The Indian EXPRESS

Bench isn’t the studio
Judges’ words carry immense weight. Why each one needs to be used with care.
HIS is more serious than any other scam in the country,” declared the Bombay high court as it responded to a PIL on the Pune ULCRA scandal. Land meant for the poor had allegedly been stolen for commercial purposes in a longstanding deal between government officials and property developers. “We feel that this land irregularity might be even bigger than the Adarsh housing society or the 2G spectrum cases,” it added. It’s not yet clear what the magnitude of the Pune swindle is. For that matter, even the dimensions of the 2G loss are not clear yet. Does the honourable Bombay high court have an estimate? Perhaps the court was using exaggeration as a device to wrench much-needed attention towards the issue. We know that land remains one of the most unreformed sectors, and that is a primary avenue for rent-seeking. So the case at hand could have beneficial repercussions beyond Pune. But why should the highest courts in the land seek to insinuate the magnitude of a possible scandal to underline the importance of scrupulous inquiry? Why should the court, in fact, appear to be second-guessing its own final judgment by pronouncing on the scope of transgression? These questions are important, because the observations come amidst popular chatter that holds all accused guilty — that power is necessarily

The multi-individual society D
AVID Cameron’s speech on “state multiculturalism” at the Munich Conference has evoked sharply contrasting responses. Some see in the speech an attempt to rescue liberalism from its counterfeit cousin, multiculturalism. Others see an enactment of the same narrow politics that produced a crisis in many liberal societies in the first place. Whether the speech will turn out to be a clear statement of liberal principles or a provocative salvo in the culture wars will be determined more by the course of Cameron’s politics than the speech itself. But it is important to be clear about the different issues at stake in the ideological polemics over multiculturalism. The contest between liberalism and multiculturalism was about the relationship between freedom and diversity. Multiculturalism often fell into three traps in the context of this relationship. First, it ignored the fact that equal freedom for all individuals is the core value. If a group can make the argument that no values and laws should be imposed on it, if it has not consented to them, so can any individual within a group. So the rights of individuals are paramount; no collective identity can override them. The burden of justification has to be met at the individual level. If the range of freedom expands, all kinds of diversity will flourish anyway. But this will not necessarily be the diversity of welldefined cultural groups. It will be something that both draws upon culture and subverts it at the same time. From a distant, aestheticised, point of view, cultures and practices form an extraordinary mosaic. From the practical point of view of individuals living within any of these cultures, these cultures and practices are horizons within which they operate. Even when not oppressive, these horizons might appear to them as constraints. It would be morally obtuse to say to these individuals that they should go on living their cultures, just because their not doing so might diminish the forms of diversity in the world. In practice, the imperatives of diversity cannot, at least prima facie, trump

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That liberals distrust multiculturalism is natural. But they should beware double standards


corrupt — and allows little patience for the detailed, deliberative processes of the law to ascertain the wrongdoing, its scope and its perpetrators. The judiciary’s role is vital in this process — to hear arguments from all sides and to appraise and possibly guide the investigation in a way that privileges evidence over assumption. That the courts do this in cases of all transgressions, whatever their magnitude, is crucial to the judiciary’s credibility. As is the care to set apart the institution from the lynch mob — because the moral weight the judiciary carries can amplify another cycle of the mob’s hysteria. It is therefore unfortunate that they are giving the impression of trying to grab the headlines by off-thecuff observations, as in the Supreme Court’s strong words about Vilasrao Deshmukh’s suitability for a cabinet post, or the SC’s interventions on the place of international treaties in following the black money trail. The fact of such high-profile cases coming under the scrutiny of the courts is proof that our institutions matter. Not just the courts, but others too, like the Comptroller and Auditor General. Democracy is always a work in progress, and they need to be mindful of the little nuances that consolidate their role instead of succumbing to the temptations of attention-getting, but ultimately self-defeating, headline-grabs.

