|Tuesday, March 7, 2000,
of Sir Creek
A NEGLECTED AREA
allies: the changing mood
March 7, 1925
IS Pakistan trying to do a Kargil in the Rann of Kutch? Yes and no. Yes, because it has amassed troops on the well-defined border and stepped up threatening activities by a conspicuous military build-up. A massive technological upgradation programme was initiated from the Badin base by Islamabad a few months ago. It has been intensified now. Our surveillance agencies have photographed the replacement of T-85 Chinese tanks by T 80 missile-firing UD tanks purchased from Ukraine. Airfields and airstrips under the jurisdiction of the Karachi-based V Corps set-up are being repaired and the air-defence network is being revamped in indecent haste. It is necessary to remember Sir Creek here. It has been a bone of contention between the two countries for long. India and Pakistan have interpreted the 60-mile-long estuary in the marshes of the Rann of Kutch, separating Gujarat from Pakistans Sindh, differently. There have been at least six rounds of talks on its position. According to Pakistan, the entire Sir Creek, with its eastern banks defined by a green line and represented on a 1914 map, belongs to it. India disputes this claim. According to New Delhi, the green line on the above mentioned map is an indicative line, which is called a ribbon line in technical language. The boundary is shown by the mid-channel of the Creek as indicated on a 1925 map on the contrary. Boundary pillars have been erected in the middle of the Creek; they are the features of the frontier line. The Sir Creek dispute hinges on the demarcation of the boundary from the mouth of Sir Creek to the top of Sir Creek and from the top of Sir Creek eastward to a point on the line designated on the Western Terminus. Thereafter, the boundary has been unambiguously fixed. The demarcation of the frontier here has a major consequence. First of all, this border, once defined, can be the basis of the determination of the maritime boundaries which are usually drawn as an extension on sea from reference points on land.
Maritime boundaries have helped in defining the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and the continental shelves. The EEZs extend to 200 nautical miles and can be subjected to commercial exploitation. There is the possibility of the presence of an enormous quantity and volume of oil and gas along the sea-bed in this zone. The area, therefore, has a bearing on the energy potential of the two countries. Indias gas-based industry on the Gujarat coast, it should be remembered, depends substantially on the hydrocarbon resource of the Mumbai off-shore fields. The availability of oil and gas in a nearby zone can help in expanding national energy conservation. Pakistan is insisting on defining the proximity of its land frontier in the Sir Creek area in a manner that will give it control over larger EEZs. Islamabad has rejected the mid-channel principle geo-physically proposed by India. It has been pointed out by Indian experts that the principle applies only to navigable channels. Pakistan says that Sir Creek is not navigable. The Indian point of view is that the channel can be used for navigation during the entire year, especially in the high-tide periods. Several cartographic surveys have been done between Gujarat and Sindh and the Indian point of view has been scientifically upheld. If one has to say that Pakistan is not indulging in a Kargil-type intrusion in the area, one has to call black white One has to go into the proceedings of various parleys on Sir Creek in the past. Pakistan has gone back on the 1914 resolution which has already been implemented. It does not challenge the 1925 map. But it claims that the India-Pakistan Western Boundary Tribunal had appended the 1914 map to its report. For all practical purposes, the chapter is closed.
The present Pakistani
gameplan is to infiltrate into the Rann of Kutch
particularly into Sir Creek and create a visible
conflict. Subversion is its main mode of operation. It
was decided in 1998 that any dispute on this issue would
be resolved through dialogue within the framework of the
Simla Agreement. Sir Creek may be a flash-point of
conflagration, to be followed by a regular battle.
Remember the situation on August 10 last when Indian Air
Force MiG 21 fighters had shot down an intruding
Atlantique anti-submarine long-surveillance aircraft of
the Pakistani Navy in the Kutch area? The threat
perception is deepening on the Gujarat border, the
proximity of which to Indias economic heartland
(Gujarat) is crucial. There has been rapid industrial
development in the Indian state with an investment of
more than Rs 50,000 crore in oil refineries and ports.
