Sunday, November 10, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Our overburdened, ill-equipped & clogged up courts
Time to rejuvenate the system for prompt dispensation of justice
N.S. Saini
n his article (September 28, 2002), Mr B.R. Lall has said that the justice delivery system in India is under tremendous strain. He said: “Cases are piling up in courts of law soaring astronomically year after year. More and more cases are instituted every year, but the beleaguered judiciary is not able to measure up to the task...”

Tryst with pendency: reforms must begin with lower courts
ong pendency of cases in Supreme Court, High Courts and Subordinate Courts has become a matter of serious concern. Here is a statistical presentation of the number of pending cases relating to Supreme Court, High Courts and Subordinate Courts and analysis thereof.


Move beyond rhetoric
November 9, 2002
America votes for Rambo
November 8, 2002
Jaguar crash
November 7, 2002
A tragedy averted
November 6, 2002
Tasks before new J&K CM
November 4, 2002
Dalits: victims of oppression, torture & ill-treatment
November 3, 2002
This politics of starvation!
November 2, 2002
Warning on global warming
November 1, 2002
Credit goes to RBI
October 31, 2002
SEBI gets teeth
October 30, 2002
Crucial Gujarat elections
October 29, 2002


Harihar Swarup
He doesn’t disappoint anyone
here is an outstanding person in Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s ministerial team who, truly, is a bridge between Jammu region and the Valley. The Deputy Chief Minister, Mangat Ram Sharma, belonging to the Congress, is little known outside J&K but he literally serves as a link between the two sharply divided regions. 


Congress braces up for LS polls
he Congress gesture to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in ending the political stalemate in Jammu and Kashmir was just a tactical move. It was a deft political stroke by party president Sonia Gandhi who demonstrated that her party was prepared to make sacrifices and agree to political adjustments in the larger national interest.

  • Rajnath Stumped?

  • Mulayam’s Games

  • Mera Bharat Mahan


Humra Quraishi
Writing books, the latest passion in Delhi
ee what’s happened right here in the upmarket Ansal Plaza. There’s no accountability, except that we have some concerned human rights bodies and a few concerned citizens. For the great majority here, the shoot out didn’t damper the festive spirits. 

  • UN Tolerance Day

  • Ramzaan begins


The conundrum for the Congress
David Devadas
he Congress has committed political suicide in Jammu and Kashmir for the third time. India’s oldest political party has an amazing capacity to finish itself in this state, even after rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of its own blunders. This time, it has not only prepared the ground for losses in the valley whenever elections are held next.Top


Our overburdened, ill-equipped & clogged up courts
Time to rejuvenate the system for prompt
dispensation of justice
N.S. Saini

In his article “Clearing the judicial backlog: more work, not more judges, is the answer” (September 28, 2002), Mr B.R. Lall has said that the justice delivery system in India is under tremendous strain.

He said: “Cases are piling up in courts of law soaring astronomically year after year. More and more cases are instituted every year, but the beleaguered judiciary is not able to measure up to the task...”

Finding fault with the Law Commission’s recommendation for a five-fold increase in the judge-strength on the basis of the population statistics, he maintained: “A panic has been created in the country that the number of judges is very small in India and that their number requires to be raised five-fold. This mist requires to be cleared and things put in the right perspective...”

Mr Lall has said that the judges have to curtail their holidays and vacations and raise their hours of work. Referring to the working of a CBI Special Court at Jabalpur, he says: “... Of course, there is no need of doubling or tripling the number of courts as has often been advocated...”

I beg to differ strongly with the premises and conclusions of the write-up except a crucial statement therein: “Statistics can be very dangerous weapon if not used carefully and after thorough analysis”. In my considered view, the writer got tripped by this very pitfall. I would like to restrict this discussion to the district-level judiciary, because that is my sphere of work. The article in question too referred mainly to the grassroots judiciary.

The so-called panic created in the country over the inadequate number of judges in India obliquely referred to a recent pronouncement (March 21, 2002) of the Supreme Court relating to the district judiciary in the case of the All India Judges' Association versus Union of India wherein, inter alia, a direction was given to the States and the Union of India. The court took cognisance not only of the 120th Report of the Law Commission but also of another relevant significant fact — The 85th Report of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Home Affairs (tabled in both Houses in February, 2002). Hence it would be appropriate to refer to this report which dealt with case load and judicial manpower requirement as follows:

“39. The requirement of judges’ strength to clear the pendency on the basis of the case load in the subordinate judiciary, average rate of disposal, pendency, etc. pertaining to the year 1998 has been calculated by the Department of Justice. 
(See Table I)

40. The average rate of disposal per judicial officer in the subordinate judiciary has been calculated by the Department of Justice in respect of the year 1998. (See Table II)

41. As regards the judges’ strength required in the subordinate judiciary for disposal of the accumulated pending cases, calculation has been made by the Department of Justice. (See Table III)

42. Thus as per the Justice Department's calculation, an addition of 15,824 judges is necessary in case the pending cases are to be cleared in one year...

