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Tuesday, March 23, 1999
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editorials

Two major lapses
P
ARLIAMENT as an institution is witnessing an erosion of its role and relevance, thanks to the immature or shortsighted policies of the members and their parties. The proceedings of last week brought out this sad development in a chilling fashion.

Bihar needs consensual rule
I
N the wake of the deteriorating law and order situation, Bihar needs surgically cleansing treatment. The recent Senari massacre has shown a new dimension of the ultra-Left outfits which continue with their killing game.

Rape insurance!
T
HERE is no gender-divide on the question that rape is as heinous a crime as murder. There is also no division of opinion that society needs to show greater sensitivity to the victims and that the existing laws on the subject are evidently not adequate for securing the conviction of rapists.

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STATE OF THE NATION
by T. V. Rajeswar

T
HE BJP government has completed a year in office. The Pokhran-II nuclear explosions on May 11 and 13 were the first major event after the BJP government took office. While the public opinion and most political parties welcomed Pokhran-II as an important step towards India’s defence preparedness, some BJP stalwarts unnecessarily created complications by indulging in sabre-rattling on India’s newly acquired nuclear capability.

Bhagat Singh: the family connection
by K. L. Johar

S
EVERAL pink posters written by Bhagat Singh in his own hand appeared on the walls of the city of Lahore on December 18, 1928, a day after the assassination of Saunders, an arrogant police officer who had used his baton mercilessly on the ageing Lala Lajpat Rai.



Real Politik

Congress set for confrontation
by P. Raman

S
UDDENLY, the political scenario is undergoing rapid change. Almost all major political parties are engaged in a reassessment of strategies due to pulls and pressures from within and outside. The sudden shift in the Congress game plan, revolts and split in parties like the Bihar Samata and feeble attempts to bring together the BJP allies — all this signals subterranean disturbances.

delhi durbar

Swamy who is Man Friday of government
T
HE Swamys have not augured well for the ruling party at the Centre for quite some time now. Remember the self-styled “godman” Chandraswamy and the problems he created for the erstwhile Congress Government led by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

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Shy greetings
by I. M. Soni

S
ALUTATIONS by students are the most expressive form of their body language. Just as their eyes, facial expressions, gait and other parts of the body reveal their mind, so does their mode of saluting their teachers. Sometimes, the salutations conceal more than they reveal but even then they communicate. Thus concealing itself becomes revealing.


75 Years Ago

Princes of Kathiawar
THE Princes and Chiefs of Kathiawar met together at Jamnagar with their Ministers and Karbharis to discuss Bikaner and the Maharao of Cutch also happened to be present. Sir Prabhashanker Pattani represented Bhavnagar.

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Two major lapses

PARLIAMENT as an institution is witnessing an erosion of its role and relevance, thanks to the immature or shortsighted policies of the members and their parties. The proceedings of last week brought out this sad development in a chilling fashion. The Rajya Sabha remained mostly paralysed over the rule under which a debate is to be conducted; the more important question of the debate itself had earlier been solved in an easy manner. In the lower House, a similar demand and an order issued in 1997 by the United Front government held up functioning. With the members shouting and crowding the well, there was more heat than light and this reflected in the behaviour of both the government and the opposition. The former forgot to table the Bill to convert into law an ordinance making the Central Vigilance Commission a statutory authority. And the latter failed to be vigilant. After all the proposal to vest the CVC with autonomy has come from the Supreme Court and it is the moral and political obligation of the BJP and the Congress, as the biggest parties in the two camps, to legislate this vital change. A more efficient floor management by the BJP and a more constructive approach by the Congress in the Rajya Sabha would have averted the lapsing of the ordinance on April 6 and the CVC reverting back to being a government department and the CBI back under the PMO control. A big mess, and both parties have a lot of explaining to do.

A more temporary but an acutely embarrassing miss is about the vote-on-account. The Rajya Sabha is yet to pass it and approval of both Houses of Parliament is necessary for the government to draw money from the Consolidated Fund of India. But the government is confident that it is on a strong wicket thanks to a safety valve in the Constitution. This is the first time since Independence that there has been a fiasco of this nature. It would not do to just blame this or that political party. It suggests a systemic failure. That would be setting a wrong precedent, even if it is constitutionally permissible. Prime Minister Vajpayee has accused the Congress of being “obstructionist” and the latter has rebutted it, saying that it helped the government pass the CVC Bill within three hours in the Lok Sabha. But the problem relates to the Rajya Sabha and there the party had been obstructionist during the last three days of the first phase of the budget session. This comes out tellingly from what it defines as its role. Last year the Congress said it would function as a constructive opposition party; now it says it is an opposition party and it will act as one. That change shows!
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Bihar needs consensual rule

