Ndtv | 2 months ago | 29-03-2023 | 01:23 pm
New Delhi: In the middle of a huge political row over Rahul Gandhi's disqualification after a Gujarat court sentenced him to two years in jail, the Lok Sabha membership of Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal was restored today after his conviction in a criminal case was put on hold.Sources say Rahul Gandhi's legal team may cite this example before a higher court to try and get a stay on his conviction and restore his Lok Sabha membership.Rahul Gandhi's petition challenging his conviction by a court in Gujarat's Surat may be filed today or tomorrow in a sessions court, sources said. He has 30 days to file his appeal.Though it was widely anticipated, the Election Commission did not announce poll dates today for Wayanad, the constituency that falls vacant after Rahul Gandhi's disqualification. The Congress said it would have challenged the poll body if it had announced elections before Rahul Gandhi's appeal and a decision on it.Mohammed Faizal, an MP of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case of attempt to murder. He was automatically disqualified from parliament after his conviction.The sentence was stayed by the Kerala High Court in January.Mr Faisal challenged the Lok Sabha secretariat's "unlawful action" in not withdrawing his disqualification as an MP, more than two months after his sentence was put on hold.Mr Faisal claims that a false case was registered against him in 2016 over allegations of an attempt to murder a relative of former Union Minister PM Sayeed during the 2009 elections.The NCP leader was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019, in the middle of his trial. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison along with three others on January 11. Two days later, the Lok Sabha Secretariat sent him a disqualification notice.On January 18, the Election Commission announced polls to Mr Faisal's Lakshadweep seat on January 27. Two days before the polls, the Kerala High Court suspended Mr Faisal's sentence, forcing the Election Commission to withhold the byelection.PromotedListen to the latest songs, only on JioSaavn.comOn January 30, Sharad Pawar met with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, to request him to revoke his party leader's disqualification.Met with Lok sabha speaker Shri. @ombirlakota and requested him to revoke the disqualification of Nationalist Congress Party's MP Shri. @faizalpp786 . pic.twitter.com/JGeQgIpJmo— Sharad Pawar (@PawarSpeaks) January 30, 2023The Representation of the People Act, 1951, says that anyone convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more stands disqualified.The rule was invoked when Rahul Gandhi was held guilty by the Surat court in a defamation case linked to his "Modi surname" comments.
Dear Readers,Earlier this week, India’s Union government announced the MSPs (minimum support prices) for 17 crops in this year’s Kharif season.MSPs play a very significant role not just for India’s farmers and the farm economy but also for India’s consumers and the kind of food prices they face. That is why MSP announcements are keenly watched and often deeply politicised. With India heading for a general election in less than a year, the MSP announcements could prove of critical political significance, apart from their economic impact.What are MSPs? Why do they matter?MSPs are “support prices” announced by the government (and sometimes state governments add a bonus amount to them) and the intended aim in announcing them is to provide a safety net for farmers.As a farmer, one is worried sick each season because one does not know what one’s harvest will fetch. Given the acute lack of warehousing and cold storage in India, a farmer has little bargaining power in the market. If the market prices are below the farmer’s cost of production they and their families can be ruined.Widespread distress of this kind tends to have broader ramifications as well. For example, if one particular crop, say cotton, led to the ruin of many farmers, then farmers will avoid growing cotton next season. This, in turn, will reduce supply and push up prices. Higher prices will then show up across the different products for consumers.By announcing MSPs, the government makes a promise that it will buy (called procurement) from farmers at the announced prices. Since MSPs are calculated in such a manner that covers the basic costs of cultivation, the hope is that MSPs will save farmers from ruin.The other big purpose of MSPs is to serve as a tool in the hands of the policymakers to tweak the production pattern. If the government wants to incentivise the production of pulses, as against paddy (rice), then it can give a relatively higher hike in MSP of pulses than the MSPs for paddy.Does the government actually buy all crops at MSPs?No. It is important to remember that, while the government announces MSPs for a whole host of crops both in the Rabi (winter) and the Kharif (summer) season, it procures only a few of those crops and that too from only a few states.According to a CRISIL research report, crops such as paddy, cotton and, to a limited extent, pulses get procured at MSP. Only few Kharif crops benefit from government procurement.“However, not all crops benefit from it (MSPs), leave alone equally. While around 45% of the paddy produced is procured at MSP, it is about 25% in case of cotton and only 1-3% in case of pulses,” according to CRISIL.