|Tuesday, April 4, 2000,
opportunity for Congress
POWER BROKERS CALL THE TUNE
defence of Khushwant Singh
ex-PMs break new ground?
Discrimination in Jails
THE Congress today is a political party among other political parties. It is a national party in the sense that it has a few legislators in most of the states. It has also made some convenient arrangements for power-sharing. The party is not functioning cohesively; in areas like Bihar, it has registered a token presence. It should not have great political expectations anywhere in its present condition. The case of Bihar should be looked at against the backdrop of the schisms and weaknesses in the rank and file. The Congress the country knows of is not the organisation which had some method even in its madness. There were Gandhi's heritage and grassroots contact under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Eminent party men could transcend the barrier of responsibility that of keeping the glow of the Tricolour with the charkha undiminished. Times have changed and so has the mindset of the average party man who does not think that the Congress is greater than the Congressman. Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel could write and speak on such topics as had the power to spread their party's ethos to other parties. There was unity of purpose in the framework of seemingly contradictory thoughts. Reconciliation was possible. The party had capitalists and industrialists in its fold.
But it was also the
party of farmers and labourers. The rich people had
enough money to buy the objects of comfort and the poor
had immense respect for their leaders who, they thought,
had brought freedom which was to be followed by
prosperity. The democratic process of consultation and
debate was not shunned and there was no place for
power-grabbers in various forums. Battles of ideologies
were fought fiercely but the country remained above
personal considerations. What is happening now in Bihar
is indicative of the degeneration of the organisation. Mr
Laloo Yadav is the de facto ruler based at Patna. Mrs
Rabri Devi is a puppet still requiring the skill of a
puppeteer. In fact, every member of the Chief Minister's
team has to pay obeisance to the proxy ruler whose whim
and ego are greater than his syncretic faculty. It is
clear that the Congress has not been left famished in the
large power langar. Every Congressman's plate is full.
The departments of Energy, Industry, Health, Forests and
the Environment, Cooperatives and Institutional Finances
have gone to the party whose roots have dried over the
years. There is no rule of law in the state and he or she
who manages Home Affairs is not likely to sleep well
every night. Bihar is bankrupt and, therefore, the
Finance portfolio is a rose plant full of thorns but
without flowers. Mrs Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to visit
Patna soon. She should have enough time to tell the
Congress Ministers not to quarrel with their tools like a
bad carpenter. The persons chosen can make a difference
in the administrative milieu. Anyone who can find some
way to make the industries work would go down in
provincial history as a doer. South Bihar is
industrialised. The cooperatives, like the panchayats,
are in bad shape. In the realm of health, there are
ill-equipped medical centres. The old hospitals at Patna,
Darbhanga and Ranchi are a shambles. Someone who looks
after the Health Ministry well would have the credit of
making a good beginning. The forests and the environment
need attention. Why are the Congressmen showing anger? It
is true that Mrs Rabri Devi is too incompetent to be able
to manage the Home Ministry. She may be a good home-maker
in her village! In sum, this is not the time to quarrel
over portfolios. It is an opportunity for the Congress
for reviving its roots.
MORE in anger than with anguish Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha has criticised the Congress for going back on its promise to support economic reforms. He bitterly points out that it was the party which launched the liberalisation process and until a few months back repeated its readiness to go along with the government. The position today is exactly the reverse. Those party leaders who are opposed to the very concept of opening up the economy are on the ascendancy and their influence is evident in the socialist tinge to the partys economic policy. Mr Sinha is particularly peeved at the shrill criticism of the sharp increase in the prices of fair price shop wheat and rice, kerosene and cooking gas. He stops short of dubbing this an irresponsible action but says the Congress is not being a responsible opposition party. The Minister is partly right, but only partly. The Congress is not yet opposed to changes in the economic policy as such but is definitely opposed to the measures which are loosely bunched together as economic reforms. Every action of the BJP-led alliance government does not command implicit endorsement simply because it is projected as key to the implementation of reforms, a term which is treated as inviolate as a mantra. Second, the order of the changes is hopelessly wrong. So far only those steps have been taken which have hurt the vulnerable. The other side of the same coin is the growing perception that the rich are having their say. (Imports of luxury consumer goods and a benefit of at least Rs 1500 crore a year by way of lower bank interest rates are but two examples.) Three, reform is a package but what the country is witnessing is a series of ad hoc steps, lacking in direction. Mr Sinha and other acolytes will protest but the reduction in subsidy provides solid support to this charge.
