|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Tuesday, September 29, 1998
Accident near Lahore
Nawab Sharif !
IMMEDIATELY after the Chagai nuclear tests Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked the people of Pakistan to be prepared to make any sacrifice in the national interest. We shall eat grass, but will never compromise the security of the country is what he had said in the broadcast to the nation. The calculated leaks about the millions of dollars he is accused of having stashed away in fake foreign bank accounts make it abundantly clear that neither Nawab Sharif nor his family members will ever have to eat grass even if Pakistans economy does not recover from the after-shocks of the Chagai tests. One of the reasons why Pakistan is counted among the most corrupt and economically backward nations is that ever since its inception there has hardly been a leader who has not used his or her position to amass personal wealth. From Iskander Mirza to Ayub Khan to Yahya Khan to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Zia-ul-Haq to Ms Benazir Bhutto to Mr Nawaz Sharif has been passed a perverted political legacy which has compounded the problems which Pakistan may take a long time to solve. The revelations about the murky deals of Mr Nawaz Sharif are neither surprising nor shocking. During the last general election, the people of Pakistan had to choose between a politically corrupt leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and an equally corrupt head of the Pakistan Muslim League, whose industrial empire is said to be built on ill-gotten wealth. The people themselves are responsible for having rejected the third option of clean administration offered by the Tehrik-e-Insaaf of Mr Imran Khan. A Swiss court recently provided evidence about the corrupt deals of Ms Bhutto and her husband, Mr Asif Ali Zardari.
Whether the Pakistani
courts will find Ms Bhutto and her husband guilty of the
charges of corruption levelled against them will depend
on a number of factors. Evidence of wrongdoing is not one
of them. The on-going cases against Mr Nawaz Sharif too
have been put on the judicial backburner simply because
as of today he enjoys the confidence of the military
establishment. It is significant that the Federal
Investigation Agency has sent copies of the report to
both the President and the Army Chief. Whatever may be
the immediate or long-term fallout of the leakage of the
report at this juncture for the Prime Minister and his
government, there is no denying the fact that it is bad
news for India. The positive utterances of Mr Nawaz
Sharif to the domestic audience on his return from
Pakistan about the gains of the talks he had
with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee may come to naught if he
pursues an agenda which is even remotely pro-India. The
purpose of the leak could be to convey to the Prime
Minister that if he deviates from the traditional
anti-India policy, the military establishment may have to
perform the unpleasant task of advising the President to
take serious note of the report. Pressing the anti-India
button to detract attention from the domestic mess is a
ploy which Pakistani leaders use for political survival.
The timing of the leakage of the report has put a
question mark on the implementation of the package of
measures for easing Indo-Pak tension announced by Mr
Vajpayee in New York after his talks with Mr Nawaz
Sharif. The Indian Foreign Secretary, during his visit to
Islamabad, will have to be at his diplomatic best to keep
the talks going. He may find Mr Nawaz Sharif in a nasty
mood after what the FIA has said in its report to the
President and the Army Chief.
Germany moves leftward
TIME for change, declared Germanys Social Democratic Party (SDP) as it plunged into the campaign for Sunday elections and surely brought about a major change. It is not only a change of guard at the political top, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democratic Union yielding place to Gerhard Schroeder of the SDP. More importantly, the change also means that the economic compass will be reset. Actually economic issues dominated the poll debates as is only natural in a country which is the engine of growth in entire Europe and which is plagued by slow growth and massive unemployment. More than four million Germans are out of job and a very good proportion of them are young people. Dipping revenue had forced the government to marginally cut social welfare and pensionary benefits, provoking a howl of protest. The eastern part of the country, ruled by the communists until the wall came down in 1990, is much worse off than the other part. Unemployment there is 20 per cent or more and most of the old industries have been closed, hurting the pride of the residents. In fact it is the east that tilted the scale decisively in favour of the SDP, bringing down the vote share of the Kohl party from 38 per cent last time to 27 per cent now. And also, the former East Germany is about to send 35 members of the renamed Communist Party Party of Democratic Socialism to the Bundestag, the lower House of Parliament. It will make history when the former communists take their seats; the Communist Party has long been banned in former West Germany and the Bundestag has never admitted a Communist.
