|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Saturday, August 28, 1999
RIGHT TO VOTE
BJP manifestos mum on spending cuts
battle of the anchors
round and round
August 28, 1924
Three combustible issues
KARGIL is where the BJP will like to fight its electoral battle, with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee as the generalissimo. But it suddenly has a second front Ayodhya. And ironically it is the saffron party which has opened the eastern front, again to consolidate the gains it has secured on the west. The rush of contradictory statements from the party headquarters in New Delhi and campaign platforms elsewhere reflect not so much any confusion within the party as the dilemma the Ayodhya issue poses for it. The building of the Ram temple is the mascot of the BJP agenda and the party phenomenally expanded its base by championing the issue aggressively. The BJP is what it is today thanks entirely to its very close identification with Ayodhya. This year the party needs all the help it can get to retain its size of MP contingent from UP, the epicentre of the Ayodhya issue. Last year its tally was 60-plus and it formed the nucleus of its numerical muscle to stake its claim to form government. It has to improve on this if it wants to past a full term and here is the rub. During the past one week reports from the state are not encouraging. An in-house opinion poll has put a question mark on a dozen seats it wrested last year. To add to its woes, infighting and the fear of sabotage threaten the chances of the party candidates in some more seats. The situation is so desperate that party general secretary Govindacharya, in charge of UP, is criss-crossing the state as a trouble-shooter and restoring a modicum of unity. He realises the potency of the Ayodhya issue in furthering his immediate objective. And so it was he who one day pushed the party back on the old and highly emotional agenda. A senior state leader, Mr Kalraj Mishra, followed suit in a more strident form, and despite the flat denial of the Prime Minister. This is what can be described the UP view of things.
The Delhi view is
diametrically opposite. As the leader of an unwieldy
22-party alliance, some of whom are opposed to this and
other hardcore issues, the BJP has to follow a midcourse.
After the Prime Minister one-shot attempt, the party
headquarters have been busy in damage control. Spokesman
Venkaiah Naidu sought to end the controversy by erasing
the three contentious points from the party programme for
ever. But within a day he had to retract, signalling the
powerful protest from within the party. The last word
seems to have come from Home Minister Advani who has
pleaded for a national consensus on building a temple at
the haloed place. A consensus is not possible given the
nature of political alliances. Some of his alliance
parties have more than once blocked the entry of these
questions in the national agenda last year and in the
manifesto this year. Two, given the BJPs commitment
the Palampur resolution of 1986, for instance
there may not be much scope for a nationally
accepted compromise. Three, it is too powerful a
political and electoral football for any anti-BJP force
to give up its rigid opposition. The sad part is that the
BJP itself is sharply divided between the VHP-Bajrang
Dal-UP hawks, on the one side, and those from other
states and alliance partners, on the other. Consensus, as
the cliche has it, begins at home.
Service, and slogans!
IT is not as if every party sticks to its manifesto after the elections but it is a vital document nevertheless. When a regional party comes out with this document, one expects it to focus more on local issues. But the Shiromani Akali Dal has devoted a considerable part of its manifesto to national issues, despite being a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which has already released its Common Minimum Programme. The most noticeable is its avowed determination to routing personalities of foreign origin trying to usurp leadership positions in the country. The reference to Mrs Sonia Gandhi could not be clearer. But then, it is equally macho about castigating her Congress party which it has accused of perpetrating a massive fraud on the nation in order to gain a "backdoor entry to power through treachery and deceit". It is equally emphatic in stressing that the wave of nationalism blowing across the country would brush aside forces of negativism, opportunism and corruption represented by the Congress and its allies. Naturally, the so-called wave refers to the perceived groundswell in favour of the BJP and it would appear that the Akali wagon would remain hitched firmly to the BJP star. But the naysayers can focus on the fact that the manifesto does not say anything about extending unconditional support to the BJP. Even if that omission is not deliberate, there is enough in the Akali manifesto which can lead to friction in the future. Mr Parkash Singh Badal has made it clear that although the Anandpur Sahib resolution is not included as such in the manifesto, the party is committed to it. He has also rebutted the statement of Union Home Minister L.K.Advani regarding continuation of the Union Territory status of Chandigarh and that of Union Power Minister P.R. Kumaramangalam on the inter-state waters dispute. The manifesto underlines the party's commitment to bringing about a genuine federal structure in the country and maintaining peace in the State. While patting itself, the Shiromani Akali Dal has chosen the Bathinda oil refinery and the welfare of the employees as its major achievements.