Subsidy cutting is to be
a small part of slashing non-plan expenditure which, in
turn, is necessary to rein in the fiscal deficit. What
has the government done these three years? The fiscal
deficit has nearly doubled to cross the eye-popping mark
of Rs 100,000 crore and the salary bill alone has
ballooned but subsidy has been pruned to save a few
thousand crores of rupees. This cannot be anybodys
idea of reforms. Or, take the sell-off of
government-owned enterprises. The idea is to cut down
losses and the defunct Disinvestment Commission and the
BIFR were to select the units and finalise the procedure.
What is actually happening is a farce. Profit-making oil
companies have bought into one another and true blue chip
IPCL is on the block. There is now talk of unloading the
giant Visakhapatnam steel mills to a private party
raising suspicions of favouritism. Not only the
government is yet to design a transparent scheme of
privatisation but it has also not drafted a policy to
help those workers who will lose their jobs. Exit Fund
and safety net are mere words; what is real is costly
kerosene and dearer foodgrains. There is another
disturbing trend, though the government is not
responsible for it. A misshapen anti-poor mindset is
taking shape. It was on raw display when hutments were
demolished in Delhi and Mr V.P.Singh went to express his
solidarity. He invited scathing criticism and the use of
awesome state power to reduce the miserable shacks to
rubble was linked to all the noble obligations of the
municipal corporation like ensuring clean surroundings,
clean air, clean water. From the days of benign neglect
of slum-dwellers the urban intelligentsia has become
plainly hostile to them. A sociology teacher in Panjab
University describes this metamorphosis in the urban
sensibility to delegitimisation of dalits,
meaning that in the mind of some middle class people the
very poor have been stripped of their basic rights and
human dignity. Maybe the government actions have made
this new intolerance legitimate. At least the Congress
thinks so. It strikes a militant pro-poor stance to first
distance itself from the new philosophy and then, if
possible, to spread its base among the poor. It is
therefore harsh to accuse it of reneging on its promise.
Reform is not what it used to be and Mr Sinha should
rebuild the consensus painstakingly, not only with the
Congress but also with the alliance partners who are
equally opposed to his reform ideas.
IT is quite common for politicians to sing one tune while gracing the opposition benches and an entirely different one when in power. Not too long ago, Mr Om Prakash Chautala was opposed to any agreement with the World Bank on power sector reforms. But now he is very much in favour of such an arrangement. The increase in power rates that he has announced for the urban sector is in step with the conditionalities of the World Bank, although this has also been recommended by the State Finance Commission. The Chief Minister is now apparently ready to even anger the consumers (read voters). A similar change is also evident in the stand on the privatisation of power generation. Till recently, the Chief Minister was dead set against this move. Now he is supporting it publicly. The change of heart is, however, welcome because there is no other option before the state. The gap between the demand the supply is far too wide to be filled through sarkari efforts alone. The worrying aspect is the heavy price that the government may have to pay for this flip-flop. The public is not yet fully aware how precarious the situation is and may find the actual position too harsh for comfort. The decades of subsidy and waiver have become a habit and making everyone pay up is going to be a difficult task. Look at what is happening in the drive to recover arrears from consumers. It is Mr Chautala himself who had earlier exhorted people not to pay power tariff. Now that he wants them to cough up, they feel cheated. Everyone says that Chautala had promised to write off our dues. The general feeling is that the Chief Minister has bared his fangs after the panchayat and civic polls are over. But now that he has bitten the bullet, so to speak, the drive ought to be taken to its logical conclusion. In fact, there is a lesson there for all politicians not to follow an appeasement policy lest they themselves have to eat crow.