the free choices of individuals. Second, instead of saying that your identity should be irrelevant to citizenship and to the goods that the state distributes, multiculturalism made identities the axis of distribution. The more identities become an axis of distribution, the greater the chance of destructive group politics. Third, looking at individuals through their group identity also diminishes them. We are always more than who we are; we can always be different from what we are. But to excessively focus on individuals as being of interest because they represent some group is to devalue individuals. Identity is a fact about us, but it should not define the horizon of our possibilities. The critique of multiculturalism is

anathema in France and Switzerland. In that sense, he was being more genuinely liberal than many of his European counterparts. But liberal politics globally has been curiously susceptible to being taken over by right-wing nationalists. This is often because defenders of liberal values end up aligning them with a particular way of life or national identity. In India, for example, the debate over reforming personal laws was often framed as being about “national integration” rather than about values of individuality and freedom. In the British context, also, immigrants were asked not just to espouse certain values, but to meet the burden of being “British”. Here liberal values were used instrumentally to

Liberal politics globally has been curiously susceptible to being taken over by right-wing nationalists. This is often because defenders of liberal values end up aligning them with a particular way of life or national identity.
welcome if it moves the discourse back from diversity to freedom, rescues distributive justice from being hostage to identity politics, and liberates us from the tyranny of compulsory identities. But to make this project politically compelling will require a much more sophisticated politics than was evident in Cameron’s speech. Cameron was compelling in pointing out that “terror” has been linked with more religions than Islam. He was compelling in making the distinction between religion and extremist political projects associated with religion. What many critics missed was his defence of conservative expressions of religious piety, his veiled critique of things like headscarf bans, something becoming project a single, larger, collective identity. It is important that defenders of liberal values do not get entangled in debates over benchmarking national identity as they have done in places like France and Germany. Liberals should be worried about any attempt to benchmark national identity; such benchmarking diminishes the force of liberalism. The second trap is lack of vigilance over double standards. There was an institutional context to the state’s entanglement in group identities in Britain. Britain had an established Church and had blasphemy laws on the books. So the state could not, on principled grounds, deny forms of state recognition to other religions. Another issue on double standards is this. Cameron was entirely

Higher hires
The labour ministry must get better data on the nature of Indians’ jobs

right in pointing out two things. The first is that extremist Islamic ideology and the right-wing reaction to it in Britain are joined at the hip, as they are in India, too. The second is that there is often partisanship in which groups are denounced more or are considered “greater threats”. The aspect of the speech that was potentially vague was the use of state power to clamp down on extremist groups. When state power should be used for clamping down is always a challenging question for liberals; a liberal society has to put up with a lot of offensive speech. But the challenge that liberal states face is over their credibility in being impartial. Do prejudgments and prejudice make these states more assiduously pursue groups belonging to some communities than others? In short, the future of liberalism will depend not upon a philosophical statement that all groups engaging in extremist speech be condemned; it will depend upon the impartiality of state practice towards all citizens. The truth is that we still don’t fully understand the circumstances under which there is a turn to extremism. In that sense, Cameron’s implicit diagnosis that the turn to extremism was fuelled by state multiculturalism seems quite premature. Multiculturalism has its flaws. But it would be foolish for liberals to suppose that simply because state multiculturalism failed, the answer must lie in a more “muscular” liberalism. Liberal values are eminently defensible. But their realisation in practice involves sensibly dealing with complex layers of history, psychology and a sense of self. Multiculturalism had its greatest resonance, not as a doctrine of justice or a state policy, but because it could, in principle, open up spaces for the sort of dialogue that would make us less fearful of one another. Cameron is right in thinking that forms of identity politics are a deadend; whether we can create an alternative politics that is credible is still an open question. The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

Letters to the

Dim halo
■ THE merger of Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party with the Congress is a marriage of convenience as both parties were finding their future bleak in Andhra Pradesh (‘The halo effect’, IE, February 8). It will spare the state Congress embarrassment from Jaganmohan Reddy. In the long run, this may psych up the Congress to take a stand on Telangana. At the same time, it may disturb the power equations within the party. Chiranjeevi’s presence in the party may also make Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy feel overshadowed. The “halo effect” depends upon how the Congress handles the postmerger party dynamics. — Tarsem Singh New Delhi

Insider’s gains
■ THIS refers to the editorial ‘The halo effect’. Beyond Chiranjeevi’s movie-star charisma, expecting him to help the Congress in the south would be asking for the moon. He is also up against Jaganmohan Reddy, who is still riding a sympathy wave. Chiranjeevi knows it. That is why he merged his party with the Congress rather than offering it support. He knows he can gain more this way. — Bal Govind Noida