43. The number of cases instituted in the subordinate judiciary during 1998 was 1,36,68,073 and the number of case disposed of during the same year was 1,36,15,783. Thus, about 55,000 cases were added to the then existing arrears of 2,01,39,080 thereby taking the figures of arrears of 2,01,91,370 as on 1.1.99.

44. The Committee has carefully considered the computations made in the Department of Justice for the reduction of pendency of cases over period of 3,5 or 7 years, besides disposal of regular year to year institution of cases. The Committee notes that the Government has proceeded on the hypothesis that arrears should be cleared in a period of 7 years. The Committee questions the hypothesis.

45. The Committee is of the view that the aim should be to clear the arrears within three to four years, that the primary sanctioned strength should be maintained on the basis of an optimum judges population ratio worked out on the basis of the pendency and the rate of disposal, and that judges’ strength should be augmented protem to deal with the accumulated arrears. The system should ensure a zero accrual of arrears beyond three years. The judges’ strength should be increased or augmented in a phased manner and without compromising the quality of judges for numbers can never be a substitute for quality”.

Under these circumstances, the recent hullabaloo in the print and electronic media on this five-fold increase and the resultant heavy expenditure of over Rs 14,000 crore is misplaced.

First, the increase in the number of courts is a gradual affair spread over a period of five years. The Supreme Court had directed only the filling up of (some 1,500) existing vacancies in the district level courts upto March 31, 2003. This is not a tall order and further it entails no extra financial burden on the exchequer because the posts already exist along with the supporting infrastructure.

Secondly, the increase in the number of courts in order to effectively cope with the pending as well as mounting backlog of cases is based on the recommendation of the 120th Report of the Law Commission duly adopted by the Standing Committee on Home Affairs.” Obviously, these institutions submitted those recommendations after making due enquiries and doing sufficient spade work because of which the same could not be brushed aside lightly merely on the basis of an article with sweeping conclusions.

Thirdly, the statistical efficiency of 327 per cent of the American judges as compared to their Indian counterparts is totally misconceived. The District Judiciary in India in most of the cases has been working since long under dismal conditions with bare minimum infrastructural support. On an all India level in some of the States, the judicial officers are crying hoarse for basic facilities like stenographers and workable typewriters, let alone the modern gadgetry support available to their counterparts in the USA and other developed countries.

Fourthly, in an average district-level judicial court in India, a judge is to cope with at least 70-80-100 cases daily (at various stages of processing). As such, comparing these ‘normal’ courts with ‘special’ CBI courts in India would amount to comparing horses with goats and sheep.

Fifthly, clearing the huge case backlog and ensuring faster justice is the most vital administrative and social obligation of the Centre and the States as it is directly linked with peace, tranquility and maintaining the rule of law in society. The abominable alternative of seeking redressal of disputes through extra-judicial agencies/ pro-cesses would indeed lead to social anarchy.

Sixthly, the district-level judges already maintain a 6-day week with long working hours in the court (on the dais, in the chamber) as well as at the residences. No judge can cope with his judicial work without putting in at least 4 to 5 hours’ (or even more, some times) labour beyond the court hours of 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Indeed their mental and physical capacities are already stretched to the maximum. Hence, there is no justification for curtailing the only annual summer break of 15 days, being enjoyed at present in Punjab and Haryana for instance. Perhaps, very few people know that their winter break (usually from December 25 to January 1) is provided by combining the off-days falling in the preceding 5-6 months of the year.

And finally, one would do well to remember that the district judiciary is overburdened with heavy workload with no modern infrastructural support.

It would be worthwhile to quote the Supreme Court’s observations in the case of the All India Judges’ Association (AIR 1993 SC 2493, para 25): “The sedentary work is mainly of two types — mechanical and creative. Each case coming before the judge has its own peculiarities requiring application of fresh mind and skill. The judge has constantly to be a creative artist. His work, therefore, requires constant thinking and display of talent. The exertions involved in the duties of the judge cannot be compared with the duties of other services...”

