|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Tuesday, July 28, 1998
Kasauli, save Himalayas
look at right to know
Save Kasauli, save Himalayas
THE TRIBUNE has reasons to feel satisfied that its Save the Himalayas campaign has started having the desired impact. Within days of our highlighting the brazen rape of the ecology of the hill areas, the Himachal Pradesh Government has woken up to the wanton destruction and as a first step has banned the construction of buildings with more than three storeys in the Kasauli area of Solan district. One hopes that similar alacrity will also be shown in the rest of the state and in other states. The moot point is that it should not require an outside agency, be it the media or the non-government organisations, to focus attention on such matters. These should be taken care of by the administration on a day-to-day basis. After all, government officials cannot say that they were not aware of these developments. Action against the encroachers or law-breakers should begin the day they lay the foundation of an unauthorised building. But that is rarely done. The government wakes up when the monstrous haphazard construction is already a fait accompli. Somehow, the message has gone down that the government is not too serious about removing encroachments and private builders thrive on this feeling. The impression is not entirely wrong because the rich and the powerful do manage to get exemption on one pretext or the other. And the bending of rules in one case is the signal for doing so in a hundred other cases. Politics plays a very ugly role in all this. There are instances where politicians deliberately aid and abet the establishment of unauthorised colonies just because they believe that they can get the majority of the votes in that area. The contagion spreads and nobody does anything except wringing ones hands. But the worst happens when the government itself becomes the law-breaker. For instance, this paper has been repeatedly writing about the construction of buildings by the government even in the state capital of Shimla which defy all rules. Still, precious little has been done about them. When the buildings of the High Court and the Town and Country Planning Department flout the rules and Cabinet approval is obtained after the structures are almost complete, there is not much hope.
The order about Kasauli is only the first step. The real test of its efficacy will be how diligently it is implemented. The experience so far is that the government is on its toes for a few days after issuing an order and monitors its progress carefully. But soon thereafter, it is back to square one and things revert to their bad old ways. If the cultural heritage, hill architecture and glory of Kasauli, as also other towns of Himachal Pradesh are to be saved, the government will have to ensure that its orders are actually enforced. Every days delay strengthens the cunning resolve of the private builders. It is no secret that they enjoy the patronage of certain officials. The best way to break this nexus is to hold the officials responsible not for negligence but for involvement if such unlawful activities take place in their areas. At the same time, care has to be taken that genuine residents of the area do not suffer because of Inspector raj. That is what had happened in Kasauli some years ago when on the pretext of stopping unauthorised construction, some officials had started harassing even those who were required to construct a cowshed, a green house, a water tank or temporary structures incidental to agricultural use.
THERE is no evident link between the vandalisation of the Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi and the bomb blast at the Kashmiri Gate ISBT except that the first incident hurt the conscience of the nation and the second one confirmed the belief that Delhi is no longer a safe place to live in. Both incidents, which have understandably caused national outrage, were avoidable had those entrusted with the difficult assignment of restoring law and order in Delhi shown greater vigilance. The statements made by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma after the bomb blast, which claimed two lives, are hardly reassuring. Mr Advani admitted that the law and order situation in the National Capital was disturbing and reiterated his governments resolve to take whatever measures were necessary for tackling the problem on a war-footing. Mr Sahib Singh Verma, on the other hand, blamed the inadequate police force in Delhi for the disturbing upswing in the crime graph. The unpleasant truth is that the Delhi Chief Minister wastes more time on such gimmicks as organising a Press conference for paying a traffic violation fine rather than devote attention to studying the loopholes in the existing policing infrastructure. He has promised to raise the number of police stations and launch a special drive to recruit 5,000 additional policemen for combating the rising wave of crime in Delhi. Neither increasing the number of police stations nor raising the strength of the existing force is likely to solve the peculiar problems which Delhi faces. It is surrounded by states where the law and order situation is as disturbing as it is in the Capital of India.
