|Wednesday, May 10, 2000,
|Miseries of the marginalised
by Syed Nooruzzaman
A CLOSE look at the drought-related reactions of different people makes one believe that those controlling the levers of power are insensitive to the miseries of the marginalised the villagers. The most depressing statement is the one made the other day by the Director of the Agriculture Ministry's Disaster Management Division, Mr S. K. Swamy.
lay stress on peace factor
Indira, Rao syndromes
NEW DELHI says it has formulated its policy on the Sri Lankan crisis and points to the consensus at an all-party meeting. It is not clear, perhaps even to the government, whether it is a long-term or a short-term policy, and there is a world of difference between the two. Curiously, India does not have either the power or the manoeuvrability to realise its twin goals of ensuring the unity and integrity of the island republic and safeguarding the minority interests. In fact, as the palpable nervousness in Colombo indicates, even the government there is not capable of achieving these two objectives. The one party that can is the LTTE and it is determined to split the country and impose its Taliban-like fascist rule on the northern and eastern provinces. The other Tamil groups represent a majority of the 3.2 million-strong Tamil population. This then is the harsh reality and though India has a great stake in the peace and unity of the neighbour, it has little leverage. This country is trying to hide its lack of options by repeatedly offering humanitarian assistance, meaning food and medicine, to the people of Jaffna and refusing to even sell heavy arms and ammunition.
The government also faces a cruel dilemma. It is aware of its obligations as the regional power and as the leader of SAARC but is wary of a possible adverse reaction in Tamil Nadu to any active role in Sri Lanka. It has offered to broker peace but knows that the LTTE is an unreliable customer and will bristle at Indias reference to the territorial integrity of that country. It has often broken off negotiations after using the lull to rearm and regroup itself and mount yet another ferocious attack. Its path to the present dominant position in the north is paved with deception. All this when it was weak and the soldiers were highly motivated. Not now. According to one report, there has been largescale desertions from the army; the soldiers are ill-trained and thoroughly confused about the goal of the war. Also, they realise that it is unwinnable and the adversary is ruthless in the extreme. It shows why the government cannot tame the Tigers much less crush them. India will not get involved and indeed should not get involved in some other countrys war. The LTTE is not interested either in the unity of Sri Lanka or in peace. The Indian giant is thus watching a dangerous situation spinning out of control.
Israel is about to sell
arms and also perhaps send experts to help the Sri Lankan
Generals fight the terrorists. India, as is well known,
seeks customers for its arms and it is incongruous that
it refuses to sell heavy arms to a long-time friend when
it needs them the most. New Delhi was worried that
Pakistan or China will send soldiers to take on the LTTE.
It was a curious hypothesis. Pakistan will not take
casualty to fight a war in a non-Muslim country. The
public will revolt. China is too mature a country with
world power ambitions to take the risk of inviting a
military rout in a distant country. This realisation does
not make things any the easier for New Delhi but actually
adds to its worries. Israel will not fill the vacuum
which the withdrawal of the army from the north will
cause. So there will be a vacuum and if the LTTE were to
declare a separate Tamil Eelam, Indias cup of woes
will overflow. The grand offer of the Tigers of free
passage to the 35,000 soldiers in the Jaffna area is the
arrogant gesture of a potential state. It has sounded a
clear warning. New Delhi should take note.
MADHYA Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh cannot blame anyone else for the political mess he has created by implementing the decision to sack 16,000 daily wage workers as an unpleasant economy measure. Firebrand Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha member from Bhopal Uma Bharati was quick to grab the opening for turning the heat on the affable Chief Minister. She went on a fast unto death to get political mileage out of the ill-advised decision. Reports that at least four of the daily wage workers sacked last month have committed suicide has made even his supporters look the other way while he is trying to salvage his image as a progressive Chief Minister cast in the "Chandrababu mould". It is indeed true that years of maladministration and squandering of scarce resources on impractical and worthless populist measures has made the State's coffers virtually empty. But Mr Digvijay Singh targeted the wrong set of people for introducing what he believes is a long over-due economy measure. Had he consulted Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu he might have received better guidance for making the process of introducing economic discipline less painful. The Andhra CEO faced with a similar resource crunch slapped a ban on government employment. He sent out the message that no government employee would be sacked. But in the event of retirement of an employee on reaching the age of superannuation, or in the event of an employee quitting service, the workload would be redistributed among the existing work force. In Mr Naidu's clear-headed view, the function of the government is not to give employment but to create such conditions as would help generate employment opportunities for people with diverse skills. The only drawback in the Naidu formula is that it would take decades for the surplus government employees to reach the age of retirement. The Digvijay formula, on the other hand, lacks what can be called the "milk of human kindness".