The writer, a retired Additional District & Sessions Judge, Punjab, is General Secretary, All India Judges’ Association.


Tryst with pendency: reforms must begin
with lower courts

Long pendency of cases in Supreme Court, High Courts and Subordinate Courts has become a matter of serious concern. Here is a statistical presentation of the number of pending cases relating to Supreme Court, High Courts and Subordinate Courts and analysis thereof.

Supreme Court

The pendency of cases in the Supreme Court has shown a downward trend. The pendency of cases which was 1,04,936 as on 31.12.1991 came down to 58,794 in 1994 and further down to 21,995 as on 31 October, 2001.

The Supreme Court has taken certain steps which have resulted in a substantial reduction in accumulated arrears. It has successfully implemented the cardinal principles of Active Case Flow Management Technique (ACMT) by creating dual tracks, one for keeping abreast of current filings and the other to deal with old pending matters. It is a model which commends itself to us and which can be replicated for dealing with the arrears in the High Courts and Subordinate Courts.

A report on “Modernisation of civil justice system in India: implementation plan”, prepared by the Study Team constituted by the National Judicial Academy and submitted to the Chief Justice of India, may be referred to for detail discussion on the monitoring, co-ordination and case-flow tracking.

Another area where the Apex Court has concentrated its energy is on adjournments. Adjournments have been made an exception. Adjournments in the Supreme Court can never be taken for granted and cases scheduled for a particular date are invariably listed on that day. Indeed, listing is entirely computer-managed, except for extremely urgent listing required within less than 15 days for which a special oral mention has to be made to the Chief Justice.

In the Apex Court, the cases listed for a day which were earlier adjourned owing to the absence of any judge are now immediately redistributed on the very day over the remaining benches and thus dealt with or disposed of on the same day, despite an inevitably enhanced work load for each bench.

Bench stabilisation in the Apex Court over three-month or six month periods ensures that the same or similar subjects out of the 56 computer classified subjects go to the same benches as far as possible, thus expediting disposal.

On the human resource front, the Apex Court has made efforts to streamline the distribution of work in all the departments in such a way that intra-departmental and inter-departmental file movement can be minimised. It has recognised the staff strength depending on the filings and pendency.

The Apex Court has made use of the computer in the most effective way. Computerisation at every level in the Department of Registry has considerably increased efficiency. Maximum information covering numerous fields and criteria are fed into the computer in respect of each case, thus ensuring maximum information retrieval at the touch of a button and a Judis Programme has already incorporated all Supreme Court judgements in the computer.

In addition, the following steps have also been taken in the Apex Court:

(a) More practical categorisation and grouping of areas involving similar questions of law.

(b) No accumulation of defective matters;

(c) Reservation of sufficient slots for old, pending, miscellaneous and SLP matter so that they are listed in chronological order in sufficient numbers.

High Courts

The pendency of cases in the High Courts which was 26.51 lakh as on 31.12.1993 increased to 29.81 lakh by 31.12.1995 and further increased to about 31.81 lakh in December, 1997. The actual pendency of cases as on 31.12.99 was 33.65 lakh and it was 35.41 lakh on December, 2000. The latest figures of pendency in the High Courts as on October 31, 2001, are 35,54,687.

The Committee notes that various measures have been adopted in the High Courts for expeditious disposal of cases including classification and grouping of cases, computerisation of records in all the High Courts, (except the newly created High Courts of Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal) identification and listing of cases covered by the decisions finally made by the Supreme Court and the High Courts on the same point. In addition, many High Courts have taken steps to amend their rules of procedure in order to simplify legal proceedings and to achieve expeditious disposal of cases.

The Committee is impressed by the various steps taken by the Supreme Court towards reducing the arrears successfully. Though similar methods are said to have been applied by various High Courts also, similar results have not been achieved. The Committee is particular perturbed to note that cases are pending for over 50 years, 40 years and 30 years in certain High Courts. As per the data furnished by the Government, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has a case pending since 1950, Patna High Court has a case pending since 1951, Rajasthan since 1956, Kolkata since 1955. The Committee is equally disturbed to note that over 5 lakh cases are pending in the High Courts for over 10 years. And the number of cases pending for 7-10 years are also as high as over 3 lakh.

