|Sunday, May 7, 2000,
wish I were born a Punjabi
episode causes ripples
by Harihar Swarup
From a refugee to BJP
May 7, 1925
wish I were born a Punjabi
THE so-called advisers, who are "rootless and clueless", surrounding Mrs Sonia Gandhi have been ruining the century-old Congress Party, alleged Mr Siddhartha Shankar Ray, a high-profile former Governor of Punjab and India's Ambassador to the USA.
Talking to The Tribune the other day at his South Calcutta residence after a long silence, Mr Ray spoke at length about the Congress, national politics, Indo-US relations, cross-border terrorism, Kashmir, corruption, Constitution amendments and his days in Punjab (1986-90) as Governor.
Mr Ray offered his services to the party high command for restoring its pre-1995 position, when there was hardly any interference in the functioning of the party's state units.
Mr Ray said after the Kamagatamaru conference in December, 1975, its functioning suddenly changed and the high command became all-powerful and dictatorial, which caused enormous damage to the party. "I am for the decentralisation of work in the party and there should be no frequent interference in the functioning of the Pradesh Congress Committees by the high command", the octogenarian (to be 80 in October) party stalwart remarked.
Mr Ray said he did not want any post and had nothing to get from the party. But he would like to see the Congress in its traditional position. For that matter, if the leadership wanted he could once again take active part in the party's activities.
Mr Ray expressed the feeling that the BJP-led coalition government in Delhi was just a time-server as "unprincipled" coalition partners could not remain together for long. The Congress was the only national party which could form a government on its own today or tomorrow. This was inevitable, Mr Ray forecast.
Mr Ray served as Punjab Governor in 1986-90, Ambassador to the USA in 1992-96, West Bengal Chief Minister in 1972-77 and a Central Minister in 1969-71, besides holding some other important positions in the party and the government. He is also a renowned barrister.
Excerpts from the interview:
Question: What do you feel about the future of the Congress?
Answer: Of course, bright.
Q: How, when the Congress has already turned out to be a dead party?
A: I am an optimist. The Congress is a movement and the movement cannot die. It's true there is something wrong somewhere. This can be rectified. Decentralisation of work is the need of the day. There should not be any interference by the high command in the affairs of the state Congress. This could bring back the party to its old position.
Q: But the high command has been all the time powerful. This centralisation of power with the high command is inherent in the Congress culture.
A: Certainly not. It was completely otherwise when I joined politics in 1956. Then state leaders were all-powerful. The State Congress Committees used to function independently and there was no interference from the high command. Even during Indira Gandhi's time there had been little interference by the high command in the functioning of the State Committees.
Q: But why is it otherwise now?
A: Yes, things started shaping otherwise after the party's Kamagatamaru conference in December, 1975. We then saw the high command becoming all-powerful and all the State Congress Committees having no independence, no functional autonomy. This was most undemocratic, irrational, illegal and immoral. A few of us opposed the decision but were overruled. A few vested interests took advantage of the situation. Anyway, the past is past. Still there is time and things can be rectified.
Q: The Congress Party today is a shambles. There is a party within the party, groupism and factionalism gripping the Congress. Still you hope the party can be restored to its traditional position and prestige?
A: Yes, today or tomorrow this is bound to happen.
Q: But there is no move from the high command's side for rectifying the ills of the party?
A: It's true but still it is not too late.
Q: What would you suggest to the high command in this matter?
A: My suggestion is very simple. The advisers, who are rootless and clueless, have been surrounding the high command. They should be removed and all the state Congress units should have functional autonomy which will strengthen the state Congress as well as the high command.
Q: Who are the advisers you have in your mind?
A: I won't name them. But they are all known people. They are damaging the party as well as the country for their vested interests.
Q: Why then are you not taking the initiative and telling Mrs Sonia Gandhi about this? After all, you have been very close to the Gandhi family and now you can act as Sonia's guardian.
A: No, no, I can't become anybody's guardian. But I can be her well-wisher and the well-wisher of the party as well... Yes, I can tell her about my views. I'm in touch with her and I meet her sometimes. Next time when I meet her I will give suggestions to her. Let's see what happens.
Q: What do you say about the future of the Vajpayee Government?
A: It's too early to say. I must say Mr Vajpayee is moving very cautiously. But, after all, it is a coalition government with various partners who differ politically and ideologically. Moreover, there are the RSS and the Bajrang Dal. The combination can't last longer.
