Failure of India or its populist Government?

There has been lot of discussion around demonetisation in the newspapers and social media. The move is being criticised for poor implementation and the government is being blamed for its failure. In social media, jokes and messages about the failure of the government’s policy are shared. A few eminent experts are also blaming the government for the pitiable implementation of demonetisation.
However, any decision taken by the head of family(HE/SHE) should be accepted and implemented whole-heartedly by all the family members. It cannot be the sole responsibility of the head of the family. If a decision is taken in the interest of the country by the head of the country, it is the duty of the people to contribute honestly to its implementation. If demonetisation was a failure, it was not because of an incorrect decision taken by our prime minister or government. It is us, the people as a whole, who are more responsible.

Whosoever got an opportunity to cheat the nation has done so. Bankers were allegedly busy laundering money by illegal means, helping convert old, defunct currency into new notes. Even a few officers of the Reserve Bank of India are allegedly involved in money laundering. Lakhs of people allowed their accounts to be used to convert black money. There are reports of how co-operative banks were involved in laundering currency. Even political parties were used to launder notes.

It appears that everyone is determined to make the scheme a failure and then blame the government. It is not the defeat of the government but of India, by its own society. It is disgraceful. We compare our country with other developed nations, but we never try to understand how honest and devoted their citizens are. Their contribution towards their nation is great.

It is equally true that the fight against black money, corruption, terrorism and counterfeit currency is an ongoing process and cannot be totally eradicated by a single act of demonetisation. However, it would address the  challenges to a great extent, if we would have contributed to its success, rather than its failure.
Our opposition parties are also responsible. They have not contributed to the success of demonetisation. They were busy finding fault with the government. Rather than work for the people, they chose to play politics, as seen during the winter session of Parliament.
The Reserve Bank of India is a noble institution. We are proud of how it has managed the monetary system as well as the needs of the economy for the last 60 years. This time, though, it could not perform to expectation. Every day, a new notification was issued, often contrary to an earlier assurance. There was no system in place to prevent bank officials from using their position for money laundering. We are now talking of digitization.
Will it be possible to implement overnight? The mistake of the head of the government was that a decision was taken without accounting for the flaws in the system which may prevent proper implementation. It was a decision which had a high impact on the financial system of the country. The government should have paid heed to the loopholes in our system, plugging those which could have caused the initiative’s failure.
The decision was like trying to run bullet trains on our existing railway tracks. The lesson to learn from demonetisation is that a decision with honest intentions but poor implementation causes more pain than gain and everyone has contributed to its failure.

To sum it up John F. Kennedy former President of USA, famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

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Trump-Modi-Xi : Caught in Between

As a rising China challenges American primacy in Asia, navigating between the Chinese and American is a major strategic challenge for us. India’s default option, many assume, is to reaffirm non-alignment — neither with USA, nor China. That conventional wisdom is under a cloud as India draws closer towards America, amidst a rather difficult phase with China.

Contrary to the mythology of non-alignment, tilting to one side or another has been very much part of the Indian diplomatic tradition and the Chinese. As he founded the People’s Republic of China, it is known Mao Zedong insisted China must “lean one side” — towards the Soviet Union. But within a few years, he fought Moscow and leaned towards the other side, Washington.Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed non-alignment but reached out to the US amidst the war with China in 1962. In 1971, Indira Gandhi signed a security treaty with the Soviet Union as the American embrace of China altered the regional balance.

