Race to the Bottom


By B.G. Verghese

The moral fibre of the nation is being sorelytested by the race to the bottom in which the Congress and Opposition, especially the BJP, are engaged. Parliament continues to be disrupted, cutting at the very root of our democratic governance and values, which far from embarrassing the ruling party often enables it to get off the hook. In the last budget session the BJP dared not move a vote of non-confidence in the Government and instead disrupted Parliament.

In the current session, the BJP and others rightly hauled the Government over the coals on the issue of missing coal files. However, the BJP let some business be transacted though the introduction of the Food Bill was blocked. Following which YashwantSinha taunted ArunJaitley that while he and his colleagues had shut down the Lower House, Jaitley had failed to do likewise in the Upper House.What a shabby competition in negativism,if correctly reported.

The anything-goes-in-the-run-up-to-the-elections syndrome is gathering momentum. The Haryana and UP Governments continue to persecute honest officials such as DurgaNagpal and Ashok Khemka to protect the sand mafia and Robert Vadra. The BJP in turn has begun to raise the communal ante. The AkhilshYadav government has very properly denied permission to the VHP to launch an “84 kosparikrama” around Ayodhya, covering seven districts, from August 25 until September 13 to demand the construction of a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid once stood before it was demolished. In view of the Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo until a final determination on the ownership and future of the disputed site and apprehensions that communal passions will be stirred, the administration has prudently chosen to prevent a breach of peace and uphold law and order. No amount of pleading by the VHP-BJP can have any credibility in view of the complete betrayal of trust by these very people in December 1992 in the most deceitful manner after offering the most solemn assurances to the nation.

Further, there cannot be a repeat of Advani’s October 1990 rathyatra that aroused communal passions and left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. That an 84 kosyatra was held in April-May this year cannot justify a repeat performance without provoking counter demonstrations by the other party. VHP leaders have started blustering and threatening defiance. This should be dealt with firmly as the country cannot be held to ransom through the secular exploitation of faith by communal mobsters of all hues who have been given too long a leash to run riot.  

Dalit atrocities are daily reported and largely go unpunished, generating a climate of immunity and impunity. What are the Parivar, sadhus, senas and so-called godmen doing about thisshameful persecution? Who among these has proposed any yatra or campaign to root out these social evils? There are many and more secular Hindus who have devoted their lives to social reform sometimes, alas, to meet the brutal fate of Dr NarendraDabholkar,a secular fighter for liberal values who was murdered in Pune for making the important distinction between faith and “blind faith” as he put it.

Dabholkar had been fighting social evils and superstition, including astrological irrationality, witch hunting, which is prevalent in many parts of India, black magic and women’s right to enter temples. He upheld the scientific spirit against miracle men which earned him the ire of those who make a living out of such chicanery.  Many cases had been filed against him but he soldiered on and campaigned for the Maharashtra Eradication of Blind Faith Bill (or anti-black magic bill) that has been pending in the Assembly since first introduced in 1995.

Such a man was obviously a thorn in the flesh of unscrupulous elements out to exploit faith as commerce. It is a sad commentary on “secular” India that such men of rare devotion to abiding values are ruthlessly eliminated by thugs. Dabholkar’s battle remains to be fought and won. His death has triggered Cabinet clearance of an Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance even as Hindu-right organisations disrupted a memorial function in his honour while a SanatanSantha leader penned a ghoulish obituary blessing the Almighty for granting Dabholkar such a death rather than one following a painful illness or surgery.  

The Maharashtra government, like others has kow-towed before violence and blackmail to the extent that someone likeBalThackarey was given a state funeral. AsaramBapu, a most unsavoury “sant” justified Nirbhaya’s gang rape last December. He is now facing charges of rape of a minor whom he lured to his Jodhpur ashram on the plea of exorcising the “evil spirits” that had possessed her. Such charlatanism not merely continues to flourish in India today but is patronised.

Turning to more secular events, it was shocking to read of a whole series of appointments of vice-chancellors in Bihar having to be quashed by the Supreme Court on account of mala fide action by the Governor who is ex-officio Chancellor of all  State universities.  Why do successive Union governments appoint persons who are totally unfit to hold high office to oblige a party hack or silence him or use him as a hatchet man. This is inexcusable and undermines good governance.

Were all this not enough, we have the Trinamool Congress and AGP opposing the Indo-Bangladesh land boundary settlement. This is dangerous gamesmanship that borders on the anti-national on grounds that do not bear rational scrutiny. The settlement, embodied in a constitutional amendment bill, is not ceding territory as much as defining anundefined boundary marked by Radcliffe on a small map with a thick-nibbed pen, as Nehru put it. The settlement, long overdue would immensely benefit India and the border people, especially those living in bits and pieces of territory held in adverse possession by the other side or in enclaves that are to be exchanged.

MamataBannerjee, an unstable politician with an oversized ego, earlier sabotaged a settlement on Teesta water sharing on frivolous grounds resulting in a setback to Indo-Bangladesh relations. The Centre has to stand firm on issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity both of which would be strengthened by ratification of the land boundary settlement.

The Northeast remains sullen and in turmoil over competing new-state demands. TarunGogoi has indicated a willingness to negotiate adjustments and has appealed to the Centre to initiate such a tripartite process. This option should be seriously explored alongside a review of the dysfunctional structure and working of the North East Council and DoNER. The recent expansion of the National Capital Region with the addition of two more Haryanvi districts offers an example to follow by enlarging the NEC to include Gorkhaland and North Bengal above the Siliguri corridor with greater autonomy within what could become a sub-federation. Bengal need not be bifurcated. The NCR has proved to be a development trigger benefiting from Central loans at reduced rates, 15 per cent of approved project costs as grants, and other incentives. Lands and forests are limited. But employment, the real answer to many discontents, could expand exponentially

Who in Delhi is thinking?



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