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All about argumentative India

All about argumentative India
Highlights

To borrow Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s description, the argumentative Indian is at it. Myriad issues – social, cultural, religious, regional, economic...

Holding elections in February-March is not new. But the Election Commission used to always take care not to disturb the examination time tables. Why has this factor been overlooked this time? Now, reports of examinations being postponed are coming in. Are students and teachers to pay a price for this democratic exercise? If monsoon season or a religious festival is taken into consideration while deciding the election dates, why not school examinations?

To borrow Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s description, the argumentative Indian is at it. Myriad issues – social, cultural, religious, regional, economic and of course, political – are being vehemently debated. They invariably end up before the Supreme Court.

Traditionally the last resort, though not always the last word, the apex court, too, is sometimes unable to deliver on many problems staring at us during daylight and in the dark.

Take the political one first, on Annual Budget 2017-18 scheduled to be tabled on February 1 amidst electioneering, just before voting begins in key State Assembly elections.

While the opposition demands its postponement, the government insists that it will not. Significantly, as the opposition parties do not seem serious, a habitual petitioner has approached the court that has provided no immediate relief.

It is possible to argue that budget presentation is just a routine exercise in Parliament and does not impinge on or influence the electoral process.

The court is right when it says that there is nothing in the Constitution or in any rule book to block budget’s presentation amidst elections. The court is also right in asking, albeit tentatively, “so, what is the big deal in that?”

But what about the public mind, that of the potential voter? This is important when government leaders make whopping promises at election rallies. For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised Rs 1.25 lakh crore to Bihar during the election campaign.

He may well deliver it, now that his friend-turned-foe, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is friend yet again. But that is a different matter.

A budget is all about taxing people even as the government of the day dishes out concessions and holds out hopes. The voter may be cynical about promises made over the decades that are generally not kept.

But that has not stopped government leaders to make them. Should the court be taking a sanitised, legalistic view of the budget and ignore the ‘political’ content in what is both an economic and a political exercise?

A related issue—and I wonder why nobody seems exercised enough to take it to the same court or to the Election Commission – is one of holding elections during the examination time in schools.

It is well known that schools are often the places where polling stations are set up and school grounds are used for holding election rallies. Here, one is not even talking of the noise pollution caused by rallies and processions that disturb the students preparing for their examinations.

Holding elections in February-March is not new. But the Election Commission used to always take care not to disturb the examination time tables. Why has this factor been overlooked this time? Now, reports of examinations being postponed are coming in.

Are students and teachers to pay a price for this democratic exercise? If monsoon season or a religious festival is taken into consideration while deciding the election dates, why not the school examinations?

On the day it began hearing on plea for budget postponement last week, the Supreme Court also dealt with several other issues, many of them related to the festival variously called Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Uttarayan, Maghi and Bihu in different parts of the country.

It refused to vacate the ban on Jalikattu, the traditional bull festival of Tamil Nadu. It became a political issue which rival AIADMK and DMK coming together to pander to popular sentiment. Celebrity Kamal Haasan threw in his weight behind the festival.

Not surprisingly, there was widespread defiance. The court’s directive was violated in letter and spirit, leaving nobody any wiser and the politicians awaiting another day, another opportunity to take sides on the festival.

While we are on jalikattu, people in Andhra Pradesh resent any curb on cock-fighting. There is money to be made through large-scale betting. The apex court declined to pass order on a petition after the High Court had passed orders.

In Assam, on the other hand, the people have respected for the second year, orders passed by the High Court and endorsed by the Supreme Court, banning another blood sport, Magh Bihu that entails fight between buffaloes and bulbuls.

In Gujarat, famous for flying kites on Uttarayan, a lot of money is involved, not just in kites, but in ‘manja’, the string with which they are flown. The Supreme Court refused to interfere with the order of the National Green Court (NGT) that had banned the use of ‘manja’ that is laced with glass and metal powder.

Of course, generations have flown kites using ‘manja’ but there was not enough awareness about its lethal role. It is only in recent years that people realise that ‘manja’, besides causing accidents, is bad for environment.

Some years ago, attempts by Mumbai’s civic authorities to regulate the immersion of Ganesha idols at the end of the festival were met with stiff opposition from the rival Senas – Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

The authorities wanted to disperse the immersion to other beaches since one at Chowpatty was choking the Arabian Sea waters. But for the Senas, it was a matter of ‘faith.’

There were similar protests and the court orders were defied two years back when the height of the earthern pot raised for the Govinda during the Janashtami was sought to be reduced. In the human pyramid that is formed to reach the pot, the person at the top is invariably a minor chosen for his light weight and suppleness. It is this kid who receives the worst injury, even death, when the pyramid of frenzied people collapses. That, again, became a matter of ‘faith’.

Why do celebrations become matters of ego and prestige to be exploited in the name of tradition and religion, in defiance of government/ court orders aimed at serving the larger public good?

Celebrations are fine and are, indeed, the life and blood of a society. Can there be no room and regard for safety of the participants and the people? Those who go to court to seek unfettered freedom in the name of tradition and religion are actually those who make money and they receive ample support from the political class.

We have to move with the time learning from our past experience, it is often advised. Yes, we have moved with the times, in a manner of speaking. We are not talking of people falling off rooftops while flying kites, because many more fall off while taking ‘selfies’ these days. India, latest statistics show, has the highest number of “selfie deaths”.

We find the ‘manja’ being advocated in a fit of patriotism because the other alternative is the nylon thread that is being imported from China.

While not advocating the Chinese stuff and its imports, it needs noting that Chinese Ganesha idols are easier to dissolve in water and are more environment-friendly than the indigenous ones. The Chinese ‘pichkari, the colour sprinkler used during Holi festival works better.

So do the Chinese fire-crackers during Diwali. The answer is making similar safe stuff at home, not oppose something because it is imported from an unfriendly neighbour.

Talking of money to be made, the Union Law Commission is to advise the Supreme Court whether betting on cricket can be legalised in India. It is gambling and is curbed or regulated by State laws. Any change would require a Central legislation.

Recommended by the Justice Lodha panel that probed working of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), this has acquired sanctity. The Law Commission is examining whether it will affect cricket, the game and lead to match-fixing as has happened and not just in India.

From what is available in the public domain, the question of morality, if any, in betting is not part of the study. Times are a-changing.

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