The Problem with India-China:

China’s GDP is nearly five times larger than India’s. Its military spending is thrice that of Delhi. In the last few years, India has struggled to cope with China’s political expansion, military modernisation and power projection in India’s neighbourhood. India’s territorial disputes with China have also endured. After decades of negotiation, India and China don’t even agree on the length of their border. China says the border is about 2,000 km — the Indian count is nearly 4,000. Thereby hangs a tale of two nationalisms, so deeply attached to territory.
The territorial question is further complicated by the disagreement over Tibet and its relationship to India and China. India worries about China’s deepening alliance with Pakistan and frets over China’s growing power in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. India has a massive trade deficit with China. Beyond the bilateral and regional, China has tripped up India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and is unenthusiastic about India’s claim for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.To add to this, At UN, China’s decision to  block India’s bid to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar is not going well down India

The Tilt towards USA:

India’s messy relationship with China stands in contrast to growing political convergence with the United States. India has a significant trade surplus with America; its dynamic IT sector is deeply connected to America’s Silicon Valley. The US ended its pro-Pakistan tilt some years ago and has moved towards neutrality; US is more forthcoming than China in helping India counter cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Unlike China, America supports India’s membership of the UNSC and the NSG.
US says it wants to see India emerge as a great power; China seems to block India’s rise on the global stage.

The Uncertainty with USA:

India is acutely aware that US and China have a stronger economic partnership with each other than they have with India. For the near future, therefore, India’s emphasis will be on making the best of expanding the partnership with the United States while limiting and managing the differences with China. India has just begun this global walk— and there is much distance to cover.

India’s ambition to grow as an “influential and responsible global power” calls for it to manage equilibrium in the region. It is a challenge for India to ensure that its neighbourhood stays less volatile. At the same time, India has had long-term relations with America. The two countries were once described by PM Vajpayee as “natural allies”. In the last two years, PM Modi has taken these relations much farther and deeper. We need them in our pursuit of progress. At the same time, India needs to be watchful about US moves with at least four important countries — Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. These have a greater bearing on India’s interests in the region and beyond

“Nations have no permanent friends or allies in diplomacy; they have only permanent interests,” said the famous English statesman Lord Palmerstone.

‘New-Clear’ Policy.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 there has been an ongoing debate centred on defining an appropriate role for nuclear weapons. Everybody agrees that these weapons are enormously destructive and should not be used. The question is whether the best way to prevent their use is to consider these as weapons for war fighting (just like conventional weapons but only more destructive), or to see them as qualitatively different, meant exclusively for deterrence. Different countries possessing nuclear weapons have evolved their doctrines based on the historical experiences shaping their world views, their threat perceptions and security obligations.

India’s Nuclear Doctrine consists of these key principles: “a) building and maintaining a credible minimum deterrent; b) posture of ‘No First Use’, nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere; c) nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage; d) non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states; however, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons….”

The two key elements — a “credible minimum deterrent” and “no first use” — were first articulated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Parliament days after India had undertaken a series of five nuclear tests in Pokhran 1998 and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. Mr.Vajpayee stated that India did not see nuclear weapons as weapons of war; that their role was to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion; that India will not engage in an arms race; and that India believes in a “no first use” policy and remains ready to discuss this with other countries, bilaterally or in a collective forum.

A nuclear doctrine serves multiple uses — it determines the nuclear posture, provides guidance for deployment and targeting, chain of command and control, communication and signalling to adversary and, in the ultimate, the use of nuclear weapons. Naturally, the last would happen once deterrence has failed. So far, the nuclear triad (aircraft, land-based mobile missiles and sea-based assets) which is to guarantee India’s assured retaliation remains a work in progress

India’s doctrine does not mention any country, but it is no secret that the Indian nuclear arsenal is to counter threats from China and Pakistan. China has maintained a ‘no first use’ policy since 1964 when it went nuclear, and the Chinese leadership has always considered nuclear weapons as political weapons.

Pakistan has adopted a first-use policy to ensure full-spectrum deterrence; in other words, it envisages a tactical, operational and strategic role for its nuclear weapons. Since it maintains that its nuclear arsenal is exclusively against India, it seeks to counter India’s conventional superiority at all levels. Recently, it has developed tactical nuclear weapons to hedge against a conventional military strike under the Cold Start doctrine.