The border with Uttar Pradesh allows easy entry to criminals who run well-knit networks specialising in abduction, looting and contract killing. But the criminals who enter Delhi from Haryana have a more sinister agenda that of causing major political upheaval. Both the Kashmiri militants and the members of the terrorist outfits in Punjab have entered Delhi and are mostly responsible for such an incident as was witnessed at the ISBT on Sunday. What Delhi needs is an efficient intelligence gathering network which means improved vigilance for waging an effective campaign against the anti-national elements holed up in all parts of the city. Of course, the larger issue which needs to be tackled at the national level is that of the attempt by some malcontents to revive the movement which had once assumed a virulent form in Punjab. A point which needs to be kept in mind is that the train blasts in Haryana, Punjab and even Delhi are part of a sinister agenda cleared and finetuned by the ISI. Against this disturbing backdrop the nation needs an assurance from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that national security will never be compromised at the altar of political expediency. A far greater danger to the countrys security is from the enemies within, because they cannot be identified easily. The DMK government in Tamil Nadu was held responsible for the Coimbatore bomb blasts by Ms Jayalalitha and others. By the same logic the Bharatiya Janata Party should seriously examine the charge that the Centre is ignoring the deterioration in the law and order situation in Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab because it is in power in all these states either on its own strength or as an alliance partner of the Akali Dal and the Haryana Vikas Party. Another charge which too should be answered is that had Mr Sahib Singh Verma been a Congressman the Delhi government would have been dismissed for much less than has happened during his inglorious term as Chief Minister.
THEY are too small in number to make waves. They belong to the lowest rung of the economic ladder and hence do not touch societys conscience. They suffer from an additional handicap of having received the unsolicited support of the Left Front government in West Bengal, which has converted it into a wholly political issue. But the Maharashtra governments ongoing drive against whom it calls Bangladeshi infiltrators bristles with moral and legal questions. First, two related aspects. This is not the first time that the Shiv Sena-BJP government has launched such a cleansing campaign. But this time it suddenly revived the suspended operation last week at the same time as it slipped into a major crisis. Obviously the deportation is a crude diversionary strategy. The governments instinct for self-preservation does not justify the uprooting of a hundred individuals and striking terror in the hearts of thousands of others. Further, the delicate job of identifying illegal immigrants (not infiltrators, which term carries criminal intentions as in the case of Pakistani infiltrators in the Kashmir valley) and processing their case has been left to the lower echelon of the local police. The Mumbai police has a long ago lost its reputation as a sober and smart force and is today packed with the supporters of the Shiv Sena which makes no bones about its acute antipathy towards the Muslims. Thus, the governments action will be suspect even if the process of deportation has been flawless, humane and thorough.
But that is the rub. The procedure adopted by the government is not fool-proof. Plainclothes men selected at random the names of suspected Bangladeshis from the electoral rolls and the list of ration card holders. Then they talked to the neighbours and prepared a top secret dossier. A notice followed to the deportee-to-be to prove his Indian nationality by producing one of the following: birth certificate, school leaving papers, ration card, electoral identity card or the domicile certificate (the last shows the citizenship of those born in a foreign country). This requirement sounds simple and reasonable. But it is not. An illiterate from a rural area where the birth and death register is still a novelty or unreliable, is an automatic suspect in terms of the first two conditions. As for the next two, many cities routinely deny ration card to those without a permanent address and also deny voting right in the absence of a ration card. After all, the number of bona fide Indian citizens whose names are missing from the electoral rolls runs into millions. All this is not to suggest that all deportees are Indian citizens but to bring out that the procedure can well trap Indian nationals too. Further, it is wholly wrong to claim that Bangladeshi infiltrators are being sent back. Only Bengali-speaking Muslims are being deported. There are tens of Bangladeshi Hindus living in Mumbai and Delhi without being dubbed infiltrators. So the basis of action is religion and not the country of birth. This is a selective use of a draconian law. More, it marks a sharp departure from this ancient countrys glorious tradition. India had kept its doors geographical and cultural open and had benefited the new arrivals and also itself. In modern times this tradition needs a change, but not repudiation. A disowned past has a way of striking back.
|Fresh look at right to know
Public figures and the Press
by S. Sahay
RECENTLY, the Press Council of India drew up guidelines in order to achieve a balance between the right to privacy of the public persons and the right of the Press to have access to information of public interest and importance.
