Tuesday, April 11, 2000,
Chandigarh, India





THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

Pakistan shown its place
THE Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has asserted its power, wisdom and realistic commonsense at Cartagena by two of its major moves. The Foreign Ministers gathered in the Colombian city have agreed to the Indian suggestion that military-ruled states should be debarred from the membership of the conceptually holistic and metapolitical organisation.

Hush-hush peace bid
IT is a classic case of the left hand having no idea of what the right hand does. The Centre is trying to enter into an agreement with Nagaland's insurgent groups, but the state government says that it has no knowledge of it. What an unfortunate situation! This is no way to end insurgency in the sensitive Northeast.

Primary concern
THE proposal to hand over primary schools in Haryana to village panchayats has several positive features, the most important of which is the fact that a similar experiment in the neighbouring Rajasthan has been a roaring success. In Haryana, as in almost all states of the country, primary education in the rural areas is a shambles.

OPINION

CONSTITUTIONAL PROMISES
Time for a reality check
by Joginder Singh

RAGS-to-riches stories are not always the result of unremitting labour and hard work. Quite often they are based on underworld activities like land and building grabbing and extortion. Flashy life-style, shining cars, plush farm houses or bungalows are often the result of total lack of scruples.


EARLIER ARTICLES
  The problem of livestock population
by K. B. Sahay

INDIA’S ecosystem is under acute stress not only due to its burgeoning human population but also because of a rapid increase in the number of domestic animals in the country. For instance, the increase in livestock population in India from 1951 to 1995 is estimated as follows: cattle 151 to 206 million; buffalo 43 to 80 million and goat 39 to 119 million. Besides, the country also has about 45 million sheep and 12 million pigs.

MIDDLE

The Kargil allowance
by N. B. Grant
FOLLOWING the 1962 Chinese invasion of Ladakh, it was decided then for the first time to introduce a high altitude allowance for troops located and operating in regions above a certain altitude. It was conditional, however, that, this allowance would be subject to review every alternate year by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Lok Sabha.

DIVERSITIES — DELHI LETTER

Laloo hogs the limelight
by Humra Quraishi
SOMETHING definitely amiss in the very system, for the periodic needling it does is enough to make the mundane politician into some sort of a hero. Last week at the cocktails hosted by Nalini Singh (the occasion: Ankhon Dekhi crossed the 1000 episode) the star attraction was none other than our man from Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav. He chose to come just 16 minutes before the finale and you should have seen how our humpty dumpties and their lady counterparts went berserk.

REALPOLITIK

Erosion of the party system
by P. Raman

THE UPANISHADIC analogy of the withering of a tree with the absence of the divine essence brahman is well applicable to contemporary Indian politics. In Chandogya Upanishad, sage Uddalaka by way of simple experimentation explains to his son Shvetaketu how the branches of a tree dry up when prana vayu leaves that part. “When prana vayu leaves another branch, that too withers, and the whole tree dries when it leaves the entire tree,” he says to establish that it was the presence of brahman that energises the entire universe.


75 years ago

April 11, 1925
Discipline and Satyagraha
THE attitude which Mahatma Gandhi has taken in regard to the Vaikom Satyagraha is another illustration of the strict discipline and respect for the dictates of honour which, he has always insisted, must govern all campaigns of Satyagraha.



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Pakistan shown its place

THE Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has asserted its power, wisdom and realistic commonsense at Cartagena by two of its major moves. The Foreign Ministers gathered in the Colombian city have agreed to the Indian suggestion that military-ruled states should be debarred from the membership of the conceptually holistic and metapolitical organisation. But even after knowing what Pakistan, in the company of fellow-travellers like Myanmar and Ivory Coast, is doing, the wisemen have left the final decision for the next meeting at Dhaka. It is like plucking a fruit and allowing it to dangle on a far away branch. The approved step which would prevent the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) from passing anti-India resolutions is, indeed, rational and, therefore, welcome. Terrorism and dictatorship (falsely called limited democracy or projected as a short-term reformist military regime) have imprisoned democracy in anti-people labyrinths of usurped power. Pakistan is the worst example of such a dispensation and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has done well not to mince words on these thorny issues. NAM was conceived as an unencumbered forum of countries which wanted to protect their hard-earned freedom and sovereignty. Pakistan has frequently brought wile and venom in its NAM deliberations. Its ouster will be seen as good riddance. Democracy cannot coexist with autocracy. People cannot be deprived of their fundamental rights. The rule of law should mean fairplay and justice for all and fetters of subjugation for none.