One of the Chief
Minister's detractors in the party, Mr Kamal Nath, was
not wrong when he said that the decision to sack 16,000
daily wage workers was "inhuman and
anti-Congress". Of the four sacked workers who are
said to have committed suicide, one reportedly took the
extreme step of killing his wife and children as well
rather than leave them behind to face an uncertain
future. Under mounting pressure from the BJP and even the
Congress the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister may be forced
to rescind the unhappy decision which has taken away from
a large number of daily wage workers the opportunity to
earn at least two square meals a day for themselves and
their families. He should have begun the exercise of
cutting wasteful expenditure by removing the unhealthy
flab at the top, which shows up in the form of undeserved
perks for ministers and senior officers of the
administration. By sacking the daily wage workers the
State government would at the most save Rs 50,000 per
month. But if it were to introduce austerity measures at
the highest level of the administration the saved amount
would be substantial compared to the "peanuts"
it has snatched from the hands of the retrenched daily
THE world is shrinking at a breakneck speed. The Internet has already brought the planet down to the size of a veritable village. Small is beautiful and this tool of intimacy has provided everyone with millions of advantages. But, at the same time, it has its serious drawbacks as well. Just as the whole village suffers if an unscrupulous person happens to poison its only well, the global village is in spasms these days following the unleashing of the curiously named virus "I love you", which has brought down a large number of computers, wiping out data collected over the years by some. This is not the first and surely not the last attack by the ugly brigade. But its reach and potential of damage is simply mind-boggling, overshadowing perhaps all the previous viruses let loose. One may wish that this kind of collective infection does not take place but perhaps that is too tall an order. The way things are, the hackers are almost impossible to wish away. Not only are there professional cyber-terrorists, there are any number of amateur computer geeks who do all the hacking for fun. Perhaps they want to prove to themselves and the world at large that they can scale any electronic walls put up by the best brains in the business. As they say in the case of wars, it is always going to be a battle between the good guys and the bad ones. One has to keep on raising the walls higher and higher while the intruders get better and better ladders.
Many in India have
expressed the quaint satisfaction that the country has
escaped the full fury of the killer virus. That has taken
place only because Internet penetration is woefully low
here. Saying that we went slow on the transformation
anticipating such pitfalls would be the rough equivalent
of somebody gloating that he is safe from electric shocks
just because he never obtained an electricity connection.
This attack and many more that may follow have to be
taken in our stride. What we have to ensure is that we
must incorporate multi-layered security right from the
beginning in our computers - and upgrade it constantly.
In keeping with lax safety measures in almost all walks
of life, the use of firewalls in the case of Internet is
not quite as prevalent here as it should be. And the
messages from strangers do not evoke as much suspicion as
they should. The mindset has to change, and immediately.
Like it or not, the Internet use is going to grow wider
and wider all over the world. There is no way that India
can sit on the pavement of the information superhighway.
It just has to plunge into the middle of the ever-growing
traffic. Just one pre-requisite! The wearing of seat
belts is mandatory.
ON March 23, in an interview with a private television channel the US Secretary of State, Ms Madeleine Albright, said that the Security Council, the key organ of the United Nations, needs to be reformed, for it does no longer reflect the ground realities of post-Cold War world and the new equations of power in international relations. On the same day, US Democratic Congressman Sam Gejdeson said that India was bound to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council at its next reorganisation. Addressing the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin (AAIP) on its annual legislative day in Washington, he said that besides India, he expected Japan, Germany, and Brazil to be admitted to permanent membership. The question is going to be how to structurally do that without creating more gridlock, he added.
It is indeed a fact that of all the organs of the United Nations none has shown a greater discrepancy between promise and performance than the Security Council. This is due to the fact that the council is not the accurate reflection of the UN membership, nor even an accurate reflection of the current distribution of power between states.This undermines the legitimacy of its decisions. Hence, perhaps the strongest argument for its reform is that any change which better reflects the political realities of 2000 rather than of 1945 will enhance the legitimacy of council decisions.
