Upping The Ante


By B.G. Verghese
The Government has messed it up again with practised ease, instinctively doing the wrong thing. The Law Minister had no business, nor officials of the PMO and Coal Ministry, to ask to see the CBI’s affidavit on coal bock allocations prepared at the instance of the Supreme Court. For the Law Minister to plead he merely made grammatical corrections only reduces absurdity to farce. What the episode proves is that this Government, like its predecessors, continues to treat the CBI as a handmaiden and is determined to deny it real autonomy.

In a previous episode, the BJP Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee called CAG officials to his residence for a discussion on a yet-to-be-submitted report. That wrong was at that time strongly defended by the BJP which now protests a similar indiscretion. The BJP-led Opposition has meanwhile irresponsibly stirred up more of a crisis in and over Parliament, and an unnecessary one at that, than the Chineseby their intrusion at Daulet Beg Oldi. There will be protest and anger at this statement but the facts tell their own story.

The BJP, aided by the Left and sundry other parties, has over several sessions spread over the past three or more years resorted to stalling Parliament in a most reckless fashion as a means of conducting partisan business at the cost of the nation’s business, sometimes even  in defiance of the agenda set by the all-party business advisory council. Important legislation and discussion has been repeatedly stalled and the development and governance agenda frustrated. Who gains?

It may be argued that the Congress or UPA has behaved badly and is guilty of covering up major scams and impeding due process. Maybe. Yet the ruling party has offered to discuss every issue raised has rightly refused to be stampeded into arbitrary procedures dictated by an unreasonable Opposition. The demand that the Prime Minister, the Law Minister, Ashwini Kumar, and the JPC chairperson, P.C Chacko, must resign as the first order of business has stalled progress. The Supreme Court is seized of the coal block allocation matter. Let it first pronounce. And in the case of the JPC, if opposition members feel the chairman has erred, let them file strong minutes of dissent.

Let each and every issue be debated and if the Government’s reply proves unsatisfactory, it is open to the Opposition to move a vote of no-confidence, which if adopted would automatically mean the resignation of the PM and the Law Minister. But the sad fact is that the BJP and several lesser parties both want the Government to go, by seeking the PM’s head, and even more vehemently wish the Government (hence Dr Manmohan Singh) to stay as they fear early general elections that must follow with no alternative in sight. This is about the most dishonest and self-serving political tamashabeing cynically played out with much noise, grandstanding and ludicrous TV panel debates largely between the same political spoilers who have absolutely nothing to say other than to trade abuse and help channels win bogus TRP points for bear-garden entertainment.

The implications of this stalemate seem not to have been considered. Parliament is being deliberately undermined and replaced by some kind of assumed “direct democracy” conducted by and for the unelected for theirown merriment at the cost of an increasingly disgusted and hapless nation.

What is being done is a reckless manoeuvre for electoral gain,despite the knowledge that the present incumbents of office can equally prevent the next parliament from functioning. The larger truth is that it is not Indian territory that is being attacked so much as its political and democratic ethos and the parliamentary edifice on which these rest. Cynical MPs are belligerently calling on the jawans to die in Ladakh or elsewhere so that their shabby games may continue uncontested.

This is a time to pause and take stock on how to restore bipartisanship on vital issues of national integrity that should remain above politics. Fortunately patriotism is not dead and many will respond to an appeal from either side of the political divide.

This is the challenge. The very idea of India is under attack. The Congress cannot claim any particular virtue. It is guilty of high incompetence, drift and double talk and has condoned criminality by stubbornly refusing to move with something as basic as reform of the police and criminal justice system for which sterling men like Justice J.S Verma strove until their last. Look at Delhi where the State administration has virtually no police powers and the Centre through the Lieutenant-Governor seems to own no responsibility. The best people arestymied by systemic rot while the honest and upright are hounded and “fixed” by politico-bureaucratic-criminal cabals.

The chit fund scam and the passing of the buck going on by those found with their hands in the till comes as no surprise. The aamadmi has once again been looted, this time mostly by a Trinamool Congress leadership whose downhill slide is gathering momentum.

In the midst of this turmoil comes the Chinese intrusion into the Depsang Plains by Daulet Beg Oldi. This marks India’s farthest military outpost and airfield in northeast Lakakh at the foot of the Karakoram Pass, a strategic landmark that marks the border between India and Xinjiang along the old Silk Road. India is renovating the old airstrip as part of a programme to improve its logistics and defensive position all along the Indo-China Line of Actual Control. The Chinese object to these so-called “fortifications” which are very modest in contrast with their own feverish activity over many years in building roads, railways, airways garrison towns and whatnot up to the even beyond the international boundary into Nepal and Pakistan.

The LAC is not properly delineated, let alone demarcated, and so accidental intrusions will take place. This is understandable and can be resolved through flag meetings and diplomatic negotiations. This is where the Chinese have deliberately been going slow, meanwhile probing forward to push their claims deeper and deeper into India, a game of cartographic aggression being played since 1954 and now evident in the Pacific Ocean

One can speculate on the timing of the latest Chinese actions. Maybe it is part of the changeover to a new regime. Whatever that be, the Indian response cannot be hasty belligerence – as foolishly demanded over the so-called “Brahmaputra” diversion – but must be cool-headed and not stampeded by ignorant and noisy chauvinists. Side by side, the defencebuild up must be pursued with vigour and not allowed to falter and flag as before. But when did Parliament last debate defence policy and the nation’s state of preparedness?

The murderous assault on Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner in Lahore Jail, must also be handled with maturity. Let the facts be established and recompense then sought from Islamabad. Pakistan is passing through a dangerous interregnumas it moves to elections and it is not clear who, other than a backroom Army, is in charge. The polls are just days away. This is not a time for jingoism nor disclosure to China, Pakistan and all and sundry of whatever may be India’s political and strategic options.



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