The conventional criticism against a ‘no first use’ policy is that India would have to suffer a first strike before it retaliated. This criticism is valid but only highlights the need for India to ensure that deterrence does not fail, and that there is a clear communication to the adversary of the certainty of punitive nuclear retaliation. This can happen when India’s nuclear arsenal, its delivery systems and its command and control enjoy assured survivability.

Does this imply that till then, it is preferable for India to shift to a first-use policy? That might be an attractive option if India was certain that in a first strike, it could take out all of Pakistan’s (or China’s) nuclear assets so that it would escape any nuclear retaliation. That is highly unlikely, today and in the future. Even the U.S. with its vast arsenal, both conventional and nuclear, is unsure about denuclearizing North Korea which has a much smaller arsenal and capability.

Shifting to a first-use policy also has implications for the size of the arsenal, deployment posture, alert levels, delegation of command and control, defining red lines which would trigger a nuclear response and escalation management along the nuclear ladder. In short, it would mark a shift from deterrence towards nuclear war fighting. In short, it would lead to greater instability. The same instability would govern a situation of nuclear ambiguity. Given the short distances, it is impractical for India to envisage a ‘launch on warning’ posture even it developed and deployed a highly effective early warning system.

There is another key difference. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is totally under the military’s control, and by and large, the military approach to any weapon system is to find a use for it; it is difficult for the military to possess a weapon system and then conceive of a doctrine that aims at deterring its use.

Deterrence is a product of ‘technical capability’ and ‘political will’. In dealing with Pakistan, India has to define who is to be deterred and find ways of demonstrating the requisite political will even as we build up our technical capabilities. Israel is a classic example of a state possessing advanced technical capabilities and also having demonstrated political will. Yet, this has failed to deter rocket strikes and terror attacks on Israeli territory.

This is not to suggest that India’s nuclear doctrine cannot be changed. It should be periodically reviewed and updated, possibly every decade or so, taking into account technological developments and changes in the security environment. This is, however, not a simple issue of changing a few words here or there and casual remarks can only add to confusion.

Ultimately, deterrence is a mental construct which requires clarity in its planning. Even ambiguity needs to be a calculated ambiguity. Only then will the doctrine serve to reassure the Indian people even as it deters the adversary in order to safeguard India’s security.

Is it a failed Democracy?

The ascension to power of populist strongmen like Donald Trump in the U.S., Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Narendra Modi in India demonstrates the limits of electoral democracy as a system of truly representing the political will of the people. In all three cases, the numbers suggest that most voters wanted these individuals and the political parties that they respectively lead — the Republican Party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — to form the government, but the reality in each country veers away from these purely numerical electoral outcomes.

The logic of democracy proposes that the choice of the majority will stand in for the choice of the whole electorate; but in fact, those who did not choose these leaders or their parties find not only that their will is not being communicated, but that it is being thwarted, undermined, or worse, directly opposed. This is how a supposedly democratic process ends up undermining ‘the people’ for very large numbers of voters.

Judging from Mr. Trump’s statements during his bruising election campaign, his administration will work against racial, religious and sexual minorities, coming down hardest on immigrant communities in America. He has nevertheless won the electoral college votes necessary to be named President-elect. But it is the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, who has won the popular vote by well over 2 million votes, and counting. Protests against Mr. Trump have swept across American cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Austin, Boston and Miami, with hundreds or sometimes thousands of people asserting that he is “not my President”. The immediate aftermath of his election shows the U.S. to be a country utterly divided, calling into question the foundational “union” implied in its very name.

Mr. Erdogan and his AKP got elected with a decisive mandate of just below 50 per cent of the votes in the Turkish general elections of November 2015. But after the failed coup against him on July 15, 2016, he has come down hard on members of the Gülen Movement (followers of the shadowy cleric Fethullah Gülen) that engineered the coup attempt, and his political opponents loyal to the Kurdish nationalist party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). His government has arrested, jailed and fired tens of thousands of suspected Gülenists and Kurdish sympathisers, picking out individuals from civil society, the army, the judiciary, universities, the press and political outfits. Mr. Erdogan’s purges are pushing what is technically a multi-party democracy towards what looks increasingly like a one-party state.