The task of recovering
arrears and even rationalising the prices of various
items, including electricity, will become a lot easier if
it is preceded by internal reforms in various
departments. For instance, power supply in almost all
states of the country is marked by frequent breakdowns,
low voltage and frequency and long waiting for new
connections. Many of these problems arise because of the
phenomenally high transmission losses, which to a large
extent are a euphemism for power theft. There is a nexus
between some consumers and the power utility employees
which needs to be broken. If this theft is stopped, there
may be no need to increase the rates at all. Similarly,
only about half of power supply is metered. The cost of
metering every unit of electricity can be recovered
within a year or so. Mr Chautala has boldly spoken of an
investment of Rs 8,000 crore in the sector in the coming
10 years. This can indeed boost power generation and
supply provided the political patronage given to power
thieves and some employees who are either hands in glove
with them or are only passengers in the corporation is
BROKERS CALL THE TUNE
FINALLY its official! Politics in India is a flourishing industry. Where gold speaks, all tongues are silent. Add to this the intoxicating potent of power, one has a lethal mix which the country is reeling under. Yesterdays industrialists and journalists have been overtaken by todays enterprising and industrious politicians. A one-man company whose cash counters keep ringing along with networking and resourceful better halves which pay dividends to its owner, depending on his fluctuating stock!
Sadly this political skulduggery, indulged in during the just-concluded Rajya Sabha biennial elections, once again mirrors the harsh and horrendous reality of the rotten system. Where there is no dividing line left between statecraft and witchcraft. Where double standards and double-speak have been the sure-fire recipe for clinching the chair whatever it takes!
Why then is the political uproar over monetary considerations overweighing all else? Why the anguish over the Rajya Sabha becoming a market place? Hasnt this been one of modern Indias best-known secrets that our polity is as purchaseable as us lesser mortals? That it is only a question of price. There have been proofs aplenty recently hawala, Bofors, JMM bribery, urea scams, etc. Yet the netas went scot-free and all heaved a collective sigh of relief and quietly carried on as before, but more blatantly.
In this milieu, why should mere cross-voting and violation of party discipline worry our leaders? Afterall, money is a lesser crime than murder. So if criminals and murderers can become MPs (there are at least 10 in Parliament, one was escorted from jail just to be sworn in and escorted back to Tihar). Whats wrong with a few crores? Arent the leaders themselves to blame? Why have they not acted on the Vohra report which exposed the politician-criminal nexus? From the criminalisation of politics to the politicisation of crime. More important, why do our law-makers/break laws and all rules and regulations and, in this case, the criteria for selecting candidates fit to qualify as Rajya Sabha MPs?
Is the Rajya Sabha membership meant for services rendered by industrialists, journalists, old party and personal servers and favourites? Doesnt it require other qualifications? And talent. A much-needed requisite is to give direction to the Lower House (Lok Sabha), based on their expertise and experience in their areas of specialisation? Have we forgotten that the Constitution framers wanted the Rajya Sabha to consist of persons of greater experience and eminence than those in the Lok Sabha? They, therefore, deliberately opted for three things. First, indirect elections from the state legislatures. Second, a minimum age for membership at 30 years, as against 25 for the Lok Sabha. Third, nomination by the President of 12 persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of literature, science, art and social service.
Plainly, as spelt out by Sir Gopalaswamy Ayangar on July 28, 1947, the second chamber was intended to give an opportunity, perhaps, to seasoned people, who may not be in the thickest of political fray, but who might be willing to participate in the debate with an amount of learning and importance which we do not ordinarily associate with the House of the People.
Alas, this has not been happening for the last two decades and more. This time the rot has spilled over and tarnished all political parties. If in the past parties were turning turtle the Constitution, for the first time, individual MLAs and the state parties have defied the Central leadership of various parties and indulged in wholesale cross-voting. Heralding a total breakdown of the party hierarchy system. The vicious circle is complete.