Pakistan's elected Prime Ministers have subverted their sacred statute while invoking theocratic ideas and symbols. After Ms Benazir Bhutto, Mr Nawaz Sharif destroyed the judiciary, degraded the Presidency and used the army to further his self-promotional aims. The army had its own way to quench its power-thirst. The toppler was toppled by the General and grassroots democracy began to die. Revivalism has, many times in history, gained notoriety like revisionism. Musharrafisation is not a step towards the re-establishment of popular rule. Pakistan's ostracisation does not amount to a hysterically glad tiding for India because it is a mature country. Cross-border terrorism has taken thousands of lives and caused Kargils — big and small. NAM has succeeded where the sole global super power had failed. It is worth remembering that the Commonwealth has already suspended the membership of Islamabad. The Cartagena meeting will be remembered for a long time because of the good beginning it has made. It has, among other points (besides dictatorship and sponsored militancy), taken note of narco-terrorism and the unsettling role of the Taliban who have created thousands of mercenary monsters. India's stand on the basic policy of non-interference by the NAM members in one another's affairs has been welcomed. One hopes that Pakistan and Afghanistan will learn their forgotten democratic lessons along with Myanmar and Ivory Coast. Sanity has triumphed in Colombia.
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Hush-hush peace bid

IT is a classic case of the left hand having no idea of what the right hand does. The Centre is trying to enter into an agreement with Nagaland's insurgent groups, but the state government says that it has no knowledge of it. What an unfortunate situation! This is no way to end insurgency in the sensitive Northeast. One can understand that the state is ruled by an opposition party — the Congress — and there are bound to be differences between it and the Centre having a coalition government led by the BJP. Still on an issue like insurgency, a national problem, the central government cannot afford to ignore the regime in the affected state. The Nagaland Home Minister, Mr Neiphiu Rio, said on April 4 that despite the fact of the state government being ignored in the matter, it would try to bring all the underground factions together so that they could sort out their differences among themselves and then reach an accord with the Centre. He admitted that the Centre recently had consultations with Chief Minister S.C. Jamir and Governor Om Prakash Sharma, but this was purely aimed at understanding the Naga insurgency problem.

One reason why the state government has become untouchable in the process of establishing peace in this most sensitive northeastern state is that most insurgent groups, especially the Nagaland People's Council and the Naga Hoho, are against involving the government headed by Mr Jamir. Some time ago they threatened that peace talks would be futile if the state government was also made a party to it. The impression was given that the NSCN (I-M) might back out of the ceasefire agreement signed between the insurgents and the Centre in August, 1997. This is a very tricky situation. Yet some way can be found to take into confidence the present ruling dispensation without which any progress achieved in the direction of solving the insurgency problem may be put in jeopardy by the ignored side. There is another knot to be untied as part of the ongoing process. The Nagaland National Council and NSCN (Khaplang) should also be made a party to any peace agreement that is finally signed. The contention of the NSCN (Issac-Muivah) faction that these groups have no effective existence should not be taken as binding on the Centre's negotiating team led by Mr P. Padmanabhaiah. This mistake was earlier committed by the United Front government and all the efforts at resolving the Naga tangle ended in a fiasco. Now when much progress has been achieved towards accomplishing the task, the mistake should not be repeated. It is encouraging that the NSCN (Khaplang) has announced a formal ceasefire. The opportunity must be seized. The Centre should give the group an assurance that its viewpoint will be taken into consideration in any future settlement. But the ruling party in the state and the coalition government at the Centre must not forget that the Northeast is a national problem, and party interests should be kept aside while dealing with it.
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Primary concern

THE proposal to hand over primary schools in Haryana to village panchayats has several positive features, the most important of which is the fact that a similar experiment in the neighbouring Rajasthan has been a roaring success. In Haryana, as in almost all states of the country, primary education in the rural areas is a shambles. There are many villages which have no schools at all. Where there are schools, there are no teachers. In the rare few villages where both are available, there is a scandalous absence of basic equipment like blackboards and chalk. Truancy is rampant among students as well as teachers. The result is that the children get only a semblance of education. Levers of power are in the hands of senior officers who sit in their airconditioned offices, well-insulated from the shouts of protest of the parents of hapless children. The standard of education has been falling alarmingly, which is also reflected in the mad rush to get one's children educated in private English medium schools. That is why even primary education is becoming the preserve of rich or urban people. This shortcoming is noticeable in the entire education system. If the schools are handed over to the panchayats, there will be day-to-day monitoring and also a sense of participation among the residents. The latter is very important because so far there has been a sense of alienation as if the parents are helpless bystanders.

