Saturday, April 29, 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

The banker’s view
O
n the surface it is calm with a cheerful note or two in the RBI’s credit policy statement. But just below lurk fear, disapproval and a tonne of misgivings. Without frills it lists the good things like revival of economy, low inflation, easy credit and bulging foreign exchange reserve.

TADA by another name
The post-interment ceremony of TADA — the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act — was not observed but celebrated on May 23, 1995. On that day, the "draconian law" was allowed to lapse. Between then and now an intensive legal search has gone on for a new TADA.

Minor reshuffle
THE much-anticipated reshuffle of the Himachal Pradesh Ministry has not really come about. What the Chief Minister, Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal, effected on Thursday can at best be called a precursor.

OPINION

THE SIKH MINDSET
The Akali imbroglio
by Darshan Singh Maini
THE sui generis character of each faith, and of each community, drawing the milk of dream from a certain ordained and evolved moment, is often affirmed in both theological and sociological studies. And Sikh historians, thinkers and poets have, almost in each generation, sought to understand the quality of that uniqueness.


EARLIER ARTICLES
Promising panchayati raj
April 28, 2000
Whose drought is it anyway?
April 27, 2000
Police and the law
April 26, 2000
Unwise and impolitic
April 25, 2000
Drought and dry run
April 24, 2000
Pakistan’s changing scenario
April 23, 2000
Undying aberration
April 22, 2000
Trivialising cricket crimes
April 21, 2000
THE MYTHS WE LIVE BY
April 21, 2000
Group for group's sake
April 20, 2000
 
ANALYSIS

Looking for natural allies
by P.K. Ravindranath
THE Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (Democratic Front) government in Maharashtra, after six months in office, is in the throes of a convulsion. From the beginning it was a mismatch and an alliance forged and foisted on the state by big business interests who wanted a government with a modicum of stability and free from the kind of extortion and extensive corruption practiced by the earlier Shiv Sena-BJP government.

ON THE SPOT

by Tavleen singh
Digvijay is no Chandrababu
A COURT case took me to Ujjain last week. One of those cases that journalists get hit with because someone or the other has taken offence to something you’ve written. I looked forward to the trip for two reasons, one because I had not been to Ujjain for 20 years and two because I wanted to see what Madhya Pradesh looked like under the rule of a man who is believed to be the second best Chief Minister in the country after Chandrababu Naidu.

MIDDLE

Flowery flattery
by Ahtesham Qureshy
The Editor of a popular English weekly magazine has put a difficult task before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He wants Vajpayee to ban the flattering receptions and farewells of Prime Ministers by ministers and others at the air port. He has promised a place in history for Vajpayee if the PM picks up that courage.


75 years ago
April 29, 1925
Vaikom Satyagraha
IT is refreshing to find hope being entertained by Mahatma Gandhi that”before long the prohibition against the use of untouchables of the public roads surrounding temples will be a thing of the past”.

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The banker’s view

On the surface it is calm with a cheerful note or two in the RBI’s credit policy statement. But just below lurk fear, disapproval and a tonne of misgivings. Without frills it lists the good things like revival of economy, low inflation, easy credit and bulging foreign exchange reserve. Then comes a string of “if”s and a few adverse findings. The RBI, which facilitates the mammoth government borrowing, now reproaches the profligate master. Even the estimate for borrowing, already alarmingly high, is overshot, it complains, last year by over Rs 16,000 crore. The mounting repayment obligation carries a damaging potential. A decade ago the government retained 89 paise out of every rupee it borrowed; today it has slumped to only 65 paise. At this rate of borrowing there will not be much money for others in the system. Low liquidity will affect realisation of the full industrial potential and also keep the interest rate high. The fairly detailed section on interest explains why the rate cannot come down. Many banks have accepted long-term deposits and they cannot scale down the interest payment. The government saving schemes offer about 10 per cent interest and cautious Indians park their savings in them. Banks spend very much on administration, as high as 2.5 per cent. There is another line of thought substantiating this argument. The RBI statement expects inflation to climb to 4.5 per cent (and feels quite nervous). If the economy grows at 6.5 per cent, as the RBI hopes it would, the nominal rate of interest will work out to 11 per cent. After adding the fixed cost of the banks, the prime lending rate will have to be 13.5 per cent. The central bank is aware of all this but hopes that in due course, mutual funds and government bonds will replace fixed deposits in banks as the preferred source of regular income. If this materialises, the in-built rigidity will go and a flexible interest regime will emerge. That, however, is a long way off.