N October last year, the ministry of labour released the results of its first large-scale survey of employment and unemployment in India. The headline number was this: 9.4 per cent of India’s labour force is unemployed. An enviable number by world standards in the middle of recession. Except, of course, that number means precisely nothing. The problem lies in figuring out exactly who counts as unemployed. Given the nature of our restrictions on employment, the difficulties involved in expanding “formal” jobs — both because of various regulations that limit enterprise size, and archaic labour laws — the traditional, Western, notion of unemployment is of only limited use in India. Economists studying India have worried about this for decades. Unemployment, they have pointed out, is a luxury. To be able to be actively looking for a job requires you to have a safety net — social, stateprovided or kin-based — that feeds and clothes you while you do so. Enough Indians simply don’t have the resources to do that, and so they aren’t unemployed. But they aren’t in the right jobs, either. Now comes news that the ministry of labour intends to expand their survey, ear-

lier conducted only in 300 districts, to all 600-plus districts of the country. But if they wish to improve on the twice-a-decade estimates provided by the National Sample Survey Organisation, there are a few crucial changes they must make. First, they need to break out of the template set by more formal markets. More crucial than that 9.4 per cent number, for example, was the throwaway line that “the survey results show that 436 persons out of 1,000 persons are either employed in seasonal or ad-hoc type of enterprises.” That may not be the fault of the ministry, but it reveals that expansion geographically should not be prioritised over better survey design. Last year’s report complains that “measures of employment/ unemployment which capture intermittent unemployment and seasonality... could not be followed due to a shorter survey period.” That needs fixing. The NSSO also gives us data about how much people earn from their jobs, and whether it needs supplementing. That, too, is essential to figuring out the true nature of unemployment and underemployment in India — an essential input for policy-making that wishes to create space for India’s aspirational young people.

The true colour of bigotry
NJanuary 30, thousands of people gathered in Lahore at a rally ostensibly arranged by the religious right, but which had the full support of centre-right political parties. The banned Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)/ Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) participated, as did the Sipaha-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the Tehrik-e-Millate-Jafariya, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) — as well as Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N, PML-Q, PMLZ). Their rallying call: a warning to the government and all those seeking any amendment or repeal of the notorious blasphemy laws. In pre-Partition India, the British introduced the blasphemy law into the Penal Code in 1860 in order to protect the religious sentiments of the minorities. But General Zia-ulHaq’s Pakistan did the exact opposite, through Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” By introducing the death penalty for blasphemy, General Zia officially sanctified vigilante justice. Many people accused of blas-

How the blasphemy law is subverting Pakistan’s politics
phemy have lost their lives at the hands of religious fundamentalists without even a proper hearing in a court of law; some others have been killed while on trial. The blasphemy laws have not just been used to ostracise the Ahmadis (a sect declared “non-Muslim” by Pakistan’s parliament in 1974) but Christians and Muslims have also been victimised under these black laws. Usually, the real reasons behind such accusations are property disputes, personal vendettas, family rivalry, and so on. The blasphemy issue came under the spotlight once again last baseless accusations, thus isolating him. In fact, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani went so far as to say that since he is a descendant of Prophet Mohammed, he cannot even think of changing the blasphemy laws. Our political class has let us down, particularly the PPP. In a bid to appease the mullah brigade, this party is repeating the same mistakes its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, made in the 1970s. In the end, the right-wing forces he appeased celebrated his judicial murder. A recent blasphemy case highdebate on this issue. Pakistan is fast turning into a country where it is difficult for liberals to voice their opinions. It is not without reason then that analysts like Pervez Hoodbhoy think that a “clerical tsunami” is on the cards. Every nook and corner of our country has become a fatwa factory. Last week, a senator moved a privilege motion against a female human rights activist in the Senate because she had sent him a text message asking him to attend the chehlum of “Shaheed” Salman Taseer. Senator Mandokhel said that calling a “blasphemer” a “martyr” was in itself blasphemy. That a senator should make such absurd remarks on the floor of the House shows where this country is heading. Right-wing forces are strong and getting stronger because of the covert and overt support they have been getting from Pakistan’s powerful military establishment for decades. On the other hand, liberal and progressive voices are weak and disparate. But this is no time to give up. On the contrary, it is time to fight back. The space that we have unwittingly provided to the religious and political bigots must be taken back. Otherwise, the future looks very bleak for Pakistan. The writer is op-ed editor of ‘Daily Times’, Lahore

