Reality Check Indian, a much respected blogger and one of the smartest minds on social media arguing the case for better India, proposed to build a core right agenda to secure the future course of the political, policy and socio-economic direction for India. In a sneak peek into such an agenda, which is under development, 6 main points have been listed.
In this post, let us try to analyze core right agenda that Reality Check Indian is proposing. We will do this analysis in two parts – 1) Proposal and possible impact 2) A deeper look
Proposal and possible impact
At the face of it, the proposed core right agenda is trying to demarcate social (welfare, justice etc.,) and economic policy, which has been nothing short of a challenge in India so far. Past decade saw innovative methods to use economics to modify social contours. In a sense, the proposal tries to put executive in a position where policy making doesn’t skew government intervention in favor of specific groups and worse still, against other groups.
The proposal puts “Education” at priority#1 and specifies that it has more importance than we can even imagine. Point#1 proposes a constitutional amend (to remove 93rd Amend and repeal RTE) and is fundamentally trying to make sure that majority institutions are not adversely impacted by policy considerations in terms of social structure. Currently RTE exempts minority run schools and therefore skews the policy in favor of minorities and against majority community. We know from the events of the past decade that executive did it on purpose.
During Vajpayee’s rule, NDA government started Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA). RTE is in contrast with SSA. Not getting into any specifics, SSA tried to empower government schools in improving its infrastructure. RTE as is today, tries to bring private schools to the level of government schools by restricting them in various ways. It may sound like an equalization policy but it isn’t because RTE exempts minority institutions. Regardless of such an exemption, the policy intends to bring private institutions to the level of public institutions by what may be loosely called “sharing the burden”. The adverse effect on economics of running schools cannot be underscored enough.
As a part of core right agenda, the proposal envisions to shift the focus back to empowering government schools to deliver better education. In fact, it is a surprise that current NDA dispensation simply couldn’t grasp the importance of enforcing this shift based on its experience from the previous NDA regime. The multiplicative effect and resulting shift of people from expecting entitlement towards questioning entitlement if education situation is improved is self evident. The barrage of support that NDA enjoys today is a direct result of its work on education (including SSA, higher education reform) and resultant economic empowerment of common people.
However, only purging RTE and 93rd amend may not address the issues involving education in the context of diverse needs of our country. We shall address what we mean in the next section.
Government spending is today handled on a per community/group basis. Justification for such a spending comes in the form of social justice for past atrocities. While not digressing into whether past atrocities are true, it is important to also note that reverse discrimination shouldn’t be entertained. Unfortunately, policy direction in India has always been about reverse discrimination. The proposal tries to provide a demarcation line in the form of “common pool for common interests” idea.
The proposal doesn’t seem to address entitlement agenda but tries to address tangible benefits from government policy. Since the point specifically mentions common public goods, we assume that the idea is to make sure there is no skewed distribution of tangibles among specific groups. The question then remains as to how executive would be prevented from creating specific sectarian pools in future. We shall address what we think is correct approach in the next section.
Since point#2 address tangibles, point#3 specifically seems to address intangibles in the form of entitlements. It is very tempting to simply scrap the system but the proposal seems to identify immediate dangers of such conspicuous attempt. Instead, the proposal attempts to address the issue using full transparency. Open data analysis on how each entitlement has benefited specific groups. The proposal is clever and for a country like India, a fully transparent entitlement evaluation methodology will put the pressure on groups to prove the necessity for entitlement instead of concentrating on grievances based on past atrocities. The challenge here though is data collection. There is a way out. We shall discuss that in next section.
At no point in the whole of the past 6 decades, have Hindus as a community been more conscious of dangers facing Hinduism than today. Under first NDA regime, the issue has been completely neglected. Lack of focus study groups on finding an answer to the issue is a major concern. The proposal is trying to address the issue. Although not a unique solution, a central law sounds very tempting. However, a central law would certainly have too many use-cases to handle because of diversity of temples across the country. More use-cases lead to more loop-holes and therefore a simpler method would help. We propose a model law instead of a central law. More on this in the next section.
Essential Religious Practice
It would look appealing to attach point#5 to point#4. The proposal doesn’t and rightly so. Indians don’t consider ritual as a part of religious practice alone. Every religion in India finds religious practice and ritual an important social function as well. However, religious practice doesn’t always happen at a shrine, in any religion in India. Therefore, religious practice must not be attached to a shrine. The proposal tries to demarcate kshetra (a term of indicate shrine) from the place of religious practice. The proposal attempts a very clever method to induce dharmic thinking among non-dharmic religions. The proposal also tries to curtail NGOs’ interventions into redefining and modifying majority community religious practice, which is probably the most important agenda point to ensure our traditions survive. The proposal has its pit-falls. We shall take a look them and propose some modification in next section.