IN the wake of the deteriorating law and order situation, Bihar needs surgically cleansing treatment. The recent Senari massacre has shown a new dimension of the ultra-Left outfits which continue with their killing game. Political parties are issuing self-contradictory statements or maligning the Union Government for the episodes of murder and mayhem. One feels particularly shocked to find Home Minister L.K. Advani defending his Ministry's role. It is a fact that soon after the revocation of President's rule and the unceremonious transfer of Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari, 17 effective companies of the Central paramilitary forces were withdrawn from sensitive areas. A request was made to the Prime Minister by the state leadership for making available at least 50 additional companies. The Ranvir Sena is a destructive force and its record of blood-letting in the Bhojpur area cannot be forgotten in Jehanabad or in Delhi. There is a bit of needless confusion about this gang of killers hired by landlords. It was formed in Bhojpur district in 1992 by the landed peasantry for its safety. It gradually took the shape of a "private army". Between 1992 and 1996, this loosely-knit edifice of goons and goondas succeeded in eliminating a large number of Leftist extremists. Bhojpur is now relatively calm. The Ranvir Sena has shifted its focus on Jehanabad, Gaya and Patna. Mass killings are not rooted in group rivalries and cast feuds. Here is a full-fledged battle between the murderous gangs of the landlords and the violent volunteers of the ultra-Leftist outfits. Reprisals know no end. The atmosphere is full of destructive potential.

The Congress played a dangerous role by opposing Rabri rule and then acting in Parliament in a politically naive manner to have the sacked Chief Minister restored to her seat. The Bharatiya Janata Party is indulging in a war of words and wasting its breath on criticising the Congress while Bihar is bleeding. The Samata Party is as good as dead. The Left has adopted an ambivalent attitude. The present problem does not concern only a large geographical entity or nine crore citizens of India. It is related to national peace, communal harmony and the stability of the nation. There are only three options: Let these hapless people live and die in accordance with the will of the rival mafia groups patronised by the rich and the powerful under the "leadership" of Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav; impose President's rule again and deal with the deteriorating condition under the direct guidance of the Union Government; dissolve the State Assembly and go in for fresh elections to form a new government. None of these options seems to be immediately preferable. What does the state do in this kind of a crisis? No one in his right senses will condone the nefarious and pro-criminal role of Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, the proxy ruler. Similarly, it will be unreasonable to ignore the politicking of the Congress and the Left. There is a dire need for dealing with Bihar in a politically consensual manner. All leading groups should put their heads together and work for bringing the peaceless state's administration back into its place and save the life and limb of the citizens. Bihar is not a one-party issue. It is a challenge impregnated with an opportunity. The blood bath should be stopped at all costs. Land reforms should be implemented with absolute strictness. The mafia should be dealt with ruthlessly. No Bihari should be seen either as a high-caste man or as a low-grade individual. He should be treated as an Indian. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is never tired of talking about the indivisibility of the Indian community. Will he, along with the wise and secular President, act swiftly, get the organised gangs disarmed throughout the state and end the anarchy? Much will depend on the nature of today’s bandh.
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Rape insurance!

THERE is no gender-divide on the question that rape is as heinous a crime as murder. There is also no division of opinion that society needs to show greater sensitivity to the victims and that the existing laws on the subject are evidently not adequate for securing the conviction of rapists. And there should be no discordant note from among the concerned citizens in attacking the proposal to provide insurance cover to rape victims. The reaction of women activists to the preposterous and revolting proposal was swift and correct. While some of them held street demonstrations in Delhi against the insurance scheme for rape victims other groups shot off letters to the National Commission for Women and the Prime Minister expressing their indignation. A society which is grappling to find the right answer for putting the fear of law or God or both in potential rapists can do without such hair-brained scheme as has been offered by the insurance sector. The details of the scheme would make any self-respecting citizen seeth with rage at the audacity of those who see in the crime of rape the opportunity to make money while promising monetary help to the victims. For an annual premium of Rs 15 “rape insurance” could not have been offered any cheaper. But like all insurance schemes this one too has disqualification clauses. A girl below the age of seven would not be provided “rape cover” although statistics show a disturbing increase in cases involving cradle and crawling children as victims. And women above the age of 75 too stand disqualified although in a rare case a 110-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a 90-year-old man.

