A girl called Harneet
It’s Musharraf’s Pakistan
Jamali's exit reflects sad state of affairs
The resignation by Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali has brought into sharp focus the factors behind the widening gulf between him and President Pervez Musharraf.
Disqualification of MLAs
Experiencing a secular vision
With the party discipline having been refurbished, Rajya Sabha elections are not supposed to spring last-minute surprises. That, however, does not mean there cannot be anything unexpected in the results at all. Just look at the way things have unfolded in Haryana. Defections by Independent members, followed by their disqualifications, made it easy for Mr Tarlochan Singh, Chairman of the National Minorities Commission, backed by the Indian National Lok Dal, the BJP, the BSP and some of the Independents, to win the election. The Congress is, of course, criticising the Speaker but it is doubtful that its entreaties will find many responsive ears considering that the way it roped in the now-disqualified MLAs was not exactly above board. The other seat has predictably gone to Mr Ajay Chautala, son of the Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, who had contested and lost the recent Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress has only itself to blame for the reverse. It was wrong strategy on its part to make its arrangements with the six MLAs so obvious. They themselves were skating on thin ice when they spoke about their switchover before the media blatantly. As Independents, they were free to cast their vote for the candidate of their choosing but spoilt things for themselves by making it known that they were opting for the Congress.
What matters is that loose cannons have been prevented from being a deciding factor. This may make the party diktats suffocating but at least the spectacle of bargaining will stand curbed. It is noteworthy that while admitting the petition of the disqualified legislators, the Supreme Court has ruled that although they would continue to be members of the House and draw all allowances and perquisites till their petition is disposed of, they would not cast their votes in any proceedings, including elections to the Rajya Sabha. What the ultimate outcome of the petition is remains to be seen. The election of the two new members cannot, however, be challenged on the ground that the Speaker was in the wrong in disqualifying the independent members.
A girl called Harneet
Girls of Amritsar-based Modern High School have achieved the rare distinction of winning eight of the top 12 positions in the Class X examination of the Punjab School Education Board. Although girls are commonly seen outshining boys, their path to success is laden with numerous hurdles. Parents with tight budgets prefer to spend more on a son’s education. The prevailing social climate is not conducive to girls’ education, particularly in villages. Government schools are ill-equipped with infrastructure and perennially short of teachers, and good private schools are expensive and beyond reach. Girls from rural families have to struggle hard to carry on with their education. No wonder, many just drop out.
The 2001 census statistics about schooling in Punjab in general, and about girls’ education in particular, are revealing. Female literacy is 63.55 per cent compared to 75.63 per cent male literacy. One-fourth of the children are not enrolled in schools. Of the 100 children enrolled in Class I, only 22 reach the senior secondary level. The condition of rural schools is abysmal. Last year the Amritsar District Education Officer was reported to have ordered the withdrawal of science subjects from the senior secondary schools showing poor results. Most of these were in villages and small towns. It is quite natural for parents, therefore, to send their children to nearby city schools for better education.
In this context, the achievement of the girl, Harneet Kaur, who has topped the Class X examination this year, becomes all the more commendable. Living in a village, she daily travelled 24 kilometres in an autorickshaw to study in a school in Amritsar. Given Amritsar’s chaotic traffic, her daily ordeal can be well imagined. The only satisfaction is that her hard work has been justly rewarded. She is a true role model for girls in rural India. The Principal and teachers of this non-government school, which has broken the previous record by having 27 of the 270 merit positions in the state, also deserve praise.
It’s Musharraf’s Pakistan
The resignation by Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali has brought into sharp focus the factors behind the widening gulf between him and President Pervez Musharraf. His exit had been there in the air for some time, but who could be his replacement was not known till Saturday when Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz's name was announced. Mr Jamali had been doing reasonably well since his appointment in November 2002, and getting popular in the process. But gradually he had started functioning a little independently. This was not to the liking of the ruling General, who wanted him to remain as His Master's Voice and defend an otherwise all-powerful President, bitterly criticised by the Opposition for his anti-democratic moves and pro-US policies.
Mr Jamali could not come up to General Musharraf's expectations not because of lack of efforts on his part. The truth is that he could do little to arrest the growing unpopularity of the General as a result of the latter's own policies and style of functioning. President Musharraf had promised to resign as Chief of Army Staff by this year-end, but for some time he had been giving hints of going back on his word. This had enraged the Opposition, particularly the powerful Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). This factor and the increase in sectarian and terrorist violence for some time had made the government's position indefensible.
Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, chief of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q), who has been chosen to run the government as Prime Minister till Mr Shaukat Aziz becomes a member of Pakistan's parliament (National Assembly) to hold the reins of power, was rumoured to be Mr Jamali's permanent replacement because of his large following in Punjab. But General Musharraf had his own game- plan. He wanted a man who had no political base as Mr Aziz is. That Mr Aziz is a financial wizard is a different matter. His appointment may, however, add to the General's woes as Mr Aziz has been a favourite of the US, not a plus point in Pakistan these days.
Disqualification of MLAs
AS reported in the media, the Speaker of the Haryana Assembly disqualified six members of the Vidhan Sabha on June 25. The fate of two other MLAs is awaited. In the case of Mr Jagjit Singh Sangwan and Mr Dalal, the Speaker has held that they failed miserably to satisfy him about the genuineness of the claimed splits in the Nationalist Congress Party and the Republican Party of India respectively. They stand disqualified with immediate effect. The Speaker has also disqualified four Independent MLAs, relying on media reports to the effect that they joined the Congress party on June 14.
All the eight MLAs tried to challenge the show cause notices issued to them by the Speaker in the Supreme Court on June 21. The Vacation Bench declined to interfere as the final order of disqualification had not been passed by the Speaker by then. Again they moved the court for an interim order on June 25 without amending their writ petition to challenge the order of the Speaker. The court was unable to entertain the prayer.
The rulings of the Speaker have raised debatable issues. As the notification for the election of members of the Rajya Sabha from the Haryana Assembly had been issued it was argued that disqualifying the MLAs on the event of election is not permissible. Article 329 of the Constitution mandates that no election to a House shall be called in question except by an election petition presented to the prescribed authority. The word “election” means every step in the process from the notification of the schedule till the declaration of the result. Even the court does not interfere with an on-going election. Can the Speaker do it?
The splits in question having taken place before the 91st Amendment to the Constitution, the cases of Mr Dalal and Mr Sangwan are governed by the unamended provisions of the Tenth Schedule. Therefore, a member of the legislature who left a party on account of a split could retain his membership. It is not defection. The word “split” is not defined. Whether there was a split or not is a vital question to be decided on the basis of evidence in these cases.
As regards the Independent MLAs who are found to have join the Congress, the question is whether they did, in fact, join the party. The Congress alone can answer this question based on the records. Paragraph 2(2) of the Tenth Schedule declares that an Independent member of the Assembly who joins a political party incurs disqualification. The disqualified MLAs allege that the decision of the Speaker is motivated and it was taken at the behest of the Chief Minister to help the ruling party. Two questions arise: (i) Did the Speaker act in bad faith? (ii) Assuming that he wanted to help the ruling party, does this render his decision illegal, if it is otherwise valid?
The Haryana Legislative Assembly (Disqualification of Members on Ground of Defection) Rules, 1986, have a bearing. Under Rule 3 the leader of each legislature party has to furnish to the Speaker a statement containing the names of members of the legislature party with all particulars. Under this provision, as and when any new member joins the legislature party, the leader has to furnish the information to the Speaker within 30 days. Rule 4 requires every member to furnish a statement to the Secretary of the House indicating his party affiliation. Rule 5 requires the Secretary to maintain a register of members mentioning the party affiliation of each. It is not clear whether the changes in these cases have been duly informed and necessary alterations made in the records.
Yet another question is whether the Speaker has acted in haste? Is the Speaker expected to wait for full 30 days for the information to be given by the leader concerned when Rule 7(3) allows a period of only seven days to the leader of the legislature party ordinarily to offer his comments on the petition alleging disqualification? The media published the news of six MLAs joining the Congress on June 15. The same day petitions were submitted to the Speaker, who ordered “examine and submit”. The orders of disqualification have been passed within 10 days. Hence the question.
The office of Speaker is at the centre of the controversy while the issues are subjudice. The Speaker could have availed of the option to refer the petition to the Committee of Privileges of the Assembly under Rule 7(4) for making a preliminary enquiry and submitting a report to him, and thereby avoided the accusation of bias. The office of Speaker is an exalted one. In the words of James Bryce “on his way from his place on the Benches to the Chair, he is expected to shake off and leave behind all party ties and sympathies.” The power to adjudicate disputes as to the disqualification of members was conferred with the expectation that the Speaker would exercise this power objectively, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Experience shows that the verdicts of Speakers have been suspect in most cases. While some Speakers chose not to decide on such petitions for months together, others hurriedly disposed of the cases. Should such power remain with the Speaker?
