|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Wednesday, October 21, 1998
another talk show
debate on the
Yet another talk show
THE outcome of the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan in Islamabad can be summed up in two words foreseen failure. The Indian delegation has returned to Delhi saying that talks are always better than agonising silence. The Pakistani delegation has described the exercise almost as a non-event. The joint statement issued at the end of the parleys is ideally brief because there was nothing much to say signifying achievement. Inter alia, the statement puts it thus: "Both sides had underscored their commitments to reduce the risk of a conflict by building mutual confidence in the nuclear and conventional fields.... The two sides reiterated their respective positions (on Kashmir).... The talks were held in a cordial and frank atmosphere within the framework of the composite and integrated dialogue process." A Press statement mentions the consideration of two agenda items: (a) peace and security, including confidence-building measures (CBMs) and (b) Jammu and Kashmir (on the basis of the June 23, 1997, agreement). The committee that drafted the joint statement deserves praise. It has indicated that when everything significant is seen lost, hope remains there in a sustaining way. There will be more talks in Delhi in February, 1999, when the two Foreign Secretaries will hold the next round on the issues of "peace, security, CBMs and Jammu and Kashmir". It will be rather incorrect to think that decisions on major issues confronting India and Pakistan can be worked out only at the highest level. This level necessarily means the level of the Prime Ministers of the two countries. The External Affairs Ministers are, for all practical purposes, advisers to the Prime Ministers. The Foreign Secretaries perform the same role although they route their observations through the External Affairs Ministers if and when they do not provide direct information to the heads of government at their behest.
Secretary had threatened that if no progress was made in
the October talks, "there would be no point in
continuing a similar exercise". There is no proof of
the possible initiation of any CBM in the near future.
Indian newsmen, accompanying their country's delegation
to Islamabad, have come back with the clear impression
that the release of a few prisoners from Pakistani jails
does not amount to a great confidence-building measure.
Pakistan has made Jammu and Kashmir the main issue. As in
the past, both countries have iterated their old stand on
this matter. Nothing more significant was worth
reiterating at the end of the talks, they say. When we
concluded on October 9 in the wake of some
optimism about the talks that were to take place a few
days later that in the light of the Pakistan
Foreign Secretary's comments the next parleys seemed to
be foredoomed, we depended on our past experience and
Pakistani obstinacy. Even in February, 1999, both sides
would talk on CBMs and reiterate their respective
positions on the northern state of India. So, let us
propose a loyal toast to Queen Hope. The situation in
Jammu and Kashmir remains difficult. The ISI has not
changed its policy of destabilisation in this country
even under its new chief. The daily discovery of criminal
activities indulged in by Pakistani saboteurs indicates
that the coming days are not to be easily marked by CBMs.
The two Prime Ministers have met in the past on at least
three occasions and they have achieved nothing more than
the promise of more Foreign Secretary-level talks. Mr
Atal Behari Vajpayee's "satisfaction" over the
just-concluded exercise is too generous a reaction to be
perceived as encouraging. But diplomacy has its own
jargon and there is no point in distinguishing between
success and failure in its labyrinthine alleys.
Canker in stock market
INDIANS are natural believers in conspiracy theory. They easily attribute every unpleasant development to a foreign hand of the CIA then and of the ISI now. No wonder then that brokers and stock market writers promptly saw a foreign hand in the US64 disaster, triggering the sensex to dive by 224 points. Initially many scoffed at the suggestion, dismissing it as a product of national paranoia. Not anymore. Even seasoned analysts, hardened by witnessing years of roller-coaster movements in share values, are now convinced that the prolonged stagnation in prices is the result of manipulation and not irrational panic. And these men and women have gathered massive evidence to back up their claim that there does exist a bear cartel namely, a set of brokers who work to bring down the prices to make a killing and a hyper active foreign broking house, Morgan Stanley with a investible kitty of over Rs 5600 crore, is in cohoots with it. The arguments sound convincing even as the conclusions are frightening.
