The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Proposed life ban for convicted politicians is at odds with our reformative system

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The Election Commission on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it favoured banning politicians convicted of serious crimes from contesting elections for the rest of their lives. The commission was responding to the court after Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay filed a petition demanding a lifetime ban on convicted politicians with the aim of decriminalising politics. The Election Commission had earlier been unclear about the issue, telling the Supreme Court in July that Upadhyay’s plea was “not adversarial” and that it supported the idea of decriminalising politics. At the time, the Supreme Court chided the panel for not being clear in its response and demanded that it spell out an official position on a lifetime ban.

The Commission has now done so. Currently, politicians who are convicted of crimes that carry a jail sentence of more than two years are barred from contesting elections for six years after they leave prison. If the Election Commission’s recommendations become the rule, they would not be permitted to contest elections ever again. For example, this would mean that former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s VK Sasikala would be barred from fighting elections.

Upadhyay’s plea was, to some extent, a demand for parity. He pointed out that public servants are debarred from holding any government job if they are convicted even for a year, “but people’s representatives are totally immune from such deterrent penalties”. His plea, however, is predicated on the suggestion that the current rules for disqualification of Members of Parliament or state assemblies for six years is ultra vires the Constitution or beyond its scope.
The Centre, replying to the petition in April, opposed Upadhyay’s view on legislative grounds, saying simply that the courts have no cause to intervene when Parliament has created a law to this end. That is a sensible view and one the court ought to take into consideration despite the Election Commission’s recommendation. But even if Parliament were to consider a lifetime ban, that would be problematic.

There is a reason that India’s judicial system does not itself have true life sentences. Prison terms in the country are meant to be reformative, not punitive. Although reality may not match the intention, the idea of putting someone in jail is not just to punish them but to provide them with the conditions to re-enter society. A lifetime ban flies in the face of this, since it gives convicted politicians no chance or incentive to reform themselves. At the same time, bans aren’t exactly always useful either, as the continued political involvement of Lalu Prasad Yadav shows.

Considering all this, it is important for India to uphold the principles of its judicial system. We seek to reform and not punish. Following that, voters are wise enough to judge politicians who have finished their jail terms. The current system, a limited ban of six years – meant to be a deterrent and also a means of preventing the immediate use of coercive criminal power – seems both sensible and appropriate.

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Punditry

  1. The recapitalisation effort is useless without accompanying reforms that can prevent a recurrence, writes Ajit Ranadae in the Hindu.
  2. “An unthinking diversion of the armed forces for routine civilian tasks seems highly affordable but has long-term costs for the country. The government should remember the lessons from the 1950s,” writes Sushant Sinha in the Indian Express.
  3. “Policymakers would do well to build on recent gains with an accelerated pace of reforms in areas such as land, labour and contract enforcement, which will help push investment and growth in the medium to long run,” says a leader in Mint.
  4. “Despite the power differential, India successfully raised the cost of China’s land grab activities at Doklam, a feat that even the U.S. has struggled to accomplish in East Asia,” writes Samir Saran in the Hindustan Times.

Giggle

Don’t miss

Girish Shahane says that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was a bigot not just by modern standards but also by the ones held by his peers and predecessors.

“Should we not criticise sportspersons who take money to fix matches unless they do so in most games they play? Should we defend sexual predators on the grounds that the vast majority of their interactions with women are respectful? Should we object to a serial killer being called a psychopath because we can’t be sure why he targeted particular victims but not hundreds of other people he met? It is important to push back against the Hindutvavadi idea of Muslim rulers as genocidal maniacs who destroyed shrines indiscriminately. But it is imperative we do it without explaining away Muslim religious prejudice where it exists. That’s what clear eyed thinkers like Tagore, Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar managed in their assessment of medieval India. For all their differences, none of them turned apologists for past zealotry in their effort to counter contemporary biases. It’s a pity that Truschke fails to distinguish between Nehru’s assessment of Aurangzeb and that of Hindu right-wingers.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.