Independence Day Blues


B.G. Verghese

Another Independence Day has passed with acrimony rather than statesmanship marking the occasion. This was a time for the nation to stand together and see how best to make that tryst with destiny inherent in the promise of the Constitution of which Nehru spoke about so movingly 66 years ago. Instead we saw fractious politics, mean-minded polemics, chauvinism, communal rioting and an unrestrained war of words with Pakistan. Sections of the media joined in trivialising the occasion.

The Prime Minister’s address was pedestrian in delivery and content but dignified. He talked of renewed policy initiatives on the economic front that he said would bring about a turnaround before too long but there are worrying signs of returning to regulation and controls through administrative fiat. The President was sharper in his message to Islamabad in stating that there are limits to patience and that Pakistan must deliver on repeated promises on preventing its soil from being used for cross-border and bringing those responsible for 26/11 to justice.

Nevertheless, the preceding parliamentary resolutions on both sides of the border on the LOC incidents and their impact on Indo-Pakistan relations without calm discussion and analysis were rituals that served little purpose other than as citations for the record. This exercise was however somewhat redeemed by the more constructive Independence Day messages exchanged between the two prime ministers. Nawaz Sharif is treading a delicate path and needs India’s assistance in holding course amidst the backdrop of military-mullah pressures. There are democratic and secular elements in Pakistan whose cause is our cause. To say this is not to surrender to bullying tactics or blackmail but to hold fast to our own founding values and aspirations and retain the moral high ground. Elements in Pakistan are playing spoiler but India should not bite the bait. The weekend arrest by the Delhi police of Abdul KarimTunda , a high ranking LeT/jihadi operative with a Pakistani passport issues to him last January provides further e
vidence of this and is something that should be  vigorously pursued diplomatically .

Meanwhile Defence communications remain in shambles. Last weekend the papers reported differing versions of what is supposedly happening in the Kargil-Drass sector – Pakistan violations, or none according to a Defence spokesman. When will the government have the wit and wisdom to remedy this gross national security lacuna?

NarendraModi saw in Independence Day an opportunity to make Dr Manmohan Singh blink.  But excepting those who enjoy a circus, the brash ploy to stage a vituperative mock party-political debate between a sitting prime minister and an impatient aspirant to that office on a solemn national occasion failed and clearly left some leading elements in the BJPuncomfortable.

Independence Day was preceded by another round of parliamentary paralysis on sundry issues, for which the Congress must take equal responsibility with the BJP and others. An anguished RajyaSabha Chairman lamentedthat “every single rule in the book, every single(canon of)etiquette is being violated” and if Honourable Members wished the House to become “a federation of anarchists” so be it. That was an appropriate rebuke and it is surprising that the Leader of the Opposition,ArunJaitley, objected just as other boisterous members had the previous week objected to being named and shamed in the Parliamentary bulletin for disrupting the business of the House.

The conduct of MPS and MLAs across the political spectrumis increasingly being held to ridicule with MPs and MLAs seeking to protect the “electoral rights” of convicted criminal members of their fraternity.What is the message being sent out? That thugs and gangsters should not only be allowed to contest but will be re-nominated by their parties because they provide the (black) money and muscle not only to get themselves but other party candidates elected! And once elected, they partner all manner of mafia elements to loot the country. The unfolding of the Nagpal and Khemka cases shows the extent to which the rot has set in.

A  Congress MP from Haryana,RaoInderjit Singh has indirectly named Robert Vadra among those who need to be investigated on unanswered charges of illicit land-grab in Gurgaon. The Haryana Government has assiduously defended Vadra who remains strangely coy in his own defence. This stonewalling is wholly unconvincing. Vadra may be innocent but let his name be cleared in the manner expected in the case of any citizen.

The Prime Minister expressed concern in his August 15 address over the growing incidence of communal and caste violence and intolerance in the country. He named the BJP-RSS for its role in the recent riots in Kishtwar. There have been other communal flare ups between Sikhs and dalits and incidents targeting dalits. In Madhya Pradesh, efforts at saffronisation of education and targeting Christians have been reported. In Karnataka, two Muslim youths celebrating Eid with a couple of Hindu girls were threatened for such innocent socialising  by right-wing Hindu hoodlums, while in Ahmedabad, VHP cadres vandalised an art gallery exhibiting works of Pakistani artists “while Pakistan is beheading our soldiers on the LOC”. The BJP’s rightward electoral stance under Modi, with RSS inspiration, is polarising the population. This is a dangerous trend. No brand of communalism should be given any quarter.

In this situation, the Minorities Commission has most unwisely asked the Archaeological Survey to survey closed mosques that are protected monuments in order to certify their condition and to recommend whether any of them should be opened for namaz as requested by local Muslim communities, ostensibly for lack of worship sites. To open such closed mosques in the ASI’s keeping could open a can of worms and trigger endless and wholly avoidable controversy. Should the Kailash Temple at Ellora, the Sun Temple in Konarkand similar archaeological treasures be thrown open to worship on the basis of rival claims?Similar demands would certainly follow not on grounds of piety but to exploit communal, vote-bank politics.

There is however merit in the Government’s decision to appoint a committee to review progress on the recommendations of the Sachar Committee on the Muslim condition. Available evidence shows that Muslim employment in Government and the public sector has declined. This is a sad reflection on the promise of Fraternity, Dignity and equal opportunity written into the Constitution.  

The Government has also appointed a committee to look at the socio-economic condition of tribal India. This is good. But unless this body enquires into the implementation (or even relevance today, as some would argue) of the Fifth Schedule or its non-implementation as is the case, and also review the working of the Sixth Schedule, its findings may be of limited value. There is currently complete confusionabout the status and role of Governors and Tribal Advisory Councils under the Fifth Schedule with different consentities pulling in different directions on the basis of their own interpretation of what this mandates. The TribalAffairs Minister’s letters to Governors containing constitutional directives have been simply ignored, creating a most anomalous situation that calls for prompt redressal rather than studied indifference. A draft tribal policy is also on the anvil; but until the Fifth Schedule matter is resolved this too will flounder.


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