But while the government weighs various pros and cons, it must also devise ways and means to ensure that if primary education is actually handed over to panchayats, it does not become a victim of petty rivalries that exist in many villages. There are some villages where the sarpanches act like mini lords and try to corner every facility for their own followers. The schools should not become parts of such fiefdom. News reports suggest that the government is thinking that special funds may be allocated for the first year to help panchayats cope with the initial troubles. Thereafter, the panchayats will have to raise funds for running these schools and improve the standards of education. While it is all right if the panchayats are asked to raise some funds, it will be odd if the financial burden is put entirely on them. After all, the government cannot wash its hands off the social responsibility to provide primary education. Ideally, the amount that it currently spends on education should be made available to the panchayats, which they can supplement their own efforts. It will be a good idea if certain social organisations come forward to extend a helping hand in whatever way they can.
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CONSTITUTIONAL PROMISES
Time for a reality check
by Joginder Singh

RAGS-to-riches stories are not always the result of unremitting labour and hard work. Quite often they are based on underworld activities like land and building grabbing and extortion. Flashy life-style, shining cars, plush farm houses or bungalows are often the result of total lack of scruples. There have been over 1000 complaints of extortion in Delhi in one year on an average, though very few cases are registered. It is for the simple reason that people having a brush with the underworld have more faith in the capacity of the criminals to harm than in the capacity of the government to protect them. There is a kind of megalomaniac warped perception about such activities, and there is an underlying ambition in the minds of a number of such characters of entering Parliament.

An entry to Parliament ensures respectability at the seat of power and is deemed an insurance against penal action. A criminal facing charges of dacoity, who is at present a Member of Parliament, has expressed an open desire to be a minister, so that he/she could be in a position to retaliate in keeping a present minister waiting, as he/she had kept her waiting. Such criminals manage to hire expensive lawyers, who either underplay their crime, or try to find non-existing loopholes in the evidence. Subversion of the poll process at the elections with the underworld money or any other activity, which will show them close to the seat of power, is the first priority on their agenda. Unchecked criminal activities are the first step towards the putrefaction of society.

Anybody who has become super-rich, whether through hawala operations or as a power-broker or through forcible occupation of real estate, aims at entering Parliament, preferably through the Rajya Sabha. Among the state assemblies, Bihar leads the pack. The politician-criminal nexus has existed for a long time, as can be seen by the patronage extended by the political parties to many criminals who have got elected to the legislatures. The people have many expectations from the democratic system. They expect the situation to improve with the successive governments. Misplaced priorities and spreading limited resources are the bane of the country.

It is essential to get tough on Mean Street, precisely the same way as the New Orleans new police chief, Casbon, did. Plagued by the shortage of funds, he raised two to three million from the local firms to clean the aegean stables. About some of the policemen in his department, he said: “Their bellies were so big, they couldn’t see their shoes. Most policemen did not wear uniforms. It cramped their style, and they cruised around in black unmarked cars, so that they could sneak up on people. One official getting a salary of $ 20,000 was making one million $ by giving film companies police cars, uniforms, petrol and even officers to escort them. He would pocket the cheques. In about three years time, the police chief arrested 70 of his officials, including an eight-member drug gang. Eighty officials have been dismissed and another 150 shown the door. Two are facing death sentences. The city has successfully struggled back to civilisation. This had a tremendous effect on the crime situation, though jails are overstuffed.

On the contrary our country has dealt with the criminals too lightly, despite all talk of acting tough. Unfortunately, the phrase that “Let the law take its course” is an excuse for prolonging the agony of the people. People with a lot of ill-gotten money merrily hire expensive lawyers and twist the law to suit their continued existence out of jails. There is no fear of the law, by those sections which are taking liberties with the system, under the guise of the protection of the Constitution and the law. There is no social disapproval or social boycott of those who transgress the morality and the laws. Otherwise, how do you explain political protection to milk vendors, indulging those involved in adulteration? This is what leads to the politicisation of non-issues and criminalisation of politics.

On top of it, the governments since Independence slur over the lapses of the high and the mighty. The Reserve Bank of India’s confidential list of loan defaulters over Rs 1 crore pegged the size of sticky loans at Rs 39,869.17 crore in March, 1999, up from Rs 28,547.19 crore in March, 1998. During the period, from April, 1998, to March, 1999, 1500 new names of the defaulters of over Rs 1 crore were added, taking the tally to 7,523 persons. The “who is who” the corporate world finds prominent mention, including the convicted chief accused of the security scam who owes Rs 812 crore to the State Bank of India. This sticky account amounting to Rs 812 crore since November, 1992, continues to remain as the most heavyweight NPA in the industry. The list is practically a compendium of corporate India.