The nauseating scheme is silent on the quantum of relief to victims of gangrape. Will the number of rapists make any difference to the claim of a victim? What formalities would the victims have to complete to satisfy the assessors of the genuineness of their claims? Then there is the troublesome question of the promptness of the insurance companies in settling claims. Would it be linked to the conviction of the rapist by a court of law? A million questions can be raised to drill holes in the obnoxious scheme. It is evidently a product of as sick as mind as that of a rapist. The scheme should be immediately withdrawn and those associated with giving shape and substance to the proposal should be awarded exemplary punishment for showing gender disrespect. As it is, a large number of rape cases go unreported because of the humiliation of having to answer embarrassing questions in open court. Now the insurance sector wants the victims to “book” their prospective “rape” for Rs 15 per year and turn up at its counters and answer equally humiliating questions “after the event” for the settlement of claims. It, perhaps, never occurred to the insensitive men of the insurance sector that they may have to turn down genuine claims for want of sufficient evidence and that bogus claims stand a better chance of getting cleared in a society which thrives on picking loopholes in even the most perfect scheme. And rape insurance, in any case is a scheme which should have been shot down at the discussion stage.
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STATE OF THE NATION
Unending gloomy scenario
by T. V. Rajeswar

THE BJP government has completed a year in office. The Pokhran-II nuclear explosions on May 11 and 13 were the first major event after the BJP government took office. While the public opinion and most political parties welcomed Pokhran-II as an important step towards India’s defence preparedness, some BJP stalwarts unnecessarily created complications by indulging in sabre-rattling on India’s newly acquired nuclear capability. When Pakistan matched the events before the end of the month, the Indian subcontinent and indeed the Asian scene had undergone a major change. There are now three nuclear powers in Asia though China is way ahead.

International opinion, particularly the five nuclear powers including Russia, had been hostile, with the USA leading the tirade. Eight rounds of talks have been held between India’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and US Deputy Secretary of State Talbott, with every little progress having been recorded. Indeed, there is a vast divergence of views on basic issues such as signing the CTBT, the NPT, the missile technology and crucial issues relating to nuclear weapons.

In recent statements, Ms Albright, Mr Talbott and Mr Karl Inderfurth had announced that the sanctions against India would be substantially removed only when New Delhi signed the CTBT while the ban on transfer of technology of dual use would be permitted only when India signed the NPT. India on its part had asserted that there could be no fixity in India’s nuclear preparedness and as for signing the CTBT, the USA would have to sort out various outstanding problems, including the sanctions prior to India signing it. The next round of talks is slated for May, 1999, but if the recent trends are any indication, nothing much may come out of the next round either.

Speaking about India’s defence, the raging controversy over the dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat is likely to leave an indelible scar on the defence services. The charges made by Admiral Bhagwat, both at the Press Club of India and later in an affidavit, are so serious that they cannot be dismissed so easily. Whatever may be the outcome of the discussions in Parliament, it will be necessary to lay down certain firm procedures pertaining to promotion of officers to senior posts in the three services, the purchase of armaments and the relationship between the political masters and the service Chiefs.

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bus journey to Pakistan on February 20 is an important event and it has led to the lessening of tensions at least at the diplomatic and social levels. The Lahore Declaration had made a reference to the Shimla Pact and the need to sort out the Kashmir issue. Though Pakistan, from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif downwards, has been claiming that India had agreed to discuss the issue of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir, such claims have been firmly refuted. There is, however, no doubt that Kashmir has now come to the centrestage in the discussions between India and Pakistan.

Home Minister Advani claimed recently that the bomb, the bus service and Bihar were the three positive achievements of the BJP government. As for Bihar, the less said the better, having seen the fiasco of dismissal of the Rabri Devi government. Apart from the sad spectacle of Governor Bhandari, himself a senior RSS and BJP leader, having been put to unnecessary humiliation, the restoration of the Rabri Devi government is a serious setback to the BJP and one of its allies, the Samata Party. The Bihar episode now effectively pre-empts any more use of Article 356 of the Constitution by the Centre without the prior consent of all parties.

The law and order situation in the country is going from bad to worse, with the Capital at the top of the ascending crime graph. Robberies, dacoities, car-jackings, kidnappings for ransom and gang-warfare have been on the increase, particularly in the metropolitan cities of Delhi and Bombay. Attacks on women, including rapes, have been going up alarmingly. Accidental deaths on the roads have recorded a new high, again with Delhi leading the death rate. The disposal of the cases in the courts has been abysmally low and the conviction rate even lower. There is no need to burden the readers with figures to substantiate these. The situation denotes a very depressing account of the criminal justice administration.

The presentation of the Budget for 1999-2000 was preceded by an economic survey for the year 1998-99, submitted to Parliament on February 24. It claimed an economic growth rate of 5.8 per cent while industrial growth declined to 3.5 per cent. Trade deficit increased and exports recorded a fall. Both direct and portfolio investments by foreign investors also declined considerably.

