By B.G. Verghese
In India politics is sport. There is too much politics in our politics and too many are in it just for a laugh. Politics and elections are about power. Alas, power is quite often related more to pelf than to purpose. Such gamesmanship has again been in evidence as the season of scams plays out.
The winter session of Parliament was stalled for the first week as the BJP insisted on the Home Minister’s resignation and would not permit him to speak. His alleged guilt: a post-mortem memo in 2008 that he would have handled spectrum pricing differently over the preceding years. This ex-post facto record of a view that was superseded by a subsequent collective decision does not amount to criminal collusion. In any event, these very matters are pending before the PAC and being investigated by the CBI. The BJP nonetheless decided to block parliamentary proceedings with the support of other parties with similarly negative agendas demanding precedence in moving adjournment motions of their choice on issues pertaining to food prices, inflation and black money.
The country lost. Parliament was stymied and both time and money were wasted by those who tirelessly demand debate but prevent it, ask for bold reform but stall pertinent legislation, seek a lowering of prices but come in the way of production, investment and employment, and posture in the name of the poor but are their worst enemies. The BJP, has much to answer for. The Government too has exhibited deplorable floor management in Parliament by failing to concert action through the business advisory committee and informal talks with opposition party leaders and coalition partners. Our politicians appear to have forgotten that time is a precious resource.
The conclusion of Advani’s nth yatra against corruption and black money is merely beating the air as much as Rahul Gandhi’s loud exertions in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP’s own record on corruption in states governed by it is hardly reassuring. That apart, it is surprising that Murli Manohar Joshi, the BJP chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, currently examining the spectrum matter, should have written to the CAG’s office earlier, inquiring into the status of its impending report and urging expedition so as not to allow the Government time to fiddle with the record! It is also puzzling why a notional or presumptive spectrum price loss for failure to follow the auction route, ranging from a few thousand crores to Rs 1,76 lakh crores (depending on the assumptions made and dates taken into consideration), should in public parlance be pegged to the astronomic upper figure while totally disregarding the notional gain or value of social benefit and revenue earning from the huge expansion of telecom services under the adopted policy.
An earlier CAG report on the so-called Kargil defence purchase “scam” , on which the Supreme Court is calling for action against “errant” officials, again shows the somewhat mechanical manner in which auditing is done. The fact is that the armed forces had faced delays or denial of fresh acquisitions and procurement for long on account of procedural and strop-go hang-ups, as even today, when Kargil happened. In the circumstances, and not knowing how long the conflict might last and what degree of escalation might occur, the armed forces prudently prepared for the worst and placed orders from available vendors without extensive trials in all battlefield conditions so as to procure emergency supplies of ammunition, missiles, metal coffins and other stores. Nor could quantitative estimates be pegged to a pre-determined duration of hostilities.
The purchases were made and performed as required. The metal coffins allowed the dead to be carried back to their families and homes as far away as the Northeast and Kerala for the last rites with honour, without the indignity of body fluids oozing out of wooden coffins. Some stores arrived only after the war was over. But who would have assumed responsibility or calculated the cost had the stores not been procured and things had gone otherwise?
Parliament must be allowed to function if our democratic process is not to lose falter and fail. “Civil society” can be uncivil, incoherent and arrogantly authoritarian, as we find from the antics of the Anna brigade which, bleating about the bush, has sought to extenuate the Pawar slap with disingenuous ifs and buts. Whatever its past record, the Government is now moving on FDI in pensions and multi-brand retail, food security, land acquisition and R&R, and a clutch of bills to deal with corruption, judicial appointments, whistle blowers (other than the BJP’s cash-for-vote variety) and citizens’ grievances. These must be debated and improvements may surely be suggested. But to claim that little is being done or insist on “my perfect Bill” or nothing is to play spoiler.
The forthcoming UP elections have become a huge distraction from getting on with the job all round. Why should Mayawati’s resolution to split U.P into four states be considered a gimmick or an electoral “masterstroke”. The demand for smaller states in administrative and economic grounds has been made time and again by many. Uttar Pradesh is certainly a monster state with a population of over 200 million and growing. Mayawati urged its splitting up soon after assuming office and has sprung no surprise. The Congress is for a separate Budelkhand and its new-found ally, Ajit Singh, is for Harit Pradesh. The Congress was for Telangana, then against it. Thereafter, it, appointed a commission that made Hyderabad an issue. Then it proclaimed Telangana was coming. Now it says if UP is divided, then how will it cope with similar demands for Telangana, Vidarbha and so forth.
The answer would lie in appointing a new states reorganisation commission with instructions to report within 12 to 18 months and prioritise its implementation in measured phases along with steps to ensure inter-state coordination in various matters. The original SRC had recommended the establishment of five inter-state regional development councils. These were set up but have long disappeared.
Finally, one must inveigh against the tendency for Wahabi groups, largely funded from Saudi Arabia, seeking to “convert” the humanist, sufi-infused Muslims of South Asia to intolerant radical Islamists of the Taliban/jihadi variety. The latest manifestation is the rabble rousing around the conversion of some Muslim youth in the Kashmir Valley to Christianity. Conversion by force or inducement would be reprehensible.
But if by choice, there is no reason to seek “action as per Islamic law” and to allege blasphemy. J&K is committed to secularism. Shariat law does not prevail there and the Valley cannot be allowed to be Talibanised.