By B.G. Verghese
The Capital witnessed some dangerous gamesmanship last week with the Delhi Government sitting on “dharna”, transacting official business on the street disposing of files with officials in attendance outside Rail Bhavan and bedrolls for the night until a face- saving formula enabled Kejriwalto call off the tamasha. This was a vulgar display of arrogant pettiness that was wholly avoidable. The Supreme Court has now asked the Chief Minister whether a constitutional authority can advocate and practise unconstitutional behaviour.
The episode was wholly avoidable. AAP has simply refused to explain or understand a simple point. The drama started because SomnathBharti, the Law Minister, claimed that there had been repeated complaints by individuals and the RWA for months, even years, to the effect that Khikri Extension had become a den of drug peddlars and prostitution in which African nationals were involved and in respect of which the police had taken no action.Therefore on an SOS by local residents on the night of January 19,Bharti decided to lead the charge himself, flagging down a passing police patrol car en route. The charge is that the police and even the ACP, who was summoned, refused to act at that midnight hour without a warrant or women police despite the Minister’s orders and urgings. So Bharti and his vigilantes acted independently, leading to complaints by four Ugandan women of racial abuse, sexual harassment, forced searches and so forth.
Kejriwal demanded that the ACP and SHO’s involved in this incident and another staged by Rakhi Birla, Minister for Women and Children, in another locality be suspended. This demand was resisted as the Lt. Governor had ordered a judicial inquiry that would take some weeks to complete. Thereupon, Kejriwal launched his “dharna” in a Section 144 area, resulting in scuffles with the police, inconvenience to the public and interference with on-going Republic Day bandobust. The Supreme Court has now asked the police why it allowed a mob to gather in a prohibited area.
The question to be asked is why Bharti and or Kejriwaldid not on January 20 order the police immediately tofile a criminal complaint or FIR against the alleged prostitution/drug ring in Khikri, promptly investigate the matter and take action against any guilty party? This would have been consistent with due process. There was no way the police could have disregarded suchan order. Rather than follow due process, Kejriwal resorted to fulmination and street action and spurn this obvious and simple option? And now the lofty but utterly irrelevant posturing by the AAP! The Ugandan women have meanwhile filed a police complaint against unknown AAP mobsters and have identified Bharti, who is facing flak on a number of counts. But the AAP leadership has let the law minister off the hook while having secured a temporary suspension of two SHOs in another display of double standardso the part of the AAP.
Not content with this folly, Bharti declined to attend a summons by the Delhi Commission of Women to explain his conduct. He went to a Kite festival while the two representatives he sent to seek another date, got into an unseemly slanging match at the DCW office. The AAP also released video tapes of Delhi police beating up a man in some past incident and eight videos purporting to show Africans in Khikri in a bad light, an offence under Article 19(a)2 for actions liable to vitiate friendly relations with foreign states.
Most political parties have been severely critical of the AAP, which is fast losing credibility even among its adherents. At the same time, riding two horses has made the Congress a laughing stock. It cannot inveigh against Kejriwal and yet continue to support the AAP in the Delhi legislature and keep it in office. It obviously fears that if the AAP falls, it could splinter and enable the BJP to form a government with dissident AAP support. This low-level politics can do the Congress no good as it struggles to remain relevant. Chidambaram has gone public in stating that the Party was split in backing the AAP in office and the decision to do so was “unnecessary”.
Attempting to keep up with the AAP, the Maharashtra Government has rashly reduced the state’s power tariffs across the board by 20 per cent, except in Mumbai city. This will cost the exchequer an unaffordable Rs 7200 crore per annum. Maharashtra thereby follows Delhi and Haryana in scattering fiscal prudence to the winds. In all these cases, populism seems to have triumphed over prudence.
The electoral campaign seems fast degenerating intoand ugly exchange of abuse and innuendo with Uttar Pradesh witnessing a no-holds-barred campaign. The Samajwadi Party has squandered its Muslim vote bank by the communalism it displayed during the Muzaffarnagar riots and its aftermath. Communalism is being whipped up.
Modi has, however, for the first time spelt out his vision in more tangible terms, unlike Rahul Gandhi who continues to espouse eternal verities. Addressing the BJP nation executive in Delhi, the BJP’s prime ministerial face spoke of aiming to accomplish several missions: the creation of world class infrastructure in terms of rail, road, water, gas and optic fibre grids; a golden triangle of bullet trains, a new urban design with 100 walk-to-work cities, and a renewed agricultural and social sector thrust.. Some of these are imaginative ideas but need prioritisation and fleshing out. Hopefully they will be elaborated and become the focus of debate. Sadly, too little has been said on systemic reforms, with old fashioned procedures continuing to matter more than outcomes.
Another matter that merits close attention is fashioning a sensible communication policy. Chidambaram, a very articulate man himself, has described the top UPA leadership as “media shy”. The Prime Minister is unfortunately a poor communicator. But what the country truly lacks is modern system of information/communication and response in an information age. There is no live or meaningful contact or coordination between the PM’s Information cell, the JS External Publicity, the Defence spokesperson, the I&B Ministry and the Home Ministry or Internal Security-cum- Police and Intelligence wings. There is no routine mechanism for morning conference calls to bring all major spokespersons on the same page or for assigning lead roles for communication in emergencies and disasters. When are we going to live up to the national motto of SatyameveJayate which implies more than mere propaganda and spin-doctoring. Nobody has paid the slightest attention to this aspect of modern day governance. Cabinet-speak and Party spokespersons have a role to play; but a communications policy has to go far beyond that.
Finally, the Army’s just-announced closure of the Pathribal case appears to lack credibility and smells of a cover-up. It must be re-investigated. The case pertains to the killing of five men in what the Army alleges was a terrorist encounter but which the local populace, the J&K police and even the CBI claim was a fake encounter in 2000 in which five villagers were gunned down. Overturning the CBI’s findings without convincing evidence to the contrary rings hollow.