The World Economic Forum, which met towards the end of 1998, drove home the point that India did not grasp the opportunity given by the South-East Asian crisis, and that the promised economic reforms had failed to materialise. The half-yearly “World Economic Outlook,” published by the IMF in September, 1998, also pointed out that if only New Delhi had shown greater fiscal discipline and faster economic reforms, “India could and should have done much better and would have been number one in Asia despite the US economic sanctions.” The artificial buoyancy in the stock exchanges and the euphoria over the Budget seem to be rather misleading.

Before we move away from the economic scene, a brief reference to the series of strikes which the country witnessed recently is called for. Air Traffic Controllers, bank employees, doctors of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and allied institutes and members of some of the scientific establishments had all been protesting and demanding a substantive increase in their emoluments. The Air Traffic Controllers disrupted the flights for nearly three weeks without the government taking any firm steps to sort out the issue. Likewise, the government did not bother to negotiate seriously with the doctors of AIIMS, and it was left to the High Court of Delhi to intervene in both these disputes and direct the government to work out settlements expeditiously. It was a strange spectacle that the court had to intervene and bring about a solution to the problems while the government abdicated its responsibility in both these instances.

The Ministry of Communications is in the throes of a controversy with the cellular phone operators, while the telecom policy itself is yet to be fully sorted out. The telecom policy has fallen on bad times right from the days of Mr Sukh Ram, the then minister concerned, in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government. Much could have been accomplished if only the telecom mission document worked out by Mr Sam Pitroda during Rajiv Gandhi’s time, had been fully implemented. A recent survey by an international agency has shown that there is one telephone for every 65.3 persons in India as against 56.1 in Pakistan, 22.4 in China, 5.5 in Malaysia and 2 in Singapore. The only countries more backward in this field are Bhutan, Nepal, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Cambodia. It speaks volumes of India’s backwardness and the muddled telecom policy over the years.

Politically, there is anything but stability at the Centre, and the one year which the BJP government has completed has been turbulent. There is general expectation that the mid-term poll for the Lok Sabha may be held any time early next year, if not earlier, and much depends upon the November elections in several states and their outcome. If the results of the elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as well as the opinion polls conducted by several agencies are any indication, the BJP is fast losing its following. The hostility of “Mandalised” and caste-based regional parties, the growing ascendancy in the popularity graph of the Congress party, and the open support extended to the Congress by the Leftists are all significant pointers. Even the BJP’s allies are not entirely willing to go along with it in all its policies. The continuing atmosphere of instability at the Centre, the serious law and order situation and the unsatisfactory economic climate do not augur well for the future of the nation.
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Bhagat Singh: the family connection
by K. L. Johar

SEVERAL pink posters written by Bhagat Singh in his own hand appeared on the walls of the city of Lahore on December 18, 1928, a day after the assassination of Saunders, an arrogant police officer who had used his baton mercilessly on the ageing Lala Lajpat Rai. Revolutionary in tone and tenor, the posters nearly summed up the social and political philosophy of Martyr Bhagat Singh. The posters read :

"The murder of a leader respected by millions of people at the unworthy hands of an ordinary police officer like J.P. Saunders was an insult to a nation. It was the bounden duty of the young men of India to efface it. Today, the world is seeing that the Indian people are ever watchful of the interest of the country and no cost is too great for them to defend its honour. We regret to have had to kill a person but he was the part and parcel of that inhuman and unjust order which has to be destroyed. In him, an agent of British rule has been done away with. Shedding of human blood grieves us but our objective is to work for a revolution which would end exploitation of man by man".

Besides avenging the gruesome assault and subsequent martyrdom of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhagat Singh had sent a clear signal to the administration that India could not take lying down the affront offered to it by the appointment of the "All-White" Simon Commission. The whole country deeply resented this mortal blow to its self-respect. A deep wave of rage and resentment swept through the country. There were black-flag demonstrations. It was in one such demonstration at Lahore on April 30, 1928, where Lala Lajpat Rai was brutally assaulted. Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Chandra Shekhar Azad, all members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, avenged the death by killing the insolent and haughty British police officer responsible for killing Lalaji.

Indian politics was passing through a stagnant phase in the twenties after the collapse of the Non-Cooperation Movement. The youth, in particular, across the country were boiling with rage. The ghastly and macabre stories of British atrocities weighed heavily on the mind of Bhagat Singh. The incidents of Kamaghata Maru, the execution of Kartar Singh Saraba and others, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and the Kakori Trials ending in the death of Ram Parsad Bismil and Ashfaq-ullah Khan, and the fate of Bengal revolutionaries strengthened his resolve to go full blast to promote the struggle and dislodge the wily British imperialism from the sacred soil of India. It was an era of bitter resistance followed by repression without mercy,of wanton trial for conspiracy and of vengeful application of punishment powers. It was a fight for survival and a struggle to break the fetters.

