|Tuesday, February 22, 2000,
beyond gory Bastar
Look beyond gory Bastar
CITIZENS of Madhya Pradesh, like those of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Maharashtra, have lost count of the major Naxalite killings. The annihilation of 22 policemen, including two senior officers, on Sunday (February 20) is yet another shocking reminder of the growing belligerence and upgraded militaristic technology of various outfits, including the infamous People's War Group (PWG). The latest gory episode gives a disturbing idea of the unequal power of the State in terms of destructiveness although one should pay a tribute to the policemen who were targeted and eliminated. They were on a mission to arrest a group of Naxalites said to be preparing themselves for an onslaught on an unspecified target. They had moved a little away from the Narayanpur police station in Kanker district in the Bastar region when a powerful landmine laid on the road blew up their vehicle. It is strange that such devices used in war have become commonly available to terrorists' gangs. There is no point in blaming the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence for all the losses of men and material caused in the country. The blast was "15th of its kind" in Madhya Pradesh in a decade, say statisticians. At least 97 of those killed by the "dalams" of the PWG were police personnel. Before the Narayanpur blast, there were a series of such happenings at Kiskoda, Tarrem, Golpalli, Bengoli.... You can remember such place-names like Belchhi and Barbigha in Bihar. And no one is able to say what is happening in the case of the murder of Transport Minister Likhiram Kavre in his native village in Balaghat district recently.
There is endless talk of
a nefarious politician-Naxalite nexus. At least nine
districts are being constantly threatened by the
"dalams". They are Bastar, Dantewara, Kanker,
Rajnandgaon, Khandwa, Balaghat, Mandla, Dindori and
Sarguja. After their identification, action against the
marauding groups getting support from sections of the
poor peasants and labourers because of their false
promises of a new economic dawn has become difficult.
Afraid politicians have looked the other way when the PWG
men have struck. In the process, some of them have died
like former Minister Kavre. Duty begins and ends at the
police zone terminals. The protectors of the people are
themselves perishing. But is it impossible to evolve a
joint strategy by the governments of Madhya Pradesh,
Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar and Maharashtra? One can
add the name of Tripura too where a new outfit called the
Bengali Liberation Front has started baring its fangs.
For that matter, one may include UP also where in
Mirzapur district four children have been killed after
coming in contact with bombs. Think of Jammu and Kashmir
and the disturbed North-East. What is left as an oasis of
law in the desert of lawlessness? Who is to blame for
this state of affairs? The Central paramilitary agencies
are under great stress. Non-governmental organisations
with military orientation should take on the killer
brigades like the PWG. Politicians and bureaucrats need
to shed fear and opportunism. It is time to defeat the
enemy within without wasting energy and resources at
Chhola Maidan in Bhopal or at Mathura's public grounds.
Beware of Big Brother
THOSE who had thought that the dirty tricks department of the sole superpower had closed shop or had at least sobered down a bit after the end of the cold war, have been proved to be very, very wrong. The Pentagon recently admitted that under a top-secret project called Echelon, the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been tapping telephones, fax and e-mail communications all over the world. The vast spy network has been jointly operated by the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the information is passed on to US firms to secure contracts against competition from French, Japanese and other firms of the non-English speaking world. Started in 1947, it continues to be in operation. The original members were the USA and the UK while the others joined later. The size and extent of this illegal operation takes ones breath away but the fact of the matter is that it is only the tip of the iceberg. The use to which the details have been put may be even wider. It is believed that the network is not only capable of tapping every electronic communication anywhere in the world but actually does eavesdrop on every person of any importance. That is why delegations from developing countries find themselves at a disadvantage at international conferences. After all, the keepers of democracy already know every single word of consultation that they may have had with their governments or headquarters. US firm AT&T is believed to have used the information obtained clandestinely to win half of the contracts in Indonesia which would have otherwise gone to NRC of Japan. Similarly, exploitation of the illegally obtained information saw Thomson CSF of France lose out on vital contracts.