The magnitude of arrears in Allahabad High Court is disquieting. Out of total cases pending in all the 18 High Courts in India i.e. 35.4 lakh, Allahabad alone has more than 8 lakh cases pending. Out of 8 lakh cases pending in Allahabad High Court, about 2 lakh cases (25%) are pending for over 10 years and about 1.36 lakh (17%) are pending for 7 to 10 years. Madras, Calcutta, Kerala and Bombay High Courts are not far behind where pending cases as on December, 1999 are 3.55 lakh, 3.10 lakh, 3.08 lakh, 2.84 lakh respectively. In these High Courts, cases pending over 10 years amount to 5050, 146476, 533 and 28404, respectively.

The Committee strongly feels that urgent steps are needed to be taken for the disposal of huge pendency of cases in the High Courts, especially of Allahabad, Madras, Calcutta, Kerala and Bombay. The Committee would like that the Government be urged upon to take up this matter with the Chief Justice of India, Chief Justices of the concerned High Courts and the State Governments with a view to working out or devising special plans to reduce the pendency and revive public confidence in the judiciary with regard to delays in the disposal of cases and accumulation of arrears.

Subordinate Courts

As per available information, the pendency of cases in District/ Subordinate Courts as on 31.12.1995 was 2.18 crore. The pendency decreased to 1.99 crore as on 31.12.1996. The overall disposal of cases during the year 1996 was 1.44 crore while the institution of cases for the same period was 1.25 crore. The pendency increased to about 2 crore as on 31.12.1997 and then to 2.02 crore as on 31.12.1998. As per latest available information, the pendency is 2.01 crore.

The slight decreased in pendency of cases appears, inter-alia due to the directions given by the Supreme Court in its judgement dated 1.5.1996 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1128 for closing of cases involving minor offences pending for 2 years or more in which proceedings have not commenced and also due to appointment of Special Judicial Magistrates/ Special Metropolitan Magistrates under Sections 13 and 18 of the Cr. P.C. for the disposal of traffic and petty cases.

On 24 August, 2001, the Union Law Minister while speaking on a debate in the Rajya Sabha on a Private Member's Bill — The High Court of Gujarat (Establishment of a Permanent Bench at Rajkot) Bill, 2000 — observed: “The problem at the lower courts level was not so grave. The figure of 2 crore had been static. At least the figure is not increasing. The filing in 12000 District Courts all over the country and the disposal every year is practically the same”. The Minister further observed: “the slowest lager of litigation in this country is the High Courts. Ten years ago, there were 19 lakh pending cases. Today it has crossed the 34 lakh mark. It is rising at a pace of about 1.5 to 2 lakh cases per year. Therefore, the filing in most of the High Courts is much more than the disposal though with some exceptions”.

The Committee notes that the problem of pendency in the High Courts is the most acute. It fully agrees with the observation of the Law Minister that the High Courts have become the slowest layer in the judicial process. It is significant that despite poor infrastructure and other constraints in lower courts they have made a dent, howsoever small, on the problem of arrears. Those courts deserve better facilities and better working conditions.

The Committee, also recommends that all necessary steps may be taken to secure expeditious handling of cases in the High Courts and the Subordinate Courts by filling the vacancies of judges in High Courts; Active Case Flow Management Technique (ACMT); stricter control over adjournment; reallocation of cases, when a bench is unable to sit; Bench stabilisation; and manpower management to reduce time taken in file movement. The Committee also recommends to the Government to accord top priority to improve manpower and infrastructural facilities at the Subordinate/ district courts to facilitate wiping out of the arrears and swift disposal of cases. Budgetary allocations have to be augmented substantially. There is need for a greater sense of purpose.

Courtesy: Eighty-Fifth Report on Law’s Delays: Arrears in Courts, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, December, 2001. 

CPC: historic changes

The Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2002, has been hailed widely. It seeks to dispose of all civil cases, though it remains to be seen to what extent the measures introduced in the Act will be implemented in letter and spirit to help clear the huge backlog of cases. Some of its unique features are:

  • One-year time limit for the disposal of all civil cases.

  • Only three adjournments to be allowed in a case; costs to be levied on the party that tries to adopt delaying tactics.

  • Empowering courts to fix a time-limit for oral arguments; asking parties to file written submissions, if necessary.

  • Time-limit for a judge’s ruling so as to make him accountable — the judges will have to give their ruling within 60 days of the completion of hearing.

  • Allowing the service of summons through private couriers and the use of fax, e-mail.

