Food for work
Hub of militancy
No need for presidential form
A date with Nehru
Absence of dynamic structure
Food for work
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's inauguration of the National Food for Work Programme in 150 drought-affected districts on Sunday assumes special significance because it is said to be an improvement over all other programmes in the past four decades. In the context of the widespread agrarian distress and shrinking job opportunities, the 100 per cent Centrally sponsored programme is expected to help in capital formation, check migration of the rural poor to urban areas in search of employment and strengthen rural infrastructure. It will also focus on water conservation, drought and flood control, land development and rural connectivity. The new scheme is, no doubt, ambitious and comprehensive, as a prelude to the National Employment Guarantee Act promised by the Centre in the Common Minimum Programme. However, it is not free from glitches.
Under the new programme, for instance, the Centre will provide foodgrains to the states free of cost. But the transportation cost, handling charges and taxes on foodgrains will be the states' responsibility. If the Food for Work programme failed to click in most states earlier, it was mainly because of the states' refusal to lift foodgrains and transport them to the districts concerned due to the physical and financial costs involved in the exercise. The states wanted to pay the workers in cash rather than in grain. But this negated the very purpose of the scheme.
More important is the question of monitoring and effective implementation. Though the District Collector is the nodal officer with the overall responsibility of planning and implementation, the Prime Minister and the Planning Commission should ensure that the new programme does not get derailed due to functional drawbacks. Schemes like the Integrated Rural Development Programme, the Drought Prone Area Programme and the National Rural Employment Programme failed because of the lack of monitoring and coordination among the related departments. Corruption is yet another factor. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had the honesty to admit that "not all is right" with the IRDP and the 20-point Programme with 90 per cent of government funds being eaten up by the "channel" and only 10 per cent reaching the poor. Has the Centre learnt lessons from the past while formulating the new scheme?
Hub of militancy
The latest report of the Ministry of Defence on militancy in South-East Asia is indicative that India is in for difficult times in the days to come, thanks to the growth of radicalism in the region, particularly Islamic fundamentalism. Instead of taking a Pakistan-centric view of the threat, India has made a macro-level assessment of the situation. In other words, it is looking not only at the epicentre but the entire arc of terrorism. Ironically, the US-led attempt to stamp out terrorism is proving to be counter-productive in that it is feeding Islamic radicalism instead. This is happening because its all-out war is being perceived as partial and self-serving. For instance, it is seen to be ignoring the misdeeds of those countries which happen to be on its side of the fence.
India has been the victim of this dual policy all along. Its problems have increased in the recent past. On the one hand, the situation in West Asia refuses to improve and on the other the US-led war against Iraq is fanning militancy. Pakistan has been cleverly exploiting the situation to bleed India through newer wounds. Despite overt proclamations of friendship, it spares no covert opportunity to target its neighbour.
Indeed, this is not a new development but stakes have now become higher. India today has greater economic links with several Asia-Pacific countries. All these countries must realise the import of the threat posed by militancy and join hands to root it out. In an age when the progress and development of most countries is inter-dependent, the drive against terrorism cannot be partial and selective. Any adventurism against country X can be ignored by country Y only at its own peril. The world has to ensure active cooperation against terrorism which poses a threat to the entire humanity.
It is a shame that a stampede broke out at New Delhi railway station on Saturday resulting in the death of five persons, with many more being injured. The railway authorities knew that there was a heavy rush of Bihar-bound passengers, eager to be home for the Chhath Puja and Id festivals. Special trains were being run to accommodate the rush. So why were better arrangements not made for crowd control?
Apathy alone can explain this, as does the report that the railway officials were preoccupied with making arrangements for the Railway Minister's saloon. In any case, there is no doubt that there were too many people and not enough measures to ensure their orderly movement. There is no doubt that people move in large numbers, especially during festival times, and there is some truth in the observation made by railway officials that often too many people come to see off the passengers. But these are facets of Indian culture that officials should be used to by now and should have made provisions for. It is obvious that there was lack of coordination between various agencies. This also caused distress to those who were separated from their families and friends during the mêlée or those who were injured.
Crowd control measures are not adequate most of the time, though there are such mega-events as the Kumbh Mela where the authorities make commendable arrangements for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. A fundamental issue is the lack of focus on safety measures. It was in April that 25 persons were killed in a stampede in Lucknow, apparently trampled as they tried to get free saris that were being distributed. Two years earlier, the city had lost 19 lives in a stampede at the Charbagh railway station, but obviously the message about effectively controlling large number of persons had not gone home. Of course, the authorities alone are not to blame. Too often the people do not cooperate with officials and try to get into the trains by hook or crook. It is time we realised that by not being orderly, we are putting our very lives at stake. As for the authorities, there is no doubt that they need to take proper measures to ensure control before crowds turn unruly.