If Mrs Sonia Gandhi is
the main target of the SAD manifesto, the honour is
reserved for Mr Badal in the manifesto of the Sarab Hind
Shiromani Akali Dal issued by Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra a
few days earlier. This manifesto has not only accused the
Punjab Chief Minister of showing disregard for Akal Takht
and using state power to damage Sikh institutions but has
also claimed that Mr Badal has paved the way for the
return of the Congress to power by hatching a conspiracy
to politicise religion, officialise Akal Takht,
commercialise politics and "Congressise" the
Akali Dal. While he is in agreement with the rival party
on working for a true federal structure, he has opposed
the fixation of a five-year term of a government at the
Centre. This document lays greater stress on
Punjab-specific issues like the formulation of
agriculture policy, single food zone, and two farmer
members on the Agricultural Costs and Prices Commission.
If only various parties could utilise their manifestos as
the blueprint for an action plan after elections, the
face of every State and the country as a whole would
The Baghpat murders
BAGHPAT is synonymous with farmers who were led into the post-Independence era of rural progress by men like Chaudhry Charan Singh. By its name as a district, it is a green belt known for the sweetness of sugarcane and other life-sustaining products of farmingfoodgrains, milk etc. Villages like Binauli are famous for hard-earned prosperity. Traditional rural units like Darkawada have existed as shining outposts of peaceful multicommunal coexistence. Such background information hurts one's vitals within when one thinks of the last blood-soaked Sunday night. At Binauli seven milkmen were hacked to death by a "mysterious gang of armed assailants" (the words have been taken from an official file). The killers intercepted the dairy farmers who were returning home from various places of business activity. Minutes later, a 60-year-old woman and her son were killed. Blunt wooden arms were used first. Then knives did the ultimate job. No cash or jewellery was taken away. The police calls the gory happening "the misadventure of an unknown group". Some villagers look towards Darkawada from where a Pakistani couple had been arrested about 25 days ago. Small-time politicians see the ISI's hand in the episode. Administrative officials include members of "some denotified tribe" in the list of the suspects. The "mystery" does not seem to be deepening but Baghpat has lost its sleep!
It is necessary to have
a hard look at the growing criminalisation of
UPboth urban and rural. Murder is a routine matter
in the state. Those who are linking a particular
community Darkawada with Pakistan and the ISI are doing
great disservice to the secular fabric of UP.
"Denotified tribes" have nomadic habits and
they do not indulge in crimes like the Binauli murders.
There is no evidence of the killer factor called personal
or casteist enmity. Media channels, with their pathetic
visuals, are becoming a contagious part of the
landscape's mournful and frightening
profile. Every agency involved in
"fact-finding" is looking out for easy
explanatory routes. Nobody is speaking about the possible
role of anti-farmer political creatures getting
dangerously hyperactive just before poll-time. What has
the UP Chief Minister or the Home Minister to say with
regard to the killings? People in seats of power have not
visited the village. Why? Baghpat, in its entirety,
invokes the spirit of its path-finding agriculturists
cast in the mould of Sir Chhotu Ram of Haryana and his
follower, Chaudhry Charan Singh. The facts must be made
public without delay. Earthy people carry subterranean
rage. This incident cannot be put into files of
"crimes of foreign origin" and forgotten.
SOLDIERS RIGHT TO VOTE
WHILE the government of the day has been belatedly keen to give the defence services (including CPOs) the right to vote through proxy by issuing an ordinance, the Congress, communists and some other political parties are against this proposal on the grounds that a caretaker government should not take such a decision. (Though it passed the Budget and handled a near war-like situation!) They insist that the issue should be deliberated in the Lok Sabha. This is not merely political posturing but an unfortunate attitudinal bind on so fundamental an issue as the voting rights of a soldier, when the existing system has miserably failed and with the very short time now available between the notification and polling date, the same has become impractical and redundant. The reports concerning Presidents disinclination to issue an ordinance on the subject have disappointed the rank and file. What it amounts to is that no one is really interested in the soldier; not even in his most fundamental right to cast his vote.