During the past decade or more, the bear phase has had a tight grip on the market and for far too long periods. The bull movement has been short-lived. This is the reverse of the experience in all countries. It is only natural since any investor, big or small, can make a profit only when prices go up. Only speculators gain by hammering down the index. This un-market activity has been possible because of a faulty law at the Bombay Stock Exchange. Brokers are allowed to cover their short selling (selling a scrip they do not have) by paying a small margin and keep extending the deal almost indefinitely. At the National Stock Exchange this facility is not available and every deal has to be settled by Tuesday. Also bear operators enjoy another undeserved advantage. The authorities, including SEBI, and the general public tend to believe that only bull operators manipulate prices like it happened last month with a television channel shares or with those of MS Shoes a few years ago. At the BSE it is the other way round.
Look at the record.
Barring four spells in 1986, 1989, 1992 and 1994, it has
been an unrelieved sluggish run during the past 12 years.
In contrast, the New York Stock Exchange has doubled its
Dow Jones index from about 4000 to nearly 8000 in just
two years, even after the precipitous fall in the middle
of last year, the Hong Kong index has clawed back by 2000
points from the lowest level of 7000. The BSE sensex has
hovered around 3000 for a long time and what is more, it
soared crazily to 4115 in April last only to dive back to
the accustomed level almost immediately. In terms of loss
of aggregate value of all 6900 shares registered at the
BSE, it works out to a mind-boggling Rs 1,25,000 crore.
This has led to a ridiculous situation. Many companies
find their market capitalisation (the total value of all
their shares) reduced to a fraction of their real asset.
Essar has fixed assets in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh
worth Rs 5400 crore but its market capitalisation has
plummeted to just Rs 712 crore. This shocking shrinkage
of the real value has several time bombs tucked into it.
The Indian investor has been firmly and finally driven
away; foreign companies are planning to leave, puzzled at
the stranglehold of bear operators. The paralysis that
overwhelmed UTI is too fresh to merit repetition but what
another bout can do to the Indian economy is unthinkable.
Salvaging UTI would not do; operation clean-up should
cover the stock market itself.
An avoidable crisis
THE Tajewala headworks in Haryanas Yamunanagar district is again in the news, as it has been for the past few years. Earlier, it had been a subject of discussion when the monsoon was at its peak. This year when everybody expected that the rainy season was almost over the catchment area of the Yamuna in Haryana had heavy rain which began a few days before Divali. The water level touched an unprecedented level since 1955. Those supposed to look after the century-old project took everything in a casual manner, and the result is an avoidable crisis in many districts of the state as also in Delhi, where the old Yamuna bridge has been closed for the time being. The carelessness of the officials at the headworks has brought about the disruption of traffic not only in the national Capital but also on the Yamunanagar-Saharanpur highway. Let us hope that there is no loss of human lives in the threatened districts of Karnal, Panipat, Sonepat and Faridabad now that the administration has been alerted to monitor the situation with all seriousness. The pressure of water at the headworks was so heavy the release touched the level of 5.41 lakh cusecs, a record during this time of the year for many decades that it washed away one of the sluice-gates of the project, causing flood conditions in the Yamuna in Delhi on Sunday afternoon. For many Delhiites Divali would not have been as much an occasion of joy as they expected. But the accident on the headworks can be described as a blessing in disguise. A number of villages could have suffered a heavy loss, human and material, had the sluice-gate not given way to the surging flood waters. Official alertness, when the rain was so heavy for quite a few days, could have easily prevented the crisis caused in parts of Haryana and Delhi. Moreover, till the Hathni Kund barrage is operational, the Tajewala headworks must be maintained with the care it deserves.
It is learnt that the
Hathni Kund project work on which began in
October, 1996 will be complete by June, 1999, a
little before the originally targeted period of 36
months. The new barrage will render the Tajewala
headworks redundant, as per the scheme of the government.