Demands for reform of the council have been countered in recent years with two key arguments. First, it has been argued that the composition of the council is, and should continue to be, linked to the ability to exercise international responsibilities. Permanent membership of the council was predicated on the assumption that the strength of the present five states both permitted and obliged them to accept special responsibility ensuring the maintenance of international peace and security. Second, it has been argued that the UN is now working far more effectively than ever before. Council debates are no longer characterised by familiar Cold War polemics and the council is taking decisions and authorising UN operations on an unprecedented scale. The veto, used about 200 times between 1946 and 1990, has been used only once in the past 10 years.
However, it must not be forgotten that the history of the Security Council has shown that its permanent members act, not in pursuit of the ideas and aspirations set out in the UN Charter, but in pursuit of their respective national interests. Where such interests coincide with the wider interests of other council members and perhaps even the international community as a whole, the council will prove able to take decisions and authorise UN action. Hence, the effectiveness of the council rests, not on the commitment of its members to international peace and security per se but on the extent to which the interests of member-states, and in particular of the permanent members, coincide.
Hence, successful reform of the council where successful describes reform which would not seriously damage the ability of the council to take decisions or, in the current climate of permanent member consensus, encourage the repeated use of the veto again should be possible if the interests of the new members of the council are not in direct conflict with the interests of the remaining permanent members. Moreover, if the members of the council are indeed cooperating with one another to an unprecedented degree, then this only serves to strengthen arguments to making reforms now. Cooperation is essential if successful reform is to be achieved. To wait for cooperation in the council to decline before seeking to institute change is asking for failure.
The lobby for reform among UN members is a strong one, and is growing stronger. Supporters of reform argue that it would enhance the legitimacy of the council; defenders of status quo argue change would undermine its authority. However, the arguments against reform cannot be sustained in the long term. A reformed council might be less effective than the existing one, but this would depend as much on political will of the councils membership as on the nature of any reform. What is clear is that any reform must be carefully engineered to ensure that it does not bring with it a reversion of the stalemate of the 1960s by destroying permanent member consensus and promoting a retreat to the frequent use of the veto, but ensure its effectiveness while enhancing its legitimacy.
There are a number of possible ways in which the Security Council might be reformed. Proposals for reform fall into five broad categories: the abolition of the veto power; the introduction of a two-tier structure of permanent membership; amendment of the Charter to allow immediate re-election of non-permanent members; the addition of new permanent members, possibly with reformed voting arrangements and the redistribution of existing permanent seats.
The veto power, which reinforces the anachronistic nature of the council by ensuring that no decision can be taken against the wishes of the permanent members, has drawn criticism since the earliest days of the UN. Its abolition could conceivably contribute to the effectiveness of the council by ensuring that no permanent member could block a decision supported in the council.
The second kind of reform which might be implemented is the introduction of a two-tier structure of permanent membership with the existing permanent members retaining the use of the veto but with a second group of permanent members without a veto being created. Perhaps the greatest difficulty with this proposal is that it would exacerbate international and regional tensions by establishing a further hierarchy of states among the UN membership. This would serve to reinforce the existing anomaly of permanent membership for states such as Britain and France while enforcing arbitrary decisions about which other regional states are important enough to deserve a permanent seat and yet which do not deserve to be accorded the same status as the current permanent members. Nevertheless, several aspirants to permanent seats have indicated that permanent membership of the council without the veto is an option that they are ready to consider.
Allowing immediate re-election to the council for non-permanent members could have the effect of introducing a form of de facto permanent membership with the veto for particular regional powers. One advantage of this reform would be that the alteration of the UN Charter required in order to implement it would be minimal; amendments need only the removal of the last sentence of Article 23(2) that stipulates that retiring non-permanent members may not stand for immediate re-election.
The Security Council could also be enlarged through the addition of one or more new permanent members, perhaps combined with the introduction of alternative voting procedures. However, it is not entirely clear which states would be given permanent seats in an enlarged council. Japan is widely regarded as having the strongest case by virtue of both its international economic importance and its significant financial contributions to the UN budgets. However, the Japanese case is complicated by Germanys claim to a permanent seat alongside it. India is also a contender to be reckoned with. A number of important countries, including the USA, Russia, Britain and France, have also supported New Delhis case.