RBI Governor Bimal Jalan used the occasion to the push through two important reforms. One, he has instructed all banks to shift to the international system of accounting. Many foreign investors have complained that archaic bookkeeping helps banks doctor the figures and conceal ugly features. The change-over will take time, but it will start immediately. Two, he has asked a unique Indian institution, development financing banks, to undergo a financial sex change operation and become full-fledged banks. Conceived to bankroll initial industrialisation, the IDBI (Industrial Development Bank of India) and the ICICI (Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India) have a nebulous character in that they raise funds at low rates and share the advantage with industrialists. At one time they converted the loans into shares and won the right to sit on the board of directors. These two institutions are fabulously rich but have only regional offices and not branches. It will be interesting to watch their transformation. Banks can now enter the insurance business but with several restrictions, lend money against shares and bonds after ensuring that the borrowers do not make a profit by swapping interest. Until this year, the credit policy statement used to mainly focus on interest and other rate changes and broad generalisation. This year the RBI has split the two; on April 1, it announced the lowering of the interest rate and hence has now concentrated on a sharp analysis of the economy. In the process, it introduced the novelty of re-examining the trajectory of the economy last year. One expert has hailed the reforms as the RBI report will have greater credibility than the babu-crafted Economic Survey.
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TADA by another name

The post-interment ceremony of TADA — the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act — was not observed but celebrated on May 23, 1995. On that day, the "draconian law" was allowed to lapse. Between then and now an intensive legal search has gone on for a new TADA. Its attributes are envisaged thus: It should be less harsh. It should have a "human face" (the expression means different things to different people). High officials should deal with serious accusations. The consideration of abuse should get precedence over the assessment of the consequences of use. In sum, TADA should be there but it should not appear like TADA. Why TADA in the crime-control legal armoury anyway? The answer: nothing less strong than it can deal with today's burgeoning terrorism. A state which does not want to look supine and vulnerable to frightening bullies — the enemies within, saboteurs from the neighbour's backyard or mercenaries available for small sums from known centres not far away — is a soft state which is an organism that cannot implement its own laws or uphold the writ of its own Constitution. Such softness takes the protective shield away from the state. One sees smouldering embers in Punjab, ever-increasing militant and sessionist activities in Jammu and Kashmir, insurgency-related terrorism in the North-East and extremist violence in Andhra Pradesh. One looks for effective and combative legal curbs. The perpetrators turn their crimes into results of failures of the soft state. The opposition to TADA is regretted privately and retrospectively. What has become necessary is the resurrection of the awesome lapsed act. A clever method to adopt for this purpose is the modification of the old name. Make a change and you have "the Prevention of Terrorism Bill — 2000". Drop the word "disruption" even if you know that it is important to tackle the disruptionists first. The legalese is a matter of semantic coinage sanctified by inventive logic. You have a new TADA for a new Parliament to discuss. But you must concede that you cannot deal with crushing criminality with tender measures. You need TADA in some form until you see Satan surrendering sorrowfully with his sins.

So, TADA is being brought in with ample justification and terminological exercises in wordy jugglery. The new measure will, however, signify the failure of law-enforcing agencies to deal normally with the worsening situation of crime against the state and society. It will also indicate the need for reiterating that softness will not be adopted in the name of civility so far as organised criminals are concerned. The failure to deal with terrorism is not attributable merely to the unfairness and harshness of laws; it indicates the inability of the system to use the existing measures effectively as a punitive act and as a deterrent measure. The Law Commission Chairman, Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, has done a reconstructive job magnificently. Law Minister Ram Jethmalani will carry the report and other papers into Parliament. There will be a long debate on "the return of TADA". Yet there will be no realisation, perhaps, that it is not TADA for which to be or not to be is the question. It is the TADA-attractor whose conduct is questionable and punishable. The focus, therefore, should be not so much on punishment as on crime. No TADA is welcome or unwelcome; it is retributional.
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Minor reshuffle