In keeping with the
dog eats dog adage, the information was
allegedly used even against Airbus to favour Boeing,
despite the fact that the UK has a share in Airbus
Industries. Apparently, India too must have come in for
unwanted attention at the hands of the powerful grouping.
What is the saddest aspect is that it is these countries
which lecture others on morality and business ethics.
India fares high in the list of countries where
corruption and illegal gratification are rampant. One
wonders in what category the activities of the USA and
its co-conspirators should be placed. It is well known
that the US Congress votes billions of dollars for the
NSA every year but the amounts are hidden under different
heads. Perhaps the European Community would like to ask
the UK as to how it continued to target fellow EC
countries to their disadvantage. Now that the secret is
out, thanks to a British newspaper, it is necessary to
find out how far the spy network has also been used to
compromise the national security of those countries which
do not play second fiddle to the USA. This will also be
the time to find out how Pakistan was getting to know of
the talks between the Indian negotiating team in Kandahar
and New Delhi during the hijack crisis.
Azhar, Mongia stump Sachin
THE "Little Master" seems to have lost both his touch and timing. When Sachin Tendulkar's team was being trampled all over by Australia in the three-Test series Down Under and the one-day tri-series by the host and Pakistan a Delhi weekly ran a special cover under the caption "Sack Sachin, Save Sachin". Mercifully, there would be no need to "sack" Tendulkar now that he has made public his decision to step down as captain after the two-Test home series against South Africa. All that can be said at this point of time is that he has taken the right decision at the wrong time. Although he made the announcement before the team for the first Test was announced, it still appears to be a case of what in cricket parlance is called poor timing. What can one say when a player of the calibre of Tendulkar show symptoms usually associated with poor losers. He could have made the announcement shortly after the team's return from Australia. That was the time to "own moral responsibility" for the disaster Down Under and not when the selectors left no scope for doubt that names of both Mohammad Azharuddin and Nayan Mongia would be considered for the short domestic series against South Africa. Neither Tendulkar nor coach Kapil Dev can deny the fact that they got the team they demanded, minus Azhar and Mongia, for Australia. The two of them instead of combining to build a robust team for the future virtually stopped short of killing Indian cricket. The fatal error which the selectors made was to let the two great players dictate the composition of the team based on their personal likes and dislikes and not on merit. As far as the captain and the coach were concerned, M.S.K. Prasad and Samir Dighe were better wicketkeepers than the tried and tested Mongia.
Kapil Dev went to the
extent of offering an outlandish explanation for dropping
Azhar. He said that the most successful captain ever was
now the most disliked player in the dressing room. It was
an insensitive statement to make and ridiculous too,
because if the composition of the team was to be decided
on the basis of some kind of a "popularity
poll" in the dressing room, the name of the game
would have to be changed to politics. Instead of living
up to the international stature he acquired as an
allrounder Kapil Dev chose not to attend the selection
committee meeting on Sunday, perhaps, because he too had
got wind that the "most hated player" was going
to return to the Indian team on the strength of his
batting in the domestic games. Instead, the Haryana
Hurricane issued a lengthy statement on what is wrong
with Indian cricket. He did not add anything new to what
is already known to the Board of Control for Cricket in
India about the poor state of health of domestic cricket.
Even the neighbourhood panwallah knows that the fitness
level of most Indian cricketers is suspect and that their
fielding and running between the wickets could provide
useful inputs for making a television comedy show. He was
primarily appointed coach for improving the fitness
levels of Indian cricketers, a task which he failed to
perform. He would have sounded more convincing and honest
had he shared with the outgoing captain the moral
responsibility for the humiliating performance of their
"chosen ones" Down Under. Nevertheless, the
composition of the team for the first Test against South
Africa suggests that the selectors have learnt from the
mistakes of the two all-time greats of world cricket. The
team they have picked is happy blend of both experienced
players and promising youngsters - a balance which was
sadly missing in the team for the Australian tour. The
bottomline is that great players do not necessarily make
good captains and successful captains do not always make
AS the country eagerly awaits the first budget of the new millennium, I can very well imagine the Finance Minister spending sleepless nights mulling over the dilemma that he must surely be facing. On the one side he has a country that has just gone through the mental and emotional trauma of a war followed by an equally devastating cyclone. Both events have resulted in the loss of human lives and precious resources. On the other side, he is faced with a plethora of armchair economists with a plenty of quick-fix ideas on how to solve the countrys economic problems. Added to this are the various chambers of commerce, trade associations and interest groups with their individual wish lists. The entire world will be interested in knowing what the Finance Minister of the worlds largest democracy has to offer which will put India firmly on the path of rapid economic growth.