During Indian President K.R. Narayanans visit to France on April 18, French President Jacques Chirac said at a banquet hosted in honour of Mr Narayanan: India is naturally destined to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. France supports and will support your candidature. He added that the perspective of India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council gives full meaning to our common determination to contribute to the construction of a harmonious multipolar world.
Redistribution of the existing permanent seats would involve the removal of one or more of the existing permanent members and their replacement by new candidates. The obvious candidates for removal from the council are Britain and France; neither state can claim to be a top-ranking world power either in economic or military terms and both have contributed to a perceived Western bias in the council. However, neither Britain nor France would give up its seat on the council to Germany and neither would accept its own removal and replacement by Japan without the simultaneous removal of the other.
Perhaps the most crucial pre-requisite to reform of the council is confidence-building. All those involved in negotiating and implementing change will need to bear in mind that the United Nations will be no less and can be no better than its membership makes it in the context of its time.
of the marginalised
A CLOSE look at the drought-related reactions of different people makes one believe that those controlling the levers of power are insensitive to the miseries of the marginalised the villagers. The most depressing statement is the one made the other day by the Director of the Agriculture Ministry's Disaster Management Division, Mr S. K. Swamy. In his view, only six or seven districts in Rajasthan and four in Gujarat are in the grip of a severe drought. Which means that over 50 per cent of the crops in these areas have been damaged. He feels that there is "a lot of media hype and misunderstanding about the nature of the drought".
One does not know his source of information. If his assessment is based on his own visit, he may have to undertake such an exercise again as newspaper reports present a very grim picture of the situation. If what he has said reflects official thinking on the crisis, it is a very serious matter. The truth is bitter and quite different from his observations.
Let us first take the case of Rajasthan. Save for six of the 32 districts of Rajasthan, the entire state is suffering from drought. For nearly three years there has been very little rain in the state. Unavailability of water and fodder has led to the death of a large number of cattle. According to official statistics, nearly 2.5 crore people in Rajasthan (which means about 50 per cent of the state's population) are in the grip of drought. Villages in Jodhpur, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Banswara, Dungarpur, Sirohi, Pali and Jalore districts have been virtually deserted.
Agreed that during summer every year there is temporary migration of people to parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, etc, but this year it is an extraordinary situation. Many dams and lakes have no water. One should not be surprised if the government imposes a ban on tourist traffic to the most popular resort in the state Mount Abu. Of course, an unjustifiably horrifying picture of the tragic situation is being presented by the state government a Congress ministry to secure as much financial assistance as possible from the Centre's Calamity Relief Fund. The Ashok Gehlot government claims that it spends as much as Rs 5 crore daily on its relief operations and it needs Central help accordingly. But going by past experience, it can be presumed that the state will not get even 50 per cent of what it has demanded. An indication of this is available in the statement of a former BJP Chief Minister, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, that the 1987-88 drought was worse than what is being experienced today.
Gujarat presents an equally awful scenario. Contrary to the state government's claim there are reports of starvation deaths from its villages. A few days back a villager and his seven-year-old daughter collapsed and died on the road they were working. According to one report, they had been living on half a "rotla" (roti) a day for over a month! The sad development was reported in the last week of April when it was well known to the government that in some of the 17 drought-hit districts people had lost all means of survival. Last year the state received a rainfall which was 38 per cent less than the normal. Saurashtra, Kutch and Gujarat regions have had an acute shortage of food, drinking water and fodder for a long time. But bureaucrats and ruling politicians failed to act in time.
What is all the more surprising is that even the Prime Minister's office did not take seriously a warning note issued by the Planning Commission as early as February this year that Rajasthan and Gujarat were in for serious trouble as a crippling drought could strike them in summer. Had the PMO acted in time the drought's impact could have been minimum.
It is shameful that all this should happen in a nuclear India. It is painful that villagers and their cattle should die of hunger and thirst in a country which is going to become a software super power! Explanations that people have been overusing water or officials could have been more careful and taken steps for the desilting of water reservoirs are not going to undo the loss of face the country has suffered at the international level. Suggestions of water harvesting and other pre-emptive programmes are good and should be acted upon with utmost sincerity. But the officials who ignored the danger signals received from different sources must be taken to task.