THE much-anticipated reshuffle of the Himachal Pradesh Ministry has not really come about. What the Chief Minister, Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal, effected on Thursday can at best be called a precursor. There have been neither any additions nor any deletions; just some tinkering with the portfolios. Postponing the big event to another day had perhaps become inevitable because of the eruption of a crisis in the Himachal Vikas Congress. The events taking place in the allied party apparently persuaded the Chief Minister and the BJP high command not to upset the ministerial balance for now, despite the fact that the BJP has a majority on its own. What is noteworthy is that Mr Dhumal has retained Mr Mohinder Singh in the ministry despite strong opposition from Mr Sukh Ram. It is another matter that he has been divested of the charge of the important Excise and Taxation. The HVC has been cut to size by the Chief Minister at the most opportune time available to him, without seeming to adopt a strident posture vis--vis Mr Sukh Ram. Mr Ram Lal Markanda of the HVC, who owes allegiance to the Sukh Ram faction, has been given the portfolio of Animal Husbandry instead of Rural Development. In the importance-wise hierarchy of departments, that constitutes a downgrading. One of the major gainers of the reshuffle has been the Minister of State for Youth Services and Sport, Mr Praveen Kumar. The confidant of the Chief Minister has got the independent charge of Excise and Taxation. The message is loud and clear: loyalty pays. At the same time, there has been a clipping of the wings of the supporters of the Union Public Distribution and Consumers Affairs Minister and former Chief Minister, Mr Shanta Kumar. The Tribal Development portfolio has been taken away from the Transport Minister, Mr Krishan Kapoor.

Mr Dhumal heads a rather large ministry. Even then, there has been a demand from within the BJP to accommodate a few more MLAs. The present reshuffle has obviously disappointed these aspirants. It remains to be seen for how long the Chief Minister can ignore the "claims" of these supporters. Nor is the allotment of portfolios going to please everyone. In the circumstances, it is quite certain that a far more elaborate reconstitution exercise would take place in the near future. But for the time being, Mr Dhumal has underlined the point that he is firmly in the saddle. The Congress may have found many faults in the resignation episode of April 19 but the development has rather strengthened the hold of the Chief Minister. Significantly, Dr Rajan Sushant, the mover of the resolution that all ministers should submit their resignations to give the Chief Minister a free hand to reconstitute the Council of Ministers, has been rewarded with the department of Science and Technology, besides his portfolio of Revenue.
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THE SIKH MINDSET
The Akali imbroglio
by Darshan Singh Maini

THE sui generis character of each faith, and of each community, drawing the milk of dream from a certain ordained and evolved moment, is often affirmed in both theological and sociological studies. And Sikh historians, thinkers and poets have, almost in each generation, sought to understand the quality of that uniqueness. Some features, some traits of an organic nature have been isolated to reach down to the grid of energies that have given this uniqueness an enduring, abiding colour. The catalogue of such aspects is not difficult to draw up, for there’s a disarming transparency in that phenomenon.

I do not, therefore, intend to itemise and dilate on the sum of things that mark Sikhism or define its image. What I propose to do, instead, is to examine the Sikh mindset in relation to that uniqueness. It’s a very complex exercise, and I have to seek the answers within certain constraints and parameters.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines it as “a set of attributes or views formed by earlier events”, though in practice a community’s or a race’s mindset has come to mean a whole lot of consanguin concepts that go into its making over a long period of time. Putatively, therefore, the complex of concepts implies a settled style or stance, conditioned and oriented by some events of magnitude in the history of the people in question. But a certain rigidity implied in the definition seems to have been overcome in practice, and instead a fruitful ambiguity has come to extend the meaning. The concept may, thus, be extended to include impulses and instincts or the visceral responses to a situation and a certain trained, rational set of values that at once come into play in moments of catastrophes.

Of course, the Jungian unconscious or the racial memory and residues would, in some manner, compel a conditioned response. In the case of the Sikh community, to talk of a purely racial streak would be largely irrelevant in that the 500 years of its existence and the 300 years of its canonisation into a commonwealth of disparate, ethnic, cultural and linguistic elements drawn from nearly all the major racial congregates in India, and from clashing caste and class groupings would militate against any “purist” premise.