Q: But don't you think the days of the single-party government are over? Coalition experiments have become successful?
A: Principled coalition partners can run the show but not those who differ with one another politically and otherwise. You have seen that Morarji Desai's Government did not last much, and it happened with V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and Gujral also. But like-minded partners can form a coalition and that is why I have welcomed Ms Mamata Banerjee's call for a grand alliance against the CPM in West Bengal. This is a very appropriate and radical step. I am ready to join hands with Mamata. You will see everyone has been talking against the Jyoti Basu government and everybody wanting a change. But the anti-Left forces are divided which is helping the Marxists. I think Mamata can give a true leadership and bring all the anti-Left forces together on one platform, to bring down the Left Front Government, which has proved an utter failure.
Q: Then the CPM has no future?
A: (Smiles) If the CPM has a future, there is no future for India. And if India has a future, there is no future for the Marxists.
Q: Now tell us something else, about Indo-US relations. Mr Bill Clinton visited India recently and you had been India's Ambassador to the USA and must have come across Mr Clinton. Do you think India has adopted the right approach towards strengthening its relations with the USA? After all, America has always acted otherwise, not in the interest of India in a crisis situation.
A: This is wrong. The USA has its own interests to promote, but they are not anti-India. There were some gross communication gaps between us and the US Administration. During my stay there, I tried to bridge that gap to a large extent and I suggested direct meetings with the members of Congress and the Senate which removed certain misunderstandings and misgivings about us. And President Clinton also understood India's position with regard to Kashmir and the CTBT. India can make friendship with all, but cannot sacrifice its own interests and sovereignty.
Q: With Pakistan also?
A: Why not? People of India and Pakistan are eager to make friendship with each other. But the problem lies with the administration, with regard to Kashmir. I myself during my stay in the USA could convince the US Administration that Kashmir was an integral part of India and even then the problem can be discussed bilaterally between India and Pakistan, and the US Administration has no role to play in this matter. And this was reiterated by Mr Clinton during his recent visit to India and Pakistan.
Q: Sir, you were the Governor of Punjab during the days of militancy. Tell us something about your experience there.
A: I am really fortunate to have been in Punjab for four years, between 1986 and 1990. Those were very challenging and enjoyable days. I respect the Punjabis, both the Sikhs and the Hindus. They are sensible, hard-working, sincere, devoted and freedom- loving people. I got full cooperation from every section of the people and they helped me a lot in tackling the "Khalistan" movement. Now I can tell you that I personally discouraged the "gun for gun" and "bullet for bullet" treatment of militants. I could convince Rajiv Gandhi in this matter, who helped me a lot in tackling the "Khalistan" problem in Punjab. I can tell you that they had some genuine grievances which New Delhi had been ignoring all the time. But still militants' activities were not liked by most of the people. Anyway, once their grievances were looked into, their movement gradually came to an end.
Q: What about now?
A: I find everything all right. Democracy has been restored in Punjab. The people of Punjab and Haryana are very happy now. You should not forget about the sacrifices made by the Punjabis in the freedom struggle and till now Punjab feeds the people of the country and they should rightly claim their dues, which the Centre has ignored from time to time.
Q: If you are again offered the Governor's post, will you accept it?
A: Certainly. I love to be in Punjab once again. Sometimes I wish I were born a Punjabi. My days in Punjab had been the happiest period in my life.
Q: Tell us about corruption and politics.
A: I as a lawyer would suggest that all individuals in public life should file their income tax returns. This will also be applicable to the political parties. This step could solve the problem of corruption to some extent in politics. Personally, I feel all political parties can take donations from any business house or elsewhere but they should declare their sources of income to the Income Tax Department. The filing of returns by political parties and their leaders and workers should be made compulsory by law.
Q: Now about the proposed constitutional review? Do you feel it is necessary to change the Constitution as the Centre has been attempting to do?
A: I as a legal person
do not feel it necessary. The Constitution can be
amended, but why change it? What is needed more than
anything else is to change the character of the nation
and then there will be no need to change the
refugee to BJP leader
BUT for his very personal regard for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Madan Lal Khurana would have been on a rebellious course and this time it might have taken a menacing turn. The issues raised by him are quite pertinent and they include the price hike, the removal of quantitative restriction in the latest import policy and the Sankhya Vahini project. Vajpayeeji is my hero, my weakness and if he asks me to do something, I cannot say no, the former Chief Minister of Delhi says, recalling that when Vajpayeeji was elected to Parliament in 1957, I was a student leader in Allahabad University. We decided to invite him and I was so impressed by his personality that I became his fan and he continues to be my hero.
