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The Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly ducked the issue of debating directly the national issues with BJP’s prime ministerial prospect Narendra Modi.
Mr. Gandhi, take it easy. You can debate without sharing the podium with Mr. Modi. Both of them can give their considered opinion on the core issues, which they have so far largely avoided in their speeches. 
They deserve a break from competitive populism which they practice in abundance. For a change, they can shift gears from peddling dreams to meeting grave challenges faced by the country. 
They should not shy away from taking a forthright stand on issues that remain unresolved even 67 years after the Independence.  They must suggest specific means to resolve these issues.
Certain core issues that have so far not figured in the political babble are: 1) population control - an issue on which there has been 101% consensus in Parliament and which had even frightened eminent healthcare experts even under the British rule; 2) advocacy, enlargement and enforcement of 11 fundamental duties of the citizens listed in the Indian Constitution;  3) ushering in civil code as proposed by the Constitution instead of deepening the religious and caste divides through vote-bank politics including caste census; 4) implementation of reforms recommended by The  National  Commission  to  Review   the  Working  of  the  Constitution  (NCRWC) and 5) colossal deficit in the implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in the domain of public welfare. 
In this column, a serious attempt has been made to set the eternal agenda for peace and development by drafting questions for both the prime ministerial prospects. Certain questions are specifically addressed either to Mr. Gandhi or to Mr. Modi. Other questions are common for both of them.
 A question specifically addressed to one leader might well be equally valid for the other.  All the issues should also be addressed by smaller political parties as well as by the rookies, the Aam Aadmi Party that supposedly represents the common man. 
The inspiration for drafting the serious agenda are certain observations made by Mr. Gandhi in a recent interview to the Times Now TV channel.  
In that interview, he stated: “We have to change the way the system works. We are always talking about peripheral things.” 
Any serious student of development economics would agree with him on this count. Most of the country’s opinion leaders including loud-mouthed TV anchors love to beat about the bush. They often confuse symptoms with the disease, leave aside going to the root cause.
In the interview, Mr. Gandhi also stated: “I’m being attacked because I’m asking questions that are dangerous to the system. And I’m not asking superficial questions. I’m not asking questions over here (pointing at the ceiling). I’m asking questions over there (pointing to the ground). And everybody understands that this fellow here is not just a superficial chap who talks. This fellow over here is thinking deeply and is thinking long term. That’s why I’m attacked. I understand that. And frankly, attack me all you want. Beat me to death. It’s not going to stop me. I’m going to keep doing it. And I’m going to ask the questions that are relevant.”
The fact is Mr. Gandhi rarely raises serious issues and has certainly avoided core issues perhaps to avoid stones. And whenever he has raised serious but not dangerous issues, he has not provided the means to resolve them. And whenever he has given a sage advice, he has failed to articulate it. 
A case in point is his observation that poverty is just a state of mind, which was laughed at by his critics. Poverty has many dimensions. He obviously had one dimension in mind when he stated this last year at a meeting where the reporters were not invited. 
When the Press and the social media mocked at his view on poverty incorporated in a press release issued by an Institute in Allahabad in August 2013, he did not come forward to elaborate on this philosophical and psychological issue.  
Mr. Gandhi perhaps was referring to an average illiterate Indian’s blind faith in fatalism. Such persons are either reconciled to fate or are looking for dole-outs from the administration or seeking blessings from self-styled god men, etc. India needs a genuine inspirational leader who should educate and inspire poor people to learn to stand on their own feet.   
Those who struggled to overcome poverty with scientific temperament and 3G (guts, grit and gumption) can understand what Mr. Gandhi meant. His belief reminds me of an essay that was written by the Sage of Harvard, Professor William James, perhaps 100 or more years ago. 
As a university student, I read the essay captioned ‘Blessed are those born poor’ in the seventies to generate the will-power to come out of poverty and its associated ills including class discrimination. 
Coming back to the agenda for debate, the first question on the lack of political will to pursue a long-term vision for India requires a long preface.
Both the houses of Parliament had passed a historic resolution ‘Agenda for India’ on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Independence, 26th August to 1 September 1997.  
The Agenda has embodied MPs’ resolve as: we “now solemnly affirm our joint and unanimous commitment to the issues hereinafter mentioned, and we also do solemnly resolve and direct that they be adopted as minimum tasks, constituting our ‘agenda for India’ on this historic occasion.”
And the most crucial initiative mentioned in the Resolution reads as: “That a vigorous national campaign be launched by all political parties to  combat  economically  unsustainable growth of population, recognizing that such growth lies at the root  of  most  of  our  human,  social  and economic problems.”
This Resolution in fact echoes the observations made by The Health Survey & Development Committee (HSDC) that submitted its report in 1946 during the Raj era. In its three-volume report, HSDC under the chairmanship of Sir Joseph Bhore had the courage and vision to write a chapter titled ‘The population problem’ even though this issue was not listed in its terms of reference.
The Committee stated “growth of population may be prevented from becoming a serious menace to the standard of life of the community in the following ways:- (a) by emigration; (b) by increasing the production of natural resources and (c) by a reduction in the rate of additions to population.” 