Since a summary of the guidelines would be hazardous, it is being reproduced in full:
Right to privacy is an inviolable human right. However, the degree of privacy differs from person to person and from situation to situation. The public person who functions under public gaze as an emissary/representative of the public cannot expect to be afforded the same degree of privacy as a private person. His acts and conduct as are of public interest (public interest being distinct and separate from of interest to the public) even if conducted in private may be brought to public knowledge through the medium of the Press. The Press has, however, a corresponding duty to ensure that the information about such acts and conduct of public interest of the public person is obtained through fair means, is properly verified and then reported accurately. For obtaining the information in respect of acts done or conducted away from public gaze, the Press is not expected to use surveillance devices. For obtaining information about private talks and discussions, while the Press is expected not to badger the public persons, the public persons are also expected to bring more openness in their functioning and cooperate with the Press in its duty of informing the public about the acts of their representatives.
The provocation to the Press Council to formulate the guidelines was a complaint to it by the functionaries of the Bahujan Samaj Party against media intrusion into the privacy of its leader, Mr Kanshi Ram, in October, 1996. What had happened that month was that media men surrounded the house of Mr Kanshi Ram in Delhi, whose decisions at the relevant time were likely to have an impact on the political scene. When he came out of the house media men surrounded him and asked some questions which he declined to answer. A scuffle ensued between media men and BSP supporters. Though the former maintained that they had parked themselves outside the house of the party president, the BSP line was that the media men had intruded into Mr Kanshi Rams privacy.
The PCI could not consider the complaint because the media men decided to move the court. (Under the PCI Act, the Councils jurisdiction ends once the courts begins).
Judged from the point of lucid reasoning, the guidelines provided by the PCI must be acclaimed as an attempt to strike a balance between the public persons right to privacy and the peoples right to know through the media. But then life is not all reason. Public men court the media, when it suits them, if necessary, by granting them favours and outright corrupt practices; they are simply unavailable when they are required to answer uncomfortable questions. The Sahib is always busy or not in the house.
There were innumerable times in my professional career when I was told by a senior politician that if only my man had cross-checked with him, he would have known the facts. And invariably my man told me that he had in fact tried to contact the politician but was told that either the Sahib was attending a meeting or was not in the house. Thus developed the practice in the Press of reporters mentioning in their reports that they had not succeeded in their attempt to talk to the person concerned.
The matter becomes more complex when the media is pursuing investigative stories. Maybe a new age will dawn with the adoption of the proposed Freedom of Information Bill, but the truth is that even documents that are deemed to be public annual reports are by no means easily available. This was my personal experience both with the public and private sectors. As soon as you asked for the annual report, somebody smelt a rat.
Corruption cases are the most difficult to crack, as the Bofors case has shown. There are wheels within wheels. There are persons who have in fact a vested interest in the case, and there is no lack of front men playing the game of their principals.
It would eminently suit a corrupt person if you followed the letter of the law, especially if he has wealth and political influence.
Both morality and law dictate that not only baseless allegations must not be made but also leads, based on reasonable suspicion but unbacked by proof, should be avoided if the journalist and his paper are not to buy legal trouble.
This leads me to the tactic to be adopted by the Press in ferreting out truth.
Would it be ethical on my part to carry into my pocket a little gadget that could tape, unknown to my contact, or the suspect person, my conversation with him? Or must I tell him: look I am hiding in my pocket a small tape and hence you had better be careful.
Would it be ethical on my part to buy off a person who is ready to reveal facts, but at a price? I might emphasise that there is no lack of such persons in this country.
More importantly since no organisation can show on its accounts money paid as bribe, must the editor allow a reporters account for the money received by him for professional assignment to be fudged?
I must confess that these are not imaginary situations, but the ones I had to deal with in my professional career.
I could go on and on. Is it ethical to get oneself prosecuted and convicted in order to be able to report deplorable conditions in jail? Is it ethical to buy a slave in order to show that slavery exists in this country?