After 16 years in office
Mr Kohl looked tired and jaded. The reliability factor
that he stressed on sounded more like a liability factor.
The country had developed a Kohl fatigue, or what one
irreverent young voter termed an allergy for
Kohl-era. All this despite his historic
contribution to uniting Europe and making the daring
dream of a tightly integrated Europe a near reality. He
also ran away, somewhat greedily and undeservedly, with
the credit for bringing down the German Wall and united
the two parts of Germany. That high point of emotional
fervour propelled the Kohl party to a big success in that
years election and retained enough momentum to help
him succeed four years later. But East Germany also
ruined his record book. He promised the people there that
he would usher in an economic paradise by pumping in
money, which he did but without much effect.
Chancellor-elect Schroeder has promised to create jobs,
restore the cuts in social welfare and pension payments
and reduce tax from 50 per cent now to about 40 or even
35 per cent. If he can fulfil the last pledge and still
manage to balance the budget, he will brighten his
chances for re-election.
Threat to Dalai Lama
REPORTS about the arrest of two Tibetans trained by China at McLeodganj, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, in Himachal Pradesh are highly disturbing. These put a question mark on the security of the Dalai Lama. The subsequent interrogation of the arrested spies, who are believed to have undergone extensive training at the hands of the Peoples Liberation Army of China, has revealed that 20 young men from China were scheduled to arrive here next month to destroy the main temple and the palace of the Dalai Lama. The detailed maps and sketches recovered from these people indicate that the mischief that was afoot was at a fairly advanced stage of preparation. One shudders to think of the consequences if they were able to carry out their evil designs even partially. Any harm to the person of the revered Dalai Lama is too diabolical to even think about but is not entirely impossible. The religious and temporal leader of the Tibetans is one of the most respected figures in India and the world and any attack on him would have led to disastrous consequences, besides evoking worldwide protests. That is why there is need for extreme caution. Security needs to be tightened like never before. The Dalai Lama is the holiest of the holy and mixes with his people freely. Those bent on mischief have tried to misuse this compassion in furtherance of their own designs. The Dalai Lama will be well advised to curtail his public appearances for the time being even if it causes anguish to his followers. Many Tibetan refugees come to India every day and it is not easy to check the antecedents of all of them. Quite a few of them might very well be Chinese-trained spies. Only recently, the police had arrested some persons in McLeodganj itself who were issuing fake registration certificates to Tibetans staying there. Three spies two men and one woman were arrested two years ago. All these incidents point to the gravity of the situation.
Being a spiritual person,
the Dalai Lama is not as careful about his security as a
person of his eminence should be. Even the car by which
he travels frequently is not bulletproof. But his
associates and the Government of India will have to
launch foolproof surveillance. The Tibetan authorities
should cooperate with the latter in ensuring that the
antecedents of various persons who manage to come into
contact with the Dalai Lama are vigorously checked. In
fact, the situation is so critical that there is need for
monitoring the movement and identity of Tibetans
throughout the country. That will be a stupendous task no
doubt, but it has become unavoidable because of the
Elusive price stability
THE Union Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, said at the Economic Editors Conference that inflation was due to agricultural commodities and not manufactures, and with the kharif crop, prices would come down and reduce the inflation rate. His feel-good overtures to business interests are indeed becoming facetious and irritating.
A stable price-income relationship has evidently lost its relevance for official policy-makers of all hues and affiliations in the nineties. The rise and fall of the inflation rate in the market economy is bound to be sharp and sudden. The inflation rate as calculated officially came down to 7.7 per cent in 1992 from as high as 17 per cent in the middle of 1991 when the market-friendly economic policy was unreservedly adopted by the government. But the inflation rate climbed to a double-digit level in the next year again to come down to 7.7 per cent in 1994.
With ups and downs on the way, the inflation rate fell to an 11-year low of 3.7 per cent in 1997. This was acclaimed as a great achievement. What was remarkable in this context, however, was that production did not pick up last year there was industrial recession and an absolute fall of 2 per cent in agricultural yield. There was thus no increase in the supplies in the economy to ease pressure on their prices. The fall of the inflation rate was due entirely to the fall of the effective demand in the market. This does not mean, of course, that the prices did not rise at all when there were shortages. All that happened was that the rate of inflation was moderate. A small upper crust of the affluent in Indian society still indulged in extravagant consumption of high-priced imported goods. But the pressure of prices on the consumption of middle classes eased to some extent. The mass of the people, however, suffered more deprivation.