“Also, the procurement is concentrated in only a few states — in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana for paddy, in Telangana and Maharashtra for cotton, and in Maharashtra and Karnataka for pulses,” states the CRISIL report.What are the economic and political aspects of MSP announcements?India’s farm economy — or for that matter that of any country — doesn’t really fully adhere to market principles. Partly that’s because national food security is a strategic concern. Moreover, if large a population is involved in farming as it is in India, then it is unlikely that farming will prove to be remunerative.But government intervention makes everything political. Closer to elections, it is natural for governments to announce high MSPs to win over the farmer vote.The economic aspect of MSPs, however, is not limited to farmers alone. While a sharp rise in MSPs (or higher MSPs over a sustained period) does alleviate farm distress, it can also lead to a spike in food inflation.The trade-off between the interests of the farmer, on the one hand, and consumers, on the other, makes deciding MSPs so difficult. The political dimension just adds to the complications.So, what has been announced?On June 7, the government announced that MSPs for the Kharif season will go up by an average of 7%; the actual range varies between 5% to 10.5% depending on the crop.However, since different people speak for different stakeholders, this increase can be viewed in many different ways.How big is the hike in MSPs? Has it been motivated by political concerns?“This is the highest MSP increase in the last 5 years and the second highest in the last decade,” states a Citi Research note by Samiran Chakraborty (Managing Director, Chief Economist, India).At the same time, “the government has refrained from large MSP spikes usually seen in pre-election years (34.1%, 19.6% and 15.2% witnessed in the last 3 pre-election years),” finds the Citi note (SEE CHART 1).While India’s farm distress is decades long, it is important to remember that it has only deepened over the past decade.How does this hike compare with the rate of food inflation and the rise in cost of production?The prices of cereals went up by almost 14% in April this year. In other words, they were 14% more than what they were in April last year. From that perspective, the MSP hike is modest.However, the Citi Research note finds that cost of cultivation went up by 6.8% and from that perspective, a 7% hike in MSPs is enough to ensure that farm economy does not lose out to the non-farm economy.How will this hike impact inflation and monetary policy?It is unlikely that this hike per se would spike inflation. However, it is noteworthy that food inflation may still spike if the normal monsoon is affected by El Nino.Given that this hike is unlikely to spike inflation by itself, it will allay the apprehensions RBI and the members of its Monetary Policy Committee might have about possible inflation surge later on in the year.What does it mean for the government’s finances?Higher MSPs and more procurement as well as the storage and disbursal of subsidised foodgrains are all expenditures that weigh down government’s financial health. According to Citi Research, this “MSP increase will not materially alter the government’s food subsidy budgeting.”What will be the likely impact on rural India?This is possibly the crucial aspect of the MSP decision.Latest GDP data showed that personal consumption growth — the biggest contributor to India’s GDP — was growing at around 2.5% over the past two quarters. This is starkly lower than India’s overall GDP growth rate of 7.2%.Worse, within this broader trend, it is the rural economy that is lagging behind urban India. “The consumption growth trends in the GDP have been weak with drivers of rural consumption remaining uneven,” states the Citi Research note.Given this context as well as the market expectation that the Karnataka election result would have resulted in a stimulus for the rural demand, this hike is muted.“The 7% MSP increase might just be enough to cover the increase in cost of production but does not signal a pre-election populist boost to rural consumption. There was some market perception that after the Karnataka election results, the government might be focusing more on stimulating rural demand,” states Citi notes.However, it does provide a caveat.“The extent of MSP increase does not support that hypothesis, though in theory, populist spending could be more back-ended, closer to the general election date.”See you on Monday,Udit
The Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, which was brought into force by the previous BJP government, to impose a near total ban on cow slaughter in the state, is at the centre of a controversy again, now that the newly formed Congress government is making a move to withdraw the law.The Congress party indicated ahead of the 2023 state assembly polls, and during the poll campaign, that it intends to withdraw cow slaughter ban on account of difficulties faced by farmers due to restrictions imposed on the trade of sick and unproductive cattle by the 2020 law.The situation came to a head recently, after the new minister for animal husbandry in the Congress government, K Venkatesh, indicated the the party’s intent by saying “If bulls and buffaloes can be slaughtered, why not cows?”These remarks invited protests from the opposition BJP, which emphasised upon the sacrality of the cow in Hindu culture, and forced Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to indicate that any amendments to the 2020 law would only be done after due discussion. Randeep Singh