|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Tuesday, November 2, 1999
Calamity and politics
yet to adjust to changing milieu
November 2, 1924
Calamity and politics
THE Bay of Bengal has been spreading sorrow through cyclones in the coastal areas in its vicinity, in Orissa and in Andhra Pradesh for ages. The vicious and rotating wind system with a stormy character, accompanied by incessant downpours, has swallowed land, habitation, life and vegetation. When Ganjam and Puri districts in Orissa and the Kalingapatnam, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam areas in Andhra Pradesh were ravaged by a furious cyclone in the third week of October, we had a look at the West Bengal coast also and tried to assess the damage. This newspaper found the situation calamitous and urged the governments at the Centre and in the affected states to treat the havoc as a warning of many disasters in store. It also asked for crisis management under the provisions of the national calamity dispensation. The cyclone weakened, the fury of the wind subsided and complacency started crippling the slowly activated relief mechanism. Roads remained damaged, the communication system began to function selectively for the VIPs. The Prime Minister had a view of the destruction from the sky. Below, on the miserable earth, there was much else to talk about! Sanitation remained in neglect and the destroyed infrastructure did not get adequate attention. Politicking began. Why call the disaster a calamity? A declared national calamity obliged the Union Government to deal systematically with a large-scale catastrophe. The nature of the power structure in Orissa came in the way of reaching logical conclusions and providing help. Call it political callousness if you like. The Orissa Government was slow in flying the required documents to New Delhi. How could it receive the expected quantum of financial aid then? Fate is the tropical ruler. One must bow before it. Those who perished earlier in October were lucky; the survivors were destined to face sickness, hunger and political apathy for long.
In the second bout,
nature has decided to teach nihilistic man a holistic
lesson. Paradip in Jagdishpur district, along with
Kendrapara, Jaipur and the adjoining places, has seen the
worst destruction of this century brought about by an
almost 40-hour-long and unrelenting second phase of
cyclone. The monstrous storm hit the coast with a
wind-speed of more than 325 km per hour.
Five-to-eight-metre-high tidal waves came up to 15 km
inland. No structure can defend people against such
natural wrath. But man can help man. Men in power in New
Delhi can help men governing people in Orissa in
Kendrapara, Paradip, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack..... Help is
trickling in too late. At least one lakh persons are
feared dead. The destitute are countless. The Army and
the Navy are doing commendable work. But what about the
established disaster management organisations? There
should be at least one truly vigilant and quick-acting
national body unpolluted by politics and unaffected by
bureaucratic lethargy. Disaster management should include
a permanent fund with annual replenishment. Persons
guarded by muscle and steel in the Union Capital should
make in their drawing rooms a contingency plan that works
for those at natural risk. Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang
has asked for Rs 500 crore for meeting the challenge of
the cyclone in two decimating phases. How much will he
get and how much of what he will finally receive will go
into the strengthening of the early warning
system in the coastal areas and into the rebuilding
of the swept off infrastructure? In Bhubaneswar there are
cliques and coteries. Let us remember our response to the
Pakistani invasion of Kargil. The nation got united, help
flowed in and the calamity was surmounted. The cyclone
season, with its periodic origin in the Bay of Bengal,
generally continues until the middle of December. Let us
revive the Kargil spirit of collective cooperation.
From crisis to crisis
COALITION politics bristles with problems; they are particularly acute in Maharashtra where the main partners are trying to live with the breach caused by the recent split and a bitter electoral fight. And the strain shows in every move. Like in the formation of the Cabinet and now the awkward task of axing six Ministers even before the allotment of portfolios. It is a big mess but normal given the nature of politics in the state. One of the dropped Ministers, Mr Harshawardhan Patil, has threatened to lead a revolt of fellow independent MLAs whose support is essential for the Vilasrao Deshmukh-led government to retain its majority in the Assembly. Mr Patil will go down in history as the first Minister whose peculiar brand of politics has triggered a shrinking of the Council of Ministers. Until now MLAs have armtwisted their party to include them in the Cabinet even if it was already bloated. He is the first to force the Chief Minister to reverse the time-honoured tradition. The reason is not far to seek. He is a bitter critic of Mr Sharad Pawar, the founding father of the Nationalist Congress Party, and has often employed hurting words in his personal, not political, attacks on the leader. His inclusion in the Cabinet came as a surprise. But soon surprise gave place to dismay. Anti-Pawar groups in the Congress backed his name to salve their ego and show to the voters that the party was not surrendering to the estranged cousin, the NCP, but was the real master of the coalition. The otherwise amiable Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh was forced to mouth inanities like his party being free to select its nominees. Similarly, pro-Pawar men, who saw through the crude Congress plan, worked on their leader to make Patils inclusion a make-or-breakless issue.