Democracies everywhere appear to be in danger. Many electoral democracies are becoming outright illiberal; some are deteriorating into forms of competitive authoritarianism.Violence against Muslims, Dalits and tribals, curbs on dissent and criticism, attacks on secularism and tolerance, and a sharp decline in the freedom of the media and academia have become vandalised in the name of a new “nationalism”. Since this summer, Kashmiris have endured the worst crackdowns against civilians and the longest curfews of the past 30 years under the BJP-Peoples Democratic Party coalition government.

The system of representational democracy — whether based on an electoral college or first-past-the-post — is also opaque about why citizens vote for this or that party.

The challenge is not only for citizens to reconcile their own opinions and aspirations with those of their compatriots who have different political preferences. The onus is on the government of the day to acknowledge that just because it won the election does not mean it represents the actual plurality of voters, their views and their interests. The sitting government has to rise above the ideology of its particular party in order to take the totality of the electorate and citizenry along with it.

Progressive, liberal, secular, egalitarian citizens of all three big electoral democracies — India, Turkey and the U.S. — have to find ways to protect the diverse and inclusive character of their nations, to strengthen their constitutional foundations, and keep in check the illiberal, populist strongmen who have ascended to power with mandates that are numerically partial and morally compromised.

To quote President Lincoln, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Is it really FOR THE PEOPLE?!

Cash is the new Trash

In a new tryst with destiny, once again at the stroke of the midnight hour on November 8-9, Mr.Modi effectively demonetised large denomination notes in India. Of the Rs.16 lakh crore-plus in circulation, Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes account for about Rs.14 lakh crore and more than 85 per cent by value of all rupee bills in circulation, as per Reserve Bank of India data.

At the heart of it is the simple proposition that large currency notes are used more to conceal than to purchase. Mr. Modi has converted this one sentence into an economic boom in his true fight against black money and corruption, which is laudable.The U.S. stopped issuing $500 notes in 1969, the European Central Bank halted 500-euro notes early this year, and Singapore killed its $10,000 note and Canada its $1,000 note in 2000. India has one of the highest cash to GDP ratios at 12 per cent (excluding the parallel economy) and despite a well-publicised amnesty scheme, the fear of god had not sunk in. Now it will, with Mr. Modi’s big-bang step.

Indeed, there will be some contraction in money supply and thus a slight deflationary impact, which will cause some inconvenience in the very short term to the average citizen, which the Prime Minister has acknowledged repeatedly in his speech, but this will be compensated by significant benefits in the long term for all law-abiding citizens.

The deflationary impact could be felt in sectors where cash is the main instrument of transaction and perhaps in some asset prices as well, such as in real estate. In the longer term, it will lead to a greater proportion of the economy shifting from black to white. Those who hold large amounts of cash may, if they deposit it in banks and perhaps pay taxes on it, be forced to join the white economy. It may also raise permanently the cost of holding cash by adding a risk premium. This may encourage people to take the certainty of paying taxes in lieu of the uncertainty of holding black cash.The next big hit should be on purchase of benami property which is a national avocation, for that’s perhaps the other big outlet and repository of black money. When the Goods and Services Tax comes into force, the government should do away with stamp duty on land at any stage of the sale; moreover, the tax rates on purchase of property should be dramatically slashed. This apart, election funding reforms and online voting are all big steps in the continuum of reforms, of which this was just the first big step.

The incentives for honesty have been improved, dramatically, with this reform measure, much needed after it was last done in 1978. This will seriously affect the stock of black money but the effect on future flows is unpredictable. However, the flows will perhaps be reduced because of the increased risk perception in cash transactions. Further, the government should take steps to increase mobile penetration, pre-bundled with cash apps, which will make it easier for those who wish to go digital.