Surjewala, Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP, also rebuked the animal husbandry minister for his remarks on Thursday.What is the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020?The law came into force in 2021 after being passed in the state legislative assembly and council by the ruling BJP government – amid objections by the opposition Congress and Janata Dal Secular parties. It is a stringent law to restrict the slaughter of all forms of cattle in the state.The 2020 law repealed and replaced the less stringent Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 which has been in the state since then. While the 1964 law banned the killing of “any cow or calf of she-buffalo” it allowed the slaughter of bullocks, and male or female buffalos if certified by a competent authority to be above the age of 12 years, incapacitated for breeding, or if deemed sick.Under the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, cattle have been designated as “cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock and he or she buffalo” and their slaughter is banned. The only exemptions are buffaloes above the age of 13 years and certified by a competent authority, cattle used in medical research, cattle certified for slaughter by a veterinarian to prevent spread of a disease, and very sick cattle.The new law has also increased punishment for breaking the law, to the range of three to seven years of jail, or fines ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh or both. As per the 1964 law, the maximum punishment was for a period up to six months of imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 1000.The new law also prescribes punishments for illegal transport of cattle, sale of meat and purchase or disposal of cattle for slaughter – namely, a prison term of three to five years, and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh.Why did the BJP introduce such a stringent law in the state?The ban on cattle slaughter has been a prominent demand of right-wing Hindutva groups like the RSS, the VHP and others, which form the core support base of the BJP. These groups have viewed cattle – especially the cow–– in a religious rather than an agrarian context.During the BJP’s tenure in Karnataka between 2008 and 2013 the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010, was passed by the B S Yediyurappa led government.The 2010 law however did not receive the assent of the Governor, and the Congress party, which came to power in 2013 reverted to the less stringent 1964 law, which allowed cattle slaughter on a limited basis – especially those classified as being old, sick or unproductive on farms.After the BJP returned to power in 2019, the Cow Protection Cell of the party in Karnataka wrote to chief minister BS Yediyurappa seeking a re-introduction of the 2010 law that was shelved by the previous Congress government.“As the chief minister in 2010 you tried to enact the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2010. The Governor did not give his assent for the law to come into force. The Siddaramaiah government subsequently withdrew the bill,” the BJP Cow Protection Cell said in a letter to the CM dated August 27, 2019.“Now the BJP is once again in power in Karnataka and the party in its manifesto for the state assembly elections has stated the need for banning cow slaughter and introduction of a more stringent law than what was drafted in 2010. The government must examine the issue and introduce a bill in the next session of the state legislature,” the letter stated.In December 2020, the BJP government tabled and passed the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill, 2020 in the state assembly while the opposition, Congress and JDS, staged a walkout. The opposition alleged gross violation of principles for functioning of the legislature by the BJP, in context of the manner in which the bill was tabled and passed without a debate.“It is considered necessary to repeal the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964 to prohibit the slaughter of cattle and for the preservation and improvement of the breeds of cattle and to endeavour to organize agriculture and animal husbandry in terms of Article 48 of the constitution of India by enacting a comprehensive legislation,” the new law said in its statement of reasons for introduction.In February 2021, the bill was passed in the legislative council despite the BJP having fewer members than the combined strength of the Congress and JDS in the house. The two parties once again opposed the bill, with Congress leader BK Hariprasad stating that the BJP has double standards on cattle slaughter – one where it supports slaughter in states like Kerala, Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya, and another where it opposes slaughter.What have been the repercussions of the 2020 law?The agrarian economy has been majorly impacted by the 2020 law, especially in southern Karnataka, where cattle is an integral part of livelihood in terms of dairy farming and agriculture. Farmers have been up in arms over the ban on cattle slaughter, and there has been widespread complaints in the farming communities that the BJP’s ban on cattle slaughter has deprived farmers of alternatives when cattle fall sick or turn unmaintainable.The latent anger in the farming community against the cow slaughter ban, coupled with other aspects of the tenure of BJP government – including the high cost of fertilizers and fodder – is believed to have played a central role in the defeat of the BJP in the 2023 polls.Traditional cattle markets have been slowly shutting down and there were few merchants to buy cattle. Moreover, there have been also been incidents of right-wing cow vigilantes – who are granted immunity under the new law – taking law into their own hands to prevent the transportation of cattle for slaughter to states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu.“The government claims that the ban on cattle slaughter has benefitted the ecosystem but it has done nothing. Farmers would sell cattle earlier if they were unproductive but that cannot be done now. The cattle cannot be sold in the markets because a case will be filed against the farmer,” current Congress CM Siddaramaiah said in February 2023 as opposition leader.“Remove the cattle slaughter law, it is a hidden agenda and communal agenda. There are no buyers for sick and aged cattle. It is a loss for the farmers,” he said.What is the newly elected Congress government likely to do?One of the promises made by the Congress party in its manifesto for the 2023 Karnataka polls was “to repeal anti farmer laws enacted by the BJP government and to withdraw all politically motivated cases against farmers.”Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who has been a vocal supporter for the repeal of “anti farmer” laws like the cattle slaughter ban, the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) (Amendment) Act 2020, and the Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 2020, told a delegation of farmers recently that he will review calls for amendments to the Cattle Slaughter Act, the APMC Act and the Land Reforms Act.The Congress is likely to seek a return to the 1964 law, which imposed a ban on the slaughter of cows but allowed the restricted slaughter of cattle of other forms on the condition of old age, sickness and lack of productivity. The party is expected to project the move as being critical to the livelihood and economic survival of farmers, rather than a religious issue.“They (BJP) amended it once. We reverted it to the earlier provisions. They have amended it again. We will discuss it in the Cabinet meeting,” Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah said recently.However, the Congress party is likely to face strong opposition from the BJP on the matter and is expected to tread cautiously despite its numerical advantage in the legislative assembly. There are some concerns that a move to repeal the 2020 law ahead of the 2024 parliament polls may be detrimental to Congress interests in northern India, where the move could acquire a religious connotation that is unconnected to the realities of the agrarian economy.The word of caution given to the new Congress minister for animal husbandry by the Congress central leadership “to stay within his limits” on the cattle slaughter ban issue is seen as an indication of the Congress adopting a calibrated approach to fulfilling its poll promise to repeal “anti-farmer” laws enacted by the BJP.
With the BJP on Thursday appointing election heads for all 48 Lok Sabha and 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has found itself on the back foot. The party, however, tried to downplay the move, saying that it will not sour their alliance as it was an attempt to build the party base and asserted that it will contest all 22 seats like the undivided Shiv Sena did in the 2019 elections.“We have an alliance with BJP. There is nothing wrong if BJP appoints election heads. These election heads have been appointed for building the organisational network and expanding its base,” Shinde Sena spokesperson Naresh Mhaske told The Indian Express on Friday.“Our leaders and BJP leaders will be working in coordination in all Lok Sabha and Assembly seats. The election heads appointed by BJP will help its candidate in a particular constituency from where the party is contesting. Similarly, the election heads will also work for our candidate where BJP is not contesting,” he added.Mhaske said the Shinde Sena will contest 22 seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections. “In 2019, the Shiv Sena which was in alliance with BJP had contested 22 seats. This time too, we will contest 22 seats,” he said. In 2022, the Shiv Sena split following a rebellion led by Shinde; the other faction is led by Uddhav Thackeray.MP Shrirang Barne, who was elected twice from the Maval Lok Sabha constituency, also said that the appointment of an election head does not mean that the same person would be fielded by the BJP. “It is their strategy to build their party and organisational network. But one thing is certain. I will be contesting from Maval Lok Sabha in 2024,” Barne told The Indian Express on Friday. The BJP has appointed Prashant Thakur, party MLA from Raigad district, as its Maval Lok Sabha election head. Three Assembly seats from Raigad district are part of the Maval Lok Sabha constituency.On the other hand, BJP’s Bhosari MLA Mahesh Landge has been appointed as the Shirur Lok Sabha election head. Landge is keen to contest the Lok Sabha election. “I am one of the aspirants for the Shirur Lok Sabha seat,” he said.Amit Gorkhe, who has been appointed as BJP’s election head for Pimpri, said that he was an aspirant for the Pimpri Assembly seat. “But my appointment does not mean I will be automatically contesting the Assembly seat. My job is to expand the party’s network and make the party stronger in the seat. If a Sena candidate contests from here, both BJP and Sena will work together in the constituency for his victory,” Gorkhe said.