Indeed, the entire dream of the Sikh gurus from the beginning stipulated a society from which structured and inherited responses from antiquity, from blood and genes, and from the manipulated “false consciousness” by priestly interests, in particular, would have to be eliminated through a new orientation of the mass mind. This kind of theological, societal and state colonialism had, as Guru Nanak, the First Preceptor, realised, brought the Hindu society of his day into a state of erosion, decay and degradation. Thus, even where the racial residues remained in the blood-stream as well as cultural residues, the Sikhs were to be weaned away from any pernicious influences. The conscious had to be so nursed as to become its own master.

That even the emerging Sikh society had witnessed several reverses and regressions in its tempestuous history, and thus permitted the archetypal Hindu mindset to prevail at times may not be disputed. What’s of real consequence is the fact that the Khalsa brotherhood eventually was able to establish its own unique symbols and signatures amidst all manner of disasters and catastrophes, and trenscend the past, ingest it, and work out a radical world-view. Periods of eclipse and renaissance have marked the great passage of the community, but a visible sense of progression always remained a part of the corporate consciousness.

To return, then, to the question of the Sikh mindset and its uniqueness, it’s necessary to clear up some of the fog enveloping the Sikh image. For instance, a certain looseness of thought and word in relation to the community is today a matter of agonising reality. The Sikh virtues — valour, the readiness to lift the sword where circumstance and necessity bring the question of dharma or righteousness into the picture, the spirit of sewa, a deep and conscious regard for truth, a certain amount of just pride in their ability to challenge orthodoxies, tyrannies and hegemonies, the spirit of joie d’vivre in day-to-day life and labour, a tendency towards openness or transparency, the capacity to accept the challenges of modernity, etc, — tend, at times, to turn into a sum of negatives in other eyes, reducing them into caricatures. The fault is partly our own, for in moments of a crisis, or even otherwise, there is a desire to run to excess, to stretch a point to absurdity — whether in human relationships, or in the sphere of politics, in the governance of the Sikh bodies and institutions. And all such extravagances of the spirit tend to create unnecessary suspicions and new adversaries, and land the community in wasteful exercises.

I’m deliberately citing no examples, for the Sikh Establishment is particularly vulnerable to over-reaction, “hainkar” or wanton pride, a misplaced sense of its importance and infallibility. And anyone wanting to suggest alternative, remedial and rational course of action is at once suspect in their eyes, proclaimed even a tankhaya whatever his or her true motives or feelings in the matter. One has thus seen pride turning into hauteur, valour into vainglory, transparency into obfuscation and obscurantism, generosity of impulse into a stubbornness of the spirit and a hardness of the heart. Its volatile and even militant aspects are only an indirect endorsement of its authenticity. For the Sikh corporate mind is likely to overreach, and sometimes lose the virtues of dheeraj and sehj, of control and forbearance, in general.

There’s, therefore, nothing wrong with the Sikh mindset, on the contrary its uniqueness lies in its traditional magnanimities, in its sense of sacrifice as a transcendent trait, in its humility in war and peace, in its catholicity of temper and belief, and in all those energies that go to make a rose a rose, a sword a sword.

In sum, there is a strong need for a new youthful leadership, away from the mahants and merchants of the politics of power and pelf, a leadership that orients the Sikh mindset in the direction of high pragmatism, of a meaningful modernity. The present moral chaos and political machinations in the Akali leadership and ranks should thus rouse the more thoughtful Sikhs in India and abroad into an awareness of the state of the community at this moment of history, and help create conditions for a new franchise, a new mandate, a new future.

It’s one of the tragic ironies of Sikh character that its heroic and visionary traits brought to a pitch with the canonisation of the Khalsa as a sovereign community of shared values and a radical world-view have never been quite in evidence in their polity even during periods of Sikh supremacy. The brutal and bizarre events witnessed immediately after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the ensuing palace intrigues, the treachery of the Jat nobility and the liquidation of an empire within the space of a decade or so would prove beyond doubt the presence in the Sikh psyche of some disturbing elements. And these traits of subversion and schism, of misplaced pride and self-aggrandisement, among other false alloys in their make-up, have progressively become a part of their mindset.