The Hathni Kund project will bring the much-awaited
relief to Haryana farmers. Since it is a World
Bank-funded scheme, a team of the financial institution
recently visited the project site and expressed
satisfaction at the pace of the work going on. The
government should ensure that nothing comes in the way of
the irrigation scheme, expected to give a new lease of
life to farming in Haryana. Moreover, its planned
completion before the onset of the rains will end the
fears in the minds of the villagers in the Yamunas
catchment area as the Tajewala headworks had been giving
them sleepless nights, specially during the rainy season,
for some time.
INDIAS AFGHAN FOLLY
MAY be because of our preoccupation with domestic political developments, or because of the absence of a full-fledged Foreign Minister or because of sheer indifference towards any event unrelated to our relations with Pakistan or the USA, the Vajpayee government has chosen to ignore the power play in Afghanistan.
There was a time when India took initiatives on its own to focus attention on deteriorating global or regional situations. Though the activities of the Taliban pose extraordinary dangers to India and to regional peace and stability, the government has shown little interest in the alarming developments in Afghanistan. It is as if India has virtually written off this north-western neighbour as a lost case. Ever since the Taliban ousted the government of Rabbani from Kabul and managed to establish control over a substantial part of Afghanistan, India has behaved as if the rise and growth of the Taliban is independent of Indians stake in the region. The government has failed to raise its voice in any forum, domestic or foreign, in support or favour of the secular forces in Afghanistan, giving the impression to the world in the process that India is reconciled to the ascendancy of fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan. This is nothing short of abdicating its responsibility and obligation as a non-aligned leader, as an old friend of the Afghan people and, above all, as a regional power. It is also tantamount to conceding that Pakistan and Iran have greater stake in Afghanistans stability and progress than India.
As far as South Block is concerned, Afghanistan may well have ceased to exist. India is nowhere in the picture as the United Nations is mounting its operations to bring about a semblance of order and peace in Afghanistan, and India was not invited to participate in the UN-sponsored six-nation meeting in New York recently to evolve a power-sharing scheme in Afghanistan. This represents a big blow to Indias international standing and prestige. Even two years ago, India was regarded as sufficiently influential and important to be invited to participate in a regional conference sponsored by Iran. In the United Nations, Indias voice was heard quite often whenever Afghanistan and its stability and security were discussed. That within two years India wilfully chose to surrender all its diplomatic options in relation to Afghanistan testifies to the low priority assigned to foreign policy issues by the government at present. Against the backdrop of foreign policy being relegated to the background under the BJP dispensation, it is not surprising that the political class in the country, including the otherwise vigilant Congress, has not reacted to the serious developments in Afghanistan developments which threatened a few days ago to erupt into a major Iran-Afghanistan war.
Typical of the lack of interest in Afghanistan in the Foreign Office was the description by the official spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry as speculative the report in The Sunday Times, London, that Osama bin Laden had asked Afghan and Arab terrorists to gather in Jammu and Kashmir for a major offensive in the valley and beyond. It may be one thing for the ruling establishment to be silent over the steady entrenchment of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it is quite a different matter when the Taliban is used as an instrument to threaten Indias national security or to wage a subversive war against India. At that point the government cannot take shelter under the plea of not interfering in the internal affairs of another country. This kind of detachment and indifference can neither be tenable nor will it be acceptable to our people. Is it not strange that while China, Russia and Iran are deeply worried over the implications of the rise and consolidation of the Taliban in Afghanistan and are goading the United Nations to take the initiative to discipline the Taliban into respecting international laws, India should be behaving as if Afghanistan and what is happening inside that country are of no interest or concern to India?
Even the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Mr Sartaj Aziz, is supportive of the UN attempts to make the Taliban respond to international concern on human rights, womens rights, minority rights, drugs, and terrorism. The links which Pakistan has with the Taliban are well known. Besides, Pakistan is one of only three countries which have recognised the Taliban government, the other two being Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Is India so unconcerned that it cannot even register a proforma anxiety and apprehension over the Iran-Afghanistan tensions escalating into a major regional war?
