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SC On Migrant Workers: APPLIES BALM, WILL IT HEAL?, By Insaf, 30 May 2020 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 30 May 2020

SC On Migrant Workers

APPLIES BALM, WILL IT HEAL?

By Insaf

 

The Supreme Court finally applies the balm. Noticing “several lapses” in dealing with the migrant workers crisis, the court did yield the stick and put a structure for Centre to follow. In no uncertain terms, it ordered: No fare either by train or bus shall be charged from the migrant labourers (it should be shared by States); the originating State should provide meal and water at the station, while Railways will provide the same during the journey; those who are stranded should be provided food by States concerned at places, which shall be publicized/notified for the period they are waiting their turn; those found walking on roads, immediately be taken to shelters and provided food and all facilities; the State shall oversee their registration and ensure they are made to board train/bus at an early date; Railways needs to provide trains as and when State governments put in a request and when a migrant worker wishes to go to a State, no State can say that we will not take you. The specifics from a three-judge bench came after taking suo moto notice of ‘unfortunate and miserable conditions of migrant labourers’ walking on foot and cycles from long distances,” as reported in media. A welcome change for two weeks ago, the apex court had observed hearing a PIL that it couldn’t be expected to stop migrants from taking the hard, life-threatening option of trekking thousands of miles to their villages amid the lockdown! The big question is will orders be followed? Should there be hope for India’s unfortunate?      

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High Alert In Ladakh

Ladakh has put both North and South Block on high alert. Chinese incursions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh have been on the rise. In fact, while its normal to witness continued incidents of ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts on Line of Control with Pakistan, this summer the LAC has been unusually active. Both Indian and Chinese troops are said to have come to blows on the banks of Pangong Tso on May 5-6 with matters coming to a head when Chinese incursions were detected at three locations along the LAC on Wednesday last. The Chinese have a huge build up that includes upcoming military-style bunkers, new upcoming permanent structures, military trucks, road-building equipment and even a warehouse! Army Chief General Naravane has given an operational review of the situation on the ground on Wednesday last, and has deployed reinforcements at the four standoff points without halting work on the border infrastructure work. The Ministry of External Affairs is firm “India will defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty.” And while the Chinese flex their muscles, New Delhi is confident of taming the dragon, even if it means a long haul. 

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Locusts Storm  

 ‘Locust warning alert’ has been sounded off in five States--Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Active swarms of desert locusts have already wreaked havoc in Rajasthan and MP, forcing the Centre to step in. “89 fire brigades for pesticide spray; 120 survey vehicles; 47 control vehicles with spray equipment and 810 tractor-mounted sprayers have been deployed, says the Union Agriculture Ministry. While 11 districts in Vidarbha and four in north Maharashtra are gearing up for bigger assault, Odisha government has issued guidelines for a possible attack asking farmers to take preventive steps. As is known, locust swarms can devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage, which can lead to famine and starvation. However, a lot depends on which way the winds blow. This time though these are in different directions. In the past, most of the locust attacks, since 1993 had been localised to Rajasthan alone. Obviously, fear is mounting. Already plagued by an economic slowdown and Covid-19 lockdown, the country can ill-afford an agrarian crisis. Fingers must be kept crossed. 

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Himachal’s Blot  

Himachal Pradesh may well open a can of worms. Rather, it may turn out there could be many more cans if only anti-corruption bureaus across the country get cracking during the pandemic. Wednesday last, the ruling-BJP was left red faced as its State party chief Rajeev Bindal put in his papers following investigation into procurement of medical supplies by the government for Covid-19 since February. Bindal is alleged to be part of an audio clip, under probe by the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau, in which two men are purportedly heard discussing handover of Rs 5 lakh “bribe.” One of them, Director, health services Dr A K Gupta was arrested last week, giving the Opposition ammunition to target the government by claiming the person heard “offering the bribe” is a “ruling party leader”. Bindal denies any link, but resigned on “high moral grounds”, so the probe is “not influenced in any way”. Be that as it may, the incident should put State governments and vigilance departments on alert to stem the rot that has seeped in, even in the times of corona.