A highly disciplined people when driven by a dream, and led by a resolute, inspired and selfless leadership tend to lose their moral bearings and fall into a trap of illusions and delusions, what with their proneness to confused polemics, inflated rhetoric and mutual destruction. By and large, it’s a picture of the panth in disarray, a picture getting more and more out of focus, more and more off the high-ways of Sikh thought.

The present Akali split, infighting and distressing controversies around the questions of Akal Takht and its edicts, of the Nanakshahi Calendar, and of the shadows over the functioning of the World Sikh Council among other distracting and diversionary issues, have dramatised grievously, once again, certain tragic infirmities of character alluded to in our analysis of the Sikh mindset. The ongoing “theatre of the absurd” has already caused an agonising sense of shame, compelling the thinking sections of the community to ponder the problematics of the situation precipitated by a bunch of performing players in the game of power. The open abuse of their position (itself now subject to whims and fancies of the ruling worthies) has, indeed, forced the whole issue into the open.

It’s, then, the time for the dialogical imagination of quality to get started. It’s the time to effect changes in the grammar of ground rules, and to codify a code of conduct for the keepers and pretenders of the faith. And it’s also the time to consider Akal Takht per se — its role and authority and jurisdiction in the context of the altered perceptions in India and abroad.
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Looking for natural allies
by P.K. Ravindranath

THE Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (Democratic Front) government in Maharashtra, after six months in office, is in the throes of a convulsion. From the beginning it was a mismatch and an alliance forged and foisted on the state by big business interests who wanted a government with a modicum of stability and free from the kind of extortion and extensive corruption practiced by the earlier Shiv Sena-BJP government.

The Sena-BJP government had made a mockery of governance, crammed as it was with men with little intellect, integrity or commitment to public service or improvement of the lot of the common people. The lifestyles of many of those who held public office in or under that government changed overnight. Beyond that the lives of the common people who had great hopes with the change of government remained unchanged, if not worse.

The ouster of the Sena-BJP government was met with a sigh of relief. It was to fill the vacuum that industrialists, their lobbies and their hangers-on pushed the two functions — the Congress and the NCP — who had fought a bitter election campaign, to come together to form the government.

From the start, the brash and needlessly outspoken Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Chhagan Bhujbal, made it clear that the alliance was merely one of convenience. The other seven partners of the Front — all splinter political groups — did not count for much, except in trials of strength on the floor of the Assembly.

The ebullient Bhujbal had to be restrained on several occasions by the party President, Mr Sharad Pawar, or senior leaders of the party. The Chief Minister, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh. remained aloof from all this bickering and pinpricks, as basically he is a non-controversial person and in addition refined and sophisticated but at times weak and floundering person.

With the state Assembly in session, voices have once again risen to shake the government from within. A former Chief Minister and now a prominent leader of the NCP, Mr Sudhakarrao Naik, has gone on record recently to say that instead of aligning itself with the Congress, the NCP should have gone with the “natural allies” — the Shiv Sena and the BJP. What he did not mention in public was that he, more than any other member of the NCP, had much in common with the Shiv Sena and the BJP. All three have been stuck with serious charges of complicity and criminal dereliction of duty, by the Justice Srikrishna Commission, which probed the communal riots in Mumbai, in 1992-93, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Mr Sudhakarrao Naik was the Chief Minister at the time and was replaced by Mr Sharad Pawar at the height of the riots.

In his new-found love for the Shiv Sena and the BJP, he has many other supporters in former ministers like Mrs Shalinitai Patil and Mr Abhaysinhraje Bhosle. They are disgruntled because they have been left out of any office. Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh has been dangling hopes of expanding his 61-member Cabinet to accommodate some of these elements.

He has also made it clear that he is not worried about the disgruntlement in the NCP so long as the number of unhappy members do not add up to 20, which would enable them to break away and avoid the infringement of the anti-defection laws. The NCP has 58 MLAs and the Congress 62.

He has, however, held out a warning: it is not the sole responsibility of the Congress to run the government. “The NCP has to take corrective steps to iron out its internal problems,” he has said.

