Wednesday July 18, 2018
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Smriti Irani or Jitender Singh Tomar; fake degrees are the real issue not forgery

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By Rukma Singh

Hell seems to have broken loose for Aam Aadmi Party with the recent row over the authenticity of (now ex) Law Minister Jitender Singh Tomar’s academic qualification. While the media, masses and the masters are all united in screaming “Fraud!” directed either towards him or the current HRD minister Smriti Irani (or any other obscure and ostensibly educated member of government, for that matter) there is an issue which has gotten lost in the shuffle of heated arguments. Forgery of academic degrees.

Such cases of fake degrees are, more than political issues, classic examples of India’s pathetic education system. The notion of education to be a better human has been curtly shown the door ages ago. However, such instances of bribed qualification catch the claimants of professional quality and capability with their pants down, time and again.

Forging Ground

In May 2015, for instance, 29 candidates applying for the post of physical education (BPEd) instructor in government-run junior high schools in Lakhimpur-Kheri were caught holding fake degrees of Lucknow University. Before this on April 23, 47  candidates were found with fake marksheets while applying for the same job in the same area.

Allahabad, once known to be a hub of quality higher education, has also thrown up concerns over the issue of fake degrees. In the current academic session itself, Allahabad University has detected at least 129 cases of fake degrees. University officials claim that, on average, 125 cases of forged documents are detected every year. The majority of the degrees relate to the period from 2002 to 2012.

The biggest case detected till now being the fake BSc degree in possession of alleged Indian Mujahideen mastermind Mohammad Atif, who was shot in a Jamia Nagar encounter in 2008. What followed was a spate of fake degrees and certificates of AU being detected across India.

The Deep Rooted Nexus

After the reports of the Tomar fake degree case caught momentum, many Congress and AAP members have sought to draw attention back to the Smriti Irani case. In 2014, when Irani filed her nomination for the Lok Sabha elections, it was found that her educational qualifications were drastically altered. A huge furor followed  and she was labeled as an “undeserving” candidate to take up the Human Resource Development Ministry’s mantle. BJP has gone on to defend Irani by saying that hers was a case of “wrong information” whilst Tomar is guilty of the more serious charge, which is of a “fake degree.” The timing couldn’t be more imprudent for BJP as the court is slated to declare a verdict on her case on June 24th. Serious doubts will be raised on the issue from all quarters if Irani gets away scot-free.

However, these two by far are not the only instances of our politicians setting dismal standards of behavior for the Indian polity to emulate. Congress stalwarts like Sonia and Rahul Gandhi as well as Mamta Didi have been previously accused of providing misinformation regarding their educational qualifications in election affidavits. Now, the worrying aspect is the fact that attention is drawn to these particular cases because of the candidate’s relevance in Pan-India politics. This means that local and state level leaders are largely immune from such scrutiny by the media, the Election Commission, or even the police and can easily get away with fraud.

This merely goes on to show the deep-rooted nexus of fake degrees that exists within India and its connections with politicians who are eventually entrusted with the duty to root out such evils from our nation.

Post Script

If hard earned skills related to medicine, management, legality, teaching etc can be bought by waving currency in someone’s face then the services/disasters begotten by  ‘professionals’ of such skills are not logically impossible to predict.

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977

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Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy
Then It Was Emergency Now It Is Democracy. Pixabay

An all-out war of words broke out last week between the BJP and the Congress on the 1975 Emergency. Observing June 26 as a ‘black day’, several BJP leaders targeted the Congress at events held across the country to highlight the Emergency’s excesses. Leading the charge with a sharp attack on the Congress was Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Addressing BJP workers in Mumbai last Tuesday, the prime minster said the country still refers to June 26 as a ‘dark period during which every institution was subverted and an atmosphere of fear was created’.

Without naming the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi said the Constitution was misused at the behest of one family. He further went on to say that the mentality of the family had not changed even now after 43 years of the Emergency. ‘Whenever the family feared loss of power, it keeps shouting that the country is in crisis,’ the prime minister added. Expectedly, the Congress hit back with equally sharp criticism of the Modi government, equating Modi to Aurangzeb. It alleged that the prime minister was even crueller than the Mughal emperor as Modi has “enslaved democracy” in the country for the past 49 months with an “undeclared emergency”.