In UP, a candidate who was sponsored by a regional party with only 20 MLAs managed to bag the highest number of 50 votes higher than even the scores of Mr Raj Nath Singh, Union Minister and former state BJP chief, and Mrs Sushma Swaraj, former Union Minister and Delhi Chief Minister. The Congress candidate handpicked by Mrs Sonia Gandhi could not even muster more than a few of the party votes. In West Bengal, Sonias candidate too had to eat humble pie when 30 of the party MLAs voted in favour of the Congress rebel and Independent candidate who was supported by a three-MLA-strong Trinamool Congress. They were retaliating against the astonishing denial of nomination to former PCC Chief Somen Mitra. In Karnataka, even though the Congress won all the three seats, there were many red faces when liquor baron Vijaya Mallya managed to secure 11 Congress votes. In Orissa too, Congress MLAs opted for the richer pastures of the BJP-BJD combine.
Three aspects have emerged crystal clear. One, monetary considerations have greatly added to the political weightage of the candidates. Close to the election, the figures for rampant horse-trading for the required number of Rajya Sabha votes ranged from Rs 5 crore to Rs 15 crore. The going rate per vote was said to be Rs 5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. Two, each party chief tried to strengthen his hands, within his party by nominating favourites. Three, only superficial efforts were made to bury factionalism to present a united face. What was distressing was that the ruling BJPs much proposed nai disha and the Congress Pachmarhi fell flat on its face when it did a somersault by nominating Lok Sabha losers and rewarding their aides. As a leader says: Why do you presume that wisemen enter politics? We are all party to this gigantic scam.
Tragically, political leaders are either ignorant or choose to turn a blind eye to how and why the Rajya Sabha or the Council of States was even created. And for what purpose? How many remember that the House was designed mainly to act as a watch-dog of the states interests at the Centre. Consequently, only persons ordinarily residents in a state and registered as voters there were permitted to represent that state in the Council. Unlike in the case of the Lok Sabha, wherein any voter can stand from any constituency in the country. Yet we have today any number of Rajya Sabha members representing the states with which they have no link or residential connection. This is in brazen violation of both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.
In fact, the Rajya Sabha was given special powers under Article 249 to legislate with respect to matters in the State List. It basically reflects the federal character of the Indian Union and seeks to give the states a voice in the governance of the Republic, no less no more. All that it requires to do is to declare by a resolution, supported by not less than two-thirds of the members present and voting, that it was necessary or expedient in the national interest to do so.
Sadly, however, the House is today functioning more and more as a parallel (and competing) political chamber to the Lok Sabha. To this day it has not cared to discuss in detail and at length the Sarkaria Commissions report on Centre-State relations! Tragically, today the Rajya Sabha has failed to evolve a distinct role for itself as the Council of States. The states voice over the years has got lost in the din of the power brokers who strut about like peacocks in the Rajya Sabha kaleidoscope.
Where do we go from here? One way out could be to abolish the chamber, as advocated by leading MPs at different times. Significantly, Dr Ambedkar himself went on record in 1949 to say that the Rajya Sabha was being introduced purely as an experimental measure and there was provision for getting rid of it. Morarji Desai, for his part, was one with Harold Laskis view that a single chamber best answers the needs of modern states. But such an extreme step is not necessary yet.
Another possibility suggested by Home Minister L.K. Advani is to have an open ballot, instead of the prevailing secret ballot system. It would be similar to a vote of confidence, wherein any MLA who violates the party whip would be disqualified from the membership. But knowing our MPs, they will try to split the party itself to ensure their survival.
The Rajya Sabha could still be made to play a more useful role as the Council of States, instead of a parallel, competing chamber. Jayaprakash Narayan strongly favoured a partyless council. The Rajya Sabha members should be those who have put in at least one stint in a state Assembly or in the Lok Sabha, and no more than two terms should be given to anybody. Interestingly, we have had persons happily enjoying three to four terms of six years each in the Rajya Sabha without ever fighting an election to either their state assembly or the Lok Sabha.