Of course, The Sunday Times report is speculative, but it is nonetheless packed with enough data to make the Government of India sit up and take notice. There are enough details in the report for the Union Defence and Home Ministers to order all our intelligence networks to begin cross-checking on the data; there are enough hints in the report for the Defence establishment to sound an alert in Jammu and Kashmir, and for an all-round tightening across the borders. The report is a follow-up to the earlier stories suggesting that foreign Islamic mercenaries had taken control of the militancy in Kashmir in order to regroup local militants who had lost interest of late in extremist activity realising its futility.
The Taliban is a creature of Pakistan and the USA. The two countries used the Taliban youngsters to mount pressure on the Soviet Union when that erstwhile superpower had intruded into Afghanistan and had tried to legitimise a puppet government. Caught up fully in the Cold War, the USA did everything possible to make the Soviet Union bleed heavily for its affront; in the process it lavishly funded Pakistan which used the Taliban to destabilise Soviet influence and hold. How the Soviet Union had to withdraw ignominiously from Afghanistan is part of history now, but the state in which it left Afghanistan has been a source of major worry for India from the point of view of regional security and stability. Not only have surplus arms flowed into Kashmir from Afghanistan, but also Pakistan-Afghanistan trained mercenaries have joined forces with the local militants in the Kashmir valley to further Pakistans proxy war against India.
All this is known to the Indian government which must have amassed considerable evidence by now to substantiate its charges of Pakistani and Taliban involvement in anti-Indian terrorism. The Sunday Times report merely confirms some known data while disclosing a few more related facts and developments. The emergence of Osama bin Laden as the financer of Afghan-Pakistani terror groups, and his decision to concentrate on Kashmir as the next terrorist target after the aborted campaigns in East Africa, and the interviews with him carried in some magazines, including Indian periodicals, carry ominous portents. The government cannot afford to shrug off these reports and developments as of little consequence. On the contrary, they serve notice of serious developments in the offing, with echoes of a holy jihad already being heard across the Line of Control in Kashmir.
Reports have already appeared of the revival of militant activity in some parts of the Kashmir valley. Put together, all these reports, including the one in The Sunday Times, carry a message for the Government of India and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir that the coming winter may bring bad tidings from across the border. As it is, the border is highly porous, and if the terrorists sponsored by Osama bin Laden have already begun crossing the northern ranges of the Pir Panjal mountains, then the first phase of the operations hinted at by The Sunday Times report may well have begun. The government owes it to the people to share with them its perspective on the latest developments in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is time for the revival
of national interest in foreign policy issues and
objectives. We seem to have put all our eggs in the
Pakistani and American baskets as if our foreign policy
begins and ends with these countries. The Gujral doctrine
has been given a quiet burial, much to the consternation
of the SAARC partners minus Pakistan. We need an active
and imaginative External Affairs Minister, and if the
reports that Mr Vajpayee has decided on giving that post
to Mr Jaswant Singh are correct, some amends should be
made for the gross neglect of foreign policy during the
past six months.
THIS happened in May.
The doorbell rang for the third time. With half-opened eyes, I looked at the luminous digital clock on the wall 1.40 a.m. Muttering unprintable expletives at the ancestry of the unearthly visitor, I got up from bed. Confirm the identity before you open the door, my better-half mumbled her caution.
I switched on the foyer light. My Kaun hai was greeted with a stream of endearments which I had not heard since my college days. The voice sounded familiar. Reassured, I opened the door to behold a bespectacled portly figure with a balding pate clad in khadi silk kurta and pajamas, and reeking of perfume and paan. I could not immediately place the visitor, and when I did, I greeted him with open arms. What a pleasant surprise, I said.
Is Naina alright? was my spontaneous reaction. Naina is Navins wife.
Navin Shah, a Gujrati, was with me at college. We could never get any satisfactory answer from him about his family business in Gujarat. But when his father and elder brother were detained under MISA and COFEPOSA, he had become the object of ridicule of fellow students. Almost everyone at college-going age normally nourishes lofty ideals.
