|Tuesday, February 15, 2000,
the Bihar poll
is not stupid
STUDY IN CONTRAST
terrorist phase may end soon
by P. Raman
courage and tall tales
A balanced committee
IT is not clear what norms the government adopted in the selection of the members but the committee to review the Constitution is well balanced. It will be childish to think that this was the sole yardstick of selection; legal luminaries, with a scholarly bent of mind, dominate the panel, as indeed they should. Four former Judges are there, including the Chairman, Justice Venkatachaliah and this regions Justice R. S. Sarkaria whose presence should sharply focus attention on Centre-state relations. Two of them are from Andhra Pradesh, attesting to the importance of the Telugu Desam Party for the ruling alliance. (Another ally, the DMK of Tamil Nadu was content to exercise its veto to keep former President R. Venkataraman out of the committee.) Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee, who is a strong votary of strengthening the inbuilt checks and balances in the constitutional scheme of things, will provide insight into the problems the government faces. This is his second stint in the job. He will have the company of one of his predecessors, Mr K. Parasaran, another known expert. These six form an awesome assembly of legal brain, and having been practitioners of constitutional law, should resist any attempt at rewriting the document. Of course, there is the known opposition of Chairman Venkatachaliah to any wholesale review, a point stressed by the government itself. Another distinguished member is Mr Subhash C. Kashyap, former Secretary-General of the Lok Sabha. A surprise inclusion is Mr C. R. Irani, manager-turned-editor of The Statesman. Mrs Sumitra Kulkarni, a late entrant to politics and a recent convert to the Sangh Parivar, is there. Obviously she is there because of her gender and not because she is a granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi or a retired bureaucrat.
concentrated on one member almost to the exclusion of
others. For all the publicity, including a coveted
television interview, Mr P. A. Sangma should thank the
Congress. The former ruling party convinced itself that
his sole qualification was his opposition to Mrs Sonia
Gandhi to head the government if it were to be voted to
power. It conveniently closed its eyes to the rest of his
personality or accomplishments. It was bizarre for a
115-year-old political organisation to take such a narrow
view of one of its former leaders, and it was somewhat
immature too. The partys two objections are
specious. One is that he is a politician and the second
is that he is a BJP loyalist in NCP clothing. True, he is
a politician but then he is also a former Union Cabinet
Minister, a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, a tribal
Christian from the North-East. The BJP smear is related
to splitting the Congress and forming a coalition
government in Meghalaya with the saffron party. But the
Congress forgets that the same Nationalist Congress Party
has joined it to form the government in Maharashtra. It
was all a serious political goof-up and even the internal
trouble its president is facing does not explain it.
Tainting the Bihar poll
Every major political party in Bihar is living in a glass house and throwing stones around with impunity. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani had a sermon to deliver in Arrah the other day. When Mr Laloo Yadav's "jungle raj" was depicted in detail by Governors, among others, the Home Ministry just ruled that the show must go on. Mrs Rabri Devi was the symbol of awakened womanhood in the land of the Buddha and the Buddhu!. Ram Dulari Sinha and Tarakeshwari Sinha did a lot of good work. The former lived a full life working for poverty alleviation and education while Thakur Yugal Kishore preached socialism. Tarakeshwari Sinha was not swallowed by glittering Delhi and what was left of her in her days of retirement was not just a series of regrets. So, one Rabri could very well be the swallow that made a summer. And, after all, the Laloo-Rabri rule has a decade-long past. Neither Mr I.K. Gujral nor Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee paid any attention to the hungry, angry and impoverished in the state. When Mr Advani talks in or about Bihar, he expectedly reflects the attitude of Mr Vajpayee. Today, in his view, Mr Laloo Yadav is an obnoxious "proxy ruler" who presides over a system of governance marked by anarchy. The Rashtriya Janata Dal is instigating violence. Why has criminalisation got out of control in Bihar? How did 22 persons, including 13 security men, get killed during the first phase of the Assembly poll? The Home Minister has this to say: "It is difficult to control violence when criminals are in the saddle or when they join hands with persons in power".