In sum, the coming
months will decide whether Parliament will make Indian
politics more messy and unworkable, for if this rape of
the Constitution continues, be prepared to shed tears for
the Rajya Sabha. INFA
of Khushwant Singh
AFTER reading an angry review of the book I picked up Khushwant Singhs The Company of Women, his recent novel. While the author was called shameless, the book was dismissed as a sick, sex serial easy to read and easy to forget.
Having read it Im visualising the reviewer as a mighty moral person pious and perfect or someone with a weak stomach. My own stomach is not very strong either, but I could finish the novel without any hiccups. While reading the graphic details of the protagonists biological endowments and his sexual spiderweb, and the authors clinical account of chicanery and avarice in Hardwar, I often thought of the naturalistic writers like Emile Zola, Stephen Crane and Frank Morris to name a few who present carnal appetites as a veritable slice of life.
Khushwants slice of life is both large and thick, providing a fair insight into the social world of Delhis upwardly mobile people. I find in this slice a rare emotional aroma that no reviewer has cared to notice. And that aroma is filial gratitude the delicate bonding between a lower middle-class father and his millionaire son. In course of time Ill forget the names of women whom Mohan Kumar lays also their colour, height and ethnicity but remember the tender ties between him and his father with earthly aspirations but a high sense of self-esteem. When the going gets tough in his sons Maharani Bagh villa because of his daughter-in-law, he quietly moves out to his ashram in Hardwar. What sustains him there apart from the holy Ganga is the world of affection between him and his son, between him and his grandson. None can abolish his identity by calling him simply the old man.
Related to this fine aroma of relationship is the portrayal of the evening aarti on the banks of the Ganga. Just like the filial devotion, the luminous sight too cleanses much of the muck that gathers after those amatory explorations in the story. This soul-lifting experience of watching the aarti on full moon is as evocative in this novel as in the travelogues of Ruskin Bond.
Yes, the book is
remarkably easy to read because its
interesting and free of fakery. But its not easy to
forget unless one feigns a bit of amnesia. In my view
The Company of Women is an honest book by an
honest writer someone who shuns humbug and enjoys
his Scotch and soda in the evening with or without
the company of a woman.
a moral dilemma for UN
A YEAR ago, the United Nations Childrens Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Iraqi Health Ministry had documented in a report the suffering and untimely death of Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations nearly a decade ago. the report had shown that in the centre and south of the country, infant mortality and morbidity had increased dramatically and reached unacceptable levels.
Even as this grim situation continues unabated, the United Nations is engaged in the familiar argument as to who is to blame for the continuing tragedy in which the people become the victims of sanctions imposed on their State by the international community. As the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, told the Security Council recently, the UN, facing a moral dilemma over the humanitarian situation in Iraq, is in danger of losing the argument or the propaganda war if that had not already been lost about who was responsible for the situation in Iraq, President Saddam Hussein or the United Nations.
The day-long debate of the council on the Iraqi situation a few days ago turned, to some extent, into an argument over the morality and the efficacy of the use of sanctions as a policy tool against a recalcitrant nation defying the world organisation. The real issue before the council was, of course, the Secretary-Generals recommendations for a significant increase in the allocation of resources under the oil-for-food programme for the purchase of spare-parts for Iraqs oil industry. On Friday March 31, the council unanimously approved the proposal of Mr Annan to allow Baghdad to use upto 600 million dollars from the funds in the escrow account of the programme. But concern continues to prevail among a large number of council members and member-states that the humanitarian assistance provided to Iraq might still prove insufficient to satisfy the populations needs.
The oil for food programme was established by the council in 1995 as a temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people in the context of the sanctions regime applied to Iraq in 1990 and in force till it complied with UN resolution 687 of April 3, 1991. That resolution, among other things, set the terms for the ceasefire between Iraq and Kuwait, and decided that Iraqs weapons of mass destruction should be destroyed.