Pakistan is battle-ready. Troops from the 18 Infantry
Division and the 206 Infantry Brigade have been asked to
man the sensitive areas. And there has been a heavy
backup by the Army from Karachi. The Pakistani design is,
thus, clear. US President Bill Clintons impending
visit seems to have something to do with the brewing of
the trouble. It must be made manifest that India is not
PUNJAB has sought to achieve several objectives through its excise policy. It has met a long-standing demand by banning sale and consumption of liquor in holy cities. It strengthens the link between drinking and some social good, in this case raising funds for school building and blackboard. Then there is the liberalisation part permitting retail outlets direct access to distilleries, instead of depending on the old rigid frame. The scope for competition has been marginally widened by reducing the security deposit by one-fifth. Finally there is the bit about rooting out illicit distillation and what other tested method is available than raising a separate police force to nab and neutralise all those moonshiners! All this should not minimise the basic thrust of the policy to mop up additional revenue. There is an inexplicable coyness in providing an estimate of the increased excise duty which the government is poised to collect. Maybe the top bureaucrats spent all their time and energy in throwing in all those religious, moral, social and educational bits into the policy and left out money mobilisation as a coarse aspect beneath their consideration. During 1998-99 revenue was over Rs 1300 crore and that represented an increase of 18 per cent. The budget target for the current year is nearly Rs 1400 crore which seems to be a gross underestimate. Punjabis are not having the best of times and there had been two rounds of elections. It stands to reason that more bottles must have been opened and emptied first to drive away the blues and then to firm up the voters resolve to get his favourite man elected. All in all, the revenue side should present a reasonably happy picture. The same cannot be said of the other aspects.
Levying a cess on the
sale of liquor to provide a crumb of Rs 20 crore to open
new schools and buy blackboards reflects a cavalier
attitude towards both the consumption of the heady stuff
and taking education far and wide. Why not call the cess
a plain cess and add it to the total revenue? Why impart
a touch of noble social obligation to a very small part
of the liquor expense? Of course, it reinforces the old
joke about drinking being good for the sons
education and excessive drinking being excessively good.
There is something appealing in being simple and direct.
The Andhra Pradesh government does not have money to pay
pension to those employees who belonged to the
electricity board which is now in private hands. So it
has announced an increase in tariff of 12-14 paise a unit
to raise the required funds. So far there has been no
protest, indicating that the consumers, rich and poor,
are not unwilling to share the burden if it becomes
inevitable. The impact of the two changes in the quantum
of security deposit and direct lifting of quota will need
watching. They may succeed to some extent but not in a
revolutionary way. But establishing excise police is
surely a doubtful instrument. Unlike in cities like
Delhi, illicit distillation is not always a commercial
venture in Punjab, nor is there the danger of
adulteration and death. For a long time now rural people
have been making their special brew for personal
consumption. It is worth noting that there is broad
social sanction behind this seemingly illegal activity.
The revenue loss can be made up by hiking the sales tax
on large-sized pressure cookers, used almost entirely to
distill liquor. The renaming of a PAP battalion as excise
police will not alter this ground reality. It is a minor
novelty and will be lost in the larger social structure.
THE nation appears to be in the grip of a disease called intolerance. There are several reasons for the spread of the malady at a galloping pace even among seemingly sane sections of people. The virus of intolerance was introduced by the political class for achieving certain very narrow objectives. However, even if they now want to put the virus back in the bottle, there is little they can actually do to make this happen. It was born out of a potentially destructive political action and has since multiplied and grown at such an alarming rate as to actually dictate the course of current and future political action. In medical terms the real sufferers are those who show signs of intolerance to whatever they have been "programmed" to react negatively to by their political masters. But what about the fate of those whose right to freedom of expression is put into jeopardy by the irrational reaction of the intolerant class of people? The latest victim of the disease is the internationally respected film-maker Ismail Merchant whose new cinematic offering "Cotton Mary" has evoked a negative response from members of the Anglo-Indian community, particularly in Kerala. The justification for the protest by a section of the Anglo-Indian community can be traced to the violent response by members of the Sangh Parivar to the shooting of Deepa Mehta's "Water" in Varanasi followed by the ugly scenes created by some Youth Congress activists in Calcutta outside cinema houses screening Kamal Haasan's latest offering "Hey Ram". The shooting of "Water" is not being allowed because it insults the image of widowhood, the permission for the screening of "Hey Ram" is sought to be cancelled because "the film shows Mahatma Gandhi in poor light" and Ismail Merchant is asked to apologise to the Anglo-Indian community for the way he has projected it in "Cotton Mary"!