No need for presidential form
Democracy is based on certain assumptions. It is rooted in the principle of political equality of all citizens. Every voter is expected to cast his vote in a responsible manner. Democracy in theory is different from democracy in practice. In the absence of a better alternative, free people invariably opt for democracy. Education would go a long way in equipping the electors to play their role properly in a democracy.
The framers of the Constitution, after due deliberation, took the bold decision to go in for universal adult franchise at a time when an overwhelming majority of the population was illiterate and below the poverty line. Prescribing qualifications like literacy, property or sex would not have secured a truly representative government.
In the words of Dr Alladi Krishnaswamy Aiyar: “If democracy is to be broad-based and the system of government that is to function is to have the ultimate sanction of the people as a whole, in a country, where a large mass of people are illiterate, where the people owning property are few, the introduction of any property or educational qualification for the exercise of the franchise would be a negation of the principles of democracy. If any such qualification were introduced, that would have disenfranchised a large number of the depressed and labouring classes. It cannot, after all, be assumed that a person with a bare elementary education and with a knowledge of the three R’s is in a better position to exercise the franchise than a labourer or a cultivator who may be expected to know what his interests are and choose his representatives.”
Several eminent thinkers and jurists had misgivings about adult franchise. Lord Bryce had said: “Do not give to a people institutions for which it is unripe in the simple faith that the tool will give skill to the workman’s hand”. According to John Stuart Mill, “equal voting in principle is wrong…. It is not useful but hurtful, that the Constitution of the country should declare ignorance to be entitled to as much political power as knowledge.”
The founding fathers of the Constitution took a calculated risk by incorporating the principle of adult franchise. Nani A. Palkhiwala was critical of the decision to grant the right to vote to every adult citizen. In retrospect, there is a general feeling that the risk was well taken. India is fortunate to this extent that the “din and noise” of democracy has survived for over half a century. The Election Commission is able to hold elections regularly under the Constitution, unlike in most of our neighbouring countries. It would have been better if the Constitution-makers had provided, to begin with, for partly elected and partly nominated legislatures, including Parliament, instead of making them all elected chambers. Democracy in form is not enough; democracy in substance is needed.
Another important decision taken by the Constituent Assembly was to opt for the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy by an overwhelming majority in preference to the presidential form of government. The Assembly felt that a responsible government was preferable to a stable presidential system. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, while piloting the draft Constitution, analysed at length the advantages as well as the drawbacks of the parliamentary form of government and the presidential system, and explained why parliamentary democracy was considered better.
There is a section in our country which feels that India should switch over to the presidential system. This is not feasible so long as parliamentary democracy is regarded as part of the basic structure of the Constitution. It is not desirable either. The awesome concentration of powers in the hands of a single functionary which are, in fact, exercised by nameless and faceless persons and the frequent deadlocks witnessed with respect to legislation proposed by the US President on account of resistance by the American Congress should serve as a caution. Enlightened public opinion in the US itself is exercised over the concentration of too much power in the hands of the President. It is in favour of moving in the direction of the parliamentary system.
However, one common factor which is responsible for the success of parliamentary democracy in the UK and the US is the two-party system prevailing in the two countries. Indian democracy is languishing for want of a two-party system.
Political parties are indispensable in a democracy. They are the medium through which the people organise self-governance. The two-party system largely contributes to the stability and success of a democracy as in the UK and the US.
P.C. Alexander gave two reasons as to why a two-party system could not develop in India. “The first is the special background of the evolution of the Congress party as a political party. The second is the phenomenon of regional or state parties with not only plans and ambitions for political power within their states but also for sharing power at the Centre.” According to him, the dominant role played by the regional or state-level parties has been a major deterrent in the evolution of a healthy two-party system.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution noticed increasing criminalisation of politics and of the electoral process. The following observations made by the commission are pertinent: “Political parties, which have a fair share of the criminal elements, handle enormous funds collected ostensibly for meeting party and electoral expenditure. Money-power and criminal elements have contributed to pervasive degeneration of standards in public life and have criminalised politics. This is reflected in the quality of governments and of the governing processes.”