It is not possible to believe that the dead losses are the result of honest mistakes or bona fide errors of judgement. It can be accepted in a few cases, but not in thousands of cases. So much money could not have gone down the drain, without collusion or malpractices or those who matter in the banking sector being accessory to the fait accompli. Absence of corruption is the sin qua non of good governance. The industries have become sick, but never the industrialists, who flaunt their wealth. In the bargain, the country is deprived of the resources for providing health, sanitation, education and employment opportunities to the poor deprived sections of society. For dealing with the corrupt, it should not be necessary to wait for their conviction before seizing not only the properties of the accused but also the properties held by their associates and relatives for them.

The Supreme Court said in a decision: “So far as the justification of such a provision is concerned, there is enough and more. After all, all these properties are earned and acquired in ways illegal and corrupt — at the cost of the people and the state. The state is deprived of its legitimate revenue to that extent. These properties must justly go back where they belong to the state. “What we are saying is nothing new or heretical. Witness the facts of a recent decision of the Privy Council in the Attorney-General for Hong Kong v. Reid (1993) 3 WLR 1143”. After referring to the facts of and the law declared by the Privy Council, the Supreme Court observed: “May we say in parentheses that a law providing for the forfeiture of properties acquired by the holders of public office (including posts in the public sector corporations) by indulging in corrupt and illegal acts and deals is a crying necessity. Once it is proved that the holders of such an office have indulged in corrupt acts, all such properties should be attached forthwith. The law should place the burden of proving that the attached properties were not acquired with the aid of monies/properties received in the course of corrupt deals upon the holder of that property. Such a law has become an absolute necessity if the canker of corruption is not to prove the death-knell of this nation.”

It is time for political masters to redeem their promises made in the Constitution by better management of the economy and the country. We as a developing country cannot and should not be soft in dealing with corruption if poverty is to be eliminated. There is need for reforms in the judiciary also.

A former Chief Justice of India said: Delay is the greatest enemy of judicial system, reduces fear among criminals, promotes criminal tendencies at the sub-conscious level and causes subversion of the rule of the law. Speedy justice is necessary both in the interest of society and accused. The increasing incidents of frivolous litigation is also one of the consequences of the delay in the dispensation of justice. It is frequently being used by people to harass the opposite party to compel him to succumb to the some unreasonable and unjust demands.

He stressed the need for improving the work culture at various levels of the judiciary to increase the efficiency and commitment so that the optimum benefit could be derived from the present system. He said that by improving management techniques initiated manually and combined with computerisation, the number of arrears from 1,20,000 in the beginning of the 1990s came down to a mere 19,000 on January 1, 1998. The proportion of judges to the number of people for whom the courts cater is quite low, and there is need for a five-fold increase.

It is time for political masters to redeem their promises made in the Constitution by better management of the economy and the country. We as developing country cannot and should not be soft in dealing with corruption, if poverty is to be eliminated. There is need for reforms in the judiciary also as pointed out by many legal luminaries and retired Chief Justices of India. The core interests of the country should be above every other consideration. It is time to take determined steps to reverse the 52 years journey of sliding down the hill.

(The writer is a former Director of the CBI).
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The problem of livestock population
by K. B. Sahay

INDIA’S ecosystem is under acute stress not only due to its burgeoning human population but also because of a rapid increase in the number of domestic animals in the country. For instance, the increase in livestock population in India from 1951 to 1995 is estimated as follows: cattle 151 to 206 million; buffalo 43 to 80 million and goat 39 to 119 million. Besides, the country also has about 45 million sheep and 12 million pigs.

India, which accounts for only about 2 per cent of the world’s geographical area, is now supporting around 15 per cent of the world’s livestock and 18 per cent of human population. This has led to immense pressure on India’s ecosystem. This overstraining of land and other natural resources by disproportionately excess human and livestock population is the root cause of widespread land degradation and deforestation in the country giving rise to the non-sustainability of our ecosystem.

The increase in livestock population in India, despite a substantial export of meat and meat products and their consumption in the country itself, has given rise to two major problems. First, the adverse effects of high livestock population on our ecosystem giving rise to the problems of sustainability and, second, the partial starvation and widespread malnutrition of the animals themselves.

According to a recently conducted study, the number of animals that grazed in forests rose from 35 million cow units in 1950-51 to over 100 million cow units in 1994-95. It is estimated that against a sustainable level of 31 million cow units per annum that might graze in forests, the livestock that actually grazes in the forests is about 100 million cow units — more than three times the sustainable level. Continuous shrinkage of grazing land and extremely high grazing pressure per unit land in many states have led to an increasing scarcity of feed and fodder for the animals.