Even in a state where
politics has lost much of its famed subtlety, the
coalition partners could not publicly spar on the
inclusion or exclusion of one man. So the NCP raised a
ruckus about the size of the Ministry, 61, and first
wanted the number to be brought down to 58 that
is, smaller by three but later scaled it down
further to 55. The Congress, forced to the wall and not
willing to give up power, agreed to drop four Ministers,
including one of the Cabinet rank, and the NCP two.
Incidentally, smaller parties were spared this trouble.
But it was a charade and a laughable one at that. The
state now has six former Ministers without doing even one
days honest work as a Minister. But one thing is
fairly clear. Both the Congress and the NCP are in no
mood to sit in opposition and the political contortions
they went through prove this. Hence there is no threat of
one of them walking out and pulling the plug on the
other. Six small parties and six independents, out of the
12, are either part of the government or support it. The
parties have a vested interest in keeping the government
going and independents backing the government has become
a tradition since the days of the Shiv Sena-BJP
dispensation. Attachment to power and the other factors
are the best guarantee of stability in Maharashtra. It is
coalition culture with a twist.
IT is not for the first time that a school textbook prepared by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has raised an avoidable controversy. However,the latest instance of lapse has occurred in a chapter on Islam for the class VI textbook. It should alert the academic community to the need for stricter monitoring of the contents of school books prepared by the NCERT and state textbook boards. Among other things the offensive chapter in the book entitled "A Comprehensive Study of History and Civics" states that "Mohammed was the founder of Islam" and that his "teachings were collected after his death in a book called the Koran". The authors of the texbook, Mr P.C. Popli and Mr J. M. Gandhi, are, perhaps, not aware of the golden rule that it is better not to claim knowledge of a subject than accept and spread wrong information as the truth. It is indeed true that the Islamic faith in its present form was established in the lifetime of the Prophet. Nevertheless, had the authors taken the abundant precaution of consulting authorities on Islam [not necessarily Muslims] before preparing the chapter they may have avoided causing unintended hurt to the sentiments of the followers of the Muslim faith. For instance, had they stated that according to Muslim belief Adam was the first and Mohammed the last Messenger of God [and not founder of Islam] their presentation would have been accurate without causing hurt to either Jews or Christians or Muslims. What should not be excused is their ignorance about the difference between the "Hadith", compilation of the Prophet's saying, and the Quran, which the Muslims believe is the message of God revealed through the last Prophet.
Perhaps the most serious
lapse is the publication of a photograph in the chapter
on Islam showing the Prophet replacing the black stone in
the Ka'ba at Mecca after it had been cleared of pagan
idols and consecrated to Islam. Maulana Rabe
Nadwi,Principal of Daar-ul-Uloom, put the issue in
perspective when he stated that "our religion
prohibits any representation of the Prophet in image
form". Surprisingly, the source of the offensive
photograph is attributed to the Photo Division of the
Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the
Archaeological Survey of India. The distortions in the
NCERT textbook may have been unintended but a report from
Gujarat points to a deliberate attempt to distort
history. The State Board of School Textbooks in a chapter
on social studies for class IX says that "in most
states the Hindus are a minority and the
Muslims,Christians and Sikhs are in a majority. In the
same chapter while referring to the "problems of the
country and their solutions" it has been stated that
"the Muslims are called a minority community [but]
even the Christian, Parsees and other foreigners are also
recognised as the minority communities". In a
multi-cultural and multi-religious society such lapses as
have occurred in the NCERT textbook can cause unintended
communal friction. However, the kind of history which is
being taught in schools in Gujarat is an open
encouragement to those whose actions have already caused
much bloodshed and communal tension in the country. Over
five years ago a panel was set up for recommending steps
for removing distortions from school textbooks. Among
other things the expert panel suggested the setting up of
state textbook boards! How would it now respond to the
blatant attempt by most textbook boards to introduce
disturbing distortions under the garb of re-writing
ONE concept or expression that continues to be most wantonly and egregiously used in the media is that of charisma, and the promiscuity of its usage becomes a painful phenomenon, especially in moments of national crises, elections, wars, etc. Often those scribes or party pundits who find the expression a shorthand for the complexities of leadership and personality themselves are seldom aware of the fact that, in reality, they are turning a truth into a travesty. Thus the fiction flourishes, and the party cadres exploit it glibly and gleefully with a view to reaping a rich harvest of votes around the time of elections held in moments of national confusion, perplexity and drift. No wonder, then, a fair amount of moral fog has collected around this concept, and the political discourse gets lost in the process. The letter drives the spirit out of the proceedings; the husk and the hallowness survive.