The ruling politicians too have much to explain why the official machinery failed to move when the issue of an impending drought of dangerous proportions was raised by a Rajya Sabha member, Mr Y. K. Alagh, on March 2, as he claims. Mr Alagh has pointed out that the minister concerned did not even think it proper to reply to the question he had raised since it referred to the impending trouble in Rajasthan, a state ruled by an opposition party, the Congress. If this is how we treat a wake-up call concerning a natural disaster, nothing can save this country.
What is the point in the
Prime Minister appealing to industrialists and others to
come to the aid of the drought-hit. Today as many as 11
states are reeling under drought. If the condition in
Gujarat and Rajasthan is worse, it is quite serious in
Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Over five lakh
people in Anantapur and Mahboobnagar districts in Andhra
Pradesh have migrated to "safer" areas. This
has happened in the state ruled by Mr Chandrababu Naidu,
the most computer-savvy and pragmatic politician in the
country! How can we talk about Cyberabads, etc, when we
cannot provide the bare essentials food and water
to our villagers? Or may be the development
schemes that are made these days do not take into account
the requirements of the real India that still lives in
its villages! This is intolerable. The marginalised are
going to react fiercely one day and that day is
not very far.
NOT very long ago, we had moved into the first floor of this new house. One day as I stood, looking out of the window, a large beri tree loomed into sight. It stood in one corner of the park facing the house, silently, unobtrusively. Its thick, leafy canopy sprawling over its twisted, angular branches almost had a human presence. I dont know why, on seeing it, I had been reminded of an overprotective mother who always insists on fussing over one. Perhaps, in this season of autumn, I was thinking ahead of the gruelling summer, when scorched by the heat, the birds shall return to its protective arms. Looking at its strong, brawny roots, a sense of calm reassurance had surged through my being.
A few days later, when I got up one morning, I was somewhat surprised to see a litter of polythene bags around its roots. Rather than become a cradle of the singing birds, the tree had fallen prey to the decaying menace of garbage. Initially for a few days, these questions did come back to haunt me: who is defiling this tree? Why is it being used as a dumping ground? With the stink constantly on the rise, will the birds ever be able to return to its yellowing branches? Disturbed by these simple, rather naive questions, I did make an abortive bid to track down the culprit(s). But was it easy? With each passing day, the bags continued to multiply in number. So much so that now the stink had almost ceased to offend our nostrils. It was as though the entire neighbourhood was participating in a silent ritual of decay.
In winters, when the beri had already shed some of its leaves leaving the branches almost bare, a family moved into a house adjacent to ours. Right from day one, for some inexplicable reason, our new neighbour appeared to loathe this tree. His antipathy was obvious from the way in which he often looked at it. It was as though the presence of beri in direct line of his house, was a thorn in his eye. The day his telephone was to be installed, he was standing and watching outside. Though the telephone wires were in no way disrupted by the spread of its leafy crown, he ordered, rather imperiously, that a few of its branches be maimed to prevent the wires from getting entangled. Being a lawyer and a man of straight vision, he perhaps fears all kinds of angularities and puts them out of sight wherever he sees them. The thought of summer or that of the impending return of the birds couldnt have possibly crossed his practical mind. After having presided over the chopping of the branches like some dark, sinister priest, he ordered them to be lugged into the middle of the park for everyone to view.
And the branches had lain there for several days, rotting away like the garbage around its roots. Not a single voice rose in protest. Everyone appeared to have accepted his authority rather demurely. Perhaps, this is what had emboldened him even further. One evening, he stepped out of the house along with his brother and son. With murder in their eyes, three of them marched towards the tree. While he stood watching with his son, his brother started hacking at the convoluted roots with a pickaxe, rather mercilessly. Despite repeated assaults, the tree refused to fall, holding on to its right to defend its dignity. After his brother had cut a deep, fatal wound into the main stem, he stepped over it, pushing it down, jumping over the half-cut branch. And when the main branch finally severed itself from the root, an umbilical cord snapped, sending a silent scream up the sky. Standing upon the severed branch, he had flashed a sudden smile of satisfaction, something you often see on the face of a midwife after a successful delivery.
Indira, Rao syndromes
THE Madan Lal Khurana episode in the BJP had a rather happy ending. In the bargain every player seems to have scored enough points to claim victory. Atal Behari Vajpayee triumphed as Khurana had finally agreed to fall in line on all controversial issues he had raised against the PMO in public. On his part, Khurana scored partial success by forcing a reluctant Vajpayee to call him for an hour-long meeting which he had earlier avoided for 16 days.
