|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Tuesday, December 28, 1999
Shanker Dayal Sharma
Patronage, conflicts as shield
The Bosss table
Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma
DR Shanker Dayal Sharma, one of Indias most distinguished and beloved sons, has passed into history. He combined great humility with immense learning. After seeing the restrictions on politico-academic activities by the obligations of his party the Congress of which he became the President in difficult times he wielded state power with moral authority. To say that he was a patriot, an educationist, a legal luminary, a statesman and an orator of rare calibre is to repeat beneficially some of the sterling qualities of his life. During eight decades and more a person like him tends to pass through various levels of reputative tests and closeness to contemporary history makes even a compulsive attempt at lifes assessment look like a shadow of value judgement. Dr Sharmas grassroots and traditionally Brahminical origin, education at the finest universities in India, the U.K and the USA and career originating from teaching, satyagraha and journalism lead us to his personal philosophy: Pitch darkness in the house/ While light illumines the temple!/ This deception practised on God? There is no end to this deception. From Chief Ministership through Governorship to the Republics Presidentship, this ever restless man experienced how quiet, determined and principled leaders found themselves subjected to the cruel yoke of loyalties, the bitterness of crudely crafted controversies and the unfriendliness of friends.
At heart, Dr Sharma
could not find a way to reconcile himself to the
necessity of truncating India for freedom. But, later,
the teeming millions before him made him work for
evolving and strengthening a truly welfare state.
Socialism did not lose its meaning to him just because
C.E.M Joad had called it a hat that everyone wanted to
wear. Secularism was part of his universal faith and the
Congress of Gandhi and Nehru was an instrument of social,
economic and political change. There will be objective
appraisers of his life and work who will feel good to
remember that the committed Congressman
(often derisively called an Indira loyalist)
presided over the destiny of the country keeping these
words of Solon, the Greek legal reformer, prominently
placed before him: ..... whose sturdy shield
protected every party/And gave to none an unfair
victory. Mr P.V. Narasimha Raos poll-related
ordinances saw the cancelling speed of his pen. Dalit
Christians witnessed his courage of conviction. No Indian
stated this fact more convincingly than him: The mere
romanticising of the past wont help. Mono-religious
nationalism and revivalism would lead us to obscurantism
and medieval darkness.... The N.T. Rama Raos cherished
the memory of his actions with gratitude and the Ram Lals
faded into oblivion recalling his awesome resoluteness
and uncompromising political sense. He watched closely
the performance of four Prime Ministers Rajiv
Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar, V.P. Singh and Narasimha Rao. He
hated the doctrinaire protectionists of the establishment
and political free-traders. He was an intellectual who
let his mind watch him constantly.
Wholesale changes, at last
COSMETIC changes leave reality untouched, but quite infrequently they tend to reflect ground-level reality. When forced to shift gear, governments do redraw old plans and inject a dose of newness in obscure and statistical structures. That is what the Central Government is about to do in the case of the wholesale price index (WPI). The composition of the index has remained the same for any number of years. The recent advances do not reflect in it. For instance, primary commodities, which include all food items, still command 33 per cent of the basket. It is reminiscent of those years when agriculture accounted for about 40 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Now the share of the farm sector has dipped to 30 per cent or less. To align the WPI with this dramatic shift, the importance of food items is being reduced by a third to 22 per cent. What this means is that any wild fluctuation in the prices of cereals, edible oil and vegetables and fruits will collectively swing the index only to the extent of 22 per cent. Although unstated, the government wants to insulate the WPI from the vagaries of the unorganised market with climate and regional shortfalls distorting the WPI. A sharp increase in onion prices will no more jack up the WPI and make the people angry with the government. The loss of weightage of primary goods is the gain of fuel and energy electricity and petroleum products and all kinds of manufactured goods.
Actually, the idea to
refashion the basket of commodities bobbed up when both
these groups were showing a declining trend in prices.