I have consciously used a Biblical line in this context, for as this argument proceeds, it would become clear how far the media or mice and those in the business of politics, have departed from the pristine sense of the charismatic personality, and the harlotry of language has become a routine business. Since the space for elaborating the three key concepts of language, personality and charisma is not available in this piece, I intend to touch upon the bare essentials in order to reach the heart of the problem the misuse of the suggestive idiom in our political discourse, platform lectures and commentaries. Its most recent example is, of course, the way charisma, in particular, has been abused as a concept in the recent general election.
Ideally, I ought to initiate the argument with the uses and abuses of language in almost all fields of human life, but more grievously, in the politics of power, for the lexical field, to recall Steiners phrase, is wide enough to blow up an entire grid of meanings. Its misuse, so elaborately discussed and dramatised by George Orwell in his essays and novels, is thus, in the final analysis, a deep moral concert.
Even the concept of personality per se needs to be understood in its true meaning or sense. We find how even an adventurer or a freebooter or a turncoat is described as a great personality when the person in question manages to manipulate, steal or hussle his or her way into power. Greatness and personality, then, get telescoped in the mass mind when the state or party machinery is relentlessly pressed into service. Just because a Laloo Yadav or a Jayalalitha succeeds in capturing the levers of power, or a Sonia Gandhi inherits a legacy, or even a Vajpayee mellows over a long period of time into a viable leader does not mean that they, therefore, project a charismatic personality. There is something basically wrong here, and I wish to clear up a bit of the moral miasma surrounding this lapse in language.
To begin with, it may be helpful to remember that the use of the word charisma started with the eminent German sociologist Max Weber, but it did not take long for the media and the political predators to pounce upon this concept, and bastardise it in the service of narrow, partisan and mercenary ends. They quite forgot its roots and relevance, and started describing John F. Kennedy, the Beatles and other cult figures as charismatic personalities. For, in its original, pristine sense, this Christian theological concept implied a person blessed with divine grace. And even if we leave the question of divinity aside for the moment, the expression had a huge moral and spiritual resonance. Scores of men and women have possessed charisma in this sense, and scores of them will continue to exude, obscurely in most cases, this spiritual aroma. And India, I may add, may not be a country with a manifest destiny, yet there is no doubt that this land has produced a large number of charismatic leaders and mentors in nearly all spheres of life. Truly, thousands and thousands of men and women have carried the mark silently, with dignity and with honour. I do not intend to go reciting the great names, but if I say that Mahatma Gandhi in the larger spiritual sense and Jawaharlal Nehru in the modern secular sense were the two chrismatic personalities we could set up as examples of the expression in the world of politics, our concept of charisma is likely to be closer to the meaning I have tried to establish.
But we have seen the expression charismatic personality used in all kinds of contexts from the movie stars and stage performers to the masters of the boxing ring and the cricket field. Undoubtedly, we have always had great artists and writers, great musicians and dancers, great teachers and thinkers, great reformers and revolutionaries, but to be charismatic at the same time is altogether a different story. And very few would then be within the charmed circle we have been considering so far.