Bhagat Singh had made up his mind for the supreme sacrifice for two reasons. Firstly, he believed that his sacrifice would grease and oil the machinery of revolution, mobilise the youth and give a new impetus to the sagging morale of the Indian people. Secondly, he had planned to use the trial period for a full-blast propaganda against the humiliation and indignity being inflicted on the poor, innocent masses whose only fault was that they wanted to live in freedom. The plan worked as envisaged. The trial afforded Bhagat Singh an opportunity to make statements of rare historical value.

It is sometimes argued that if Bhagat Singh had not undertaken the undaunted task of dropping the bombs in the Central Assembly, the Saunders murder case might have gone into oblivion. But Bhagat Singh would never have opted for such a course as he wanted to put before the youth of the country an example of unrivalled sincerity and patriotism. The Saunders case came up as the "Lahore Conspiracy Case" in which Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukh Dev, after a farcical trial, were sentenced to death.

It is pertinent to make mention of a few cowardly deviations made by the jail authorities in the case of execution of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukh Dev. Perhaps for the first time in the history of execution, these patriots were hanged in the evening as against the established practice of executing in the morning. The date of execution was advanced to the evening of March 23 as against the morning of March 24, 1931. Secondly, the dead bodies were not handed over to their relatives. Surely the jail authorities were in panic. Another evidence of this panic came to light when it was established that the bodies were carried by demolishing the back wall of the jail to the Satluj as they feared that the front gate would be too hazardous to pass by in the face of angry crowds. But the mode of death would hardly bother the martyr who had mounted the gallows in a mood of ecstasy.

It is perhaps rare in the history of the national movement that three generations of a family were deeply involved in the freedom struggle. This was true in the case of martyr Bhagat Singh. His grand-father Sardar Arjun Singh, an ardent Arya Samaji, was imbued with the nationalist spirit and wrote many a tract to promote the national movement. Bhagat Singh's father, Kishan Singh, served long terms of imprisonment. His uncle, Ajit Singh, the hero of the Colonisation Act Movement in 1907, was deported to Mandalay in Burma and thereafter spent more than 37 years in forced exile working for the cause of India's struggle for freedom. His youngest uncle, Swarn Singh, died a silent martyr as a result of persistent torture inflicted on him by the government in Lahore Central Jail. Later his brothers, Sardar Kulbir Singh and Kultar Singh, suffered long incarceration in various jails for more than seven years. His sister, Bibi Amar Kaur, bore untold suffering and privation of jail life.

It was in this background of the family and the country that Bhagat Singh played his role in the national movement and came to symbolise Indian martyrdom. Let us salute him today—this day when he kissed the hangman's noose 68 years ago.
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Shy greetings
by I. M. Soni

SALUTATIONS by students are the most expressive form of their body language. Just as their eyes, facial expressions, gait and other parts of the body reveal their mind, so does their mode of saluting their teachers. Sometimes, the salutations conceal more than they reveal but even then they communicate. Thus concealing itself becomes revealing.

I have retired from university service after about a three-decade stint. So, I can claim to be a modest authority on the subject. In my “vacant and pensive mood,” I am often confronted with certain memories which are “the bliss of solitude.”

Most of these concern my students whom I remember, not for their academic brilliance, but for the way they wished or saluted me. In this respect, I think, students reveal themselves in the way they greet. Or do not.

Some wish you loudly, some almost in a whisper. Others just have salute as if in the air while some do it neatly in a disciplined soldierly manner. Only a disciplined mind can salute in a disciplined manner!

Girls are a class by themselves — most do not wish at all. If they happen to cross you on the roadside, they pretend that you are less than an electric pole.

In or around the department, they do acknowledge your presence. However, to be fair to the fair sex, I have known some who not only wish but also stop their car and offer a lift. May their tribe increase!

I record one anecdote. There was a girl who was popular among her classmates and rather articulate by the standard girls go. Thus, it was mystifying to me because she avoided wishing me. So I thought.

Once, while she was in a group of girls, we happened to come face to face. All them chorused “Good morning, sir.” But she giggled, put her “chunni” on her lips and just lowered her eyes. Next time, when I happened to cross her, instead of giggling, I lowered my eyes!