  • Clause to preempt avoidance or refusal to accept summons by providing that the person to whom it was issued “shall be presumed” to have received it even if the summons is returned with an endorsement that the party is refusing to accept it.Top

Malimath Committee Report

To study the problem of arrears in courts and to suggest steps for their expeditious disposal, a Committee headed by Justice V.S. Malimath, the then Chief Justice of Kerala High Court, popularly known as the Malimath Committee, was constituted in January, 1989. In all, 177 recommendations were made by the Malimath Committee in its report in 1990. A few of the recommendations made by the Malimath Committee are listed here which have been implemented in majority of the States :

  • Abolition of Original Civil Jurisdiction of the High Court.

  • Abolition of Letters Patent Appeals.

  • Filing of certified copy of decree to be dispensed with.

  • High Courts to specify categories of cases which could be heard by Single Judge, or by a Division Bench.

  • Magisterial Courts to try in a summary way the offences specified in Sections 260 and 261 of the Cr. P.C.

  • Work of serving summons and notices should be entrusted to the process servers of the courts in addition to the police at present.

  • Convention to be evolved that would discourage granting adjournments.

  • Court should avoid writing long and elaborate judgements.

  • Reserved judgements should ordinarily be delivered within a reasonable time.

  • Court to prepare lists of old cases and arrange their early disposal.

The Malimath Committee made another set of recommendations in the same report for setting up of Alternative Tribunals to reduce pendency in High Courts.

  • Setting up of Industrial Relations Commission.

  • Setting up of Rent Tribunals.

  • Expansion of jurisdiction of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) to the teaching and non-teaching staff of universities. Earlier the teaching and non-teaching staff were not covered by the CAT’s jurisdiction.

  • Setting up of tribunal/machinery for early disposal of cases concerning students’ admissions/ examination malpractices, educational programmes, affiliation and de-affiliation of colleges, election to universities/ bodies etc.Top

Amendments to CrPC: the next step

The Union Government is in the process of amending the age-old Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). It will study the recommendations of the Justice V.S.Malimath Committee on the Criminal Justice System in India and the suggestions of the 16th Law Commission (LC) while amending the CrPC. Some of the important changes envisaged are:

  • The law of arrest — The LC has suggested that no one should be arrested for bailable and non-cognisable offences. Instead of treating these two offences as separate categories, they should be called non-cognisable offences.

  • In case of bailable and cognisable offence, the LC suggested no arrest be made and only an “appearance notice” served on the accused.

  • The term “bailable” should be removed in case of these offences and they should be termed cognisable offences.

  • Offences punishable with seven years be treated as “bailable cognisable” offence.

  • No change has been suggested on offences punishable with more than seven years.

  • The LC suggested that no arrest should be made merely on suspicion and representatives of registered NGOs be allowed to visit police stations.

  • Amend Section 164 to check witnesses from turning hostile; the investigating officer must get statements of all witnesses recorded under oath by the magistrate.

  • This is expected to prevent witnesses from turning hostile and help the police in investigating and submitting a final report, based on the recorded statement.Top

He doesn’t disappoint anyone
Harihar Swarup

There is an outstanding person in Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s ministerial team who, truly, is a bridge between Jammu region and the Valley. The Deputy Chief Minister, Mangat Ram Sharma, belonging to the Congress, is little known outside J&K but he literally serves as a link between the two sharply divided regions. Preceding months and years have seen regional gulf and mistrust between Jammu and the Valley. Having powerful hold in the Jammu region, Mangat Ram has taken a vow soon after his swearing-in that he would remove the “misunderstanding created by vested interests” between the two regions and usher in a new era. He has also declared that he would ensure that no region was discriminated against and there was balanced development of the three regions—Jammu, Valley and Ladakh.

Mangat Ram is a popular leader of the state indeed because of his affable manners. It is widely believed that nobody returns disappointed from his house. People flock to his residence in the morning, some have trekked for miles, some come from as far flung area as Ladakh and he meets everybody. This has been the practice when he was a minister in J&K, ordinary MLA or an M.P. The popular joke in Jammu runs thus: A shepherd came with the complaint that his cow has crossed over the Line of Control and wanted Mangat Ram to get back his cattle. He could have done precious little to help the shepherd but to please him said: “I will just now telephone General Musharraf”. An amiable man, Mangat Ram, does not displease anyone and never loses his cool. His critics say he is a spineless man and cannot take firm stand on issues.