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TN Sound Advice

Governments can learn a lesson or two from Madras High Court’s judgement. Dealing with an ordinance by ruling AIADMK to take temporary possession of Veda Nilayam, former Chief Minister Late Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence in Chennai, to establish the Puratchi Thalaivi Dr J Jayalalithaa Memorial Foundation, a division bench expressed strong reservations. “When there are so many essential amenities which are yet to be provided by the welfare state, public money cannot be wasted for purpose of constructing memorials. The real tribute to any leader should be paid by following his/her principles and working for people’s benefit and development of society,” it said on Wednesday last. Further, it declared Jayalalithaa’s niece and nephew as Class II legal heirs of her property, and that the government can’t acquire the property without their consent. The two could be administrators for utilising half-acre property, worth over Rs 100 crore, as Chief Minister’s official residence and convert a portion into a memorial. This way, the two won’t have to be compensated for acquiring land and government could use the amount for ‘developmental purposes such as building infrastructure, providing potable drinking water, cleaning of water bodies etc…” Sound advice indeed.

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Flyover Outrage

Sparks are flying over naming of a flyover in Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru. On Thursday last, the civic body cancelled the inauguration by Chief Minister Yediyurappa of “Veer Savarkar” flyover, named after Hindutva ideologue/freedom fighter, on his birthday, citing the lockdown. Not really true. Both Congress and JD(S) have vociferously opposed the name saying: it’s an “insult to freedom fighters from Karnataka’s soil… the hasty decision is proof the administration isn’t run by elected government but by those behind the scene.” Ruling-BJP has hit back: “Naming circles, buildings, infrastructure after Nehru and fake Gandhis are the ‘naamdar’ party’s honour to freedom fighters.” In this tu-tu-mein-mein there’s another voice -- pro-Kannada activists, who have questioned all parties about “contributions during their rules”. Thus, Twitter users have started social media movement #DontWantSavarkarName. Their justification: National parties name projects after their political leaders to get High Command’s attention! They are hopeful of a victory as in 2009 movement-- the airport was eventually named Kempegowda (Bengaluru’s founder) International Airport. Who said what’s in a name? ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Atmanirbhar Bharat:GLOBALISATION VIA LOCAL ROUTE, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 28 May 2020 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 28 May 2020

Events & Issues

Atmanirbhar Bharat

GLOBALISATION VIA LOCAL ROUTE

By Dr S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

Atmanirbhar Bharat, meaning self-reliant India, is the goal set before us as a panacea to recover from the manifold problems generated and spread as inevitable consequences of the cruel COVID-19 pandemic. Self-reliance is the ability to do things and make decisions by oneself without depending on other people’s help. It requires independence, individualism and self- confidence, besides the ability to reach the desired end.

 

Global disease has yielded many useful lessons for reviving our shaken life and livelihoods among which the realisation of the need for “self-reliance” and the value of “local” stands foremost. Prime Minister Modi, in his latest address to the nation in this lockdown period, emphatically stated: “local is not only our need; it is also our responsibility. Current world situation has taught us that we have to make ‘local’ one’s life mantra”. He has already laid the foundation for this in “Make in India” project commenced in 2014.

 

Building Atmanirbhar Bharat is not a mere slogan, but conveys an objective to instill in the minds of the people the capacity and willingness to manage their life without external help. This policy is aimed at making the Indian economy competitive and emerging as a major player in the global supply chain on the back of “Make in India” products.

 

Self-reliance, though not a novel or an imported idea, is resurrected with great vigour and official encouragement. It was known in our panchayati raj and community development programme even in the 1960s.

 

Modi addressed 250,000 gram panchayat heads through video conferencing on National Panchayat Day a month ago, where he stressed the importance of self-reliance, which has to be built from grassroots.

 

When global supply chains have been disrupted and nations are preoccupied with fighting the life threatening virus, when restrictions on travel and movements have barred flow of goods and resources, and when labour supply is curtailed due to exodus of workers, all nations are facing difficulties in manufacturing, marketing and services. They have to look inwards to tide over the difficulties and revive their economy.

 

In this endeavour to awaken India’s internal potential, the presence of over 2 lakh elected panchayat bodies is a great boon. Development of every village will in aggregate contribute substantially to the development of the nation. The Prime Minister has made a fervent appeal that, “Every village has to be self-sufficient enough to provide for its own needs. Similarly, every district has to be self-sufficient at its level; every State has to be self-sufficient at its level and the whole country has to be self-sufficient at its level”.

 

The philosophy of self-reliance is the strategy adopted successfully in community development in villages in many African nations. It believes in reliance on indigenous technology and local human resources which leads to overwhelming participation in community-driven development.  In essence, it means that local people initiate, galvanise and mobilise their own resources. When macro economics faces hurdles, the combined power of micro economic units will have to rise and save the situation. In India, there is no dearth of local resources, manpower and skills.

