|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, May 30, 1999
A CEC who
instils confidence, not awe
efforts in wrong direction
HATE him or admire him, it was generally said about former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan, but you cannot ignore him. In the case of his successor, Mr Manohar Singh Gill, the word hate has long been dropped. He has to be only admired and, of course, no CEC, more so, at the time of election, can be ignored. Missing in his functioning is Seshans pranks, exploits, quotable quotes and tiff with men who matter. He instils confidence, not the awe, in his massive election machinery at Nirvachan Sadan and kindles faith in the poll aspirants.
While Seshan, his ham-handed style of functioning notwithstanding, has firmly established the supremacy and independence of the commission, Mr Gill quietly and steadily picked up the thread from his ebullient predecessor and consolidated the gains without raising controversies. One of his major achievements, as the country prepares for yet another general election, is initiation of a series of measures to minimise the role of candidates with criminal background and also elimination of non-serious nominees. The steps taken by the Commission had yielded results in the last elections reducing the number of bogus candidates in the fray. There may be further improvement in the run-up to the mid-term poll.
Mr Gill is concerned at the unusually short term of the 12th Lok Sabha barely 13 months and toying with the idea of initiating another set of electoral reforms to ensure that the country could have a Parliament which lasts for a full term and helps in providing a stable government. No concrete proposal has been yet formulated and he wants the major political parties to take the lead at an appropriate time.
When Mr Gill left for the USA on a private visit in early April, he had not thought that another election would be thrust upon the country so soon and he would have to cut short his trip. He landed in Delhi on April 27, the day President K.R. Narayanan dissolved the 12th Lok Sabha. Even before he could come out of his jet-lag, he convened a meeting of the commission to discuss the preliminaries and called on the President.
Judging by its size and enmity of Indias population, Mr Gill described the elections in this country as mother of all polls. Involving 600 million voters spread across the country is an Herculean task indeed. The first question that confronted him was if elections be held in June or in September. Secondly, whether it would be feasible to link the elections due in nine states this year and early next year with the Lok Sabha poll. There were political pressures by the ruling dispensation to hold the mid term poll in June as this may give advantage to the BJP and its allies.
Mr Gill was convinced after holding rounds of discussions with leaders of political parties and top officials of the Home Ministry that fair polls were not possible in June. Apart from the weather conditions and the possibility of outbreak of monsoon in many parts of the country, deployment of paramilitary forces in the remote areas was not possible. The elections could be held earliest in the last week of September and early October and Mr Gill had no option but agree to this time frame. He will be arbiter for five long months (one month is already over) of the acts of omissions and commissions by the political parties and also of the caretaker government.
Sixty-three-year old Gill is a bureaucrat having qualified for the IAS at an early age, but agriculture remains his first love. He is highly qualified in this sphere having obtained Ph.D degree in agriculture sciences. He is a writer too and his books make lucid reading, marked by clarity of thinking and expression. He is also an expert in the co-operative movement and has done a lot of work in Punjab in this field.
My interest in the development of the cooperative movement in Punjab, says Mr Gill was first aroused by a reading of Sir Malcolm Darlings classic study, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt. Darling was passionately interested in the welfare of Punjabs farmers. Subsequently, he read Calverts classic, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab. Both Englishmen, says Mr Gill, coincidentally from Kings College, Cambridge, had worked long years to lay the foundations of the cooperative movement in Punjab.
As an agriculture expert, Mr Gills notable achievement was setting up and running the largest World Bank supported Agriculture and Rural Development Programme at Sokoto in Nigeria. He spent five years 1980 to 1985 in Nigeria as programme manager for $ 500-million project.
Development efforts in wrong
EN route we are towards our Rs. 1000-crore bash, the third in as many years. And that thousand is only the official expenditure, what the candidates and parties spend is extra and at least as much. A quick opinion poll would, one hopes, reveal that the 600-million-plus electorate consider the money as a necessary votive to the great god democracy.
But is that really true? Ms Rekha Sarkar, retired from teaching philosophy in a degree college, has donated her home in Midnapore town to an institution named after Sarada Devi, Ramakrishna Paramhansas wife, which plans and supports the education of bright poor students, looks after destitute children in Midnapore villages and is now embarked on setting up a comprehensive Child Health Centre. Speaking of the destitute children that the institution looked after, Ms Sarkar said that some of them had never seen milk in their lives!
At Mohulboni village, about 30 km from Jhargram town, (the centre of Midnapore districts Jharkhand movement), the women of the 58-member Womens Samiti came to meet us in the mud-and-thatch assembly room they had built for themselves. Very few of them had any agricultural land and had to hire themselves out as casual labour to feed the family. We saw these labouring women walking home in the evening with small bundles of rice and some little money. Supper would be rice and achar. Candidates and their workers would do much better. Even that casual labour didnt come at all often.
When in Mohulboni we asked the women what they thought was their greatest need they said they wanted to learn to read and write. Without literacy, they said, they couldnt get anywhere. Who in our world of politicians, civil servants, election officials and party strategy planners gives a damn about children who had never seen milk, or women who yearn to be literate? No one, and thats why elections interest the people but little; after all whats in it for them? The detritus of previous elections are scattered over the land posters and wall-writings. The politicians have raised memorials near a water tower in the centre of Midnapore is a large black statue of Karl Marx.