The Finance Minister should definitely avoid populist measures which create a very superficial impact and whose euphoria vanishes practically overnight. The country looks for bold and sustained initiatives that establish clear policy parameters, are based on long-term objectives and impart a fair degree of certainty to tax and fiscal policies. On a macro level, the budget should aim at reducing the fiscal deficit, minimise non-plan expenditure and promote significant domestic and foreign investment flows in infrastructure sectors like power, telecom, roads and ports.
Our tax laws continue to carry a significant bias towards the industrial and manufacturing sector. The post-Independence vision was that it would be big manufacturing units that would steer India towards economic growth. This vision needs re-examination in view of the rapid growth in the services sector in recent years. If one looks at the worlds highly developed economies, the services sector contributes a significant amount to the countrys GDP, and the same is bound to happen in India. It is high time the services sector was accorded due recognition, put on a par with the manufacturing sector and provided the necessary impetus for growth that have, till now, been provided largely to industrial undertakings. For example, while industrial undertakings have access to cheaper loans from overseas sources in view of the exemption of tax on interest, service companies in the areas of financial services, information technology, etc, have to borrow at a higher rate because of the unavailability of such exemptions. Tax holidays and other incentives are also largely aimed at benefiting industrial units rather than service units.
The agriculture sector, due to socio-economic and political reasons, has been the holy cow and has enjoyed tax exemption till date. When the lawmakers are looking at widening the tax base, it may be worthwhile to look at this sector too. While it would be too premature and possibly counter-productive to impose normal rates of tax, the government can consider the possibility of a reduced rate of tax which can be called agricultural income tax to be levied on farmers with earnings exceeding a particular threshold. Such taxes could be separately accounted for and used by the government solely towards rural development, agricultural reforms and farm subsidies.
The government has identified tourism and information technology as the two most promising sectors of the future. There is no doubt that India has unparalleled potential and resources in both areas. However, time is of the essence in order to reap the desired benefits.
India still lags behind in terms of being a preferred tourist destination when compared to some smaller Asian economies. The government has to come out with a clear-cut policy on tourism development and give attractive direct and indirect tax incentives to attract investment in this area. One suggestion is to give infrastructure status to tourism. This may be welcome in the short term, but it is suggested that instead of widening the scope of the currently available set of incentives by the inclusion of tourism-related activities which leaves room for ambiguity and conflicting interpretations, a fresh set of provisions should be introduced specifically aimed at this sector. In addition to providing tax incentives, the government should allocate reasonable resources for the development of supporting infrastructure like roads, airports and transportation and communication facilities.
Information technology (IT) shows promise for India to leap-frog into a position of an economic superpower. The huge mass of technology-savvy, English-speaking, technically competent manpower that India has can be matched by few nations. If one brings in the low manpower cost into consideration, India becomes absolutely matchless. The gamut of IT in todays day and age has far outpaced conventional notions of production and manufacturing. The Internet has brought in a cultural revolution where transactions happen across regional and national frontiers virtually at the speed of light. India has proven resources in the field of software development and IT-enabled services. While software development activities have been provided tax incentives in relation to export earnings, the IT services have so far been left out. It is, therefore, imperative that IT-enabled services should also be brought into the protective fold of tax holidays and incentives so that the Indian service providers can better compete against other Asian and Latin American economies for a market share in this sector. Since this area is predominantly technology dependent, the government has to provide support by investing in improving telecommunication infrastructure and reducing communication costs. The decision to set up a nation-wide Internet backbone is one such welcome step in the right direction.
