Rhetoric! Not a good idea


by Heigrujam Nabashyam A feature of the budget session of the Manipur Assembly that had raised a question on honour and dignity of the August House was the incident of disciplining an Assembly peon, who was dressed with all the pomp, for making an idiotic gesture, to make, in the words of the Honourable Leader of the House –  “a mockery of the Assembly” by the Chief minister himself, on the second day.
Discipline in the government establishments have become a rare commodity not only in Manipur but in many places. One would agree even in a disciplined service such as the armed forces instances of overstepping the line are not foreign. The most glaring instance was the dismissal of the Indian navy chief, when George Fernandes was the defence minister in the Vajpayee government. The navy chief had acted on his own against the will of the political executive that amounted to insubordination, and subsequently he was sacked.
In a recent incident, SM Krishna, the Indian foreign minister was juxtaposed unfavourably with his Pakistani counterpart by a high flying official of the home ministry – probably after getting a nod from the home minister – by issuing a withering statement at Delhi, while the minister was engaged with his Pak counterpart in Islamabad, causing diplomatic embarrassment : a clear case of inappropriate conduct.
However quite surprisingly, Dr. Manmohon Singh, the prime minister – an economist, a scholar and ironically an apolitical person by disposition – did not take any action against the official. Perhaps the prime minister identifies himself with the non-political and knowledgeable officials of his government, who otherwise should remain anonymous – to not speak to the media, maintain neutrality, because a partisan bureaucracy including diplomats, is the anti-thesis of democracy – and therefore the cocky official got off scot-free. Or maybe the prime minister has overlooked these important aspects while probably engrossed in the Spectacular economic growth or unwittingly allowed officers stepping into the political sphere of the government emulating the Bengal CPM vindicating the Bengali claim : what Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow. The truth is, it is very difficult to think of an elected prime minister who would bear such conduct of their officers.  Sadly, such things seem to have become a rule rather than an exception of the Manmohon Singh government. Not surprisingly, high flying officials have started occupying political space in the media, which belongs to the ministers and law makers, in the last few years.
In yet another incident a brass of the Indian Air Force allegedly made a statement some months ago, criticizing the government and The Telegraph reported the matter. However nothing had happened after that. If one would care to remember, in a similar incident, a few months back, the American Commander in Iraq was immediately summoned to Washington – after it came in a newspaper – and asked him to explain his conduct and ultimately he had to resign, for speaking against the government. Fact is, such aberrations are not tolerated in civilized democracies; and not doing that would only undermine the civilian authority.
The policy of the Manmohan Singh government to look the other way, when it should have rein its overzealous officials in, do not go down well with the norms of democracy. Discipline and protocol cannot be diluted without risking democracy and governance. What is happening is truly unfortunate. The policy of the prime minister, it is afraid, has diluted the norms of democratic institutions by abdicating the prime ministerial responsibility in the name of collective responsibility and that it could have pernicious effect.
The claim that Dr. Singh is scrupulously clean himself, can never make up responsibility deficit and of the deviations from the democratic norms in the Prime Minister. This deficiency is one of the main reasons of the many problems – the scams, episode like the CVC appointment, and also the allegations of the different ministries working at cross purposes – that his government has found itself. Even the Supreme Court had noted this aspect. This is not a healthy development.
However the policy of the prime minister to address the problems for the troubled spots : the thrust on development as the panacea for the intractable problems of militancy and insurgency deserves critical understanding.
For Manipur, the chief minister, has claimed righteously, on the floor of the House that his government has succeeded in putting the financial position of the government back on track by strictly following financial discipline. One may remember that since the last decade – which coincides with India rising exponentially economically – Manipur has been a recipient of unprecedented liberal central funds. The claim of the chief minister and his virtuous instructions in his inimitable way, to his ministers would have been trustworthy, if it is not for the various unmentionable alleged scams such as the Loktak Phumdi Project, the various irregular contracts, supplies and recruitments of his government, which according to the local media, accounted for a minimum of one thousand crores of rupees – a peanut for New Delhi, but a great sum of money for Manipur.
The most amusing part is the development shenanigans of the of the Ibobi Singh government, that have produced a humongous amount of filthy lucre and have overawed even the opposition members and probably a large section of the local media fraternity too, and that probably is what the chief minister is gloating about. And not surprisingly the general publics believe that the chief minister is the main beneficiary. However this popular belief can be disproved by making public one’s assets and that should not be a problem for the head of the Manipur government, as the prime minister of India and the chief minister of Assam had already done.
Respect and regard, like money should be earned; and this cannot be more true for an elected leader. One is respected by one’s integrity. He earns respect and regard by his actions – true to himself and acceptable to others. This is the dignity of the person. The dignity of the August House – in the most simplest sense, is the dignity of its honourable members. It is only the members who can protect the dignity of the House – the symbol of the will of the people. And the converse too, is also true – it is only the members who can dilute the dignity of the House.
Statements made in the House are commitments to the people. The Leader of the House had made a statement in regards to insurgency in Manipur “……………. to come to plebiscite is a sign of a good beginning”. This is a commitment to the people. And therefore the Manipur government must now make the move. The government may initiate a process, to begin with, it can take the matter to the Centre on the political level, that is at the highest level of the government. This could be a beginning, and in this we can hardly afford to indulge in empty rhetoric for such a key issue –  or should we ?


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