Save for growth
■ THIS refers to the article ‘Spend, but not too much’ (IE, February 8). We need to get rid of the panic caused by the global financial crisis which slowed us down. The writer’s diagnosis that public spending is directed to create supply rather than boosting demand helps. The finance minister, in the coming budget, should strive to increase our propensity to save which leads to an increased propensity to invest. The process of capital formation with a stress on human capital is needed in today’s knowledge economy. — M.M. Goel Kurukshetra


Last week, a senator moved a privilege motion against a female human rights activist in the Senate because she had sent him a text message asking him to attend the chehlum of ‘Shaheed’ Salman Taseer.
year when a lower court in Pakistan handed out a death sentence to a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Aasia Bibi was the first woman to have been given a death penalty under the blasphemy laws. On November 20, 2010, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer visited Aasia in jail where she filed a clemency petition for President Zardari. All hell broke loose after that. The religious right started issuing fatwas against Taseer, and labelled him a blasphemer. Ironically, Taseer’s own party — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — issued no statement to refute these lights how preposterous this law really is. Syed Samiullah, a young student, was arrested for writing something blasphemous in his exam papers. Instead of getting the young lad professional psychiatric help, the professor who marked his paper reported it to the Intermediate Board. Sami is now in jail and extremely frightened. What is so “sacred” about a man-made law that penalises a 17-year-old boy for writing some blasphemous sentences in his examinations? Yet the religious right, with the support of their political allies, have now succeeded in ending all

Farmers’ share
■ THE forthcoming budget presents a golden opportunity to the UPA government to correct many economic wrongs. The focus should be on containing inflation. As far as food prices are concerned, the problem is more on the supply side. The finance minister should provide ingredients in the budget to ensure an increased supply of necessary agricultural products. The focus should not be merely on installing and improving rural infrastructure but also on ensuring that farmers get a fair price. There has been a big gap between what the buyers pay and what the farmers get. This can also address rural poverty. — Ketan K. Shah Ahmedabad


A running sore called Abyei
Before formal independence, southern Sudan will again test the north’s goodwill

Everybody does it
■ IT is not palatable that a person occupying the office of the CVC — expected to weed out corruption — should himself seek protection, offering such an argument (‘28% MPs face charges... why me: CVC to SC’, IE, February 8). If an accused points out that others have also committed crimes, should no action be taken against him? — Mool Chand Gupta New Delhi


BYEI, TEN thousand square kilometres of largely swamp and scrub brush, with its 150,000 people, its militias of warring nomads and heavily armed villagers, is where Africa and the Arab world meet. They do so most uneasily and at times bloodily. On the day South Sudan formally announced the result of its January 9 poll, a 98.83 per cent vote for secession by a third of the country from the north, Abyei, straddling their 1,250-mile still-disputed border, remains a running sore, one of the major unresolved legacies of the unitary Sudan that may yet drag the country back to war. The overwhelming vote was no surprise, a hard-won chance to put an end to years of ethnic and tribal conflict and repression of the south by the largely Arab, Muslim north. Over three decades, until a precarious 2005 peace deal, civil war had cost some two million lives. Along with the impressive result, the commitment... by Khartoum, in the guise of Sudan’s presi-


dent Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to accept the parting of the ways and to recognise the world’s newest state was welcome. But before southern Sudan, one of the poorest places on earth, where more than three-quarters of adults cannot read, formally declares its independence on July 9, it will again have to test the limits of the goodwill and good faith of its former masters in the north on a number of issues. Unable to agree on who could participate in the secession referendum in Abyei, both sides agreed to postpone the vote there, while both insist the bitterly divided territory will remain theirs. And although the landlocked south and Abyei are home to most of the nation’s crucial oil wealth, the north expects to negotiate a substantial share in the returns for pipeline access to the sea. From a leader in ‘The Irish Times’

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