The latest incidents as
also the earlier instances of motivated acts of
intolerance by political and religious groups can be put
together for producing a magnum opus captioned "When
and Where Will this Madness Stop?". But who will
allow the making of such a film? The project may on the
contrary make the splinter groups of intolerant people
close ranks for protecting their right to generate mayhem
and mass hysteria against the right to freedom of
expression and speech of others. Salman Rushdie, M. F.
Husain, Dilip Kumar, Deepa Mehta, Kamal Haasan, Ismail
Merchant and a host of other writers, theatre actors and
social workers have all been attacked at some point of
time by those who seek to obliterate the Mahatma's
message of universal tolerance and brotherhood.
Intolerance is a disease which makes the sufferer attack
his own shadow. Ismail Merchant put the issue in
perspective when he said that "the country has
become more intolerant now. And the problem is that there
is no strong Central government". He had faced a
similar problem while making "The Deceivers" in
Rajasthan in 1987 when someone floated the rumour about a
woman being burnt alive. "But I must say that then
the administration and the Information and Broadcasting
Ministry were firm in handling the threat of disrupting
the shooting of the film". In simple terms, the
disease of intolerance cannot be eliminated without the
necessary political will to act.
THE proposed defence outlay in the Budget for 2000-01 is a welcome departure from the past. For over a decade now, successive governments had ignored the nations security concerns. In a bold decision this year, the government hiked the defence outlay to the tune of Rs 13000 crore. This highest ever hike is tantamount to an increase of 28.2 per cent which has understandably created euphoria in the country. Despite the high deficit of 5.1 per cent and lower allocations for infrastructure and social sectors, this years increment for defence has not drawn any flak from any quarter. Kargil is much too fresh in Indian memory for anyone to criticise and risk being misconstrued as unpatriotic.
However, this years total defence outlay of Rs 58,587 crore over the previous years Rs 45,694 crore has raised the hackles in Pakistan and the USA. Pakistan has promptly labelled India as hegemonistic. It has criticised the hike as an attempt to dominate the region. Pakistans compulsive obsession with India and its propensity to create mischief over and again as it did in 1946, 1965 and again in 1999, in fact, helps spur India into reviewing its threat perceptions, hiking defence outlays and taking recourse to feverish procurement activities. It is only when our neighbours needle us that we tend to wake up in reaction. The pendulum suddenly swings from one extreme to another, only to come to rest again. After the 1962 fiasco, the defence expenditure was hiked from 2.56 per cent to 3.84 per cent of the GDP. After 1965 war, it went upto 3.38 per cent from 3.25 per cent and again from 2.78 per cent to 3.30 per cent in 1971. But this time the pendulum has really swung from 2.31 per cent to close to 3 per cent. This has prompted Uncle Sam to say Washington wanted to inspect the details of the proposed 28.2 per cent hike and listen to New Delhis reasoning for its largest defence spending increase in a single year before commenting on it. The USA can perhaps get away with indiscretion and interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
However, Pakistan must realise that Indias economy is resilient enough to accommodate periodic increases in defence expenditure and even sustain high expenditure for long without unduly effecting its growth. But the same cannot be said of Pakistans economy which would collapse without being able to bear competition with India. It may not be apt to bring out the US-USSR example, but all the same it drives home the point. It is, however, certain that this wisdom will never get the better of Pakistani Generals. It is not far out to say that belligerency towards India keeps Pakistani Generals in business and the nation intact.