 

In a country’s development, self-reliance is “development on the basis of a country’s or region’s own resources, involving its populations based on the potentials of its cultural values and traditions”. In any part of the free world, at any time, self-reliant communities and people define their own development according to their own needs, values, and aspirations.

 

Self-reliant India, as envisaged today, stands on five pillars listed by Modi as Economy, Infrastructure, System, Vibrant Demography, and Demand and Supply Chains. Economy must work for “quantum jump” and not just “incremental change”. The pandemic growth is exponential creating huge losses to the economy which cannot wait for step by step growth.  Current age technological innovations must underlie system and infrastructure. The source of energy must be our people; and we should use the supply chain and the demand to full extent.

  

Self-reliance is not a call to halt technological revolution, but an urge to people to do things themselves using local human capital and resources. Self-initiated efforts towards development are needed today to lessen dependence on government. Policies that require and provide space for people’s participation are in need. Distribution of monetary incentives should be so designed as to promote self-help. People’s own initiatives can work wonders.

 

The PM has urged citizens to turn the present crisis into opportunity to grow local manufacturing capacities. Truly, necessity is the mother of inventions. It is also the mother of resurgence and re-inventions. The “local” mantra has a cultural background in India, where at various points in our history, “local” has been our pride and identity. It has a political past in the Swadeshi movement. 

 

Self-Help Groups (SHG) are innovative organisational set up in India for uplift and welfare of women. Different types of SHGs have been formed and are in operation. Their linkage with banks is a major micro-finance programme in India. They have earned a reputation for organising micro enterprises and for prompt repayment of loans. In the pandemic year, even the poorest in India has something to fall back, revive and strengthen so as to withstand the loss of collapse of economic activities dependent on external resources.

   

Economic stimulus package for Rs 20 lakh crore (said to be about 10% of GDP) with some definite economic reforms were announced by Modi as the road towards Atmanirbhar Bharat. “We need to be vocal about local” is the new strategy to concentrate on manufacturing local products with local material and expanding it gradually to global level in quality and quantity in the manner many multinational enterprises have grown. Even small and cottage industries have a place in globalisation.

 

This concept of self-reliance is differentiated from protectionist policies of earlier centuries associated with mercantilism, which shielded domestic products from foreign competition by levying high import duties. Modi emphasises once again his favourite theme of “Vasudeva Kudumbakam” (World is one family) and his dream of helping the whole world with what India can do. The goal is to make India a globally competitive economy. Integration with the rest of the world and not isolation is aimed at.

 

Wide ranging reforms have now been unveiled under Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package touching various sectors. Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), farm sector, rural industries and migrant labour, which are the main players for self-reliant economy, are all covered in a big way. Steps to indigenise defence production by banning import of certain weapons while hiking foreign direct investment are the highlights in the industry sector. A set of structural reforms across sectors cover coal, minerals, defence, civil aviation, power, space travel, and atomic energy. Privatisation is accepted in these sectors. Agriculture and related activities have been declared as essential services.

 

Strangely, COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that both globalisation and self-reliance are needed for a country’s sustenance and growth. India has understood this very well and is in a better position than many other developed nations to put it into policies and programmes so as to survive the all-round attack of the pandemic. –INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

Chinese Incursions:DELHI’S OPTIONS, by Dr D. K. Giri, 29 May 2020 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi,  29 May 2020

Chinese Incursions

    NEW DELHI’S OPTIONS

  By Dr D. K. Giri

(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

 

Chinese troops have moved into three-odd kilometers of the Indian territory in Ladakh and have built camps. Indian troops are engaged in skirmishes with Chinese troops along the India-China border. New Delhi is trying to sort this out with talks and negotiations. Some five high-level meetings have already taken place, but the stand-off continues and the incursion has not been reversed yet.

 

The discussion in the media, among observers, analysts and experts is centered on conjectures about Chinese intent on embarking on this latest border incursion, and how should India respond to it! Parliament is not in session, so no debate, and both Government and Opposition are intriguingly laconic on it. Not that we have been caught on the hop by the Chinese. As per reports in public domain, there were 326 incursions in 2018 which more than doubled to 600 in 2019. Assuming that such incursions have been reversed, this is a recurring pattern at India-China border. More shocking news is China is in illegal occupation of thousands of kilometers of Indian territories in addition to Aksai Chin.