The scared Janata Dal
(United) President, Mr Sharad Yadav, finds "the
bullet prevailing over the ballot". The attack on
his helicopter in Madhepura was "a blot on
democracy". Well, but what did the attacks by his
party men on their opponents' cavalcades amount to? Mr
Nitish Kumar and Mr Sharad Yadav are fellow-travellers
literally! When a flying machine carrying them is
attacked, both of them see a commonality of enmity. It
would be wise on the part of Mr Advani to understand that
the clamour for ousting the forces responsible for the
brutalisation of Bihar does not keep his party or the
ruling alliance at the Centre out of the reckoning. Shiv
Sena leader Sanjay Nirupam has accused BJP heavyweight
Sushil Kumar Modi of protecting gangsters and goondas,
and causing large-scale rigging during the casting of
votes in Patna and elsewhere. The BJP has released a list
of 15 RJD candidates, led by Mr Laloo Yadav, who are
facing corruption charges. Quite a few Ministers are
among the absconders and fugitives. Local newspapers have
come out with a list of "an equally tainted lot in
the NDA list". Where does one go from here? The
present criminal raj will be replaced by a similar set-up
after the poll. Bihar's political beings have created a
situation in which perversion appears to be the common
denominator. Why blame the Election Commission or the
helpless police? If the strong will of the people asserts
itself, there may be some improvement in the milieu. At
present one finds Satan, in his many self-willed forms,
Cupid is not stupid
It is both surprising and unfortunate that even a fun occasion like St Valentine's Day was viewed with suspicion by those who are desperately trying to protect the "purity" of Indian culture in the age of the ubiquitous Net. It is true that February 14 now holds special meaning for the young at heart than it used to before Dr Manmohan Singh, as Union Finance Minister, introduced the policy of liberalisation for integrating India with the global economy. In grandma's days "Stupid Cupid" was among the more popular numbers played at western-style parties for self-conscious boys and girls to do a bit of foot-tapping. But love is now virtually in the air around February 14 year after year. The killjoys may not like the celebration of an alien tradition, but they should at least applaud the market managers for wasting little time in selling to India "love as it is celebrated on the worldwide web" with a dot com thrown in for added effect. However, to paint the India, on which the influence of the derided western values was minimal, as a land of loveless touch-me-nots is to do great injustice to its rich and colourful history. India was millenniums ahead of the rest of the world in celebrating all aspects of life and love. Which civilisation or society can boast of having had the good fortune of being guided by an aspect of divinity in the form of Lord Krishna in attaining the ultimate height of total bliss? To say that India is a land of endless festivals and countless melas and fair, either celebrating the change of seasons or divine happenings, is to acknowledge only one aspect of the cultural richness of the region. And there is a bit of "Valentine" woven into the celebration of most Indian festivals. The killjoys instead of protesting should actually rejoice at the addition of one more occasion for the young at heart to celebrate in the form of St Valentine's Day.
It is tribute to the
greatness of India that Christmas is no longer a
Christian celebration. There is as much joy in the air
during the Christmas season as there is during the
celebration of Divali. And why not? The India which seeks
to integrate with the rest of the world cannot afford to
not be influenced by occasions which the economic powers
celebrate. The celebration of St Valentine's Day should
not be seen as an intrusion into the lives of traditional
Indians. Instead, it should be studied as a triumph of
the global market forces in quickly grasping the average
Indian's civilisational weakness for turning any event
into a occasion for celebrating all aspects of life. The
Net has only helped expedite the process of making the
eternally young Indians spread and share with the
neighbours as well as the rest of the world the message
and meaning of love through exchange of cards and boxes
of chocolate. Instead of protesting the enterprising
Indians should put into place a project for marketing
Holi, the most colourful of Indian festivals, along with
"gujia" and "thandai" to the West.
Even if the killjoys cry themselves hoarse there is
little they can do to make St Valentine, a fifth century
saint believed to have been executed on February 14 for
committing the "sin" of declaring his love for
a woman, leave India. What is distasteful and, therefore,
objectionable is the brazenness with which the market
forces have turned a day meant to celebrate love into an
occasion of vulgar spending. But who said that the
material world and good taste were made for each other?