While I do appreciate the guidelines formulated by the Press Council of India, these are valid only up to a point. The Indian situation is more complex than that, and ultimately a journalist must judge for himself what is best in a given situation.
I am by no means an admirer of key-hole journalism but I do hold that there can be situations in which a little deviation from strict morality is in order to serve the greater interest of the profession and the country.
Once again there cannot be a general rule. I would not approve of the use of a long-distance lens to photograph the peccadilloes of our politicians, especially when it does not concern their public activities, but then corruption or the loot of the state exchequer stands on a different footing and has to be dealt with as such.
I do not approve of rudeness by journalists, but the problem is that our public men are increasingly becoming rude and aggressive when questioned on their public conduct. Criminalisation of politics has brought about a sea-change in public discourse, to the disadvantage of honest pursuit of journalism and the peoples right to know.
|Diego Garcia: the threat to
by Cecil Victor
SUDDENLY Diego Garcia is in the news again. Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes recently listed it as one of the reasons why the BJP-led coalition government exploded the nuclear weapons at Pokhran in May.
Situated about 1250 miles (1800 km) from the southern tip of India in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it is being used as the hub of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Rapid Deployment Force logistical support network for power projection against nations in the Indian Ocean-Arabian Sea-Bay of Bengal littoral that do not subscribe to the American scheme of things.
The island, part of the Chagos group of the former British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT), should have reverted to Mauritius when Britain withdrew from the East of Suez but through a sleight of hand, the island was handed over to the USA after its inhabitants were removed in violation of UN decolonisation laws.
It has since been converted into a major air and naval base stocked with war material on roll-on, roll-off ships and nuclear warheads on aircraft and warships. Its facilities were improved after the Indo-Pak war of 1971 when America discovered that the Seventh Fleet task force stationed in the Pacific Ocean could not reach the erstwhile eastern wing of Pakistan on time to prevent it from becoming independent Bangladesh with Indian assistance.
In the 1980s at the height of the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops, the Rapid Deployment Force was constituted and it is a measure of American hegemonistic designs that its area of concern includes the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir which means that its mandate includes military intervention there.
It can be said that there is nothing immediately new in Diego Garcia for the Defence Minister to include it among the reasons for the Pokhran tests. The fact is that it is the failure of Indian constructive engagement with the USA to ameliorate the nature of the American presence in Diego Garcia that has forced India to list it among the threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Now that it has been officially listed as a threat, it is to be assessed how India can counter its baleful influence. It can, of course, be reached with the recently-acquired Su-30s but the rate of attrition will be high. The Prithvi missile cannot reach it but Agni can. An Agni missile with a range of 2000-2500 km can take care of Diego Garcia as well as any concentration of naval forces (like the Coalition Force arrayed against Iraq), particularly one which includes aircraft carriers and cruise-missile dispenser which must come within the range of Agni to launch their aircraft and cruisemissiles.
It is not necessary that the Agni missile be tipped with nuclear warheads (except perhaps to ensure the pulverisation of Diego Garcia in the very first strike). To be able to take care of a widely dispersed Coalition Force, India can use fuel-air warheads with which it has been experimenting for a few years now.
These warheads have a yield just a little short of nuclear volume for volume of warhead size. All this in the realm of keeping ones powder dry.
In the realm of diplomacy, having learned that trying to find a slot in the American scheme of things can be counterproductive, the Government of India has the option of resurrecting the issue of the Indian Ocean being declared a zone of peace (which is enshrined in a UN resolution), which would render Diego Garcia an unwanted appendage in the region on the basis of the logic that if the USA wanted to hold up a nuclear umbrella over its client-states it should do it either from its own territory (and Diego Garcia should be returned to Mauritius) or from the territories of its client-states.
It would then have to face the political consequences from populations that are discernible enough to understand that if nuclear weapons are bad for India, and if President Clinton must beg China not to target American cities with its nuclear weapons, the logic should be applicable to every nation of the globe.