This brings us back to the use of the word in relation to Sonia Gandhi, among others. Unfortunately, it all began with Indira Gandhi and her dynasty, and is now in danger of being transferred to Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi when the moment arrives for their coronation or political canonization, if you like. A real theatre of the absurd in the making. Take that Mona Lisa, Sonia Gandhi, who distanced herself from the real heat and dust of politics, who had virtually no experience of any kind to offer in the field of polity or administration, much less any kind of vision, and whose enigmatic silence was often a disability rather than a quality of mind, but the Congress hype and the media blew her up into a charismatic leader who was going to lead India into the next millennium with a nimbus around her persona. And we have seen how a propped-up image comes tumbling down when the truth catches up with the ground realities. The chastened Sonia is, no wonder, down, though not quite out as yet. That may come too when the discontent simmering within the Congress cadres comes to a boil. For the moment, she seems to be in command of things, despite her despairing leadership.
As for Indira Gandhi, a great overreacher and forceful personality, one was, in the beginning, inclined to believe that her fathers charisma had in some measure gone into the make-up of her personality. However, subsequent events, especially after the infamous Emergency, revealed the hidden spots in a shattering manner, and she had, despite her personal appeal, lost irretrievably the magic touch. The so-called charisma, a created phenomenon largely, came to grief. The son and heir, Rajiv Gandhi, had, in truth, little of even that greatness which his mother had imbibed with her milk. He was sought to be cast in the great mould, but the cracks were always showing.
To conclude, no one on
the political scene today, including the efficient and
affable Vajpayee, could claim the mark of charisma.
Its a God-given or inborn gift or grace, if you
like, and the media and all the kings
men cannot create it. Politics as such, in fact,
militates against the phenomenon of charisma, and only
rarely, very rarely, a Lincoln, a Gandhi lifts it to a
higher plane of reality.
Quota: line of least
I AM continuing, in this piece, with the lot of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes because the Lok Sabha has just adopted the 84th Constitution Amendment Bill, which extends the reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes by another 10 years, that is until January 25, 2010. One can take it for granted that the Rajya Sabha too will adopt the measure as unanimously as did the Lower House.
The reason is electoral politics. No political party has the guts to oppose the reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, be it in Parliament or in jobs. That would alienate these tribes and castes, particularly, the creamy layer, which for all practical purposes, has monopolised most of the benefits that have accrued from constitutional concessions.
And no political party has the guts to admit that it cannot possibly deliver to the disadvantaged classes what has not been achieved in the last 50 years.
The Constitution-makers, an enlightened lot, were full of hopes. Going by the existing realities, created by the division of the country, they were in no mood to create reservations, be it in Parliament, or the services, or on grounds of religion. And to the credit of the minority communities the Sikhs, the Christians, and even the Muslims they did not press for reservations.
However, the need for making special reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes was felt. Hence reservations of two kinds were made. First, there was the short-term reservation, as for instance in the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures. The expectation of the Constitution-makers was that, in 10 years, the Scheduled Castes and Tribes would sufficiently advance so as to be able to compete, on equal terms, with their more advanced brethren in society. Hence the provision for reservation in Parliament and the state legislatures was made in the Constitution in a special chapter (XVI) under the heading: Special Provisions relating to certain classes.
But, then, the Constitution-makers hope having been utterly belied, the Constitution was amended so as to extend this particular reservation by another 10 years, which became another 10 and yet another 10 the first 10 now extending to 60 through Constitutional amendments.
Why not make it a permanent feature of the Constitution then? Because in my view, no government in power at the Centre has the courage or integrity to admit that it cannot possibly achieve in another 10 years what its predecessors could not do in the last several decades.
What stately vision mocks my waking sense?
Hence, dear delusion, sweet enchantment, hence!
Hence Mr Ram Jethmalanis tall claim made in the House that what had not been achieved in the last 50 years, was going to be achieved in the next 10.
The refusal of Parliament to face the reality is proved by another feature of the 84th Amendment, which has also extended the representation of the Anglo-Indian community in the Lok Sabha by allocating them two seats, until the year 2010.
When the Constitution-makers made reservation for this community, they had to keep in mind that this community had received special consideration from the Raj, including in jobs, specially the Railways, and it could not be left in the lurch after Independence.
Hence the special provision for jobs for the community for two years and itsreduction by stages, in the future. Today there is no reservation for this community in jobs.
But a basic change has taken place since then. The majority of the Anglo-Indians felt that they, especially their children, had no future in this country and chose to migrate to other countries, particularly to Australia.