A STUDY IN CONTRAST
NO one will dispute the fact that agriculture in India and Pakistan owes a great deal of its progress to the states of Punjab. It was in these states that the Green Revolution took birth, and even today they are making the largest contribution to the food-baskets of the two countries. But these similarities apart, a great distinction exists between the post-colonial agrarian histories of the two states, which were one only half a century ago.
For certain historical reasons, the western part of Punjab, which has gone over to Pakistan, had received greater patronage from the British planners. A large portion of its area, four times that of Indian Punjab, had remained non-cultivated before the turn of the century. So the British had sent Jat Sikhs from eastern Punjab, well-known for their hard work and acumen in farming, to make the land fit for cultivation. And the agricultural potency of this land having not been tapped earlier, it was converted into a very fertile tract. The British also developed there one of the most extensive canal systems in the world (59,000 kilometres) to add to its fertility.
Another disadvantage Indian Punjab suffered was that the legendary capital of the undivided province, Lahore, went over to Pakistan after Partition. This meant considerable administrative damage to Indian Punjab, which had to build a whole new capital called Chandigarh. After Partition, Punjab became the fulcrum of Pakistani politics, providing the country with most of its ruling elite, particularly so after the independence of Bangladesh. Today, Punjab is able to corner almost 70 per cent of Pakistans developmental budget due to its superior clout in the countrys administration.
This is not even remotely the case with Indian Punjab. And yet the state has achieved far more prosperity than its Pakistani counterpart. When Indian soldiers crossed the border during the 1965 war with Pakistan and came back with harrowing tales of how underdeveloped the other side of Punjab was, few people were prepared to believe them. But now Pakistani media itself is making comparisons and is astonished at the contrast. Immense disparities exist between the two neighbours in terms of agricultural productivity and infrastructural growth.
In a recent article in Pakistan and Gulf Economist (Aug 30-Sep 5, 1999), Pakistani economists S.M. Alam and R. Ansari Nia reveal that cereal crop yields in Pakistani Punjab do not measure even half the yields in Indian Punjab. According to the latest comparison available, while the wheat yield is 1,541 kg per hectare in Pakistani Punjab, the production in Indian Punjab is 2,932 kg per hectare. The rice yield in Pakistani Punjab is 1,333 kg per hectare while it is 2,957 kg per hectare in Indian Punjab. For sugarcane, the figure is 35,422 kg per hectare and 54,220 kg per hectare, respectively. Indian Punjab scores even in the case of cotton, the crop on which the Pakistan economy is dependent for half its export earnings. The comparison is 315 kg per hectare in Pakistani Punjab to 347 kg per hectare in Indian Punjab.
The disparities are even more evident in the growth of agricultural infrastructure. In spite of a four-times larger area, Pakistani Punjab has only 3,42,000 tubewells as against 8,60,000 tubewells in Indian Punjab. Further, more than 80 per cent of the tubewells in Indian Punjab are electrically operated in comparison to only 24 per cent in Pakistani Punjab.
There are only 1,30,000 tractors in Pakistani Punjab compared to 3,20,000 in Indian Punjab. The cultivated land-tractor ratio is 13.4 hectares per tractor on the Indian side against 93 hectares per tractor in Pakistan. The use of fertilisers is 96 kg per hectare in Pakistani Punjab compared to 157 kg per hectare on this side of the border. Another issue is the use of weedicides. Farmers in Indian Punjab use about 60 per cent of the total weedicides used in the country, most of which goes to wheat and rice crops, the foremost victims of weed-infestation. In Pakistani Punjab, very little weedicide is used on wheat and rice crops.
These disparities have resulted in a huge difference in the percentage of total land brought under cultivation in Pakistani and Indian Punjab. While Pakistani Punjab has only around 69.5 per cent of its geographical area under cultivation, the Indian Punjab farmers have been able to bring 85.2 per cent of their land under the spade.