Former US President Donald Trump is facing a number of active lawsuits, including the case involving missing White House documents. Accused by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of stashing classified material at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump was asked to return what he took. Instead, his team returned only some of the documents, with the rest discovered by the FBI during a search of the property this August. It is unclear whether more documents are still in his possession.The FBI recovered more than 11,000 government documents and photographs during its search as well as 90 empty folders labelled as “classified,” according to unsealed court records. The agency found that at least 18 documents were labelled top secret, 54 were marked as secret and 21 were deemed confidential.For both taking the documents and refusing to surrender them, Trump faces multiple investigations.In May 2021, just four months after leaving office, Trump was notified by the NARA that he had failed to turn over at least two dozen boxes of original records. In December, his team told the Archives that they had located some of the records and proceeded to return them.In February this year, the US House of Representatives announced that they were launching an investigation into the matter. In April, the Justice Department (DOJ) followed suit and later that month, the White House Counsel’s Office formally requested that the NARA give the FBI access to the documents they recovered in December.In June, Federal investigators served Trump with a grand jury subpoena, seizing more documents from his private estate. However, even that failed to uncover all that was taken.On August 8, Federal agents executed a search warrant at Trump’s Florida property after receiving reports that the former president had not been forthcoming with authorities. They found more than twice the amount of documents than Trump voluntarily parted with. Some of the material was so sensitive that the FBI and Justice Department officials conducting the search required special clearances to review it.Two weeks later, Trump asked the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida for an independent arbiter to review the documents. Earlier this month, the Court ruled on his behalf, blocking government agencies from accessing the material retrieved until an arbiter assessed them. The judge in question was appointed by Trump.Despite that temporary respite, the judge’s decision is likely to be overturned on appeal and once the investigation resumes, Trump could be criminally charged.The main charge levied against Trump is violation of the Presidential Records Act (PRA), a piece of legislation passed to prevent former president Richard Nixon from destroying classified information related to the Watergate scandal after he resigned from office. Under the PRA, every presidential document is supposed to go directly to the NARA as the material is considered to be the property of the American people.Anne Weismann, a lawyer who represented watchdog groups that have sued Trump over violations of the Presidential Records Act, told CBS News that the former president “clearly violated” the Presidential Records Act in “multiple ways,” including by ripping up records.But “the real problem is there’s absolutely no enforcement mechanism in the Presidential Record Act and there’s no administrative enforcement provision,” she said.Although the PRA itself doesn’t specify any penalties, violations could trigger two federal statutes that make it a penalty to mishandle government property.The first law states anyone who “willfully injures or commits any depredation against any property of the United States” faces a fine or up to one year imprisonment if convicted. The second law states anyone who “willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates or destroys … any record, proceeding, map, book, paper, document, or other thing, filed or deposited … in any public office” is subject to a fine or up to three years in prison if convicted.Additionally, the Justice Department is investigating if Trump violated the Espionage Act by gathering, transmitting, or losing national defence information.Trump for his part has argued that he didn’t violate any federal laws because he declassified the documents in question before leaving office. However, even if he did, and there is no evidence of the same, he could still be charged for removing or destroying them.Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under George W Bush, argues that the declassification of documents for an improper purpose could be a crime in and of itself.Beyond criminal prosecution for violating federal law, the Justice Department could pursue civil lawsuits against Trump. They could also drop the charges altogether.Depending on the severity of the findings, Trump could face a lengthy jail term. He could also potentially be prohibited from running from office again. However, it’s worth noting that although the law pertaining to destroying government documents stipulates that a convicted offender would be disqualified from holding office, many legal scholars point out that the Constitution may supersede legislation. As per Constitutional requirements for presidential candidates, being behind bars does not preclude them from running.According to veteran journalist Timothy L. O’Brien, there are three potential reasons why Trump would want to keep top secret information to himself.The first stipulates that Trump took the documents simply because he was careless, indifferent to legal procedures and/or unaware of what he was doing. There is some precedent from his time in office that this may be the case.During his presidency, Trump was