75 YEARS AGO
Swaraj Party Campaign
Lala Duni Chands Speech
SHIMLA: As part of his election campaign, Lala Duni Chand of Ambala, a leader of the Swaraj Party in the Punjab, addressed two public meetings in Shimla on Saturday and Sunday.
A review: He reviewed the results of the non-cooperation movement for the past three years and impressed upon the electorate to return candidates belonging to the Swaraj Party to the Provincial and Central Legislatures.
He said that the non-cooperation movement awakened the people to the sense of self-consciousness, self-sacrifice and nationalism, and had great effect in uniting the various nationalists towards the achievement of the common end.
He regretted that some shortsighted people of the Punjab were pressing for communal representation and hoped that with the passage of time those petty feelings would disappear.
He strongly deprecated the action of those who criticised Mahatma Gandhi for not having achieved Swaraj within the fixed period of time and asked as to what contribution they had made towards the attainment of that end.
He appealed to the people to consider themselves Indians first and as belonging to any particular creed or religion afterwards.
Home Ministry dilemma on law & order
IN order to please its allies AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, Samata Party the BJP-controlled Union Home Ministry sent observers to Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Bihar to study the law and order situation in those states.
The 21-year-old Left Front coalition government in West Bengal candidly told the central team that law and order being a state subject, it had little to discuss with the representatives sent by New Delhi.
Though the governments in Patna and Chennai were not so articulate, the dust raised by their protests made Mr L.K. Advani agree to study the law and order situation in BJP-ruled Rajasthan and Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat made suitable noises to justify the study.
Now that the law and order in Delhi, again ruled by the BJP, has taken a nosedive, the Opposition has a handle. True, Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma does not have law and order as his charge, but the charge is with the BJP because it controls the Union Home Ministry, which in turn is in charge of the law and order of the national capital territory of Delhi.
The BJP had also sent political delegations to Calcutta, Patna and Chennai and it made rhetorical demands for the resignation of the respective Chief Ministers. The clock has now turned full circle. Who will bell the cat in Delhi?
AIR bulletin embarrasses
Last week, a quiet advice was put around on behalf of the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, that no senior politician or government functionary should make any aggressive statement on Kashmir till talks between him and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Nawaz Sharif, in Colombo.
Ironically, the very day this directive was put out by the word of mouth, All India Radios afternoon bulletins carried extracts of an interview given by the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, to the US-based weekly India Post in which the Home Minister had done some plainspeak on Pakistans role in promoting a proxy war in Kashmir.
The radio bulletin embarrassed senior media planners of the government who had been warding off requests from both Indian and foreign media for interviews relating to the Kashmir policy.
One media planner commented that AIRs autonomy was being stretched a bit too far. While Akashwani, still perceived by and large to be official media, in real terms its autonomous approach to news is causing red faces in government offices especially in the field of diplomacy.
De facto Foreign Office boss
Who is the boss of the Foreign Office? Officially speaking, the Prime Minister, who holds the External Affairs portfolio, aided by the Minister of State, Mrs Vasundhararaje Scindia, and the Foreign Secretary, Mr K. Raghunath.
But that is only the de jure position. De facto there is a race between the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Jaswant Singh, and the Prime Ministers Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra.
Both these gentlemen distinguished themselves during the post-Pokhran II diplomacy. Mr Jaswant Singh may have carried out three successful rounds of talks with Mr Strobe Talbott, the US Deputy Secretary of State, but Mr Brajesh Mishra, who laid the foundation for Indias pro-active diplomacy by quietly slipping into Paris, Moscow and London and even got the French and the Russian thinking quite close to the Indian viewpoint.
Mr Jaswant Singh has now gone to Manila to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). From there he will be flying to Colombo to aid and advice Mr Vajpayee during the SAARC summit and the crucial bilateral talks with Pakistan. Mr Brajesh Mishra will also be around. One only hopes that it will not be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
Gruelling session for Cong MPs
The recent attempt by the Congress party to have a training camp for first-time MPs did not quite happen the way its trainers intended.
