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Tamil Nadu Defiance Irks Court: FREEDOM FROM BANDHS --AT LAST?, By Poonam I Kaushish;6 October 2007 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 6 October 2007

Tamil Nadu Defiance Irks Court


By Poonam I Kaushish


Your freedom ends where my nose begins. This truism once again came to life when Tamil Nadu ‘shut down’ on Monday last. Thanks to a bandh called by the ruling DMK supremo and Chief Minister Karunanidhi to pressurize the Centre to expedite work on the controversial Sethusamudram Project. So what if it crippled life, inconvenienced the aam aadmi, brought the State machinery to a grinding halt, knocked out the concept of good governance and earned the wrath of the Supreme Court. Wherein in a first-of-its-kind observation the Court threatened to recommend imposition of President Rule in the State in case the State Government defied its order, resulting in a breakdown of the Constitution.


Predictably all hell broke loose. The polity yelled blue murder and came down like a ton of bricks on what they termed as judicial activism and encroachment into the powers of the Executive. The media too went to town with some in Chennai trying to be more loyal than the DMK king. The legal fraternity busied itself with dissecting and analyzing the Apex Court observations. Had the judiciary overstepped its bounds? Did it have the powers to recommend dismissal of a State Government and imposition of the President’s rule? Or merely advise the Centre to look into it?


Needless to say, Tamil Nadu has thrown up several Constitutional issues and, importantly for the aam aadmi, once again brought the issue of bandhs sharply on the national radar. True as jurists from former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court PN Bhagwati and JS Verma to ex-Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee and senior advocates like KK Venugopal have stated, it is nobody’s case that the Apex Court has the powers either to dismiss a State Government, dissolve a duly elected legislative assembly and impose President’s rule, which the Executive alone is empowered to do.


In case the Supreme Court is of the opinion that there is a Constitutional breakdown, according to Bhagwati, it can surely advise the Government to look into it. But, according to Verma, the Court’s function is essentially to adjudicate on the constitutionality of President’s Rule. In fact, he has also clarified the reason why the Constitution did not empower the Court with this power. Article 356 empowers only the President to issue orders to impose President’s rule. This has to ratified by both the Houses of Parliament within 60 days of its sitting. If the Court was empowered to impose Central rule, then how would it examine the legal validity of its own action?


Adds Sorabjee, “The Court could have slapped a contempt notice on the State Government for flouting its orders.” As matters stand, what Justice B.N. Agarwal, heading the Supreme Court bench, stated were only “oral observations”. Unlike formal orders, these have no force in law. They were simply intended to ensure that the State respected the Court’s orders. Fortunately, the observations had the desired effect when these were flashed by the TV channels by 1.30 pm. Karunanidhi hurriedly called off his hunger strike and post haste returned to the Secretariat with his brood in tow. But the bandh had already done its damage. Chennai was virtually paralysed and the aam aadmi helplessly harassed.


If the happenings in Tamil Nadu were unprecedented, cut to Delhi numero uno road --- Parliament Street. Heavily barricaded with baton-wielding policemen, fire engines and police vans, it stands vandalized every other day by slogan-shouting masses protesting about something or the other. Time and again, punctuated by the bursting of tear-gas shells and water cannon volleys. The cause is immaterial. It is all about registering ones protest, the louder the better. Success is measured in terms of causing maximum dislocation and discomfiture to the people at large. Bringing work to a standstill in the prime business district with the entry-exit points repeatedly sealed.


The havoc is not limited to New Delhi. In Kerala last year alone, Kochi was shut down for 11 days, the State Capital, Thiruvananthapuram, for 19 and Thrissur lost 59 days to hartals. And, there has been no let-up this year. In fact, no day passes without a strike somewhere. Be it a mohalla, district or State. The story is the same.


Tragically, India has travelled a long way from Lokmanya Tilak’s “swaraj is my birth right” to “strikes is my birth right” Today, every other section of the society plans strikes as a matter of routine. Bringing things to such a pass that it is like living life between strikes. Be it labour strikes, political protests or chakka jams which bring life to a standstill, replete with violence, mayhem, deaths et al. Curse all you want, it is for a cause, remember.


Part of the current paradox is explained by the changed notion of strikes aka hartal aka bandh as a form of protest. The original concept was centred on the logic that the only way for a group of disempowered people to shake the system was to agitate. From a simple gherao for more wages to a voluntary hartal against policy decisions. But slowly perversion set in. A strike could be effective only if stoppage of work could not be overcome easily by the system. Therefore, the strikers use their power base, including violence, to stall anything that spells change from the set routine. Never mind that in the long run it is detrimental for the country and the people.