What are the factors behind this hiatus? Moving beyond the comparisons between the two Punjabs, a close look at the distribution of infrastructure within Pakistani Punjab provides a clue. The use of agricultural tools here is largely the prerogative of big landowners who corner almost the entire benefit of infrastructural development. Over 70 per cent of tubewells have been put in by farmers owning more than 25 acres of land, and only 4 per cent by farmers owning less than 13 acres. Most tractors are owned by those with more than 100 acres of land. Almost 75 per cent of the privately owned tractors are on farms that have also sunk tubewells. The application of fertilisers and weedicides has also been largely restricted to these farms. Even the actual beneficiaries of the Green Revolution in Pakistan have been the landlords who own over 50 acres of land each and have access to infrastructural implements.
These disparities are caused by the continued existence of the medieval feudal culture. Both parts of Punjab inherited this unjust structure from the British. But while Indian Punjab has been able to prevail over it, the failure of Pakistans administration is abolishing it and establishing an egalitarian order has resulted in terrible misery for its people and wideranging repercussions for its economy.
At the time of Partition, the system of land tenure that existed in undivided Punjab was the Bataidari system. Zamindars (landlords) and Jagirdars (non-revenue paying landlords) possessed large tracts of land which were divided into small farms and cultivated by tenant farmers for a small share of the produce. The farmers also had to pay a portion of their share to the landlords as rent. The majority of landlords were absentee-owners who lived on their share and the income from the tenants rent.
The system had all the trappings of an exploitative feudal culture. Any forum for the settlement of disputes was heavily biased in favour of the zamindars, and the peasants were without any form of legal protection. They could be easily evicted from their land. Often they were denied their share of the crop, compelling them to borrow it from the landlords and become bonded labourers in return. The system was widely prevalent in pre-Partition Punjab. While two-thirds of the farmers in the province owned less than five acres of land each, covering just one-tenth of the total area of Punjab, a small minority of 2.4 per cent owned over 50 acres of land each, covering about 40 per cent of the total land.
Since Partition, however, the two parts of Punjab have handled the issue differently. Indian Punjab immediately sought to reform the agrarian structure. Partap Singh Kairon, Chief Minister of the state for eight years (1956-64), introduced a series of rigorous land reforms. The influence of the CPI and several communist-minded leaders of the old Ghadar Party also helped. The CPI had a cadre base in the state since the 1930s and was influential even among the kulaks (large landowners) and middle-class peasants. Also, Kairon saw to it that the reforms did not remain on paper and were actually implemented on soil. He engaged in massive mechanisation and diversified the development of the state. Rural Punjab was linked with roads and provided with power and irrigation facilities. These factors combined to see the Indian side of Punjab mitigating the evil relic of feudalism and quickly developing a just agrarain order.
The results were forthcoming. The foundations for the Green Revolution of the 1960s were laid. By the 1980s, Punjab began to contribute 60 per cent of the foodgrain to the national basket. The production of crops rose six times. Agriculture contributed 58.12 per cent of the states income, while employing 59.1 per cent of the total workforce. The production of rice rose from 892 kg per hectare (kph) in 1951 to 2,957 kph, and wheat from 901 kph to 2,932 kph.
This, however, has not been the case with Pakistani Punjab. Twice in its history efforts have been made to bring about land reforms in the agrarian structure. But both have been dismal failures.
The first attempt was in the 1950s itself under the Ayub Khan administration. A series of provincial tenancy acts were introduced by him, seeking to provide greater rights to the small farmers and increase their share in total produce. Another legislation was the abolition of the jagirdaris belonging to the largest among the landowners who did not even pay revenue to the government.
However, these acts proved to be merely cosmetic. The landlords represented a powerful political lobby and prevented any large scale implementation. Only about 5 per cent of the total landholdings in the country benefited from these reforms; in Punjab even less than the national average. The Land Reforms Commission itself gave generous allowances to large landowners for exemptions from land acquisition. The zamindars also colluded with the local revenue officials to alter the records and escape the law.
Under the Bhutto administration of the 1970s, a regulation was promulgated which made changes in the tenancy laws to safeguard the rights of tenants. The new laws gave the tenants greater power to avoid eviction and ensured that they had no responsibility for land revenue, the water supply rate or the cost of seeds. Later, additional measures were introduced to reduce the ceiling on individual holdings. Land revenue was abolished and replaced by a tax on the income of large landowners. However, before these laws could bring about any change, the Bhutto government was overthrown. The new regime of General Zia suspended the implementation of all land reform laws in one of its very first acts.