To start with the list of some first-timers included, former Chief Ministers who had long innings at the state. Added to it was the choice of timing. The three-day camp was to be held between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. It also coincided with the orientation programme started for the first-timers by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, before the House assembled at 11 a.m.
Imagine a day of a first-time Congress MP. First the orientation programme, followed by the session between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., then training at the AICC headquarters.
The attendance figures varied. Of the 62 first-timers many senior leaders just kept away after a token presence when the party president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, presented her inaugural address on Wednesday. By the time it was Friday, most MPs decided to visit their constituencies rather than attend the training camp.
The Congress which followed the BJP in arranging such a camp showed poor sense of timing. The BJP organised a two-day camp at a distant farmhouse over a weekend which resulted in better attendance.
Contributed by T.V. Lakshmi-narayan, K.V. Prasad and P.N. Andley.
by Ramesh Luthra
WHAT did I see when I stepped out of a creaky bus? A breathtaking view, indeed. My goodness... you turn it on and sh... sh... sh, the nectar of life comes flowing in abundance. The greatest bliss on this beautiful planet, in fact. I could not believe my eyes. Hence rubbed them hard. I thought I had landed myself at a different place. Was it the same place where women had laboured hard to draw water from the wells for generations together?
Come winter or summer, there was no respite for them because this task had to be done in any case. This is how their morning started. Could they ever imagine sipping bed-tea sitting in their cosy quilts? Certainly not.
I stood there and then, rather fell in a trance. The old times rolled before my eyes how in my early days I was damn fond of visiting my grandparents here only. Of all the things that fascinated me most was the sight of the village well. There I would be ready in the wee hours of morning for my keenly cherished journey to the well tugging the dupatta of my mother or that of granny. Sands of time have failed to erase the memory of how I loved to bathe with bucketfuls of water, but unlucky that I was, I was destined to have barely one.
If at all I insisted on the luxury of more water, I would be paid back in scoldings instead. Another scene flashed before my eyes. There would be women, young and old, gossiping or sometimes fighting as to whose turn it was to draw water. What mesmerised me was the melodious rhymes they poured out sometimes. Not that the beautiful village bellies with their elfin charms lured me, but the very idea of drawing water would sweep me off my feet. My innocent self happened to weave a world of sheer romance and poetry around the soulful songs of the rustic women. The music emanating from the plying of the buckets was unusually soothing to my ears perhaps sweeter than that of the cuckoo perched on a mango tree in spring.
Undoubtedly, I brought sweet memories back to my home. Sitting in the classroom quite often, I would fall in a reverie and draw the scene in my notebook which invariably invited ogling looks from the teacher, or sometimes cane beating too.
Alas! the halo of romance and poetry that had etched itself on the retina of my mind about women carrying pitchers on their heads was shattered when I was posted in the interior of Rajasthan for almost three decades. My stint in that state opened new vistas for me through which I saw awful bitterness and stark reality of the hard life of women with pitchers. I would see them trudging over miles, braving the unbearable heat of the sun and the burning sand in search of potable water. Abject suffering and sickening drudgery associated with it dawned upon me. How I longed for an oasis on the roadside in the sandy deserts! Cool and refreshing water gushing out of the mother earth! Was it a reality or simply a flight of imagination of poets? I always wondered.
A fellow passengers elbow jerked me to reality. A moment of utter disgust! I was in my village now, of course, gifted with all the amenities of a town water which is more precious than the yellow metal was flowing endlessly down the drain as if racing to join the seas. I rushed to turn the tap off. Those assembled simply sneered at me. I think they were not accustomed to it. Perhaps the agony of a man with unquenched thirst was beyond their comprehension.
Instinctively a very touching scene in the famous movie Pyasa appeared before my eyes. I walked to my grandpas house. To my chagrin, the same sight welcomed me there too. The tap in the courtyard was flowing and flowing unchecked. Anyway, I turned off this tap too. There came forth my paternal uncle, mockingly, O Harpal, toon kaun band kari eh tooti? Chalan de, siraf panj rupai landi sarkar har maheene (O Harpal, why have you turned off the tap? Let it flow. The government charges only Rs 5 per month).