Democracy in India is passing through a difficult phase of institutional decline. If unchecked by timely corrective measures, it may lead to the collapse of the Constitution yielding place to anarchy. Barring a few exceptions, the elected representatives do not reflect the will of the people. Power-centred politics has distorted our democracy. It has not helped the people as much as it has helped their so-called representatives, their relatives, friends and associates.
The political parties have failed to live up to the expectations of “We, the people of India”. Persons without any commitment to the Constitution and its values are given tickets to contest elections to Parliament and the state legislatures. There is a growing conflict of interests between the political parties and the people whom they profess to serve.
The situation is depressing, but we need not despair. Our basic problems are on account of mismanagement of national resources and misgovernance in the name of democracy. There is no dearth of able, competent, honest and patriotic men and women in the country who can deliver the goods, given an opportunity to operate the state machinery. How to utilise their services is the question. It is possible to make India strong and prosperous through meaningful democracy.
A date with Nehru
JAWAHARLAL Nehru had become the darling of the nation well before Independence, and a meeting with him was a privilege that few could miss out on if a providential occasion had come their way. For me, and my children, therefore, one December morning in 1960, thus, became our date with destiny, so to speak. Nehru had visited the NDA, where I was, then, a lecturer in English, and as Prime Minister addressed the cadets and the faculty after the passing-out parade. So, we had had glimpses of the great man, smiling, with a rose in the buttonhole, walking down the line to greet the children, in particular. My daughter and my son had, no wonder, been charmed, and often talked of their dream handshake with Chacha Nehru.
But our call, at “Teenmurti”, then the Prime Minister’s official residence in New Delhi, came as a gift from the blue. It was an act of chance or contingency, as you may say. Accompanied by my wife and three young children, we were travelling from Bombay to New Delhi in a first class compartment, where the only other passenger happened to be one of Nehru’s officers on guard duty at “Teenmurti”. In a long journey, the children and our co-passenger exchanged many a jolly song and story, and by the time, the train reached New Delhi, we all had had shared a spirit of bonhomie. And when we discovered that he could easily arrange our meeting with the Prime Minister, we were thrilled beyond measure. And before he detrained, he asked us to be at the gate of “Teenmurti” at 10 sharp, next morning.
Unfortunately, our younger daughter’s hand was scalded when she dropped a cup of hot coffee in a minor accident just around the time we were getting ready for our visit. So, my wife and Isma, the younger daughter, couldn’t accompany me and my daughter Anita, 12, and Manoranjan, 10.
The taxi duly deposited us at the Teenmurti gate, and we were greeted there by a member of the security guard who guided us without any body-search, straight to the famed “blue room” where Nehru received visitors in the morning.
We didn’t have to wait for long, and soon saw the beloved Prime Minister descend the stairs, dressed in a brown achken (with a rose in the button-hole a snow-white Gandhi cap and churidars. He promptly shook his hands with me, and with the children, and then started asking me questions about the National Defence Academy, about my work, publications etc. And then he walked us out into the verandah with Anita and Ranjan, holding each by the hand. I cannot recall what he and the children exchanged in that little pow-vow, that I found them all in a playful mood. Children, as we know, had a very special place in his heart, and he felt so happy and restful in their company.
At this time, one of his aides materialised with a photographer in tow. Anita was quick to take out her small autograph copy from one of the pockets for the Prime Minister’s signatures. And that’s the picture we later received at our home address, and the framed picture has since then adorned my study in Chandigarh where I settled after my retirement from the Punjabi University in 1982. The Prime Minister is seen signing, while Anita, Ranjan and I are watching “the miracle”.
Absence of dynamic structure
Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s recent statement buried the long pending issue of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) once and for all. The erstwhile NDA government, despite its pro-defence orientation, somehow continued to dither all through. We have not only failed to change with the times but also showed a marked penchant for disregarding the existing arrangements.
Despite situational pressures for change in defence management mechanism, our leadership displayed no urgency whatsoever to work out a viable apparatus or device to cope with the far-reaching changes that began to threaten India’s security. The babu-dominated Ministry of Defence (MOD) functions like any other ministry and even more than half a century later, we have neither a higher defence organisation nor any defence policy.
The MOD along with the armed forces HQs as its subordinate department is a vintage organisation. The MOD has all the authority but little or no responsibility. The Service HQs, on the other hand, seem to shoulder all the responsibility but have no authority. And to make matters worse, the MOD sits in judgement over the Service HQs without any specialisation in defence matters. As regards the services, they too operate in isolation without much attempt at integration or synergy. The only integration that has ever taken place is in the sphere of training at the level of NDA, Staff College and the National Defence College.