The real importance of the Khurana episode has been that it further confirms the spreading collapse of the party system in India. Now there is very little to choose between the BJP and the Congress. Until it came to power two years ago, the BJP had a tradition of elaborate consultations among the leaders (and within the RSS parivar) on political and organisational matters. All of a sudden, this healthy system has been dumped and instead the absolute powers of decision-making and implementation have been vested in an individual and his few aides. Initially, the old guard had put up stiff resistance to the abrupt subversion of this age-old organisational culture.
Suddenly, party men find honest dissent is muffled. The whole effort is to avoid free and frank discussions within the established party fora. Vajpayee has become inaccessible even to the senior leaders. Forget about the travails of Khurana who got just five minutes after waiting 16 days to discuss half a dozen crucial issues. J.P. Mathur, an old party spokesman and an active senior leader, was not allowed to meet Vajpayee for 15 days. At last he had to request his press adviser himself an old RSS hand and Mathurs chela for an appointment. This is what had made Khurana call it Vajpayee coterie. Thus the sudden action against a leader of Khuranas stature only symbolised the spreading intolerance and erosion of democracy.
Delhis drawing rooms have many old Stalin-like jokes doing the rounds. One of them describes how one night last year Vajpayee abruptly woke up to see a white-haired witch right above him. The witch consoled him and handed a sealed packet with the instruction that he could open it only when he found himself in serious trouble. He decided to open it when he faced stiff challenges from the RSS bosses and the partys old guard to maintain the old organisational structure. Do what I did IG, it was neatly inscribed. Wags have it that the very next morning Vajpayee made up his mind to opt for the Indira-style power structure to deal with his party critics.
In the past two years, the changed style of functioning had its echo at every BJP conclave, including the National Executive and Council. But every time the old guard were reassured that it was purely a transient move aimed at fixing the recalcitrant allies. Unreported by the media, the party managers had faced similar protests at the BJP MPs camp held last week at a farm house near Delhi. But the advocates of bossocracy had ruthlessly overpowered them.
Vajpayees BJP has caught in two seemingly conflicting but in effect mutually complementary malaises. They are what can be described as Indira syndrome and Rao syndrome. The Khurana episode and the PMOs obstinate stand on the combined demands from the opposition and the NDA allies on the rollback have convincingly established this metamorphosis of Vajpayee into a super boss something which the worst critics of the BJP could not have dreamt until two years back. Political afflictions are such that once they strike one, one will get further and further deep into it.
Those who have watched Indira Gandhis Congress from close quarters cannot miss the apparent Indiraisation of Atal Behari Vajpayee. It is so complete in all respects. Every positive decision has to be in the PMs name. It is the PM, and no one else, who will take decisions. All others will have to follow them without any reservation. Surprisingly, at times Indira Gandhi had seemingly displayed a better show of internal democracy by allowing free discussions at respective party fora. However, it was also true that at the end of it, the meeting left a final decision to her.
The Indiraised Vajpayees obstinate stand even in the face of overwhelming opposition within the NDA and the BJP has surprised many. Some see traces of oriental despotism in such overbearing disregard for the majority view. Every one knows that an overwhelming majority in the NDA favoured at least a token rollback. But the PMO took all of them simply as captive supporters. Their sensibilities have been demonstratively ignored with the assertion that the Prime Ministers view is supreme and no one need question his decision.
At the meetings of the BJP parliamentary party, Vajpayee often looked like mimicing Indira Gandhi while accusing the foes for speculating over his illness and threatening the party colleagues with disciplinary action. At times same phraseology has been borrowed to emphasise his absolute powers. At Chennai, Vajpayees main argument against the formation of a coordination panel of the party and government has been that it would lead to the emergence of parallel centres of power something despotic leaders all over the world had always detested.
Two factors had facilitated the rather smooth metamorphosis of Vajpayee. First, the hoisting of a pliable and ageing party chief who hardly holds any firm views of his own. This has made it easier for the PMO wizkids to summon the BJP office-bearers and direct them what to do. The party chief is only expected to sign the papers already made ready, often at the PMO. In Khuranas case, everything was done when Thakre was in a hospital ICU. Thus Govindacharyas mask (mukhouta) has emerged as the real and only power centre in the contemporary BJP. Indira Gandhi had held absolute powers both as the Prime Minister and party chief. Now Vajpayee has wrested equally absolute powers without even holding the dual posts.