The current population of about 450 million heads of livestock far exceeds the carrying capacity of the country’s natural resources. It is estimated that India’s total land capacity to support grazing is for only about 50 million heads of the livestock. Because of such a wide mismatch between the ability of natural resources to sustain livestock vis-a-vis their present numbers, there exists rampant malnutrition and starvation in our livestock. According to an estimate provided by the National Commission on Agriculture, only 56 per cent of the dry fodder and 27 per cent of the green fodder requirements were being met in 1985. And the situation is expected to be still worse now. This shortage of fodder has led to over-grazing resulting in diminished vegetative cover as highlighted above, leading to the degradation of soil through erosion.

Thus the increase in the population of livestock as going on in India is clearly unsustainable and is harmful for our ecosystem besides subjecting the livestock to starvation which is nothing but cruelty to animals. Despite such an unsustainable population of livestock in India, the vegetarian societies are campaigning hard to change people from non-vegetarianism to vegetarianism. With the spread of vegetarianism, there is bound to be further increase in the growth rate of livestock population and the number of animals is bound to increase rapidly, aggravating further the starvation in animals and the degradation of the ecosystem as explained earlier. So, anybody who thinks that vegetarianism is a natural corollary of compassion to animals is grossly mistaken. Hence in all fairness any organisation or individual advocating or preaching vegetarianism for all must also suggest ways and means to save the animals from starvation and degradation of the ecosystem that would be a certain consequence of universal vegetarianism.

In a normal natural situation the population of both humans and animals grow in a geometric fashion (e.g. 2, 6, 18, 54 etc). There again the population growth rate of livestock is much faster than that of humans because of multiple litters that goat, sheep and pig breed at a time. It can thus easily be understood that such a rapid growth of population would soon become unsustainable if not kept under control. In the case of humans we have the means to check the population growth by controlling the birth rate through the use of contraceptives but not so for the animals.

So far we have discussed the deleterious effects of livestock population on the ecosystem. Let us now analyse the beneficial role of livestock on the nation’s economy.

Animal husbandry plays a vital role in supplementing family income and providing additional gainful employment for the weaker sections of society. In fact, animal husbandry provides more self-employment to the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society than any other section. Also, meat, meat products, leather, etc, earn valuable foreign exchange for the country. In 1994-95, India exported meat and meat products worth Rs 4300 million and leather and products worth Rs 50,000 million. So bringing down the livestock population will surely adversely affect our economy besides bringing down the per capita availability of non-vegetarian food items in our country which is already below the required level. The average milk production in India is only about 200 gm per day per person as against the recommended intake of 220 gm. Similarly, an Indian gets, on an average, only 5 kg of meat per year as against the recommended amount of 11 kg per year.

Thus we find that for the economic development of the country and for the adequate availability of milk and meat for our people, we need to raise the population of the livestock in India. But on the other hand, the limitations of our ecosystem demand that the livestock population must not exceed the carrying capacity of our natural resources. Since the ecosystem has to support both humans and animals, the optimum sustainable livestock population size at any time will depend upon both the status or the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and the existing human population at that time. Higher the human population, smaller will be the sustainable size of the livestock population and vice-versa.

Now that we have not been able to control our human population growth as required, and it is estimated that our human population would increase to 1260 million by the year 2016 from the present 970 million, the only way to save our ecosystem from permanent damage and also to save the animals from the cruelty of starvation is to bring down the livestock population from the present unsustainable level of 450 million to a such level as the human and animal populations together always remained within the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Yes, this measure will certainly harm our economy and will also adversely affect the availability of milk and meat in the country. But, then, there is no way out except, of course, administering to ourselves a bitter dose of compulsory family planning and lower our human population so that we can have more livestock population for our economic development without damaging the ecosystem.

(The writer is a professor at the IIT, Delhi, and specialises in population issues).
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The Kargil allowance
by N. B. Grant

FOLLOWING the 1962 Chinese invasion of Ladakh, it was decided then for the first time to introduce a high altitude allowance for troops located and operating in regions above a certain altitude. It was conditional, however, that, this allowance would be subject to review every alternate year by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Lok Sabha.

The 1965 war with Pakistan had just ended, and as is wont after all such wars, the soldier had to be given concessions, or at least made to appear of having received them. As the Border Roads Commander in J&K, I was visiting one of my units in Kargil, when a signal was received from Delhi stating that, a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) would fly into Leh and Kargil from Chandigarh on October 5 to find out for themselves the conditions existing in the Kargil-Leh area for the purpose of reviewing special allowances.

We signalled back advising the committee to come by road via Srinagar, so that they could acclimatise themselves before entering a high altitude area. This was in keeping with the standard practice followed by the army for inducting troops in such areas, as a precaution against high altitude sickness, specially the dreaded pulmonary oedema. Back came the reply: “Pac will fly into Leh as planned, arrange reception.”