His another contribution has been to hold the faction-ridden Congress party in the Jammu region together. Reliable reports from Jammu say that the credit of the spectacular victory of the Congress party in the Jammu region should, in all fairness, go to him. Local Congress leaders feel had he been given a free hand, the party might have bagged more seats from the region. Mangat Ram’s popularity is manifest in the number of Parliament and assembly elections he successfully fought; he never lost an election except a Lok Sabha poll. He was member of the J&K Assembly for four terms and elected to Parliament, for the first time, in 1996.

Mangat Ram is known to have leftist leanings and said to be protege of the late D.P. Dhar. As far back as 1962, the National Conference led by Buxi Ghulam Mohammed was affiliated with the Congress resulting in resignation of seniors like Dhar, G.L. Dogra, Mir Quasim and Tirlochan Dutt. They formed the Democratic National Conference and Mangat Ram became one of its functionaries. The DNC subsequently merged with the National Conference at the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mangat Ram became its general secretary and later inducted in the government as Minister of State.

Originally, Mangat Ram began his career in the National Conference at a very young age and held various positions. His biographical sketch published by Lok Sabha Secretariat says that at one time he held the post of Block Development Officer which he resigned to take a plunge in politics. Subsequently, he joined the Congress in early sixties, became the party’s general secretary and AICC member. In 1982, he was elected the Speaker of the J&K Assembly and in 1987 became leader of the Congress Legislature Party. Late eighties saw him rise in the ladder, becoming Cabinet Minister with the duel portfolios of Transport and Food Supplies.

Seventy-year-old Mangat Ram’s career touched its peak when he was sworn-in Deputy Chief Minister in the Mufti government with whom, unlike PCC Chief Ghulam Nabi Azad, he has always cordial relations. Known for his “crisis management” skill, Kashmir specialists say, he is ideally suited to occupy the second highest office in the Congress- PDP coalition. Soon after assuming office, the Deputy CM made certain points clear: there would be no let-up in the fight against militants and every case of militants in detention would be reviewed and final decision taken by the Cabinet about release. About the Congress’ electoral promise that regional boards would be set up to ensure balanced development of all regions, he said, details had to be worked out with other partners of the coalition.


Congress braces up for LS polls

The Congress gesture to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in ending the political stalemate in Jammu and Kashmir was just a tactical move. It was a deft political stroke by party president Sonia Gandhi who demonstrated that her party was prepared to make sacrifices and agree to political adjustments in the larger national interest. There is a perception in the political circles that the Congress settlement with the Mufti should be seen as the first minor battle won towards the party’s quest for winning the war: grabbing power at the Centre. Congress insiders say that Sonia’s one-point ambition is — no, not to become the Prime Minister — to restore the glory of her much-maligned late husband, Rajiv Gandhi. Now whether she does it all by herself or she is helped in this task by her son Rahul or daughter Priyanka is a matter of speculation.

From the Congress point of view, the question whether Rahul or Priyanka or both would jump into the electoral fray in the next general elections or not is not an issue at all right now. The mood in the party is to cross the bridge when it comes to it. Slowly but steadily, the Congress is bracing itself for the 2004 general elections. Sonia is now said to be making (or not making) every move aimed at winning the next general election. Insiders say that Sonia is working on her perceived weaknesses, like her problem with Hindi. Her critics say that she still cannot speak Hindi and all her Hindi speeches are written in Roman script. To prove her critics wrong, Sonia has now made it a point that she speaks in Hindi with all her party colleagues who call on her. Even if the visitors try to speak in English, Sonia replies in Hindi only.

Rajnath Stumped?

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BJP general secretary Rajnath Singh has been more than keen to keep his long pending promise to former Congress MLA Surendra Nath Awasthi or Puttu Awasthi as he is known by his friends and admirers. In true Rajput traditions, Singh had promised Puttu a Rajya Sabha berth when the latter vacated his MLA seat from Haidergarh, a constituency which he had been representing for almost a decade. Singh was looking for a safe constituency after he was asked by the BJP high command to proceed to Lucknow for replacing the lackluster Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta. Puttu came forward and offered his seat and Singh said that he would ensure a seat for him in the Rajya Sabha.

Puttu has been waiting since then and now when the BJP met here to decide above the Rajya Sabha elections from UP, Singh again pressed for a RS seat for Puttu explaining that he had given a promise which should be honoured. Now the high command was in a fix. Suddenly a leader came with a suggestion that Atal Behari Vajpayee’s time-tested aide Shiv Kumar Sharma should be given RS seat. Singh could not oppose the suggestion and it was left to party president M Venkaiah Naidu to announce the names of the party candidates for the elections on November 18.