alleged to have blurted out classified information provided by Israel during a meeting with two high level government officials. Two years later, he tweeted a sensitive photo of a failed Iranian rocket launch despite being advised against doing so by his advisors.Trump also demonstrated a flagrant disregard for record keeping. In 2018, Politico reported that Trump had a habit of tearing up official papers that were handed to him after he was done with them. The problem became so bad that multiple civil servants were reportedly tasked full time with repairing the documents with scotch tape to comply with the PRA.In February, The Washington Post reported that Trump’s team routinely used burn bags to incinerate a wide range of records based on personal discretion. Additionally, The New York Times wrote that staff periodically found clumps of documents clogging White House toilets. They later released photos of some of the alleged found documents.According to O’Brien, another reason why Trump could have stolen the documents was to satiate his lifelong “unfettered greed.”O’Brien writes that Trump’s financial pressures raise alarms “for any rational observer concerned that Trump might have been inspired to use the powers and access to records that his presidency provided to rake in lucre by peddling classified information after he left the White House.”Lastly, according to O’Brien, Trump could have been motivated by a desire to preserve his own reputation. Amongst the missing documents there is believed to be communications between Trump and a litany of foreign leaders including North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Given that his exchanges with the latter led to the first of his two impeachment proceedings, Trump may have been trying to cover up evidence that would further implicate him.Trump for his part has denied all the allegations, arguing at different times that he declassified the documents, that he took them with him to work from home, that the FBI search was a witch hunt, and that former president Barack Obama also kept 33 million documents after leaving office. While all those claims are dubious, the last was blatantly debunked by the National Archives.The most obvious example of presidential misconduct pertains to Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Nixon was believed to have complied with requests to turn in information after leaving office.Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor held onto records for years before turning them over to the Johnson Presidential library. Those records showed that the campaign of his successor (Nixon), was secretly communicating with the South Vietnamese government in the final days of the 1968 presidential race in an effort to delay the opening of peace talks to end the Vietnam war. Confident of his impending victory, Nixon’s team was believed to have wanted to stall talks until he assumed the presidency so that he could claim all the credit.It is worth noting that the PRA was not in operation at that time and before it was activated, former presidents were free to handle official documents as they saw fit.After the act was passed, it was violated by Fawn Hall, a secretary in Ronald Reagan’s administration. Hall testified that she altered and helped shred documents related to the infamous Iran-Contra affair to protect Oliver North, her boss at the White House National Security Council.Similarly, Sandy Berger, national security advisor under Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty in 2005 to removing and destroying classified records from the NARA. Berger was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a USD 100,000 fine.More recently, Obama’s CIA director, David Petraeus, was forced to resign and plead guilty to a federal misdemeanour for sharing classified material with a biographer with whom he was having an affair.Lastly, Hillary Clinton, while serving as Secretary of State under Obama, faced scrutiny pertaining to her use of a private server to handle sensitive information. While the FBI recommended that no criminal charges be brought against her, it did criticise Clinton for her “extremely careless” behaviour. That rebuke (timed days before the election) played a huge role in Trump’s victory, especially because he repeatedly called for her to be “locked up” over the matter.In May 2021, Attorney General (AG) Merrick Garland issued a memorandum to all Justice Department personnel, warning them that “law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of public statements (attributed or not), investigative steps, criminal charges, or any other action in any matter or case for the purpose of affecting any election,” nor should they take any action that may create “the appearance of such a purpose.”Garland’s memo echoed similar memorandums issued by his predecessor Bill Barr in 2020, by AG Loretta Lynch in 2016, AG Eric Holder in 2012, and AG Michael Mukasey in 2008. In other words, the Justice Department has long been cautious about taking any action that could change the result of an election or cast doubt on the institution’s impartiality. It is because of these norms that FBI Director James Comey’s decision to publicly disparage Clinton’s email server was met with much criticism.The US institutions are justifiably cautious in levying charges against any high profile politicians, let alone a former president. The DOJ knows that it took a considerable risk when it started an investigation into the Mar-a-Lago documents and it is unlikely to have done so without sufficient evidence. We may not know all the details, but if we go by the Justice Department’s decision to prosecute, we can reasonably suspect that there is more to matter than meets the eye.