On the other front was a foreign girl student, shy, retiring and unmixing. She always occupied a seat in the last row and did not wish me, at all. When the class dispersed, she walked straight out, bowing to me. “Thank you,” she said.

I puzzled out after many days’ mental taxation that she thanked me for the day’s lecture.

Another, a big, bonney youngster always came to the class in a blazer and a table tennis bat. As and when she crossed my way, she waived her bat at me as if I were also a TT player. When she came to the class late, she just flourished her bat and walked to her seat in the last row.

Yet another whose portrait hangs permanently in the mental gallery was a “fashion model” who wished me with a grin whenever she wanted me to mark her attendance for missing the class.
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Congress set for confrontation

Real Politik
by P. Raman

SUDDENLY, the political scenario is undergoing rapid change. Almost all major political parties are engaged in a reassessment of strategies due to pulls and pressures from within and outside. The sudden shift in the Congress game plan, revolts and split in parties like the Bihar Samata and feeble attempts to bring together the BJP allies — all this signals subterranean disturbances. The Vajpayee Government’s own threat perceptions have been changing. While there are signs peace with the allies, areas of tension with more dangerous portents, are emerging. Those who were considered flamboyant trouble-shooters of the Prime Minister until a few weeks back, find themselves in deep trouble.

In India, every new government has been like a living organism. Barring the Left Government in West Bengal, these camp up, flourished and degenerated in a short span. The initial middle-class euphoria built up by an enthusiastic media, the gradual disillusionment and dislike have become routine. The scandals rocking the BJP Government and the confrontationist mood of the Congress indicate the onset of this cycle. If there has been a let-up in internecine quarrels with the allies, it has been due to Vajpayee’s multiple containment strategy to deal with them. In some cases, he yielded to the demands totally and in others he chose to freeze decisions. He is now faced with the more complicated task of dealing with his ministerial colleagues who have been found embroiled in allegations of excesses, misdeeds and misuse of office.

Apart from the merits or otherwise of such allegations, what strikes one most has been the way the Prime Minister and the involved ministers have so far reacted to Opposition assaults in Parliament. They were so typical of the responses from the Congress governments during the Bofors and other controversies. The only difference has been the change of roles. As in the case of Bofors, first it has been a bland denial. Then the government began stonewalling a debate on it in Parliament on the old premise of national security. When the pressures increased and more facts began to come out, the government agreed to form a committee to discuss the parameters of the debate. The government had not agreed to the formation of a joint parliamentary committee at the time of the writing.

At every stage, the Vajpayee Government merely mimicked the Rajiv regime which was then trying to wriggle out of the Bofors scandal. The government is now helplessly getting into the same trappings. Unlike Vajpayee, Rajiv Gandhi had enjoyed an overwhelming majority in Parliament and had total control on his party. This enabled him survive the full term. But by then public opinion had already crystallised against the way the government had tried to avert a proper debate. Unfortunately, the BJP, which had played an important role in the Bofors exposure, seems to have learnt no lessons from Rajiv Gandhi’s bitter experience.

In those days, it was fashionable to argue that corruption would never be an election issue in a country like India. Our illiterate voters, it was argued, could not even comprehend what Befors meant. Those who have benefited from corruption crusades of the 80s and 90s are committing the same blunder by seeking shelter under the same kind of arguments like “public interests”. Rulers have a tendency to go by the friendly media which is not known to fully reflect the opinion of the country’s millions. The best way to deal with similar situations is to readily agree to reveal the cards and thus disarm opponents.

Already, a sort of “sab chor hai” (all are robbers) syndrome is developing at the ground level. In the long run, it is this kind of scandal-scarred image, rather than pinpricks from the allies that is going to be the BJP’s biggest challenge. Like Rajiv Gandhi, Vajpayee is also getting into the quicksand of defending the seemingly “indefensible” friends and colleagues. The startling revelations made by Mohan Guruswamy, former adviser to the Finance Minister and a leading BJP functionary, will have a still wider ramification.

His allegations include the Vajpayee Government’s manipulation of steel prices to help favoured private firms and offer of bribe by a lobbyist to him if he helped a foreign tobacco firm grab the ITC by way of the sale of UTI’s shares. The inference has been that this kind of shady deals had become the order of the day under the Vajpayee Government. In case of the steel price, Guruswamy alleged that the ruling party had collected Rs 5,000 crore for its election funds. There have also been allegations in Parliament about the direct “interference” by Vajpayee’s relatives and foster son-in-law in government matters.

