|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Monday, May 24, 1999
Sharad Pawars options
Naga peace talks
The Congress imbroglio
Go India go!
SC slams judicial over-activism
Sonia keeps people guessing
New Madras Governor
CONTOURS of rebel chieftain Sharad Pawars game plan are discernible and it is not lethal to either of the two major political groupings. Mr Pawar wanted his challenge to Mrs Sonia Gandhi to unleash a hurricane which would flatten the present political structure and rearrange it in his favour. This has not happened even in his own Maharashtra, where there has been only a slow traffic of politicians to his side. So slow that he has to delay his departure to Delhi so that he could personally persuade his men to declare their loyalty to his cause! What is more, not one major Congress leader from any other state has come out openly in his favour. This shaky start has crippled his ambitious plan to supplant the Indian National Congress with his Indian Nationalist Congress and rule the country happily ever after. His admirers say an opinion poll he sponsored showed that a majority (61 per cent) of villagers in his home state were opposed to Mrs Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister. He projected this on to the all-India level and convinced himself that at his mere call to arms, a good chunk of party leaders and workers would desert Mrs Gandhi and rally round him. What actually transpired is thus a big disappointment. But a born gambler who stakes all or nothing and often wins, Mr Pawar is ready with a contingency plan. And he should broadly succeed here.
Under this, he is
reconciled to his party remaining a regional outfit
confined to Maharashtra. With the electoral arrangement
with the RPI and the Samajwadi Party, which worked very
well last year, still in place, he hopes to win about 15
or 20 Lok Sabha seats and defeat the Congress in another
about 20 seats, reducing the presence of the mother party
to a token one. He would love to rope in the BJP too, but
there are three insurmountable difficulties. His group
and the Hindutva party have their base in Vidarbha, and
joining hands will not help much. Two, his friends, Mr
P.A. Sangma and Mr Tariq Anwar, will protest as will some
of his own followers who have been brought up on a strong
anti-RSS diet. Finally, the Shiv Sena, the senior partner
in the coalition government, will not like the BJP to
change sides a year before the election to the Assembly
and discretion demands that the Shiv Sena is not
needlessly irritated. Mr Pawar is keen on loose
pre-election understanding with half a dozen regional
parties, big and small. Barring UPs Samajwadi
Party, others are directly or indirectly in the BJP camp.
That is the problem of the Maratha strongman. Will
September be more lucky for him than May?
WITH the return of Mr Chisi Swu and Mr T.H. Muivah, frontline leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), to India, the chances of restoration of peace in one of the most volatile states of the North-East have improved. Their return at a time when the negotiations between the Ceasefire-Monitoring Group (CFMG) and the Muivah faction of the NSCN are reported to have made substantial progress gives further credence to speculations that only some loose ends for the restoration of durable peace in Nagaland remain to be tied. The CFMG and the NSCN are said to have reached a working agreement on most of the contentious issues holding up the peace process. Under the terms of agreement, the Naga groups belonging to the Muivah faction will shift their camps from the main roads as demanded by the CFMG. The official agencies are aware that without the participation of the Naga Hoho and Church groups the negotiations may not ensure lasting peace in the State. However, since the Muivah faction is among the dominant rebel outfits in Nagaland, their willingness to assist the government agencies in the process of restoring peace is encouraging. Among the terms of agreement is the willingness of the NSCN to participate in the district-level ceasefire-monitoring groups as a confidence-building gesture.
The government on its
part has accepted the request of the NSCN for official
assistance for bringing back the bodies of the cadres
killed in Tripura. The relatives of those killed have
been requested to approach the courts in Tripura for
expediting the process of exhumation of the bodies for
reburial in Nagaland. Perhaps the most significant part
of the agreement is the willingness of the NSCN cadres to
assist the local police in putting an end to the
circulation of prohibited bore guns with fake licences. A
large number of such weapons were seized by the security
forces from the cadres during the monitoring the
ceasefire terms in Nagaland. According to reports, the
government is willing to issue identity cards to NSCN
cadres so that they are not harassed by the security
forces. It is also favourably inclined to a proposal for
granting subsistence allowance for discouraging them from
indulging in acts of extortion. Following differences
over what the NSCN calls notices for collection of
taxes and the government extortion
notes the two sides agreed on a fresh round of
dialogue for clearing the misunderstanding on
the issue. The return of the NSCN leaders and progress in
the peace talks with the CFMG are positive signs.