Point#6 is probably the most controversial in the agenda. Hindus themselves don’t have consensus on the issue. However, cow occupies a very important role in Hindu society. It may not be the same in other religious groups. But across all caste groups, in Hindu society, cow occupies very important part; in fact cow is an important social component. Justifications in favor of and against cow’s importance are abound but nobody denies that cow occupies an important place. Many caste groups in fact consider cow as a part of family like how most modern urban families have come to consider a faithful and loyal dog as a part of the family.
The problem with this proposal however is that it is addressing a specific component of a specific, yet large, social group. The proposal may not stand constitutional mandate. Amendment to create that mandate may not be possible given the demographic realities. We need a way to modify the proposal to make sure that amendment is sought but at no political cost. We propose moving directive principle (in article#48) on animal husbandry into an article to achieve constitutional mandate. Such an amend must attach special treatment for the bovine. More on this in the next section.
In all it has to be accepted that core agenda points highlight and capture pressing needs of the country. However, there are some specific items where some modification and attention may be due.
A Deeper Look
Let us now look at what specific items would make the core right agenda better
One of the most important thrust points in the proposed core right agenda is to free education of the social conditioning that it is receiving. Value education, RTE are just a couple of points where government machinery has been directed to steer social conditioning to reap future benefits from certain groups. RTE 2009 act and SSA are contrasting in this regard. Core right agenda point#1 supports SSA-like initiatives where specific groups are not given special treatment.
However, the rot is deeper. Without intruding on minority institutions’ status, majority run institutions have to be given their due space to operate without any intervention from government. NDA under Vajpayee laid out a very effective way to make it happen. In the past too, we have specifically highlighted them. Creation of three tier system based on quality standard of higher education opened up possibilities of competition between government run and private run higher education institutions. The three tier systems constituting institutions admitting through JEE at the top, those admitting through AIEEE in the middle and those admitting based on other entrance tests at the bottom ensured that competition sustained in the environment. Three tier system in fact enabled private run institutions to compete and claim status to be at the top with JEE. Students too had enough freedom to choose based on financial ability and aptitude. Every institution had therefore a chance to filter who they teach and students had a chance what they want to opt for.
The question that NDA under Modi ought to ask is if similar system i.e., which allow competition to breed without any specific special treatment to any groups can be implemented in both higher education and school education as well. Such a question doesn’t seem to have been asked as yet. A core right approach for Education should involve much broader approach which goes beyond RTE. Apart from repealing 93rd amendment and RTE, it must include
- A constitutional amend to
- not levy any private institution with any additional burden apart from stipulated normative taxations in any form like CSR, reservations, financial support
- prevent legislation which brings minority run institutions outside the fold of private institutions
- A legislative thrust to
- develop an independent body (without involving NGOs) to encourage private institutions to associate/collaborate with government run institutions to share best practices, to improve performance etc.
- develop an independent body, probably a special group within CAG, to audit government run institutions for overall performance monitoring
These improvements would drive all institutions to engage directly with each other and ensure that government intervention is minimized. As of today, RTE and 93rd amend are constantly driving private institutions’ economic performance. As long as government intervenes and uses economics as a tool to thrash privately run institutions, the problem cannot be rectified. Key is to make sure such trampling on freedom of private institutions doesn’t happen without a constitutional amendment.
Auditing of government institutions’ performance has been a weak area. Auditing generally happens at the level of collector or regional officers. There should be a thorough and an open method so that information on performance of government schools is readily available for interpretation by general public. A dispassionate body like CAG should be handed the job of creating proper methodology and infrastructure to bring such transparency.
The proposal rightly points out that sectarian purse puts power in the specific groups and therefore allows for the whole to disintegrate. We agree that the core right agenda point#2 would effectively address the issue. However, core right agenda must also prevent any such sectarian pools from being created in the future. At the face of it, constitutional amend seems to be the only approach. Therefore, core right agenda point#2 should include
- A constitutional amend that
- prevents legislation from creating separate sectarian pools.
- definition of common pool for common interest that includes only tangible benefits that government provides recipients
- Idea is to make sure that creation of separate pools and programs needs constitutional amend
The proposed agenda point#3 is probably the most time-taking to achieve. Deep rooted entitlement mentality especially in the area of intangibles like reservations has been a big problem. It seems like some political sacrifice in future to affect a change in this mentality would be necessary. However, the proposal definitely avoid the political cost by opening up data for interpretation. Data collection is indeed a very difficult problem to solve in India especially because of unreliable channels of information transmission through the hierarchy chains. Engaging CAG may be a good way to handle the situation. A CAG focus group empowered with technology to bring out data would help core right agenda in following ways
- CAG is an independent body with a constitutional mandate. So, data would be reliable
- Technology like GIS, computer network based logging of data on student enrollment would make the methodology sustainable
Technology is already being used by government run institutions to track enrollment in colleges in states like Andhra Pradesh. They even log data about the caste, religion, age, income group etc. The data however is not available for interpretation. Involving CAG will create a reliable means of achieving transparency
Issue with temple management has to be looked at in two parts – 1) traditional perspective 2) financial perspective
Tradition – Each temple is unique in its own way in India. Unlike other religious shrines, dharmic shrines have evolved into major cultural and economic centers. Although, they are not “major” economic centers any more, they continue to remain important cultural centers for dharmic religions. Therefore, shrines must be allowed to protect their own traditional perspective.