It would be only fair to put the so-called highest ever hike in proper perspective. It must not be misconstrued as runaway defence expenditure. Nor is it as spectacular as it seems on the face of it. It has to be seen in the light of the past decades neglect and more recent Kargil conflict which threw up some very serious shortcomings. At the post-Kargil stage, the armed forces sought supplementary grants of the order of Rs 7,000 crore. But all that the government could provide was a mere Rs 2810 crore, taking the revised estimates to Rs 48,504 crore. Seen against this, the hike is nothing more than a 10,000 crore.
This divided between the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and adjusted against inflation which is normally very high in case of defence hardware, not much would be left in hand to procure the UAVs, communication and surveillance equipment, AJTs, Mirages and AD ships, aircraft carriers and submarines. This is the least hike required in the wake of the deteriorating security environment after Kargil. And yet it is way down in comparison with our neighbours. Both Pakistan and China spend more than 4 per cent of their respective GDPs on defence.
Going into further breakdown, the Army budget goes up by Rs 5015 crore from last years Rs 23,925 crore. The Army has to bear the additional burden of militancy in J&K and the insurgency in the east for which it is not compensated. Nor is it compensated for its requisitioning by state governments for the maintenance of law and order. Besides, it has a long over-due modernisation programme. The Kargil conflict has highlighted the risks of allowing the conventional capability to wane further, specially in the nuclear charged environment. The shortcomings in equipment like self-propelled guns, multi-barrel rocket launchers, weapon-locating radars and T-90 tanks among others have to be made good soon. The extra cost of Siachisation of the LoC has to be borne also out of the same kitty. This alone is estimated to cost Rs 1733 crore during the year.
The Navy and the Air Force are in no better position. The naval outlay has increased to Rs 4040.47 crore from last years Rs 3596.96 crore, a hike of Rs 444 crore. The Navy has been upset for long over its lost decade. The Air Force is too peeved over its inability to procure 60 AJTs for over a decade now. For this lapse, the nation has been paying a heavy price in terms of human life and aircraft. Its wishlist includes additional Mirage-2000s and the upgradation of BIS aircraft. The LCA expected to enter the service in the eighties and the nineties is still nowhere in sight. It may take another decade before it can become operational in squadron service. How much can the service achieve with the mere addition of Rs 1736 crore from last years Rs 6159.73 crore is a moot point.
Despite the extraordinary hype about the DRDOs achievements, the defence forces continue to remain dissatisfied with its long delays and heavy cost over-runs. There is urgent need to tighten up the DRDOs accountability if dependence on foreign vendors is to be minimised.
What is, in fact, worrisome is that how fast and how well these funds will be released and utilised to enhance the diminishing combat preparedness. The promise of an additional Rs 13000 crore to Parliament is meaningless if the bureaucratic hassels and delays will continue to exasperate the armed forces. Apprehensions of the hike remaining a one-time flash in the pan is also there.
Nearly 80 per cent of the defence expenditure goes as pay and allowances, leaving little behind for the rest. It is a saving grace that the defence pensions are outside the gambit of the defence budget. It was in 1984-85 that the government decided to make allocations for the Central government employee pensions, including defence, from the consolidated fund of India, rather than from the respective budgetary allocations. This years defence pension has shot up to nearly 12,000 crore in contrast to last years Rs 7345 crore.
There is urgent need to review the manpower policy in the armed forces. The trend world over is to make the armed forces thin and lean by compensating with the state of the art and high technology force multipliers. Future wars are conceived as wars between technologies and the disparity in levels would decide the outcome. Third World countries will perforce remain manpower intensive. They can ill-afford to procure the cutting edge of technology equipment for their armed forces when manpower comes to them much cheaper.