However, a lot of ground still remains to be covered for
achieving lasting peace in the entire North-East region.
FOR the Congress, the debate over the foreign birth of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, is a self-inflicted wound, and, as in the case of all such wounds, would take longer to heal than those inflicted by others.
The question whether a naturalised citizen, as against a born citizen, can, or ought to, hold the post of President, Vice-President or Prime Minister cannot now be wished away and hence had better be seen in proper perspective.
It must be borne in mind that, if our Constitution-makers failed to deal with the problem, it was because they could simply not visualise, as they had not visualised the many other unwelcome developments that were to follow for instance, unabashed defections and loot of the States resources that a time would come when a dead Prime Ministers foreign-born wife would be a claimant to Prime Ministership.
Acknowledgedly, the provisions on citizenship gave the Constitution-makers more trouble than any other provision. One draft followed another, and as many as 130 to 140 amendments were moved. Ultimately two broad propositions were made: first, that the attempt was not to lay down an all-comprehensive formula but to lay down the criteria of citizenship at the time of the commencement of the Constitution; second that Parliament would be free to legislate on citizenship in a comprehensive manner.
Both the Constituent Assembly debates and their outcome show that the Constitution-makers were trying to grapple with the problems created by Partition, the effects of migration to the two countries, the place of those who had agitated for Partition but, after the deed was done, had stayed back in India; the place of those who had migrated to Pakistan but wanted to come back; the status of those who lived in what had earlier been French or Portuguese possessions, and the place of Indians who lived in various parts of the world.
Thus Article 5 of the Constitution dealt with citizenship at the commencement of the Constitution, Article 6 with the rights of citizenship of certain persons who had migrated to India from Pakistan; Article 7 with rights of migrants to Pakistan; Article 8 with citizenship rights of person of Indian origin residing outside India. Article 8 ruled out citizenship to those who had voluntarily acquired the citizenship of another country.
Then followed Article 11: Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this part shall derogate from the power of Parliament to make any provision with respect to the acquisition and termination of citizenship, and all other matters relating to citizenship.
It would be pertinent to point out that the President of the Constituent Assembly, Dr Rajendra Prasad, pointed out that a significant omission was the omission of the status of a foreign woman married to an Indian citizen perhaps he said this more as an able lawyer than as a person possessing clairvoyance.
Parliament did subsequently pass the Citizenship Act of 1955, which dealt with the situation that obtained after the commencement of the Constitution. However, once again it failed to visualise the issue that has cropped up today.
Thus it is wholly erroneous to suggest that, in keeping with the liberal traditions and ethos of the country, Parliament had deliberately not disqualified a naturalised citizen from holding the posts of President, Vice-president and Prime Minister. It is the same Parliament which has considered the governments permission necessary for defence services officers and diplomats marrying foreigners. If it has not done so in the case of the three highest offices in the land, it is because it had not been able to foresee the shape of things to come.
If President Narayanans wife is a naturalised citizen, it is because the President was a diplomat and was granted the permission to marry a foreigner. This rule did not apply to a pilot, which is what Rajiv Gandhi was when he married Sonia.
Now that the issue has been raised in a big way the voters had better exercise their minds over the issue and give a clear verdict either way.
The issue has both rational and emotional strains. Rational arguments have been put forward to show that not many countries open up their top jobs to naturalised citizens, the USA being the prime example. Those who argue in favour of Mrs Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister take into account her leadership of the party, her being a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, and the late-in-the-day objections of the likes of Mr Sharad Yadav, Mr Purno Sangma and Mr Tariq Anwar, apart from the BJP men.