Land reforms have thus been a dismal failure in the state and feudalism continues to grip its rural society by the neck. Farming based on hired labour has also gained ground in the last two decades. The declining land base of small farmers has turned them into landless labourers. Apart from immeasurable humanitarian consequences, these failures have also had a wide-ranging impact on Pakistans economy.
No wonder, Pakistan is yet to attain food security and has failed to achieve self-sufficiency even in producing the main staple, wheat. On an average, 10 to 12 per cent of the countrys total consumption of wheat has to be imported. Productivity growth in agriculture has been small according to a number of indicators. Total factor productivity, perhaps the best measure of agricultural growth due to its comprehensive comparison of an index of all outputs with an index of all inputs, has stagnated or declined in the last three decades.
Public investment in
agriculture has become significantly curtailed. The share
of employment in agriculture has fallen from more
than 65 per cent of the workforce in 1950 to about 47 per
cent in 1996. Finally, the contribution of agriculture to
the national GDP has declined from more than 50 per cent
at the time of Partition to just 24.6 per cent today.
Though the government price system has induced a number
of distortions and incorrectly tried to remedy the
situation, even the most optimistic now dont deny
that agriculture is a failing sector in this agrarian
Algeria: terrorist phase may end
THE sporadic acts of violence and terrorism in Algeria may end soon, paving the way for a lasting peace in the country in the coming months. Credit for this must go to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who soon after winning the Presidential elections in April, 1999, outlined his bold plan for peace and civic concord.The main element of the plan was the offer of a partial or complete amnesty for members of the Islamic Army of Salvation (AIS), a rebel and terrorist organisation, and other militant groups. The amnesty was extended to the persons who belonged to the organisations which have voluntarily and spontaneously decided to put an end to acts of violence, and placed themselves fully at the disposal of the State.
Mr Bouteflika had in fact made the restoration of peace his priority number one after eight years of violence in which about 100,000 people, including members of the security forces and terrorists, were killed. Civilian casualties were, of course, very large.
There are two valid reasons why his peace plan appears to be succeeding. Firstly, the Algerian masses, sick and tired of violence, have turned against the militants and they firmly want to put the years of bloodbath behind them. And, secondly, it is apparent that the Algerian security forces are well set to liquidate the hardcore militant hands.
There were reports that some senior military personnel and highly placed bureaucrats were not satisfied with Mr Bouteflikas peace plan, because it appeared as if the government was surrendering to the threats of the militants. But as an astute leader he put an end to the opposition from his own government agencies by organising a referendum last September.
Official figures say that about 85 per cent of the 17.5 million registered voters took part in the referendum. The voters were asked to say yes or no on the question: Do you agree with the Presidents approach to restoring peace and civic concord? About 98.63 per cent voters reportedly said yes.
The high voting figures suggest that the people were genuinely involved in the referendum with a yearning for peace. The militants who surrendered to the Algerian security forces before the January 13 deadline were given full (not partial) amnesty.
As the deadline (January 13) approached, the Islamic Salvation Army, which has been rather quiet for the past several months and which declared a unilateral ceasefire, dissolved itself and with this the Algerian cycle of violence nearly came to an end. That the AIS and its political arm, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), decided to give up militancy is a signal of the success of Mr Bouteflikas programme.
With the dissolution of the AIS, the militants belonging to this group laid down their arms and surrendered to the government in large numbers. The government announced a blanket pardon, and with this, the ambiguity about partial and full amnesty was gone.
A brief look at the history of the Algerian politics of militancy may not be out of place here. The armed struggle by the AIS and its political wing, the FIS, was launched after the secular authorities in Algiers did not let the FIS take over the reins of the government after their victory in the 1992 elections. The elections were cancelled and the dream of the Islamists to take over power in Algiers vanished in thin air. The years 1992-97 saw violence and killings in Algeria in such large numbers as never before.