In our case, there is yet another factor. Despite nearly four lakh strong paramilitary forces, the Army remains committed full time. In fact, it is fully stretched in securing the borders with Pakistan and China, and managing the internal security which is deteriorating by the day. While the high-technology equipment is necessary for the Indian Army, so is the manpower in the context of the IAF. It is interesting to note that the Indian armed forces represent only 1.18 soldier per 1,000 citizens as against Pakistans 4.22 and Chinas 2.42. There is little scope to reduce manpower until the paramilitary forces learn to cope with their core responsibility of ensuring internal security.
Indias armed forces suffer from two basic handicaps: an obstructive and insensitive bureaucracy and short-term fiscal commitment by the government. The bureaucracy mired in red-tapism moves at a snails pace, the urgency of the matter notwithstanding. Decision-making is not its forte, nor for that matter does it hold itself responsible or accountable for its lapses that often put the services in difficulty. Scarce funds often lapse for want of expeditious decision making. This can only be overcome by ensuring adequate integration between the MoD and the services HQs. It will provide specialists within the MoD and direct professional advice to the political leadership.
Since the resource allocation is made yearly, without any indication of the likely availability of funds in the coming years, the armed forces are unable to plan ahead on a long-term basis. Only if the government could forecast with reasonable assurance the likely resource availability in the next five years or so, as is done in many other countries, the armed forces would be in a position to rationalise their procurement policy in keeping with their long-term perspective plans. It will prevent the defence budget being subjected to March rush as it happens in all government departments and ministries.
A long-term fiscal indication will ensure proper growth of the armed forces in tune with the threat perception and eliminate knee-jerk responses and ad-hocism in procurement matters. The threat has to be re-evaluated periodically by the service HQs in conjunction with the National Security Advisory Board. The government would then be obliged to ensure reasonable compatibility between the threat and the resources.
An integrated approach to national security will ensure the requisite resource allocation and force structure, and help evolve a strategy for the overall framework of security management. The armed forces have been neglected for too long in this country for want of political will.
missing fiscal correctives
FINANCE Minister Yashwant Sinhas ebullient declaration that his was the first budget of the millennium did not live up to the expectations he himself had raised. He left a distinct impression that the Vajpayee government had shied away from hard decisions to cut down fiscal deficit and launch the second generation of reforms because of political considerations.
Faced with an inevitable rise in defence expenditure in the aftermath of the Kargil war and interest payments crossing the one lakh crore mark, Mr Sinha opted for some additional resource mobilisation, but even so the fact emerges that India is on the brink of an internal debt trap.
The budget seeks to raise Rs 6904 crore mainly through a further restructuring of excise duty and the enhanced surcharge in income tax and other direct tax changes affecting the corporate sector.
While the budget takes the country towards a value-added tax (VAT) by levying a single 16 per cent Central value-added tax (CENVAT), the rationalisation process is likely to trigger some inflationary pressures wherever commodities have to pay a higher excise levy.
The continuance of surcharges on Customs and direct taxes (enhanced to 15 per cent for non-corporate assessees with incomes of over Rs 150,000 a year) and doubling of dividend tax to 20 per cent have depressed the stock market. The MAT (Minimum Alternate Tax) is being continued in a manner that no zero tax company is left out.
After the sharp rise in fiscal deficit from the budgeted 4 to 5.6 per cent of the GDP in the current year, the Finance Minister had to find resources to contain the deficit to not more than 5.1 per cent in the coming year, after meeting the rises in defence and Plan expenditures.
More than whatever the Finance Minister might have attempted to conserve and raise additional resources, the budget lacks the dynamism that was required to give the economy a vigorous thrust at a time when industrial recovery had become visible.
Apparently, given the differences among partners in the National Democratic Alliance, Mr Sinha has struck a cautious line on economic reforms. His few proposals to bring down the establishment expenditure do not add up to downsizing the government. The earlier strong emphasis on privatisation and restructuring of public undertakings including the closure of unviable units has also given place to a subdued approach with a greater focus of reviving loss-making units.