It goes without saying that the issue can only be decided in the peoples court. And the people comprise the rich and the poor, the haves and have-nots, the learned and the illiterate. Let the political parties contesting the parliamentary elections canvass at every level and include the issue in their manifestos, posing this and some other constitutional issues that are germane to the survival of parliamentary democracy. And let suitable legislation follow the election.
The answer to the issues raised by Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr Purno Sangma and Mr Tariq Anwar is not expression of sycophantic loyalty to Mrs Sonia Gandhi. This may consolidate Mrs Gandhis hold on the party, but then the Congress is not India it never was.
Clearly, Mrs Gandhi has been able to consolidate her hold on the party. If she sticks to her resignation from party presidentship, she may receive popular acclaim, but then whether this will trickle down on her party cannot be said with any degree of certainty.
However, she will have much to lose if she does ultimately choose to withdraw her resignation. The resignation will then be viewed as another melodrama and would fool few.
The Congress is in a dilemma; it can do neither without Mrs Sonia Gandhi nor with her. She is the only leader who can keep disparate elements in the multi-dimensional Congress united. The letter bomb that shook the Congress as well as the nation was authored by three have-nots (who have now been expelled from the party), the chief being Mr Sharad Pawar, who felt that as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party, he alone should have been called by the President (and not Mrs Sonia Gandhi) to try to form the ministry. He alone was the Prime Minister presumptive, ex-officio.
But since mere selfishness cannot serve as a legitimate and credible plea, some other basis had to be invented namely, Sonias foreign birth. That was a hard fact, when the whole Sonia chapter started. But now all of a sudden her foreign origin has assumed importance, and somehow it has started to cut much ice with the masses. A new wind is blowing. Why cannot a nation of nearly a hundred crore find one native to rule over the country? A similar argument was floated by other aspirants for power (the Syndicate) in Indira Gandhis time too. Yet, subsequently, she proved to be the greatest Prime Minister (even better than her father), for she made history by creating Bangladesh and inflicting a crushing defeat on Pakistan by taking nearly a hundred thousand POWs.
Only a few months ago, when Mrs Sonia Gandhi entered the fray, she started her career of electoral victories. She put life into the dying body of the Congress; experts wave writing off the Congress as an important institution that was passing into history. Like other members of the Gandhi-Nehru family, she was drawing massive crowds and garnering votes by the million, as no other Congress leader could do. Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh fell to her at her call. The Congressmen were sure that their messiah had come, who would sweep the polls and get them into seats of power. Mrs Sonia Gandhi was their best bet against Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, who otherwise seemed to be growing stronger day by day. She, and not any other leader, was their hope. She seemed to be the great vote-getter.
What would be the scene sans Sonia? Half a dozen men from the Congress and another half a dozen from outside would fight for the top job. There being no obvious choice, we would have the short-timed regimes of little men. There would be no great leader from the Congress side to give a fitting battle to Mr Vajpayee. Mrs Sonia Gandhi has an international personality and a global stature.
How about her accident of birth in a foreign land? Italy? Rome? Instead of Ram Rajya, we would be having Rome Rajya was the catch phrase. India always had a cosmopolitan outlook Vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the whole world is our family). Her foreign nativity is an after-thought that has come to us rather late in the day. We should have shown this fact all along the line. And yet it did not have that weight, which it has suddenly assumed in the present, propelled by leaders, whose self-interest invented this catch-word to floor the Congress revival and themselves ride to power.
And then the Indian tradition is that a married woman totally leaves her past (even obliterates her maiden name) and becomes an indistinguishable part of her husbands family. Sonia has shed her Italian past after marriage. Such are arguments brought forward to deprive her and to help oneself.
She has no administrative experience in the government. That was said of Indira Gandhi too and more vociferously of Rajiv Gandhi. It is not a proven fact that Mr Pawar would prove a better Prime Minister than Sonia. He too is untested in that capacity.
All this is not an advocacy for Sonias Prime Ministership. It is only to prepare the ground so that Congress can give a fight to Mr Vajpayees BJP on equal terms. Let the people choose. Otherwise, with the Congress divided under many leaderships and little-known provincial leaders dreaming of ruling over this great and ancient land, the BJP would have almost a walk-over which they would most dearly cherish. It is like making a present of the Indian government on a platter.