Three issues get thrown up. The BJP government was in power for 13 months before it attained caretaker status. During this period nothing was done to pass a legislation to grant voting rights to servicemen through proxy voting, while this issue had already been raised, first by the Election Commission and later taken up by the press. Two, all these years this subject has never been debated in Parliament by the Congress party. Three, under the Constitution, a person whose name appears on the electoral rolls cannot be prevented from voting. Since ballot papers are not received by most defence services personnel, they can ask for leave so as to cast their vote in their constituency and legally no commanding officer can refuse leave. Further, refusal to grant leave can expose military authorities to legal action. The full national security implications of a situation where soldiers en masse ask for leave to cast their vote, in exercise of their fundamental right, needs to be visualised.
Part III and various articles therein of the Constitution of India lay down the fundamental rights of a citizen. Vide Section 19 of Part III all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech, and besides much else the right to form associations. Abridgement of some of these rights fundamental to the very spirit of the Constitution had to be denied to a soldier because of the very nature of the circumstances and situations under which he has to operate and discharge his duties.
While the Constitution makers abridged many of the fundamental rights of a soldier otherwise granted to a citizen under chapter III and various sections therein as applicable, they were conscious of the fact that adult franchise, the very bedrock on which constitutional framework and democratic structure had to rest could not be denied to him. But they were not alive to the ingenuity and capacity for mischief of the Great Indian Babu to subvert even so fundamental a right of a soldier as to cast his vote.
Section 60 of chapter IV of, The Representation of the People Act 1950, and the Representation of the People Act 1951, (both being Acts of Parliament), has a provision for making rules under this act enabling a certain category of persons to vote by postal ballot. This clause was essentially for persons subjected to preventive detention under any law. The same provision has been made applicable to a soldier of the defence forces of India. But in the case of a soldier, application of this provision is flawed and therefore, inoperative and at best inadequately functional.
It is indeed difficult for a soldier to get his name included in the electoral rolls. Consequently, out of a total of roughly 1.7 million soldiers (including their wives and grown up children) only 7.4 lakh are on the electoral rolls. The greater drawback is in the procedure for casting a vote by postal ballot. The existing process involves the preparation and despatch of ballot papers by the polling staff to the soldiers record office which, after scrutiny, posts it to the soldiers unit or where he is posted. On completing the same the unit posts it back to the polling staff concerned. With the army units spread all over the country, this process is never completed in time. Now with the period between announcement of election date and polling reduced, it is impossible to complete this postal circuit. On top of this all the postal ballot papers are not despatched by the polling authorities.
There is nothing in The Representation of The People Act 1950 and 1951 which enjoins on the polling staff for timely and accurate completion and prompt despatch of postal ballot papers. Since there is no accountability built into the Act, the polling staffs approach to postal ballot papers is lackadaisical to say the least. In the 1996 assembly elections only 2.7 lakh ballot papers were received by the Record Offices and in the case of 1998 assembly elections this figure dropped to 2.6 lakh. Then of course there were innumerable other deficiencies and inaccuracies in these papers which render them invalid. Besides many ballot papers for air force personnel are sent to army record offices etc. There is no knowing as to how many valid votes from the soldiers of the Indian Army figured in the final counting. In all probability this figure has been very small indeed. The Election Commission was unable to furnish the data.
The Chief Election Commissioner mooted the idea of proxy voting by soldiers. A committee of secretaries was constituted for the purpose by the BJP government but as is the wont of such committees, it killed the proposal by merely sitting on it. The Defence Minister revived the case by forming yet another committee of secretaries (unfortunately with no defence member on it) to recommend amendments to the electoral laws. Nothing came of this committee too. Proxy voting will not avail if it has to follow the same postal ballot method, sequence and route or yet another bureaucratic hassle is introduced in the procedure such as giving power of attorney to some relative etc. Imagine the entire defence services being marched to the courts for obtaining power of attorney for every election. The whole process of first getting the soldier on to the electoral rolls and later proxy voting has to commence directly from the soldiers commanding officer to the polling staff concerned. Authentication of proxy by the commanding officer must be sufficient for it to be valid. There is yet another problem. Considering the fact that the army units are deployed in the remotest parts of this country, it would be impossible for the ballot papers, even if prepared and despatched directly by the soldiers unit, to reach their constituencies in time for their votes to be valid.
