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Babudom Gets A Hike:WHAT ABOUT EXIT POLICY?, BY Poonam I Kaushish, 5 April 2008 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 5 April 2008

Babudom Gets A Hike


By Poonam I Kaushish

It is raining big bucks in New Delhi’s political Wonderland. A cursory glance would have Alice exclaim, “Who needs rabbits. Bureaucrats will do!” And over the last fortnight we have been witness to a grand show. The farmer loan waiver razzmatazz has made way for the Babu bonanza. Working on a perfect give and take. Pay hike in return for vote. 

How else should one react to the Sixth Pay Commission’s report earmarking an over three-fold increase in the salaries and allowances for Government employees across the board for both civilian and defence personnel. All with retrospective affect beginning January 2006. No matter that when implemented, this is expected to cause an additional annual encumbrance of Rs 20,000 crore, Rs 12,500 crore this year alone. All in the aam aadmi’s khaata.

There is no gainsaying that there is a genuine case to increase the salaries of Government employees, but shouldn’t it be linked to better performance and productivity? The present hike doesn't seem to be have any realistic link to performance. Is it justifiable? Honestly speaking, absolutely not. Specially against the backdrop that the bureaucracy today works on Andrew Jackson's famous dictum "let the victors have the spoils." Bluntly, they have become a law onto themselves. Resulting in no accountability, no fear of being fired, and hence it’s the biggest pay packet for non-productive work, coupled with the arrogance that they are indispensable.

Most civil servants, according to popular belief, neither take initiative nor have any commitment to the service of the people. They are more than happy to be on the right side of their political masters. This helps, at least some of them, to get promoted more rapidly than their performance and seniority justify. Some even succeed in bagging political offices by obliging the right politician through thick and thin. Top slots in the administration are now filled in accordance with the whims and fancies of the political master, contrary to the established norms in regard to appointments and tenure in leading civil services.

Large-scale shuffles and reshuffles of the bureaucracy with every change of the political master have become overtly common. Feelings are gaining ground that political closeness and personal loyalty to powerful political superiors is more rewarding than mere seniority or merit. Instead of the right man for the right job being the criteria, there is invariably a wrong man for the right job for wrong reasons! Bringing it to such a pass that caste, corruption, political connections and administrative lacunae are the factors that count when it comes to promotions. 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.

Remember, some time back the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh abjectly confessed: “I am disgusted with the system”, when it was discovered that even Cabinet decisions had remained where they were taken --- on paper. Perhaps, the file-pushers had to apply their heads to arrive at an agreed conclusion as to who should push the file. And on who’s orders? The Cabinet, their Minister or the political mai baap?

That apart, corruption is synonymous with babudom. Be it when applying for a telephone connection, ration card, driver’s license, passport et al. Nothing moves till palms have been greased for an average Indian. If one doesn’t have the paisa then one must be thick skinned and have no self respect. Babudom thrives on holding one to ransom and at the mercy of their whims and fancies. From the TC in the railways, to the Traffic cop, there’s no questioning them.

One recent study by the Center for Media Studies, New Delhi, on corruption in urban services reveals that "nearly half of those who avail the services of the most frequently-visited public departments of Government in the country have had first hand experience of greasing palms at least once". It is this pervasiveness that has forced many to charge that bureaucrats have "created such a steel frame around them that even the might of the State can't dismantle it".

Between 1996 and 2000, the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission investigated 13,265 individuals for corruption. And, between 1998 and 2001, the CBI registered 2,256 cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Of these 41 were from administrative departments, four were from the police and 23 from the revenue department.

Think. Although India has more than 19 million State and federal Government employees, about 20,000-odd federal officers control the collection and disbursement of over $71 billion of federal revenues every year. Of these, 6,000 senior administrative officers and an equal number of revenue officers dictate the flow of funds throughout the country.

Even if a handful of these officials were to allow 10 percent leakage in revenue, it would cost the Government $7 billion. And, assuming corrupt officials get a cut of just 10 per cent, the Indian bureaucracy gets over $700 million a year - the amount of money that the Central Bureau of Investigation estimates is spent towards greasing the palms of Indian bureaucrats. Asserted an “honest corrupt babu,” “If greedy Indian businessmen can evade taxes, influence policies and make money through devious means, why should not the Government officer who moves their files get a share of the booty?”