Even the protracted interlude in Parliament this week had brought out many other unsavoury episodes. The Finance Minister was forced to concede that there were some fake signatures in the memorandum sent to the PMO signed by 40 MPs seeking a revision of the steel prices. P. Chidambaram proves that the Commerce and Steel Ministers had played a bigger role in the price fixation scandal than the Finance Minister himself. Sadly, an impression is gaining ground that it is increasingly becoming the rule by wheeler-dealers and that even some ministers are identified with business lobbies. The traditional proximity of the BJP with business and trade, and the lion’s share of election funds it got from them last time, are bound to strengthen this kind of public perception.

The new confrontationist posture of the Congress is closely linked with the degeneration of present alliance. It stems from the Congress calculation that the time is ripe for the party to strike at the BJP Government for its unpopular actions and scandals. On the Bhagwat issue, the Congress had initially adopted a soft line, which, its leaders say, had encouraged the government to ride roughshod on defence matters. Initially, the government had created the impression that the Congress leaders were taken into confidence before sacking the Navy chief. The party realised its blunder when the issue came up for discussion at the CPP executive.

The dominant section in the Congress argues that if the party clings to the Pranab Mukherjee-Manmohan Singh line of cooperation, it will never be able to fight the BJP politically. Now that the BJP Government is in the thick of scandals and misdeeds of its own creation, the Congress is left with no option but to hit back. The need to expose the scandals has rendered obsolete the party’s earlier stand that the government would fall under its own weight. Most Congress leaders feel that the revelation made by Mohan Guruswamy were only the tip of the iceberg and the party is duty-bound to expose the BJP at a time when elections are scheduled in many states by the year-end.

The stigma of BJP collaboration had already inhibited the party’s efforts to win back its minority-Dalit vote bank. Moreover, a possible Congress inaction on the scandals will be taken advantage of by the Left, RJD, Samajwadi Party, etc in their strongholds. Politically, it is dangerous for the Congress to be seen as helping the BJP. In any case, the Congress is not morally obliged to defend the scandals of the ruling party which, when in opposition, had left no stone unturned to oust Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao Governments on similar issues.

From all accounts, this aggressive posture is part of a changed Congress strategy to counter the BJP both in Parliament and at the hustings. An overwhelming majority of the Congress leadership seems to reject the Pranab Mukherjee line of no coalition under any circumstances. Instead, the prevailing mood is for a flexible approach. The Congress should plan its strategy with the aim of wresting a majority on its own at the Centre. However, it should also keep its options to meet difficult situations. The Congress has already begun floor coordination with other Opposition parties. But it is asserted that under no circumstances will it go in for an all-India alliance for the elections.

The changing mood of the Congress is reflected in the way this week’s meeting of the Congress Working Committee decided to keep in abeyance certain crucial points in the Pachmarhi document with regard to the readmission of Congress defectors and local-level electoral alliances. The document had stipulated that no defector be given positions in the organisation or outside immediately after admission. Now that the Congress expects the return of more former partymen due to their frustration with other parties, the provision may inhibit a bigger influx into the party.

Fresh calculations have convinced the Congress strategists about the hurdles in getting its own majority in the Lok Sabha if contested alone. The idea seems to be to enter into strategic seat adjustments with local parties in selected states, something that gave a bare majority for the BJP and its allies in the 1998 elections. This will not in any way apply to the Left Front in Kerala, West Bengal or Tripura where the Congress is determined to fight them. This is expected help the two sides to retain both the ruling and opposition party space for themselves. The Congress already has alliances with a few smaller parties. It is likely to retain the arrangement in Maharashtra.

There is also talk of applying the MGR formula of allotting 60 per cent Lok Sabha seats and 60 per cent assembly seats to the Congress and the local parties respectively as this would meet the political requirements of both. Depending on the situation, this can happen even in Bihar with the RJD and the BSP in UP Mulayam Singh Yadav may be a hard nut to crack. The new confrontationist strategy of the Congress is based on the assumption that while the BJP has enough ability to buy peace with the allies through deals, it cannot stop the rot setting in its functioning. The Congress itself had suffered the consequences of scandals and misdeeds.
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delhi durbar

Swamy who is Man Friday of government

THE Swamys have not augured well for the ruling party at the Centre for quite some time now. Remember the self-styled “godman” Chandraswamy and the problems he created for the erstwhile Congress Government led by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

For that matter even Dr Subramaniam Swamy, the one-man Janata Party in Parliament, contributed to the woes of the volatile BJP-led coalition after the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, refused to induct him into his Council of Ministers. The AIADMK supremo, Ms Jayalalitha, had nearly made up her mind to bring the downfall of the BJP-led coalition over the issue.

That was not all, the government ran into trouble again when it decided to sack Mr Mohan Guruswamy, former Adviser to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. Mr Guruswamy’s allegations gave the government some embarrassing moments in Parliament last week.