Recall, in August 2003, the Supreme Court had expressed its anguish over strikes. Upholding the Kerala and Calcutta High Courts’ judgments declaring bandhs as “illegal and unconstitutional way of collective bargaining”, it had ruled, that Government employees had no “fundamental, legal, moral or equitable right” to go on strikes whatever the cause, “just or unjust”. Pointing out that aggrieved employees had other options available to them, the Bench opined: Strikes as a weapon is mostly misused, which results in chaos and total maladministration.


Adding: “In a democracy, government employees are part and parcel of the governing body and have a duty to society. They cannot hold society to ransom.” To buttress its contention, the Court observed: “The law on this subject is well settled and even a very liberal interpretation of Article 19 (Freedom of Expression) cannot lead to a conclusion that trade unions have a fundamental, guaranteed right to an effective collective bargaining or to strike either as part of collective bargaining or otherwise.”


The Apex Court’s judgment also upheld the Kerala Court’s distinction between a hartal and a bandh. It held that a hartal was a form of passive resistance and a call for it did not involve force. However, a bandh was an enforced muscle flexing act which interfered with the freedom of citizens. A bandh call might completely halt locomotion and, as a result, involve life and property, particularly of those who attempt to go against the strike call.


Trust our “law abiding” netagan to circumvent the Court’s ruling. They simply replaced their call for bandh by hartal. To plug this loophole, the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court, yet again directed the Election Commission to entertain complaints seeking de-recognition of political parties that called for hartals by “force, intimidation --- physical or mental --- and coercion was unconstitutional”. They even imposed a fine on holding of bandhs and hartals. (The Bombay High Court ordered the Shiv Sena and BJP to pay Rs.20 lakh each to compensate for losses incurred during a bandh organized by them in 2003). Predictably, this led to a political uproar. Nothing more, nothing less.


Unfortunately, our polity fails to realize that strikes negate the basic concept of democracy. They are just a camouflage for non-performance, self-glorification, to gain sympathy or wriggle out of working hard. Some old hands at the game admit that the exercise is to flex their might and muscle to show-off their strength. And if one is a bandh regular, other parties actually start believing that you have the might and the muscle. Ignoring that it all boils down to what you are willing to spend on renting a crowd and giving it a free trip. All issues evoke the same bystanders who are more interested in a jagha darshan, the money and the food packets. The net result? Zilch. 


Clearly, the time has come to take a leaf out of the US law, wherein there is no constitutional right to make a speech on a highway or near about, so as to cause a crowd to gather and obstruct the highway. The right to assembly is to be so exercised as not to conflict with other lawful rights, interests and comfort of the individual or the public and public order. Also, the municipality has the power to impose regulations in order to assure the safety and convenience of the people. And the power to break up a meeting if the speaker undertakes incitement to riot or breach of peace.


In the UK, the Public Order Act, 1936 makes it an offence for any person in uniform to attend any public meeting, signifying his association with any political organization. The Prevention of Crime Act, 1953, makes it an offence to carry any weapon in any ‘public place’ without lawful authority. The Seditious Meeting Act, 1817 prohibits meetings of more than 50 persons within a mile of Westminster Hall during the sitting of Parliament.


In sum, in a milieu wherein adoption of strong-arm tactics to extract one’s pound of flesh has become our second nature, it is time to cry a halt to the political nautankis and strikes. The Tamil Nadu bandh has exposed how dangerous this game has become. No longer can we simply dismiss strikes and hartals as a system’s failure. The right of the citizen is paramount. How long will this chalta hai attitude persist. With each shrugging his shoulders and asserting ki pharak painda hai.  Time now to call a bandh against hypocritical parties and our moribund State. What do you say? ---- INFA

(ICopyright, India News and Feature Alliance)                    

Swearing By Or At Gandhi?: ENOUGH OF RHETORIC & GIMMICKRY, By Poonam I Kaushish; 29 September 2008 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 29 September 2007

Swearing By Or At Gandhi?


By Poonam I Kaushish


The drumbeaters were out. Hooting for Rahul Gandhi. “He is the country’s future,” gushed Congressmen. “Is the movie ‘Gandhi my Father,’ connected with him?” queried a schoolgirl. “No, it’s about the other Gandhi, the one we read about in history and get a chutti for,” answered her friend. “You mean the Mahatma in the super hit Lage Raho Munnabhai. Who popularized Gandhigiri -- truth, morality and values. The one our netagan talk about ad nauseum to acquire a halo around their own heads,” replied the schoolgirl. 