Tragically today corruption has become a low risk, high-profit area. Wherein the bureaucracy is the third angle of the triangular neta-babu-business axis which has perpetuated a vulturistic culture of the winner takes all. The modus operandi has been perfected to the last, deliberate scarcity of goods and services, red tapeism and delay, lack of transparency (no matter Right To Information Act), the cushion of a babu is  innocent till proven guilty and last but not least the bhaichara and biradari which bind the corrupt together.

What kind of a system of governance then lies ahead of us? A clue can be found in a survey of probationers at the National Academy of Administration. It states that only 32 per cent of the new recruits condemn corruption in the civil services. Only five per cent believe in harsh measures to reduce corruption. Another 45 per cent believe that they are above the law.

What next? Clearly, the Government must downsize. From the Secretary down to the chaprasi. Non-performing government officers would be forcibly retired at the end of 20 years service. Alternatively, if need be, ruthlessly dump the deadwood and irrelevant baggage. Besides, organizational competence and productivity should be commensurate with a pay hike in salaries, perks and promotions as in the private sector. An exit policy of hire and fire is paramount if we desire an accountable, trustworthy and honest bureaucracy.

Most important, they should be made more accountable. The private sector is less corrupt because it has more accountability. We need is a law, which will provide for confiscation of all ill-gotten wealth without any delays and hesitations. Once the message goes down the rank and file that all ill-gotten wealth will be confiscated, then the burden of proof will be on the bureaucrat to prove that he got it legitimately. Ditto with the politician and the industrialist.

Will the bureaucracy have the courage to correct itself and overcome red tape? One way is to internalize the zero tolerance principle and the "sunset principle" as in the US. Under this method, justification for any governmental activity is all the time under scrutiny so that no acts of misdemeanour take place.

True, the country can boast of a Government of the people and a Government by the people. The moot point is: Can India look forward to a Government for the people? Will our steel frame continue to rot and rust and revel in mediocrity?

The writing is on the wall. We are reaching a point of no return. If the Indian bureaucracy does not change its sense of values, it will become increasingly irrelevant. It may exist by the sheer force of Newton's First Law of inertia but it will not be playing a role which would make it a meaningful part of the governance. It is the responsibility of the bureaucracy to see that the government functions for the people Will babudom rise to the occasion? Or will it be remembered as the conversion of human energy into solid waste! ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)





Rajya Sabha Hits New Low:SLEAZE & SURROGATE GALORE, by Poonam I Kaushish, 29 March 2008 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 29 March 2008

Rajya Sabha Hits New Low


By Poonam I Kaushish

Now days when you see someone holding his nose you don’t know whether it’s pollution or politics. Either way the net result is the same. Increasing political pollution. Replete with contaminated smog, toxic waste and sleazy fumes. The latest in an ever-growing series of political skullduggery was on full public display in the just-concluded Rajya Sabha biennial elections. A gory account of money and more money. Epitomising as never before that polls are all about sleaze and surrogate galore baby!

The ‘cash-and-carry’ Madhu Koda UPA Government in Jharkhand last week set a new record in smutty politics when its MLAs cocked a snook at the Anti-Defection Law and indulged in a three-way voting for candidates who entered the fray as UPA nominees for the lone seat it could win. One UPA nominee backed by Shibhu Soren’s JMM was Delhi-based Kishori Lal who got the least number of votes (8), no matter that 11 MLAs had signed his nomination papers. The second UPA candidate, RK Anand backed by the Congress and RJD won 17 votes. The third UPA candidate backed by a section of JMM MLAs and independents was Ahmedabad-based Parimal Nathwani, Group President, Corporate Affairs Reliance Industries who got 16 votes.

Who won? No guesses, it was the Reliance man Nathwani who got five second preference votes from the Marandi group while his rivals got none. Never mind that till two months ago he had never set foot in Jharkhand and no MLA knew him. But paisa pakro vote becho politics is not all.  Another new dimension made its political debut in the Rajya Sabha: surrogate MPs.

True, we are accustomed to high-profile industrial tycoons like UB breweries and Kingfisher Airline’s Vijay Mallya, Bajaj Scooter’s Rahul Bajaj, Videocon’s Venugopal Dhoot and BPL’s Chandreshekhar who might sneak in their respective corporate agendas.

