Directing reforms (The Hindu)
Alliance divided (The Hindu)
For India, it should be neighbourhood first (The Hindu)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Supreme Court recent decision for an additional disclosure norm for candidates contesting elections.
(GS paper II)
- In a landmark move in electoral reforms, the Supreme Court ruled that, politicians, their spouses and associates to declare their sources of income, along with their assets, in order to qualify for contesting elections.
- The apex court further directed the government to set up a permanent mechanism to monitor the accrual of wealth of sitting Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies, their spouses and associates.
- A Bench led by Justice J. Chelameswar delivered the judgement on a PIL petition filed by Lok Prahari highlighting the often exponential rise in the assets of politicians within a span of five years between two successive elections. According to the bench -“Their assets and sources of income are required to be continuously monitored to maintain the purity of the electoral process and integrity of the democratic structure of this country”.
- The judgment, authored by Justice Chelameswar, observed that “manifold and undue accretion of assets” by legislators or their associates by itself becomes a good ground for disqualification. The obligation of a candidate to disclose both his assets and the source of income is a part of the fundamental right of citizen to know under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, the court said adding enforcement of a citizen’s fundamental right needs no statutory sanction from the government or the Parliament.
- The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to amend the rules as well as the disclosure form filed by candidates along with their nomination papers, to include the sources of their income, and those of their spouses and dependants. As of now, candidates file affidavits on their assets but not the source of their assets at the time of filing nomination papers.
- The court has also asked for the establishment of a permanent mechanism to investigate any unexplained or disproportionate increase in the assets of legislators during their tenure. The idea of a permanent mechanism to collect data about the assets of legislators and periodically examine them is laudable, but it is not clear which authority will run it.
- The verdict is one more in a long line of significant verdicts aimed at preserving the purity of the electoral process. These include the direction to provide the ‘NOTA’ option in voting machines, and another striking down a clause that saved sitting legislators from immediate disqualification upon conviction.
- It has ruled that the act of voting is an expression of free speech, and that it is part of this fundamental right that voters are required to be informed of all relevant details about a contestant. This led to the rule that candidates should furnish details of any criminal antecedents, educational qualifications and assets.
- If disclosure of assets is mandatory, it is only logical that the sources of income are also revealed. And as it is often seen that there is a dramatic increase in the assets of candidates at every election over what was disclosed in previous affidavits, it stands to reason that any rise should be explained or probed.
- While some are also disputing that lawmakers amassing wealth or gaining unusual access to public funds and loans are concerns that need to be addressed through new norms. The court envisions a body that would make recommendations for prosecution or disqualification based on its own findings. The Centre and the Election Commission will have to jointly address the issue.
- To give teeth to its order, the court has made it clear that non-disclosure of assets and their sources would amount to a “corrupt practice” under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
- The larger message from the verdict is that a fully informed electorate and transparent candidature will be key components of future elections in India.
Question- Supreme Court has recently imposed an additional disclosure norm for candidates contesting elections. The move is seen to maintain the purity of the electoral process and integrity of the democratic structure of this country. Do you agree, present your opinion.
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of ongoing Srilanka crisis.
(GS paper II)
- ri Lanka is in the throes of a political crisis after the two main parties in the ruling coalition suffered a dramatic defeat in the recent local government elections. Fissures between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, and the United National Party, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have deepened. The fragile ‘national unity’ government they run together is beset by instability and uncertainty.
- Amid the defeat, the local council polls, won resoundingly by the Sri Lanka People’s Front, which has the backing of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, have brought to the fore popular disenchantment with the ruling parties, particularly over unemployment and rural distress caused by drought.
- It was no surprise when the parties contested separately, but neither of them foresaw the outcome, which could mark the return of Mr. Rajapaksa as a major political force. After the results, the alliances are under stress as Mr. Sirisena wanted the Prime Minister to resign, but the latter has made it clear he will stay on. Amidst efforts by each camp to form an alternative regime that would exclude the other, Mr. Wickremesinghe has said the coalition stands.
- It is imperative to Sri Lanka’s interest that the President and Prime Minister remain faithful to the original mandate, which was for good governance and institutional reform. Mr. Wickremesinghe says he is committed to it, and that he will take “corrective measures” on the economic front.
- The fact that economic disillusionment had in the past led to social unrest, conflict and extreme nationalism should not be forgotten. The alliance had obtained public support for its reform agenda and for showing a path away from authoritarian trends and institutional decay.
- It would be unfortunate if partisan interests are placed above the people’s aspirations. The two leaders should seek to sink their differences and win back popular confidence. The coalition should continue to pursue the process of framing a new and inclusive constitution.
- It should fulfil its promises on reconciliation to the war-affected Tamils, whose backing proved crucial in their march to power. One electoral setback should not result in the project of national reconciliation falling victim to narrow political interests.
- SLFP and UNP Ministers insisted the National Unity Government must go into full gear, taking immediate and effective action in the battle against corruption, to stabilise the economy, to bring down the cost of living, and to provide other relief to the people.