Disinvestment, however, disappointing in outcome so far, will be continued with a provision of Rs 10,000 crore in 2000-01 though the budget has assumed a receipt of a mere Rs 2600 crore against a similar target in the current year
Mr Sinha has only made a modest effort to contain the subsidy levels at a somewhat lower level than in the current year by the revision of the issue prices of foodgrains in the public distribution system and a 15 per cent rise in the price of urea.
The single significant element of reform in the budget speech of the Finance Minister is the decision to bring down government equity in public sector banks to 33 per cent as recommended by the Narasimhan Committee on Financial Sector Reforms. This will be done by raising capital from the public to reduce government share-holding. Mr Sinha says the scaling down of government shareholding would be done without changing the public sector character of banks. This needs some elaboration.
Mr Sinha, however, has gone back on his statement that there would be no budgetary outgo for recapitalisation of any public sector bank. In the light of trade union resistance, Mr Sinha has declared that the government would not close down any public sector bank and would consider recapitalisation of weak banks.
For the banking sector, the budget offers the welcome relief of abolishing the interest they earned from their advances hitherto. The loss of revenue to the government will be around Rs 1000 crore. It would, however, improve the profitability of banks.
It would seem rather ill-timed that when exports had begun to revive after three years of slow growth or decline, the budget proposes doing away with tax exemption on export earnings though it would be spread over a five-year period at the rate of 20 per cent a year. Mr Sinhas justification is that both the domestic and export sectors must be able to compete internationally, especially now that the tax regime, direct and indirect, has been made more supportive of growth.
Mr Sinha has also not gone ahead with widening the tax net to cover the services sector despite its growing share in the GDP. He has opted for an expert group to go into all aspects of the issue.
Predictably, the Finance Minister has recast the Customs duty structure fixing tariff at higher levels for imports of consumer goods which are being freed from the restricted list. The peak Customs duty has been reduced from 40 to 35 per cent, but with the surcharge it would be 38.5 per cent. This still leaves India relatively protective in relation to the East Asian countries.
The budget has given special attention to the information technology sector and knowledge-based industries in general with facilities for the growth of venture capital funds. Customs duties have been brought down for computers and a range of IT-related items. However, the 20 per cent tax on exports is regarded as a damper for the fast-growing software exports. The apex chambers of commerce feel that the budget has somewhat distorted priorities by singling out the IT sector and not doing much for the hardcore industries in the country.
Mr Sinha makes a rather
tall claim that with his three budgets, his government
has strengthened agriculture, energised the financial
markets and is putting India on a sustained, job-creating
7 to 8 per cent growth path. The budget does not reflect
the concerns articulated in the Economic Survey not only
about the fiscal crisis but also the imbalances in
agriculture and the decline in savings and investments.
Mr Sinha, on the other hand, says he has had to strike a
balance between fiscal consolidation and the need to
nurture the recovery phase of the economy.
allies: the changing mood
THE political weather is suddenly hotting up. Things considered most unlikely until a month back have become the order of the day. After the last Lok Sabha elections, even the worst opponents of the BJP did not dare to doubt the short-term durability of the Vajpayee government. The Prime Minister was thought to be in full command of both his party and the NDA allies. His Chennai declaration was seen as an assertion of his total control over the entire RSS parivar.
All NDA constituents had given more or less a free hand to Vajpayee on all crucial issues. They had endorsed the mishandling of the hijack episode even after the RSS came out with condemnation. BJPs political managers were so confident of the Vajpayee factor that they thought the party need not any more be apologetic about the increasingly intrusive activities of the parivar outfits. It has been this misplaced self-confidence that had emboldened the BJP to defend the lifting of the RSS ban in Gujarat support the protests against The Water.