However for the first time these corporate czars have got political parties to nominate their "delegated trusted lieutenants” for the Rajya Sabha. While the JD (U) nominated N K Singh, chairperson of the Bihar Planning Board and a fellow at the Reliance-backed Observer Research Foundation, Sharad Pawar’s NCP backed YP Trivedi, an independent director on Mukesh Ambani’s RIL board and the JMM Nathwani

Throwing light on the issue, asserted a senior CPM MP, "The nomination of these three persons is an indication how business interests are now operating in a new way in Parliament.” Plainly they have been hand-picked to take care of the boss’s corporate interests. Added another MP, “During Nehru’s time corporate houses would get individual MPs to get their work done and later pay them for it.

What is happening now is that they directly get their nominees in through parties to serve their interests, both overtly and covertly in Parliament. One way is by getting themselves attached to Standing Committees and Parliamentary Consultative Committees which serve their business interests. This enables them to work directly with the Minister or the ministry thus they are in an advantageous position to influence decisions. Not a few of the 'surrogate' MPs also succeed in dodging public scrutiny about their links with business houses as they do not occupy corporate positions but are firmly ensconced with such groups to promote their interests,” he added.

Worse, this trend of surrogate MPs in the Council of States has become more pronounced because of the Office of Profit Bill. The Bill bars a MP from occupying any Government position but does not restrict him from holding a position in a corporate. Clearly, there is a need to plug this lacuna and include the private sector as well in the Office of Profit Bill.

Needless to say, over the years the Rajya Sabha polls, like elections to the Lok Sabha have become big business. The figures for ‘buying’ the required number of votes range from Rs.10 crores to as much as Rs.25 crores. The going rate per vote was said to be Rs. 10 lakh to Rs.20 lakh. Not a few consider this as a good investment as once elected the MP has a sum of Rs 2 crore annually (Rs 12 crore for 6 years), to spend under the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). But unlike his Lok Sabha counterpart he can spend it any way he wants as he has no particular constituency per se. Recall, the controversy wherein BSP Chief Mayawati reportedly openly extolled her MP’s to “donate” their MPLADS if they wanted her to nominate them to the Rajya Sabha.

Unfortunately, the Rajya Sabha is not what it was intended to be. The quality of the members and the complexion of the House has undergone a sea change --- for the worse. Personal loyalty to the leader, monetary considerations and political connections have largely got precedence over competence and experience. Often enough shouting has replaced serious debate.

True, every Party is entitled to choose its candidates for the House, according to its long-term interests. But the powers-that-be in doing so have not cared much for the basic character of the House and its purpose. Recall, our Constitution-makers wanted the Rajya Sabha to consist of persons of greater experience and eminence than those in the Lok Sabha. They therefore, deliberately opted for three things. First, indirect elections from the State legislatures. Second, a minimum age for membership at 30 years as against 25 for the Lok Sabha. Third, nomination by the President of 12 persons “having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of literatures, science, art and social service.”

The original concept was spelt out by Sir Gopalaswamy Ayangar on July 28, 1947. The second chamber, he said, was intended to “give an opportunity, perhaps, to seasoned people, who may not be in the thickest of political fray, but who might be willing to participate in the debate with an amount of learning and importance which we do not ordinarily associate with the House of the People”. What Sir Gopalaswamy advocated was sought to be implemented by Nehru and Maulana Azad, both in letter and in spirit. Politicians defeated at the polls were firmly kept out and efforts made to bring in “seasoned” persons.

Indirect election to the Rajya Sabha was intended to help induct experienced and seasoned persons from different walks of life in the House --- Stalwarts who would normally be disinclined to face the rough and tumble of a poll battle.

Sadly, however, the House is today functioning more and more as a parallel (and competing) political chamber to the Lok Sabha. To this day it has not cared to discuss in detail and at length the Sarkaria Commission’s report on Centre-State relations. In fact, the Rajya Sabha as the Council of States should have by now held a special session to discuss the Report in all its various aspects.

Tragically, today the Rajya Sabha has failed to evolve a distinct role for itself as the Council of States. The States’ voice over the years has got lost in the din of the power brokers who strut about like peacocks in the Rajya Sabha kaleidoscope. A situation has clearly arisen over the past five decades which was largely unforeseen. Even though records show that a Communist MP, Sadhan Gupta, prophetically expressed the fear in the Lok Sabha on April 2, 1954 that the Rajya Sabha would one day “stunt the voice of the representatives of the people.”

