Artful Dodgers All


By B.G. Verghese
The Centre’s meeting with Chief Ministers on the Maoist threat was a damp squib.It was boycotted by Jayalalitha and MamataBannerjeeand near-rubbished by several of those who attended. Low politics triumphed. The diluted proposal for a National Counter-Terrorism Centre to coordinate all intelligence and operational planning was turned down as diluting federalism, a bogey, and on grounds of creating new institutions instead of consolidating institutions already on the ground, an argument that is partly true. In any event, the NCTC is necessary and its absence couldaggravate future vulnerabilities.

The Prime Minister had little to say and the Home Minister, even if in passing, shifted attention to efforts to revive the Khalistani cause with assistance from across the border. The emphasis was expectedly on the law and order aspect after the recent Moistcarnage in Bastar.Little was said on development strategies and nothing at all about the gaping hole in the critical constitutional framework created by the virtual abrogation of the Fifth Schedule. This brazen indifference towards constitutional practice without debate or amendment is undermining the State and poses a clear and present danger to good governance.

The Centre has abdicated its responsibility and the Prime Minister, having set up a National Tribal Council, has chosen not to activate it for over a year. The Tribal Affairs Ministry has been side lined and the Minster shabbily snubbed by all and sundry.

The Centre has also allowed the Telengana issues to drift despite repeated assurances of intent that have led those demanding its formation up the garden path. The fear is that grant of Telengana will trigger similar demands to many of which Centre and other parties are committed in principle. Butthiswas always obvious and, if so, why make categorical electoral promises and raise false expectations, not once but repeatedly. Yes, there are complex issues involved but indecision is not governance. The argument that Hyderabad is a prizeto which other regions of the unified State lay claim, is perverse. It was Nehru’s obduracy over keeping Bombay out of Maharashtra in 1958 that makes the Shiv Sena parochially root for reserving Maharashtra for the “Maharashtra manoos”.

Small states (with smaller districts and blocks) are desirable from the point of view of techno-economic management,enhanced popular participation and accountability. There are other mechanisms through which inter-state and intra-sectoral coordination can be fostered.

It is not the Congress alone that may be faulted for lowering standards. The BCCI scandal has shown how low sport has sunk at the hands of unscrupulous elements – underworld dons, bookies, greedy players and devious managers. Cricket, as much else, has become commerce and got highly politicised with sporting managements being cornered by ministers and politicians on long-term or even lifetime “contracts” through cabals and cosy cartels who use these positions of vantage as a perch for patronage and to “manage” the show rather than for any good they do.

This kind of insider trading must stop and such positions should be designated offices of profit that would debar ministers, MPs and MLAs from holding them. The former BCCI chief had the gall to hang on when he had lost all moral right to do so and then set magisterial conditions for his temporary leave of absence which were conceded. And he has been momentarily replaced by his predecessor who had early left under a cloud in controversial circumstances. What have we come to!

Politicians make all manner of extravagant and totally self-serving demands, the latest being a shameless move to grant Karnataka MLA’s private club membership! The CIC may have pushed the envelope in describing political parties as “political associations” in view of certain monetary favours and demanding that they be accordingly brought under its jurisdiction to compel disclosure of their funding and accounts. The MPLADS and State assembly equivalent are a case in point. Every single party has protested in pious horror, as exposure would expose a good deal of sleaze. They protest too much, as they unanimously did on the most petty and pathetic grounds when it was ordained that electoral contestants file a declaration of assets. What has been notable since is that these assets seem to multiply magically in the case of quite a few as soon as they are elected Honourable Members.

The CIC may be a clumsy or inappropriate route to discipline parties. The real lacuna is the absence of any definition of a political party in the Constitution. Given that, laws could be enacted to govern their duties and responsibilities such as membership, inner party elections, sources of funding, auditing of finances, investments and so on. All this is presently completely opaque. The defection law and procedures for allotment of symbols to “recognised” parties are often touted but are utterly irrelevant in the context of defining and regulating political parties. It is therefore time to press for such a constitutional amendment in order to curb party-political and electoral graft which is a major font of corruption. Who will bell the cat? There is no substitute for relentless public pressure.

One welcome event this last week was the laying of the foundation stone of the National Defence University in Gurgaon, 14 years after it was recommended by the Kargil Review Committee and some years after it was formally approved. The NDU will fill a gap in strategic thinking and understanding in the country but only if we restore geography as an important academic discipline and lower the totally nonsensical bar on classification of information and maps. These barriers have seriously undermined the nation’s geo-political, geo-strategic and cartographic sense and sensibility.The situation is worse in the border regions where formidable taboos reign.

The classification policy is utterly retrograde as we sit tight on information whose operational value is long past but from which valuable lessons can be learnt and historical contours refined. A nation that denies itself knowledge of its own history and geography is in peril. And the degree of historical and geographical/geo-political illiteracy that stalks the corridors of power is shocking.

It is time the necessary corrections are made in classification and archival policy. With the steady opening up of foreign archives Indian scholarship and policy making are becoming dangerously dependant on foreign versions of Indian events. This cringing intellectual deference to foreign powers is tantamount to an erosion of independence even as sundry duffers cry Jai Hind!

Finally, admissions to Delhi University have happily commenced under the new Four Year Undergraduate Programme dispensation. Opposition continues. An unsatisfactory status quo must yield to change, given enough common sense to make mid-course corrections as and where necessary. Bravo DU!


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