Dr Subhash C. Kashyap says in his book on the anti-defection law: “Without questioning the impartiality of any presiding officer, it can be safely asserted that in the conditions of today in our country where Speakers are usually chosen by the ruling party and depend for their continuance in office on party support, it would be unrealistic to expect them to function entirely without party considerations even in matters where questions of life and death for their party or its government, or its leadership may be involved. It was, therefore, a fundamental mistake to involve the high office of the presiding officer/Speaker in this political and highly controversial matter of defections.”
The Law Commission in its 170th Report recommended omission of paragraph 6 which confers the power on the Speaker from the Tenth Schedule. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution has suggested that the powers to decide questions as to disqualification on the ground of defection should vest in the Election Commission instead of in the Chairman or Speaker of the House concerned. The NDA government which constituted the National Commission did not implement this suggestion. Not only this, the NDA had in its manifesto of 1999 promised to “introduce electoral reforms on the recommendation of the Goswami Committee, the Inderjit Gupta Committee and the Law Commission Report so as to deal with the malice of defections, corruption and criminalisation of politics and to prevent electoral malpractices”, but did not fulfil it. Comprehensive reforms are overdue in the laws governing elections and defections. Will the new government at the Centre address itself to this problem at the
Experiencing a secular vision
When I boarded the Shimla-Delhi bus, little did I know that I would be in for a rich experience of young India — young and fresh with a secular vision. Travel “in the younger sort, is a part of education, in the elder, a part of experience,” said Francis Bacon. For me, it was both as it opened up a new vista of contemporary India.
My co-traveller was a young girl in her late teens, clad in jeans and jacket, short haired and equipped for the journey with all sorts of packets of chips and chocolates. In sum, a modern, urban girl, exuding an unmistakable public ethos. We smiled at each other adjusting ourselves in our respective seats as the bus jerked and hummed.
After about 10 minutes, I felt a kind of quick, cautious movement of her hand and noticed her in a sort of obeisance. I looked in the direction of her gaze. The bus had taken a sharp turn and we were crossing the Dargah of Hazrat Salotri Baba near Ghora Chowki in whom a large number of Shimlaites profess faith, irrespective of religious beliefs. Two turns more. At the Sankat Mochan temple again the girl sent a quick prayer and about five minutes later she turned her gaze at the huge, thickly wooded mountain-side where nestles the Tara Devi temple, invisible from the road, though. The mode of her prayer intrigued me — with her right palm slightly bent, she would place her forefinger horizontally on her forehead, lightly kiss the finger, then touch heart and then shoulders as if to make a cross.
After that it was simple — any place of worship, whether on the right or the left side of the road, or gleaming atop some far off hillock etched out against the blue sky, or snug amid thick foliage, attracted her “prayer” gaze — churches, gurdwaras, the Dargah of Nau Gaza Pir and temples en route.
Indeed, I was curious beyond the limits of decency. I discreetly asked her name. “Gauri,” she said That placed her in a particular frame. I wanted to probe into those young eyes to see what lay behind those prayers — may be the welfare of her family, or success in the examination or it could be a secret appeal for the fulfilment of a sweet dream of a young, recently-sprouted romance.
During that nine-hour journey, I became aware how the 390 km stretch from Shimla to Delhi was dotted with innumerable places of worship. The census in its recent report gives stunning statistics that we have 2.4 million places of worship in India which is much more than the educational institutions and hospitals put together. Statics aside, I was keen to talk to her, to get her views on her typical secular attitude, of course, without embarrassing her or sounding rude.
I smiled at her again before starting a conversation. She was “Gauri Sharma,” studying for her graduation in a prestigious institution, she volunteered the information.
“You believe in the oneness of all religions. That’s good, very heartening,” I ventured.
“Oh aren’t all religions one, Ma’m,” she said. Her eyes had that clear look of untainted youthful dream that one cannot but admire.
“What about all this hullabaloo — the Babri and Ayodhya, the Godhra and its afermath, the caste and other divides?” I persisted.
“Those aren’t our doings, are they?” She counter-questioned with confidence. “Neither yours nor mine, Ma’m”. She said with bold, frank assertion.
Whose doings are they, indeed?
In Punjab systemic failure is discernible, as is indicated in the slim volume “Epitome of CAG's Reports” for the year-ending on March 31, 2003. This is because of the absence of accountability, the financial mess and non-performance of the departments concerned.
A close reading of the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) shows that Punjab has been pushed into a “debt trap”. There has been an
The slip in the system also shows when it comes to fault-lines in various departments. Take agriculture. Here, the implementation of schemes faltered mainly because the funds released by the state and central governments were not fully utilised or delayed or the treasuries refused to clear the bills. And despite the “macro management work plan” to overcome the problem of unspent balance, the department had failed to perform on the scheme, “second push to agriculture”, aimed at diversification of cropping patterns.