Referring to science and planning-driven prospects of increasing production, it observed that there are limits to economic productivity and uncontrolled growth of population must not be allowed to outstrip the productivity capacity of the country. 
As put by Bhore Committee, “the elimination of unemployment, the provision of a living wage, improvement in agricultural and industrial production, the development of village roads and rural communications, as distinct from the great national highways now projected, are all many facets of a single problem calling for attention, though it lies outside our province to more than make a passing but pointed reference to them.”
No political party has ever gone to the public before or after the elections with message extolling the virtues of family planning, which was advocated by Bhore Committee. 
No party has educated the masses about the inter-connection between population explosion, poverty, environmental degradation, social unrest and crimes. 
Congress Party has done exactly the opposite of what was envisioned in the Agenda for India. Congress-led UPA banished the word ‘population control’ from the official parlance! 
In the UPA annual report dubbed, The Report to the People, released in May 2007, UPA says: “The use of the term population control has been dropped. The emphasis is on voluntary acceptance through awareness creation and better access rather than on a target oriented approach through directives from the State.”
UPA has also ruled out revival of the two children per couple family planning norm. Replying to the question in Rajya Sabha in April 2013, the Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare A.H.K. Choudhury stated: “The Family Welfare Programme in India is voluntary in nature, which enables a couple to adopt the family planning methods, best suited to them, according to their choice, without any compulsion. They are free to decide about the size of their family. Therefore, the policy of the Government is to promote small family norm without prescribing for any number of children.”  
Had UPA sincerely implemented National Population Policy (NPP), 2000, the country’s population would have been an estimated110 crores in 2010 as compared to 121 crore as per the 2011 Census. 
 The UPA can thus take dubious credit for creating this additional liability of 10 crore population.  As if this was not enough, it last year kick-started acceleration of population growth through the National Food Security Act (NFSA). 
NFSA says: “Every pregnant woman and lactating mother shall be entitled to (a) meal, free of charge, during pregnancy and six months after the child birth, through the local anganwadi, so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II; and (b) maternity benefit of not less than rupee six thousand, in such installments as may be prescribed by the Central Government…”
UPA released an Imli (tamarind)-centric video advertisement on TV channels in which one woman is seen luring a reluctant woman to become pregnant as NFSA would take care of all delivery expenses.
The population forecasting entities would have to factor in the impact of this incentive for procreation in their future projections about India. 
Prior to enactment of NFSA, a United Nations agency estimated that India’s population is likely to surpass that of China by 2025. And the country is likely to have a population of 170 crore by 2060. 
Notwithstanding this frightening outlook and half-hearted implementation of the NPP 2000, UPA ruled out a review of NPP 2000 in an answer to question on population control put in Lok Sabha in May 2012.
Questions for Mr. Gandhi: Why has your party washed off its hands from the ‘Agenda for India’ in general and population control in particular? If not, will you incorporate population control as the foremost issue in your election manifesto for 2014? If you sit in the Opposition, will you pressure the Government relentlessly to take swift and decisive measures to control population?
Questions for Mr. Modi: BJP has forthrightly pitched for population control in its three previous manifestos for 1998, 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Would BJP make population control the foremost issue in 2014 manifesto? Can you list a few initiatives to control population? Why has BJP not repeatedly raised issue of population control in Parliament as it is the mother of all socio-economic problems? 
Population-centric questions for both Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Modi: A few MPs have had the courage to introduce private members’ bills on population control over the last several years. Three instances in point are: The Booming Population Control Bill, 2009, The Population Control Bill, 2002 and The Population Control Bill, 2000 introduced in Rajya Sabha. Why neither BJP nor the Congress supported such bills? 
What is your stance on the proposal to limit and link all welfare benefits including subsidies and job reservations to the small family norms?
Should India not embrace the one-child per family norm? Should India not introduce pollution control tax on couples that have more than two children and utilize the proceeds to protect environment? 
If you form the Government, would you honour Sir Bhore, Sanjay Gandhi and all others who had the foresight and courage to tackle India’s number one enemy – population explosion? 
Why neither NDA nor the UPA amended the Constitution to incorporate in the Directive Principles a provision for population control as recommended by NCRWC? (The Commission noted with concern that proper planning and monitoring of the socio-economic development of the country is considerably hampered and neutralized by the exponential growth of population. It thus recommended that an article should be added as a directive principle of state policy after article 47 of the Constitution. The suggested article reads as: “Art. 47A. Control of Population:- The State shall endeavour to secure control of population by means of education and implementation of small family norms.”)
Coming to the issue of fundamental duties of the citizens, the political class deserves kudos for triggering the rights revolution in the country. Politicians have vied with one another to dole out numerous subsidies and freebies of all kinds including colour television sets and gold. 
They have also competed to announce job reservations even though there are hardly any new jobs in the Government and its entities as outsourcing is the governance mantra across the country. Every section of the society, almost every Aam Adami is today vociferously demanding his hak (right) with benign indulgence by the judiciary, media and the NGOs. 
Duties-related Common questions for both: Can a nation escape anarchy where people are only obsessed with rights and are oblivious of their duties towards the society? Why are politicians including Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Modi averse to speaking with full zeal about the fundamental duties of the citizens? 