L.K. Advanis cultivated passive role has been the other factor that has helped the rapid Indiraisation of Vajpayee. Even a silent nod from Advani could upset the process. Apparently, Advanis overriding concern has been that he should not be seen as being at loggerheads with his old colleague even if his intervention helps save the party from disaster. In the past two years, Advani remains withdrawn on issues other than those directly under his charge, and reacts only when his views are specifically sought. In the interests of the organisation which he himself built up, he makes it a point not to take a position contrary to that of Vajpayee. At times, he even acts as the PMs troubleshooter. After all, if and when it comes, Advani himself could inherit a handy Indiraismed power structure.
Despite all our prejudices, the Indira coterie had certain inbuilt safeguards which Vajpayee lacks. First, Indira Gandhi had encourged direct access to a large number of men and women from different walks of life. This writer knew many such regular informers from whom she got the right feedback. The system collapsed during the Emergency and she got isolated.
Second, absolute power made her to be more circumspect. She had also built up institutional safeguards like the PAC and CPB. Attended by the senior colleagues, at times they held endless discussions deep into the night. The RSS and BJP have a reservoir of seasoned wise men. But their views are hardly respected. Vajpayee listened only to his backroom boys.
The PMO is in a jubilant mood. One of them cited how firmness paid even when the entire Opposition and the NDA allies pitted Vajpayee on the issue of rollback. This is being depicted as a major stride in the making of an unassailable Prime Minister. Vajpayee, they claim, has shown the right place even on Naidu. However, they little realise that they have in the process steadily walked into what is described as Narasimha Rao syndrome which had led the Congress to a crippling poll rout. Until the sudden setback in the assembly polls in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the Rao Congress has been confident of reaping electoral dividends from Manmohan Singhs economic reform.
BJP leaders with close grassroots links shudder to think of the gathering rural anger against the government. As an unusual poll, issues like price raise on poor mans items of consumption had not got highlighted in the 1999 election. But blissfully ignored by the media, shabby treatment of the poor and concessions to the rich have been Laloos main campaign theme in Bihar. Even the NDA leaders in Bihar concede that this campaign line had a stunning impact.
Every one, including such astute politicians as Chandrababu Naidu, have advised Vajpayee to realise the popular anger against such sweeping imposts on the poorer sections. Many BJP leaders had made similar fervent appeals. Price of kerosene, the poor mans fuel, has been hiked by 125 per cent and LPG by Rs 50. The entire rural India has been made to suffer. As in the case of Bihar, the media may be blind to such harsh truth.
This is an issue on
which the Opposition has conducted some public campaign.
The persistent demands by the NDA allies and the widely
reported warnings by the BJP MPs all have created an
impression that the government is interested only in
extending more bonanza to the foreigners and the business
at the expense of the poor. Incidentally, the NDA allies
are playing it safe. If things go out of control, they
could easily put the blame on Delhis ruling group
and claim that they had fought for the poor even in
Parliament. Thus if the Indira syndrome epitomises
extreme authoritarianism, the Rao syndrome has led to the
play of plain guile and deceit on the trusted allies in
the matter of the promised roll-back.
stress on peace factor
A RATHER confusing scenario. On the one hand there is ample ground for optimism of better relations between India and Pakistan. What with busloads of their women activists, poets and writers coming down here and several of ours undertaking similar journeys. And perhaps even beyond all this, sentiments being voiced of that great Pathan-Sikh combination. Just for your sampling, at the recently concluded SAARC Writers Conference, Punjabi writer Ajit Cour recounted this incident: Years back when I was introducing Jagjit Singh to the Delhi audience there was much cynicism and people openly commented yeh Sikh kya ghazal gayega, so I had to get hold of Yusufbhai (Dilip Kumar, who originally hails from Peshawar) to introduce Jagjit and that really worked... From here Pakistani poet Ahmad Faraz took on and narrated that whilst he was holidaying in a resthouse in the Murree hills, a magistrate, occupying one of the rooms in that particular resthouse, played for him a cassette of Jagjit Singh rendering ghazals penned by Faraz himself. What a combination it was Sikh rendering verses penned by a Pathan. It had to be great....