Mulayam’s Games

The lust for power can make people do anything, even if it means going back on their own words. And Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has done exactly that when it came to the question of grabbing power in Uttar Pradesh during the ongoing crisis. Not only has he gone rushing back into the arms of CPI(M) veteran leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, after openly claiming that he did not want to keep any relations with him, but has also actually gone back to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, that too almost on his knees, to help him topple the Mayawati-led coalition government. Political observers point out that the Samajwadi Party chief, during a party convention in Bhopal had lambasted the CPI(M) veteran leader for an incident at the latter’s residence. Then even Sonia was not spared by the Samajwadi Party after the Congress did not come forward to help Mulayam Singh Yadav reach for the chair of the Prime Minister during the 1999 crisis. But it seems that the party has that peculiar habit of selective amnesia. Smelling power after the dissident activity in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav not only made up with his “old comrade in arms” but actually kept waiting for a call from 10 Janpath for almost two days to get an appointment from Sonia. And guess what! After saying that the party would never allow a “foreigner” to be the Prime Minister, he came out of the 10 Janpath and almost gushed that he had a 40-minute meeting with Sonia Gandhi.

Mera Bharat Mahan

If there is one political slogan that has caught the fancy of the common man after Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao”, it is Rajiv Gandhi’s “Mera Bharat Mahan”. This slogan became a political football and the detractors of the Bofors-rocked Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress made fun of it. Even the general public enjoyed ridiculing the slogan.

That is perhaps why every third or fourth autorickshaw and taxi in Delhi had this sarcastic line written at the back: “Sau mein se 99 beimaan, phir bhi mera Bharat mahan” (99 out of 100 people in this country are corrupt, still my India is great).

Earlier this week, it was the Chief Vigilance Officer of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Prof A K Agarwal, who informed his employees that India is ranked 72nd in the corruption index of 99 countries.

The function was held in the IGNOU campus to observe Vigilance Week from October 31 to November 6. Strangely, a government body like IGNOU, trumpeted India’s placement in the corruption tally through a press release. Obviously, the chief PRO of the university did not find anything newsy in the otherwise dull and drab function.

Contributed by T.V. Lakshminarayan, Satish Misra, S. Satyanarayanan, Girja Shankar Kaura and Rajeev Sharma.



Writing books, the latest passion in Delhi
Humra Quraishi

See what’s happened right here in the upmarket Ansal Plaza. There’s no accountability, except that we have some concerned human rights bodies and a few concerned citizens. For the great majority here, the shoot out didn’t damper the festive spirits. Going by the invites, two to three parties are lined up every evening. Different reasons. As though reasoning has anything to do with plain partying.

The latest passion here is book writing. Writing books and then holding those major dos in five star settings is the latest fad here. On Nov 17, ITC Maurya Sheraton would be hosting a party to mark the release of UK High Commisioner’s spouse Catherine Young’s book ‘Letters From India’ (Har Anand) by Aunjolie Ela Menon. The same evening, at the Taj Mahal hotel, sons of maestro Amjad Ali Khan would release the book on their father ‘Abba- God’s Greatest Gift to Us’ ( Roli). It is obviously the two boys singing praises of their father. Good if they are critical, otherwise what’s the point. It would be difficult for one to expect the sons to be critical of their fathers. So, the books should be around the expected lines. Good material on Page Three.

UN Tolerance Day

For the International Day of Tolerance (Nov 16), the United Nations Information Centre and UNESCO are not hosting an evening full of speeches. Rather what they term ‘Expressions of Tolerance’ by leading Indian authors, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, painters, poets, puppeteers, sculptors, theatre artists through their art forms.

Thankfully, this list, almost akin to the ‘tinker, tailor...’ business, doesn’t include the politicians and bureaucrats. If the bureaucrat-politician combination sincerely wants tolerance to spread around, it wouldn’t be such a major issue. But then, it wouldn’t suit their vested interests. So seminars after seminars there’d be little difference in the actual functioning of the state and all the machinery, might and men under its control.

Also why can’t this seminaring be done in the troubled places of our troubled states? So that the people be exposed to our sentiments, to us, to our thinking, to our sincere efforts in trying to reach out to them. It is really a pity that all peace and tolerance processes start and end in one of the air-conditioned venues of New Delhi.

