Irom Sharmila breaks fast
It is indeed good news that the iron-hearted anti-AFSPA activist from Manipur, Irom Sharmila, will now end her 16-year long fast and join the electoral fray. Sharmila is also reported to be keen to get married to her British (India-settled) partner. For many reasons, AFSPA may not get repealed any time soon. But, at the same time, practical steps must be taken to avoid harassment of ordinary citizens at the hands of armed force personnel, pleading ‘insurgency’, ‘terrorism’, etc. The government must adopt a new Panchsheel (five-stepped solution) to heal the wounds of its subjects in the North East. As a start, it must include and explain in all textbooks in schools in all states of India the following about the North East: a) the heroic sacrifice of the likes of Sharmila and the Manipuri mothers who protested the rape and killing of a woman by army personnel, of Laldenga (Mizoram) and the other prominent leaders and people of the region; b) the administative steps India is taking and the annual budget allotment for the regions’ development; c) how the conditions are also difficult for the police and army personnel deployed there; d) steps taken to educate army and police personnel to be people-friendly (the government could set up a 24-hours hotline to complain about any excesses); and highlight the region’s contributions to national economy, welfare and international recognition (the likes of Assam tea, tourist spots such as Mawsynram in Meghalaya, Kaziranga in Assam, etc). It would help if the media regularly covered the initiatives for the welfare of the region and helped sensitise the rest of the country to respect the differences in culture, clothing, food and other aspects they may find with their fellow citizens from the region.
GST deadlock resolved
The government has taken a significant step forward by clearing the changes in the Constitutional Amendment Bill relating to the crucial economic reform, the Goods and Service Tax (GST), that will bring about a common tax rate across the country. The additional 1% tax for producing states has been done away with and a provision has been made for compensating all states for any revenue loss in the first five years post the GST rollout. The Congress should now see reason and drop its illogical demand for specifying the GST rate in the Constitution itself as this will make it compulsory to have a constitutional amendment every time the GST rate is to be revised. The GST rate may be part of the GST Bill to be legislated separately by the Centre and the states. The government could have done much earlier what it did now, and would not have wasted so much time. However, as it is said, it is better late than never.