For our leadership, the best example to emulate is perhaps of the British. Starting with a small coordinating office for three single service ministries headed by three secretaries of State (Ministers) in 1946, a Central Ministry of Defence under a single secretary of state integrating all three of them was created in 1964. The political leadership went further ahead with still more fundamental re-organisation in 1985. The guiding principle of that re-organisation was that the strategic issues such as policy, resource allocation and setting priority was the exclusive responsibility of the MOD, whilst the individual services were left to manage themselves within the framework set by the MOD.
All these reforms were brought about by the government itself. Whereas, despite the armed forces constantly prodding our government, no such initiative has so far been taken. The distrust of the armed forces for some unfounded reason by the politico-bureaucratic combine has precluded all efforts at introducing reforms. George Fernandes’ initiative to integrate the Service HQs with the MOD was brought to naught by the intransigent bureaucracy. He had to bite dust, having made repeated statements to that effect publicly. The Service HQs continue to remain outside the government as MOD’s subordinate department, resulting in duplication of effort, cost escalation and inordinate delay in decision making.
The changes even when necessitated by circumstances are often resisted in India on account of parochial consideration. The concept of civilian supremacy somehow stands totally misconstrued as subordination of the armed forces. But the British have ensured to maintain the basic design of strong integrated civilian and the military staff. To cite an example, the Director, an Army Brigadier reports to a civilian under secretary who in turn reports to a civilian deputy secretary who is responsible to a four-star Vice-Chief of Defence Services (VCDS).
Most activities carried out by the MOD and the armed forces involve both military and civilian efforts and, therefore, such activities must necessarily be carried out by an integrated staff. A unified structure with composite civilian and military staff is the most appropriate mechanism to support what is really a single business with common aim. This is how the British fell about integration in managing defence in their country. This indeed is the most cost-effective and economical approach to the business of national security.
There is no alternative but to change our outlook too in this important matter. Periodic reviews have to be carried out for updating the organisation in order to avoid duplication of effort, cut down the cost and ensure expeditious decision-making, without adversely affecting the existing defence policy or the military capability.
Those at the helm of affairs should be able to provide the requisite defence capability. This, however, requires a coherent integrated organisational structure and no less a coherent defence policy. Our lackadaisical attitude, parochial interests and unreasonable politico-bureaucratic apprehensions of powerful armed forces have all prevented the formulation of a viable defence management system and defence capability.
Fifty seven years after Independence, no government has ever thought it important enough to have a dynamic defence structure and defence policy that it wants to pursue and based on which it wants to manage the defence of the country. How to identify and provide the defence capability that will give effect to our policies is, in fact, what should be MOD’s raison d’etre.
Surprisingly but true, after a mere Joint Secretary in MOD sent a written directive to the Army to throw the Chinese’ out in 1962, no government ever issued any written directive whatsoever to the armed forces in any of the wars that India fought subsequently as to what was the government’s aim that the armed forces should pursue. Nor has any government conveyed its threat perception in peace time to the services for which they should equip and train. Since no politician or the bureaucrat is willing to commit for fear of subsequent accountability, the armed forces are left to operate in total vacuum. This is the irony of India’s armed forces.
There is an urgent need for a unified higher defence organisation comprising men in civies and uniform, as is the case all over the democracies. Unnecessary overlap between the civilian and the military hierarchies has to be eliminated in the interest of the nation. We have to change with the times and overcome our old mindset. Otherwise, we will end up paying the price that may not be affordable.
Uma Bharti, who was suspended from the BJP for indiscipline, says that the action by BJP President L.K. Advani has made her wiser as many of her supporters have turned their back on her. She told one of her friends that while she would return as both Vajpayee and Advani are “father figures” to her, those she had picked up and become something have revealed their true colours. Whatever she may think of her erstwhile supporters, they are at a loss to comprehend her action at the party’s office-bearers’ meeting. Many of her supporters, who are contesting elections to local bodies in Madhya Pradesh, had to remove hoardings and destroy posters carrying her picture.
Whatever she may think of her erstwhile supporters, they are at a loss to comprehend her action at the party’s office-bearers’ meeting. Many of her supporters, who are contesting elections to local bodies in Madhya Pradesh, had to remove hoardings and destroy posters carrying her picture.
The importance of Venkaiah
New BJP President L.K. Advani promptly announced his team and reconstituted the party’s 21 cells. He made very few changes. While Naidu’s favorite spokesman Mukhtar Abbbas Naqvi was replaced by a team of spokespersons, former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s grandson Siddarth Nath Singh has been made the convenor of an important cell which looks after the party’s relations with the media. Surprisingly, the cultural cell has two personalities from the Bollywood: Suresh Oberoi and Gajendra Singh Chauhan, who played “Dharmraj Yudhishter” in the TV serial Mahabharat.