Where do we go from
here? Let Mrs Sonia Gandhi for the time being at
least retire from the race for power. The Congress
can give her an exalted position something like
Gandhiji had to work as the moral conscience of
the nation and keep the government on the right track, as
the people want.Let Mrs Sonia Gandhi stay as the party
President and guide the government. If they would take
her guidance, it would be a fair contest between the BJP
and the Congress.
PRIME Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee spoke to the Indian cricket team in London to convey his good wishes. Following is the text of the conversation. Any resemblance to the real conversation is purely coincidental and unintentional.
PM: How is the British weather?
Azhar: Sir, Azhar this side. How are you sir? The weather here is fine and at least not as unpredictable and much more moderate than that of Chennai. How are you feeling sir?
PM: Thank you. I am feeling much better after sending the two Governors whose innings had ended back to the pavilion. For a moment though, I thought the third umpire would not press the red button, but I am glad that ultimately he did so. Anyway, how is everybody there? Is anyone injured?
Azhar: No sir, these are all rumours floated by the press, which is increasingly behaving like Subramanian Swamy. Everybody is fine sir. The only problem is that some team members are hell bent on behaving, as if they were AIADMK members.
PM: Please do try to win the World Cup, so that we can also add it to the list of our achievements you know, Pokhran, bus diplomacy etc.
Azhar: Inshallah, we will blast out the Opposition sir. I mean the cricketing opposition sir.
PM: How is the morale of the team?
Gaekwad: Gaekwad this side, sir. We are very much upbeat. Much like the caretaker govt of yours. We need your good wishes.
PM: 100 crores of people, minus of course, the likes of Jayalalithaji, Swamyji and Cong, have great expectations from you.
Gaekwad: We are flattered, sir. But well try not to flatter to deceive.
PM: Tell your team not to be bogged down by the expectations. Try to play it like a coalition, but with different results.
Brijesh: Brijesh on the line sir. We will definitely try our best, but unluckily we dont have the self-defeatist opposition teams like the ones your are facing back home. And of course, luckily for us, Italy doesnt play cricket.
PM: So, how are the preparations going on?
Jadeja: Ajay this side, sir. The preparations are going on in full swing. Now that we have talked to you, we appreciate this gesture of yours and we are sure we will definitely play as per the Common Minimum Programme that we are giving final touches to. Please talk to our chief spokesperson, Pramod, oops sorry, Azhar sir.
PM: Wish you all the best.
Azhar: Thanks a lot for calling, sir.
PM: Keep the flag flying high.
IN a pronouncement that history will rank with its verdicts in the hawala case and the recent Constitution Bench case of V.C. Mishra and which every student of constitutional and criminal law must read, the Supreme Court slammed the Allahabad High Court last fort-night and set aside its entire 271-page judgement of February, 1996, in the Uttarakhand agitation case.
Just a week ago I had in this column accused a three-member Bench of the court headed by Justice K.T. Thomas of massacring the anti-terrorist law by holding that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was not a terrorist act at all but a murder pure and simple. I have, however, no reservations today in acclaiming Justice Thomas, sitting with two other colleagues, for his unswerving rejection of the rigmarole embodied in the Uttarakhand opinion of the Allahabad High Court.
It is unfortunate, said Justice Thomas on May 13, speaking for himself, Justice D.P. Mohapatra and Justice U. C. Banerjee, that the opinion contains a lot of rigmarole.... On a careful consideration of the entire matter, we have no hesitation to hold that the judgement of the High Court is unsustainable and has to be set aside.
A sweeping indictment of the UP police and government for their excesses against Uttarakhand agitators in the year 1994, confirmed by a CBI investigation ordered by the court, the opinion (now set aside) built up a highly emotive jurisprudence of damages, reparations and prosecutions for constitutional torts (or wrongs) and human rights violations.
Killings, injuries, detentions, rape and molestation of women.... This court, said Justice Ravi S. Dhawan of the Allahabad High Court, is satisfied and certifies that largescale violations of human rights have been occasioned at the hands of the respondents already named in the reports of the Central Bureau of Investigation, and that these violations have also partaken the nature of constitutional torts.