According to a report of the Secretary-General, since the time the sanctions were imposed in 1991, the oil industry of Iraq has suffered seriously as a result of the absence of the required spare parts and equipment. There has been a massive decline in the condition, effectiveness and efficiency of the infrastructure. A group of experts set up by the Secretary-General had visited Iraq for a fortnight in January this year. They had concluded that the decline in the condition of all sectors of the oil industry continued and was accelerating.
Iraq continues to face the hostility of two of the five permanent members of the Security Council the United States of America and the United Kingdom on the sanctions issue. The USA continues to believe that Iraq remains a threat and that unanswered questions remain in the areas of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The US delegate, Mr James Cunningham, argued that given the long pattern of unacceptable Iraqi behaviour, including public pronouncements rejecting UN resolution 1284, Iraqs weapons for mass destruction capability would have to be monitored for some time to come. The resolution envisages suspension and lifting of sanctions against Iraq as soon as certain conditions are met. The USA insists that as long as Iraq is not meeting its obligations under Security Council resolutions, sanctions remain essential. The American delegate expressed his disappointment that the Secretary-General had not reported in detail Iraqi progress in meeting its obligations under resolution 1284.
On the other hand, the three other permanent members of the Security Council Russia, France and China while not totally absolving Iraq of its obligations under UN resolutions, make the point that the situation in Iraq should lead the council to question in the future, the effectiveness and consequences of broad, indiscriminate sanctions that hurt civilian populations exclusively and whose human costs exceed the political benefits that the council could expect. In Russias view, some 20,000 air-strikes by the USA and the United Kingdom since 1998 in the so-called no-fly zones established unilaterally and without a decision by the UN, and which encompassed 65 per cent or Iraqi territory aimed at subverting the Iraqi regime have created a very negative political backdrop against which to pursue cooperation between the UN and Baghdad, particularly in disarmament. It was not possible to ask them to cooperate and, at the same time, bomb their territory.
The Chinese delegate maintained that political differences among council members should never make victims of innocent civilians. In addressing Iraqs humanitarian problems, the council should employ the same standards it used in East Timor, Kosovo and Africa. France was concerned that an entire society is living without structure and is being destroyed.
Amidst all the arguments in support of or against Iraq, one stark fact stares at the international community. The Malaysian delegate, Mr Hasmy agam, put it rather forcefully. For nearly a decade, he told the council, the most comprehensive and punitive sanctions ever imposed on a people had destroyed Iraq as a modern state, decimated its people, ruined its agriculture and educational and health-care systems, as well as its infrastructure. The devastating effects of the sanctions had testified to the failure of comprehensive sanctions as a political tool that violated basic human rights, indeed the right to life itself. The situation, he added, was so deplorable that a group of concerned legislators in the US Congress had characterised the sanctions regime as infanticide masquerading as policy.
With their veto power,
the USA and the United Kingdom will be inclined to
sabotage any move in the Security Council for lifting the
sanctions completely against Iraq without the
latters full compliance with the
decisions of the council. It is a catch-22
situation, and in the battle between the stubborn Iraqi
leadership and the divided United Nations, it is the
people of Iraq, particularly the children, who are being
punished for no fault of theirs. The Malaysian
delegates suggestion in this regard is indeed
pertinent. It is time for the international community to
craft a policy on Iraq that addresses the legitimate
security concerns, but does not inflict indiscriminate
suffering upon its people. It is time to do away with the
linkage between progress in disarmament and humanitarian
efforts undertaken by the Security Council. A decade
after the Gulf war, the sanctions policy against Baghdad
cries for fresh review by the United Nations.
break new ground?
FEW can explain why March 19, which marked the completion of two years of the Vajpayee Government in office, went totally unnoticed. Those who celebrate even the first hundred days in office with newspaper supplements full of pictures of ministers might not have forgotten this important landmark in Indian politics. The period not only signified an uninterrupted rule. During the period, the government which did not recognise its caretaker status, had pushed through more decisions and enforced them without parliamentary hindrance.