It was cold and crispy, but a glorious morning that day when a Russian AN 12 flew into Leh with the PAC party, five in number. We took the precaution that they did not exert themselves, and took rest for at least six hours after landing. During lunch, I casually enquired of them as to how they were feeling. All five said that, they were feeling a little lightness in the head (very common in our MPs) and had a headache. The medical officer (MO) was called in to examine them. He told me that, one of them had started developing pulmonary trouble, but that there was nothing physically wrong with the others; it was just psychological. Arrangements were made to immediately evacuate the sick MP to Chandigarh by helicopter.

Regarding the other four, my MO hit upon an ingenious idea, namely to give each one of them a soluble vial filled with sugar and labelled Oxygen Pill O2. Over coffee, I asked the MPs to take these pills for their altitude sickness, which they did. We waited for the delayed reaction for five minutes, when one of them said “Brigadier, this O2 pill is a real miracle; my headache and dizziness have completely gone.” A minute later, the other three also echoed the same feeling. All our allowances were increased 1 times.

While departing two days later, one of the MPs asked me where he could purchase these O2 pills in Delhi, as he felt they could also be useful in an emergency in case of a heart attack — he almost gave me one.
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Erosion of the party system
by P. Raman

THE UPANISHADIC analogy of the withering of a tree with the absence of the divine essence brahman is well applicable to contemporary Indian politics. In Chandogya Upanishad, sage Uddalaka by way of simple experimentation explains to his son Shvetaketu how the branches of a tree dry up when prana vayu leaves that part. “When prana vayu leaves another branch, that too withers, and the whole tree dries when it leaves the entire tree,” he says to establish that it was the presence of brahman that energises the entire universe.

This is what seems to be happening to our political parties. For the new generation of professional politicians oxygen (prana vayu) is power. If prospects of power seem to be disappearing from West Bengal or UP, branches of what was once a towering banian tree wither. Until a decade and half back, it was routine for us to presume that only small shrubs grew under the old banian tree. It now shows a wilted look with only a few branches still remaining green. A great rush for oxygen outside the respective parties has begun. If the Congress is the worst victim of this political decay, most other parties are showing the signs of its corrosive impact in varying degrees.

What we experience today is an altogether new kind of political cross-currents which defy the old practices and behavioural patterns. It is not the traditional kind of defection or desertion of a disgruntled group in protest. From 1970s to the early 1990s, it was believed that the Janata parivar or their allies were the only soft targets of defection engineers. Though political technology was at its infancy, Sanjay Gandhi could easily induce differences and defections in the Janata ranks. Narasimha Rao’s game plan was of a different kind. He broke away the minimum number of MPs required to bolster up majority. Once this was achieved he had put a break to what he thought unwanted burden.

When the Janata and TDP MPs were being bought by Rao’s head hunters. L.K. Advani had in a recorded interview to this writer lampooned those parties. “If they cannot hold their MPs, it is not others’ fault,” he had said. Now his party too has fallen victim to similar inducements. Even a TV anchor man could effortlessly break the myth of BJP discipline by weaning away a large number of BJP MLAs in the UP Rajya Sabha elections. In any case, it is not confined to the Congress alone. There can still be a debate on who was the father of today’s opportunism-based manipulative politics. But the present political intrigues have better finesse than that of Chimanbhai Patel who had paved the way for the fall of the Congress and a massive growth of the BJP in Gujarat.

The new mood of defiance of the political establishment stems from the sheer helplessness of the Delhi bosses of different parties to enforce their writ. It is all-pervasive. In the past fortnight, two issues — the Rajya Sabha elections and Ghani Khan Chaudhuri’s move to lead the Congress into the Mamata camp — have highlighted the gradual erosion of the party system. An interesting aspect of this new mood has been that the revolters do not strike in states where the respective party is in power or has the ability to regain power. The main factor at work is the ‘expectation of power’. As in Uddalaka’s dry branches devoid of prana vayu, the strike in States where the respective party is too weak to hit back.

Unlike in olden times, the defence no more hinge on a powerful leader who could give protection to the entire faction. Now even the minor ones, with or without any following, could cross over at will. Even a Matang Singh or Ahluwalia get a ready welcome. Any minor pretext is being used to get one’s expectation of power fulfilled. Often it looks so meaningless. The whole grand alliance revolt in the West Bengal Congress had begun on the routine issue of a cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls. It had nothing to do with the ‘CPM misrule’.

Initially, the Congress MLAs had the limited aim of snubbing the high command for imposing Delhi-based D.P. Roy as party nominee against the claim of Somen Mitra. The opportunity was grabbed by the political engineers to turn it into operation West Bengal. The rebels’ subsequent demand for joining Mamata’s Mahajot against the Left has been a testimony to the efficacy of the new political technology. Two years back, a similar extraneous issue had led the Naveen faction of the Orissa JD into the BJP fold.