Consider the Social Security and Women and Child Development Department. In Punjab of the 2.49 lakh persons with disabilities, 1.45 lakh suffer from “loco-motor” disability. Yet the state failed to frame either a specific policy to address this disability or a specific programme to rehabilitate the affected persons. This, despite “The Persons with Disability Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995” being in operation since October, 1998.
Out of a total sum of Rs 2.57 crore, provided by the Centre, Rs 1.08 crore had remained unutilised, resulting in the loss of Rs 24 lakh. Or take this: since the Centre did not release the requisite funds, Rs 1.56 crore was rendered “unfruitful”, as the building for the Spinal Injuries Centre at Mohali was not completed. Punjab has no scheme to help those losing limbs and provide them alternative means of occupation except for providing some financial assistance to victims of thresher accidents.
Punjab has been pretty careless with the health of the people. The Department of Health and Family Welfare was found guilty of “dereliction” in the implementation of “regulatory parameters”, especially in the areas of “licensing, approval, monitoring, prosecution, inspection and recall of substandard or spurious drugs”. This despite the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. CAG sleuths observed that there was shortfall of 10 to 35 per cent in even drawing samples for testing allopathic drugs between 1998 and 2003, while no samples were drawn for ayurvedic or Unani drugs.
Licences of 10 blood banks and 11 drug manufacturers were not renewed, while 7,932 applications for the renewal of wholesale and retail shops were pending at the end of May, 2003. These were for the period 1998 to 2002. There was a huge shortfall even in the number of inspections required to be done. And no final action was taken against 486 drug offenders despite their samples having been declared “spurious etc.” during 1998 and 2002.
This was so despite Finance Minister Lal Singh proudly claiming that Punjab employees were the highest paid in the country. What about corresponding quality performance expected of them and accountability of those responsible for this mess, Mr Finance Minister?
An audit of transactions of key departments showed how government money was either “lost” or expenditure incurred turned out to be “unfruitful”. Just one sample will suffice. The state exchequer had to bear an extra burden of Rs 13.91 crore from May, 2001, to August, 2003, due to its failure to discontinue the payment of “project allowance” to the staff of the Ranjit Sagar Dam (Thein) Project at Shahpur Kandi even after its completion in March, 2001.
The cash-starved state continues to believe in political populism. Auditors detected a shortfall of Rs 245 crore relating to “non or short levy of taxes, duties, interest and penalty etc”. The state did not keep its word on its commitments to the Centre given in the Memorandum of Understanding it had signed to increase revenue and reduce expenditure.
In fact, how dismal the financial position is also reflected in the replies given by every minister to the members in the successive Vidhan Sabha sessions in the past three years. Ministers had repeatedly rounded up their replies saying “Works will be executed, posts of school teacher filled, roads repaired, water works commissioned or doctors and medicines made available, as and when requisite funds are released by the Finance Department”. Yet the state chose to give concessions or incentives or rollback taxes, thereby, sacrificing a revenue of Rs 380 crore last year.
The state has also committed huge liabilities by way of guarantees to PSUs. The returns were almost nil. The guaranteed repayment of loans aggregated to Rs 5,386.57 crore in 2002-03, raised by six PSUs. At the end of the year the guarantees amounted to Rs 11,494.64 crore against nine government companies and four statutory corporations. Asum of Rs 6,118.75 crore was outstanding.
What happens to the CAG reports, prepared year after year? Is there a follow-up? Is someone ever held accountable for the financial losses caused by either systemic failure or men responsible for protecting the state’s interests and public money? Should all MLAs not be held collectively responsible as the budgets are passed by them all? Why not treat the CAG reports as FIRs, fix accountability, effect recoveries or at least act upon these reports, so painstakingly prepared, and improve the system?
BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s flip-flop of having had enough in politics and then taking a complete somersault that he had said it all in jest has led to his moderate and liberal image taking a severe beating. Now the talk in the higher echelons of the BJP is that the media is to blame for taking Vajpayee’s wisecrack seriously and literally. This is the first time that the Sangh Parivar is baying for Vajpayee’s head for attributing the defeat of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections to the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat and seeking the ouster of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister. The western media and TV networks also found it puzzling that Vajpayee, after observing that he had had enough, has taken a complete U-turn.
This is the first time that the Sangh Parivar is baying for Vajpayee’s head for attributing the defeat of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections to the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat and seeking the ouster of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister.
The western media and TV networks also found it puzzling that Vajpayee, after observing that he had had enough, has taken a complete U-turn.