It was at that critical juncture that I had helped him out with his mess bill which gesture had cemented our friendship. He completed his LL.B and went back to Gujarat. Except for a periodical exchange of greeting cards, we had lost personal contact.
Gulping down the hastily conjured sandwiches and sipping his cup of coffee, he proceeded to fill me with the story his life since college days. After practising law for a few years, I was commandeered into family business. My brother took care of the sea-route and I was in charge of the overland business, he said. Suddenly this year the old man decided that the family must enter politics since he felt that there was money in it and the earnings were apparently more legitimate. Presumably because of my experience with the wilds of Rann of Kutch, I was selected for the job, he paused.
Unfortunately the decision came (too late for me to enter the election fray). We have now decided to float a new party Gujarat National Congress and induct sitting MLAs in necessary numbers and form the government.
Induct or induce? I queried, Why GNC?
The word Janata seems jinxed, he observed.
Janata is jinxed in this democracy. My attempt at humour was lost on him. He continued as though uninterrupted. Besides, over a period we hope to be recognised as the real Congress. After all, Porbandur is in Gujarat, he argued.
What logic, I said. Dont you think there should be a common ideology or policy or some such thing.
Anybody is welcome. The idea is to form a front, he said.
You mean to bring together both those who have been fundamentalists and those who have been secular for decades, I asked. Why not? he replied.
But Patel has already formed his ministry, I observed.
There are more than 80 members who are not yet ministers. Remember, we in Gujarat have gone through this before. But for the inauspicious period after Holi, we might have already achieved our objective. Parivartan is the name of the game, he said.
What brings to this part of the country? With your expansive plans, dont you need to be in Gandhinagar, I wanted to know.
An Australian delegation is expected to visit to study democracy at work.
Besides undertaking such a venture, you should ensure the support of the Speaker and be in the good books of Raj Bhavan. I came to acquaint myself with the background of the new incumbent and for the know-how on portfolio management from Mr Kalyan Singh, he explained.
Your venture seems quixotic, I remarked.
You are woefully out
of date. In fact, one should not contest the elections.
That way you do not lose face. Take stock of the
post-election scenario and assume the position of
importance. Thereafter manoeuvre to form the government.
That is called Queens gambit and the latest in
politics, he concluded.
Now a cyber war on Kashmir
THERE has been much hullabaloo about the recent hacking of an Indian Army site on Kashmir. Anyone who has been scanning the headlines in the past few days would have imagined that there was a full-scale cyber war on between India and Pakistan, even as their Foreign Secretaries were making yet another attempt to light the peace pipe, so to say.
As usual, the first impression is erroneous, even wrong. Of course, the knee-jerk reactions that have characterised the relations between the two neighbours have added fuel to the fire. The issue is simple. At the heart of the matter is the projection of information about the Kashmir situation, and the latest scene of jousting is the Internet.
The Internet is a vast ocean of information, and it is quite easy to lose oneself in its uncharted waters. To take an example, if you type in the word Kashmir and ask Infoseek, a popular search engine, to find information about it, you are given about 9,500 results. Screening the mass of information thereafter is entirely dependent on the users discrimination.
Most of the information is gleaned from sources like newspaper sites and research material. Also available is propaganda material. In its classic sense, propaganda is defined as doctrines, ideas, facts or allegations spread by deliberate efforts through any medium of communication to further ones cause or damage an opposing cause. In an ideal world, there would be no propaganda, only free flow of information. But this is far from an ideal world and propaganda is thus often seen as a legitimate means of promoting a countrys foreign policy.
As the Internet is emerging as the latest medium of such propaganda, it should come as no surprise that there are a number of sites with attractively packaged information given from the Pakistani perspective. Many secessionist organisations like the Kashmir American Council and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front also have their sites on Kashmir. Like most of the sites on the Internet, these are based in Europe or in the USA, where there is the advantage of very good telephone links and computer networking. Of course, there is some possibility of such sites being censored there.