The Law Commission, which has submitted a report on electoral reforms to the government, has taken into account this new factor and has recommended that the provisions for reservations for the Anglo-Indian community should be abolished. It has been ignored. The implication is that the government has either not studied the report or simply does not care about it.
And this brings me to the long-term provisions in the Constitution concerning the disadvantaged classes. These again are of two types, those that form part of the Fundamental Rights and those which did not, at least initially. Thus it is part of the Fundamental Rights that the State may make special provision in jobs for the backward classes which are not adequately represented in the services under the State.
On political considerations mostly, the state governments have been making special provisions for as many castes and classes as possible (earlier it formed part of chapter XVI); in the process exceeding the norm laid down by the Supreme Court that quotas ordinarily should not exceed 50 per cent of the jobs available. The central government, on pressure from the state governments, has got the Constitution amended so that job reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes has become part of the Fundamental Rights. This has been done in order to defeat the 50 per cent norm laid down by the Supreme Court.
Consider the implications. Reservation for the minorities is understandable but reservation for the majority constituting the Backward Classes, the other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes is not.
Not unexpectedly, the Supreme Court which goes by the constitutional provisions and goals, and which is the acknowledged interpreter of the Constitution is going one way, the political parties, with their agenda of capturing power, the other. While the Courts attempt has been to achieve a happy balance between equality for all citizens and exceptions made in favour of the disadvantaged, the political parties are more concerned with vote banks.
In the process, the sufferers are the poorest of the poor. Liberalisation, to begin with at least, is helping the affluent classes. And practical politics is helping the creamy layer, the poorer sections among the disadvantaged classes remaining where they are, if not worse than what they were.
I AM hopelessly lost and bewildered and if I am going batty, it is due to the strain caused by having to hack through a dense thicket of acronyms in an effort to get a half-Nelson on the Sri Lankan Tamil ethnic conundrum.
Acronyms have really got my goat thanks to a surfeit of TULF, PLOTE, ENDLF, ERPLF, TELO and what have you.
Just as I relax a bit, smugly complacent that I have, at last, got a hang of the Sri Lankan Tamil problem, another acronym unexpectedly pops out like a rabbit out of a magicians hat, upsetting my applecart. The mere fact that TELO, LTTE, EROS, etc, are euphonious and music to the ears is no extenuating factor.
But I suppose the Sri Lankan Tamil acronyms do serve a purpose of sorts. When the official Sri Lankan government representative at the Colombo peace talks puts forward a perfectly preposterous set of proposals for resolving the crisis, the chap representating the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) can scornfully put his tongue out, wiggle his ears and say Tulf! (which is the Oxonian way of saying phooey) and the person representing the Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) can drive home the point by accusing the Sri Lankan government of (PLOT)ting with the Americans and the Israelis to drive the Tamils into the sea.
Quite a few acronym tigers are roaming in the bushes outside Government House in Colombo where peace talks are being held. While the Tigers of Tamil Eelam Organisation (TELO) are biding their time, the more ferocious Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have actually pounced on the Sri Lankan government representatives and mauled them.
Other acronyms, too, are having a field day at Colombo Peoples Revolutionary Organisation for the Protection of Tamils of Eelam Against Genocide (PROTEG) quite a mouthful that and EROS.
I confess that I was stumped in my bid to unravel the EROS acronym. I got as far as Eelam and Revolutionary and then the trail went cold and I called off the spooring as a bad bargain.
But it would be a matter of relief to know that EROS stands for love, after all.
The redoubtable Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr Karunanidhi, is doing his bit to stoke the acronym fire and keep it burning. He has just announced the formation of a Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) and it is not likely that his arch rival, Ms Jayalalitha, will let him get away lightly with his one-upmanship and she might soon announce the launching of Tamil Eelam Backers Organisation (TEBO).
It is quite possible that the Sri Lankan President, Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga, assailed on all sides by implacable acronyms, will tamely throw in the towel and concede the Tamils demand for a separate homeland.
Cong yet to adjust to changing milieu
WHENEVER the Congress suffered a severe electoral setback it had standard responses token resignations, a working committee discussion and leaving the task of post-mortem to an inquiry panel. A.K. Antony, then an AICC general secretary, himself had inquired into the reasons for the partys downfall in states like Haryana in the mid-1980s. It was also standard diagnosis infighting, presence of rebel candidates, late announcement of nominees and lack of coordination.