PM crafts his address Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spent considerable time crafting his maiden address to the nation last week. He spent hours on his speech focussing entirely on economic and foreign policy issues which had his indelible imprint. It was devoid of any rancour or attack against individuals or the previous regime except to allude to the fact that enough emphasis had not been given to rural India and the distress of farmers. He felt highly distressed that the first session of the 14th Parliament, the highest fora for debate and discussion by the representatives of the people had failed to perform its onerous duty. He is also revamping the Prime Minister’s Office in keeping with his objective of reforming the administration and institutions for achieving the goals listed in the common minimum programme.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spent considerable time crafting his maiden address to the nation last week. He spent hours on his speech focussing entirely on economic and foreign policy issues which had his indelible imprint. It was devoid of any rancour or attack against individuals or the previous regime except to allude to the fact that enough emphasis had not been given to rural India and the distress of farmers.
He felt highly distressed that the first session of the 14th Parliament, the highest fora for debate and discussion by the representatives of the people had failed to perform its onerous duty. He is also revamping the Prime Minister’s Office in keeping with his objective of reforming the administration and institutions for achieving the goals listed in the common minimum programme.
George walks to Parliament Unmindful of the blazing summer sun, former Defence Minister George Fernandes was found walking from his residence to the Parliament House complex and back during the first session of the 14th Lok Sabha. The PMK MP, E Ponnuswamy, spotted Fernandes walking on the road and offered him a lift to his residence barely a kilometre from Parliament House. Fernandes, who is also the NDA convener, politely declined and continued walking.
Unmindful of the blazing summer sun, former Defence Minister George Fernandes was found walking from his residence to the Parliament House complex and back during the first session of the 14th Lok Sabha. The PMK MP, E Ponnuswamy, spotted Fernandes walking on the road and offered him a lift to his residence barely a kilometre from Parliament House. Fernandes, who is also the NDA convener, politely declined and continued walking.
goes places Australian Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins appears to have a connection with Uttar Pradesh. The dress that the Australian beauty wore at the finals of the Miss Universe contest is said to have been designed by Kanpur-born Arun Kanodia. The beaded dress, weighing about 10 kg, was sold from an Australian outlet. An electrical engineer, Kanodia has moved his garment business from Kanpur to Gurgaon because of the better export potential. With Hawkin’s dress having caught the imagination of the glitterati, orders for the beaded dress have started coming from different parts of the globe.
Australian Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins appears to have a connection with Uttar Pradesh. The dress that the Australian beauty wore at the finals of the Miss Universe contest is said to have been designed by Kanpur-born Arun Kanodia. The beaded dress, weighing about 10 kg, was sold from an Australian outlet.
An electrical engineer, Kanodia has moved his garment business from Kanpur to Gurgaon because of the better export potential. With Hawkin’s dress having caught the imagination of the glitterati, orders for the beaded dress have started coming from different parts of the globe.
Sparring in Congress Months ahead of the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, the Congress has to deal with the differences between the leaders of the state unit and the AICC. AICC General Secretary in charge of Maharashtra Vyalar Ravi and MPCC chief Ranjit Deshmukh have to end their bickering, which erupted during the distribution of the Lok Sabha seats in the state. There is now talk that Deshmukh might be on his way out as MPCC chief. Contributed by Gaurav Choudhury and S. Satyanarayanan
Months ahead of the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, the Congress has to deal with the differences between the leaders of the state unit and the AICC. AICC General Secretary in charge of Maharashtra Vyalar Ravi and MPCC chief Ranjit Deshmukh have to end their bickering, which erupted during the distribution of the Lok Sabha seats in the state. There is now talk that Deshmukh might be on his way out as MPCC chief.
Contributed by Gaurav Choudhury and S. Satyanarayanan
One is approved only if one submits oneself to the will of the Lord-commandant, in whose court only Truth is accepted. — Guru Nanak The purer I try to become, the nearer I feel to be to God. — Mahatma Gandhi Let us pray, ‘Lead, kindly light’ — a beam will come through the dark, and a hand will be stretched forth to lead us. — Swami Vivekananda Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us. —
Jesus Christ Faith is a restraint against all violence. Let no Muslim commit violence. — Prophet Muhammad
— Guru Nanak
The purer I try to become, the nearer I feel to be to God.
— Mahatma Gandhi
Let us pray, ‘Lead, kindly light’ — a beam will come through the dark, and a hand will be stretched forth to lead us.
— Swami Vivekananda
Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us.
— Jesus Christ
Faith is a restraint against all violence. Let no Muslim commit violence.
— Prophet Muhammad