One of the fundamental duties of the citizens is: “to safeguard public property and to abjure violence.” 
Is it not a fact that destruction of public property by lumpen elements at the accident sights and politically-motivated agitating mobs has become the unwritten rule of the law due to poor governance? 
When will the BJP, Congress and other parities wake up to create mechanism to prod, if not force, people to perform their duties? 
Will your party fine-tune and enlarge the duties or at least implement NCRWC’s recommendation to make two additions to the list of fundamental duties? (The recommended duties are: (i) To foster a spirit of family values and responsible parenthood in the matter of education, physical and moral well-being of children.
(ii) Duty of industrial organizations to provide education to children of their employees.)
Apart from duties of the citizens, there are several tasks that the Government has not performed. What is the utility of the present Constitution when it is invoked selectively by the system? Has the Constitution not outlived its utility? Should it not be amended substantially at one go or replaced with a new one keeping in view the experience in its implementation and future challenges? 
Should India change over to presidential form of Government on the US pattern? Should India not install closed circuit TVs at all public places to stem corruption and other crimes?
Can the Legislature and the Executive perform their duties sincerely to prevent the over-indulgence of the Judiciary, the NGOs and the Media in formulation of policies and clearance of projects that are required to create jobs and to avoid social unrest?
Common question for both on divide and rule politics: Has the caste, religion and region-based vote bank politics not weakened the national unity? Can any political party single-handedly form a Government at the Centre amidst these fissiparous trends? 
Questions for Mr. Gandhi: When would the Government make public the results of the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011? What impact it would have on the vociferous demand for caste-based welfare schemes including reservations? 
Would the India’s first post-Independence caste census not reinforce the existing caste system and status quo and thus go against your own goal of changing the system and breaking the status quo? Would it trigger caste war for scarce resources and virtually non-existing Government jobs? 
Questions for Mr. Modi: What are the prospects of SECC turning to another Mandal Commission report that triggered political and social unrest? The results of SECC are unlikely to be available before the Lok Sabha polls and in that case, would BJP-led Government make them public if it comes to power? 
Common questions for both: Do you have the political will to usher in Civil Code, which is pre-requisite for a democratic, egalitarian and rule-based society? If so, can you set a timeline for this? How can there be secularism and equality in a society that is allowed to be governed by numerous religious customs, caste diktats and blatant discrimination against women? 
Questions on delegation of powers for Mr. Gandhi: At the Jaipur AICC session in January 2013, you had stated: “The balance of power in national decision-making must shift away from Delhi and the state capitals to the last Panchayat and Municipal Ward.” 
Do you intend to request the Prime Minister to act on this laudable objective by implementing the recommendations of   Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR) that submitted its seven-volume report in April 2010? 
Will you request PM to convene a meeting of Inter-State Council (ISC), which has not met since 6th December 2006? And when will you also request Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to implement UPA-I national common minimum programme’s (NCMP’s) commitment on federalism. 
(NCMP says: “The UPA government will make the National Development Council (NDC) a more effective instrument of cooperative federalism. The NDC will meet at least twice a year and in different states. Immediately, the NDC will take up the issue of the financial health of states and arrive at a national consensus on specific steps to be taken in this regard. The Inter-State Council will also be activated.”)
Question for Mr. Modi: As Chief Minister, you have always worked for and fought for delegation of power and resources to the State, would you retain the same spirit if you become PM or toe the line set by successive PMs? 
Questions on RTI and transparency for Mr. Gandhi: In the Times Now interview, you said: “I am absolutely for transparency. There are questions about the RTI that need to be discussed and thought through.” You also observed: “There's nothing in the debate about how we're going to move forward on the RTI paradigm.” 
The actual situation is, however, different. There is hardly any suo moto disclosure as provided for by the RTI Act. Even the routine information that affects the future of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes has been kept under wraps.  
The implementation deficit in transparency arena can be illustrated by citing three cases. The annual reports of National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) for 2005-06 and subsequent years have not yet been made public perhaps because the Government has not taken decision on recommendations contained in these reports.  
Similarly, annual reports of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes for 2006-07 onwards have not yet been put in public domain. Another instance of implementation deficit is UPA’s failure to make public the action taken reports (ATR) on three crucial reports of Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC). 
The three reports are: ‘Public Order’ report submitted in June 2007, ‘Refurbishing Personnel Administration – Scaling New Heights’ report released in December 2008 and the report titled ‘Combating Terrorism-Protecting by Righteousness’ that was released in June 2008. 
One can cite any number of examples to show the frustrating gaps in implementation of RTI and in imparting transparency in governance. Why have you overlooked such glaring deficit? 
Question for Mr. Modi: What do you have to say about periodic new reports about murder of RTI activists in Gujarat and the State Government’s reluctance to disclose information on crucial issues including your travel expenditure?  
There are several more serious questions that the two Prime ministerial candidates should answer. Let the debate start. Many more serious questions would come from different quarters. Let us find out who shows the arrogance in avoiding serious issues and the implicit brickbats in public discourse. 
(Published by taxindiaonline.com on 10th February 2014)
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