In neighbouring districts like Bankura and Purulia and in Midnapore itself, the sum is a ball of fire. The fields are baked hard and the reddish soil is rutted. Ponds and tubewells have dried up or slipped deep down in level. Sometimes humans and animals are reduced to using the same pond for all their needs. Concrete rings for wells,we saw, were lying around, unusable at this time. Only the riotous red of the gul mohur and the new green of the sal leaves, shimmering and dancing in the wind, brought a splash of joy in this skin-searing time.
In a country where the rulers cannot even provide water for parched throats and bone-dry fields, who is excited by the notion of a thousand-crore election? What blessings have previous elections brought? Whatever it is called, watershed management or water-harvesting, the water from the rains can be stored and used but those plotting elections are too-busy to bother about thirsty people and help them with the simple technology that would relieve their distress. This land is very different from Rel Majre in Ropar and from the surroundings of the Sirhind canal.
In the Jhilimili region of Bankura district desperately poor women from the Santhal and backward communities (the Scheduled Castes and Tribes are 80 per cent of the population) have got together to pull themselves up from their social and economic pit. Till the 1980s the family income here was Rs 100-150 a month. Women in this area had no status in family decision. They worked ceaselessly from sunup to nightfall, but since it was unpaid work it did not enter into the figuring of family income. Men had more wives than one, and wife-beating was not uncommon. In village eating shops women were not served this was the state of the women. At least two or three times a year the women, as well as the men, had to migrate to better off districts like Burdwan and Hooghly to work as agricultural labour a back-breaking way to make a few rupees, which vanished very soon, often into the maws of moneylenders. Driving from Midnapore to Jhargram and on to Jhilimili (in Bankura) through Belpahari and Banspahari we saw women working in the fields and walking the road barefoot with only a worn and torn sari, without even a blouse.
This has changed somewhat through the efforts of the women themselves and at least one NGO, the Centre for Womens Development Studies. Through the sheer labour of their hands the Bankura women have turned wasteland into nurseries of trees for silkworms. They have gone in for Babui rope-twisting for use on charpoys, for leather footwear making, collecting herbal products from the forest, sewing plastic footballs, weaving mats out of wilddate leaves, and some have turned to poultry and goats. With assistance from some central organisations and NGOs they have set up creches for 30-35 children each which teach and feed them out of a grant of no more than Rs. 2000 a month.
In all this, too, the people who plan and fight elections have been of little or no help. Instead of 25 Mahila Samitis covering 62 villages, there could be 2500 more in the Jhilimili area but there must be trained and dedicated people to teach, assist and show the way. The effort poured into elections could, if used properly, make thousands of villages come to life but all that happens is meetings, cavalcades of cars, colourful posters and wall paintings and hot air speeches.
In Jhilimili I was told of a woman who didnt like her daughter-in-law and so sent her weak-kneed son away to a distant village and said he was missing, got rid of his wife. Four stalwarts of the Nari Vikas Sangh, two Santhals and two others, went again and again to the womens village and the daughter-in-laws, involved the two panchayat Pradhans, the two traditional leaders, the Majhis, and the police and got the dispute solved. Back came the son from his sisters village where he was hiding, the mother was threatened delicately with a criminal case and the couple were married for the second time under police supervision with the O.C. providing the sweets! These are the stories I like to read not whos left his party and joined another.
The story that comes out
of these villages, one that politicians, bureaucrats and
media persons will never write or read, is that all our
so-called development efforts are pointed in the wrong
direction, not towards the poor, not towards women. In
Indias ruraldom it is only the women who can heave
the villages to a life with food, water, schools and
health. That exactly is what Swami Vivekananda said over
a hundred years ago. Women have a special and creative
relationship with forests. They are the ones who, in
combination, try to end violence in families and cruelty
to abandoned wives. In the Mohulboni, Borosol and
Ashakati areas of Midnapore they have set up a thrift
scheme. Conscious of their rights today, they lay siege
to the offices of Collectors and District Magistrates and
win their demands. Instead of more movements to bring
this revolution about, we will have more and more
elections on which and men will never loosen the
stranglehold they have on them. The election is our maya
mriga, and will probably never get our perspective right
to think of our millions of struggling people and not our
THERE is an Indian proverb which says a boat built of bad wood is decorated most. This saying applies most beautifully to the educational policy of the Panjab University and of the Punjab Government. The University has not yet passed the stage of teething, and yet it pretends to set up a higher standard of education than the old universities, which have turned out Indias best scholars and literary and professional men.
It fixes impossible percentages of pass marks, but the Senate which does or sanctions this work is composed of men the majority of whom are ideal ignorami. It loses no opportunity to decay, to cram, and yet there is no sublunar University whose examinations encourage and necessitate cramming so much.
Its professors talk big
of original work and what not, and yet no University in
the world has such a staff of poor professors as our
ideal University. It is, in one word, the biggest sham
that was ever imposed upon a people.
| Punjab | Haryana | Himachal Pradesh | Jammu & Kashmir |
| Chandigarh | Business | Sport |
| Mailbag | Spotlight | World | 50 years of Independence | Weather |
| Search | Subscribe | Archive | Suggestion | Home | E-mail |