She was damn right. Look how our netagan, who till yesterday remembered Gandhi only ritually, are today falling over each other to be first past the post in everything Gandhian. The Congress has claimed proprietial rights on the Father of the Nation. Amidst celebrations to commemorate 100 years of Satyagraha, it has not only got the United Nations to declare Gandhiji’s Birthday 2 October as “Non-Violence Day” but Party President Sonia Gandhi is also addressing the UN at a special function today. Remember, the Party held a two-day jamboree in January on Gandhian philosophy in the 21st Century. Leaders from all over the world then pontificated on peace, non-violence and empowerment. 


Do they honestly believe in Gandhiji? Adhere to his values? Forget it. All are busy riding the crest of popularity of Gandhigiri to reap a political harvest. Today, at the crack of dawn a smattering of leaders led us to Rajghat, the samadhi of freedom. With beatific smiles even as they inwardly cursed the time wasted. Ritually offered flower petals. Observed two minutes’ silence. Gave sound bites to the TV cameras. Duty performed, they rushed back to their heavily securitized cars. Heading to their next destination. To go through the ritual again.


Ignoring the genuine Gandhians, some of them in their eighties, who have formed a Gandhian Satyagraha Brigade, based in New Delhi’s Lajpat Bhawan, and have been conducting “a new Satyagraha” for the past two months against the failure of successive Governments of India in combatting mounting corruption and criminality in public life. And the aam aadmi who patiently awaits his turn to pay his sincere homage. Opportunity comes only when the VVIPs and VIPs have departed and the security barricades are removed.


Look at the irony. Gandhiji wanted to wind up the Congress party and have a Lok Seva Sangh (servants of the people society) to take its place. This was primarily because of the rot that was setting into the Party. He had received information that some Congress legislators were taking money from business houses to get them licences, that they were indulging in blackmarketing and subverting the judiciary and intimidating officials to secure transfers and promotions for their protégées in the administration. He wanted somehow to stop the Congress and Congressmen from capitalizing on the freedom struggle in which the nation as a whole had participated.


Going a step further, Gandhiji wanted to sternly screen candidates for Parliament and provincial legislatures and put up only those with integrity and a selfless spirit of service to the community. This, he urged, would guide the voters in their choice of suitable persons to speak on their behalf in the nation’s highest forum. The members of these organizations, which were to be engaged in constructive social work among the masses, were to keep out of politics themselves.


But Gandhi’s proposals did not appeal to his lieutenants, who were more interested in using the Congress ladder to power. The Mahatma thereupon felt even more isolated than ever from the very men who claimed to follow him and practice his precepts. He felt like one exploited by his close comrades for their own political ends. Tragically, he was killed by an assassin’s bullets, before he could purge Indian politics of its fast corrupting influences.


Today, Gandhiji’s fears have come a full circle. Just look around and sees how far removed we are from Bapu’s vision of India post-Independence, his ideas of simple living and high thinking, his sense of right and wrong and his value system. If ahimsa, or call it soul force, cast a Mahatma’s halo around him universally, himsa has become the universal truth for our society.


Wherein Gandhi’s teachings have been reduced to mere pious platitudes and inane speeches on his birth anniversary and martyrdom day or during elections, courtesy our parochial leaders. The fire and zeal across the nation to come out in response to Gandhi’s “do-or-die” slogan died an early death. Replaced by a rent-a-crowed brought by chartered buses to election rallies. Might is right, after all.


Bringing things to such a ludicrous pass that today Gandhi seems an alien from a different planet. Said he: “The ministers are the people’s servants. They will not stay in office a day longer than the people’s wish. These offices have to be held lightly, not tightly. They are or should be crowns of thorns, not renown.” Sadly, the Mahatma did not visualize portly ministers fitting tightly into their polyester khadi kurtas! And khaas kursis. Or, how these heavy weights would not take anything and everything lightly! Certainly, not their offices.


Wherein corrupt and convicted leaders shamelessly strut around as proud peacocks. He could never have imagined a day when tainted ministers would adorn the Treasury Benches and the Prime Minister would justify their inclusion as the “compulsions of coalition politics!” Or, that a Cabinet Minister would be jailed for murder and another would go “underground” to evade arrest. Could one imagine the Father of the Nation manipulating the system to achieve this? Never.


Bapu had said, “Ministers should not live as ‘sahib log’ or use private work facilities provided by the Government for official duties.” Nothing could be farther from the truth today. Yesterday’s princes have been replaced by Ministers, and MPs, who see themselves as winners. Not one Minister is willing to give up his colonial bungalow and be anything less than the Burra Sahib! Lutyen’s Delhi is being absurdly treated as a holy cow. There are no rules of the game any more. You make your own rules. The business of democracy is all about rule by law not rule of law. The doctors of all trades. Experts in doctoring facts and in fixing deals.


At various election rallies, our polity emphasises a return to Gandhian values. “Our life styles must change. Vulgar, conspicuous consumption must go. Simplicity, efficiency and commitment to national goals hold the key to self reliance!” Brave words indeed, words which taunt the five star culture reality of today.