Along with the AIS, another smaller group, the Islamic League for Preaching and Combat, also availed of the amnesty offer. But two extremist hardline groups, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, are adamantly opposing Mr Bouteflikas amnesty offer. These two groups have taken part in militancy and killing of even women and children in large droves, and it is certain that Mr Bouteflika is not going to be soft towards them.
There is little doubt that the years of militancy and terrorism have ruined the countrys economy. Moreover, oil-rich Algeria has not been using its funds properly with open talk of corruption in high places. Unemployment stands at 40 per cent and the unemployed youth find a lot of appeal and solace in Islamic teachings and Sharia laws and hence the Islamists rose up in big strength. The Islamists forced women to wear the veil and strongly opposed the consumption of alcohol and the use of French language in government offices.
Algeria is going to change and the eight years of militancy will be forgotten as a bad dream. After peace returns to Algeria and militancy goes down, reviving the economy of the country should be high on Mr Bouteflikas agenda. One only hopes that he is well aware of the importance of looking seriously into the dire economic situation. There should also be a close watch on the squandering of Algerias vast natural resources.
THE significance of the Meira Kumar episode has been that it has broken new ground in many ways. It has been much more than the usual party hoping, and marks the emergence of what can be called Meira Kumar phenomenon. Hers is not a protest against any programme or policies of the party. Nor was it part of a move by a group to form a new political party. It is also different from the usual aya ram, gaya ram defections.
Her real contribution to the contemporary Indian politics has been the introduction of a system of open bargaining simultaneously with several parties, including her parent party, for the best possible price for her support. In political market, Meira Kumar could be nearest to Ajit Singh, son of another late veteran. Yet she has even surpassed Ajit Singh in sheer crudeness of the bargain. On the eve of the 1998 elections, Ramakrishna Hegde at the head of his Karnataka outfit, was willing to forge alliance with either the Congress or the BJP. The BJP moved fast and had him.
But he had never allowed it to drift to the level of an open bargain. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, another party-hopper and son of a political celebrity, has had his own rationale for switching from the Congress to the BJP on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections. In Tamil Nadu politics, he says frankly, he had only two options. Either to join the BJP and survive in politics or take political sanyas. He opted for the former.
Meira Kumar did it in true free-market style. Her only demand was a Rajya Sabha seat and other perks. For this she floated a tender in the political market and began bargaining with the Congress, BJP and Samata Party. This continued for about a week. The first package came from the BJP with a Cabinet decision to allot her fathers old bungalow to her as Jagjivan Ram trust. This was promptly followed by the BJPs formal announcement welcoming her if she desired so. She responds with her assertion that no party was untouchable to her.
But George Fernandes had more attractive terms for the new catch. He offers her not only a Rajya Sabha seat but ministership from the Samata quota. She plainly explains to the brokers that she had quit the Congress as it had denied her a Rajya Sabha ticket after losing the Lok Sabha election in Delhi. Whoever may be the winner, Meira Kumar has already established that in this political sharemarket, bears, and not the bulls, have the upper hand.
The phenomenon of open threats and blackmail as a bargaining point for retaining plum posts is fast catching up. At the moment, the Congress looks most vulnerable. What is left of the Janata Dal has already lost its importance as a political poaching field. Devoid of power and fading hopes of a better showing in the ongoing elections, the political blackmailers are using all avenues to put out their threats to the Congress. Rajesh Khanna, another defeated candidate, has already sent out signals. Like other political bears, he is also ready to go with the best bidder. Khanna is openly negotiating with the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, both poles apart politically.
If the grapevine proves to be true, the Meira doctrine is catching the imagination of many senior Congress functionaries. Inspired stories are in circulation in the Capitals murky corridors about the migration of Jitendra Prasada, Rajesh Pilot and some others to Sharad Pawars party. Some say they themselves are spreading the rumours for a better bargain at a time when the leadership is quite weak. Others allege all this is inspired by the rival factions within the Congress to spoil their prospects in the party. While it still remains in the realm of wild speculation, some even see a Narasimha Rao angle in this.