He let the tap on and washed his hands, but did not care to turn it off. He let the water flow without any remorse perhaps. Total indifference and apathy to the colossal waste of this bounty of nature!
A cultural function to commemorate the golden jubilee of our Independence was being held in the nearby auditorium. The song Sada desh mahan... resounded in the air, but to me it gave an aching in the heart. Are we worth such high-sounding slogans and gala celebrtions?
BJP, allies pulling in different directions
by P. Raman
THE Indian political scenario is in the process of further revulsions. The vague undercurrents mentioned in these columns earlier this month have become more pronounced. Until a few weeks back, the AIADMK alone had been the villain of the piece. Now practically every BJP ally seems to have some serious irritants with the main ruling party. Possibly, these may not immediately reach the flash-point and the government may well see the winter session.
But that is not the point. What should worry the BJP leadership is the very attitudinal change that is taking place among the allies. The general cooling off in the relationship between the allies and the BJP has been apparent from the very beginning of the current Parliament session. The warmth and mutual praise one witnessed in March are clearly missing. At the residences and in Central Hall, members belonging to the allies have begun freely complaining about the non-performance of the government and the Prime Ministers helplessness to lead the ruling combine.
The BJP allies are increasingly showing the tendency to emphasise their own views on various current issues rather than defending Madan Lal Khuranas announcements. On Bills and proceedings in the House, most allied parties seek to uphold their own identity, apparently with a view to playing to the tune of their following in their respective states. An important reason for this is the BJPs own style of dealing with the allies. Instead of evolving a common stand through institutionalised consultations the party prefers to first go ahead with the move and then make the necessary concessions when discord becomes too serious.
The Deputy Speakers election highlighted both these aspects the absence of an institutionalised liaison machinery and the allies new emphasis of identity. Despite having given a free hand to the Prime Minister, Mamata Banerjee, had herself expressed in favour of the Congress nominee for the post. MPs belonging to Samata and AIADMK have been freely expressing their support to P.M. Sayeed. Atal Behari Vajpayee may or may not finally succeed in persuading the allies. But this kind of excessive show of independence should come as a serious warning to the coalition.
No more can one ignore the tendency on the part of some of the BJP allies to keep their political options open even while continuing in the coalition. Influential pressure groups have already begun asserting within every ally. In some cases, this might have coincided with routine factionism. But much of it is basically a protest against the alliance necessitated by the personal interests of the affected individual leaders or sheer pressures from interest groups on whom the respective outfit counts for strength. Even the Lok Shakti is sharply divided on the continued electoral alliance with the BJP in Karnataka.
Apart from the honeymoon wearing off, several factors contribute to this trend. First, the lacklustre performance of the government and the atmosphere of instability have forced the leaders of the alliance partners to be highly possessive about their support base in their own exclusive backyards. It has been the revolts from within that had prompted the most loyal George Fernandes to support an OBC quota for women. Jayalalithas local agenda clashes with that of the BJP coalition. Hence she takes an independent course on issues like Cauvery.
The Akalis have their own local agenda to push on issues like Udham Singh Nagar on which they can never compromise. The message for the BJP is that its allies would go with it so long as their interests suit them and where they have a clear alternative. The most vulnerable are the AIADMK and the Lok Shakti of Ramakrishna Hegde. In fact, both these parties had also bargained with the Congress on the eve of the last elections before they finally settled for the BJP. The Lok Shaktis problem is more of adjusting with the local BJP leaders, especially in seat sharing and local political domination.
Others like the Akalis and the Samata Party have little local options. The problem for all of them is that in the event of a mid-term election, the continued alliance with the BJP will not give them any more edge. Unlike earlier, it will have the additional liability of anti-incumbency feeling and the eroded image of the government. This explains the tendency to go in for an increasingly strident local agenda. A look at the piles of pending bills policy decisions will reveal this clash of interests.