As a snub to the NCP, he organised a show of strength at Nagpur, on April 14, where the party President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, addressed a rally to urge the people to save the Constitution from “defilement” by the BJP and its government. The occasion was significant, since it was the birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar, commonly acknowledged as the architect of the Constitution.

The rally was a signal to the NCP that it was not to be written off as a political force in Maharashtra as yet. Despite all this, the Congress knows that it cannot withstand the pressures exerted on it by Mr Sharad Pawar, who is now strenuously going round the state — village to village — organising his NCP. He had done this very successfully in 1980, when Indira Gandhi ousted him from office on her return to power, after the fall of the Janata government. This had then enabled him to withstand the fresh onslaughts from New Delhi in 1984, with the sympathy vote for the Congress in the wake of the assassination of Mrs Gandhi.

Again, after he was thrown out of the Congress in August last, he faced the general election in October, 1999, with his fledgling party, the NCP, and demonstrated his hold in the state by capturing 58 of the 288 seats in the Assembly as against the 62 of the Congress. Today, he is in a much stronger position politically in Maharashtra.

Average to providing ministerial berth to all his flock, as has been done by the Congress in Bihar, Mr Pawar has been able to retain his followers.

Ever since the new government took office, there has been pressure by social organisations, NGOs and political parties to implement the Srikrishna Commission report, which had roundly condemned the role of the Shiv Sena and some BJP elements in the riots that rocked the city. The allegations against the Shiv Sena leaders, including Mr Bal Thackeray, Mr Manohar Joshi, Mr Madhukar Sarpotdar and others have already come to be known widely. What is, however, not so widely known is the role of the then Chief Minister, Mr Sudhakarrao Naik, in the gory episode. There is also a big list of senior police officers who have been charged with dereliction of duty, if not specific instances of complicity by Justice B.N. Srikrishna.

Mr Thackeray had never denied his role in the riots. He had gone on record to claim credit for the demolition of the masjid and to assert that the Sena merely “retaliated” if they indulged in violence or organised any aspect of the riots. Mr Naik has gone on record before the commission that he had “no knowledge that the Shiv Sena had a record of being involved in communal violence.”

Several senior police officers are now retired and no one knows what fresh evidence they may produce in court if sent for trial. Among them are the then Commissioner of Police, Mr Srikant Bapat, the then Joint Commissioner of Police, Mr Ramdeo Tyagi, the then Additional Commissioner of Police, Mr Vasant Narasingrao Deshmukh, the then Additional Commissioner of Police, Mr Aftab Ahmed Khan. Almost all of them have been nailed by the commission for failure to discharge their duties, impartially and without bias. There had been allegations that some of them were communally biased and that this bias was reflected in their handling of the riot situations.

The commission noted specifically that “Joint Commissioner of Police R.D. Tyagi, Assistant Police Inspector Deshmukh and Police Inspector Lahane of the Special Operations Squad are guilty of excessive and unnecessary firing resulting in the death of nine Muslims in the Suleman Bakery incident.”

Mr Tyagi was rewarded by the Sena-BJP government by being made the Police Commissioner in October, 1995. On his retirement in 1998, he openly declared “I am a loyal soldier of Balasaheb (Thackeray.)”

The commission blamed the police for not having been able to control the riots effectively. The police opened fire 153 times in the first phase of the riots in December, 1992, and 308 times in the second phase in January, 1993. In all 110 Hindus, 223 Muslims and 12 others died. In the riots, 900 persons lost their lives, 347 of them due to stabbing, 91 in arson, 80 due to violence by mobs and 22 by private firing. The majority of the victims in stabbing incidents were Hindus.

The government had disputed many of the findings of the commission. Despite this, if a proper study of the commission’s recommendations is made, there would be many among the politicians and police officers who would be answerable for various charges. And this fear is one reason why Mr Naik and his ilk are looking for “natural allies.”
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On the spot
Tavleen singh
Digvijay is no Chandrababu

A COURT case took me to Ujjain last week. One of those cases that journalists get hit with because someone or the other has taken offence to something you’ve written. I looked forward to the trip for two reasons, one because I had not been to Ujjain for 20 years and two because I wanted to see what Madhya Pradesh looked like under the rule of a man who is believed to be the second best Chief Minister in the country after Chandrababu Naidu. The week before my trip he arrived in Delhi to launch his Fundaschool.com scheme whereby it is possible to fund a school in M.P. by simply paying Rs 16,000 a year. It seemed to me a fine example of lateral thinking and since my view is that it is only through lateral thinking that politicians succeed in outwitting the bureaucracy — thereby making real change possible — I went to Ujjain expecting to see other examples of Digvijay Singh’s skills.