‘Expectation of power’ is such a strong drug that it can energise even an acutely ailing Ghani Khan. Indian politics is no more a battle of ideology and programmes. Neither does it rely on effective public campaign or agitation to arouse public support. Instead, the whole concentration is on behind-the-scene manipulations and use of public opinion engineering to trap the rivals in political trickery.

War of nerves and aggressive game plans have become the deciding factor in this battle for political domination. When the Congress found itself abruptly trapped by the pro-Mamata faction in West Bengal it had only one painless option left to deal with the game plan — go along with the revolters and delay the whole process as much as it could. If the BJP-Mamata managers could push the Congress into desperation, the latter also could resort to similar trickery. The Sonia Congress is yet to master the finesse of the kind of operations the BJP seems to have perfected.

The operation West Bengal has been a carefully drawn up game plan that can cause multiple injuries to the Opposition in Parliament. It can in no way harm the BJP, even if it misfires. On the other, it would benefit the BJP whatever course it takes. If the Ghani Khan faction’s demand for an alliance with Mamata Banerjee is spurned by Sonia Gandhi, it would invariably mean pushing an influential group into the Mamata -BJP camp. Moreover, accretion of a senior Muslim leader would add to the group’s credibility in the eyes of the minorities. It will also reduce the WBPCC into a tiny ineffective outfit devoid of any mass base or a senior leader.

If the Congress high command, as it has now done, decides to yield to the demands of the pro-Mamata group, it will provide triple benefits to the BJP-Mamata camp. First, association with the BJP, directly or through the Mamata outfit, is bound to alienate the already agitated minorities from the Congress. A big section of the minorities still consider the Congress as their benefactor. The soft-Hindutva of Narasimha Rao had badly damaged the party’s secular image in states like UP and Bihar. In the past two years, Sonia Gandhi had made determined moves to win back these sections. Barring occasional secret deals in certain Kerala constituencies, the Congress has never in its history entered into a seat adjustment with the BJP. Now an open alliance with the BJP will cause considerable damage to the Congress in areas outside West Bengal.

Second, by joining an unholy alliance with the BJP camp, the latter could effectively scuttle the ongoing process of a closer working arrangement with the Left at the Centre against the Vajpayee government. After the BJP alliance came to power, the CPM has been a vociferous advocate of cooperation for a limited purpose. Thus a confrontation between the two opposition groups at the centre will reduce the NDA’s threat perception from the opposition. Third, if in case the grand alliance succeeds in ousting the Left from power, such a setback to its chief ideological rival will be a big political gain for the BJP.

The Congress bosses in Delhi were well aware of the brains that have been at work and the trap in which they have fallen. One cannot say who will finally gain from this war of nerves between the political engineers of operation West Bengal and the Congress high command. What the Rajya Sabha elections and the Bengal project reveal is the gradual cracking of the party system which is not confined to Sonia Gandhi’s loosening hold on the partymen. The BJP too has been a victim of this spreading political infection.

For the Left Front in West Bengal, it is both a severe challenge and a test for its own resilience. It will find it really tough to meet a ‘Mahajot’ of all the state’s disparate elements during the ensuing civic and corporation polls. But it is also likely that such an operation itself might electrify them to close their ranks and steel their admittedly well-oiled machinery. In politics too, every action has an opposite reaction. The latest example has been Bihar where the NDA parents had prepared for a year to pull down the ‘jungle raj’. Funds were made available, Bihar was given a dozen positions in the Union Cabinet admittedly for this purpose. If after all this well-planned campaign Laloo had the last laugh the reason has been the ‘opposite reaction’.

The very line-up against Laloo had forced a big chunk of the voters who had deserted him in the Lok Sabha poll, to solidly stand by him — as an angry reaction. For Mamata Banerjee, it is too early to conclude that Basu’s retirement may lead to the collapse of the whole Left Front edifice. After all, Basu can still change his mind or go to the voters with an emotional appeal to give his successors also a chance. At times such appeal can be more effective than as a serving Chief Minister. In any case, even if the Congress joins the Mamata’s CPM tyranny campaign, it will only mean a get-together of the entire old Congress unless unleashes a new wave.
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Laloo hogs the limelight
by Humra Quraishi

