are definitely three more questions wrong in the English section alone. This makes it five questions definitely wrong in one section alone.

CLAT is an exam in which even a minuscule 2-3 marks gained or lost can see one’s rank change by 50-100 positions, or more. Minus any hysteria or hoopla there are at least 25 questions and answers which are wrong. As a parent who saw her son burning the midnight oil to crack the CLAT, I feel that justice is not being done when a process like conducting an entrance exam for which students and parents invest their time, money, hopes and aspirations is not being conducted in a correct and fool-proof manner. We have slowly allowed questionable morals and commercials to creep into every crevice of society. Could we not at least spare the education system and save our children?

On the same channel, the honourable VC reiterated in dulcet tones that the paper is absolutely error-proof as corroborated by another expert committee set up in response to the allegations. Is anyone buying this? If one were to judge by the raucous voices, not many.

This article has been published in The Wire

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rx: Accessible, Accountable, Affordable Health Care

A close relative had been  admitted to  the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi , and it was my 'turn' to be on  duty   that day. In my brisk walk towards the building that houses the private rooms I passed the general O.P.D ward. It was 8.20 in the morning of  what promised to be a scorcher of a day ,the sun beating down on a queue that went all the way back till  it found that that there was no inch left to go more back and then it snaked its way to the front in an untidy U. The line didn't, couldn't  have, stop there. It   formed  more U's and even as I walked past people were materialising out of the humidity to stand in patient perspiring silence.

For the past one week one has been watching a blitzkrieg of publicity for the 365 days of the BJP government.While salesmanship and one upmanship are par for the course for governments in power it would make better sense if the same governments had something concrete to show for  basic  rights.What are these basic, fundamental rights? I am sure most of us will agree that what we as citizens count as basic rights  are: health, education, affordable food and security. Yes, relations with neighbors,with the European Union, with Barack, Merkel et al are also important  and not to be scoffed at but dear prime minister, could  you please first  ensure health care that is accessible to all? I know that treatment in government hospitals/ clinics/ dispensaries is almost free but what use of this free  treatment when it is not immediately accessible and is of quality which is suspect?

Some pointers from a housewife:
  1. Adopt a health coverage system which provides equity in  health facilities, services and in delivery.
  2. Increase funding for public health programmes
  3. Regulate private sector health care
  4. Develop a  framework for  better quality healthcare  across the country.(  This on an  S.O.S basis)
  5. Work in tandem with the state governments so that  quality health care  is available across the country. Make the cliche from Kashmir to Kanyakumari  come true in the case of health care.
  6.   I know we have a humungous population and are cash strapped. Modi ji, you have a marvellous rapport ,well documented and well publicized , with  NRI's across the globe. How about tapping them for a wee bit of contribution towards the health sector of the country of their origin? I am sure they will oblige happily and that money can go a long way towards making Bharat more swasth.
    Also,  for most of us Sardar Patel is an iconic figure. He was a towering personality and stands second to none in terms of his contribution to Indian polity. That he needs to be honored, venerated and remembered is right . However, can we not remember him by building clinics in his name across the country? The country , private and public sector, is slated to spend 500 crores + on a  statue for Sardar Patel. I am sure that the great man himself would have preferred if this money was spent in providing better health facilities to the people of the country he loved and worked for.

    Today more than ever before, India stands at the  crossroads. If anyone can do something about lifting our country out of the mess it is in  then it is Narendra Damodardas Modi. He seems to  have the will, the intent and of course the mandate. Please, Mr Modi, give us this day a health care system that actually cares for us. A system that doesn't make us wait for hours under a blinding sun; a system that doesn't rip us off and a system that is accountable .