Where do we go from here? One way out could be to abolish the chamber, as advocated by leading MPs at different times. Significantly, Dr. Ambedkar himself went on record in 1949 to say that the Rajya Sabha was being introduced “purely as an experimental measure” and there was provision for “getting rid” of it. Morarji Desai, for his part, was one with Harold Laski’s view that “a single chamber best answers the needs of modern states.” But such an extreme step is not necessary yet.

The Rajya Sabha could still be made to play a more useful role as the Council of States instead of a parallel, competing chamber. Jayaprakash Narayan strongly favoured a partyless Council. The Rajya Sabha members should be those who have put in at least one stint in the State Assembly or in the Lok Sabha and no more than two terms should be given to anybody. Interestingly, we have had persons happily enjoying three to four terms of six yeas each in the Rajya Sabha without ever fighting an elections to either State Assembly or the Lok Sabha.

It’s time the Elders set their House in order, or else the coming months will decide whether the Rajya Sabha will make Indian politics more messy and unworkable. --- INFA

 (Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)










CBI: In The Dock:AUTONOMY A BIG JOKE?, by Poonam I Kaushish,21 March 2008 Print E-mail


NEW DELHI, 21 March  2008

CBI: In The Dock


By Poonam I Kaushish

Is the law finally catching up with our polity? Or, is it our netagan’s penchant to anoint themselves as the law that is proving to be its nemesis? And, has the Central Bureau of Investigation’s fatal attraction for political cover-ups and clean chits made it into the Central Bureau of convenience, connivance and corruption, with the devil taking the hindmost!

Call it coincidence or what you may, but last week the much-derided system indeed did catch up with our political masters. In a totally unexpected development, India’s best known secret was unwrapped as never before. Namely, that even our netagan are fed up with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and want its image makeover along with sweeping changes.

Importantly, a Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the “Working of the Central Bureau of Investigation,” has recommended that the CBI be made into an ``enforcement agency” and be given an “independent and autonomous’’ status to prevent political interference in its functioning. It also mooted that it be granted power to investigate and prosecute through a separate statute called the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation Act. And be given the same status as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US to allow it to independently take up cases of high-tech crime..

Appreciating the image of the CBI in the country as a premier investigating agency, the committee was, however, severely critical of its internal composition. The report called the deputation of IPS officers to the CBI an “avoidable luxury’’ and recommended an increase in direct recruitment. Adding, “Officers without sufficient experience of service and knowledge” are inducted on deputation for complicated jobs in CBI but were not the “decision making class’’ within the agency. No matter their professional competence and expertise in niche areas such as corruption cases, securities and finance transactions, defence purchase related transactions, etc

Significantly, our Right Honourables confessed candidly that granting sanction for prosecution was one of the “bottlenecks” in providing autonomy to the CBI. Pertinently, it cited many instances where prosecution sanction was denied bringing the CBI into “disrepute’’. And even where sanction had been granted, invariably courts pulled up the agency for slip-shod handling of the case (the Rs.5,000-crore bank scandal, sugar, UTI), lack of evidence and unavailability of witnesses or just glossing over vital leads (infamous hawala case) et al. Surmising, that it was time that the CBI make sure that the prosecution was foolproof, or else the judiciary would step in.

Further, it recommended strengthening the CBI in terms of resources and legal mandate. Pointing out the CBI’s failure to get conviction in cases with international ramifications, it favoured that a separate international crimes division be carved out to specifically deal with Interpol, extradition and international crimes. It is another matter that it was the Congress-led UPA Government in connivance with the CBI that ‘intentionally’ bungled and made an international mess of its case in La Affaire Quottrocchhi of the Bofors gun scam and got egg on its face. First the Government advised the UK Government to “defreeze” the Italian businessman’s accounts. And, when he was finally arrested in Argentina, the CBI failed to extradite and the Argentinian Court let him go scot free.