In Delhi’s political circles Digvijay Singh is also seen as one of the Congress Party’s bright young things, even a possible Prime Minister if the party manages to survive Sonia Gandhi and some day win again. So, it was slightly disappointing to wake in the morning and see outside my train window the mud hut villages that usually indicate dire poverty. I knew we were in Madhya Pradesh because it was only another couple of hours to Ujjain. The mud hut villages stood amid barren fields in a treeless countryside. There was not a tractor in sight and not a road that looked as if it had been built in modern times. But, I told myself, views from trains can often be misleading and decided to hold judgement and prejudice until I got to see some more.

Ujjain railway station was my next disappointment. It was inadequate, chaotic and looked as if it had not been repaired since the British left. Prabhu Chawla, Editor of India Today and my co-accused in the case, waited at the station’s main entrance (also its main exit) and we nearly missed each other in the rush of coolies and passengers that swirled around us in a maddening game of push and shove because there was simply not enough room for two streams of movement. Not good, I put down in my mental notebook, not good at all for a Chief Minister with claims to modernity. In these post-socialist times it is received wisdom that there can be no progress without infrastructure and railway stations are a vital cog in the infrastructure wheel. If Ujjain railway station looked like a Mumbai slum smaller towns must have even worse facilities.

From my last visit to Ujjain I remembered it as a sleepy, little town full of temples and charm. I had spent a day then in the red light area and watched dancing girls perform in old-fashioned rooms decorated with white cushions and coloured lights. Local prostitutes had formed a trade union and it was this that brought me. Afterwards, my photographer and I walked through narrow streets lined with white-washed temples and old buildings which retained their charm and beauty despite their genteel state of disrepair.

So, my next shock came when we drove through streets that had neither charm nor beauty. The temples were still there but the smaller ones had disappeared behind the box-like shops and new residential blocks that were featureless, ugly and seemed to have sprouted at will without any consideration for town planning. I am not blaming this on Digvijay Singh but would like to point out that one of the things Chandrababu Naidu has succeeded in doing is transforming Hyderabad.

My next shock came when we arrived at the only beautiful building I saw in Ujjain that day — a lovely, white-washed palace that once belonged to the Scindias and discovered to my horror that it had been converted into lawyers chambers adjoining the courts. The building is still in remarkably good shape but its courtyards and lovely old rooms are cluttered with ugly chairs and tables, the walls are covered in grime, cobwebs and paan spit. A truly modern Chief Minister would have reclaimed it and converted it into a hotel or restored it and used it as a museum. Digvijay Singh is clearly still steeped in the Congress Party’s old, socialist ways as I discovered from talking to various people who had come to the courts.

They were mainly villagers but as politically aware as they come. They told me that they got electricity for no more than a couple of hours a day in their villages. They were prepared to pay full rates for it, they said, if they could count on a regular supply. There had been no progress, no development worth its name either they said especially since the Chief Minister won his second term. Yes, there were schools in their villages, they said but teachers came so infrequently that when they did they often tried to prevent them from leaving. There were no new jobs, no factories, no evidence that the big man in Bhopal was concentrating on these things.

Had there been no change at all? He has decentralised some power to panchayat bodies, they conceded, but even here they believed he had only done this to escape responsibility for hand pumps that did not work and other such things. Since there was no electricity there was no water possible from tubewells so their crops would probably die. Things were bad, they said, much worse than they had been in his first term. So, how had he won again? Only because the BJP put up some pretty useless candidates and projected Sunderlal Patwa as Chief Minister and most people had already seen how incompetent he was.

The dismal picture they painted came to life on our drive to Indore. The road we travelled along was so filled with craters that it felt like a roller-coaster with all the fun and excitement missing. Again, in the fields we drove past there was no sign of tractors or modern farming and the countryside was treeless and barren.