What the inflation story tells really is that the purchasing power of the mass of the people, including the middle classes in India, has been steadily eroding in the nineties. The position was reached in the middle of the nineties when optimal utilisation of even existing production capacities, let alone their expansion, in the country has tended to be uneconomic, that is, not profitable enough for investors and producers. This is what industrial recession for the last three years has been all about. So far as kharif this year is concerned, agricultural production will just about recover from the setback of last year and in the case of foodgrains the supply position will still be very tight. There is hardly any question, therefore, of a fall in the inflation rate as hoped for by Mr Sinha, except by way of a further shrinkage of demand, sluggish economic growth, stagnation in the generation of new employment and incomes in the country. The expectation of a smart pickup in investment for industrial expansion and a surge in agricultural production is really wishful thinking. It is not surprising either that Indian business interests are concerned with strengthening their ownership and control over their existing investment, and bring down the maintenance cost of their assets by retrenching surplus labour rather than new investment and the generation of new opportunities for employment and incomes in the country.
It is logical in these conditions for the purchasing power in the economy to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. The widening income disparities and pricing out of large segments of consumers from the market is, therefore, creating conditions in which private investment is attracted primarily for meeting the socially limited elitist demand in the market. This too is providing opportunities for multinational corporations to make investment on a highly selective basis and push up their exports to India. The Indian business interests are impelled in these conditions to enter into joint ventures with MNCs on terms set by the latter.
It may not be amiss to recall in this context that the starting point of the structural adjustment of the Indian economy initiated in 1991 was the depreciation in the exchange value of the Indian rupee by as much as 20 per cent. The exchange value of the rupee has since been eroding on a continuous basis. The cost of imports and foreign investment as well as the servicing of the foreign debt in rupee terms has been increasing sharply. There is, therefore, no way in which the cost-push impact of foreign investment and imported goods, side-by-side with the hiking of the administered prices of foodgrains and other essential goods and services, can be avoided. Inflationary pressures, which cannot be contained, and falling production, are rocking the economy. Private and public investment is not picking up. It has indeed tended to stagnate in real terms in the nineties.
Sluggish investment and erosion of the real value of the existing incomes and the purchasing power for goods and services have served as a strong check on inflationary pressures during the second half of the decade of market-friendly economic reforms. The working of these pressures and their manifestation in erratic price movements has been attempted to be cleverly presented by entrenched market-friendly reformers in the bureaucracy of the Finance Ministry. The sharp dip last year in the inflation rate was acclaimed with gusto to obfuscate the fact that the inflation rates during the previous 12 months may have come down to the lowest levels in the past 11 years, but the consumer price index had been rising at a much higher rate. The rise in the prices of essential goods of mass consumption has been higher than that of the goods and services of elitist interest. Mr Sinha, finding satisfaction over price stability in the case of manufactures, and hoping for the inflation rate to fall after the kharif harvest, should do some serious rethinking on the nature of the fluctuating inflation rate in India in the nineties and its impact on different segments of its population. It is indeed depressing but neither fortuitous nor surprising that the upmarket patronised by the elite is flourishing and the mass market shrinking in India.
The facile calculations made in the mid-eighties about mass poverty in the country have already become irrelevant. The claim that only 26 per cent of the population was below the officially recognised poverty line in 1987, a bumper crop year and in the wake of a period of relative price stability, has been found to be exaggerated. Large additional numbers of Indians have been pushed below the poverty line after 1987. Those below the poverty line at present, even conservatively estimated, are not less than 40 per cent of the population, with a much bigger proportion in rural areas sunk in abject poverty.
The position of the mass of the people is worsening because of a slowdown in employment generating investment and a shift in favour of capital-intensive and labour-saving technologies in the name of making the production structure modern and internationally competitive two buzz words in the governments policy declarations. The facile assumptions and pompous claims that safety nets would be put in place to make the burdens of the structural adjustment of the economy tolerable for the vulnerable segments of the people cannot impress anyone anymore. The safety nets are still limited, after nine years of the structural adjustment process, to severance payment to those retrenched from organised industry.