Khurana has decided not to raise these issues in public but says this does not mean I have changed my views........ The damage has, however, been done and he was rather disgracefully removed from the post of party Vice-President. This is not for the first time that the BJPs high command has cracked the whip on him. Khurana had resigned as Cabinet Minister and also quit the partys National Executive two years back posing as the Prime Ministers supporter over the assault on Christians and murder of an Australian missionary. A senior leader of the Delhi unit of the BJP, Khurana was pressurised to give up the post of Chief Minister following his implication in the hawala case. He was not reinstated after he was absolved along with others in the case after 16 months and his sharp comment then was: The court has discharged me but my party leaders continue to regard me guilty. His charge was while I have been undergoing mental torture, an ordeal for the last sixteen months, the BJPs leadership imperilled his effort to refurbish his image after being cleared in the Hawala case.
He became virtually a rebel, launched a campaign for the ouster of the then Chief Minister, Sahib Singh Verma, and his term for a compromise was not his reinstatement but replacement of Verma. He also rejected the leaderships offer to lead the poll campaign in Delhi till Sahib Singh remains in office. Khurana had, after all, successfully led the BJP in Delhi since 1989 and edged out as powerful leaders as HKL Bhagat and became a household name in the erstwhile Union Territory.
The controversy over the Sankhya Vahini project was whipped up along with others by Khurana and, significantly, drew support from a section of the RSS. The organisations ideologue, Dattopant Thengadi, went public to express his reservation concerning the Rs.1,300 crore telecom project, cleared by the IT task force, headed by that cyber wizard, Chandrababu Naidu.
To be implemented by US-based IUnet in collaboration with the HRD Ministry,IIT and the Indian Institute, the project has evoked criticism from many quarters. IUnet is a company floated by Carnegie Mellon University, known for specialisation in software and computer engineering. The contention of Khurana, a section of BJP leaders and the Opposition leaders is that while the Government will invest Rs 1300 crore, IUnet, with 49 per cent equity in Sankhya Vahini will not put in a single rupee. Signing of the MoU with the IUnet without floating a tender has given rise to suspicion of a shady deal. The Standing Committee of Parliament on Communication, headed by the Marxist leader, Somnath Chatterjee, has observed: A lot of apprehensions have been expressed in certain quarters about an investment of about Rs1300 crore without going through the required formalities. It is also feared that the project would open floodgates for espionage, interception of scientific data, telephone conversations, faxes and E-mail.
Khurana has to struggle his way in life till he rose to fame and glory. The gory days of partition are still fresh in his mind. When his family landed in Delhi he was a young boy of only eleven and he and his parents had barely survived a brutal attack on the refugee train carrying the evacuees from Layallpur (now in Pakistan) to Amritsar. The train was attacked by armed marauders at Lahore junction and many of the passengers might have been lynched but for the extraordinary courage shown by a Dogra soldier on board. He jumped from bogie to bogie, reminisces Khurana, to reach the steam locomotive and asked the driver on the gun point to move on. The Refugee Special hurtled on but its direction was changed from Amritsar to Ferozepore to ensure a safe passage for the displaced persons.
Khurana was born in
Lyallpur and the house was located between Anarkali
Bazar, a predominantly Hindu locality, and Bhawana Bazar,
a cent per cent Muslim Mohallah. During the partition
days young men of both localities armed with sword, clubs
and other lethal weapons raised slogans and attacked each
other's domain. His family members, recalls Khurana, had
traumatic days, always feeling insecure, till one day his
father decided to leave his native place and migrate to
India. Khuranas large family-parents, uncles,
cousins- reached Delhi on a truck and were lodged in a
refugee camp. Khurana, a refugee boy, has since become a
known leader of Delhi by his own right and a household
Khurana episode causes ripples
THE recent outburst by Mr Madan Lal Khurana, and his subsequent softening has been a subject matter of discussion among many a party MP in the BJP.
While some MPs feel strongly on the issues raised by the former Delhi Chief Minister they do not want to associate with a move that was viewed strictly by the party.