The 21-month period from 1975 to 1977, when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, was indeed a dark chapter in India’s democratic history. This was the third national Emergency – the first one was in 1962 when China invaded India and the second was in 1971 during the war with Pakistan – and the only one to be declared citing the “internal disturbances”.  During the 1975 Emergency, opposition leaders were arrested, civil rights curbed, elections postponed, anti-government protests crushed and press censored. It shook India to its core as the freedom to liberty, dissent and express ceased to exist. All this is well-known and in public domain. Therefore, what was so special about the 43rd anniversary of Emergency that the BJP observed as ‘black day’?

Bringing back memories of the Emergency days was clearly aimed at striking at the Congress’s weak spot. It was also meant to neutralise Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s frequent ‘murder of democracy’ gibes directed at the Modi government. This was not entirely unexpected in a pre-election year; neither was the Congress’s equally sharp response by likening Modi to Aurangzeb. As 2019 general elections approach, not only the political exchange between the two parties will gather momentum, but over the next 10 months, election-driven rhetoric, name-calling, inane allegations and historical debates will increase. Reminding Congress of the Emergency is just the beginning.

Congress on Friday promised to create one crore jobs across the southern state
Congress- wikimedia commons

While terming the Emergency as an ‘aberration’, the Congress has never expressed any remorse about the dark chapter in its history or condemned it. Claiming that during Emergency, Mrs Gandhi targeted the rich, black marketers, hoarders and zamindars is no justification for curbing civil liberties and press freedom and neutralising the opposition. The hesitation to admit Emergency as a major mistake has denied the Congress an opportunity to reassert its commitment to democratic values, though it was the primary builder of democracy in India after independence.

The Emergency happened 43 years ago and both, Mrs Gandhi and the Congress, lost power because of it in 1977. Since then, the Congress has ruled at the Centre several times without resorting to emergency measures. On the contrary, it has shown its commitment to democratic order and liberal values far better than the current BJP-led government. The Emergency of 1975 and the violations of civil liberties and press freedom were all real. But its parallels can be drawn with the contemporary situation, which is marked by erosion of institutional independence and integrity, rising intolerance and increasing mob violence which stems from the ideological support of the ruling party.

The right-wing assaults on constitutional institution and individuals’ democratic rights are for real, though there is no Emergency in force in India today. While conventional opposition leaders and parties have the liberty to become more than conventional Opposition and there is also the rising wave of resistance to right-wing assaults on individual rights and institutions, it is also true that there are whiffs of Emergency sentiments in the air and the strains of the Emergency doctrine and pulsations of fear are quite obvious. The Congress is not entirely off the mark when it accuses the Modi government of ‘undeclared emergency’ as the freedom of the media, people’s freedom of expression and their right to live without fear have come under new kinds of threats.

There is no overt press censorship but the government has tried to muzzle and manipulate the media through various means. A section of the media has either caved in to the fear of administrative power or fallen for the lure of money-power. Apart from the media, there have been sustained attempts to weaken and misuse other constitutional and non-constitutional institutions, including the judiciary. Interestingly, all this is happening when the BJP is in power and questioning the Congress’s commitment to the principles and practice of democracy, while the BJP has diluted its own commitment to the philosophy of parliamentary democracy, liberal values and press freedom.

This is quite surprising because while the taint of Emergency continues to haunt the Congress, the BJP, despite its proud status of a party whose leaders were at the forefront of the struggle against the Emergency 43 years ago, is not deterred to misuse the levers of power against its political opponents, ‘difficult’ sections of the media, and independent or ‘inconvenient’ voices that question the government on various issues. With scant regard for critical debate and plurality of views under the current ruling dispensation, what we are seeing now is some kind of a role reversal. Mrs Gandhi subverted institutions to retain power. The BJP is trying to do the same by weakening the same institutions.

Also read: India sends Emergency Fuel Supplies to Sri Lanka

The Emergency should serve as a warning to political parties: threats to democracy and people’s constitutional rights – either directly or indirectly – create resentment and negative public opinion against government. The Emergency created a unity among opposition parties that never existed before and became the cause of Mrs Gandhi’s defeat. It is too early to say whether the Modi government’s attempts to misuse democratic institutions for his party’s narrow interests and the right wing attacks on institutions and rights of citizens will help create similar kind of opposition unity, which will determine the outcome of 2019 elections. (IANS)