Until the beginning of this year crude was becoming
cheaper by the month and the Union Petroleum Ministry was
happy to pass on the benefit to diesel consumers. The
same was the case with manufactured goods. A worldwide
recession, a drop in the price of raw materials and
prolonged stagnation in the domestic market kept the
prices pegged at a lower level. The steady slashing of
both import and excise duty also helped.The rearrangement
of the shares of the three groups would have, in those
circumstances, artificially brought down the index. But
now everything is topsy-turvy. Crude price is going
through the roof, with the government revising the cost
of import to Rs 54,000 crore from Rs 24,000 crore a year
earlier. There is industrial recovery the world over and
raw materials too are somewhat costly. The effect of all
this will be the opposite of what the government
originally wanted to achieve. But once the file started
moving there is no stopping it. So the WPI will be reborn
so, to say, projecting a new picture of the economy
without really changing the pace.
Person of the century
THERE is bound to be some disappointment in India over the naming of Albert Einstein and not Mahatma Gandhi as Time magazines person of the century. Most of the Indians were so certain of the exalted position of their Bapu that some may even allege a western conspiracy to deny him his due. There are indeed many who have cited the elevation of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the other runner-up as an indicator of the additional weightage that is undeservingly given to personalities from the developed world. But this emotional reaction should be tempered by the fact that the award has gone to a man who had himself said about Gandhi that the generations to come shall scarcely believe that such a man, in flesh and blood, walked this earth. Apparently, the jury has gone by the materialistic impact of the personalities than the political, social and religious one. Still, seen in dispassionate perspective, the profound impact that Einstein had on the future of the world through his theory of relativity does not really pale into insignificance before the mantra of ahimsa that Mahatma Gandhi taught. The cosmology of today owes a tremendous debt to the man who established the equivalence of matter and energy in a deceptively simple formula although the theory is so complicated that it is said that any given time, there are only a handful of people in the world who fully comprehend it. But his greatness lies not in his postulates but the impact that they have had on mankind. It will be no exaggeration to say that modern science would not have been what it is but for Einstein. That is why he has also won the vote for the greatest physicist of all time in an end of the millennium poll conducted among 100 leading physicists of today. Even Newton stands behind him.
Perhaps one reason why
Gandhi has been pipped at the post is that his countrymen
have not really carried forward the torch lit by him. If
they had enlightened themselves according to the precepts
defined by him, the country would not have been in such
sorry state. Since what he preached and also practised
himself was almost given up by his own countrymen, its
true value could not be fully appreciated by the world.
Ironically, the outside world does value his contribution
more than the fellow Indians. It is not only Einstein who
described him in terms of immortality. Nelson Mandela,
himself one of the greatest persons ever born, spoke
equally effusively about him. Perhaps we are a little
close to him - chronologically as well as geographically
- to realise the full extent of his intellectual stature.
In any case, men like Gandhi do not need a Nobel Prize or
a person of the century award. It is actually the other
SINCE the return of the present government to power several important initiatives in respect of economic reforms have been taken. While one may differ with the details here and there, the general thrust is in order. Over the years all kinds of bottlenecks had arisen and those had to be taken care of. So far, so good, as they say.
But the question to ask is: is that enough? This part of the job had been neglected and is being taken care of now. The pressure from the industry is unremitting and the government is keen to import foreign capital. Therefore, all these initiatives have been taken and likely enough, many more will be taken in the next few months.
I have a different point of view, however, to put forward. While supporting what has been done I am of the view that the basic issue with which we are faced is how to govern the country. This issue is no less important than economic development. In point of fact, economic development cannot take place unless governance of the right kind is ensured. This refers to the rule of law which today is being undermined by weak policing, a defective legal system and the unbridled growth of corruption. All these things are interlinked.
At the root of it lies one overriding fact: are we prepared to take hard decisions as and when the situation so demands? Some weeks ago, Home Minister L.K. Advani talked of an effective government. By implication, he was referring to the same thing. How can the government be effective unless what requires to be done is done on time, and in the interest of public welfare?