Obviously, someone decided to counter the negative propaganda. The Army came up with its site to provide information about the situation in Kashmir. This is how the Armys website was created. It is a good idea. It is the execution that leaves much to be desired. The daily update of events in Kashmir is drab, and the statistical information dished out is in an unpalatable format. It reads much like the crime reports handed out by the police everyday so many incidents, so many killed, so many injured and so on. What has obviously not been realised is that human-interest stories inspire interest, not cold statistics. We relate to people, not numbers.
Other sections on the site include: Insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir: a review; Army hot on the heels of murderers; Kashmiri youth reject the path of gun; etc. While the site has some attractive design features, the kind of copy used is again, sanitised, and uninspiring.
It is simply not the job of the Army to take on the propaganda gauntlet thrown by Pakistan. The Army can provide the information and assistance to professionals whose job it is to do so. Also, the wisdom of using terms like Pakistan-sponsored militants, on an official Indian Army site is questionable. Unfortunately, the Indian response to Pakistani propaganda coups has, from the time of Independence, been one of knee-jerk reaction. While Pakistan evolved audio, visual and now cyber tools for the furtherance of its foreign policy and implemented them through radio, television and the Internet, we have confined ourselves to reacting whenever they notch up another propaganda victory.
What we need is a concerted effort to rebut propaganda. Of course the most potent weapon to deflate the hot-air balloon of any propaganda is truth. There is need to present a true picture of what is going on in Kashmir, and to do so, it is necessary to have credible sources that will dispense such information.
Of course, packaging too is needed, but if you cannot hold the attention of an audience, you lose it. Instead of crying foul to an unconcerned umpire, the effort has to be directed to taking on the opposing side in its own turf, by presenting facts, by opening information channels, by answering queries that will pour in from various quarters.
All this will require both a vision and proper efforts, but that has to be done. As for the hacking of the site, it really doesnt matter who did it. The scrap on the Armys website reminds one of what happened just before the last general election. A pro-BJP site was tampered with to include some damaging information about Mr Atal Behari Vajpayees involvement in a 1942 case.
Such things happen even to
the most well-secured sites, such as those of the
Pentagon. Only last month, hackers broke into The New
York Times site and posted text and messages ridiculing
John Markoff, who wrote about Kevin Mitnick, a hacker.
You have to take such things in your stride.
Coalition pulls make BJP go the Janata way
THREE years back when the term Congressisation was first used in these columns, a senior BJP leader had dismissed it as a figment of the imagination. But developments in the past few weeks have not only heralded the completion of the process of Congressisation of the BJP but also the beginning of a sort of Janataisation. Traditionally, the BJP is known to retain some kind of an inbuilt system to ward off indiscipline and power struggle. Now this hitherto immune system seems to be fast collapsing.
In theory, the two processes Congressisation and Janataisation look organisationally self-contradictory and incompatible. The first is based on the concentration of authority at the centre. It has to be mindlessly imposed, often without consultation, on lower units to retain the central authoritys hold. In the case of the BJP, traces of Janataisation are marked more in its handling of the coalition. The current Prime Minister has been proved as helpless a willing prisoner of outside pressure groups as V.P. Singh, Deve Gowda or I.K. Gujral had been.
Streaks of this dual malady are so visible in the case of disputes with the Akalis on Udham Singh Nagar district, Atal Behari Vajpayees docile surrender on the issue of Cabinet reshuffle, his helplessness in the matter of settling the running war between Jethmalani and his senior officials and the sudden change of Delhi Chief Minister just 42 days before the Assembly election. The last signifies the Congress-style rut setting in the BJP. In Delhi, despite an overwhelming majority, the party had three Chief Ministers in five years, thus breaking even Rajiv Gandhis record.