The policy options of the government to combat inflation and promote economic growth under the market-friendly liberalisation-globalisation policy are also limited for economic as well as political reasons. The formal scaling down of created money by the Reserve Bank of India by increasing market borrowing to cover government expenditure cannot lead to stabilisation, let alone public investment and growth, without additional mobilisation of resources by the government. In the given Indian conditions, any attempt to seek price stability sans growth is bound to be counter-productive. The very idea that private enterprise can be a meaningful alternative to public investment for growth has been found to be naive.
The official publicists, while talking of controlling inflation, hide the truth in this respect. The protection and improvement of the real incomes and purchasing power of the mass of the people are the real issues to be squarely faced. This imperative is being ignored in the policy-making process. The question of regulating the market to establish a structure of relative prices relevant in terms of the real wages of the working people and employment opportunities for the labour force must not be sidetracked.
Investment to produce
goods and services, which cater to the needs of the mass
of the people, can alone restore price stability. For
long, especially more cruelly and cynically in the
nineties, the people in India have suffered because of
skewed price movements. It is time to rethink and
redefine economic policy priorities to subserve the
interests of the masses rather than pamper the
parasitical segments of Indian society.
Case for compulsory primary
PRIMARY education is compulsory in 161 countries in the world today. India is one of the 23 countries in which it is not compulsory. In 1997, the 83rd Constitution Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament, and it is time the present government saw to it that the Bill was passed, thereby making primary education a fundamental right in this country.
However, as our past experience of 50 years indicates, it would be Panglossian to assume that the passing of this Bill and the enactment of a law providing for primary education as a fundamental right, will make any difference. We have enacted more than 6000 laws in 50 years of Independence and do we see any law being really implemented?
Compulsory Education Acts are already in force in19 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa. As explained, legislation by itself has achieved little so far because unless we have the political will and commitment to get the needful done, things do not even move. What is required and which is sadly lacking is the will and commitment. India spends a mere 3.2 per cent of its GDP on education while it spends 16 per cent on subsidies aimed at placating the influential middle classes. It should not be difficult for India to spend another 3 per cent of its GDP on education if the needed will can be mustered to get the desired results. Statistical data, collected and collated by government agencies, indicates that about a third of the 100 million children in the age group 6-10 years, and over half the 100 million children in the 10-14 age group are out of schools.
The average ratio of primary teachers and students is equally appalling. On an average, there is one primary teacher for 65 children and one reasonably quality classroom for 200 students. A very major effort to quadruple the physical infrastructure and double the number of teachers would have to be undertaken if the proposed 83rd Constitution Amendment Bill is not to become just another piece of legislation.
If we just try to evaluate what is going on, we only come to very strange and unexpected conclusions. As much as 97 per cent of primary school expenditure today goes into the payment of teachers salaries. School buildings, books and teaching aids are funded from the remaining 3 per cent. The well-off people are, understandably, deserting the government-run schools, thus leaving the weak to suffer from its dysfunctionality. The percentage of children in government schools has come down from 78 per cent to 67 per cent in the past few years. Attempts are currently on in many states to expand primary education by paying non-formal teachers Rs 300 or less per month, and it clearly is not working because even the beggar is not contended with his earning of Rs 10 per day. In cities, the maid-servant who does only cleaning, sweeping and scrubbing in one house gets Rs 300 just for doing the work in one hour. How can we expect a qualified non-formal teacher to function effectively with such a paltry sum of money? In such situations the absenteeism among the students is reported to be 60 per cent as against the regular teacher absenteeism of the order of 25 per cent.
It is very surprising that in spite of our various achievements in industrialisation and food production, we are far behind in early education. All paths out of our educational backwardness are steep; there are no easy escape routes. India must find the money needed to provide quality education because there can be no improvement in the quality of life without proper education of the masses. Our country has to find the money badly needed to provide quality education to all daughters and sons up to the age of 14. The Directive Principles of the Constitution have been demanding this for the past 48 years, and it is very surprising that we have funds for other areas but not for this most important and basic item improving the lot of our masses.
How can we expect the masses to have better quality of life if we cannot educate them? The education of the daughters is all the more necessary because when we educate a boy we only educate an individual. But when we educate a girl we educate a family, a clan, or the nation as a whole. The importance of having a family has already been realised all over the world. Recently the United Nations celebrated complete one year to educate the world on the need for family.