Having talked of an effective government, L.K. Advani stopped short of referring to the need to ginger up the working of the police. In saying this, one need not refer to the fact that the country is still governed by the 1861 Police Act or that the report of the Police Commission submitted in 1980 continues to remain unimplemented. These are major steps and can be taken only when other parties also support such an initiative. To change the working of the police would lead to a basic restructuring of the polity and therefore there has to be a certain degree of unanimity in planning or engineering this change.
The fact of the matter is that each single party, and that includes the Left parties also, has been using the police for its own factional ends. Rules have been bent every now and then and the police has been made to act in the interest of the party which at a given point of time, happens to be in power. Therefore, every single party has developed a kind of vested interest in the police continuing to perform in the erratic and arbitrary way that it does now. No wonder, no political party wants to change the system.
And yet, without doing something about the functioning of the police, it is idle to expect that it would be possible to have any kind of an effective government.
At this stage, one may bring up an issue which is agitating the public mind as an illustration of what requires to be done and, in all probability, will not be done. There is a good deal of public outrage at the decision about the Mattoo murder case. Without being too specific about it, one thing is clear. Most people are convinced that evidence has been manipulated and the police failed to prosecute the killer as it should have. Not only that, the general perception is that all this happened because the alleged murderer is the son of a senior police officer and it was possible for him to manipulate the evidence.
In this situation, what should have been done? While the noises on both sides will continue to be made and maybe even an appeal is filed and things like that happen, the Ministry of Home Affairs should have quietly instituted an internal enquiry. If that enquiry had shown the police officer to have gone out of his way to protect his son, a decision could have been made to compulsorily retire that police officer. There is provision for it in law and this power has been used in certain extraordinary situations. Such a thing is, however, easier said than done.
Those in the government worry about the morale of the officers who are working for it. This is something that any sensible person in authority should take into account. The last thing that anyone in power is expected to do is to undermine the morale of those working for it. But that is in a normal situation. When an extraordinary situation arises, extraordinary steps have to be taken. But are those in the government capable of doing so? Either they are governed by subjective considerations or they are not strong enough to take bold decisions.
Some years ago, I remember asking a student of mine who was a Sessions Judge for a long number of years and then had gone on to become a High Court judge: In how many cases have you sentenced people to death? He answered promptly, Eight. I expressed surprise at the promptness with which he had answered. His reply was that no judge sentences any one to death unless evidence against the criminal is overwhelming. In each single case, he has to weigh the pros and cons carefully and he went on to add: I remember each single case because before the judgement was pronounced, I had to make sure for myself that nothing irreversible was done.
It is in this spirit that those in charge of the government have to think and decide. In the case under discussion, there would be two points of view. The minority opinion would be that this would be in order. The majority opinion, however, is likely to be that this would be an excessive punishment. This is on the assumption that the person is guilty of having manipulated the evidence. As already suggested, some kind of an internal enquiry would have to be held. But if the enquiry does convict that man, one is not sure if the step of compulsory retirement would be taken. This is the real problem, if one may say so.
The problem in our country is, as the author of the Asian Drama said some four decades ago, We are a soft nation. Which is a way of saying that we do not know our priorities and tend to shy away from tough decisions. In the very nature of things, judicial officers have to take tough decisions. In the civil administration, however, tough decisions are avoided and this is precisely that we are going downhill as a nation.
One has only to look at the unabashed corruption that is taking place all around. Even in cases where it becomes incontestably clear that X has been guilty of corruption. We tend to be mild in our reaction and do not balance the gravity of the offence committed against the gravity of the punishment proposed. As should be obvious, there has to be a certain degree of correspondence between the two.
What needs to be remembered is that that, before 1947, the rule of law prevailed by and large. More specifically, for some years after the mutiny of 1857, and till the rise of Gandhi, the rule of law prevailed though sometimes it was vitiated by a certain partiality in favour of the Europeans. As historians would recall, there was a good deal of controversy about what was called the Ilbert Bill. This Bill sought to extend a certain degree of protection to Europeans in as much as Indian judges were sought to be debarred from trying them. But the Bill did not get enacted and, on the whole, the legal system imposed by the British worked without fear or favour.
