By B.G. Verghese
The new President was eloquent and to the point in his Independence eve address to the nation. Public anger (at corruption or whatever), he said, “is legitimate but it cannot become an excuse for an assault on our democratic institutions… .when protest becomes endemic, we are flirting with chaos; legislation cannot be wrenched way from the legislature or justice from the judiciary”. While deploring the recent violence in Assam he perceptively remarked that the real problem was not anti-minority but rapid economic growth to resolve the problem of migration.
However, the mischief played by rumour caused Northeasterners , mostly students and hospitality workers, to be targeted in Mumbai, Pune and elsewhere, resulting in thousands fleeing these cities, especially Bangalore, to return home despite appeals to remain and assurances of protection. These are dangerous tendencies that must be firmly curbed.
Ramdev has retreated after his show of revolutionary bravado, surrounded and supported by hollow men, after his bluff was called by the Government which properly refused to be stampeded by ultimata. The assortment of politicians who flocked to his banner have soiled party records but were glad to squeeze any drop of advantage to further their own political agenda, which is far from fighting corruption or tackling black money as their own records show.
The Government must now get on with the job in hand and the Prime Minister must not allow himself to be hobbled by internal party and opposition sabotage. This bluff too must be called. The way to ensure even a bare a fighting chance at the 2014 polls is to act boldly and leave it to those who oppose, howsoever self-important, to explain why? There is no alternative to Dr Manmohan Singh or the UPA between now and 2014. Nor is he seeking another term in office. So he is well positioned to seize the initiative and lift the country out of the morass it currently finds itself in on account of the past two years of drift which cannot be wholly attributed to the global economic slowdown, coalition dharma or the need to find political consensus. Strong political will is what is required. As the adage goes, “progress comes from taking uncomfortable positions”.
Apart from the pending list of economic and political reforms, systemic reform is absolutely essential. Running the country on out-dated premises and seeking safety in a plethora of unnecessary signatures, with procedures trumping outcomes, has become a bane. Delay is often tantamount to denial or huge cost escalation, with inevitable rent seeking to beat the “system”. It was so refreshing therefore to read that the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, after investigating the recent national grid failure, has unprecedentedlyimposed a personal fine (reportedly of Rs 1 lakh each) on officers in charge of the State Load Despatch Centres in U.P and other Northern Grid state managers all of whom knowingly overdrew power resulting in a national crisis. The concerned officers pleaded helplessness and produced text messages or spoke of personal visits from local politicians threatening action in case of any power cut in their area. How can such conduct be tolerated? The matter must be pursued and guilty politicians and power ministers in the offending states be severely penalised or removed for what was nothing less than a wilful act of national sabotage.
Independence Day celebrations have become a routine affair, a holiday more than an occasion for rededicating the nation to the unfinished tasks promised 60 years ago. India has certainly done well on many counts in view of the magnitude of the challenge, the massive diversity of the nation and the effort pull itself up by its bootstraps through a process of full-fledged democracy in which basic needs have yet to be met. But this can be no excuse for grievous slippages and failures. Virtually every country around the world that started their development process long after us has left us far behind and boasts a better HDI basic-needs record. Time is not with us and welling anger could derail social stability and orderly progress.
The current Parliament session again started with disruption, not debate. Every trifling matter is politicised just to stymie the other fellow. These are self-inflicted wounds and the “Jai Hinds” we hear mask varying degrees of hypocrisy. One reform L.K Advani had suggested for a second time perhaps merits serious examination. This was that the Constitution be amended to hold parliamentary and assembly elections simultaneously once every five years and not randomly every few months as one or other legislature is dissolved or completes its term in an irregular cycle because of past mid-term dissolutions.
This would require adoption of the German system of a constructive vote of confidence in an alternative leader or formation when a vote of non-confidence is moved, as at present, against an incumbent government. This would imply that while governments might come and go – and they would not go so easily – each Assembly andLokSabha would complete its full term. This may not be an ideal arrangement and much may be said in criticism. But such a reform would perhaps go some way to “de-politicise” politics, reduce the national, party and individual cost of elections and thereby rid current electoral politics of its hugely corrupting influence via resort to black money and partly related mafia-muscle power. Let the matter be debated.
It is ironic that on the very eve of Independence Day, a leading news channel sponsored a “Greatest Indian after Gandhi” contest. Dr Ambedkar was declared the winner by popular vote though the jury placed him second to Nehru. In the popular ranking down to the tenth position many names such as those of Patel, Azad, Rajaji and others were missing or accorded lowly rankings. Such rankings, like the daily straw cell-phone polls and TAM ratings – now being challenged in a New York court by NDTV – are bogus or contrived and largely serve the purpose of entertainment.
Nevertheless, the fact that an illustrious jury ranked Ambedkarsuggests that many do not understand the man, truly a great Indian by any reckoning who arguably delivered the finest oration heard in the Constituent Assembly at its closing session after having adopted the Constitution. He argued that bhakti was perhaps well suited to faith but could, as hero worship, prove disastrous in politics. So why wrap Ambedkar in bhakti, something that he so rightly abhorred. His forecast that political equality (one vote one man) must be matched with social equality (one man, one value) else India would be overwhelmed by social contradictions has come dangerously true. Ours remains a highly unequal society even today, with inequality powerfully reinforced by vote bank politics, with little or no effort by concerned religious or political leaders, barring a few, to push for reform.