Since 1991 we have been
accepting financial and other assistance from abroad in a
big way to expand our primary education base. While there
is nothing wrong in this, we should be able to generate
adequate funds on our own for the purpose. It will also
give a fillip to our swadeshi approach. It is very
necessary for our children and for the future of the
country. We cannot make our country progress on expected
lines unless we try to do more with less, and at the same
time we should utilise every paisa for the good of the
greatest number. For this purpose we need to undertake
total evaluation and implementation of all the ongoing
schemes so that we can wind up unhealthy and uneconomical
schemes and dovetail all our resources to those schemes
like primary education which within a short time will
show definite results.
LIKE every other Indian, I have always been on the lookout to make money in the quickest possible way. I have been lapping up every news item on scams, both national and international. I had hoped for an inspiration to emulate my heroes people whom I admired, envied and despised at the same time (except that I did not want to be caught in the act). My meandering through the columns of newspapers provided me with plenty of fodder for thought, but no brainwave. I could never be a scoundrel. I, therefore, ruled out politics. Having been brought up in a modest middle-class family, I could never think big. My background also provided the biggest disadvantage I was law-abiding.
During the course of my persistent pursuit of a perfect scam, I came across two of them which appealed to my sense of fair play. At the national level, the one pertained to Mumbais sub-urban railway. Commuters, for a nominal monthly subscription acquired the membership of an organisation. This organisation encouraged them to travel ticketless. When caught, the commuters simply paid the fine and claimed reimbursement from the organisation a scheme similar to that of health insurance or breakdown insurance. The second at the international level, in which a racketeer (in the forties) undersold and outsold US treasury stamps. Stamps were to be paid for in advance, the racketeer had ample float no client was dissatisfied or had any complaints. Since I did not possess the necessary wherewithals to operate similar schemes, I resigned myself to my continued mediocritic existence.
The other day I had to go to Mohali. I boarded a CTU bus at the PGI to reach the general bus stand in Sector 17. There I changed buses and proceeded to my destination. My return journey was more eventful. At Mohali I got into a bus proceeding to the PGI via Sector 17. I proffered a tenner and asked for a ticket to the PGI.
The conductor accepted the tenner. Ik rupya, he growled. I repeated that I had to go to the PGI. Ik rupya la te panj le lo, said he impatiently. I couldnt find a rupee. Chadan ton pahlaiyan khulae paise rakhne chaide, he preached, Seat te bae jao.
No change and no ticket.
In the good old days in Delhi, the conductor would have marked on the ticket and asked you to collect the balance from Scindia House. I was mentally preparing for a similar treatment. I dont know what the conductor read in my face. A stop later he walked up to me and gave me a ticket for Rs 5 and returned Rs 4 in change. Conspiratorially, he said, Je koi puchche, te kaena tusi ithon chade se.
I had my brainwave.
I had a hectic schedule for the next few days. I travelled on every route starting from the PGI and on the same route at different times during the day. A week later and my purse considerable lighter, I felt like shouting Eureka. I discovered that if you boarded a bus (starting at the PGI) at Sector 17, after some stage (lets say fare equalisation point), the fares from Sector 17 and from the PGI to that stage were the same. I had found my scam!
I would get commuters from the PGI to Sector 17 to buy tickets at least up to the fare equalisation destination by paying Rs 5. I would then buy those tickets from them for Rs 3 and resell them at Sector 17 to the ongoing passengers for Rs 4. Thus the notional fare from the PGI to Sector 17 gets split in four ways and I pocket one rupee. I did some mental arithmetic and found that I could be a millionaire in a couple of months (tax-free income, of course!)
Before counting chickens, I started analysing the possible hiccups in my scheme (scam). Firstly, the tickets are supposed to be non-transferable. But one could always buy a ticket for a friend I convinced myself. Secondly, tickets sold or bought in one bus on an up or down trip can be used only on the same trip. This meant both purchase and resale of tickets during the transit stopping time at Sector 17. This would require some organisation I said to myself. Thirdly, the number of passengers from the PGI getting down at Sector 17 has to be more or less equal to the number boarding the bus at Sector 17. The scheme could work only on five week days.