The Meira phenomenon of open simultaneous political bargain will be more attractive to ambitious middle-level leaders, even impatient to go up the ladder. The first priority of such leaders is to wrest beneficial positions within the government or the organisation. Every new entrant, whichever non-Left party, considers this to be political moksha. Once they establish themselves, power makes them to seek more and more of it. This finally prompts them to float their own party. However, of late the latter trend has suffered a definite setback.
Until recently, party-hopping and rebellion were essentially poll-eve events. Over the years, it began to be considered as a minor understandable offence which is pardoned after a suspension ritual. Defection, on the other, has been a ministerial disease based on group factionism. Then we had defections engineered to add to the number of a legislature group. The new trend of blackmailing by individual leaders for higher positions emanates from the rather weak position of the respective leadership. This largely depends on the revolters perception of the winning prospects of the respective party. A Meira Kumar or Rajesh Khanna might not have dared to raise an accusing finger, had the Congress been in a stronger position.
This writer has witnessed unabashed humiliation of senior leaders under Indira Gandhi in her heyday. Very few had gathered the courage to stand up to such treatment. The Congress leaders knew she alone could give them power. They preferred humiliation and ill-treatment to the political wilderness. Now in case the Congress makes a good showing in the elections and the BJP suffers a setback, Meira Kumar and others would meekly seek to return. Party-hopping based on competitive bidding is going to be a tricky problem for all major parties. Since ambition is limitless, no party can afford to give in to resignation threats by its aggrieved leaders.
The present state of political promiscuity has been brought about by the exit of principled politics based on ideology and programmes. Commitment to ideology has been given the euphemism of political untouchability In fact, the BJP itself has become a victim of its own untouchability theory. Old BJP veterans like Shankarsinh Vaghela and Kalyan Singh and so many smaller fries in states have shown that the flow can also be reverse. Both those veterans had given life-long service to the RSS-BJP, and had built up the movement in their respective states. What they did has been a cruel backlash of untouchability on the BJP.
Its reverberations have also been felt at different levels at different times. Sushma Swaraj, once a rapidly rising star, shows similar ticket tantrums. Devoid of any position, she is still licking the wounds. Saheb Singh Verma, another humiliated former Chief Minister, is also a victim. Even such a committed leader like Madan Lal Khurana had to go into hiding at Hardwar for a quiet introspection after he was denied the coveted position by operatives of the rival BJP faction. In BJP, the trend is more explicit at the local levels. The relatively newcomers seeking quick upward mobility are merrily indulging in party-hopping.
The problems for the Congress are multiplied by its inability to break through its present stagnation. The return of the BJP alliance with a marginally improved strength has apparently changed the mindset of the Congress politician. Congressmen have been used to remaining out of power. But every time an alternative government came at the Centre, Congressmen were sure of its early collapse and a return in the subsequent polls. Now they have no such early hopes. The Congress leadership, on its part, has not been able to equip itself as a dynamic Opposition party to face a long drawn-out battle. Instead, its leadership still resorts to the use of the party ticket and organisational reshuffles as tools to keep it intact.
The Congress still rests on its old oars and waits for the coalition to commit blunders. The last elections revealed the truth that the Congress is not in a position even to expose such lapses as Kargil failure and allegations of irregularities. The party will have to shed its ruling-party mindset and convert itself into a constructive, bold and agitating organisation. It has too long depended on the Sonia rallies as the only mode of communication with the people. Her recent election campaigns have signalled her waning magic. The loss of power has led to the loss of control of the media. The Congress may have reasons to feel unhappy over its poor projection in sections of the media. The party need not grumble about it because it has been part of the system it had once perpetrated.
Now that the BJP has robbed the agenda, programmes, media limelight and corporate and foreign patronage of the Congress, the only option for the latter is to go directly to the people. This is precisely what the BJP has been doing all the while. It went on with rallies and yatras to energise the organisational network and keep in touch with its support base. On January 30, Sonia Gandhi went on a road show and revealed grandiose plans for a public agitation. There has also been talk of the Congress launching its own yatra to highlight its programmes and NDAs misrule.
There was also talk of
the Congress evolving an alternative policy on the
implementation of second generation reforms.