Besides, the Committee asserted that certain acts like terrorism, human trafficking, smuggling and black marketing should be labeled as federal crimes and should be taken up directly by the CBI. On terrorism, it recommended the setting up of a separate anti-terrorism division in the CBI to work solely with the aim of preventing terrorist activities. “The Central government should be given adequate powers to take prompt and effective action on the intelligence available to them in place of the current system where the home ministry merely hands over intelligence inputs to the State Governments.”

Calling for an end to infinite debating, the Committee emphasized that the time was ripe to implement these suggestions. However, this is easier said than done. The moot point is: Who will cast the first stone and translate words into action? Who will give the CBI its much-needed autonomy? Is our polity ready to call a spade a spade and bell the big fat cat of corruption?

Alas, as oft happens, this all-important report has been lost in the mountain of diatribe and gabble churned out during the Budget session of Parliament. Like the first report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Home Ministry in 1994 did. Forget some remorse, all continue in legitimizing crime and corruption. Who has the time for introspection on what and where things went wrong and correct the course? Such is the nasha of power that all conveniently choose to merrily make political capital.

Worse, against the backdrop of there being as many an as 1,300 cases pending against MPs and MLAs in various courts. These include cases being investigated by CBI against Railway Minister Lalu Yadav, who is being tried in relation with the fodder scam, and those against current and former UP chief ministers Mayawati and Mulayam Singh respectively in the disproportionate assets cases. What to say of Maya bhenji’s Taj corridor scam and the over hundreds of crores received as gifts from her poor Dalit swayam sevaks, who go hungry to pave their messiah’s path with gold. Not only that. Five ‘tainted’ ministers continue to adorn the Treasury Benches. Justified by our honest Prime Minister as “the compulsions of coalition politics.”

Is the CBI more sinned against than sinning?  Are politicians the main culprit?  Is the pot calling the kettle black?  The truth is mid-way.  Both work in tandem in furthering their own interest. Consequently, the system becomes self-perpetuating. Over the years, the threatened political elite have given more and more powers to the CBI to get their way and have their say.  Therein, sullying the agency’s reputation, replete with its “failure” to back up charges with required evidence.  Worse, the CBI seems to have adopted a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe with Governments of the day and its willingness and commitment to serve the national cause by putting self before the country.

As the Committee has rightly pointed out, at the crux is the issue: Who should control the CBI?  Needless to say, a Catch-22 question for our power-greedy polity to honestly answer and for us to stupidly expect. Witness the sweet irony.  When Vajpayee was the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in the late 1990’s he had demanded an independent CBI and even promised one if he came to power. But Vajpayee the Prime Minister not only conveniently forgot his promise but continued to retain the CBI under his charge, just as his predecessors had done. Beginning with Indira Gandhi, who concentrated all instruments of effective power in her own hands.

Manmohan Singh too is happily following the tradition. Over the past year he has talked ad nauseum of weeding out corruption, but is mum on making the CBI an autonomous and indeed, an independent agency. According to two former CBI directors, Joginder Singh and Kartikaiyan there is no such thing as autonomy. This is a fallacy. For two reasons -- the agency administratively comes directly under the Prime Minister. Two, officers are dependent on their political bosses for their careers ---postings, transfers and seniority. If they perform well they are adequately rewarded in various ways, including extensions and even berths in prestigious and statutory bodies.   

Of course, the CBI can be set right.  However, this requires clear and firm political will.  The foremost corrective (from which others will flow) is to ensure that the appointment of the CBI Director is truly above board and is based on his genuine expertise, integrity, competence and commitment. He should have no political affiliations, lest he is dubbed as the Prime Minister’s hatchet man. His impeccable record of absolute honesty would go a long way in establishing the utility and credibility of the agency down the rank and file.  This would ensure an impartial, just and unbiased assessment of all important cases.  And, bring in the much-needed accountability to inspire confidence among the disgusted public.

At the end of the day, are we going to mortgage our conscience to corrupt and tainted leaders? The powers-that-be must desist from playing further havoc. A question that needs to be urgently answered is: Will the CBI be guided by the law of the land? Who will cast the first stone?  Kiska danda, kiski laathi aur kiski bhains? Enough is enough! ---- INFA

(Copyright  India News and Feature Alliance)   




Breach Of Privilege:IT’S ONE BIG TAMASHA, by Poonam I Kaushish,8 March 2008 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 8 March 2008

Breach Of Privilege


By Poonam I Kaushish

Question: Who said the following: (a) “The House is becoming a place of tamasha. You are working overtime to finish democracy. It is a farce.” (b) “Is not disruption of proceedings during the Question Hour a breach of privilege of individual members who await answers to admitted starred questions, and supplementary questions?”