Can we say that the same is true today? The question has only to be asked and one knows the answer. Those who are old enough to remember the pre-1947 days notice the difference. Except for a recent case in which a Minister in Kerala was punished, it would be hard to cite another case where any one of the political bosses, even a MLA, has been convicted for any kind of offence, something so innocent, for instance, as a traffic offence.
Without reforming our policing and our legal system, we will never be able to progress. To some extent, the same goes for our labour laws. There is a lot of dissatisfaction about what is happening but no concrete action is being taken. In brief, the key to the further progress of India lies in first going back to where we were before 1947 and then improve upon that system, indigenise it and inform it with both realism and compassion.
Good governance is one of the vital prerequisites for the progress of a country. One reason why British rule came to be accepted with a certain measure of readiness in all parts of the country was that most people were tired of the anarchy that had prevailed in several parts of the country after the decline of the Mughal empire. The British ensured law and order and a certain kind of political stability. Most people appreciated it and the British benefited from it without question.
What the last election demonstrated beyond question was that people are sick of the way in which most governments function. Thats why, except for the TDP in Andhra and for certain specific reasons, every State government that went to the polls got a beating. The source of dissatisfaction in every case was gross misgovernance. Primarily, it is the politicians who misbehave and misgovern. Worse than that, they utilise those working under them, more particularly the police, to assist them in their ignoble designs.
Death at the airport
ONE sign of a civilised society is that it takes any death, whether by design or because of an accident, seriously. That society is even more civilised if it does not differentiate between the unnatural death of an important or unimportant person.
In India, we are beginning to reach the first stage, that of becoming indignant over death through negligence. But when the person, or persons, killed are the poor and the unprivileged, our concern diminishes.
These thoughts come to mind, while reading about the terrible tragedy that befell a seven-year-old girl, Jyotsna Jethani, at Delhis Indira Gandhi International Airport. She had arrived at the airport from Dubai, along with her mother and other close relatives. They were going down the moving, automatic 30-step escalator in the arrival hall, when a mishap took place.
One version is that the strap from a bag of one of the passengers got stuck in the teeth of the escalator near the bottom of the escalator. The passenger, while tugging at the strap, somehow unloosened the entire step, leaving a gaping hole. The hapless Jyotsna fell into that hole and, since the escalator continued working, she was literally chewed up by it, her skull and part of her body being crushed.
It took around 20 minutes to shut down the escalator and for airport officials to extricate Jyotsnas body. No medical aid was at hand and the intercom system was not working. As a result, a policeman had to go in person across the entire length of the terminal building to fetch the airport doctor, instead of summoning him on the intercom. Needless to say, by the time he arrived, it was too late.
There are certain guidelines laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, in case of an emergency at the airport. Medical, fire-fighting and trauma services are expected to respond within three minutes, according to these guidelines. Mock exercises are also meant to be carried out to ensure that the response time is within this period.
Clearly, nothing of the sort was in place at what is supposed to be Indias premier airport. The exact position at some of the other airports can well be imagined. Four airport officials, including the director of the airport, have been suspended and a high-level committee has been set up to probe the circumstances leading to the accident. An interim report is due to come out by January 25 and a final report by March 31.
Meanwhile, some disturbing facts, pointing to obvious negligence, have emerged.
There was a red button at the top of the escalator and at the bottom, which, when pressed, is meant to stop the escalator. However, it was positioned almost out of sight and was so discoloured that it was difficult to detect. The Otis company, which manufactured not only this particular escalator but virtually all the escalators at Indian airports as well as elsewhere, has some explaining to do.
It also needs to explain why the escalator did not automatically shut down when a malfunction took place. If it had, young Jyotsnas life would have been saved. Do the elevators it makes outside India have such a safety device and if they do, why arent these devices installed in Indian elevators as well? The public has a right to know. Otis is a highly respected international company, known for its excellent products and top-class service. Its reputation is at stake.