There is the more fundamental issue of voting by proxy and that is, compromising the element of secrecy, violative of the very spirit of secret ballot. Voting for the Lok Sabha or state assemblies cannot be reduced to the level of a general body meeting in a public limited company where proxy works. What is the value and significance of a vote cast through someone else for a candidate whose name is not even known to the soldier. In some of the modern democracies, where electronic voting is in use a soldier can cast his vote at a polling booth at his duty station for a candidate from his permanent place of residence. In some other more enlightened democracies he is permitted to cast his vote at his duty station for one of the local candidates.
A person serves in the defence forces for a period ranging from 18 to 40 years depending on his rank, service etc. During this period he is away from his permanent place of residence and never gets to see, here or know the candidate for whom he is called upon to vote (by postal ballot or in the future by proxy). Therefore, his voting by proxy or otherwise is a meaningless exercise: least in keeping with the very essence and spirit of the concept of representative democracy. The only fair and correct system would be when soldiers vote at the place of their posting, where they stay for a few years. Electoral rolls can be periodically revised or new ones prepared in a matter of days under the arrangements of the local station headquarters.
It is fallacious on the part of the Election Commission to contend that their presence in large numbers in the NE and J and K will influence the formation of a government there and they can be given this right only when they reduce their strength in these areas. They are not in these areas by choice. Since the problems in these regions are essentially political in nature, it is all the more relevant for soldiers, who put their lives on the line and often cast it away, to have some involvement in the resolution of these problems through the political process. While migratory labour from Bihar or UP can find a place on the electoral rolls of, say Chandigarh, within days of arrival in the town and then go back after voting, or Mr Manmohan Singh can be a candidate for Lok Sabha from Assam, Buta Singh from Rajasthan and Gujral from Punjab, where they do not reside at all (in some cases do not belong to,) but a soldier of the army of India cannot vote in a constituency (station) where he stays for almost three years.
Amendments to the
Representation of The People Act has become essential to
give a soldier, who is increasingly aware of his rights
and has been staking his life for nearly half a century
to defend the national values, way of life and the Indian
Constitution, to take part in the proper working of the
electoral process as per the scheme of the Constitution.
Congresss objection to the promulgation of an
ordinance is specious, motivated and malafide. In all
fairness and in keeping with the essence of the
democratic spirit, soldiers should be granted the right
to vote at their place of posting. This is the only
practical and functional mode for a soldier to exercise
the fundamental right of adult suffrage. The government
of the day should not hesitate to issue an ordinance on
Poll reforms urgently needed
IT is a great pity that the country will go through another general election without any serious reform in the electoral system. Although the Election commission has earned a lot of well-deserved acclaim for enforcing rigorously the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, it has not attempted to encourage debate on reforming the present electoral process thoroughly. Such a debate should now be initiated earnestly after the new government is installed.
The core problem to be addressed is how to change the basic electoral process in ways which would lead to mitigation of caste and religious tensions and which would make it counter-productive to use violence. One idea is to bring in a system under which 50 per cent of the voters should exercise their franchise for an election to be valid. In addition, a candidate should get 50 per cent of the votes polled to be declared elected. This system is vogue in a number of countries.
Under our present system, various parties engage in forging electoral alliances so that in a multi-cornered contest that particular alliance would emerge victorious in the first-past-the-post system. In three or four cornered contests, they aim at securing around 30 to 35 per cent votes in order to win a seat. In those circumstances, alliances among two or three major castes can give them the votes required to get elected. Such a situation leads to fragmentation in society, perpetuation of animosities and intimidation to reduce the votes for rivals.
If the system of 50 per cent voting requirement for validity of an election and 50 per cent of the vote polled to win the election is enforced, then the poll alliances would attempt to fulfil these requirements. That would lead to a reduction in the alliances. Since there are very few constituencies where a particular caste has a voting strength exceeding 30 per cent, caste-based parties would have to seek alliances with other castes and would, therefore, hesitate to pursue perpetual animosity towards others.
A major area of concern is how to achieve decriminalisation of politics. This can be done by giving the voters the democratic right not only to vote for candidates but also to vote against them. Every candidates character would be judged by the voters and the election would truly become a peoples court. Politicians accused of corruption often claim that if they are elected it means that the people have cleared them. Such bogus claims can be countered by giving the voters the right to vote against politicians of questionable credentials and eliminating and disqualifying all those who are voted against by 50 per cent of the voters in the run-off-polls.