Answer: No guesses, it’s the Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and his counterpart in the Rajya Sabha Vice President and Chairman Hamid Ansari. Both clearly exasperated over the conduct of our Right Honourables in the two Houses of Parliament.

But unlike the past when these reprimands were dismissed out of hand, this time round it has set our MPs to give serious thought, deliberate and debate on the issue and come out with their recommendations on how to end the fast deteriorating situation.  More so against the backdrop of  Ansari taking the unprecedented step of referring a complaint by a group of seven MPs belonging to the UPA to the Committee of Privileges on Thursday last. Their grouse was that they could not “speak and ask supplementaries” during Question Hour allegedly because some Opposition MPs did not allow the House to function. Pertinently, he raised the question whether those disrupting the House breach the privilege of those MPs scheduled to ask questions during that period.

Under Rule 203 of the Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States, the Chairman has the power to “refer any question of privilege to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation and report.” Which then would have to examine, investigate and then submit a report on the matter. It is another matter that the cornered MPs apologized and all was forgiven.

However, Ansari’s well-intended extraordinary action may not have any salutary immediate effect given that MPs have still to codify their privileges. True, technically speaking, adjournment, disturbances, hungama, raising pandemonium and rushing into the well of the House constitutes breach of privilege. However, the question can be argued both ways. Some parliamentary experts assert that nothing technically stops the Chair from taking disciplinary action, yet not much happens in terms of handing out punishment. Primarily because the rules are not enforced by the Presiding Officers.

Invariably, both the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman neither name nor ask an MP or MPs disrupting the proceedings to withdraw from the House. And when the recalcitrant MP refuses to do so seldom are Marshals summoned. The last time was on 22 July 1998 when the Rashtriya Janata Party MP Anand Mohan disrupted the proceedings in the Lok Sabha, refusing to heed the Speaker's call for silence and was then ordered to be evicted from the House.    

On the obverse not a few feel that the Chair should also not lose sight of the fact that members act to highlight issues of great national importance on their leaders' instructions or to raise matters dear to the aam aadmi in their constituency. Also, if there is a large majority of members, which stood up and disrupted the House, would it be a matter for the privileges committee? More important, isn’t preserving the sanctity of Parliament as the highest democratic forum everyone’s responsibility?

However, Ansari is not being guided by any whims. Nor is he cracking the whip during the time the Vice-President normally presides ever the Rajya Sabha, in his dual role as Chairman. He is doing so simply because the Question Hour is the crucial hyphen that links the Government to Parliament. It provides for daily and continuing accountability of the Executive to the Legislature. Wherein the Government through its Ministers is duty-bound to answer questions.

Any member in either House can put a question to the Prime Minister or any other Minister and demand an honest answer. Making question time the most powerful weapon available to the MPs, and more especially the Opposition, to keep the Government on a tight leash. It is based on the fundamental right to information enshrined in the Constitution, via questions.

Mercifully, the rules of the House ensure that the Government is well and truly in the dock and cannot, therefore, avoid questions and conveniently escape. Perhaps, this Hour more than any other time of the House serves as a barometer of Governmental efficiency and performance at the macro level and that of a Minister at the micro level. When they are required to answer queries relating to matters of public importance and if the administrative responsibility reposed in them.

Sadly over the years, with confrontationalist politics and politically motivated bashing becoming the raging cult, our Right Honourables are showing less and less interest in what they should be doing ---- law making. Bringing things to such a pass that the pursuit of power, pelf and patronage is replacing all else.

The gradual decline in the number of sittings underscores it all. The Rajya Sabha, which had an annual average of 90.5 sittings in 1952-61, came down to 71.3 in 1992-2001 — a decline of 20 per cent. The comparative figures for the Lok Sabha are 124.2 and 81.0 — a decline of 34 per cent. The State Assemblies are worse off, with the average now being in the range of 3 to 20 sittings every year.

More. The annual average of the Bills passed by Parliament has come down from 68 in 1952-61 to 49.9 in 1992-2001. Nearly 23 per cent of MPs elected in 2004 had criminal cases registered against them and over half of these are these that could lead to imprisonment for five years or more. The situation is worse in the case of MLAs.