Now all of a sudden, the partners have begun raising protests. In the past few weeks, the NDA allies have openly questioned their own governments decisions on at least a dozen issues. They were resolute attempts to force Vajpayee to reverse his earlier decisions. During the protracted negotiations on the Opposition motion in Parliament on the RSS ban, some BJP managers had hinted at the Prime Ministers desire to resign if the motion got through. Even such threats failed to mollify the allies.
Of late, on all crucial issues like subsidy cut, price raise, privatisation and the lawyers strike the coalition partners have found fault with the government. Not only this. Their differences were promptly publicised as if they were playing to the gallery. Details of NDA Chief Ministers telephonic talk with Vajpayee on price increase are handed out as press statement. Leaders like Karunanidhi have made it a habit to write protest letters to Vajpayee on all and sundry issues with full publicity. The interest groups and lobbyists have begun taking the Chennai-Hyderabad-Calcutta route to reach out to Delhi.
Often, the partners shoot off protests from the state capitals even though their own senior representatives in the Union Cabinet were party to the decisions. True, on issues like downsizing (retrenchment of government staff) met with resistance right within the Cabinet. This has been an issue dear to the foreign sponsors of the economic reform and all BJP allies are presumed to agree with it. The protests forced the Prime Minister to defer the decision. Consequently, the Finance Minister failed to comply with this second generation conditionality. Privatisation of banks was to be dropped as the Trinamul Congress under West Bengal pressure took it as a major issue.
On February 19 came a big jolt to Vajpayee when DMK Chief Minister Karunanidhi announced his decision to compel Vajpayee to reverse the indiscriminate privatisation of the PSUs to fill the deficit. (The new Budget has earmarked the disinvestment of government holdings worth Rs 10,000 crore). The biggest lose of face for Vajpayee by far has been the decision to hold back the steep price increases on diesel, kerosene and cooking gas. Though the objection first came from Chandrababu Naidu, almost every other partner came out to oppose it. Among those who had opposed the hike are Om Prakash Chautala, Mamata Banerjee and the DMK.
Even on an issue like the advocates bill, which among others, provides for opening up of legal practice to foreign firms, the coalition partners have been merciless. Karunanidhi shot off another letter to Vajpayee asking him not to issue the necessary notification on the bill. Another Tamil Nadu ally Vaiko has publicly vowed to fight tooth and nail if the Centre dared to notify it. From Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal objects to the UP BJP governments bill on places of worship on the ground that it restricted the religious rights of the minorities. (The bill makes it obligatory to get special government permission before constructing new places of worship). Similar protests from the allies have forced even the Gujarat government to put off its religious bill banning conversions.
Paradoxically, this years Union Budget evoked more objections from the coalition partners than the Opposition. While some allies had initially laced their indignation with a general welcome, most others were blunt. Firm demand for the withdrawal of the cut on fertiliser subsidy, the reformers favourable watchword, came from almost all allies Naidu, Chautala, Badal, Karunanidhi and Mamata. Badal came out with figures to show that while input cost increased three times in 15 years, farmers income went up by only 1.5 times.
Massive imports had stumped the outflow of foodgrains from Punjab. Curtailing food subsidy, Badal feared, would now reduce the outflow of foodgrains from Punjab thereby chocking its storage space. Naidu feared that 50 per cent rise in issue price of rice will increase the states financial burden. The excise hike will have a cascading effect on other items of consumption. Karunanidhi also fears bigger burden on his state due to the increase in PDS price for those above the poverty line. The Trinamul Congress is more worried about the absence of any measures in the Budget for reducing unemployment.
All this has placed us in a situation where the coalition partners do not find anything wrong in openly criticising their own government. Even the Janata dispensations had displayed a better veneer of cohesion. What is now happening is sort of institutionalisation of such open attacks. It will not give credit to any coalition if it ceases to function as one entity. Collective responsibility is the essence of the Cabinet system. Repeated objections to the government decisions by the coalition partners will be seen as a negation of joint responsibility if not a direct humiliation of the office of the Prime Minister or a challenge to his prerogatives.