Another senior BJP leader too had problems in securing an appointment which came his way after a message was conveyed to the PM through an aide of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee.
In fact, the grouse is against an official in the Prime Ministers Office as some MPs too experienced difficulty in getting audience with the Prime Minister.
At the same time, the group which supports this official is busy telling people how Mr Khurana had several opportunities to meet the Prime Minister and had even overshot his time limit thereby cutting into others appointment.
It is not just the PMO, that some party leaders are upset. They say it is not just officials there but also in key ministries like Home and Finance are having greater say. Whatever happened to the coordination between the party and the government ?
Sinhas paper much in demand
While replying to his Budget proposals before the passage of the Finance Bill, the Union Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, pulled out a copy of an article published by a magazine which quoted a prediction by a thinker of the 13th century of Indias role in Information Technology.
The thinker had predicted that Indians will be leaders in knowledge that will handle worldwide problem created by zero (remember Y2K bug) and also in computing business.
Mr Sinha said that the article was based on a parchment that was discovered earlier and then went on to score a political point stating how it was left to the dynamic leadership of the Prime Minister to grant concessions to knowledge-based industry to make the prediction come true.
The Opposition did not react barring senior Congress leader Mr N D Tewari wanting to know what was the government doing for other educated class who lacked literacy in computers.
While Mr Sinha let that pass, the copy of the article was much in demand with many a senior Minister on the Treasury Benches wanting to go through the extract placed by the Finance Minister before the House.
Whats in a name? It means a lot if you happen to be in the Congress party. The former Prime Minister, Mr P.V.Narasimha Rao, has realised this the hard way after the Government slapped a bill of Rs 5.9 crore for flights undertaken by him for party work during his tenure at 7, Race Course Road. With the courts taking charge of the case, Mr Rao has to pay up or face the embarrassment of his property being attached. The Congress on its part has acknowledged that the money was spent for party work, but maintains that it is not so rich to clear the entire dues in one go. The party says it may just manage to pay the hefty amount in instalments.
While the Congress dilly dallies in clearing Mr Raos bills, party sources point out that it had no problem in clearing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhis flight bills of Rs 1.86 crore. Also, the present party President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, is known to travel extensively in chartered flights for party work, and her bills are cleared promptly. Why this discrimination? A party veteran quipped it all has to do with the name. Rao is no Gandhi and that makes all the difference.
The crisis in the Himachal Vikas Congress, arising out of the differences between party founder and former Union Minister, Mr Sukh Ram and State PWD Minister, Mr Mohinder Singh, has left the Bharatiya Janata Party in a bind. The Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal, has been quietly trying to shift the ball to the BJP headquarters to sort out the division in the ally party. The BJP bosses at the Centre are, however, not very keen to take up the onerous task. Recently, Mr Dhumal had a meeting with senior leaders of the BJP in the Capital to sort out the problem. Mr Mohinder Singh also met the Prime Minister separately. However, there were no tangible results as the central leadership of the BJP left it to the HVC to sort its problem. Reflecting the mood of the party high command, a senior leader when asked about the outcome of Prof Dhumals confabulations with the party leadership, quipped the Chief Minister has left for Himachal Pradesh. As for the crisis we will take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time, he quipped. No wonder the crisis still lingers on.
Kolhapuris in Pakistan
A member of the National Commission for Women who went to Pakistan as an ambassador of peace recently with a delegation recounted some interesting experiences at a panel discussion on economic and cultural cooperation. While agreeing with Nusrat Jameel, a member of the visiting Pakistani delegation, Dr Syeda Hameed said that when she went shopping during her recent visit and selected a pair of chappals, she realised that it was none other than the Indian Kolhapuri. Nusrat Jameel said that there exist endless possibilities of small kind of business between the two countries. She said that Indian goods somehow manage to get across and bazars in Pakistan are full of Indian goods.
T.V.Lakshminarayan, K.V. Prasad, Tripti Nath and
"If they cannot live like good neighbours, they should at least live like decent adversaries."
Human rights activist Asma Jehangir
"The administration is playing the role of a property dealer."
Surjit Singh, Chairman of the Chandigarh Housing Federation
"We are ready for dialogue or debate any time you feel that some new facts have come to light and need explanations of the government. But the discussion will have to be within our forums."
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
"As you are aware, we are determined to declare a Palestinian State on September 13, God willing."
