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Leave politics to politicians, Khurshid advises Anna

Nagpur, Oct 8 (IANS) Union Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid Saturday took a pot shot at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stating that it has no right to question the constitutional validity of the National Advisory Council (NAC). He also advised activist Anna Hazare to leave politics to politicians and work on social issues.

On Hazare’s campaign against the Congress in the ensuing state elections, he said: ‘Anna should leave politics to us. He should concentrate more on social issues.’

Speaking to reporters at a function organised by Nagpur Union of Working Journalists, Khurshid’s comments on the RSS came after the organisation’s chief Mohan Bhagwat criticised the NAC which is led by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

‘Those who do not unfurl the national tricolour (flag) at their headquarters and buildings on Independence Day and Republic Day have no moral right to talk about the constitutional validity of NAC,’ Khurshid said.

During a Dussehra rally Thursday, Bhagwat criticised the NAC and opposed the Communal Violence Bill drafted by the panel.

Bhagwat called the bill a ‘deceitful action of destructive minds detrimental to democratic values’.

Khurshid, when later questioned about the Lokpal Bill, said that the bill would be brought in the ensuing winter session of parliament for debate and consideration.

‘The government is keeping its word given to (activist) Anna Hazare when he broke the fast that the Lokpal Bill will be re-drafted. The standing committee (of parliament) is holding deliberations to make the bill a comprehensive piece of legislation,’ he said.

Khurshid said that by December the government would bring a slew of legislations including a bill on transparency in public procurements, citizens’ charter, electoral reforms, protection to whistle-blowers and strengthening the Central Vigilance Commission.

Responding to a query about Hazare’s demand for right to recall an elected representative, Khurshid said it was as impractical as holding elections all over the country on one day.

‘Conducting free and fair elections takes too much time and effort, the recall facility would only complicate the matters,’ he said.

Politics for young Singaporeans

In the face of rapid social and political changes, the government plans to shift its education system more towards building character and values and understanding local politics.

IT comes at a time when Singaporeans are clamouring for a greater degree of personal liberties and liberal democracy in a city where bonds are being diluted by mass foreign arrivals.

In the eyes of the government, they require a new effort to reinforce national and individual values, particularly in politics, which had guided the city for the past 46 years.

On Wednesday, the government announced a record-high population of 5.18 million, of which 37% came from abroad. This was another growth of 2.1% in the past six months.

The continuing influx has raised resentment among Singaporeans and the government has organised community programmes to integrate the different communities.

Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat’s concern is not only in dealing with larger numbers of students or improving academic quality, but also ensuring that youths respond rationally.

From official comments so far, the concept seems to be two-pronged – one being to mould student behaviour towards others, particularly foreigners living in their midst.

The 50-year-old minister defined moral values and responsible behaviour as “respect, responsibility, care and appreciation towards others”.

The second part – likely to be more controversial – is to get students to understand politics a la Singapore.

He told a recent seminar that political values would be included such as responsibilities of citizenship.

“As a young nation with a short history of independence, we must have informed, rugged and resilient citizens.”

When the students graduate, he said “they would stay united to overcome crises and adversities which we must expect to happen from time to time”.

Heng, one-time principal private secretary to former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, became Education Minister after his election in May and is believed to be earmarked for a higher leadership role.

His plan is not entirely new. Last year, the Education Ministry had set up a Citizenship Education Unit with a view to crafting “active citizens”.

“We may live on a small island but, unlike Robinson Crusoe, we do not live alone,” he told the gathering.

The new focus would get youths to be less self-centred, “to look beyond themselves and start to appreciate people whom they come into contact with regularly but seldom notice”.

His “citizenship” policy appears to differ with the stand of Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who described Singapore in a speech as “not a country, but a city”.

Heng not only thinks otherwise, but wants to implant the idea of citizenship deeply in the student mind.

The new objective is not only to develop the student academically, but also to get him to think of his own responsibilities in the wider society.

The public reaction to the plan is likely to be mixed, with many parents supporting moral and character training.

By nature, Singaporeans are generally conservative and stick to tradition – particularly the older folk.

“The teaching of social behaviour and values is a long time coming,” said a retired civil servant.

“The youths here are generally quick-learning and hard working but a bit too self-centred to live in a global city,” he added. “A ‘values-based’ education should balance things.”

However, the idea of political teaching may not go down too well with many people in the wake of the May election in which 40% of people voted against the ruling party.

To some, it stirs suspicions of “political brainwashing” of young minds.

When the idea was first mooted last year, leaders of the People’s Action Party (PAP) had expressed concern that Singaporeans were becoming too influenced by “Western-type democracy”.

Ever since the election, Lee Kuan Yew has condemned the principle of a two-party political system as detrimental for Singapore.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is a few shades less hard-hitting than him and has pledged to implement reforms gradually.