One newspaper report says that Otis had written to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) as long ago as last August for renewal of its maintenance contract for the escalator in question. The contract was due to expire on Sept. 30. Apparently, at the time of the accident, the AAI had not renewed the contract. If this is really so, the AAI has some explaining to do, since, on the face of it, Otis could escape blame for the mishap by simply saying its responsibility for maintaining and servicing the escalator technically ended on Sept. 30.
The tragedy apart, the running of our airports, domestic and international, is an absolute disgrace, for which the grand-sounding AAI is largely responsible. Mumbais Sahar international airport, recently renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji airport, which has had several fires, without any proper explanation from the AAI, remains what a former Maharashtra Chief Minister, Sharad Pawar, memorably described it just like an inter-state bus terminus.
Our international airports provide the first impression a visitor gets of India, as well as the last. Unfortunately, that impression is a terrible one, both coming and going, with badly maintained toilets, malfunctioning airconditioning, defective trolleys, touts of all kinds operating in and just outside the airports, and announcements that cannot be properly heard. Most of the airport shops, too, dont look in the least bit inviting and do poor business, compared to airport shops in other countries.
I was in Goas Dabolim airport, which gets a large number of foreign tourists, just the other day. It was a complete shambles. There were not enough seats for the passengers to sit on. The only telephone in the hall was not working and I found the cashew nuts a Goa speciality being sold in the apology of a shop at the airport were almost double the price in Panaji!
I left a letter of complaint in the suggestion box, as I have done every time I have been to this airport and seen its shocking condition. I have never got a reply, nor has the airports condition improved. Earlier, I had been at Cochins spanking new air terminal, which is tastefully done and, for a change, clean and well-maintained. But the loudspeaker system was so defective that announcements about plane arrivals and departures could not be properly heard.
To return to the
escalator tragedy, however, it is good that the media has
made a big fuss over it, as it did over the fire tragedy
in a New Delhi cinema some time back, in which many
people lost their lives. But momentary concern and anger
are not good enough. There must be quick follow-up,
accountability and suitable punishment, if such tragedies
are to be prevented.
TABLE, the basic article of furniture, known and used in the Western world since at least the 7th century BC, is as prominent in the office chamber of the Boss today as nose is in ones face. In government offices, the area of the table top is directly proportional to the position of the boss in the hierarchy. The higher the status, the greater the area of the flat-board. I recollect a short statured Chief Secretary who used to be visible neck upwards on the other side of the vast sea of the table-surface that I, like a voyager in a lost ship, always felt like shouting Land! Land! on seeing his bust.
I am also reminded of a boss who was so much in love with his own personality that when I dared to ask him that why there were no files on his jumbo-sized table, he replied with a grim: Mr it isnt so much on the table that matters, as whats on the chair.
When I also had the official privilege of enjoying the boons of such a table, a foreigner visiting me was surprised at the size of my table and desired to know the reasons for the same. I had said: This is to check shady deals under the table. He had laughed heartily and had said: Everything through proper channel? eh.
The tablewares are no less interesting a diary with mostly blank pages; a slanting board with glass-top which helps in giving the neck of the boss a suitable angle so that signing a file is no strain on him; a PC, generally not working; and, four, sometimes, six ball-points and pens with their pointing sides facing towards the boss like mini ballistic missiles.
Recently I happened to visit an office. I knew the boss. I was about to pick up one of the four missiles to jot down his telephone number when he said: None is working. You may use mine. He took out a ball point from his pocket and gave it to me. Alex Thomson writing this piece in Ram Ram India was, after all, not wrong, In Government Rest Houses, the panels of switches display wild optimism. Twelve or more switches in a neat row operate one small bulb. Quite what the other battalions of switches supposed to do is simply a question that recurs in almost every room you go. What is true of switches is true of the writing instruments in any bosss table.
Patronage, conflicts as shield
PARADOX is the most suitable term to describe the present Indian situation. On the surface every thing goes smoothly. The government looks quite stable with the BJPs NDA camp followers giving a free hand to the big brother to formulate and implement the policies without even formal discussions at the coordination panel. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is in full command of the affairs. On the another hand, the Opposition remains disorganised and is fighting against one another on crucial issues.