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat
"If the criminal justice system is to be put on a proper pedestal, the system cannot be left in the hands of 'unscrupulous' lawyer and the sluggish state machinery."
A Division Bench of the Supreme Court Comprising Justices DP Wadhwa and Ruma Pal, while upholding a judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court
"There is so much politics involved and no one has developed a vaccine against Cladec (sub type of HIV most commonly seen in Southern Africa) because it doesn't have this cachet of profit margins."
Geert Kersten, Chief Executive Officer of Cel-Sci.
"What I am concerned about in Pakistan is the links of the government of Pakistan to some of those Kashmiri groups and their involvement in terrorism, such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen."
Michael Sheehan, top official for Counter-Terrorism at the State Department
"I believe, we have to assess the impact of corruption on society's perceptions on two variables scandals and sensitivity."
Noted Supreme Court lawyer Fali S. Nariman
"As water cannot be held and air cannot be seen but we cannot live without them, so is the greatness of the judiciary which we can only see in reflection."
Former Bihar Chief Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, claiming that the Courts will do justice to him
"Traditional business need new economy tools to be globally competitive while IT (information technology) and Internet require a traditional industry base to grow."
FICCI's Amit Mitra
"We can only suggest; we are not the last word, nor should we be, on the subject."
Chief Election Commissioner Manohar Singh Gill expressing views on a wide range of poll reforms
"A meeting that is very open, very frank, very flexible, very practical, very realistic. But it is Kashmir that we have to address."
Pakistan Military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, calling for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee
"Music-making is an art, which is not within reach of everyone but today, with the help of technology everyone thinks he is a composer."
Legendary music composer Khayyam
"It's a difficult time for the captains who have to be here, there, everywhere, they have to take all the decisions and they are constantly under media glare."
Australian Skipper Steve Waugh
"Negligence is a tort (breach of duty). Every doctor who enters into the medical profession has a duty to act with a reasonable degree of care and skill."
The Supreme Court Bench commenting in a landmark ruling that will have a bearing on the family planning programme.
"We are far more interested in bilateral relations, rather than public relations indulged in by Pakistan"
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh
"We have continued with the war relentlessly with the objective of ushering in lasting peace to the entire nation."
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga
"Except for Congress, no party is untouchable for us. I am meeting even the BSP and the Punjab Janata Morcha leaders and everyone who shares our vision."
Dissident Akali leader Ravi Inder Singh
"Would not spare anybody who goes with the BJP."
CPI (M) General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet
"The strategic scope of the war waged by Pakistan through its ISI is far more comprehensive and diabological than a conventional war"
Home Minister L.K. Advani
"We are not obliging war widows by giving financial assistance as the sacrifices of the deceased soldiers could not be compensated in any way."
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh
"It is unfortunate that even after 50 years of independence, the country has failed to provide social justice to all."
Minister of State for Petroleum and National Gas Santosh Gangwar
"We have an edge (over Kaula Lampur and other contenders) as we expect support from Gulf Countries"
Indian Olympic Association president, Suresh Kalmadi, discussing the bid for the 2006 Asian Games to be awarded to the country
"Kargil cannot be forgotten, but it can and should be transcended."
Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering
"The BJP is bent upon identifying every progressive and democratic movement as ISI-sponsored. This is the only way they can quell democratic activities and push their fascist ideas forward"
CPI (ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya
"It is not on the agenda of our government to scrap Article 370 (which gives special status to Jammu & Kashmir)."
Home Minister L.K. Advani
"These (opposing the Rashtriya Sukh Sangat) are secessionist elements. They have a right to say what they feel and we are to go our own way: this is the essence of democratic ethos. People will accept what they feel is right. Where is the question of conflict."
Sudarshan, RSS chief, denying the question of
confrontation between the Sikh Sangat and some Sikh
IT will have been seen from the text of the Bengal Governments statement on the selection of ministers, which we published yesterday, that on the most important of all points that statement did not in any manner or degree satisfy the public curiosity.
That point is why the choice of the Government says, in fact, is that the ministers whom the Governor has selected out of those who were available appear likely to receive the largest measure of support from the various groups which on February 17 last declared themselves in favour of the re-establishment of a ministry.
This is not only beautifully vague but makes no addition to any ones knowledge.
Of course, Lord Lytton would not have appointed them if he had not believed that they were likely to have the largest measure of support.
What the public wanted
to know was the ground of so extraordinary a belief.
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