How many have read the Arjun Sengupta report on unorganized labour which talks of 70 per cent of India’s teaming billion living in abject poverty, earning less than Rs 20 a day. Are they aware that there are over 12 lakh manual scavengers who load human excreta with their bare hands? Yet they continue to woo illiterate masses with money and pipe dreams of roti, kapra and makan.


Depressingly, nowhere does ideology, principles, party interests or policies even rhetorically figure in our leaders vocabulary. In the past, the leaders at least used to camouflage their intentions in ideological garbage. Today, even that fig leaf or verbosity has been discarded. “The truth I proclaim is as old as the hills,” said he. Alas, he did not visualize that the hills could be decimated and truth erased and replaced with only one lakshya these days: “gaddi rakho, paisa pakro”. Power and money at any cost. The country and its democracy can go to hell.


The Mahatma’s view as stated in his biography, “Experiments with Truth”: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be shuttered. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about freely. I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. Mine is not a religion of the prison house. It has room for the least of God’s creations. But it is proof against insolent pride of race, religion or colour.”


Most sadly, India’s secular credentials today have been dissected, butchered and roasted to suit political convenience and tactics. Unfortunately, the secularism advocated by the Mahatma and our founding fathers has got greatly diluted to brazen minority appeasement. Carrying it to such absurd limits that our polity takes offence to the rendering of Vande Matram but willy nilly talks of giving reservation for minorities. Equality for them connotates giving first preference to the Muslims.


Less said about the raging controversy over the Ram Setu the better. Clearly, a day is not far when Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Ram Rajya will be dissected and debunked as the outpourings of a rabid Hindu fundamentalist. This is the secular reality of what a wit described as India’s “420 secularism”.


In the final analysis, what should one say of a polity that swears by the Mahatma but doesn’t heed him. “Today I am your leader but tomorrow you may have to put me behind the bars, because I will criticize you, if you do not bring about Ram Rajya,” he said. We did not put him behind bars. Instead, we murdered him --- and continue to do so daily. Our experiments with untruth! ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)      

System Under Attack: SLOW ADMINISTRATIVE COLLAPSE, By Poonam I Kaushish; New Delhi, 22 September 200 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 22 September 2007

System Under Attack


By Poonam I Kaushish


India’s much-maligned and decrepit “administrative system” is in the throes of two political crises. One, precipitated by the Indo-US ‘nuclear’ tug-of-war between the Congress-led UPA Government and the Left. Two, triggered by the faith vs  myth war of words on the Ram Setu between the Saffron Parivar, DMK and the Congress. At stake is the silly chair called India Raj. No matter that both the crisis may end up driving one more nail in the coffin of India’s decaying democratic system and the rule of law.


Sadly, in this acerbic warring, the delicate balance between Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary has been disturbed. If yesterday we were busy shedding tears over the withering of Parliament, today we should be preparing to weep for our increasingly debased Executive. Not only have the powers-that-be become all powerful, causing grave concern all round, but their feudal ad hocism and rule by law has become the bane of our democratic set up.


Uttar Pradesh or should one say Ulta Pradesh, today represents the ugly truism of India’s executive and administrative system gone horribly wrong. Chief Minister Mayawati’s melodramatic sacking of over 10,000 policemen recruited during the erstwhile Mulayam Singh rule is symptomatic of the rot that is afflicting the Executive today and how it is spreading thick and fast.


Mayawati’s excuse for the mass cancellation is that the recruitment was done without proper selection and purely on the basis of caste and creed ---- Yadavs, Muslims and Thakurs. The issue is not whether Mayawati was justified in taking the action she did. Nor is it about her action smacking of vendetta against her bete noir Mulayam Singh.


Either way, in this termination nautanki the hapless aam aadmi and his ilk have got screwed.  What was their fault? That they believed in their mai-baap Sarkar? Sincerely went through the recruitment drill. Even paid hefty bribes, which they could ill afford, to the babu to do his job for which he gets his salary. Swore by scraps of papers confirming their appointment as policemen. Raising the point: Who should bear the cross?


Obviously, the Executive comprising the political masters and the bureaucracy. Remember, this is not the first time that allegations of misdemeanour have been levelled by a new Chief Minister against his of her predecessor. Should not the Chief Minister have first taken strong action against the officials who comprised the recruitment board? Instead of cancelling the appointments en masse? Merely, suspending a few officials, who will be reinstated later is not good enough.


This incident has once again brought us face to face with one ugly truth. The politician and the bureaucrat are both hand in glove and working in tandem to mutual advantage. Why blame Mayawati? It is a given that with every change of political guard, babudom goes through an upheaval of transfers. Wherein powerful and lucrative slots are given to the chamchas.