For the first time, the BJP has replaced a Chief Minister mid-stream without any legal or ethical compulsions in the same old Congress style through faction fightings and palace intrigues. Madan Lal Khurana was removed for a valid reason. If Sahib Singh Verma was so ineffective why was he tolerated all these years? The onion price rise is not confined to Delhi alone. It has been due to the utter mismanagement on the part of the central authorities. The government was aware of the 15 per cent shortfall in production and yet the Centre neither stopped the exports of onion nor arranged for adequate imports. This was precisely what was done by the previous governments to meet similar situations.
If the worsening law and order is the reason for his ouster, it is L.K. Advani who should have resigned. In Delhi, law and order and police are under the direct control of the Union Home Ministry. The Chief Minister has no role. Two senior ministers of the Delhi Government, including the high-profile Harsh Vardhan, should bear the blame for the mustard oil adulteration, which has cost over 60 lives. Moreover, a highly influential BJP general secretary has been in charge of Delhi.
No doubt, the Chief Minister cannot shirk responsibility. But it is pointless to single out him for all of Delhis ills. His unceremonial ouster, therefore, has been a clumsy bid to save the BJP from being the target of public anger. This is something the Congress high command has been doing whenever it had met with similar popular ire in states. Thus the BJP has admitted its long misrule in Delhi by suddenly making Verma a scapegoat. The new Chief Minister has further confirmed it through her daily announcements of toning up the administration.
The whole episode has been a true imitation of the Congress practices. The high command meets at Prime Ministers house, in Congress style. The concerned general secretary, a D.K. Barooah-like Kushabhau Thakre, Pramod Mahajan and most important, L.K. Advani summon the Chief Minister and ask him to step down. A shaken Sahib Singh Verma tries to wriggle out and then refuses to step down as any Congress Chief Minister might have done. And in his absence the high command decides to execute the decision. Then begins the search for a successor.
Normally, the next moves depend on the victims ability to mobilise support. In Sahib Singhs case the high command really got perturbed at the sudden Jat backlash. This had forced the Home Minister to renege on his assurance to former Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana. As a result, Khurana, for whom this is the third betrayal in as many years, got upset. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the other alternative, was also ignored. Thus outsider Sushma Swaraj hailing from Haryana was imposed thereby displeasing every major BJP faction in Delhi.
While all this drama was being enacted by half a dozen leaders of the high command, the real decision makers, i.e., the BJP MLAs, were totally kept out of the entire process again in true Congress style. The Congress at least makes a show of deputing observers to assess the feelings of the members of the legislature party. This would follow more negotiations. The BJP has adopted a more arbitrary style and has dispensed with even such niceties. Finally, it was the sudden spread of the Jat protests from about 60 caste panchayats that had forced the high command to offer Sahib Singh a Union Cabinet post.
The BJP is also showing the signs of further bureaucratisation of decision-making in the party. Consultations on crucial issues are getting narrower. Hiring and firing of Chief Ministers without the least regard to the sentiments of the local leaders and MLAs has been the major reason for the Congress decline in most states. Leaders like the late N.T. Rama Rao had used such humiliation to arouse the Andhra pride against the Congress in 1980s. Now the BJP is getting into the same trap. Several recent decisions taken by the party and its government stand testimony to such arbitrariness. Even Kalyan Singh was not consulted when L.K. Advani included Hardwar in the Uttaranchal Bill.
The Janataisation of the BJP is essentially a fallout of the latters resort to alliance politics. It could have been different had the BJP tried for a coalition based on an honest agreement on the rules of the game. Instead, the party claimed from the very beginning that the success of a coalition depended on the prevalence of a dominant party with an able Prime Minister. Hence the BJP had from the very beginning decided to consider the constituents of the coalition not as equal partners but as allies whom the Prime Minister would deal with bilaterally. The failure of the Janata coalitions was attributed to the absence of the above conditions.