Apparently, some discussions were held within the BJP on making it a big event. But it was finally dropped as the government feared that a high-pitched commemoration might prove counter-productive at a time when its own allies have been questioning its decisions on subsidy removals, hefty hikes in fair price items, domestic gas and kerosene and the saffronisation of the administration. The anniversary also had come soon after Laloo Yadavs triumph and the BJPs poor showing within the NDA in the Assembly elections.
What is more astounding has been that the numerous opposition groups also did not find enough lapses during the two-year period to assail the government. Here is a curious situation. Indian political parties are showing the signs of what in political lexicon is called action fatigue. No one wants to take the trouble of going to the people with their own policies and programmes and register protests against the actions of the adversary. Public protests as a mode of political action is being confined to media statements the success of which is governed by the hold of the respective party on the establishment.
Those who have more editors as MPs, those who groom more working media men to be made MPs and those who have better funding ability get the better of publicity. This is the best option even in terms of cost effectiveness. Organising mass rallies have become really expensive and with diminishing political returns. At the most, such rallies may inspire the party workers not the hired truck-bound crowds if they turn out to be really big. But, again, its impact outside the maidan depends on the medias footages and wordages. The whole approach is centred on the short-cuts to win over the voters through last-minute poll-eve propaganda and gimmicks.
True, ruling parties always avoid public action programmes. Apart from the support of the administrative machinery and the establishment clout, their main task is to prove their existence through performance. The Opposition whether in the states or at the Centre, on the other hand, relies solely on the ruling partys blunders and administrative ineffectiveness. Seeking votes on negativism has become the easiest option. To an extent, the voting population too seem to encourage such trends by repeatedly alternating governments. Re-election of an existing government has become an exception as in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh. On the one hand, it is like a public punishment to the wrong-doers and an opportunity to the rival side to try again. On the other, it shows the lack of viable alternatives before the people both in terms of governance and programmes.
The concept of running political parties, their structure and hierarchy and the entire approach have undergone sweeping changes in the past few years. An entire new tribe has entered politics with the sole purpose of wresting power and position. With this, even the political terminology is changing. Recently, this writer happened to see a strategy paper prepared by a management expert for a leading political party. It has moved far ahead of the blueprint prepared by Sam Pitroda for the Congress 15 years back. The management concept of hire and fire has been introduced in the form of assigning party posts and gifting or denying election tickets or ministership.
While such a bureaucratic approach can be fairly effective at the higher rungs of the party national level in the case of all-India parties and state levels for the regional parties the system collapses at the lower levels. Even in corporate management, the hire-and-fire system does not work at the level of ordinary staff. Thus the political parties experience a big credibility gap at the grassroots level. Wrong choice of candidates and predominance of undesirable elements (who could get things done for their party bosses above) push the honest party workers into frustration.
Thus the rot shows up more at the micro level. A network of genuine hard workers alone can spread the partys message. The RSS still does it in their urban strongholds. But it is now confined to leaving the leaflets at the door. The system of the headmen, local landlords and the mohalla thugs cornering the block votes has been waning. Even the urban slums remain electorally divided. Thus vote grabbing at micro levels has become a very complex task. Since most parties fix their candidates at the last moment, there is no one to nurse the area during the peace time. Political parties are yet to evolve a suitable alternative to this collapsed organisational network.
The political establishments failure to realise the peoples aspirations leads to the emergence of non-conventional, non-institutional affirmative action. This has been a worldwide phenomenon. In the USA, some of the non-governmental organisations are as powerful as the MNC lobby. Creation of public awareness, highlighting the injustices and fighting for the rights have been the main task of such NGOs the world over. A few days back the Congress had announced a big campaign against the saffronisation, hikes in administered prices, etc. But later nothing happened. The four former Prime Ministers have the same alternative role cut out for them.