There have been apprehensions voiced by export earners that the tax incentives may be eliminated or cut back in view of the continued pressure from the WTO.
The uncertainty of fiscal laws is a big deterrent to investment. The government should come out with a clear indication on this front and present a roadmap that provides a measure of certainty and allows businesses to plan their operations appropriately.
Consultancy services and other knowledge-based service exports are not accorded any tax incentives at present. Since such services earn significant amounts of foreign exchange for the country, the government may consider reinstating the tax incentives available earlier, albeit with adequate safeguard provisions to prevent the misuse of these provisions.
Venture Capital Funds are an essential part of a mature economy and these help create a nurturing ground for the growth of entrepreneurs. The tax laws do provide some incentives but in a limited area of activities. The existing provisions need to be further liberalised to attract more venture capital investment.
In the area of corporate restructuring, a number of measures were introduced in the last budget with the objective of making amalgamations and demergers tax neutral. However, the qualifying conditions under these provisions are too restrictive to allow much flexibility because of which corporate reorganisations are still not considered very tax effective.
The last couple of years have witnessed the growing popularity of stock options or ESOPs in India. Employees of fast growing companies have become millionaires virtually overnight through stock option schemes. ESOPs have been considered as ideal employee retention and motivation tools and these also foster a sense of ownership among employees. As stakeholders, the employees are expected to work harder and with a greater focus in order to create and increase the shareholder value. Currently, stock option gains are taxable in the hands of the employees as salary income. Since the gains are taxable upon exercise, the employees often have to sell the shares in order to fund the payment of tax. This defeats the purpose of ESOPs to a great extent. It would be worthwhile for the government to tax ESOPs only at the time of the sale of stocks, and the gain should be taxed at reduced rates as long-term capital gains. Adequate safeguards or qualifying norms like a lock-in period can be built in against misuse.
While tax rates have been progressively brought down over the past few years, the introduction of surcharge in the last years budget was a step backward. It is hoped the government will restore peoples faith by discontinuing the surcharge although I admit it would be quite tempting for it to continue with the levy for yet another year in view of the huge expenditure incurred on the Kargil operations and the Orissa cyclone.
Salary earners have, over the years, got nothing more than superficial relief and titbit deductions. The minimum slab needs to be revised upwards significantly in view of the increased cost of living. Tax exemptions should be allowed for employer-provided welfare activities like the education of the employees children. The Rs 50 per month deduction that employees get against children education allowance is hopelessly out of place with the reality when the cost of education has grown manifolds.
A deduction for investment in eligible new public offerings should be introduced to boost capital markets.
On the indirect tax side, while one waits with bated breath for the introduction of VAT, the steps taken by the government for rationalising the tariff structure and bringing down the peak rates are appreciated. The government should think of bringing down the excise duties on specific items. Cosmetics, toiletries and aerated beverages have always been looked upon with jaundiced eyes in terms of tariff fixation, but I am quite certain that if the tariffs are brought down, the consequent increase in sales will yield greater revenues than before.
Import duties require further rationalisation.
The introduction of SAD has brought with it an element of inequity that needs to be corrected. Due to structural anomalies, sometimes it is cheaper to import finished goods rather than components and that has put the domestic industry at a disadvantage. This anomaly should be rectified. Project import status for a zero rate of duty should be extended to emerging, capital-intensive projects like LNG, etc.
While one can go on and on discussing what needs to be done and what should be done, what is required at the moment is a definite focus by the government on economic growth. This focus can only be brought about and sustained if political considerations are ignored to the extent possible. The people of this country are waiting for a visionary budget and I am quite sure the government will not disappoint them.
On February 29, 2000, as the Finance Minister stands up to deliver the first budget speech of this century, millions of people around the world will hang to his every word for it would be his words that would carry with them the promise of making India one of the worlds foremost economic superpowers in the years to come.
Strikes in India: the
LAST month one lakh power workers of UP went on strike, plunging huge areas in darkness. A similar one lakh port workers also went on strike immobilising work at our 12 sea-ports involving the country in the loss of hundreds of crores of rupees. Already five lakh civil workers in Rajasthan have been on strike for weeks.