It was suggested that the partys commitment was
only to the first generation, and now as an
Opposition party it should highlight the negative fallout
of the BJP moves on the poorer sections, the vast
backward regions of the country and on the environment.
But soon everything was forgotten and Congressmen went
back to their drawing-room politics an excellent
breeding ground for the Meira phenomenon.
Dutch courage and tall tales
LAST Sunday, an earthquake of a very mild intensity shook Bangalore and let me say for myself that I acted with commendable presence of mind and cool gallantry I dived under the sofa-cum-bed and for added measure pulled the foam rubber mattress on me and prayed fervently for safe deliverance and I didnt stick my neck out till they blew the All Clear.
The earthquake couldnt have hit at a more opportune time for, Bangaloreans were floundering helplessly, like whales stranded on a desolate beach, without conversation topics.
It is up to the enterprising Bangaloreans to make the most of it and extract the maximum mileage out of the quake as a conversational opener and there is ample scope in the latent Walter Mitty in them to make the full and facile flow.
The name of the game is to ruthlessly seize the initiative and never let go of it and never letting your companion get in a word edgewise on his harrowing experiences during the quake.
Well,ol boy, you might say, casually flicking your cuffs and stifling a bored yawn, it was simply frightening, wasnt it, but I didnt bat an eyelid. I was having my usual afternoon seista when the walls fell out and I distinctly remember telling myself, I shouldnt wonder if that wasnt an earthquake and then the RCC ceiling came crashing down and again I remember saying to myself, Yes, I believe its an earthquake measuring 9.2 on the open-ended Richter scale and I then turned over and went back to catch my 40 winks.
Or you might say: When the quake hit, I rushed outside and displaying extraordinary leadership qualities, I organised emergency teams to rescue trapped women and children. Never mind, trapped women telling their ensnared audience: When the quake struck, we were in our kitchen fixing morning breakfast and we immediately rushed outside and armed only with spoons and ladles, we began to dig desperately to free ablebodied men who had been caught under the debris and were crying out piteously for succour.
If you have the scientific bent of mind, you can wrap up the whole thing with an impressive and pedantic: Earthquakes are caused when pre-neolithic tectonic plates deep within the earths lithosphere shift due to geo-magnetic anomalies and crush against the continental shelf, setting off shocks in the fault zone.
No doubt, spinners of tall tales will have a field day, thanks to the quake. I was on my usual evening constitutional in Lal Bagh when I heard this deafening and ear-splitting roar like that of a heavily laden freight train hurtling down a mountain garden and the ground right under my feet literally sundered into two and there was this deepest and most fearsome chasm I had seen in my life and if I had unwittingly taken one more step.....
But I regret that the epicentre of the quake should have been in Tamil Nadu and not at a location between Karnataka Chief Ministers official residence in Bangalore and the Legislators Hostel and the government guest house for, in that case, the government could have promptly claimed that the earthquake was one more desperate attempt by the opposition to dislodge the government and capture power through the back door.
I am confident that the
earthquake will last out as a conversation topic for at
least a fortnight and who knows, by then a freak meteor
breaking away from the Hale-Bopp comet and a killer tidal
wave from the Bay of Bengal, 30 miles away, might
hit Bangalore and will give us something to
talk about for the next 15 days.
I very much fear, says Mahatma Gandhi in the latest issue of Young India, that all the cogent arguments that are being advanced by Indian publicists, although they are almost unanimous in their condemnation of Lord Lyttons policy, will be lost upon the Government, which has become habituated to treat public opinion with contempt.
Hence it is that I say that if they would add force to their argument, they must ply the charkha.
The first part of the observation will command general assent. As regards the second the Mahatma would be on firmer as well as surer ground if, instead of the words ply the charkha, he uses the words boycott British cloth and such other British goods as can be boycotted without inflicting any serious injury upon India.
The difference is
substantial, because the mere plying of charkha is not,
and cannot be, synonymous with the boycott of British
cloth, and by itself would take an infinity of time to
bring that pressure to bear upon England which Mahatma
Gandhi has obviously in view.
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