When both sides fail, we want to put the records straight with the people, says Chandra Shekhar at whose residence V.P. Singh, I.K. Gujral and H.D. Deve Gowda had met twice to discuss their own affirmative action plans. Ours is a moral fight to educate the people of this country about all that has been going on in the name of suraj and reform. National interests are sold out and both the ruling party and the main Opposition have colluded in this act, he says. The foursome had their first meeting on March 2 and the second this week. They have decided to attend joint non-political rallies all over the country. The first will be at Ghaziabad near Delhi on April 9 and the second one at Agra on April 15.
The former Prime Ministers claim that their collective wisdom will influence the intelligentsia. Subtle remarks by President K.R. Narayanan had more bearing on the public opinion than all Opposition campaigns put together. Thus they would like to assume a similar wise mens role. There are two extreme views about the motives of the ex-PMs club. While the non-Congress Opposition hopefuls see the re-birth of a third front, the pro-establishment media is already out to lampoon it as the ex-PMs search for job for themselves. The four have been variously described as strange bed fellows and tired men without following.
All such prejudices apart, the truth may be somewhere in between. The birth of a third front still remains a distant dream. There are innumerable hurdles in its way. The political climate is not yet conducive for its debut. Political alchemy and arithmetic have undergone sweeping transformation since 1998. The TDP, DMK, Trinamool Congress and the Chautala party are not particularly happy in the company of the BJP. They are there because of the compulsive local antagonism. The TDPs main concern is a viable anti-Congress forum both in Andhra Pradesh and at the Centre. The DMK cannot be with anyone who is with the AIADMK. Mamata Bannerjee cannot be with the CPM. To overcome such acute contradictions is not going to be an easy task for the ex-PMs.
Even within the non-BJP camp, we have an altogether new political paradigm. None of the four ex-PMs enjoy any support base worth the name. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav who were picked by Devi Lal in the Janata Dal remain the bulwark of the old Janata parivar. They are going to dominate any future third front. Mulayam Singh Yadav himself has high ambitions in Delhi. This itself may be a hurdle in the return of any of the four ex-PMs. Such far-fetched notions apart, the ex-PMs have the potential of influencing the political debate in the coming months. However, their effectiveness will depend on how will they conduct them selves and whether they could short-circuit a prejudiced media to reach the public mind.
For this, they will have to undertake the herculean task of restoring the programme-based politics as against the contemporary realpolitik based on perpetuation of power by igniting local antagonism. The Congress avoided public agitation on the price hikes for fear of displeasing the powerful globalisation lobby. The BJP allies did make their point but would not like to pursue such issues unless the popular pressures builds up from the below. If the ex-PMs succeed in making their points on what they describe destruction of farmers by removing subsidies, hiking the prices of inputs and allowing massive imports, every political group will be forced to react.
The issues they have
taken up need for food security for the poor,
equitable distribution of the gains of economic
development, the paradox of raising the prices of poor
mans items of daily consumption even while reducing
the prices of luxury goods, failure to check violence,
etc. are politically explosive. It might induce
even the RSS to be more assertive on its now forgotten
Swadeshi. India has a long tradition of non-political
alternatives to effect political changes. Like the
reorganisation of the states, anti-emergency uprisings
and localised farmers movements. It will be naive
to expect anything more than this from the ex-PMs
THE U.P. Legislative Council is to be warmly congratulated on the censure motion it carried by a large majority on Wednesday against the jail administration in the Province by reducing the Budget grant by Re 1. The censure was based on the ground that racial discrimination was made between Indian and European convicts inside the jail.
Reference was made in this connection to the case in which three Anglo-Indians convicted in a rape case had recently been whipped by a member of their own community, to the differential treatment generally meted out to the two and dietary arrangements, and lastly to the practice of making Indian prisoners pull fans for the benefit of European convicts during summer months.
It was justly and forcibly urged that if the Government deliberately made racial distinctions like these even inside the jails, it was preposterous to refer back to the Council a Bill simply because it included one clause containing a racial prescription. It was sullying the Queens Proclamation, said a Swarajist member, to quote the authority for such a purpose.
It is worthy of note that to none of these contentions was the Government able to make any reply except the stereotyped one that it was carrying out the rules.
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