The other day, the TV announced that the strike fever was spreading all over India.
At the start the government strikes very tough postures no surrender to unjustified demands. No work, no payment. Those who dont return to work by this date will stand dismissed, fresh recruitment is on. Hundreds of workers from the Navy or other departments are put on duty and it is claimed that public life is not seriously disrupted and near normalcy prevails. The striking workers leaders and other activists are arrested.
Labour unions are sure from numerous precedents that it is they who will have the last laugh; most of their demands will be conceded, no salary or wage cuts will be made. No strike ever ended in total failure.
After three days, the dock workers were celebrating their victory. After 12 days the arrested leaders of power men were brought to Delhi and a compromise was effected on their terms. All the arrested ones were released and thousands who were dismissed returned to their jobs. There was no question of any wage cut. They had holidays at will on full pay and allowances.
Not workers but the governments bluff was called. The success of one strike raises the greed of many others and more strikes are planned and executed. This seems to be the season of strikes. No, the strike season lasts all the year round.
After these victories, 15-20 lakh employees of PSUs went on strike. The public sector white elephants should not be privatised, the air-lines should not be sold out; the Electricity Department should not be trifurcated, etc. Formerly the strikes were to force an increase in the wages. Now they want to dictate government policies, too, so that we should live not under the government of Mr Vajpayee, but under the dictatorship of the labour unions. Public opinion does not support them in their demands. Many protest against the untold inconvenience caused to them, by frequent work stoppages. The workers only card their trump card is that lakhs of them are united and can bring the life of the community to a standstill.
Most of these strikes are anti-people; most of them also do great damage to the cause of the workers themselves. Formerly a factory employed 10 or 20,000 hands; now just 100 or 200. There is growing introduction of machines. These have come in response to the daily strikes and chronic threats posed by these unions. Their tactics have drastically narrowed their employment market. In fact, they are snatching bread from the mouths of the children of the would be workers. Computers make no demands, never go on strike and cause no headache to factory-owners or entrepreneurs.
Ours is a soft state, declared a recent opinion poll. A fighting group has only to apply sufficient pressure and hold out a little longer and the government would come down on its knees. This has always happened.
The workers and their kin total up to crores of votes, which no ruling party can lose. They forget that the general masses who suffer as a result of these strikes number tens of crores. They are the silent suffering majority who cannot unite to assert their rights. The strikers blackmail the government and the public into compelling them to grant their demands, which they feel should not be granted in public interest. They have to concede them against their will.
The finances of the central and state governments are in a hopeless mess. They simply cannot afford the additional burden of hundreds or thousands of crores of rupees. The workers are not influenced by this consideration of absolute lack of money.
About 40 per cent population lives below the poverty line. They daily feel the pinch of semi-starvation and abject poverty. Compared to them, these government employees are the most privileged people an assured income on the first of every month, decent wages, holidays, free medical care for self and families and much else.
Nearly 60 per cent of the total revenue of the government goes into the payment of salaries, pension etc. Yet the government departments are horribly over-staffed, and the general public supposed to be the ruling sovereign is not at all satisfied with the quality and quantity of their work.
When the issue of a strike is in doubt, the labour unions from all departments and professions threaten to combine to go on a joint strike, which can make the life of the whole community impossible.
In communist Russia, quoted as the farmers and workers paradise, no strikes were permitted; they would impede production and harm the fatherland.
Both sides must submit to compulsory arbitration by impartial panels, which would do justice to both sides. That is the way out.
Justice demands that payment should be made for work, not for blackmail. No segment of society should be able to exploit the government to extract maximum selfish gains, at the expense of the silent majority. Payments should be linked to productivity.
The summum bonum is the good of the general populace, not the sectional good of any fighting group, because by its unity it can inflict much trouble on the people.
Wanted: participatory coalition
SEVERAL important episodes in the past few months have shed enough light on the style of functioning and decision-making mechanism of the NDA Government. The most striking aspect of the coalition has been the breakneck speed with which crucial decisions have been pushed through without so much of a discussion or debate. May be some of them were long pending and overdue. Some have been thrust upon the country by the international institutions under earlier commitments.