The corporate super bosses are hale and hearty (and thus everyone else is also supposed to be so) as all their wishes are readily endorsed and enforced. Foreign investors and the Americans have enough reasons to be overjoyed as they rein supreme at the South and North blocks. Sensex is soaring and the sale of luxury car has gone up by leaps and bounds. But amidst all this attractive scenario are so many sharp contradictions and paradoxes which could never be glossed over. Mr Vajpayee has established himself as the supreme boss within the government and the NDA, and looks strong enough to take any decision. But in reality actual decisions are taken elsewhere. Many of his distinct policies are subverted from within, often causing acute embarrassment to him.
Already economic policy decisions seem to have gone out of the governments domain. The Vajpayee government only implements them through bills and notifications and incentives. No government at the Centre has abdicated itself of so much powers as the present dispensation. It had begun with Mr Chidambaram. Initiator of the economic reform under the World Bank prescription, even Mr Manmohan Singh had gone to the Chamber meetings with his own decisions and expressions. He had never allowed to be cross-examined by the Chamber representatives on the government policies or made to make on-the-spot commitments. Mr Manmohan Singh had always given the impression that he was the decision maker and would do so after due consideration.
Now the meetings of the CII, FICCI, etc, have become the platform where the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and other leading lights make important policy statements. They are being given the status of an official fora to induce a sort of consensus on controversial economic issues by seeking the presence of the Opposition leaders. It is neither the BJPs love for Congress or the latters readiness to help the present government that had led to a confluence of ideas on major economic issues. The Congress support to the controversial legislations like the Insurance Bill could be traced to the sheer pressure of the corporate interests and the foreign lobby on the party. Incidentally, some of those Congress MPs who had opposed the controversial bills were told of such compulsions.
Mr Vajpayee has now institutionalised this process by formally setting up economic advisory panels and trade and industry councils. The government had already accepted all six reports. Eight more working groups would soon be set up. Significantly, advices are sought only from the corporates, not even from the representatives of innumerable small units which are the main contributors to the countrys exports. Other participants in economic activities like the employees are being dismissed as parias. None other than Nanaji Deshmukh, the veteran social worker and old Jana Sangh guru of Mr Vajpayee and Mr L.K. Advani, had last week highlighted this significant departure in the governments policies and approach.
Liberalisation is not going to help the poor people in India. Those who are formulating the policies dont understand the reality of the country, lamented Nanaji who has now been nominated as an MP. A leading light of the now-dumped Swadeshi Jagran Manch said the BJP would have to pay a heavy price if the governments economic policies were formulated only for the corporates and on only their advice. Notably, the Opposition is by and large silent on this significant turn in the governments policy-making process. Why does the Vajpayee government equate corporates with economic development with the exclusion of others?
Again, the old Jana Sangh guru makes the diagnosis of the new rulers special relationship with corporates. In those days they (big industrialists) had never expected anything in return from me, says Nanaji who was considered the fund-collector of the old Jana Sangh. Today I think they are controlling politics much more than before. Every one in Delhis corridors of power knows that by 1996, the BJP with its intimate links with the business houses, had replaced the Congress as the main election fund receivers. The percentage of the kitty is put to 60, 35, and five for the BJP, Congress and others. It is one thing to provide all reasonable assistance to the business to strengthen the industry and trade. But a government of all people should not be seen as solely being guided by the high and mighty as it might at some stage invite social backlash.
Last weeks CII episode illustrates the dangers of a negative nexus between the corporate bosses and political parties and the pitfalls of following the formers dictates at the cost of the tax payers. But for the alert bank staff and enlightened public opinion, the BJP government might have dismantled three major public sector banks on the advice of the CII. It all started suddenly when one of the favoured task forces of the CII (whose former presidents close association with the BJP is well-known) came out with a recommendation to close down Indian Bank, Uco Bank and the United Bank of India. It was on the premise that the three banks had gone sick, and had no funds to do the normal banking activities.