Let not the international community say (he wrote) that Indian courts are abject spectators when constitutional torts are perpetuated in this nation and slapped, besides heavy doses of individual compensation to the victims or their dependents, collective reparations on the state for the insult, hurt, pain and the scars of the people of Kumaun and Garhwal.
The repairment to the people of Kumaun and Garhwal, ordered the High Court (Justice A.B. Srivastava sitting and concurring with Justice Dhawan), shall stand related to their population of about six lakh. A rupee per month per person for a plan period of five years shall be invested in the two regions, in addition to the normal plan allocation. Fifty paise of this reparation shall come from the state of Uttar Pradesh and the other 50 paise from the Union of India.
This, over and above the amount of Rs 10 lakh ordered to be paid to the dependents of all persons killed, Rs 10 lakh to each of the women raped, Rs 5 lakh to every woman molested and Rs 50,000 each to the 398 persons detained by the police. All pending prosecution and trial of the officials alleged to have committed the offences which the court, in an explosive mix of law and emotion, likened to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
We propose to skip, said the Supreme Court, with matchless sarcasm, a major portion of the High Courts judgement since it contains unnecessary deliberations without any nexus with the points in controversy.
Nor could the High Court have made observations on matters pending consideration before subordinate courts. Without trial, and even without considering the evidence which may be adduced in the cases, how could the High Court have proceeded to fix liability for compensation and quantify the amount?
All the learned counsel, observed Justice Thomas, had made a scathing attack on the rationale of the High Court in fixing up such huge sums as compensation at a premature stage. On consideration we are satisfied that there is ample substance in their contentions, he held, and vacated the direction for payment of individual compensation as clearly unsustainable.
The whopping amounts decreed by way of reparation drew still stronger admonition. Kumaun and Garhwal, said the Supreme Court, are not the only regions to be attended to by the State or Central government. Every part of the country requires further development. If the High Courts are to issue such directions for each region, using different writ petitions, financial policy may have to be restructured.
Judicial creativity notwithstanding, there is no justification for using judicial power for imposing such an unbearable burden on the state which, in turn, would be compelled to extract money from the common man.
Still more. The High Court had ruled further that no sanction under Section 197, CrPCwas required for the prosecution of the accused officials because, one, the CBI (according to it) does not need any sanction when it conducts investigation and submits a challan under the orders of the High Court and, two, it is not part of anyones official duty to fire on unarmed political activists, exhume bodies of agitators shot dead, loot and plunder, or rape and molest women.
We have no doubt, said the Supreme Court, that the High Court should not have embarked upon a discussion regarding sanction at such a premature stage. That too in a writ petition filed by the Uttarakhand Sangharsh Samiti. The finding that no sanction is required has to be treated as bad because that question has to be decided by the trial court after taking into account various considerations including the facts of each case. And decided by it (only) if and when raised by the accused.
STRANGE things are happening here and in the midst of it all there is growing speculation on a certain topic: will she or wont she. Though the majority of Congresspersons I have spoken to are of the view that Mrs Sonia Gandhi will take back her resignation in three to four days but Mani Shankar Aiyar is adamantly of the view that my mathematical calculation says that 99.99 % she will not, and that obviously leaves with 0.1 % chance of her going back on her final decision. And if you were to ask him that in the eventuality of her not taking back her resignation what would happen to the party or for that matter to her political future he leaves all that for the coming AICC meet. And on the rumours afloat of some other Congressmen joining the Pawar - Sangma - Anwar trio there seems confidence amongst the party members that more will not follow suit. Not a single person from the Congress Working Committee will be joining them ...maybe a few MLAs who had joined in because of Sharad Pawar might go with him but there will not be anything strange about it, it will be like Sharad Pawar making love to Sharad Pawar! says Aiyar. And some other senior Congressmen add that they would prefer that whoever has to leave does so now, at this stage, rather than cause confusion later. Jisko jaana hai to abhi jayei, as put across by Imran Kidwai, one of the Congress secretaries. Meanwhile crowds continue to gather outside, on the roads, leading to 10 Janpath. Whilst the party workers sit outside, groups of Congress leaders can be seen making their entry. And though Rahul Gandhi has been in town for the last 20 days, he has kept away from these political developments and is maintaining a low profile. Priyanka, of course, has been offered a seat by the UPCC to fight the coming elections from that state and in case she agrees, her victory should almost be certain. Unless of course, the fact of a foreign mother-in-law is raked up by the BJP in addition to the controversy over her own mothers nationality.