New BJP President L.K. Advani promptly announced his team and reconstituted the party’s 21 cells. He made very few changes. While Naidu’s favorite spokesman Mukhtar Abbbas Naqvi was replaced by a team of spokespersons, former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s grandson Siddarth Nath Singh has been made the convenor of an important cell which looks after the party’s relations with the media.
Surprisingly, the cultural cell has two personalities from the Bollywood: Suresh Oberoi and Gajendra Singh Chauhan, who played “Dharmraj Yudhishter” in the TV serial Mahabharat.
Is the Congress and BJP squaring for a fight with the former weeding out Governors appointed by the previous BJP-led NDA government purportedly having strong RSS leanings? Whatever the Congress does is criticised by the BJP. However, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikar of the BJP seems to be an exception. Goa Governor S.C. Jamir (a Congressman) is all praise for Parikar. Similarly, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister S. Jaipal Reddy too seems to have been bowled over by Parikar’s initiative to host the International Film Festival in Goa in the last week of this month.
Is the Congress and BJP squaring for a fight with the former weeding out Governors appointed by the previous BJP-led NDA government purportedly having strong RSS leanings? Whatever the Congress does is criticised by the BJP. However, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikar of the BJP seems to be an exception. Goa Governor S.C. Jamir (a Congressman) is all praise for Parikar.
Similarly, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister S. Jaipal Reddy too seems to have been bowled over by Parikar’s initiative to host the International Film Festival in Goa in the last week of this month.
Chidambaram ducks meet
Foreign investors assembled in New Delhi were disappointed to see Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram skipping their meeting. The UPA government has been utilising every forum to woo foreign investors. However, Chidambaram sent in his regrets at the last minute without assigning any reason. Over 700 of foreign investors including industrialists and bankers were disappointed. The organisers failed to provide a satisfactory answer as to why Chidambaram kept away from their conference.
Foreign investors assembled in New Delhi were disappointed to see Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram skipping their meeting. The UPA government has been utilising every forum to woo foreign investors. However, Chidambaram sent in his regrets at the last minute without assigning any reason.
Over 700 of foreign investors including industrialists and bankers were disappointed. The organisers failed to provide a satisfactory answer as to why Chidambaram kept away from their conference.
AP post not Shinde’s VRS
The Congress leadership has for now accommodated former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde as the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. Word is abuzz in Congress circles that party bosses have big things planned for him like a five-year stint in Rashtrapati Bhawan. There is talk that after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s term ends, Shinde might be fielded for the post of President. He has the qualifications with the Dalit tag as an added asset besides being a diehard Sonia Gandhi loyalist. Contributed by Satish Misra, Gaurav Choudhury, Prashant Sood and R. Suryamurthy
The Congress leadership has for now accommodated former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde as the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. Word is abuzz in Congress circles that party bosses have big things planned for him like a five-year stint in Rashtrapati Bhawan. There is talk that after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s term ends, Shinde might be fielded for the post of President. He has the qualifications with the Dalit tag as an added asset besides being a diehard Sonia Gandhi loyalist.
Contributed by Satish Misra, Gaurav Choudhury, Prashant Sood and R. Suryamurthy
He exists beyond the boundaries of nations - of today, tomorrow and of all times to come. How petty are the wishes we put Before His might! —The Upanishads Those who wish to realise the purpose of life but do not know the path should search for a preceptor. The preceptor is one who has experienced the supreme Truth and is ripe with wisdom. He shares his knowledge with others to guide them on the same path. — The Bhagvad Gita It is Simran that teaches us to give all that we are and what we have to the service of His creatures, without hoping for any reward. — Guru Nanak The force of spirit is ever progressive and endless. Its full expression makes it unconquerable in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi That's what freedom is all about - a chance to be better. — Albert Camus
Those who wish to realise the purpose of life but do not know the path should search for a preceptor. The preceptor is one who has experienced the supreme Truth and is ripe with wisdom. He shares his knowledge with others to guide them on the same path.
— The Bhagvad Gita
It is Simran that teaches us to give all that we are and what we have to the service of His creatures, without hoping for any reward.
— Guru Nanak
The force of spirit is ever progressive and endless. Its full expression makes it unconquerable in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi
That's what freedom is all about - a chance to be better.
— Albert Camus