But even in such cases, there could have been better fine-tuning had they been subjected to adequate scrutiny. The muted support of the Congress to the reform measures helped the process. But the NDA allies unconcern for such important national issues has been the major factor that had shut out a debate. This is something which calls for a detailed analysis because in India multi-party coalitions are going to be the order of the day for the foreseeable future. Under such situations there can always be a tendency to hijack the government decisions by the dominant coalition party or an inner group of interests. Governments could be truly representative only if adequate ground rules are laid for a participatory coalition and every partner makes it point to follow them.
Pramod Mahajan reveals that since October last, the Union Cabinet under Atal Behari Vajpayee had held at least two dozen meetings. This is apart from a few more informal meetings to tackle urgent problems. During the period, the NDA Government had taken as many as 260 decisions on important issues. On an average, this works out two decisions a day. Among them were such controversial issues as the Insurance Bill, Power Bill, appointment of the Constitution review panel and a series of disinvestments and sell-outs to the strategic partners. thus each Cabinet meeting might have cleared 10 decisions on an average.
The quality of such hasty disposals in bulk apart, the attitude of those responsible for it, has been more amusing. Once this writer happened to meet a senior non-BJP Minister soon after the Cabinet meeting. He frankly admitted that he did not have enough time to go through the papers and most of the items were disposed of without much of a discussion. Still curious, according to him, each one of us is concerned only about our own ministries. It is this kind of a casual approach on the part of the coalition partners that should cause concern. Often, non-BJP Ministers realise the consequences of their Cabinet endorsement only when a particular issue developed into a public controversy.
Even under a single-party rule, senior Cabinet Ministers are morally bound to contribute to the discussions by way of an honest screening. Barring rare occasions, even India Gandhi had allowed it. Frank debate and intensive scrutiny have special importance for multi-party government. Unfortunately, in India most regional parties view alliance governments merely as coalitions of parties rather than coalitions of interests and ideas.
After the Congress decline in the second half of the 80s when well defined regional parties began sharing power at the Centre, it was essentially an anti-Congress movement. It has been a direct political confrontation and by and large a one-to-one electoral contest. It began in the backdrop of an emerging fight against the Congress hegemony. Grand Opposition rallies held at different places were dominated by regional leaders like N.T. Rama Rao, Karunanidhi, J.B. Patnaik and Devi Lal. It has been a massive Opposition movement, not just a seat sharing.
Allotment of a few ministerial positions to the representatives of alliance partners does not make a cohesive coalition. Powere sharing without sharing of ideas and without emotional bond, may perhaps sustain an alternative but only so long as its compulsions of settling scores with the respective state-level adversaries remain operative. It is this narrow mindset that blinds the state-level parties to the need for evolving an all-India approach and national outlook to problems.
All central coalitions in the past have taken advantage of the mofussil world view of the regional party bosses. It had two components. Positively, absence of all-India ambitions makes the regional parties act as a binding force within the coalitions. Jayalalitha, for her own compulsions, has been an exception. All that the state parties expect from the coalition is a limited power sharing, existence of a friendly government at the Centre and an assurance against political poaching in their own state domain. Negatively, for the same reasons, they are inclined to adopt a rather passive and evasive approach to the serious national issues of far-reaching impact.
The UF, and to an extent the National Front, had an elaborate machinery for policy discussion and conflict resolution. The UF Standing Committee frequently met and discussed all major policy matters to narrow down the differences. But even under the UF, the regional parties, including the Janata Dal and its off-shoots, broadly went by the consensus without taking an active role in economic policy formulation. The Left and those like P. Chidambaram have been the main players.
The regional parties are now following the same attitude of unconcern and disinterest towards serious national issues. Soon after the Vajpayee Government took charge, there were signs of a regional assertion. This began with the state-level parties coming out with their own regional packages. However, it later transpired that the empty packages were only an off-shoot of the national agenda as they were told to raise the state demands separately. However, now even Mamata Bannerjee has ceased to talk about her Bengal plan.