This too is not a totally original idea. It was first propounded as far back as the early eighties by Mr Krishan Kant. This rule was introduced in 1989 in the Soviet elections and resulted in the elimination of many Communist party stalwarts even in constituencies where they were the sole unopposed candidates. Under this system, there would be no unopposed elections.
When no candidate polls 50 per cent or 50 per cent of the electorate does not turn up to vote, a run-off election should be held. In Serbia four run-off elections were held before a new president was elected. In many countries it is the run-off elections which decide the majority of results. Critics of this proposal and those who have a vested interest in vote-bank politics argue that such run-off elections between two leading candidates of the first round add to election costs. This argument is not wholly sustainable.
Giving the voter the right to reject a candidate would make parties select people with clean reputations. The requirement of 50 per cent votes for the validity of a poll and 50 per cent of that for a candidate to be elected would ensure a reduction in intimidation of voters to keep them away from the poll. Parties would not be able to afford alienating others since in a likely second round they might need their votes to get their own candidates elected. Fixing the vote requirement at 50 per cent would eliminate a lot of non-serious candidates. Any effort designed to eliminate criminality from politics is worth some additional expenditure.
Since many of our
parties are influenced to varying extents by the nexus
between politicians and organised crime, they have a
vested interest in maintenance of status quo. The
Election Commission should take an initiative and start
the necessary debate immediately after the forthcoming
elections. We should study all the major electoral
systems in the world and glean the best from them.
Cosmetic improvements and marginal reforms will not do.
What is needed is a wide-ranging debate to thoroughly
revamp the entire electoral system.
round and round
IN December, 1978, I was on my first voyage to Japan with my wife, on board a merchant navy ship where I was serving as a Marine Chief Engineer.
The ship loaded a cargo of ferro chrome from Maputo, East Africa, and headed towards Japan to discharge it at Nagoya. While crossing the equator in Indian Ocean, I, having crossed the line several times before, was asked to don the robes of Lord Varuna. The newcomers were initiated and certificates granting them immunity from fear of mermaids and other sea creatures were awarded.
After fuelling at Singapore we headed towards the South China Sea despite warning of formation of a mild sea storm near the Philippines. We had a contracted date for unloading the cargo. The wise captain detoured a bit but the effect of the hurricane-like storm was quite widespread. The starboard side boat was damaged. Officers wives joined together to perform pooja to invoke blessings of Lord Varuna by offering coconut and crystal sugar to the 12-ft-high sea waves, which were relentlessly pounding against the ships hull as we inched forward in biting cold.
On the 10th day we reached Nagoya and the efficient port workers unloaded the cargo in just four hours even before we could relax a bit from the exhaustion at sea. We, therefore, shifted to Chiba near Tokyo for loading our new cargo for the next voyage next day midnight.
We were very keen to visit Tokyo, which was close to Chiba. Since our ship was berthed in the Chiba docks and we had the name of our ship the address was considered adequate by us. This is quite enough to locate our ship in any port in the world.
However, Japan has a peculiar indirect system of addressing places and houses etc. This was not known to us.
We left our ship by public taxi at 7 in the morning and we were in Tokyo before 8. As our ship had to leave same day midnight we completed our exciting visit to Tokyo at about 5 in the evening and asked the taxi driver to take us to Chiba docks. The driver who did not know English, nodded and repeated the word docks. Taxi hire is very very costly in Japan and we had only 80000 yens with us, equivalent to Rs 4,000 only. After an hours drive our ship was nowhere in site.
At this stage we remembered that Japanese ships seen by us in Indian ports were having the word maru as their suffix. So we whispered the word maru to the confused taxi driver. We repeated the word maru again. The driver nodded happily and started to drive round and round the docks. Taxi meter was moving fast and it was already 10 p.m. with our ship nowhere in site. A merchant ship cannot sail without a certified Chief Engineer on board and failure of a ship to leave during high tide calls for high penalty to be paid by the ship owner. These considerations alarmed us. We brooded fast and struck an idea. We made a line sketch of a ship with a funnel on the Japanese newspaper held by the driver. He understood instantly and took us to the jetty where my captain was anxiously awaiting our arrival.
Cong, BJP manifestos mum on
IF you bother to plough through the manifestos of the two main political parties you could end up concluding that these have absolutely nothing new to say at all. Yet, these extraordinarily pedestrian documents got released in Delhi over the past couple of weeks with the melodrama associated with momentous events. The Congress Party got its manifesto out first but it got overshadowed by Sonia Gandhis first press conference. Those who gathered in the hot, breathless atmosphere of the specially-erected shamiana on the grounds of the Congress Partys headquarters used the manifesto papers mainly to fan themselves.