 

It is a futile debate what instigated China to commit the incursion at the pandemic time. Some observers have cited as possible reasons: the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of J& K, the barriers imposed on Chinese FDI, New Delhi’s position on allowing Huawei marketing the flagship Chinese 5G network, New Delhi building infrastructure on India-Nepal border, or seducing the investors seeking to relocate away from China. Another probable point for Chinese provocation, not mentioned yet, is India taking over the chairmanship of WHO Executive Committee, which might consider favorably the participation and eventual membership of Taiwan in the WHO.

 

It is of little consequence to find out the reasons for Chinese action. Beijing believes in bullying and bending countries to make them accept its positions on bilateral and intentional issues. Be that as it may, the stark and shocking reality staring at us is that Chinese troops are in our territory on the pretext of calling it disputed. How do we rebuff them and prevent them from trespassing in future? That is the only question that should engage us now.

 

Experts and observers point to three strategies. One, a somewhat hawkish approach is to stand up to the Chinese like we did in Doklam, enhance our military build-up along LAC, push them back from our territory, even if it leads to a military confrontation. Some would caution that India cannot afford the diversion and the cost at this critical time. 

 

The second strategy, popular in diplomatic and economic circles is to defuse the crisis by talks and negotiations. If the crisis could be resolved without confrontation, that is preferable. But what does defusing mean, a nebulous word really in this context, when Chinese have illegally entered our territory. One remembers Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister in January 1980 talking of defusing the Afghan crisis as Soviet Union was in occupation of the country.

 

The third one is to shift the conflict to another area, say South China Sea, or Indo-Pacific arena. That will divert China’s attention and energy. This strategy should have been unrelentingly applied by New Delhi before the current border skirmishes and after. Shifting the area of conflict may not make China withdraw, but may come under some pressure.

 

To recall from history, New Delhi has faulted in dealing with China ever since the days of Nehru. Many observers have failed to detect Nehru’s motivation in deferring to China. Even Prime Minster Modi has fumbled on dealing with China. The stroll and swing diplomacy reflecting the so-called Wuhan spirit in 2018, and the dinner diplomacy next year in Chennai called ‘China Connect’ sent the wrong message to our friends and partners that we are trying to placate China. On the back of this summit, Xi Jinping signed a slew of projects, partnership agreements with Nepal. Our spreading of the red carpet to Xi gave the excuse to Nepal to embrace the dragon closer.

 

The Chinese action on the border was predictable. It has violated Indian territories many times before. What was Indian preparedness against it? Did Modi believe like Nehru that China will not invade India’s borders? That is hopefully not the case. Modi is a hard-nosed realist. He could not be so naïve although straying occasionally on the advice of bureaucrats, who cannot think out of box; like he did in addressing the SAARC and NAM meetings, or courting China.

 

Here we are now! The response to Chinese transgression has to be multifold. First is the military, come hell or high-water, New Delhi should send the tough message to China that we can protect our territory. We will defend our territorial integrity at any cost. That will call the Chinese bluff. War is not an option for Chinese too. They have a lot at stake at the moment. China has invested heavily in India.

 

The next is political. New Delhi should brief its defence partners like USA, Israel, France, Britain and Russia on the China’s aggression. USA has already started firing from all its cylinders on China, it has barred Chinese companies from trading in the US stock markets, warned China of sanctions if the security law on Hong Kong is brought upon, it has moved a resolution to recognise Tibet as an independent country.

 

From reports from reliable sources, it has stationed 7 out of 20 aircraft carriers at sea -- these are Ronald Regan, Gerald R. Ford, Abraham Lincoln, NIMITZ, Harry S. Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. New Delhi has had a deep defence link with USA in anticipation of such acts of aggression by China. India should sign a defence treaty with America like it did with Soviet Union in 1971, and push China back to where it belongs, beyond our border. In the interim, India should get the US to announce its active support to India in the event of a war. India has the non-NATO ally status with USA. It is time to put more teeth into it.  It is also morally imperative on the West to do so as they built up this monster for economic expediency and trade opportunism.

 

At the same time, the economic response should consist of stringent barriers on Chinese investment and goods to India. This should be backed by Indians boycotting Chinese products. The diplomatic response would mean keep talking to Chinese. If they refuse to do so, cut off diplomatic contact with China, recall our Ambassador from Beijing. 