Ramzaan begins

Ramzaan, the pious month of fasting for the Muslims began three days back. Politicians and third- rate political system have tried to bring about chaos here too by hosting ‘Iftaar’ parties by the much so that one day they’d be at their critical best of the minority community but the next evening an Iftaar party hosted for them. The latest joke doing the rounds is — Rightwing hardliners hosting an Iftaar for “Musharraf’s children!”


The conundrum for the Congress
David Devadas

The Congress has committed political suicide in Jammu and Kashmir for the third time. India’s oldest political party has an amazing capacity to finish itself in this state, even after rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of its own blunders. This time, it has not only prepared the ground for losses in the valley whenever elections are held next. In the Jammu region, it is likely to be replaced by a group that espouses the simmering desire for freedom from the tyranny of the valley’s domination. That could be the RSS-backed Jammu State Morcha, or some new group. It could even be a breakaway faction of the Congress, since many of its MLAs are deeply resentful of the recent decisions of the “high command.”

It is this “high command,” then represented in the person of Sonia Gandhi’s mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, that committed the blunder that first wiped out the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir. That was in 1975, when Sheikh Abdullah returned to power after 22 years in and out of prison. He was to have been installed as leader of the Congress party in the legislature, since his National Conference had transformed itself into the Congress almost a decade earlier. It was a dramatic afternoon, however, when Abdullah was slated to take charge of the party. His speech accepting the post of Congress Legislature Party leader had even been cyclostyled when the central party leadership intervened. Ironically, some of those who influenced last fortnight’s decision, Karan Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar, played a role that afternoon too. The designation of Sheikh Abdullah at the top of his speech was hurriedly corrected by hand on each copy and Abdullah was forced to take office with the support of a party over which he had no control.

The idea of course was to keep a whip hand over his moves. The whip came into play after the 1977 elections. The Congress withdrew its support to Abdullah. His revived National Conference won those elections, his main opponent being the Janata Party. The Congress was wiped out, whip hand and all. Thereafter, the Congress’ policy turned turtle and it made repeated efforts to build an alliance with Abdullah. Mrs Gandhi even sent messages inviting him to merge his party with the Congress. Again, the “high command” was at work with these bizarre proposals, which Abdullah politely turned down. On the ground, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, then a doughty young worker, was tirelessly rebuilding the party from scratch. As state Congress president, he achieved what nobody had thought possible and the party emerged in the early 1980s as the chief opposition force even in the valley.

The “high command,” however, was still obsessed with having a whip hand over the National Conference instead of building its own base slowly and steadily. Its decision in 1984 to support a breakaway faction of the National Conference, led by Ghulam Mohammed Shah, backfired and the new chief minister soon came to be dubbed “Gul curfew.” Now, the “high command” opted to back the other horse, instead of allowing the steadfast Mufti to continue to build the party’s base. So, in the autumn of 1986, a shotgun wedding was forced on Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference. That move so alienated Kashmiris that they turned to a nascent Muslim United Front, which emerged to fill the vacuum created by the Congress. The Mufti was so dismayed that he left the Congress and joined VP Singh’s Jan Morcha.

The Congress was relatively weak in the state thereafter but Ghulam Nabi Azad managed to build unity of purpose among its fractious leadership during the year-and-a-half he has been state Congress chief. Fighting as a team for a change, they managed to win 20 seats in the recent elections, five of them in the valley. Some of those victories were remarkable, such as Taj Mohiuddin’s over Mohammed Shafi Uri in Uri. The Congress also won the prestigious Amira Kadal seat in the heart of Srinagar, and three seats from the Mufti’s south Kashmir bastion.

Unfortunately, the “high command” has once again allowed itself to be overawed by alarmist talk of a Kashmiri backlash against a chief minister from a national party. The truth is that common Kashmiris, both during the elections and the tortured negotiations over the past three weeks, acknowledged that Azad ought by right to be the chief minister. Many of them said a valley-based person like the Mufti might be able to handle the complex situation a little better but it did not make very much difference to them.

As things stand, his rhetoric in the month since the results were declared have raised Kashmiri expectations to a level that any government might find difficult to fulfil. During the campaign and polling, most common Kashmiris focussed on bread and butter issues, roads, bridges, gutters, schools, … Now, they hope for a solution to the “Kashmir issue.” That is a much taller order than most state governments can hope to fill.

The conundrum for the Congress is that, politically, it can only lose: If he disappoints, the Congress will pay the price. If the Mufti succeeds, his party will take over the Congress’ vote share.


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