The continuing violence in Manipur ought to be shocking for many reasons. But its sheer scale, endurance and brutality is still not getting national attention. As is typical, the prime minister who is never shy of taking leadership credit, is completely absent when there is an actual crisis that goes to the heart of both constitutional values and national security. In this instance, it seems like the double-engine sarkar, even after invoking Article 355, is unable to control the violence.It takes nothing away from the culpability of the present dispensation to acknowledge the long-standing and irresolvable contradictions of Manipur politics. Whenever the central organising axis of politics is a distributive conflict between identity-based groups, there is a high chance of violence. This is particularly the case where the conflict inherently has the character of a zero-sum game. In Manipur, the politics of distribution between Kukis and Meiteis turns on four goods whose inherent logic is zero-sum.The first is inclusion in the ST quota which is the proximate background to the current conflict. By its very nature, the inclusion of more groups in the ST quota will be a threat to existing beneficiaries. The second is land, and the tension between the valley and the hills. This is also a zero-sum resource, where protecting the land rights of Kukis is seen as foreclosing the opportunities for other groups. The third is political representation, where historically Kukis have felt dominated by the Meiteis. The fourth is patronage by the state in the informal economy, in which groups compete against one another for control of informal trade. Each state intervention in regulating trade becomes a locus of conflict.Place on top of that a default demand that the boundaries of ethnicity and territorial governance should, as much as possible, coincide. In principle, these demands could be negotiated through building inclusive democratic institutions. But this is easier said than done, when every policy instrument in contention — quotas, land, representation, and the state-economy nexus — are defined in terms of zero-sum games. The tragedy of Manipur was that, in part, there was no other game in town, one that could prise politics away from this zero-sum alignment of distribution and ethnicity.Dealing with such a situation requires at least three things. It requires a capable state impartially enforcing constitutional values. It requires a political culture that respects identity but does not politicise it. It requires a development narrative that all sections of society can potentially participate in.Instead, the Indian state made Manipur a charnel house of human rights violations, abetted violence and militarisation to unprecedented levels. It opportunistically used ethnicity both for electoral alliances and divide and rule. In some ways, under colonial divide and rule, the state pretended to hover above the various contending groups. The point of divide and rule was to present the state as neutral and shore up its legitimacy. But in democratic India divide and rule has meant the state itself getting implicated with one group or the other. The result was a weakening of the state’s capacity to govern. We can see the long-term effects of this even in the present crisis, where there is widespread agreement that the state security forces and police cannot be trusted to be neutral and impartial. This creates a vicious cycle where all ethnic groups feel the need to preemptively protect themselves. And finally, the state was not a neutral actor in the economy.It is worth remembering this structural contradiction when we diagnose the present moment. The politics of majoritarianism in Manipur was always more complicated. It was this history that had first given the BJP an opening, where the Congress was seen as an instrument of the Valley, so much so that the Kukis called for supporting the BJP. But the current dispensation, rather than seizing the opportunity to create a new politics, has made the same mistakes. Only this time, the consequences are even more tragic and irrevocable.The violence has given a lie to the BJP’s project in three senses. The first is that the BJP can build a capable law and order state. In this instance, that state has proven to be both deeply incompetent and partisan. The ease with which literally thousands of weapons have been looted would shame any half capable state. But more disturbingly, the pattern that the state is seen to be a partisan actor in the violence continues unabated. Second, it exposes the ideological dangers of the BJP’s project.The BJP tried for a brief moment to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. It tried to capitalise on Kuki construal of Congress in Manipur as majoritarian at the same time as it politicised and promoted Meitei identity. Now that contradiction has burst open: A visible demonstration of the limits of Hindutva accommodation. Contingently convenient alliances will, in the end, be overrun by the ideological juggernaut. And third, it has shown that the BJP’s political instincts can be overrated: Its capacity to negotiate complicated social fissures in the North-east has been overestimated. What the BJP had touted as the moment of its greatest ideological triumph, winning in the North-east, is turning out to also expose the limitations of its politics.It is not going to be easy for Manipur to recover from this violence. There are no credible public institutions that can hold perpetrators of violence to account, impartially. The nature of the violence is such that both the Kukis and Meiteis will be left with a deep sense of victimhood. But there is a deeper question: Is there any political force left in the state that can do the job of political mediation? In a situation where, singly, all parties are considered partisan, the only possibility would be an all-party mediation, one that tries to lift Manipur out of a fatal combination of zero-sum identity politics. But such imaginative gestures are now beyond our ruling establishment.When I first read journalist Sudeep Chakravarti’s book, “The Eastern Gate”, one line stood out. He recounts a visit to Churachandpur, ground zero of the current violence, where he sees a sign by a church: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it ends in death.” Alas, these words seem all too prophetic at the moment, when no one is prepared to break the mould of politics in Manipur. Nero will, of course, continue to fiddle, while Manipur burns.The writer is contributing editor, The Indian Express