 

Aware that the above approach is risky and costly, we have no other choice. China has betrayed our goodwill time and again, is highly perfidious. It understands only the language of competition and confrontation. We need not waste our time and energy fighting Pakistan, a vassal ally of China and our traditional friend being lured away by Chinese money. We take on the mother of most of our problems and those of the world now. The dragon has to be tamed and caged. This is the priority for all those believing in freedom, solidarity and a rule-based international order.  Let the Great Wall of Democracy fence the dragon in its den. – INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reform Agenda: IS IT RIGHT STRATEGY?, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 27 May 2020 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 27 May 2020 

Reform Agenda

IS IT RIGHT STRATEGY?

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The stimulus package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has triggered a discussion whether it outlines the government’s broader agenda on reforms. Some economists have been clamouring for reforms, which in effect means, meting out opportunities for business houses and not the micro and small sector. Whether these were necessary to be announced now, when the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, is under question.

 

Importantly, 22 like-minded Opposition parties have called the package a “cruel joke on the country” and demanded the Centre come out with a revised stimulus that would generate demand. Further, their leaders issued an 11-point charter of demands, prominent being payment of a monthly amount of Rs 7500 for six months to families outside the income tax bracket, distribution of 10 kg of foodgrains for a similar period to needy families and “reversal of all unilateral policy decisions, particularly annulment of labour laws’.

 

Apparently, there is dismay around the announcements, among the corporate as well as the poor and struggling workers fighting for basic survival. However, what is worse is Sitharaman’s ‘false estimate’ of the stimulus package accounting for 10 per cent of GDP. It has been repudiated by one and all, whether a research organisation or an economist.  

 

Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research has estimated the fiscal impact of the stimulus stands at 1 per cent of GDP. Even the SBI said the fiscal cost would be 1 per cent of GDP. Other research organisations have given their estimates of which mention may be made of Goldman Sachs – 1.3%, HSBC – 1%, Edelweiss – 0.84% and CLSA 0.8%.

 

Therefore, it was distressing to hear even Prime Minister Modi remark these bulk reforms would boost entrepreneurship, help public sector units, boost entrepreneurship and revitalise village economy, besides having a transformative effect on health and education sectors. Such jargons are often aired by politicians, but when looked deeply it becomes amply clear that these reforms will not have much effect, except for transferring resources to the private sector, most of which are profit-oriented and don’t have the ability to being competitive on a global scale.    

 

These so-called reforms are primarily being seen as a bid to attract foreign firms, which may be leaving China and could be a stimulus for the short term. Be that as it may, their implementation, in a judicious manner, without any favour and from a professional perspective would be vital. This means that monitoring of the private sector to ensure its smooth functioning is necessary. 

 

Let us first take the example of the present state of the village economy. The so-called transfer of an additional amount of Rs 40,000 crore to MGNREGA scheme may appear big but in reality this amount is below Rs 30,000 crore because in the current Budget allocation it was less than last year’s, plus the 7-8 per cent cost escalation was not taken into account. Moreover, migrant labourers’ have returned to their respective homes, mainly in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and, to a lesser extent, in West Bengal and Odisha, and they have to be given employment, at least for the next two-three months before they can return to their place of work.

 

Insofar as conditions prevailing in rural India are concerned, the less said the better. While profitability is prominent factor in big private sector companies, farmers are struggling for adequate returns to meet basic essentials of life. Also due to fragmented land holdings, the profitability of small plots of land has further come down. Unlike China, the panchayats here have not taken the initiative to form cooperatives so that modern methods of farming could increase yield -- at least twice or thrice a year – and give adequate returns to small farmers.

 

As always, the grant of Rs 2 lakh crore concessionary credit for farmers, holding Kisan Credit Cards and earmarking an additional Rs 30,000 crore as an emergency working capital may benefit mostly marginal and big landholders to ensure uninterrupted farming operations during the kharif sowing season beginning June. According to expectations, 2.5 crore farmer would benefit from the flow of cheap credit. However, the Rs 6700-crore working capital for States for procurement of agricultural produce may help in giving more cash to the farming community.  

 

Remember Vinoba Bhave’s Gramdan Bhoodan movement, where the Gandhian walked through villages and collected thousands of acres of land but subsequent governments did nothing to form cooperatives and help sharecroppers to farm land or take up horticulture or floriculture projects. Vinoba’s vision of transforming rural India or even that of APJ Abdul Kalam of proving urban facilities in rural areas (PURA) has yet to become a reality as the focus of planning has been on the urban sector.