At times the Congress leadership came out with some brave remedial measures to tide over the situation. But soon everything is forgotten. Apparently, the Congress is now in a much deeper crisis. However, the reasons cited by some of its critics seem equally superfluous and misleading. Look at the factors such as over-centralised functioning, one-leader supremacy, coterie rule and authoritarian attitude. Each of these Congress traits has now been borrowed and successfully adapted by other political parties. Barring the Left, no political outfit, big or small, can function without the help of a coterie and a set of backroom boys. Politicians may not concede it. But ask disgruntled leaders of any outfit, they will tell you who in their party misguides the leader and how the coterie functions.
Until the 1990s, we all assailed Indira Gandhis one-leader authoritarianism in running her party and administration. Both her political rivals and the liberals had described it as cutting at the roots of internal democracy. Now as we enter the second millennium, can we cite any party again, barring the Left and the newly formed JD(U) that is not under the control of a single individual leader? Supremoism has become the foundation of every regional outfit in India, new or old. How long can DMK, ADMK, TDP, Shiv Sena, BJD, RJD, BSP, TMC, Trinamul Congress, Samajwadi Party and the two Haryana parties survive without their respective supremos? They all function under their undisputed leader and derive strength from him or her. It is leaders word that counts. Some of them function in a more authoritarian manner than Indira Gandhi.
Such changing concepts of internal democracy have led to the queer thesis that political parties cannot function successfully with too many bosses and too much of democracy. The much-maligned Indira model has apparently triumphed over the rather liberal organisational functioning of the Janata parivar. Every one concedes that too much of democracy has been the cause of that parivars death. For over three years, the BJPs image-builders have been working hard to make Vajpayee an Indira Gandhi of the party. Every decision is announced in his name. The role of the BJP organisation, otherwise known for its collective decision making and elaborate system of consultations, has been relegated to the background after Vajpayee had at the Bangalore session rejected any move to set up a coordination panel of the party and the government. While joining NDA the only condition for its constituents was acceptance of Vajpayees supremacy.
Therefore, there is little point in the arguments that the downfall of the Congress has been due to the coterie, lack of internal democracy or bossism of Sonia Gandhi. The Congress, like other non-Left parties, needs a supreme leader like Sonia Gandhi for sheer survival. Especially in the changed scenario where the personality cult is considered a virtue by other political parties. Functionally, she has been more responsive to others views than Sitaram Kesri who had taken such crucial decisions as withdrawal of support to the Deve Gowda Government without consulting senior colleagues. It is not the leadership of Sonia Gandhi as such, but the sole reliance on her for the election campaign that had damaged the Congress.
The downfall of the Congress has been due to its inability to live up to the fast-changing political milieu. Some of its old tools have lost their sharpness. The party will have to adopt a new concept of organisational management and a drastic revision of its policies and programmes to counter its formidable political rival, which has already hijacked most of its attributes. The Sonia Congress has been a spectacle of ambiguity and confusion with regard to such a crucial issue as alliances. It repeatedly changed its position even at the peak of the election campaign. Its obstinate stand on coalition after the fall of the Vajpayee Government cost it dearly. Later, instead of adopting a coherent stand its actions had foreclosed whatever scope for future electoral tieup.
What made it look ridiculous was that even while rejecting the concept of alliances and coalition, the Congress forged a tie-up with available local outfits like the RJD and ADMK. The Pachmarhi document itself does not totally rule out coalitions, which it said, would be considered only when absolutely necessary and that too on the basis of agreed programmes which will not weaken the party or compromise its basic ideology. Even the 12th Lok Sabha election had shown the significance of electoral alliances as a means to coopt allies and add to the numerical strength. The last election further established how the BJP gained in areas where it had only a marginal presence and was able to mop up a comfortable majority in the House. The Congress will soon have to take a hard decision on whether it should go in for the alliance politics or get shrunk as it did this time.