Uttaranchal, Vananchal and Chhatisgarh Bills have got bogged in various controversies. Strong opposition from the Akalis to the inclusion of the Terai region in Uttaranchal has forced the government not to go ahead with it for the time being. As a result, the Delhi State Bill also is getting delayed. BJPs own allies, apart from others, have taken strong objections to Bills on the Lok Pal, insurance and urban land ceiling. The Prasar Bharati Bill is another victim. Even the national housing policy has not been able to take off.
Second, the BJP itself is a contender for power and domination in all places where it has forged alliances with the local outfits. This has all the potential of perpetual conflicts with its own allies for a higher number of seats and other privileges. Even while sharing the anti-establishment platform with the BJP, the allies will have to fight with it for expanded political space. The UF had the advantage of a neat geographical division of influence base among its constituents. Under this arrangement, the respective dominant party had the political franchise of its state like the DMK in Tamil Nadu, CPM in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP, AGP in Assam, TDP in Andhra Pradesh, undivided JD in Karnataka and Bihar.
The minor UF constituents in the state were forced to accept the domination of the franchisees as they could do little about it. Unlike the UF constituents, the BJP has an ambitious programme of vertical and horizontal expansion in all states. While the party has been careful not to disturb its alliances, it has also been simultaneously seeking to reach out to new sections in the areas even if it meant frequent confrontations. Descerning observers can see the ground-level conflicts in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Orissa. If the tension had not mired the relationship at the higher levels, it has been due to the compulsions of fighting a common enemy.
Irrespective of whatever form it may take, a section of the BJP leadership feels that the partys strategy of rapid expansion and acquisition of power through cooption and adoption calls for a reconsideration. Apart from increasing the seats and wresting power, the alliance with the local outfits was expected to enable the party end its isolation, infiltrate into the allies ranks and win over an influential section and if possible, to effect a merger. The BJP has been quite successful in ending the untouchability complex. But the other two objectives have remained a wild dream.
The BJPs first formal tieup has been with the Shiv Sena. It was then hoped that when a one-leader party like the Shiv Sena disintegrates after its supreme boss Bal Thackeray fades out, it could easily absorb the cream of its support base. Absorption of socialists and Swatantrites in the Congress in 1960s was then cited as examples by self-styled ideologues like Govindacharya. However, the BJP leaders had overlooked the fact that they could not achieve what an essentially heterogeneous Congress could effortlessly do. So far, every ally has put up effective resistance to the political dhritrashtra aalingan by the BJP.
All efforts by Kalyan Singh to entice such splinters as Loktantric Congress or Jantantric BSP have failed because even the tiniest outfits are aware that once they merged with a bigger party, they would lose all their bargaining powers. The BJPs third objective has been to wrest a foothold in largely inaccessible regions like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. There is little sign of even this succeeding. Mamata and Jayalalitha have their own loyal following and the two ladies have displayed enough capability to frustrate any kind of political cannibalism by the intruders. Even a Mayawati has established the futility of political poaching into her popular base.
Most of us have failed to take note of a rather new disturbing trend in Indian politics. Realpolitik had at length discussed the significance of the BJPs political recognition to the rival regional formations on the eve of the 12th Lok Sabha election. Earlier, every splinter groups of most regional outfits could not come up for want of a prop. The emergence of new regional splinter outfits like the Lok Shakti, Trinamul Congress, BJD, etc with the BJP prop, has brought about a qualitative change in regional phenomenon. Until the last election, they were regional parties. Now competitive regionalism being indulged in by the rival local outfits is turning them into regional parties.
We are now entering a stage where the new local rival outfits themselves are coming under the strain of further splits and fragmentation. Orissas BJP is faced with a vertical split with a big section of it challenging the leadership of Navin Patnaik, a political novice. Hegde was forced to use all his skills to persuade Jeevaraj Alva to prevent a serious crisis in his Lok Shakti over its attitude towards the BJP. Even the Jantantrik BSP in UP is in the midst of a vertical split.
The rumblings in the Shiv Sena may not immediately lead to a crisis. But these are symptoms of the new malaise. Regional parties under a responsible leadership did have an important role in the pluralistic polity. However, the new trends indicate the emergence of a more dangerous kind of competitive jingoism based on splits within split for purely short-term gains.
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