Cash is the new trash and the Prime Minister has acted decisively, ending reams of debates, declamations and declarations. Changing human behaviour is the hardest thing to do in the world — Mr. Modi is doing just that in one of the most difficult ecosystems in the world. As a small aside, he has also dealt a body blow to ‘terror money’, and electoral politics in India will never be the same again.

The new colour of Money

“Black money is so much a part of our white economy, a tumour in the centre of the brain – try to remove it and you kill the patient.”

Black money and white money are simplistic concepts; there is a grey area in between. In a country such as India, given the lack of financial inclusion, the financial and legal illiteracy, the history of tax laws and foreign exchange regulations, monetary and financial culture, nature of political funding, availability and use of insider information in the economic and political spheres, and so on, there is a need to handle matters in a sensitive manner. There is, of course, a need to do something about all the black money, even if parts of it are “grey”. The policy of demonetisation of high denomination currency notes may be viewed as a step in the direction of adopting a policy of coordination so that the Indian economy shifts from what economists call a bad equilibrium to a good equilibrium.

Benefits:

1) It shows government’s seriousness to tackle black money. This signaling effect alone is a huge benefit to the nation where many evade taxes.
2) It will ensure a significant part of the black money gets back to the government. It’s not true that nobody gains from the money burnt/thrown away.
3) The old money not swapped in banks is effectively the government’s Profit. Say 100 lakh crs of total money existed in old notes, and only 60 lakh crores comes back. For remaining 40 lakh crores, the government can print new notes, and keep it themselves. Hence, the government does stand to make a lot of money in this (which can be then used for people)
4) It’s nice to see a PM who works, has innovative ideas and wants to make a change. We have had leaders who sat quietly and did little. It is good to see a man of action.

At the same time, like any policy, there are some issues.

Issues:
1) Execution of such an exercise in India is no joke. We just aren’t technically ready to do this in a smooth manner. (That is why we are facing some execution issues.)
2) There are some tricks still people can use to swap black money into new money. It will reduce the amount of black money recovered.
3) There is a huge cash economy in India. It isn’t ‘black’. It’s just cash. To suck up so much liquidity will lead to a slowdown and losses for a lot of people, for no fault of their own. The slowdown in economic activity will cause lower profits, and in turn lower taxes for the government.
4) A potential crash in real estate prices. While some want property prices to fall, a huge drop can cause an economic shock, reduction in bank collateral values etc., again leading to a recession.
5) The exercise by definition involves everyone swapping their money after showing their credentials. In effect, everyone has to prove they are innocent and have clean money. This is somewhat invasive to citizens, and while there is no other way, it remains an issue.
6) The exercise would be expensive, and that cost needs to be taken into account.
7) It’s a jolt to our stable monetary system. Doing it again and again will cause people to lose confidence in our currency. It’s really a one-off, and even that destabilizes things.
8) The tax department may use it as an excuse to harass people later, with endless questioning about the extra bank entries.

Net Effect:
Overall, demonetization is a good move. Given the extent of black money in the country, and the tiny taxpayer base, something had to be done. It had to be drastic. It has been done now. We should now do what it takes to make it succeed.

THE EXECUTION:
As important as an idea is it’s execution. There clearly have been execution issues, causing pain to a lot of Indians who have wasted a lot of productive time in queues. While doing things for the nation is good, one need not have to suffer because of bad planning or someone not thinking things through. The good and bad of the execution are:

Good:
1. It’s happening, and still the country is chugging along. Banks across the country are slow, but doing their bit. There is no mass hunger, or calamity so far.
2. Government is taking steps to ease the pain. The change in limits helps. The banks are also devising ways to manage the crowds.
3. People in India are on the whole, taking it well.