Organisationally, the Congress is still far behind the BJP in handling its affairs with finesse. Over a decade, Indias general elections have become a combination of state battles. The nature of the contest, issues and results vary from state to state. This makes it imperative for all-India parties to tackle the issues statewise. The old system of an AICC general secretary looking after the affairs during a crisis will have to be done away with. Instead, Delhi will have to evolve a permanent arrangement for constantly observing the political and organisational developments in each state and take prompt remedial steps.
True, this entails concentration of more powers in the high command. But this becomes unavoidable for both the Congress and the BJP in view of the increasing provincialisation of politics. A powerful state-based political party will have enough flexibility to deal with the emerging situations in the state. Such parties are not obliged to seek the high commands permission. Neither have they to bother about the repercussions of their action on other states. An insensitive high command incapable of dealing with such delicate local complications, may often be tempted to resort to bureaucratic methods. The BJP, too, had to pay dearly for it in Karnataka. The local units of all-India parties will often have to respond quickly to local undercurrents if they have to politically combat state-based parties.
The failure of the Congress high command to correct the course on Jat reservation in Rajasthan has been a fit case. In Haryana, it badly suffered due to its support to the discredited Bansi Lal Government. Though Pranab Mukherjee later admitted the mistake, it was too late. In Orissa, the removal of J.B. Patnaik only compounded the crisis. A go-getter, Patnaik would have been a better election-time Chief Minister. The failure to realise the need for state-specific decisions in the changed geopolitics is reflected more in the post-election chaos in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Gone are the days when the state leaders and candidates could look to a few rallies addressed by the party chief to win an election. The state leaders will now have to nurse their own support base and draw up action plans depending on the situation on the ground. This calls for both flexibility at the ground level and supervision from the top.
As a national Opposition party, the Congress will also have to learn to adjust itself to an entirely different role. Since the present dispensation is presumed to be in place for quite some time, the Congress can use the opportunity to adopt a reasonably adversarial role. It can champion the cause of the poor and downtrodden, whom it alienated for over a decade. A party which has lost contact with the people, the Congress has not conducted any public campaign to highlight the peoples cause for a long time. At Pachmarhi, Sonia Gandhi had drawn up grandoise plans for party workers. But everything was soon forgotten after the brainstorming session concluded.
We must launch abhiyans, jathas, campaigns and movements on basic socio-economic issues. We must mobilise and organise the poor and the disadvantaged in order to empower them, the party chief had thundered. The tasks set by her included fight for land reform, social justice and gender equality, for the working classes, kisans and agricultural labour. This was over a year back. Neither the party boss nor the leaders have bothered to put into the practice their presidents fervent appeal. Long used to easy life and durbar politics, the Congress men have totally forgotten mass contact and agitational programmes. By party work, they mean factional tussles.
introspection need not be confined to electoral failures
alone. Instead, it should encompass ways to restore its
lost image as a left-of-centre party. As an Opposition
party, it can now adopt a critical approach to any hasty
enforcement of reform, especially when it adversely
affects the interests of the common man. The Pachmarhi
declaration provides ample guidelines for adopting a more
humane approach to the economic growth. Its emphasis on
growth with social justice, redefining the role of
government to make it a more effective instrument of
economic changes and social transformation, significant
role for the public sector and making it genuinely
autonomous, protection to industry against unfair
external competition, effective social security net, etc,
is marked departure from the post-1991 policy. But the
pulls and pressures within the party may obfuscate any
AS might have been expected, the action just taken by Lord Reading and Lord Lytton has been condemned all but universally not only because of its obvious injustice and inexpediency, but because it is utterly inconsistent with the existence of an even partially constitutional government.
Both Lord Reading and the Duke of Connaught declared in the plainest terms soon after the inauguration of the Reforms that one effect of them would be to put an end to autocracy.
The present action coming on the top of many other and only less important measures during the last four years shows that this claim was absolutely without foundation. As Mr C.R. Das observed at the interview we have published, the true character of the Reforms could not have been more mercilessly exposed than by the latest stroke of Lord Readings pen.
The same view was emphasised, among others, by Pandit Malaviya at Lahore, Mr Jinnah at Simla and Mr. Rangaswami Iyengar in Madras.
The issue of the
ordinance, in fact, shows conclusively that the Reforms
have not touched even the fringe of the real problem in
India, and that in all essentials, so far as the
Government is concerned, we are exactly where we were in
1918 and 1919 the era of the Rowlatt Act and
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