The closer we came to Indore the worse the roads seemed to get and then there was the final horror of seeing the commercial hub of Madhya Pradesh look like the ugliest, urban sprawl you can imagine. Only the officials I met lived in fine houses with elegant gardens. The Taj Residency, where we ate lunch, also retains a certain elegance but the verandah outside our restaurant was littered with broken furniture. Unusual for a Taj hotel but someone I talked to said it was because the hotel was doing badly. “Not many businessmen come here any more so things are bad”. He could have been describing Madhya Pradesh. Digvijay Singh is certainly no Chandrababu Naidu.

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Flowery flattery
by Ahtesham Qureshy

The Editor of a popular English weekly magazine has put a difficult task before Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He wants Vajpayee to ban the flattering receptions and farewells of Prime Ministers by ministers and others at the air port. He has promised a place in history for Vajpayee if the PM picks up that courage.

It may or may not induce the present PM to a ceremony which every politician enjoys. But I am reminded of an incident when Indira Gandhi sought to deride the Chief Ministers and other VIPs who would line up at the airport with packed bouquets and flowers to welcome the PM.

I witnessed the drama at the Chandigarh airport. She had come back to power after the 1980 elections. It was the beginning of summer. The Governors of Punjab and Haryana were heading the queue at the airport to receive Mrs Gandhi. Standing next was Sardar Darbara Singh, then the Chief Minister of Punjab, There were more than two dozen others who wanted, not so much to see, as to be seen by Madam on her arrival in Chandigarh.

As usual, they all carried bouquets to present to her in the hope that she would be happy to get roses from the famous Zakir Hussain rose garden in that City Beautiful. They were all smiles when Mrs Gandhi alighted from her special aircraft. But they did not smell that this time, they were in for a rebuke by the PM. And that too rather publicly at the airport. They had certainly forgotten a gentle directive from Mrs Gandhi that she loved flowers, but hated the way in which they were wasted.

Late Jaisukh Lal Hathi, Punjab Governor, was the first to present a beautiful pack of fresh flowers to Mrs Gandhi. She did not accept it. The Governor of Haryana did the same. She again kept her cool, though there were clear signs of displeasure on her face. No one knew what was in her mind. But she lost her temper the moment Darbara Singh greeted her with flowers. “Don’t you people remember, I had warned no more flowers and bouquets? It’s sheer waste of flowers”, she said in an admonishing manner. (She knew that flowers presented to the PM are promptly passed on to her aides walking behind her. They simply go waste.

Those stern words coming from Mrs Gandhi sent a wave of terror among all other VIPs lined up at the airport to welcome her. Each one of them felt scared - lest she noticed the bunch of flowers in their hands too. In an instant reaction, each one of them put his hands behind and quietly dropped behind the bouquets they were fondly holding to present to the powerful lady.

It was a rare spectacle. Pity on all those faces. Top politicians and high bureaucrats. They all shivered. Terribly embarrassed they even did not want Mrs Gandhi to notice what they did. They really wasted flowers by dropping bouquets. No one wanted to invite another dose of rebuke from the one who loved Nature. I really felt sad. Because an angry Mrs Gandhi could not save flowers from being wasted. All those bouquets were collected by the airport sanitary staff.

For a moment she wanted to convey the message that she did not like this kind of flattery. But it had no lasting effect. Sycophancy is still thriving. Even politicians of today who boasted they were a different breed have lost pretentions of being different. Politicians are politicians, after all. They all share one thing : their passion for flattery!
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75 years ago
April 29, 1925
Vaikom Satyagraha

IT is refreshing to find hope being entertained by Mahatma Gandhi that”before long the prohibition against the use of untouchables of the public roads surrounding temples will be a thing of the past”.

This grim struggle for obtaining for a class of fellow human beings their primary human right of passage over public highways has been going on for well over eight months now, and has passed through various phases requiring varied sacrifices on the part of the Satyagrahis, whose enduring enthusism for the earnestness and strength of the feeling in regard to this matter.

It is to be hoped that those who obstruct the reform will see the social wisdon of acceding to the legitimate desire of the so-called non-caste men and will abandon an altogether untenable position which they have so far enjoyed on account of the ignorance and indifference of the persons affected.



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