Later, when I got a chance to read the document with its glossy picture of Sonia Gandhi on the cover I felt a wave of boredom passing through me as I discovered, through the usual turgid prose, that it said nothing new at all. Listen just to this paragraph from the preamble: The legacy of the Congress its commitment to an India that is secular, strong and self-reliant and wedded to political democracy, social justice and economic growth was symbolised in the thoughts and deeds of its leaders through the years. Havent we heard this too many times before?
The rest of its 80 pages contains similar dreary stuff with only one moment of humour, albeit inadvertent, that managed to get on to page 8. Political stability is the biggest challenge that India faces. Neither numbers nor individuals alone can provide stability. What is more fundamental is the stability of ideas, stability of policies and stability of programmes. The Congress because of its history, its basic character, its performance and above all, its long years of administrative experience, understands stability best. It works for stability best.
Oh yes? Well, how is it that it is Congress which has landed us with our second mid-term election in two years? Is it in the interest of stability that we have seen them pull two governments down for reasons so flimsy that nobody even remembers them afterwards? Someone in the partys manifesto committee either has a real sense of black humour or complete contempt for the deductive abilities of the average voter.
The irony is that the rest of the manifesto sounds not just like former Congress manifestos but also much like the manifesto that the BJPs National Democratic Alliance released a few days later. It is not surprising that nearly every newspaper reporting this second even picked up one distinguishing feature: the decision to consider limiting high office to those who can be counted as natural-born Indians. They goofed even here by saying naturally born instead of natural born. No Caesarean deliveries, no forceps, no complications at birth of any kind.
The tragedy is that there is so much that needs to be done both politically and economically for our long-suffering nation. We do not need to know that the goal of all Congress economic policies at all points of time has been the abolition of poverty, as we have known for centuries. What we need to know is why it has failed so abysmally in achieving this noble goal in the 40 years it was in power.
Why blame the Congress alone, though, for inundating us with platitudes when the BJP has done much the same. Instead of telling us that it will have equal respect for all faiths (sarva panth samadara) it would be much more useful for us if it explained why the Christian community was so shamelessly targeted during the past 13 months.
Sadly, what is conspicuously absent in the manifestos that both parties have produced is a serious attempt to address the countrys main problems. These get mentioned in the documents, of course, but only in general terms so we do not know, for instance, whether the next government is going to make a serious attempt to cut government spending in order for us not to be wasting more than 60 per cent of our resources on paying off interest on government borrowings. When are we going to get a firm commitment that the size of government will be cut drastically or that huge resources wasted on the public sector will be used for more useful things like healthcare, drinking water and schools.
We now have a billion people and if we carry on at our present rate of growth we will, shortly in the next century, overtake China as the most populous country in the world but we hear almost nothing about population control except the usual generalities.
We desperately need administrative reforms so that governments do not continue to behave like employment agencies instead of instruments of efficient governance. Again, we hear about this only in general terms. How can we begin to talk about India as a prosperous, modern nation if governance remains a bungling, over-staffed affair with so many convoluted jungles of red tape that even the simplest task becomes a nightmare for the average citizen. These are not things that political parties are prepared to address seriously.
If we were to look for differences in approach between the Congress and the BJP then about the only thing that we would come up with is the fact that the Congress manifesto keeps emphasising the supposedly wonderful things done by its former leaders whereas the BJP talks of the future. This, at least, is a point in the BJPs favour because any future government that believes that solutions lie in the past is misleading the people already.
India has changed dramatically since those supposedly glorious days, the world has changed and the time come for new solutions, not some misguided harking back to times and leaders long dead and gone.
When political parties
recognise that they have to provide real change they will
give us a new kind of manifesto. Instead of endless pages
of turgid prose, we will get a few short paragraphs of
real commitments. Until then we can be sure
that whichever government comes to power after the next
election things will go on much the same as in the past
50 years: slowly and badly.