These facts notwithstanding, yet another Swamy in the Lok Sabha reversed the trend of landing governments in trouble. Mr Y. Gopalaswamy of the MDMK, who prefers to be now known as Vaiko, was the Man Friday for the ruling side when the Lok Sabha debated Mr Guruswamy’s charges. A vociferous Mr Vaiko tore apart the Congress criticism and gave a new twist to the whole episode by dragging the Bofors issue in.

Stunned Congress MPs had nothing to say and it was Mr Vaiko and, for that matter, the ruling side’s day all the way. An amused senior Marxist parliamentarian, Mr Somnath Chatterjee said contrary to the role of the Swamys, he was happy that Mr Vaiko had dropped “Swamy” from his name. Incidentally, both Dr Subramaniam Swamy and Mr Mohan Guruswamy are Harvard alumni.

Cost of adjournments

Guess what is cost of repeated adjournments in Parliament. By one estimate it cost a loss of Rs 9 crore to the nation.

The just-concluded first-half of the Budget session of Parliament witnessed a loss of nearly 52 hours, including 19 hours in the Lok Sabha and 33 hours in the Rajya Sabha due to adjournments.

According to one assessment made in 1995-96, one hour of sitting in each House costs about Rs 11.11 lakh, while this cost escalated to Rs 16 lakh during 1997-98.

In the previous winter session, the loss was estimated to be in the region of Rs 4 crore, according to the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Madan Lal Khurana.

In Anna’s footsteps

The Union Minister for Power and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr P. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, known as “Thambi” (younger brother), has managed to overshadow most stalwarts in the BJP.

Apart from his success as the Parliamentary Affairs Minister in difficult times, he had the foresight to organise a state convention of his party in his constituency, Tiruchirapalli, and to invite Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, to address the meeting, which coincided with the first anniversary of the BJP in power.

The convention at Trichy was viewed by observers as an attempt by the BJP to hoist its flag in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalitha (Amma) did not take kindly to the move. Observers, however, say that it is natural for “Thambi” to follow suit after “Anna” (the party mentor C.N. Annadurai) and this perhaps was the reason why there was a frown on the face of “Amma”.

Where is Swarna Shatabdi

The Chandigarh-New Delhi Shatabdi, whose official running time is three hours, very often runs five hours behind schedule. The latest mishap occurred last Thursday when after leaving Chandigarh on time, (12.20 p.m.) and passing from Ambala, the train came to a grinding halt short of Karnal because of a locomotive failure.

A railway engine which was rushed from Karnal could not manage to move the train and ultimately a powerful loco had to be ferried all the way from Ambala to pull the train to New Delhi.

The Railways have tom-tommed amidst fanfare about the “Swarna Shatabdi” to be run on this route which will reduce the journey time to two and a half hours. The irony is that while loco failure delayed the regular Shatabdi on Thursday, the unavailability of suitable railway coaches for a high speed train have stalled plans for the New Delhi-Chandigarh “Swarna Shatabdi”. The coaches have to be built at the Railway Coach Factory, Kapurthala, and the factory is said to be not in a position to supply them right away. Till then, the woes of the commuters will continue, it seems.

Congress MPs from Kerala appear to be the blue-eyed boys of the party chief, Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The reason is not far to see. Contrary to the subdued Opposition offered by senior Congress leaders in the Rajya Sabha, three members from Kerala have been very active in the Lok Sabha giving the ruling side a tough time.

Mr P.J. Kurien, Chief Whip of the Congress, Mr P.C. Chacko and Mr A.C.Jose, were the three musketeers who led the campaign for a debate on the dismissal of the Navy Chief, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

The three members were also found to be at the forefront of the Opposition campaign for a debate on Mohan Guruswamy’s allegations.

Not to be left behind, Mr Ajit Jogi, MP and the party spokesman, is now part of the vociferous brigade that stand up for the party at the slightest attack from ruling benches.

(Contributed by S.B., T.V. Lakshminarayan, K.V. Prasad and P.N. Andley)
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75 YEARS AGO

Princes of Kathiawar

THE Princes and Chiefs of Kathiawar met together at Jamnagar with their Ministers and Karbharis to discuss Bikaner and the Maharao of Cutch also happened to be present. Sir Prabhashanker Pattani represented Bhavnagar. The meeting is reported to have been informal.

The Thakore Saheb of Rajkot has appointed a committee, with Mr Harishanker N. Pandeya, as President, to report within a month as regards the essential qualifications required for the preceptors and priests belonging to every sect and creed of the Hindoo religion and the steps necessary to make them really qualified.
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