Shockingly, both the Houses lost over 130 hours of time (cost of each minute being Rs 26,000) due to repeated uproar and pandemonium which has cost the tax payer over Rs 20 crore last year. Up till now the 14th Lok Sabha, has lost 21 per cent of the time due to adjournments.

Recall in 2001 an all-India conference on Discipline and Decorum in Parliament and State Legislatures was convened by the then Lok Sabha Speaker Balyogi. The 350-strong jamboree included the Rajya Sabha Chairman, the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, Chief Ministers, Parliamentary Affairs Ministers, Party leaders and Chief Whips who agreed to evolve a code of conduct and make each other answerable.

Alas, all the suggestions mooted therein were still-born. Only adding to the piling trivia heard before. Recall, a similar conference held in 1992 too did not yield any result. Understandably, in today’s media is the massage age where everything is factored. If governance is all about ‘feeling good’ then politics is all about ‘sounding good.’ Asserted an MP, “In a country where ethics and politics are two ends of a spectrum, one fails to comprehend how a Presiding Officer’s anguish or sending a matter to the Privileges Committee can stem the growing ‘rot of moral decay’ in our polity.

“Bluntly, it means that Parliament in its collective wisdom has tacitly decided to throw ethics to the dogs”, stated a senior old-timer. “Can a code of conduct or rules, for instance, tame our politicians who increasingly call the shots.” Parliament and the State Assemblies have been vandalized as never before. Pandemonium, dharnas and adjournments have become their hallmark: Reducing these buildings, which house the aspirations of the people, to perspiration and one-upmanship. Turning them into market places where leaders are bought and sold like prize bulls with the winner taking it all.

In sum, even as one applauds the initiatives of the two Presiding Officers, much still remains to be done. It is high time our Right Honourables give serious thought to rectifying all the scandalous distortions that have seeped in and urgently work for a change. Ansari and Chatterjee have shown the way. Will our jan sevaks cooperate with them to make Parliament truly India’s high temple of democracy? --- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)









Freebies Galore, Forget Money:PYAARE MUSALMAN, YOUR WISH, MY COMMAND,by Poonam I Kaushish,1 Mar 08 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 1 March 2008

Freebies Galore, Forget Money


By Poonam I Kaushish

It was a perfect electoral cake. Rolled out by Finance Minister Chidambaram to the strains of ‘Vote Congress.’ Iced with luscious lip-smacking freebies galore for one and all. From the aam aadmi to the debt-ridden kisan to the top tax payer. A feel-good budget that has bitten the ballot. To cream the electorate at the hustings!

Indeed, his 2008-09 ‘please-one-and-all’ budget has much to crow about. It has injected a much-needed dose to the suicide-prone farmers wherein debts worth Rs 60,000 crore have been promised to be waived off, it offers substantial tax relief to the middle class, welfare lollipops for workers in the unorganized sector, increased subsidies for houses under the Indira Awaz Yojana, special measures for Scs/STs, new deal for senior citizens and women et al.

However, the budget has a dangerous sub-text which has been lost in the euphoria of the goodies. The slew of schemes for the minorities is a pointer that minorityism has replaced cronyism as the tour de force of the budget. Take a 360 degree turn anywhere and minority appeasement hits you in the face. All in the garb of improving their quality of life (sic) which translates into “please give me your vote.” Never mind that it holds out dangerous portends for India’s unity and national security.

How else should one react to the Finance Minister’s latest bonanza for the minorities. Starting with the piece de resistance, a multi-sectoral development plan for 90 minority districts at a cost of Rs.3,780 crore, Rs 80-crore earmarked for a pre-matric scholarships and over Rs 45 crore for modernizing madrassa education. The corpus for the Maulana Azad Education Foundation has been hiked by Rs.60 crore and 544 new bank branches (256 this year and 288 next year) will be opened in the minority districts to facilitate bank credit for them and Rs.75 crore more for the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation..

Statistically speaking none can deny that a large section of the Muslims need a better quality of life. Data collated by various commissions bring out the fact that socio-economic indicators for Muslims were below those for OBCs in many cases. About 59 per cent were illiterate, only 10 per cent went to school and a mere eight per cent opted for higher education. Worse, even as they were vastly under-represented in official jobs, they were grossly over-represented in India's prison population. None can also deny that the Government has a special responsibility to provide job opportunities, education and upliftment of the minorities and the backward classes.