In a talk to foreign correspondents in 2005, PM Lee said: “I think in 20 years our society will change. I think the politics of it will change. But I do not see a Western model … as the target we want to aim for.”

Critics fear that the political programme would be used “to clean youthful minds” so that the ruling party can remain in power.

“The classroom can easily be turned into an arena for political campaigning on behalf of the ruling party behind the veneer of providing an all-rounded curriculum,” said Ng E-jay in his online feedback.

“This is crossing the line. Politics should stay out of the classroom,” commented surfer gil.

Will it work?

Some teachers believe it is a lot easier to teach social values and individual behaviour than it is implanting political values in an individual.

It will even be tougher to make the learning stick as he grows into an adult.

“Students are not stupid these days. Unlike us 30 years ago, these kids are well informed, having access to the Internet,” said acacia. He said he would be surprised if they took such lessons seriously.

The average student today generally pays little interest to politics, and such a programme might completely turn him off the lectures, said a polytechnic student.

Or, he added, it could be a disaster for the PAP. “Instead of supporting the ruling party, they could well rotate to the opposition parties,” he said.

Besides, such value teaching can badly backfire if the political leaders and teachers do not follow the “right values” that they want students to learn.

Flouting the Law, Pastors Will Take On Politics

The sermons, on what is called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, essentially represent a form of biblical bait, an effort by some churches to goad the Internal Revenue Service into court battles over the divide between religion and politics.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit legal defense group whose founders include James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, sponsors the annual event, which started with 33 pastors in 2008. This year, Glenn Beck has been promoting it, calling for 1,000 religious leaders to sign on and generating additional interest at the beginning of a presidential election cycle.

“There should be no government intrusion in the pulpit,” said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., who led preachers in the battle to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. “The freedom of speech and the freedom of religion promised under the First Amendment means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say.”

Mr. Garlow said he planned to inveigh against same-sex marriage, abortion and other touchstone issues that social conservatives oppose, and some ministers may be ready to encourage parishioners to vote only for those candidates who adhere to the same views or values.

“I tell them that as followers of Christ, you wouldn’t vote for someone who was against what God said in his word,” Mr. Garlow said. “I will,  in effect, oppose several candidates and — de facto — endorse others.”

Two Republican candidates in particular, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, would presumably benefit from some pulpit politics on Sunday, since they have been courting Christian conservatives this year.

Participating ministers plan to send tapes of their sermons to the I.R.S., effectively providing the agency with evidence it could use to take them to court.

But if history is any indication, the I.R.S. may continue to steer clear of the taunts.

“It’s frustrating,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defense. “The law is on the books but they don’t enforce it, leaving churches in limbo.”

Supporters of the law are equally vexed by the tax agency’s perceived inaction. “We have grave concerns over the current inability of the I.R.S. to enforce the federal tax laws applicable to churches,” a group of 13 ministers in Ohio wrote in a letter to the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, in July.

Marcus Owens, the lawyer representing the Ohio ministers, warned that the I.R.S.’s failure to pursue churches for politicking violations would encourage more donations to support their efforts, taking further advantage of the new leeway given to advocacy groups under the Supreme Court’s decision last year in the Citizens United case.

Lois G. Lerner, director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations Division, said in an e-mail that “education has been and remains the first goal of the I.R.S.’s program on political activity by tax-exempt organizations.” The agency has posted “guidance” on what churches can and cannot do on its Web site.

The agency says it has continued to do audits of some churches, but those are not disclosed. Mr. Stanley, Mr. Owens and other lawyers say they are virtually certain it has no continuing audits of church political activity, an issue that has been a source of contention in recent elections.

The alliance and many other advocates regard a 1954 law prohibiting churches and their leaders from engaging in political campaigning as a violation of the First Amendment and wish to see the issue played out in court. The organization points to the rich tradition of political activism by churches in some of the nation’s most controversial battles, including the pre-Revolutionary war opposition to taxation by the British, slavery and child labor.

The legislation, sponsored by Lyndon Baines Johnson, then a senator, muzzled all charities in regards to partisan politics, and its impact on churches may have been an unintended consequence. At the time, he was locked in a battle with two nonprofit groups that were loudly calling him a closet communist.

Thirty years later, a group of senators led by Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, passed legislation to try to rein in the agency a bit in doing some audits. While audits of churches continued over the years, they appeared to have slowed down considerably after a judge rebuffed the agency’s actions in a case involving the Living Word Christian Center and a supposed endorsement of Ms. Bachmann in 2007. The I.R.S. had eliminated positions through a reorganization, and therefore, according to the judge, had not followed the law when determining who could authorize such audits.