The BJP has now realised that no able leader can perform any miracles if the government he heads has to work under the coalitional conditions. Soft talk and ready smiles will turn ineffective while engaging in harsh political bargaining. Beyond a point, this may even be taken as a weakness. While arbitrarily including Udham Singh Nagar in Uttaranchal, the BJP was confident of disarming the Akalis through a pep talk by Vajpayee. The negotiations on the Cabinet reshuffle showed that the charm had lost its appeal with the leaders of the constituent parties.
Early this month, we were told that the Prime Minister has been able to convince the allies about the nitty-gritty of the reshuffle which was promised by October 10. Soon the whole plan got stuck as no one, including some of the more serious aspirants from his own party, was listening to his pleas. Every ally sought more ministerial posts often disproportionate to their strength in the Lok Sabha. Jayalalitha wanted two extra posts. Two factions of the Orissa BJP insisted on a separate quota. The Akalis had their own reasoning.
Unlike the earlier coalitions, the BJP allies this time widened the scope of bargaining by insisting on constituent wise allotment of ministries and departments. The practice so far has been to allot a number of ministerial posts to each party, leaving the choice of their nominees to the respective party leaders. Even the Congress high command had followed this norm while giving representation to various factions in state ministries. However, once the names of the nominees were finalised, the portfolio distribution is left to the Chief Minister or Prime Minister, who takes all care to make it acceptable to the partners.
This time, Vajpayee, with all his persuasive skills, was left helpless, in meeting the conflicting claims. Jayalalitha insisted that Law and Petroleum ministries were allotted to her and she had sublet it to her ally, Vazhapadi Ramamurthy. Now that he had cut off ties with her, it should be transferred to her nominee. Vajpayee had almost yielded to the threat but suddenly the PMK boss, Ramadoss, threw a counter threat to quit the coalition if the former obliged Jayalalitha. Once again Vajpayee shifted his position. As a result, practically every Tamil party has staked claim for specific lucrative portfolios. This had never happened before.
Again, a reluctant Vajpayee came under pressure from the BJP leaders to effect a limited reshuffle to accommodate the ousted Sahib Singh so as to retrieve the Jat vote. Suddenly, a group of BJP vaishyas formally staked claim for representation in the Cabinet. When it was known that the expansion was limited to the BJP nominees to fill the vacancies, the allies once again bared their teeth. The growing mood of defiance is so apparent. Hardly a week after the three-member panel was set up, Gurcharan Singh Tohra renews his withdrawal threat on the Udham Singh Nagar issue.
Jayalalitha has now provocatively charged Vajpayee with not consulting the allies, not herself alone, on the issue of recommending the Central rule in Bihar, Pokhran II and CTBT negotiations. As Vajpayee maintains a forced silence, she goes a step ahead and declares that she still kept her options on aligning with the Congress. A new dimension has been added to this with an influential section owing allegiance to L.K. Advani blaming the Prime Ministers soft approach for most of the ills.
LAHORE: The debate that took place recently in the House of Lords on the Indian Frontier Policy was in response to the public feeling roused by the murder and abduction of European ladies in Kohat by a gang of Frontier raiders.
This daring crime, occurring soon after the murder of two European officers, created a feeling of alarm and Lord Montagu, who had raised a similar debate two years ago, enquired how far the present Frontier Policy was effective in preventing raids and whether any modification was necessary.
Frontier raids have been generally committed by the tribes against Indians living in the border districts, and only rarely Europeans have been attacked by tribesmen as acts of reprisal for some special grievances entertained by them.
The recent attacks on Europeans are believed to be due to the indignation caused among the tribesmen by their enforced surrender of rifles and by the bombing of their villages during the late punitive operations in which their women and children had to suffer.
The tribesmen in the Frontier have condemned the use of aeroplanes in the operations against them on the ground that they themselves have no similar means of conducting warfare.
They particularly object to bombing villages without a warning, and it is surmised that their recent action was only retaliatory. But whether this is so or not, there is no doubt that it is impossible to prevent attacks on Europeans alone, and that it is only an effective Frontier Policy that can put an end to this trouble altogether.
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