No doubt, the Grand Dame of Indian politics perceives its Finance Minister’s lollipops as it’s cash card to regain its long-lost glory. But the crucial question is: Does poverty have any religion? What has religion got to do with the Government’s strategy for inclusive growth? Does ‘inclusiveness of Muslims’ mean at the cost of other groups? Is it in the interest of maintaining the social fabric of the nation? Will it help the cause of taking the Indian people together on the path of development?"

More. How does it better the lot of the mass of Muslims, if a few persons get jobs? When does minorityism supercede equality assured by our Constitution? Are quotas based on religion and community, the answer for maintaining India’s social fabric? And more important, it’s crucial harmony? Is the Muslim identity distinct from that of the Indian? 

Given the level of dishonesty, populism and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system, these exclusive measures announced are an invitation to disaster. Clearly, the move is fraught with dangerous implications for the unity of the country. Tragically, so blinded are our politicians in their quest for power that none can see the Frankenstein they recklessly continue to create. By giving legitimacy to a communal quota, religious bigotry at its most ferocious could end up in carving once more a blood-stained path across our country. Clearly, this could sow the poisonous seeds for a new communal movement and separate electorates inspired by the two-nation theory that tragically led to India’s partition.

Importantly, if reservation based on castes is bad, budgeting on communal basis is horrendous. Ominous reasoning is being appendaged. It would bring the Muslims into the mainstream. Ensure harmony between the majority and the minority communities. It would prevent Muslims from being exploited any more as vote-banks by the so-called secular parties.

Recall, Nehru increasingly bent over-backwards to woo the Muslim vote, which constituted 12 to 15 per cent of the total Congress vote, the largest single block it received in the first few general elections. Thus, Muslim appeasement was no longer viewed as luxury but as a matter of life and death. To be manipulated and held hostage as was done by the British colonial masters to block freedom.

Once economically pampered, the next demand would be that the Muslims alone should decide who would represent them. Bluntly, leading to a most dangerous and blood-thirsty monster of separate Muslim electorate. Clearly, this could sow the seeds for a new communal movement inspired by the disastrous two-nation theory that led to India’s partition and the creation of Pakistan, thanks to the diabolical communal award by the British Raj which provided for the Hindus to vote for the Hindus and the Muslims for the Muslims.

So caught up are all in their blandishments for the increasing Muslim vote-bank  (36.76 per cent growth during 1991-2001) to suit their petty parochial ends that they fail to see the Frankenstein they could mindlessly unleashed --- a Frankenstein that encourages the Muslim leadership to go communal and dictate its national agenda. Already a seven-Party Muslim Front has been formed to fight the electoral sweepstakes on its own.   

Importantly, there is no place for double standards or the Orwellian concept of ‘more equal than others’ in a democracy. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The Fundamental Rights provide for equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or sex. Let’s not fudge or forget this. India of 2008 is not the India of pre-1947.

Clearly, the Government has to end this evil of separatism. Separate budget for minorities is no answer for fulfilling the peoples’ aspirations. It will not only further divide our people on creed-caste lines but is also short-sighted and antithetical to any hope of narrowing India's burgeoning divide between the haves and have-nots. The Government has no right to limit opportunities for the deserving or to shrink the public space for autonomy and free association.

In the ultimate, our petty power-at all-cost polity has to think beyond vote-bank politics and look at the perilous implications of these decisions. What exactly is the message the Government proposes to send across the country by its budgeting policy? Does it want to be the first to sow the seeds of another partition? It is willy-nilly encouraging the Muslim leadership to go communal and resurrect the Muslim League. Which could in turn result in reservation for Muslims in Parliament and State Assemblies and even separate electorate a la the British Raj?

If not stopped here and now, these actions could threaten a blood-stained path across our country. Let us not ignore the grim lessons of history. Or, we shall end up condemning ourselves and the country to repeating history. Where a nation can be plunged into communal anarchy once again. How long will we allow this vote-bank politics to continue recklessly and play havoc with India’s unity and integrity? The buck stops at the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s door. ----INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)                   



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