Question – Indian foreign policy has relied heavily on “time-tested civilisational links”, but there is an aspirational impatience among Sri Lankans that India failed to see and respond to with the scale, speed and imagination that only Beijing appears capable of.
For India, it should be neighbourhood first
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue why India must give South Asia its fullest attention.
(GS paper II)
- The presence of 10 leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at India’s Republic Day celebrations, the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, and Prime Minister ‘s latest forays to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Palestine, represents the India’s conscious decision to deepen her engagement with world.
- While, there is also need to contemplate and reflect deeply on what is happening in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
In the neighbourhood
- It is India’s immediate neighbourhood that directly impacts it geopolitically, geo-strategically and geo-economically. Whatever be the ambit of India’s reach elsewhere, India’s principal focus, hence, will need to be on this neighbourhood.
- At the recently concluded ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, it was urged that India can play a pro-active role in the Asia-Pacific region, without needing to take hard decisions.
- It possibly also does not have to answer questions as to whether ASEAN nations fully back India’s membership of the Quadrilateral (Australia, Japan, the United States and India), even as most of them back China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India can even afford to skirt the issue as to whether ASEAN-India relations are all embracing in nature or limited only to specific aspects.
- In West Asia, India still possesses enough leeway to engage in skilful manoeuvre around contentious issues without having to take a stand. India could, thus, successfully handle an Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to India just prior to Prime Minister’s visit to Palestine, and yet avoid negative fallout.
- With the UAE and Oman, things have been easier. With the former, trade and economic ties as also counter-terror aspects have been on a growth curve. With the latter, an established friend, the option of closer naval co-operation and of reaching an agreement to give the Indian Navy access to Duqm port did not prove difficult.
But ii is in the South Asia where troubles are mounting, where India cannot succeed without looking at some hard options.
South Asian relation
- India is troubled to succeed in South Asia, for instance how to deal with a new government in Nepal with few pretensions as to where its sympathies lie. India also needs to now contemplate the prospect of prolonged unrest and possibly violence, both communal and terror-related, in neighbouring Bangladesh, prior to scheduled elections in 2019.Dealing with both Nepal and Bangladesh will need more than fine gestures; they will need far more closer monitoring.
- Another and a more imminent challenge for India is to sort out the imbroglio in the Maldives which is threatening to spill out of control. No amount of dissimulation will help. India cannot afford not to be directly engaged in finding a proper solution.
- Relations between India and the Maldives have undergone significant changes since the days of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, as during his time, for the first time anti-Indian forces within the Maldives (including radical Islamist groups sponsored by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) could muster some support.
- Under the current President, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, anti-Indian tendencies have steadily increased and there has been a pronounced tilt in favour of China. The free trade agreement that the Maldives signed recently with China has been the proverbial thin end of the wedge, providing China with an excellent opportunity to enhance its influence and retain de facto possession of the Southern Atolls in the Maldivian archipelago.
- With the U.S. taking a step back, China has begun to display a great deal of interest in the area; this coincides with its current outreach into the Indian Ocean Region as also its ongoing plans to take control of Gwadar port (Pakistan) and establish a naval base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
- India cannot, hence, afford to remain idle and must come up with an answer soon enough that is consistent with its strategic interests. The critical need is to find a solution early, one that takes into account India’s geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the region. Else, it would have far-reaching consequences as far as India’s quest for regional power status is concerned.
Other challenges- Pakistan and Afghanistan
- Two other issues-Pakistan and Afghanistan, similarly demand our focussed attention, and that India acts with a sense of responsibility expected of a regional superpower. The virtual collapse of a Pakistan policy seems to affect Pakistan less and India more. India is facing a daily haemorrhaging of human lives due to cross border firing and terrorist violence from Pakistan.
- The Pakistan shows no sign of altering its anti-India trajectory. Democratic India can hardly afford to let things slide, without effectively trying to find ways and means to change a situation which is certainly not to our advantage.
- Equally vital for India is to try and find a way out of the Afghan morass. The daily massacre of innocents, men, women and children, civilian officials and military personnel, experts from several countries and diplomats, marks the start of the complete collapse of a system of governance.
- The collapse of the Afghan state does have severe consequences for India and nations in the vicinity. As a regional power, India has significant stakes in Afghanistan. Apart from the human cost and the fact that New Delhi has spent over $2 billion in providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, India’s true stake lies in sustaining the future of the Afghan state.
- For a variety of reasons, therefore, India cannot allow Afghanistan to collapse or cease to exist as a state in the modern sense. This is something that demands India’s critical attention and specially for a display of its leadership skills.
- The focus needs to be on our immediate neighbourhood. The outcome of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the turmoil in the East and South China Seas, or other big-ticket issues across the world is important, but it is South Asia and the neighbourhood that demands our concentrated attention.
- For India it is important to be actively involved in ensuring that the region is at peace and functions in conformity with its world view, any claims to leadership would amount to little more than treading water.
Question – While other geopolitical issues are important, New Delhi must give South Asia its fullest attention. Discuss the importance of India’s immediate neighbourhood for India’s geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the region.