In this scenario, a majority of babudom is more than happy in going along merrily with their political bosses. This enables them not only to secure speedy promotions without any regard to seniority or merit but also join the politician in looting the country. Rooted in the firm belief that, like their masters, they too are a law unto themselves.  Bringing matters to a pass where caste, corruption and chamchagiri alone count.


Over the years, officials have become used to dispensing patronage and not a few love the colour of money. Resulting in no accountability, no fear of removal, arrogantly earning big pay packets for non-productive work. Consequently, most babus have little interest in taking any initiatives and are willing to make self and boss-serving compromises with the fundamentals of administration.


This treacherous politician-official nexus was lucidly portrayed in the Vohra Committee report which, tragically continues to gather dust. Even Vohra as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Gujral conveniently forgot his own report and did nothing to implement any of its recommendations! The net result? The civil service today has no commitment to either the country or the people they are supposed to serve. Self is shamelessly placed before all else.


Is this what the founding fathers of our Republic had in mind?  Absolutely not. India’s first Home Minister, Sardar Patel, was happy to inherit from the Raj its “steel frame” of ICS officers fully believing that they would ensure the country’s unity and, as patriots, serve their own people even better. In fact, he prevailed upon Nehru not only to keep the steel frame intact but give the country an all-India Administrative Service along the same lines. The all-India services were intended to provide an institutional and reliable link between the Centre and the State administrations and ensure the country’s unity and integrity.


Sadly, the steel frame that we inherited from the British has been vandalized beyond recognition.  Right from the administration at the district level to the top of the ladder at the Centre --- Cabinet Secretary. Top slots in the administration are now filled in accordance with the whims and fancies of the political masters, contrary to established norms and practices in the civil services of leading democracies.


A cursory glance at New Delhi’s bureaucratic wonderland would have made Alice exclaim: “Who needs rabbits; bureaucrats will do!” Shockingly, the Cabinet Secretary and the other Secretaries are appointed courtesy the Prime Minister, not the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet in accordance with healthy practices.


Those favoured seldom retire. A recent example. The former Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi, hand-picked by Manmohan Singh, was given an extension for a year and has now has been ‘accommodated’ in the Planning Commission. The list is endless.


If such is the condition at the Centre, can the States be far behind. In fact, matters there are worse. The plight of not only the All India Service officers, but also those of the Provincial and Subordinate Services can well be imagined. The Chief Secretary was once supposed to head the civil services in the State and place officers in the best interest of probity and efficiency. But he has progressively surrendered this right to the ruling politicians.


A case in point. In UP, Mayawati has created a history of sorts. For the first time a Cabinet Secretary has been appointed over and above the Chief Secretary. Naturally, handpicked by her. The reason forwarded is that if a Cabinet Secretary heads the bureaucracy at the Centre, why can’t she appoint one of her favourites to head the State administration?   


Lamented U.C. Agarwal, who was Secretary, Personnel under Indira Gandhi and thereafter Central Vigilance Commissioner: “Nearly every change of political guard leads to a large reshuffle of top officials in most States.  In fact, the political identification of officials is becoming so marked that even the bureaucracy itself is able to predict as to who will occupy which top post, if ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ political party or individual comes to power!”


What kind of governance lies ahead? A clue can be found in a recent survey of the probationers at the National Academy of Administration, which trains the IAS and other all-India services. It stated that only 32 per cent of the new recruits condemned corruption in the civil services. Only five per cent believed in harsh measures to reduce corruption.  Another 45 per cent believed that they were above the law. Cold statistics that mirror the harsh reality of how debased our system has become.


Clearly, the time has come to give serious thought to a qualitative change in the functioning of the Executive. If it is to be nursed back to health, we need better people, with good educational qualifications, wider exposure and sound moral values. Why the West lays great emphasis on background, upbringing, and education. Alternatively, follow the Chinese model and set an example in “eliminating” corruption. All it takes is one single bullet.


It would, indeed, be a great pity if India is deprived of one of the principal pillars of democratic governance and recklessly pushed towards unabashed feudalism. The writing is on the wall. The bureaucracy must shrug off its inertia and get back its professionalism based on absolute, not obsolete principles.