The regional allies showed little interest even in the preparation of the national agenda. Much of it was done by Jaswant Singh who simply transplanted the BJP manifesto. Certain portions have been reproduced word by word. this not only revealed the allies unconcern but also their utter poverty of ideas and perception. Fear of a backlash, and not the pressures of the allies, had forced the BJP to drop the three controversial issues like Article 370 from the agenda. The allies attitude went well with the BJP. From the very beginning, it had a different concept of coalition. It had never cherished the idea of giving equal rights to the partners. Instead, the BJP sought to project itself as a big brother and Vajpayee as a super Prime Minister over and above the allies.
The BJP preferred to call the government as that of the BJP and its allies. The NDA was formed on the eve of the last election only to formalise it as a pre-poll alliance so that it would get precedence over the Congress to form the government. Unlike in the UF, the BJP avoided calling the coordination committee meetings. It believed that too much of democracy would only encourage egoism and widen differences. Instead disputes could be better settled through direct talks with the bosses of the state parties. Many in the NDA do not even remember the real name of its coordination body.
Even the NDAs command structure is patterned on this premise. It is a total BJP domination with only maginal role for the allies. After the Prime Minister, L.K. Advani enjoys the second position followed by domineering roles for Jaswant Singh, Pramod Mahajan and others. Under such an atmosphere, even if some non-BJP Minister has some reservations, he would find it impossible to prevail on others. Among the allies, George Fernandes alone manages to wrest some role for himself. Others are confined to their own ministries. Moreover, each senior minister belonging to the non-BJP parties has a junior BJP Minister to keep a watch on behalf of the big brother. Even within the ministry, Paswans domain has been cut by Mahajan through his Information Technology Minister. Disinvestment Ministry under Arun Jaitley meddles in other ministries.
The BJPs dislike for genuine debates on issues within the NDA and the regional allies disinterest in national policies have left all real decision making powers in the hands of a few BJP leaders. Other allies are content with a secondary role. As a result, the NDA had no forum to discus the controversial issues like the RSS ban and disruption of Water shooting. Instead, every player, under their own compulsions, raised objections and replied through the press Vajpayees endorsement of the Gujral decision, Karunanidhis objection, disagreement of the TDP and Samata and Vajpayees final retreat.
History has bestowed a very heavy responsibility on the regional parties, whether in the NDA or outside. Instead of reconciling themselves to a patron-client relationship with a big brother, they should play a more responsible role in setting the national priorities and shaping the future. This is the only way to build a healthy coalitional relationship and help strengthen the federal system. As every country has a foreign policy, the state-level parties should evolve their own national policy parameters and debate issues at micro and macro levels.
The hard fact is that in
terms of support and spread, cumulatively the regional
parties together are much bigger than the two all-India
parties-the BJP and the Congress together. With
elections in Orissa, the two parties on their own rule
only in major states of Karnataka, MP, Gujarat and
Rajasthan. Even in UP, HP and Maharashtra, the two
all-India parties have been forced to forge
coalitions. In 13 major states, the regional outfits are
either the main opposition or in government. The
NDAs regional allies rule more states (Tamil Nadu,
AP, Punjab and Haryana) than the BJP itself. That too in
coalition with its allies. There is no reason to believe
that the all-India parties are in a position to reverse
the trend in the foreseeable future. This makes it
imperative for the regional allies to assert their right
to play a more pro-active role at the national level.
IT is understood, says a Delhi telegram to The Express, that the Government of India have agreed to remove the disqualifications of persons, convicted of political offences, not involving moral turpitude, for the purpose of taking part in the elections, whether as voters or candidates.
If the statement is
correct, the Government have at last done the right thing
in this matter. The restrictions, debarring a large
number of patriotic Indians from taking part in the
elections merely because of their political convictions,
which account for their having gone to jail, are not only
not in consonance with our present-day democratic
notions, but are manifestly absurd and utterly
indefensible. We do hope a public statement on the
subject will not be long withheld.
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