Bad:
1. Someone didn’t plan the logistics well – it is one thing to make an excel spreadsheet of number of bank branches and the people involved. It is quite another to when you deal with India’s reality on the ground. There are bottlenecks galore in this exercise – whether printing of notes, uncaliberated ATMs, or limits to the number of cash vans. One can say whatever about the secrecy required, but it seems that while finance professionals sat and spoke up in the meetings, industrial engineers and operations research experts probably did not to the extent required. We are seeing the fallout now.
2. Citizens do not have to take so much pain. Inconvenience is one thing, suffering quite another. To say bear it in the name of patriotism is not listening to the issue – the execution is not efficient. It is the same as how people say – “Oh, the temple is dirty, bear it in the name of God.” Sorry, God had nothing to do with it. The temple management didn’t keep the temple clean. Same ways, patriotism has nothing to do with the fact that someone didn’t plan the ATMs better or didn’t make the new 500-Rs note available early.

In his speech the Prime Minister had invoked the metaphor of a purification of the economy by rooting out black money. But another form of purification can be espied in the action. In the prototype Rs.2,000 note to come, displayed on television, we can see the denomination written in the Devanagari numeral. It is a first. India’s founding fathers had avoided privileging any one language. This principle, so vital to the prospects of this great country, is set to be breached. The demonetisation has also proved to be a cultural opportunity.

FINAL CONCLUSION AND IDEAS FOR SMOOTH EXECUTION:

 

If you have a considerable amount of cash to be deposited, or know someone who does, or are generally looking for comprehensive information and customized advice relating to the demonetization scheme, hire a Chartered Accountant to help you with the process, instead of looking to twitter and social media to clear your doubts. Seriously.

In final analysis, we should support demonetization, but keep reminding the government to iron out the execution issues. Some ideas:

1. Online appointment booking for banks.
2. Easy forms, which can be pre-filled. Faster check-outs at banks.
3. Hiring interns at banks for short term, supervised by existing employees.
4. Opening banks 24 X 7 after new hires come in.
5. Supplying enough notes to banks as fast as possible.
6. Fixing the ATMs
7. Declaring one or two holidays (not for banks!) for people to get their finances in order
8. Removing withdrawal limits as fast as possible.
9. Having empathy for people in lines, from the highest levels of government.
10. Giving an incentive to people to come to the bank. A meal coupon would go a long way too.

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The Tiger and The Elephant: Both belong to INDIA?

To examine the validity of the claims of certain “misuse” of the Prevention of Atrocities Act(PoAA), we must first understand the very different relationships that the caste has with the Constitution.

The Constitution is a portrait of the nation as it would like to be rather than as it actually is. Therefore, it is obliged to regard aspirations as achievements, uncertain journeys as assured arrivals. Beginning with the Preamble, where it presumes that “we, the people” are indeed a unified and homogenous collectivity, the Constitution hopes for outcomes as though they were established facts. This is not a defect — the Constitution is required to reflect the republic in the best possible light, and is at its most majestic when doing so. However, this also means that the Constitution is unable to directly confront  realities like caste that flout its fundamental tenets, because acknowledging caste amounts to confessing that the republic is more desire than reality.

So, when the Constitution is forced to deal with caste, it does so with an averted face, allowing it only as an inference, shadow-like presence. But it also manages to be straightforward about what it cannot face. For example, caste makes its first entry in Article 15 rather anonymously, as one among many sources of discrimination. But this is compensated by Sections 2(a) and 2(b) which prohibit discriminatory restriction of access to (respectively) “shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment” and “wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort…”. Why is it necessary to explicitly prohibit discrimination in access to both modern and traditional facilities already declared to be for the public? Or take Article 17, which abruptly announces that “Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. What does this capitalised word stand for and why is it so important? The answer, of course, is caste, which is an absent presence in the Constitution, addressed only as an exceptional or special circumstance.