Civil servants need to give serious thought to their basic commitment to the country and collectively not allow the political bosses to play ducks and drakes with the system. They must restore the system to the glorious days of “I Command Service” (ICS). After all, Prime Ministers will come and Prime Ministers will go, but the Government will go on for ever. Or else they will end up debasing the IAS from the once respected Indian Administrative Service to “I Am Sorry” service! The country will not forgive them. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)    

India Soft On Terror: SET WONKY PRIORITIES RIGHT, By Poonam I Kaushish; New Delhi, 1 September 2007 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 1 September 2007

India Soft On Terror


By Poonam I Kaushish

This is a tragic tale of the myth and reality of mounting terror in India. Circa 1993-2007. The story of a Government that meekly looks at violence as no more then someone playing dirty tricks. That hot air and empty rhetoric will take care of it. Oblivious that the horror is for real and the dead and maimed are not mere statistics. Wallowing in the false belief that wars are games born in the minds of men which can be won peacefully by waving the white flag. A war can be won only by war!


Over a year after Mumbai went down the suburban railway in seven serial blasts that hit the heart of the city on Black. Tuesday 7/11 and barely three months after the blasts at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, India’s cyber city was once again rudely jolted by the icy harsh reality of terror, terror and still more terror. When the city was ‘lasered out’ by two gift-wrapped bombs. Which left over 40 innocents dead and 60 injured.


The irony of India’s myth and reality was on full display when VVIP after VVIP fell over one another in condemning the perpetrators ‘cowardly’ (sic) act. Followed by a series of high-profile appear-and-vanish visits to the city to profess their angst and, hopefully, extract political mileage. The Opposition seized the opportunity to blast the UPA Government for its failure to combat terrorism by moving an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha. The Union Home Minister reiterated what the Prime Minster has repeated ad nauseum: “No one can make India kneel. We will win this war against terror.” He also announced grandiosely: “We will look at setting up a federal agency to combat terrorism.”


Needless to say, it was mostly myth and little reality. A make-believe that has no co-relation to the fact that India is in the crosshairs of terrorists, serious and deadly terrorists. Please think. Of the 670 districts in the country as many as 270 are terror-prone of which 70 districts have already been ravaged by terrorists. Terror has already cost India more than 72000 civilians and 12000 security personnel. In fact, since 2004 the country has lost more lives to terrorist incidents than North, South and Central America, Europe and Eurasia put together. So much for fighting terror!


Besides terror today has become a big yawn. Our polity cocoons itself in the mistaken belief that terrorism has seeped into our psyche so deeply that it no longer scares. Reduced to becoming an inane excuse for incompetence and dubbed as an intelligence failure a la Kargil. Or the Centre and the affected State conveniently fobbing off their responsibility on the other. Never mind the guns that send a chilling reminder that all is not well with India.


Forgetting that the problem of dealing with terror is not merely limited to cracking the Hyderabad blasts, the Mecca Masjid strike, the attack on the Samjhauta Express train, Delhi’s serial blasts in October 2005, the twin blasts in Varanasi in March 2006 and the Mumbai carnage. The malaise is infinitely deeper and widespread. Thanks to New Delhi’s continuing short-sightedness and half-baked measures.


Each terror attack elicits a predictable and misdirected State response. Pakistan’s ISI and their jehadi cahoots within India and elsewhere are accused of the dastardly attacks, followed by a slew of VVIP visits. Knee-jerk reactions are then announced with dollops of false bravado. A ritual drama whose script is familiar and draws the same cynical reaction ---- more and more of the same.


Fire-fighting measures and quick-fix solutions are put into force without either understanding the issues involved or any comprehensive plan to resolve the crisis. Myopic in its introspection, the Centre unfortunately ends up mostly reacting, instead of looking ahead and acting. Crisis over the State is soon forgotten like a bad dream till another crisis erupts. Merely curing the symptoms, not the disease.


Interestingly, a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Ajit Doval, has blasted as “a myth the widespread belief that the terrorists strike anywhere, at any time and any target.” In his view, they strike where their intentions and capabilities meet the opportunities. Hence, the success of counter-terrorism lies in degrading their capabilities, forcing them to change their intentions and denying them opportunities to strike. New Delhi, he feels needs to think of ways and means to neutralise their fast-growing domestic base, availability of hardware and human resource, collaborative linkages with organized crime, gun runners, drug syndicates, hawala operators, subversive radical groups et al.


That is not all. He then spells out what he believes should be the broad approach: “For any anti-terrorist operation to succeed one needs to be focused on the vitals, keeping a watch on the essentials and leaving the desirables till the vitals have been achieved and essentials addressed.” He also has a timely message for India’s polity. “For those who govern, let political interests, at best, fall in the category of desirables.”


Doval is dead on. The tragedy of India is that we have our priorities badly mixed up, indeed, upside- down. Today what may be viewed by some as “desirable” (read minority appeasement) have become vital and essential and what should be “vital and essential” (read eliminating terrorism) has been relegated to merely desirable. Thus, the country’s basic security imperatives and supreme sovereign interests play second fiddle to political interests and electoral considerations. Concurred another security expert B. Raman: “The problem is that our polity is not concerned with the lives of people. They are concerned only with their votes”. Thus, more and more are aggressively pandering to the Muslim voters, a la Sachar report.