 

Rural rejuvenation should now focus on horticulture, floriculture and agro-based industries, which the government is now considering. Moreover after years, the government has just decided to allocate Rs 6000 crore fund for giving an employment push under the Compensatory Afforestation & Planning Authority (CAMPA). Activities under this plan are expected to include afforestation, forest management, soil and moisture conservation work and wildlife related infrastructure work to help tribal people and adivasis.

    

Regarding public sector units, it cannot be ascertained what help would be extended. Framing a broad PSU policy or merging some of these is welcome but privatisation of all PSUs in non-strategic sectors is difficult to fathom. Also experts have rightly pointed out that such policy has to be framed in consultation with States since there are a large number of state-level PSUs. Self-reliance has nothing to do with privatisation. Rather the government should try to make PSUs profitable through induction of technology and mergers, wherever necessary.

 

The decision of privatisation of coal mining and also of power distribution raises a few questions. Handing over some mines to private parties may be considered but it must not be forgotten that in the coal sector private operators’ have been involved in huge scams. Also questions arise whether domestic companies have the technology and expertise to manufacture defence equipment. As regards the decision for privatisation of power distribution, it is inevitable that electricity charges would rise and the EWS and lower income groups may not have the capacity to pay.

 

Regarding developing health infrastructure across the country and specially in villages is imperative, if the government has real concern for the poor and the EWS. These include backward blocks and sub-divisions of the northern and eastern parts of the country where the population density is high and the per capita income rather poor. Privatising district hospitals is not quite prudent but in congested areas one additional hospital in PPP mode may be considered with regulations on charges the poor would have to pay for treatment.

 

Finally, the reason for not making available more funds in hands of the State is indeed intriguing and most States have opposed the move and questioned the government’s sincerity of following cooperative federalism. There is need to seriously ponder over this vital matter as resources in the hands of the States would only help in real development, benefitting the poor, the tribals and other weaker sections. The government needs to reorient its strategy but it appears the top leadership is not interested in following a pro-poor, pro-rural geared to strengthen the rural economy. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Opposition Void: ANTI-BJP DÉJÀ VU, By Poonam I Kaushish, 26 May 2020 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 26 May 2020

Opposition Void

ANTI-BJP DÉJÀ VU 

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

Phew! Eight weeks in to the lockdown yet there is no respite from the tu-tu-mein-mein vitriol between the Government and Opposition which continues to get shriller and more odious. Modi has let the country into an economic disaster, yells the Opposition, nonsense, his popularity has gone up, counters the BJP. Bringing to mind Frank Kafka’s adage: One idiot is one idiot. Two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political Party!

 

Undeniably, the idea that Modi is Teflon-coated, migrant travails are idle chatter of a defeated and fatigued Opposition and nothing can bring him down might be bunkum for the bhakts. But worse is that the Opposition looks more like a bunch of stricken Covid 19 patients than like determined champions of the democratic mandate to hold the Government to account.

 

In fact, it is the Opposition’s failure to seize the opportunity or its unwilling to confront and corner the Government on substantive issues of migrant livelihoods and economic mishandling to demand accountability which has ensured that Modi retains his macho numero uno protector image of saving tens of thousands of lives, notwithstanding, IMF predicting that unemployment has already spiked to 26% with 18 crore people losing their jobs in the first few weeks of the lockdown.

 

Strangely, for reasons best known to it, the Opposition’s politics has largely been in suspended animation, while the BJP has happily been exploiting opportunities provided by the pandemic into even-larger political capital. Despite, the same possibilities being present for the Opposition to put the Government on the mat.

Lest the Modi persona devours it, the Congress interim prima donna Sonia called an 22 Opposition Parties meet Friday, which included Mamata’s TMC, Pawar’s NCP, Stalin’s DMK , Left and latest entrant Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. Others, regional outfits like Samajwadi and BSP have abandoned their turf. Alas, it ended in a whimper with a joint call to dub Cyclone Amphan a national calamity and help Bengal and Odisha on its road to recovery. Nothing more nothing less.  

 

Clearly, the Opposition faces a catch-22 situation. Suspension of politics during the pandemic lockdown seems to be a secure strategy. But this approach gives Modi an even longer rope to skirt accountability. Because of the apparently hegemonic force of the BJP’s narrative, any Opposition to it runs the risk of being looked at as unabashed opportunistic and even ‘anti-national’.