The PoAA, 1989, and its older sibling, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, are “special laws” located at the strategic sites where the Constitution’s default setting of caste-blind formal equality must be changed to address the reality of  inequality. All citizens are not equally at risk of being subjected to the acts specified in the sub-sections of Section 3(1) of the PoAA, such as being forced to “drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance” (i); have “excreta, waste matter, carcasses or any other obnoxious substance” dumped in their premises or neighbourhood (ii); or being paraded “naked or with painted face or body” (iii), and so on. If there exist specific groups of citizens who have repeatedly suffered such gross violations of the fundamental right to dignity, then surely the republic owes them the protection of special laws like the PoAA.

But why do such groups exist in the first place? They exist because of the social relations promoted by caste. The atrocities that invite interventions such as the PoAA are made possible by caste society’s ability to sustain specific types of relationships, or mutually oriented attitudes and conditions. On the one hand, Dalit castes are forcibly invested with an enduring social vulnerability vis-à-vis castes higher up in the hierarchy, especially those dominant within a region. On the other hand,  When the dominant caste feels it has little prospect of economic and social mobility, its self-esteem and identity become increasingly dependent on the unequal relationships it maintains with subordinated castes. In such situations, the Dalit-dominant caste relationship turns into a zero-sum game where any real or imagined improvement in the lives of Dalits is seen as a reduction in the social distance separating the two groups, thereby implying a decline in the status of the dominant castes.

The state is simultaneously the child of law and society as well as the mediating link between the two. Because of its idealistic orientation, the Constitution — mother of all laws — is external to society . The state depends on the Constitution for its legitimacy, but the Constitution also depends on the state for the implementation  of its ideals. Since it is regulated by politics which in turn is rooted in society, and since its personnel are themselves members of society who embody the prevalent social prejudices, the state is strongly influenced by society. But because it is institutionally bound to obey the Constitution, the state cannot always be guided by the dominant social prejudices of the day; rather, it must at least occasionally rise above these prejudices to perform its constitutional duty. To sum up, the caste-state relationship is necessarily ambiguous because the state is itself a differentiated and plural (rather than homogenous or monolithic) entity, capable of acting in a wide variety of ways with respect to caste.

Returning now to the demands for restraining or removing the PoAA, we can begin to decipher what is happening. Both in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the two States where it has been voiced, the demand is coming from political parties representing regionally dominant castes. Both States have seen the emergence (or re-emergence) of Dalit assertion following some upward mobility. This has enraged the dominant castes, leading them to argue that the PoAA is being “misused”. The misuse argument is so popular that it can be called a syndrome, or “a characteristic combination of opinions, emotions or behaviour”. It has been used against every special scheme or law intended to empower vulnerable groups, including reservations, laws against dowry, sexual harassment and rape, and even the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). In each case, it is alleged that the “genuinely deserving” never benefit and that the “vast majority” of cases are fake.

Since any law can be “misused”, it is not the potential for misuse but its actual occurrence and frequency that matter, and this needs to be established through credible evidence. No such evidence-based claims have been made as yet. On the contrary, reports from activist groups show that it is hard for ordinary Dalits to get cases registered, and extremely difficult to get them placed under the PoAA. But to be fair, the misuse argument is not always meant to be taken literally; it also acts as proxy for the more general perception that Dalits are no longer underdogs and may be turning into predators.

While there is no reason to doubt that Dalits, like any other caste group, could become efficient oppressors if given the chance, the obvious question is if they are in fact getting the chance. Going by the nationwide evidence on the frequency of atrocities on Dalits, the shoe still seems to be firmly on the other foot. Ahmednagar district alone has witnessed three atrocities on Dalits in the past three years (Sonai, Kharda and Javkheda). Meanwhile, as the first anniversary of the Dadri lynching approaches, let us also spare a thought for vulnerable groups who do not have, and will probably never have, the constitutional protection of special laws.

To quote Kailash Satyarthi,”India has hundreds of problems,and millions of solutions”.