Only in India terror is being compartmentalized on the basis of caste and creed for the sake of votes. Only in India can we think of pushing for granting pardon to those who dared to attack India’s high temple of democracy ---- Parliament. Recall, seven brave men and women gave their lives to protect Parliament in 2001. Six years on, the UPA’s secular Government is virtually pleading for clemency for the terrorist Mohammed Afzal Guru. Despite the Supreme Court awarding him the death penalty for his heinous role in the attack.


Most sadly, the Government has callously ignored the strong signal it would send to the Muslims that the Government will not do anything which may even remotely hurt the Muslim sentiment. Plainly, this is appeasement at its crassest worst. More. There is no sense of shame or remorse that the families of those who laid down their lives to defend Parliament have returned the gallantry medals and monies in sheer and understandable disgust.


No amount of appeasement will change the intentions of the terrorists who are determined to bleed India whatever it takes. Remember a terrorist has no caste or creed. For him terrorism is the religion. Be it a Hindu, a Muslim or a Sikh. He is an invisible enemy who uses our resources and freedom to hit us. Adept in exploiting the latest technologies, he identifies and exploits our weaknesses. While we talk, he acts. Inflicting maximum loss at minimum cost.


Clearly, the time has come that our polity should shed and shed fast its blinkered communal approach. If the battle against terror has to be won, terrorism will have to be de-communalised. Political considerations, communal pressures, administrative and police lethargy and a weak legal-judicial regime will have to be negated. New Delhi must realize that normal deterrence doesn’t work against a faceless and fearless enemy. Specially when terror comes packaged as a suicide bomber as in the case of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.


When the State’s existence is in peril, the only way to strike back is to carry the fight into the enemy camp effectively. It is not enough to assert “we have might and muscle.” One has to display that power. The Government desperately needs to restore its Iqbal, the shining authority that ensures respect for law and order. The British did. Under the Raj no one dared to even touch the uniform of a policeman.


We need to give sharp teeth to our anti-terror laws. Top experts are agreed that we need stringent laws like the defunct POTA which provided for all the safeguards suggested by the Supreme Court in TADA. True, POTA was not able to end terrorism. Parliament was attacked when it was in operation. Nevertheless, POTA helped in speedily tackling cases of terrorism and bringing the culprits like Afzal Guru to book. Such a revamped anti-terror law would send a much needed signal down the rank and file of terrorists that India is no longer soft.


What next? Much will depend upon the Government’s willingness to acknowledge without any sugar-coating that India is ensnared in the vicious grip of terror. Already prolonged inaction has proved much too costly. The Centre may have to launch major offensives to drive home the message that terror is not a zero-sum game and that India has no use for a live terrorist.  Self-serving decisions of minority appeasement may feed the polity’s vote-banks temporarily. Ultimately, it will only fuel discord and spell double disaster. Enough of self-invited terrorism and self-seeking vote-bank politics. India’s freedom and unity is at stake. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance

Time For National Government: GOVERNANCE, GAME OF GULLI-DANDA, By Poonam I Kaushish, , 25 August 200 Print E-mail

New Delhi, 25 August 2007


Time For National Government


By Poonam I Kaushish


Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This dictum has come to haunt and taunt India as never before. A sense of de ja vu overwhelms. Never could one have imagined that governance would once again be reduced to a game of gulli-danda smacking of petty one- upmanship, clash of bruised egos, blackmail et al. Country be damned!


Circa 2007 is no different from Circa 1999. The time when AIADMK’S Puratchi Thalaivi had the Vajpayee-led NDA on tenterhooks. Right from her “chithi aayee gee” drama of extending support, down to being a nagging partner and her tea-party with Congress President Sonia Gandhi over the sacking of the then Naval Chief Bhagwat. The resulting maelstrom engineered by the Southern Amma and the Northern Empresses engulfed Vajpayee and led to the fall of his Government.


Today, the Left has the Congress-led UPA profusely sweating. Even prior to the formation of the UPA Government, the Congress-Left ties got bogged down what with the Red Brigade dictating the nitty-gritty of their Common Minimum Programme.  Followed by palpable differences on the economic front. Be it disinvestment, FDI, insurance, sale of PSUs etc. Down to the latest fracas over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Wherein the Left has threatened to pull the plug if the Government goes ahead with it.