I was figuring out the probability and yields during my final test ride from the PGI. The conductor approached me. I mechanically handed over Rs 6 and asked for a ticket to Mohali. He did not hand over the ticket to me immediately. The significance did not strike me. The bus stopped at Sector 17. I noticed the bus conductor nonchalantly standing at the exit door and collecting the tickets back from the disembarking commuters. I got my tickets but felt cheated. My scam was still-born.
BJPs strong-arm tactics backfire
ABUSE of constitutional provisions like Article 356 and misuse of Raj Bhavans as extension counters of the ruling party at the Centre have defiled the sanctity of the Constitution.... Who says so? Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav in their complaint to President K.R. Narayanan against the BJP Governor? Or an old charge sheet against Ram Lal, a discredited Congress Governor of Andhra Pradesh when N.T. Rama Rao was in power?
Prophecies can often be cruel. How many of those who had trusted the BJPs 1998 election manifesto could have imagined that its rulers would go against every word of its promise? Raja kaalasya kaaranam (the ruler is responsible for the times) the manifesto further says and assures: There will be a marked change in the mindset and behaviour of those in government. Sadly, the only marked change has been in names from Ram Lal, Krishnapal Singh and Romesh Bhandari to Sundar Singh Bhandari.
But a redeeming aspect has been the gradual strengthening of the democratic and institutional system of the country. No more can a despotic Prime Minister ride roughshod on the states ruled by the rival parties and get away with it. With the collapse of the monopoly of power and the assertion of a pluralistic polity emerged adequate checks and balances in the system. A President chosen by an array of smaller parties can no more follow the dictates of a single ruling party. Power of public opinion has become an important factor.
Unlike before the mid-80s, crucial decisions have to cross so many hurdles. The complexion of the Rajya Sabha has been such that for 13 years, no single party could effect a constitutional change with a two-thirds majority. No government could be dismissed without a majority in Parliament. Fear of judicial scrutiny has made it more difficult to push a blatantly partisan agenda. If the President, in his own wisdom, overlooks any legal and ethical proprieties, the apex court can always correct it. This, in turn, would make the constitutional head act more wisely than some of his predecessors did before the 90s.
This institutional restraint is accompanied by the increasing maturity of public opinion. Notably, no known constitutional expert this time came forward to even remotely defend the Cabinets recommendation to dismiss the Rabri Devi Government. Even those like Subhash Kashyap could not go back on the position he had taken on earlier occasions. In sharp contrast, most of the three dozen political parties on both sides of the fence were solely guided by their own expediency.
Politically, the Bihar episode sends important messages to the BJP allies. Irrespective of the final outcome of the confrontation between the BJP and the Opposition, it is now obvious that if the party chooses to take a political risk, it will be in its own interests. The demands of the regional allies would be considered only if they coincide with the interests of the master party. For instance, Jayalalitha, who had acted as a catalytic agent in removing the BJPs untouchability, had even before the elections sought a commitment on the dismissal of the Karunanidhi Government. From the very beginning she has been hopeful of the use of Article 356 against the DMK Government.
Similar demands had come from Mamata Banerjees Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal. The BJP had firmly rejected all such requests on the plea that it could not misuse the provision in view of its lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha and judicial restraints. But when the BJP found it was in its own interest to sack the Rabri Devi Government, it did not hesitate to rush through the plan. If what Akali Minister Kanwaljit Singh claims is true, the BJP had not even consulted the allies while taking such a crucial decision. The BJP was so confident that the exigencies of power would force every ally to fall in line with token protests.
Apparently, the allies are oblivious of the BJPs long-term calculations in Bihar. With 54 Lok Sabha seats, undivided Bihar is the second largest state after UP. Political domination of the two largest states would give a decisive say to the BJP in the Lok Sabha. In the long run, this would enable it to shun some of the difficult allies and thus push through its own agenda. The only hurdle in this game plan is Laloo Prasad Yadav. According to the partys assessment, without police help the Rashtriya Janata Dal cannot get the upper hand in Bihar elections.
The ouster of the RJD Ministry, it is felt, itself would help break Laloo Prasad Yadavs iron grip on his MLAs. Soon after the Cabinet recommendation was sent to the President, the BJP leaders and George Fernandes had signalled rebel JD leader Ram Vilas Paswan to wean away the JD legislators and induce defections from the Laloo camp. The BJP had thrown the bait at Paswan saying that in the event of it wresting a majority on the UP pattern of split-cum-defection, he would get an important position in the new government.