Financials – Each temple had its unique way of handling funds it used to collect. After endowments department took over, money was streamed into government treasury with little or nothing coming back to the institution. We should envisage a way for each temple to handle its own funds with an independent audit held periodically. Intervention from government would only push these institutions further into clutches of endowments ministry.
There has been a continuous and very strong proposal to institute a Dharmadhikari independent of the government and constituting only Hindu pundits. A model law should be proposed to encourage each district level collector or magistrate to create a local Dharmadhikari body to handle management and funds. Appointment of temple level bodies should be wrested only with pundits who dedicate their lives to maintenance of the temple. Salary and other maintenance allowances should be decided in the model law appropriately – may be as per pay commission norms?
Every big temple should be encouraged to adopt smaller temples struggling with maintenance so that there is a collective approach in maintenance of temples. Together with Dharmadhikari system and collective association among temples, model law also should direct the temple bodies to institute trusts with senior citizens involved with the temple activities.
Essential Religious Practice
Core right agenda point#5 tries to address the issue of NGOs trampling on religious rites and rituals. The idea to induce dharmic thinking among non-dharmic religion practitioners is unmissable. However, there are a couple of pit-falls in the proposal:
- Constitutional amend to identify religious practices
- The immense diversity of the country makes such an activity counter productive. As shrines continue to be built, numerous new practices come into being. Identifying a few of them now may even put a stopper on evolution of religious practice
- Prevention of foreign NGO intervention
- Foreign funded NGOs have shown a caliber to remain off the grid and continue to work on their objectives. Even though we have legislation to keep them under check, they have found innovative ways and loopholes to workaround the system
We propose to address these pitfalls in the following ways
- There should be a way for practitioners of a certain religious practice to register with local bodies as a traditional religious practice
- Once registered, the involved practitioners should be called stake holders in keeping the tradition alive
- It should be mandated that NGOs have to prove that there is a violation of Indian law while filing petitions on traditions. The process should be made long so that there is a way for NGOs and practitioners to engage in dialogue and come to a common ground without State intervention. Idea is to go for consensus based approach
- Stake holders’ voluntary opinion should be sought by judiciary before ruling on any petition from any NGO
Core right agenda point#6, as we have mentioned in previous section, is probably the most controversial point in the lot. It tries to create special place for a specific animal because it is so strongly intertwined into Hindu society. However, it may not pass constitutional mandate. Demographic reality prevents it. We propose to move Animal Husbandry out of directive principle (in article#48) and place it as a State responsibility. That will address half the issue. The amend should also include the text of the article “as is” to create special category for the bovine. In addition, legislation should allow for special protection zones where there should be a permanent ban on slaughter of the bovine creatures. Such a legislation would help demography see the results of the legislation and respond to the core right’s call for protection of cow.
Achieving point#6 might prove to be the toughest on the roster for the right but it would certainly mark as finest moment in history, when it is achieved.
Core right’s thrust as mentioned in introduction seems to be on demarcation of social and economic policies. We propose that along with these 6, following be added to the core right agenda
- A policy to make different linguistic groups engage with each other through incentives for operating businesses in a different linguistic zone i.e., state
- A policy to give judicial mandate to Nyaya Panchayats – a concept which has been left dormant for too long
- Move directive principle “Separation of Judiciary from Executive (article#50) from directive principles and make it into a State duty
Among the above points, point#2 should be given priority since judiciary is failing to deliver justice. Nyaya Panchayats should be accorded with status of courts and if required, Nyaya Panchayats should be allowed to frame laws for their own villages in consultation with their Panchayats. Any grievances on validity of a law framed by Nyaya Panchayats could still be challenged at district magistrate level.
Point number 3 above should be next important point since judiciary has been meddling too much into the executive. It would be better if judiciary’s constitutional mandate is limited to interpreting law and call for a review. Today, judiciary is actively directing executive to take specific executive actions in different situations.
Much work remains in framing a coherent agenda for core right but the seed that has been sown by Reality Check Indian deserves much applause. There needs to a coherent thought to put executive back in its mandated role – to govern and administer rather than to affect social change.