This eyeball to eyeball confrontation between gentleman Manmohan Singh and the thorny Left has pushed the country into suspended animation. The basic issue is not the Indo-US nuclear deal or whether the UPA Government stays or goes. Or, who is to blame and why. But the most striking aspect of this crass episode is the sad spectacle of today’s political class capriciously exposing their hollowness and hypocrisy of political commitment and subordinating national interest to personal egos and aggrandizement. Thus undermining further the people’s eroding faith in democracy as a desirable system.


Think. The UPA and the Opposition are both talking about a mid-term poll, but neither about stability, good governance and national interest. All are agreed that they should avoid elections where angry masses are almost certain to slit their throats. Nevertheless, the Left is only marking time for the auspicious hour and the right issue to pull the rug lest it is dubbed a destabliser. The nuclear treaty doesn’t connect with the aam aadmi. The Congress, for its part, is using every trick in the book to hang on to power. Hence the suggestion let’s talk minority appeasement first.


Through this political pollutant two things are becoming clear. One, with the Left’s Damocles sword hanging over Sonia-Manmohan Singh’s  head, arithmetically it seems pretty difficult, nay impossible, for the Government to cross the magical figure of 272 for a majority. Her pre-poll alliance totalling 219 is 53 seats short of the half-way mark. Either way, the authority of the Prime Minister stands undermined. Even if it survives as some minority Governments have survived in the past (Narasimha Rao’s in 1991-96), it will at best be a lame duck Government.


Two, everybody wants power but all distrust each other. Thus, everything boils down to a gut feeling of ifs and buts. Requiring one has to wait and watch in the days to come as events unfold and parties change their stand. As of now the task of whether the Left stays or withdraws support is far from resolved. Who will blink first is uppermost in everybody’s mind.


However, the main crunch lies in the reality that the Congress-Left relationship was a no-brainer and was doomed from day one. A coalition of hot ice-cream. That would melt rapidly at the first sign of disagreement. It was just a matter of time when the inherent contradictions took over. Be it ideology, principles, working style et al.


The Congress and Left parties are arch rivals in three states---West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, which account for 64 seats. Both have been fighting each other tooth and nail in the election arena since Independence. Yet they decided to become comrades-in-arms at the Centre. Simply to keep the communal BJP out. Both work on the dictum my enemy’s enemy is my friend.


Raising a basic question: Can Governments be formed and held together merely on the negative and ill-defined premise that my enemy’s enemy is a friend? Sadly, as oft is the case, power breeds arrogance and absolute power breeds absolute arrogance. Intoxicated by power, all forget that this arrogance often leads to defeat. More than anyone else, Sonia should know this only to well. She saw for herself how the arrogance of power led to the hated Emergency of 1975 and eventually brought the original Mrs. Gandhi down in 1977.


Many in Parliament’s Central Hall and elsewhere feel that the Congress has only itself to blame. Due to its increasing arrogance the High Command is accused of having mis-managed the issue from the beginning. The Prime Minister should have given due importance to the Left’s concerns and taken it fully into confidence during the various stages of negotiations of the nuclear deal. After all, the deal encompasses India’s foreign, strategic and nuclear policies in the future.


What next? Events have their own momentum. More so in the farcical nature of the Congress-Left ties. It remains to be seen how long the “tail will wag the dog” as the single largest party tries to keep its allies together. Even as all the parties blame each other for the present state of affairs.


Arguably, one can say this is what democracy is all about. Sadly, however, the basic postulates of democracy have got botched over the years. Few care to remember today that democracy is not an end in itself. It is only a means to an end, namely, the greater well-being and happiness of the people. Which is possible only through a clean and stable government run by dedicated leaders committed to putting country above self and all else. Not through ram-shackled coalitions of fair-weather partners in corruption and crime.


What of the future? No one cares to pause and ponder the long-term ramifications. Will individual egos get the better of collective wisdom? Does it bode the collapse of the coalition system of governance? If arch enemies are willing to align with each other, then why have elections at all? Ideally all should grasp the reality of parliamentary democracy. The people’s verdict should be honoured before they go in search for the aphrodisiac called power and talk formation of a new Government with all and sundry. Sans shared ideology and mutual objectives.


One way out of the current impasse, besides elections, is to explore the possibility of forming a national government in the true sense of the term. This is urgently required in the best national interest at a time when the country is faced with crises on all fronts. Sieges within and without that threaten to destroy our unity and integrity ---- terrorism, poverty, unemployment, administrative collapse etc. Notwithstanding, the over-flowing cash tellers and rising global appreciation.


Disgust, revulsion and cynicism aside, most thinking people see nothing but trouble, travail and a dark future. Few even wail: “Perhaps, dictatorship is our only hope”. Not a few are nostalgic about the “good old British days.” Yet many others would be happy to publicly whip and even guillotine their polity, whereunder even the gutter today is cleaner than the politics of today.   How long must India suffer and bleed? --- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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