Thus even before the Presidential decision was known, defection and horse-trading in legislators had begun in right earnest. Initially, the BJP leadership gave the impression which L.K. Advani repeated that the recommendation for keeping the House in suspended animation was aimed at conforming to the Supreme Courts guidelines. However, Laloo Prasad Yadav was quick to scent trouble and rushed to Patna to guard his flock. The Bihar Assembly has an effective strength of 320. Even if Paswan is able to marshal most of the JD men, the BJP combine needs the support of an additional 110 MLAs, something which could be achieved only through horse-trading.
The Bihar operation also highlights the BJPs long-term strategy of enabling it to wrest its own majority at the Centre. With this in view, the party would not do anything that would lead to expansion of the support base of its allies. Todays allies might turn political rivals any day. This point has been emphasised by none other than the party spokesman K.L. Sharma who has made it clear that the government would act only when the respective local BJP unit also recommends dismissal of a government. No such demand had come from Tamil Nadu, he asserted while clarifying that there was no move against any other government.
This apart, the responses of the minor allies of the BJP have been on expected lines. Mamata Banerjee, whose one-point programme is to embarrass the CPM, readily supported the BJP with the rider that her bete noire should also be dismissed. Since West Bengal has what she claimed 130 murders as against Bihars 87, Basu should be fired first. The Orissa BJD also took a similar stand. Since both do not expect to win a majority in the near future, they do not fear Article 356.
Ramakrishna Hegdes position is still curious. He had described it as a monumental error but relented soon after. Jayalalitha has by now developed her own style of warfare with the BJP. But in this case, she feels let down by the elder brother who has opted for what was denied to her. For the Telugu Desam Party and the Akali Dal, the two ruling parties, who have been the worst victims of Article 356, have so far reacted differently. It is interesting to watch what would be the final posture of the two allies.
Another victim of the Bihar episode has been the well-cultivated liberal image of Atal Behari Vajpayee. In the past couple of months, there have been signs of the middle classes disillusionment with their latest poll-eve darling. In 1984, it was Rajiv Gandhi and in 1989 V.P. Singh. After a brief honeymoon, they all turned hostile. A similar thing is happening in the case of Vajpayee, who is increasingly being seen as an ineffective prisoner at the hands of party diehards and wayward allies. Vajpayees action is viewed in the context of the more honest stand taken by I.K. Gujral and Indrajit Gupta when another Bhandari had pushed for the dismissal of the UP chief minister.
The growing national sentiment against the abuse of Article 356, resistance from the allies to toe the BJP line and the displeasure of the intelligentsia have added to the isolation of the BJP. Their present mood looks strikingly similar to the earlier occasions. Sundar Singh Bhandaris intemperate campaign through the press and TV against the state government, the former RSS pracharaks premature revelation of the contents of his report to the President and the way he had dismissed the assemblys trust vote as inconsequential had all signalled increasing intolerance.
The claims by the BJP allies that things were worse in their respective states than Bihar has made the BJPs position more vulnerable. This gave more credence to the Opposition claim that Bihar was being singled out for action in the matter of law and order, administration and financial management. The charge that Laloo Prasad Yadav is functioning as an extra-constitutional power centre calls for a closer look in view of the changing political scenario. But Laloos domination in Bihar and Bal Thackerays remote control in Maharashtra should not be compared with Sanjay Gandhi hiring and firing senior ministers and officials during the Emergency.
In this era of coalitions, even sensitive government policies will have to be discussed with responsible leaders of the supporting parties outside blocs and bhavans. The trend had begun during V.P. Singhs tenure. L.K. Advani knows this. Under such circumstances, healthy precedents that do not interfere with sound administrative norms, would have to be evolved.
By far, the most important
fallout of the Bihar episode has been the consolidation
of Opposition ranks. It is likely that this will harden
the positions of the both sides leading to a new kind of
Mulayams turnabout on five-star hotels
THE villager from Etawah, who has reached heights in politics through his untiring efforts by promoting socialism in the northern region, especially Uttar Pradesh, suddenly seems to be developing upmarket tastes.