The battle of the anchors
WHAT with TRP ratings being the first priority even with so-called public service broadcasters, a self-defeating rat-race has started on the TV channels. Typical is the astounding decision of Doordarshan to tamper with its prime time night news bulletins which have had to make way for serials and the like. The timings have been changed to make way for entertainment and the English bulletin has been cut down to virtually 10 minutes after they have done with the ads and other interruptions. Playing about with the news is a very dangerous game and it is ironic that at his press launch to give details about 24-hour channels of Doordarshan, the CEO of Prasar Bharati justified the interruption of cricket and other matches for the news on the plea that news comes first. The glaring lacuna of a proper sports channel to carry such matches in full having been conveniently set aside. One shudders to think of DDs forthcoming world cricket monopoly.
However, where the viewer is concerned, what is most upsetting at the moment is how talk shows by Indias top anchors are being set against each other. Thus while with newspapers one can read all ones favourite commentators at a time of ones choice, in TV you have to take it or leave it. To take one example, this columnist likes to watch Vir Sanghvi, Karan Thapar and Prannoy Roys programmes for their different styles as well as approaches. It is bad enough that they have no channel loyalties nor do channels demand them (DD is now feverishly wooing back anchors it had lost, together with its monopoly, to the satellite channels) so we now not only have our best anchors on two to three channels, indulging in needless overkill, but also on at the same time, which makes life very difficult for viewers. Recently one was in a ridiculous position choosing between Karan Thapar interviewing the bubbly and refreshingly frank Kajol on one channel, and then skipping over to Vir Sanghvi interviewing the mature and articulate Mallika Sarabhai on another channel and getting equally interesting reactions. And now Question Time India has returned at the same timing on Friday to complicate life still further. Even more perplexing is Star News and Star Plus competing with each in the morning culture slot by interviewing Tanuja Chandra at the same moment as Mani Kaul. Certainly I would have liked to listen to both for different reasons. May I suggest, as both a personal and professional viewer, that channels observe some sort of staggering system so that they do not tread on each others toes and those of viewers with no visible gain to themselves. Peaceful co-existence, please.
It certainly was a week for the anchors. Sonia Gandhi, the proverbial sphinx, all in vibrant royal blue and red sari answering Vir Sanghvis generally soft questions (everyone thought they were pre-planned and pre-approved) all ending in a mostly personalised session, but Vir kept it within gentlemanly bounds. A scoop nonetheless, but then, one doubts if Mrs Gandhi would allow Karan Thapar to interview her. Now Karan has become a split personality, a Jekyll and Hyde anchor which is symbolised by the BBC itself calling his chats with politicians Hard Talk India and the others Face to Face. Thus Karan was very much the smiling, sympathetic barhe bhai, a generalist with a splendid research team, who made Sachin Tendulkar relax as no cricket commentator ever has, an altogether delightful session. But with Jyoti Basu he was the very devil, interrupting rudely, not letting him complete a sentence when we wanted to hear it to the end, badger, badger, badger, bark, bark, bark. This sort of sledge-hammer technique is simply not on. The pity of it was that Jyoti Babu was soft-spoken and courteous throughout so all that barking was quite unnecessary and made Karan look like a monster. That is not how one talks to elder statesmen who are in no way being evasive or aggressive. If Karan watches Paranjoy Guha-Thakurthas interview with Mr Basu I think he will see what I mean. Paranjoy got the same results without raising his voice. And did not irritate the viewer.
The election has thrown
up some good TV journalists. Neerja Chowdhury is a real
find, well-informed, articulate. The TV channels do not
concede even 30 per cent to women commentators, although
we have quite a few good ones, not least of all from JNU
and other universities. And Rahul Dev, acutely
uncomfortable as a newscaster after the inimitable S.P.
Singh, has re-surfaced now as a first class political
anchor and interviewer.
ONE thing is clear. We are out to
destroy the system of Bureaucracy. We will not have it.
People have declared themselves against it. Dyarchy is
already dead. If it ventures to appear again in our
midst, we must take such a course of action that even
this government will have to proclaim from the house-tops
that the system is dead. It is dead. They know it in
their heart of hearts. But they are afraid to proclaim
it. Our course of action must be such as to compel them
to proclaim. It must compel them to proclaim what is to
us an apparent fact. Dyarchy is dead. Let it be buried
even fathoms deep. I, therefore, appeal to you to
remember this. Do not go by doctrinaire politics, the
doctrinaire way of dealing with things. Look at the
substance of it. If you look into it, you find that our
programme only illustrates those principles with which we
started. C.R. Das
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