SOMETHING definitely amiss in the very system, for the periodic needling it does is enough to make the mundane politician into some sort of a hero. Last week at the cocktails hosted by Nalini Singh (the occasion: Ankhon Dekhi crossed the 1000 episode) the star attraction was none other than our man from Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav. He chose to come just 16 minutes before the finale and you should have seen how our humpty dumpties and their lady counterparts went berserk. Falling all over him, clasping him, hugging him, some even kissing him. His protruding paunch didn’t seem to come in the way, as he went about patting it and rendering these lines “Mujhe Dilli ka paani pasand nahin aata hai.. pait phool jata hai, Bihar mein yahi pait baith jata hai...” (Some magic or what in that Bihar Pradesh!) I really can’t comment whether the man was hinting at the political junk he gets to devour here but it was obvious that he was conscious of the importance being showered on him and even possessed the confidence to continue patting the bloated stomach and rendering some more lines in its honour! Why not, for there was a line of women who continued to stand next to him and even went on cooing that he is their saviour. This when there were several others present that evening besides Home Minister L K Advani and some ministers from the Union cabinet (Arun Jaitley, Ram Jethmalani, Arun Shourie) several other politicians R.K. Hegde (who had come with dancer Praibha Prahlad), Saifuddin Soz, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Vinod Khanna, Mohsina Kidwai, Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, several Secretaries to GOI, NHRC’s D.R. Kartikeyan, K.P.S. Gill, H.K.Dua, NSG’s Nikhil Kumar, R.K. Singh of Zee TV, R. Basu of Star.

NSD’s Bharat Mahostav

Various groups and personalities from different parts of the theatre world have been visiting New Delhi in connection with the ongoing theatre festival Bharat Mahostav organised by the National School of Drama. Last fortnight I met an interesting Greek theatre director, Theodoros Terzopolous, who had a certain spark about him and just one sentence held him apart when asked his age he smiled wryly and in the same mood said “I refuse to talk about my age, for till you have the zest for life and the drive to continue working you don’t age... I am balding yet I feel as young as a teenager “. And now this week when I met another theatre director, Etty Resnik, from Israel, she voiced similar views. At a lunch hosted in her honour by the Israeli Ambassador to India, she said “Age actually makes no difference...though all the people tend to be moody and edgy but actors do it very loudly and also the fact that we actors have double moods - those pertaining to our working lives and then those affected by the swings in our private lives...” And she even went ahead to add that for women in the theatre sphere the struggle is even more, “you are as good as your last production so the struggle never ends.. and also since direction is more of a male dominated profession so the struggle gets even worse for women directors.”

Though Etty Resnik’s marriage is intact but, then, she does say that a number of directors concentrate on the evergreen subject of the man- woman relationship. “I am not sure whether (in our productions) we can do without love or without sex or without extramarital flings but , then all these extramarital relationships are not really new in our society. If I am not mistaken these relationships have become part of the society ( of our country), ever since Israeli women became free and independent.”

Cooing happy birthdays

A new trend has taken off here Birthday celebrations of the old and the aged who are still managing to keep going. Last month politician Vasant Sathe’s son hosted a big bash for the ageing father at the Taj Mahal hotel and the guest list included Sonia Gandhi and V.P. Singh. And, more recently, on April 7, sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar’s wife hosted a reception on her husband’s 80 birthday, at their Lodi Estate bungalow. Ironical it may sound that was the time and day when I had to interview three struggling artists Sarod player Rakesh Prasanna, sitar player Sunil Kant Saxena and tabla player Mithilesh Kumar Jha. All three are ‘shagirds’ of Amjad Ali Khan and they seemed hurt because recognition is yet to come their way. “For over 15 years we have been struggling but even now the struggle seems on...”

To my query whether destiny has a role to play, they quipped “ that, of course, but, then, media exposure also makes a big difference, not to talk of politics in the art world....”. A pity that even this sphere is not devoid of politics.

Season’s end

And as the season is ending evenings lie stuffed with events. If I am not mistaken one of the last exhibitions of the season was held on April 2, at the Centre For Punjabi Literature and Art. Curated by Seema Varma it presents the works of 16 artists. And on April 8, J J Vallaya presents his collection of the latest wear but as usual he has chosen one of those far flung Mehrauli-based farm houses for the fashion show. And just now comes the news that Amjad Ali Khan’s son Ayaan (who is also a sarod player) is turning into a painter. And on April 20 his works will be displayed at the Art Today gallery.
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75 years ago

April 11, 1925
Discipline and Satyagraha

THE attitude which Mahatma Gandhi has taken in regard to the Vaikom Satyagraha is another illustration of the strict discipline and respect for the dictates of honour which, he has always insisted, must govern all campaigns of Satyagraha.

Writing on the correspondence between the Commissioner of Police, Travancore, and himself, the Mahatma says:- “The correspondence shows unmistakably that the Travancore Government favour reform and that they are also pledged to carry it out at the earliest opportunity. Satyagrahis must fulfil the letter of the agreement by not overstepping the boundary line until a settlement is reached, or crossing, after due notice by me, becomes necessary for furthering the object of the agreement.”

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