It was then revealed that some leading lights of the CII themselves were the biggest defaulters of the banks. It is a case of the hedge eating the crop. According to the figures given out by the staff unions, out of the total of Rs 58,000 crore bad loans of the nationalised banks and the IDBI, roughly half of the amount was due from the members of the CII. Of this years Rs 6,000 crore additions to the bad loans, Rs 4,000 crore was from the CII members. Figures given out for the bad loans from the individual CII industrialists, showed mala fide intentions of those who sought the dismantling of the three banks. Even the small industries associations came out strongly in defence of the three banks and asked for the publication of the list of defaulters. All this forced a hasty retreat by the CII, the BJP governments favourite corporate body.
Interviewed with this is the governments steady moves to dovetail the policies with those of the USA. Unnoticed by most of us, this is clear departure from the earlier foreign policy. Leaving apart the propriety of the new move, it is apparent that the shift is going to be at a very heavy price. The sudden move by Mr Vajpayee to sign the CTBT is the first of these series and marked by a minor bargain for partly lifting the US sanction. Watch the armstwisting to dump the PMOs own grandoise plans for an information technology revolution. High publicity was given about the new IT Ministry under Mr Pramod Mahajan. But the whole move is now being downplayed just because the USA does not like the idea. US envoy Richard Celeste has publicly disapproved the proposal as it was against the spirit of reform.
The paradox on crucial social-political issues are so glaring. The Prime Minister asserts that Ayodhya is not on the BJPs agenda. But his own Chief Minister contradicts him in a recorded speech. His party colleague introduces a bill on the issue in the House of which he himself is the leader. Mr Vajpayee disapproves the proposal for a common civil code but his another colleague comes up with another bill on it. Cow slaughter is not in the NDAs national agenda. But that too is being sponsored in the House by a party MP. Mr Vajpayee has been assuring full freedom of religion. But, apparently with his knowledge, his own government in Gujarat is going ahead with a bill to ban religious conversion.
Despite Mr Vajpayees formal disapproval, his parivar friends have this week served an ultimatum to liberate an old Sufi cave shrine in Chikmagalur and convert it into a temple. Large police presence alone is preventing any untoward communal flareup in the region. In Pokhran and Phalouch areas of Rajasthan, the Prime Ministers party resorts to violent methods to stop the transportation of cow to other states. The Centre expresses satisfaction over the peaceful conduct of the shilanyas of a Hanuman temple in the predominantly Christian village, forcing the latter to migrate to safer areas. Ironically, the Union Home Ministry overlooks the religious hatred and societal tension such incidents would generate.
Some BJP leaders seek to rationalise all such contradictions by claiming it to be a grand strategy to retain the coalition even while quietly expanding the partys support base through subterranean Hindutvisation. Mr Vajpayees denials are meant to calm the allies, who, as a BJP ideologue claims, will in any way be forced to stay on due to the lure of power. Simultaneously, local-level hostilities against the minorities on all available issues will enable the parivar to keep up the Hindutva fire. For Mr Vajpayee, it is a question of delicately balancing the two mutually contradictory pulls.
If paradox is really a
grand strategy, the present phenomenon of political
stability amidst social turmoil has greater significance.
A new political theory being propounded is that certain
amount of social tension and religious clashes can
actually help bring about better political stability.
Simultaneously, it is argued that the right kind of
tension management could help maintain the valuable
patronage of the high and mighty as it would divert the
ire of those for whom Nanaji Deshmukh says the reform has
WE very much regret to record the death of Dr S. Subramani Iyer, the well-known retired Judge of Madras, at the age of 82 at his residence in Guindy, Madras.
Dr Subramani Iyer, who interested himself in public life after his retirement, made himself famous by his letter written to President Wilson, USA, during the early part of the war regarding British treatment of India.
He made a bold stand on that letter before Lord Chelmsford and the late Mr Montagu and renounced his knighthood in that connection.
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