 

Paradoxically, Covid 19 gives the moribund Opposition a unique opportunity to resurrect itself, but it is too timorous to claim it. Primarily, because of the disarray within the Congress, the largest Opposition Party.

Crippled by rank desertions, indiscipline, perennial squabbling among senior leaders resulting in a virtual free-for-all with big, small and petty leaders all pulling in different directions who at best can come up with tokenism and “me-tooism”. The older entrenched leaders refuse to let go and the Rahul brigade orphaned and dumped by their leader it is staring at an abyss.  

Not a few senior leaders are worried that politics could spin out of control in the next three months. Privately they count how many more such acts may be in the pipeline at a time when the Party is caught in a whirlpool of political and electoral crises and is confronted with a firmly entrenched BJP topped with “Brand Modi.’

Slowly but surely the Congress finds itself in an existential battle and faces multiple challenges: With Sonia seen as an aging stop-gap President, Rahul as a ‘reluctant leader’ who lacks the reliable and dependable quotient alongside his sister Priyanka who carries the albatross of her Vadra surname. In fact, Congressmen are quietly questioning Sonia’s intentions and policy of protecting-her-son-at-all-cost.

Indeed, the Party has become a prisoner of the highly personalised, feudal functioning and outlook.  In such a Congress system the entire pyramid fastens leech-like feeds on the “undaata”, living off her goodwill. Only those who serve loyalty flourish in the “nomination culture”. Said a disgusted neta, “The decision-making process is so slow. If Soniaji continues with her status quo policy then the Party will fall apart.”

The most unpleasant aspect is the withering of internal democracy. It has made the Party hopelessly dependent on initiative from the Congress President and tragically immobile in its absence. What is more, Congressmen keep scoring debating points against each other and turning every issue into a dissident versus loyalist question. Of sycophants who are as loyal as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita!

Bringing things to such a pass that it has became increasingly difficult to decipher who are the heroes and who the villains. Resulting in a blame game between the veterans and Rahul’s “rudderless coterie with each blaming the other for inertia, ghooskhori and lack of grassroot desi connect to counter NaMo’s Hindutva symbolism and nationalistic zeal.

Its recent lumbering attempts at criticism couched as ‘constructive advice’ come across as meek and innocuous suggestions, rather than potent political questioning. Two cases in point. The fracas with UP’s Yogi Government over 500 buses meant to ferry migrant labourers back from Rajasthan which displayed wrong number plates, registration papers of bikes and three-wheelers instead of buses etc. Two, even as it’s heart melts for migrants, it took Rahul 53 days to do one photo-op with them!

 

Importantly, the Congress needs to find answers to why it has become so weak and what should be the mantra to re-charge the Party apparatus? Notwithstanding, Sonia pitching for waging a “long and forceful war to recover ground.” Certainly, the diagnose of the problem is correct but the Party cannot come up with convincing answers to galvanize its cadres.

Specially, against the backdrop of the Party’s shrinking vote nation-wide and the need to expand its organization and social base in the States ruled by allies or Opposition Parties. An instance, in the run-up to the Delhi polls the battle had narrowed down to between BJP and AAP with the Grand Dame non-existent!

Either which way, it is crucial the Congress takes this risk now or it and other Parties imperil further marginalisation. Urban and rural poor who are worst hit by the economic cost of Covid present a constituency on a platter which the Opposition can directly address. Ditto the case with unemployed and laid-off workers.

 

Cynical as this might sound it could pave the road to put the Opposition on the right political track to underscore its importance among these voters by emerging as the voice of the poor and the marginalised.

 

Undoubtedly, the impact of the lockdown may make social issues more prominent again in terms of class, at the expense of caste as well as religious identities and communal tendencies. Consequently, the Opposition has to remain proactive through the current situation.

 

In the ultimate, the Opposition has to read the writing on the wall. There is no democracy without accountability. And when the aam aadmi is struggling for his survival, it is the Opposition’s inherent duty to demand political answerability. If not for the poor, then at least to secure its own political futures. For if it abdicates this, it would not only be inimical to its own political interests but also spell its collective doom.

 

Its déjà vu times of the 70”s, what was anti-Congressism then is anti-BJPism now. The Opposition needs a lesson in political ABC, aggression, bounce and confidence. Is it capable of turning a new leaf? It would do well to remember a Talmud saying:  Power buries those who wield it. Politics is a heartless and unforgiving mistress. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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