But now suddenly this optimism has taken a backseat with the ugly turn of events erupting last week at the Indo-Pak mushaira hosted at the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus. Though the spark off is being attributed to a particular verse rendered by Pakistans Fahmida Raiz but several JNU insiders and some witnesses say it centres around students politics, to be nearer precision between groups belonging to the two political factions.
Though I was not present at this particular mushaira but I did attend a get-together hosted earlier this fortnight at the IIC, by Kaamna Prasad, for the poets, from both India and Pakistan. And its here that I had interacted with most of these poets. And I distinctly remember both Ahmad Faraz and Fahmida Raiz stressing on the peace factor.
Peace and peace alone will save us...yeh dono mulk kya pagalpan kar rahen hain, kya stupidity kar rahein hain, kyon bomb bana rahein hain....All these talks of war are so upsetting, kept muttering Ahmad Faraz.
Fahmida Raiz, who had come to this IIC venue armed with some Peace posters (in fact she even pinned them around the venue room) expressed similar sentiments: I have even put these posters all over Karachi, where I live and run an NGO called VADA. I had put these posters when the Kargil conflict was on, for I firmly believe in the concept of peace. All my latest verses are centred around the anti- nuclear concept and it is these that I will be reciting in the mushairas here, in New Delhi..... And from the determination (that is, determination to try and bring about peace between two warring or semi-warring nations) writ large on her middleaged face that evening, it is difficult to believe that she might have changed her mind!
Before I move ahead to recount the other happening (s) of last week let me quickly fit in names of two other poets who left me impressed at that evenings get-together. One was Rajesh Reddy a 47-year-old Urdu poet who had come from Bombay and who also happens to be the station director of Vividh Bharti, Bombay. He had told me: Through my shairi I want to focus on the human sufferings. Enough of this ongoing communal divide! Why arent we talking about the human being? Why arent we focussing attention on his sufferings and turmoils? Suddenly breaking into verse he went on to recite jitni batni thi/bat chuki yeh zameen /ab to bas aasmaan baaki hai.... Gita hoon, Quran hoon mai, mujh ko parh/ insaan hun mai...
And the other poet who came across as bold and completely fearless was a young Delhi based scientist, Gauhar Raza. He hit out at men moving around in the various camouflages: Naya libas pahen kar kyon samajhte ho /ke sare khoon ke dhabbon ko tum chupa loge / jo basteon ko jalate rahe ho barson se/unhi ki rakh hai ab tak tumhare chechre par...
And a meet was organised here last week, at the UN Information Centre to focus on the exploitation of the child in the labour sector. The most shocking aspect is that India accounts for the largest number of child workers in the world. According to the latest 1991 census estimates, some 11.28 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are engaged in child labour of about 200 million children in this age group. However, other estimates of child labour in India range from some 40 million to over 100 million. The most exploitative forms of child labour include child prostitution and forced and bonded labour...
Perhaps, lets not
also overlook the number of children employed as domestic
workers in thousands of middleclass and upper middleclass
Indian homes. In fact, the situation is so grave that it
should call for immediate national attention but like all
issues it lies sidelined. Afterall, there are too many
vested interests involved (hundreds of politicians or the
socalled leaders would be employing children in their own
homes or those factories and industrial units owned by
them or their kin or their women) and then who has the
time to think of children. When there are other important
matters to be sorted out which film is to be shot
and where, colour of the shorts to be worn by government
servants should they be changed to a khaki hue,
which Vice-Chancellor is to be installed and how and
which heads have to be systematically rolled if they are
not keeping pace with the changing and decaying times.
THE Nos in the voting in the Punjab Council on the demand for Rs 45,81,600 in respect of Land Revenue came as a surprise to the Government, and the result of the division, rejecting the entire demand by a majority of 2 votes, was a still greater surprise at the tail end of budget grants, most of which Government had succeeded in obtaining without any substantial cut.
The nature of the amendments, which could not be moved owing to the guillotine having been applied, indicates that there is a strong feeling against the manner in which Survey and Settlement operations are carried on.
It is, of course,
certain that the Governor will certify the demand; but
while doing so it would be but fair and just on his part
to give his fullest consideration to the matters which
agitate the popular mind in respect of the Land Revenue
administration; for there is no doubt that a number of
legitimate and just grievances exist, which loudly call
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