Known to be a champion of the backward classes, downtrodden and minorities, former Defence Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has also been harshly critical of five-star hotels since his younger days, has now been seen frequently visiting a top-of-the-line Chinese restaurant in a super-deluxe five-star hotel.
The grapevine has it that in the company of another senior party colleague, the former Defence Minister has been relishing Chinese food in the cool domains of the restaurant.
Other party colleagues have been piqued at this new-found taste of their party leader and have been feeling uncomfortable specially due to it being a prohibitively expensive place.
Interestingly, the Samajwadi Party leader was also seen visiting the restaurant on days he was leading the struggle against the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre on account of its recommendation for invoking Article 356 in Bihar.
It also prompted an SP leader to comment that while his partner in the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha, Chief Minister Rabri Devi, was threatening to go on an indefinite fast, he was enjoying Chinese food in a luxury hotel !
Well do not get disturbed. Congress President, Sonia Gandhi has not appointed any undercover agents to keep her informed about the happenings in this vast country!
In an effort to remain up-to-date of the days events the managers at 10, Janpath, have put to use the available infrastructure with little add-ons.
Since Mrs Sonia Gandhi has become active in day-to-day politics, the managers have asked the special Newswatch outfit which operates from AICC headquarters, to prepare bulletins for her perusal.
Culled from the day-long feeds provided by the news agencies the volunteers at Newswatch prepare a comprehensive note on the days highlights which is before the Congress chief at least two to three times a day.
Middlemen in Army?
The Army in its recent official newsletter has pointed to middlemen operating during its recruitment drive around the country.
In an article published in the official newsletter in July which talks about the new recruitment policy adopted by the Army, the heading says, Nai bharti pranali dalalon se mukti (New recruitment policy freedom from middlemen).
The article says that from April 1998 the Army has adopted a new recruitment policy which would help it (recruitment) be more transparent and would reach closer to common people. It would also help in removing middlemen and the candidates could directly get in touch with the recruitment parties, the article says.
The Army seems to have woken to this fact (middlemen) after 50 years of Independence. Interestingly all these years the existence of middlemen had been denied by the official quarters. Would the senior officers like to comment now?
Rain scuttles auction
The much-publicised grand auction of memorabilia by the Congress party on September 24, turned out to be damp squib, well literally.
The 125-odd souvenirs which included plaques, statues and other artefacts presented over the years to Congress Presidents were exhibited at the AICC and were to be put under the hammer the same afternoon.
For one, the number of bidders were not as large as one would have expected it to be, considering the fact that the party played the nostalgia card souvenirs presented to Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, etc.
There were hardly any senior leaders and the reason was not far to seek. Mrs Sonia Gandhi was away on a two-day tour of flood-hit districts of West Bengal and Bihar.
Eventually, the rain gods came to the rescue of the organisers and saved them from embarrassment. The skies opened up minutes before the auction was to start. Taking shelter, the AICC postponed it to some other day.
No bouquets, Im a socialist
Talking of mementoes, Defence Minister George Fernandes is once again in the news for exhorting formations to stop the practice of presenting mementoes and discourage giving bouquets to him whenever he is on a field visit.
So much so the minister with a socialist background has officially asked his staff to issue instructions to all concerned to immediately put a stop to the practice of presenting mementoes to him.
The minister said he feels such a practice is a waste of public money which could be put to better use. The only exception was when he is on a visit to the forward areas.
PROSECUTION evidence was recorded on Saturday before Mr C. Keelan, Magistrate of the Ist class, in a case in which Capt. J.W. Maund R.E. Lahore cantonment, has been sent up for trial under Section 337, IPC.
The facts of the case as alleged by the prosecution are that on the 22nd June, when Capt Maun in the company of Major D.G. Robinson, was driving from Ferozepur to Lahore, his car struck against the back of one Fateh Din, who was clearing the drain along the road.
It is further alleged that the Captain was driving at an excessive speed, that he did not sound any alarm, and that he got down the macadamised road, which was under repairs, on to the Kacha Road on the margin of which the gardener was plying his axe.
The accuseds statement repudiates the allegations that he did not blow his horn or that he was running at an excessive speed. He further stated that the gardener was struck while trying to move across the road from one edge to the other.
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