This brings me to write that this continuing controversy whether to have a PM with foreign parentage has all the capability to spark off a similar row in countries like Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius where Prime Ministers of Indian origin have been elected and have successfully completed their term of office. This controversy alone has the strength to make their local population think along a different line. The local versus foreigner issue could hit their psyches too.
Also now as there are talks that certain provisions might be instituted by this government to allow only a natural born Indian for the highest offices in India, and there could be talk of the spouses nationality factor as well. Very much along the pattern of the 50s when IFS officers were absolutely discouraged or should we say forbidden to marry a foreigner. In this context it would be particularly relevant to mention that the President of India K R Narayanan had to seek special permission from the then Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru to marry his Burmese fellow student Ma Tint Tint, later renamed Usha. If I am not mistaken he is the first IFS officer who in the 50s married a foreigner, In fact the then Foreign Secretary Mr K.P.S.Menon, is said to have suggested to Mr K.R.Narayanan to write a note to Pt Nehru seeking his permission for this. And on receiving it he immediately gave his approval, adding yes, Burma is a friendly country....
Needless to add that politics as such didnt hold sway in those decades, otherwise we would have been deprived of having a First Lady as talented and multifaceted as Usha Narayanan - she is not only a post graduate from the Delhi University School of Social Work and had earlier worked with AIRs Burmese Division but is a knowledgeable garden enthusiast, a writer and translator - recently she translated an anthology of Burmese short stories.
In between this ongoing
political chaos the Union Education Secretary, Maharaj
Krishen Kaw, probably thinks life is a squirrel
.... Well, exactly this is the title of his
collection of poems, published by Konark and to be
released on May 29 at the IIC. And inbetween all the talk
of hectic courting sessions at Tamarind Court and all who
used to hold court there, theres come in news that
the sex doctor from Bombay. Dr Prakash
Kothari is in town for the release of his book
Common Sexual Problems ... Solutions (UBS). I
had thought that by now wed be better acquainted
with sexual problems but it seems the going is tough for
this is the revised edition of his earlier book. Having
interviewed the man on earlier occasions I must add that
Kothari does have a way of putting across even the
dullest of facts (its a different matter that no
sex related fact ever seems dull) in a direct and no
nonsense fashion. And after the much hyped New
Delhi-Lahore bus diplomacy where besides several
prime hours of DD some hundred thousands of the tax
payers money went down the drain in that new bus
plus other bandobasts things have gone completely
phut! Its been increasingly felt that the Pakistan
based editor Najam Sethi has been arrested there (in
Pakistan) at the behest of Pakistans High
Commissioner in New Delhi, Ashraf Jahangir Qazi. This has
sparked off a serious round of thinking here, for Sethi
had been critical of the conditions prevailing in
Pakistan, in his talk in New Delhi last month and his
arrest has been linked to his outspokenness, though the
Pakistan government alleges his links with RAW.
New Madras Governor
The Viscount and the Viscountess Goschen Hon. Ceoil Goschen and Hon. Mrs Ballour will arrive at Madras on Sunday and land at the harbour at 8 a.m. on Monday where they will be received by the Chief Secretary to the Government, the General Officer Commanding, Madras Forces, the Chairman of the Port Trust and others.
At 8.30 p.m. a public reception will take place at the Banqueting Hall, the Viscount and the Viscountess Goschen, driving in state from the harbour.
The function at the Banqueting Hall will consist of the formal assumption of office by Lord Goschen and presenting to him of some of the leading officials and reading of a welcome address by the Madras Corporation.
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