Another side of this malaise has been the tendency of each minister functioning as an independent entity. Mamata Banerjee runs her railways as her own fiefdom. Even the Prime Minister avoids doing anything that would remotely be seen as hurting the ladys ego. A look at the railway and general budgets will expose the two patently parallel economic parameters under the same Prime Minister. The government as such does not have a uniform approach. The contrasts do not confine to populism and subsidies alone. The two budgets take contradictory postures in their approach, economic philosophy and targeted beneficiaries.
So far, the NDA coalition seemed functionally united and politically fragile. The complexion of their mass base, policies and programmes vastly differed. Yet the partners have displayed functional unity. The recent trends show that this is also coming under considerable strain due to the inbuilt contradictions. The NDA allies are called upon to simultaneously meet two self-contradictory interests to maintain their plural character for retaining their secular support base and to share power with the BJP and thus to embrace the Hindutva.
Apparently, results of the Assembly elections have a bearing on the changing political mood. Not only the voters have reasserted their preferences for the more accessible regional parties but have ignored the appeal for pan-Indian domination. Thus the poor showing of the BJP and the Congress has been a big blow to the much touted concept of two-party system. Simultaneously, use of super leaders with impregnated halo also seems to have failed to impress the voters. Both the Congress and the BJP need draw right lessons from this proven ineffectiveness of the crowd-pullers to garner votes.
During the Lok Sabha elections, exaggerated weightage has been given to the role of Vajpayees personality for the combines better performance. While bargaining for seats, the BJP has been claiming that Vajpayees personality has been a major factor in the NDAs success. BJPs dismal performance as against the reassertion of the allies, tends to explode this carefully built myth. This seems to be a major reason for the changing mood of the NDA partners.
The Vajpayee project was designed to work at two levels. First as a friendly, affable person who can earn the support of the general run of liberals and middle class as well as the NDA allies. The mindless actions of the RSS outfits have already alienated the liberal sections. Middle classes are not as enthusiastic as earlier. But Vajpayees moderate image still works with the NDA partners though with reduced effect. Tactically, both need the support of each other for their collective political security the partners in their respective states and the BJP at the Centre. This has been the main political rational that keeps the arrangement going. No one need expect an abrupt change in this paradigm.
But at the other level, the diminishing role of Vajpayee as a vote-catcher seems to have influenced the allies. Our political meteorology is so undeveloped (how badly the pollsters flopped) that there was no way to measure the intensity of the Vajpayee wave. The polls have now established that even the allies like Naidu and Karunanidhi have overestimated its velocity and sweep. If a Chautala or Navin Patnaik could do on their own without Vajpayee, it is bound to make them more assertive and independent.
A theory that got
currency before the assembly elections has been that most
NDA partners may soften their stand towards the RSS once
the BJP could electorally prove that what the secular
partners would lose by way of minority votes could be
compensated by the assertion of the Hindutva votes. This
has been the main argument to persuade the NDA allies to
be more tolerant towards the RSS. The election results
and the partners vehement stand on RSS in
Parliament show this still remains a far cry.
THE Bombay Government has issued a resolution declaring its determination to abolish liquor traffic and adopt the policy of prohibition in course of time. Their decision is based on the recommendations of the Excise Committee appointed three years ago and they recognise the fact that there is a strong public opinion in favour of prohibition, and if it is adopted there will be a great moral advantage.
Witnesses before the Excise Committee, if we remember aright, also pointed out that there would be considerable material advantage to be looked for from the total prohibition of liquor traffic.
The excise revenue of the Bombay Presidency, however, is about four crores and forms a third of the total revenue and all this will have to be given up and fresh taxes will have to be imposed to make up the loss of revenue.
The Government, therefore, proposes to pursue a system of rationing of liquor and for the current year a reduction of 30 per cent in Bombay city and 15 per cent in the districts is announced. No definite period is fixed for the attainment of total prohibition, but it is to be hoped that it will be carried out within 6 or 7 years as suggested.
|| Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
| Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh Tribune | In Spotlight |
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
| 119 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |