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Regionalism Raises Ugly Head: SAY GOODBYE TO AMCHEE MUMBAI, By Poonam I Kaushish; 9 February 2008 Print E-mail

POLITICAL DIARY

New Delhi, 9 February 2008 

Regionalism Raises Ugly Head 

SAY GOODBYE TO AMCHEE MUMBAI 

By Poonam I Kaushish 

 

India pre-1947 resounded to the battle cry of “throw out the British”. Sprinkled with a heavy dose of nationalism, all pledged to make the country more secular and united than ever before The Mera Bharat Mahan of 2008 is all about chucking the “outsider aam aadmi” from respective States and imposing an “insider curfew” on them. Peppered with loads of patriotic regional chaap, all promising to make their respective States more local and faithful than ever.  

By unleashing the ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’ and ‘throw out the North Indians’ campaign, Raj Thackeray’s non-descript Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) let loose the spectre of regionalism in Mumbai and the rest of the State. Violence became the rhetoric for three gory days as cars and taxis of non-Maharashtrians were burnt, street food-stalls of poor UP bhaiyas and the Biharis were looted, shops owned by north Indians were forced to close down et al.  

Amidst this mayhem, trust our netagan to use this opportunity to play the ‘insider-outsider’ game to their electoral advantage. Some played safe. The country’s Home Minister Shivraj Patil, a Maharashtrian made the staid noises of ‘the State Government has been asked to maintain law and order’ and the Chief Minister tepidly asserted ‘we are studying the law to see if Thackeray can be arrested.’  

Others took potshots at each other. The RJD Chief Laloo dismissed the MNS chief as a “political novice,” Samajwadi’s Mulayam dubbed him “frustrated” and uncle and Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray dumped his nephew as “a chicken suffering from bird-flu of depression.” What to say of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti which torched a Maharashtrian’s house in Ranchi. All thus exploiting the issue for their own selfish gains and maximize their political return, read votes. No matter that they only stoked the flames of hatred and pitted the aam Bharatvasi against each other – and revived the time old controversy of “sons of the soil” demand once again. 

Recall, regionalism first raised its ugly head in Tamil Nadu in the early 60s, where the alienation of the people from the Centre led to the birth of the DMK, which later split into the AIADMK and other groups. It then moved to Maharashtra where a little-known cartoonist Bal Thackeray became the self-styled champion of everything Marathi. He nurtured the Shiv Sena on the infamous `Marathi manus' standard, by which practically everyone in Mumbai was an `outsider' except the 28 per cent Maharashtrians. The first victims were the skilled labourers from the southern States who were branded as "lungi-wallas” and their businesses ruthlessly attacked. After them came the Gujarati entrepreneurs and now it’s the North Indian, UP bhaiya or Bihari migrant. 

Taking a leaf from Maharashtra saga, Assam burnt over the foreigners issue in the 70’s, when the All Assam Students Union (AASU) started a movement to oust all “illegal migrants from Bangladesh” from the State. This caught the imagination of the people and the ruling Congress government was voted out and the Asom Gana Parishad voted in. In nearby Nagaland too, the students want all non-Nagas out. Regionalism had arrived.  

In November 2003, India resounded to parochialism again, when Assamese stopped 20,000 Biharis from taking a recruitment test in Guwahati. The Biharis retaliated by stopping trains from the North East, dragged out the people, killed some and beat the rest. The Assamese hit back with a vengeance--- killing over 52 Biharis. The dreaded militant outfits ULFA and the All Bodo Students Union joined in the mayhem. Their slogan: “All Hindi speaking people must leave Assam”. “Catch the Assamese and kill them all,” countered the Biharis.  

Why blame the locals alone? Our polity too revels in playing the regional card. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP dubbed the Congress Lucknow candidate Karan Singh, former Sadr-i-Riyasat of J&K, an ‘outsider’ compared to ‘insider’ Vajpayee. Never mind that Lucknow is miles away from Gwalior, Vajpayee’s birthplace. Interestingly, the same Saffron Sangh again portrayed ‘Vajpayee the local’ in Himachal, by underscoring his love for Manali and the numerous visits made. Now shouldn’t that make him an outsider in Lucknow? Then we had the absurd case in Nainital, where the BJP candidate described his BSP rival as an outsider because he did not have a telephone in his name. “Is a telephone connection going to decide our local status?” the BSP contestant argued.  

So, regionalism mushroomed around the countryside with both people and parties making it their mantra. Former Prime Minister and kisan leader Charan Singh floated the farmer-oriented Janata Party and Devi Lal his Lok Dal in Haryana. Badal his Akali Dal in Punjab, N.T. Rama Rao his Telugu Desam in Andhra, Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee set up her Trinamool Congress and Biju Patnaik’s son, Naveen floated the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. All with a common USP: “We are the locals who shall rule, Delhi is dur --- the outsider.”   

Additionally, Mandalisation gave a further impetus to regionalism and changed the politics of India. With the debut of the “Made in India” leaders like Mayawati, Mulayam, Ram Vilas Paswan, Laloo, etc. Their electorate no longer was willing to know-tow to the centrist parties and those foisted upon them. In their perception, who better than their own biradari, to understand, sympathise and articulate their voice at New Delhi. Confusion was confounded by the failure of the voter to draw a distinction between the responsibilities and powers of an MP and that of an MLA.  

Moreover, this gave a further fillip to the “sons of soil” issue. The local youth demanded “reservation” of jobs in their area, especially in regions where new industrial ventures like public sector plants or other projects coming up. In fact agitations have taken place for “their” share of jobs. However, Constitutionally, Article 16 is very clear on the issue. It provides: “There shall be equal opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.” This has its genesis in the concept that there being only one citizenship for the entire country, it should carry with it the unfettered right and privilege to every corner of the nation.   

Sadly, over the years opinions have deferred between political leaders, right from the Constituent Assembly debate. Some leaders felt that the States should have the unfettered right to give employment to locals residing in the State. Not a few quibbled about the years of residence – should it be 10 or 50 years.  Others disagreed, as they felt that every citizen must be made to feel that he was a citizen of the country as a whole and not of a particular State.  

Dr. Ambedkar felt that if the States were granted the right to give jobs it would “subtract from the value of a common citizenship of India.” But he added a rider: “You cannot allow people who are flying from one province to another, from one State to another as mere birds of passage without any roots, without any connection with that and apply for posts and so to say take the plums and work away. Let us give the power to Parliament not the States to decide on the residence status for purpose of employment.” 

From then to now the controversy continues. There is no gainsaying that all citizens should have equal job opportunities across the country. The problem has arisen after locals have demanded their pound of flesh and to some extent rightly too. Arguably, why should people from outside a particular State apply for menial jobs? If outsiders corner jobs of sweepers or helpers as in the case of the Railways, where should the locals go for their bread and butter? Join the militants and take up guns? Does that promote national integration? In State after State where militancy rages, statistics have proved that it is the unemployed local youth who have taken to the gun as jobs have been cornered by outsiders. Both the North East States and Kashmir bear this out. 

The tragedy of it all is that our polity willy-nilly chipped away, with deadly precision, at the reality of a united and integrated India where regional aspirations play second fiddle to national unity. And, where every Indian has the right to live in any part of the country he chooses and get equal opportunities to earn a decent livelihood. In sum, an India that is equitable and offers a level-playing field for all classes, castes and communities.  

Mr Thackeray, why should being a local or an outsider be made into a big all-encompassing issue? After all, India is a Union of States. Regionalism will lead to disintegration of the country. It does not behove anyone to ignore the basic philosophy of India’s unity and integrity and impose curfew on “outsiders”. --- INFA  

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)                     

PM Pussyfoots On Arunachal: WHY ARE WE SCARED OF CHINA?, By Poonam I Kaushish; 2 February Print E-mail

POLITICAL DIARY

New Delhi, 2 February 2008

PM Pussyfoots On Arunachal

  WHY ARE WE SCARED OF CHINA?

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

It was dubbed as an important visit. All eyes were on him. But, he pussy footed when the need of the hour was assertion. So, he came, he saw but failed to conquer! This encapsulates, Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the first of an Indian Prime Minister in 12 years. Importantly, his visit left more questions than it answered. Raising a moot point: Why are we scared of China?

Undeniably, Manmohan Singh owes the country an explanation as to why he omitted Tawang from his itinerary. Specially against the backdrop of Beijing laying claims on it repeatedly. Remember, the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi, Sun Yuxi’s TV interview, claiming “the whole of Arunachal Pradesh including Tawang as Chinese territory” and demanding that India agree to “mutual compromises” and “some give and take in 2006.” Tawang is militarily important as it is the critical corridor between Lhasa and the Assam Valley. Besides, it has a symbolic and historic significance as several Indian soldiers laid down their lives there during the 1962 war with China.

Instead of using his visit to clear the air, the Prime Minister emitted wrong signals, notwithstanding his poetic description of Arunachal as, "The sun kisses India first in Arunachal Pradesh. It is our land of the rising sun.” Thus, losing a good opportunity to put Beijing on notice about its claim on Arunachal and assert unequivocally that Arunachal was, is and will continue to be a part of India.

Even as South Block mandarins would have us believe that it was a deliberate ploy not to provoke China and allow the boundary question to eclipse the meeting ground between the two on various CBMs in place, regional and global issues. Sadly, New Delhi failed to realize that poetic descriptions don’t add up to good politics. A cold reality check exposes the much-awaited visit as nothing more than a touch-talk-timid dampener. New Delhi played into the Chinese hands thanks to poor tactics and allowed itself to be outmaneuvered.

The end result? Beijing is now pursuing an aggressive foreign policy. Within days of the Prime Minister’s return from a “successful, historic, path-breaking, warm, great body language visit” to Beijing last month, China stumped India by lodging a diplomatic protest over Indian military activity in Sikkim. It is claiming that Indian troops are trying to be active on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and building structures along the LAC and the Indo-Bhutan border.

The reopening of claims, particularly on the Sikkim border, has taken New Delhi by surprise. China may have ceased to depict Sikkim as an independent country in its maps, but the important point, often overlooked, is that it has yet to expressly acknowledge that Sikkim is part of India. Beijing has declined to affirm that Sikkim is part of the Republic of India.

Further, in the last 24 months, China has made over 300 military incursions across the LAC (more than three a week), specially in Arunachal Pradesh. Only a month back, the Chinese demolished some Indian forward posts and bunkers near Doka La on the Bhutan-Sikkim-Tibet tri-junction and a Buddha statue near Tawang. 

New Delhi thus should be wary. As it stands, Beijing has built a township across the border in the State. Given the ethnic and cultural affinity, the bustling township beckons the poor Arunachalis to partake the Chinese Las Vegas. It is pertinent to recall that when the former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Gegong Apang applied for a visa to visit China as a member of an Indian delegation, Beijing said no visa was needed for its own citizens!

Equally worrisome is the Chinese capability to rapidly deploy forces against India by expanding its infrastructure in Tibet significantly, by building roads right up to the LAC and extending the new railway line to Lhasa southwards. Also, space photos dished out by Google three years ago show China having built simulation centres at Huangyangtan, near the Great Wall in Nignxia province, to target Indian military installations in Jammu & Kashmir.

Clearly, Beijing’s actions belie the bonhomie claimed by India. The problem is that while the Chinese are pragmatic, most Indian leaders are too sentimental. A bhai-bhai policy is so much more romantic than a firm stand! Today, even as New Delhi repeats that it is 'happy with the progress of the talks', Beijing keeps intruding into Arunachal and South Block looks the other way so as not to jeopardise the 'negotiations'.

Thus, a mutually satisfactory breakthrough on the boundary dispute looks nowhere in sight. Once in a while India claims that China is illegally occupying 43,180 sq km of J&K, including 5,180 sq km illegally ceded to Beijing by Islamabad. China accuses India of possessing some 90,000 sq km of its territory, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh.  Arguably, what is India’s final goal? Is it ready to give away part of its territory which has been illegally occupied by China?

It is all very well for President Jintao and Wen Jibao to assert that China was ready to work with India to “actively seek a fair, just and mutually-acceptable solution through friendly consultation on an equal footing ….and the boundary issue will be converted into a bond of good-neighbourliness and mutually-beneficial cooperation”. However, the wily and inscrutable Chinese have not budged an inch from their stated positions on two critical issues, which form the core of the fragile Sino-Indian ties since the 1962 war. Till date, New Delhi has failed to get Beijing to either present maps of their version of the LAC, which have been promised since 2001 or fortification of its borders on the Tibet plateau.

Why? It is busy building a railway link to Lhasa which will improve its capacity in case of a conflict with India. But Beijing asserts: “This is only to strengthen our borders.”  Against whom? Is this any different from the massive building of roads during the 1950s to liberate Tibet? With Beijing remaining mum, how can New Delhi hold any substantive discussions? Are these attempts to simply lull us into complacency, like in 1962, while they strengthen their military capability across the border and in Tibet?

New Delhi must be both alert and assertive. A first step to a settlement of any dispute is clarity on the LAC or at least appreciation of the “no go” areas so that provocative or unfriendly actions can be eschewed. Exchanging maps showing each other’s military positions, without prejudice to rival territorial claims, is a preliminary step to first define, then delineate and finally demarcate a frontline. Beijing’s disinclination to trade maps underlines its aversion to clinch an overall border settlement or even to remove the ambiguities plaguing the long, rugged LAC.

Clearly, we seem to be stuck in a limbo notwithstanding the ‘contentless’ Vision Statement For the 21st Century” (sic) encapsulating a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution of the border dispute on the basis of the political parameters of 2005. China has reportedly backtracked on the understanding that any settlement should not involve exchange of populated areas. Two, China is non-committal on supporting the lifting of restrictions by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group against New Delhi. It fears that with India being the only country in Asia that has the potential to match and surpass it, Beijing cannot afford to risk its monopoly.  

So, all that Manmohan Singh and his Government is likely to get are sweet nothings and vague promises from the Chinese. In exchange, the Chinese leadership will expect substantive and painful concessions from the Indian side, such as the handing over of Tawang. Tragically, as always, New Delhi has squandered a good opportunity to put across its point of view effectively and derive strategic benefits crucial for its defence and in geo-strategic political terms.

Both in Beijing and Arunachal Manmohan Singh, like his predecessors, has fallen a victim to the great Indian failure of seeking convenient compromises for cheap populist applause. Failing to realize that the supposedly hard talk of no shifting of borders and population interspersed with sweet talk of brotherhood etc is meaningless. What counts are agreed conclusions and future agenda on basic issues. In this case --- border.

Clearly, New Delhi needs to fashion a more result-oriented, real politik strategy. It’s high time that South Block injected realism by shedding deluding platitudes and misplaced bonhomie and placed a premium on substance and leveraged diplomacy. With Beijing we need to be clear on our national interests and should doggedly pursue them. Stop being scared of China. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

 

Time To Rethink: HOW DO I KNOW IT’S BIRD FLU?,By Poonam I Kaushish; New Delhi, 25 January 2008 Print E-mail

POLITICAL DIARY

New Delhi, 25 January 2008

Time To Rethink

HOW DO I KNOW IT’S BIRD FLU?

By Poonam I Kaushish

Anger and anguish. Despair and desperation. Little did one know that India would celebrate its 58th Republic Day riding the crest of these emotions. Forget that India is fast earning the ignominious title of being the world’s rape capital, that killing is the rhetoric of the times, what to speak of the frighteningly ever-widening gap between the filthy rich of Brand India and the depraved garib of Asli Bharat. Standing testimony to a callous, heartless and selfish country.  

Epitomised by the worst outbreak of bird flu, the third since 2006. This time it has enveloped West Bengal and spread to neighbouring Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Maharashtra and UP. Even down south Kerala has sounded an alert. “It is horrible,” confessed the hapless Bengal Animal Resources Minister. Is this enough? Does it condone and justify the State Government’s delayed action, bad planning and mismanagement?

Think. From 15 December when it surfaced in Margram village, in Birbhum district, till date the State Government is still grappling with the enormity of the crisis and is clueless as to how to proceed. There is no evidence of civic authorities and public health officials attempting cleansing operations on a war-footing. Its culling record of birds is dismal --only four lakhs out of 20 lakhs. To top it all, villagers continue to feast on the dead chickens, their children play with the infected ones and many carry on selling them as it’s a question of their livelihood. Characterised by “chickens die of various diseases, how do I know it’s bird flu?”

The end result? Equipment and necessary tools sent by the Union government to the State to help set up isolation wards, simply gather dust. No one visited the village till 16 January, a month since its outbreak. And those who did had no clue what to do as they were not bird flu experts. A majority of the “health surveyors” were school dropouts with no medical training or experience. They had no testing equipment, not even a thermometer! Exposing the tragic fallacy of India. Spotlighting once again our cavalier and churlish attitude and approach to a crisis. Not just a crisis of character, but of crass casualness, which has become the touchstone of our present-day culture.

Besides, it also demonstrates that the real filth is more administrative and political. The point is not that just a few countries have banned Indian poultry and that airlines are no longer serving chicken but that it highlights the nation’s inability to manage a crisis, dictated by a ki farak painda hai attitude. Many of the CPM leaders were busy attending the Party Conference in Kolkata, rather than overseeing culling operations in their districts.  

Evidently, the administrative system has practically collapsed a long time ago --- not only in Margram, West Bengal but almost everywhere. Today, we face an extremely serious situation, socially and environmentally. There’s a total urban and rural breakdown, unpaved roads, collapsing sewage and drainage system and abject poverty. We are at a stage where another crisis threatens.

Scandalously, the Indian Government spends less than one per cent of its GDP on public health care. A National Sample Survey Organisation study of village infrastructure in 2003 found that 54 per cent of villages were more than five km away from the nearest Primary Health Centre and 27 per cent were more than 10 km away. Only 10 per cent had a dispensary and only 20 per cent had a private clinic or a doctor.

According to the WHO, India has a national average of only 45 doctors and 8.9 beds for every 100,000 patients, with the levels far lower in the poorest States. Add to this the reputation of having the highest annual death toll due to tuberculosis, many dying from malaria, dengue and cholera, preventable and treatable diseases.

The country is ranked 127th out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index. According to the Arjun Sengupta report 70 per cent of our population survives on less than Rs 20 a day, living in appalling slum dwellings. Take Maharashtra, India’s financial capital, which is plagued by lack of water and electricity. Its rural people live in densely-populated hamlets in close proximity to fowls and pigs, which they breed as additional food supplements. There is only one doctor for 28 villages with over 20,000 people. When he is away on call all is left to God.

Bird flu is only the latest in a series of reversals in public health hazards. Dengue, chikgunaya, malaria, gastroenteritis is all around. There is resurgence of Kala Azar and there is Japanese encephalitis, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis. Child mortality is on the rise. If a child doesn’t die within five years from birth due to malnutrition and diarrhea, acute respiratory infections will get him later.  

The Government can no longer bury its head in the sand. People are sick of hearing the same old refrain: “Don’t panic…The Government is doing everything that is necessary…things are improving”. They are tired of their netas going through the yearly ritual of ‘see-touch-go’ visits, of their State Governments knocking the door of the Centre for relief, of money and aid being freely bandied words. Appropriate noises, hollow concerns and instant remedies are made at crisis time. Enough to satisfy everyone’s conscience that they have done their bit for the nation.  

Perhaps, it is time for the Government to realise that economic liberalization without reforms in the social sector can become a bane. There are no short cuts possible. It is now imperative that the nation and its netagan rethink strategy and approach to safeguard public health infrastructure, establish fresh priorities, improve public hospitals. To foresee is to govern.

The country’s image cannot be made or unmade by imagery alone. It is time to change the reality. Economic efficiency, social well-being, community upliftment are all different by products of a common collective endeavour. Education and public health are two other areas which have to be attended to on high priority if the nation is to accelerate its economic growth.

Ravaged Bengal has exposed the total collapse of the administrative system and the frailty of our netagan. Remember, all crises are surmountable. What is insurmountable is damned casualness. That is the tragedy of the nation. Resigned to acceptance and lacking the will to fight. How long can this go on? --- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)     

Inky, Pinky, Ponky…: POLITICS OF PADMA AWARDS, By Poonam I Kaushish; New Delhi, 19 January 2008 Print E-mail

Inky, Pinky, Ponky…..

POLITICS OF PADMA AWARDS

By Poonam I Kaushish

New Delhi, 19 January 2008

“The next on the block is the Bharat Ratna followed by the Padma awards. In the reckoning are: former Prime Minister Vajpayee, Dalit icons Jagjivan Ram and Kanshi Ram, State satraps DMK’s Karunanidhi, Orissa’s Biju Patnaik and Bihar’s Karpoori Thakur, Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh. Hold your breath, the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. The bidding starts now…..And the Bharat Ratna goes to…..” This, dear aam aadmi, is how the country’s highest civilian honour is decided. A game of akar bakkar bambeh boh or inky, pinky, ponky, have your pick. Either way it matters little. The awards are all about darbari politricking!

Come 26 January eve, the story will be the same. The Roll of Honour will be grandiosely announced. Many will applaud, some will criticize and the remaining will sulk. The increased tu-tu-mein-mein and lobbying by our netagan including a Prime Minister-in-waiting’s ‘gratitude’ to his predecessor, state satraps flexing their muscle and filial outpourings of paternal love has yet again put a question mark on the highest civilian award. The UPA Government may just give the Bharat Ratna a miss, the seventh in a row.

Ever since it was instituted by India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad on 2 January 1954, our founding fathers wanted the Bharat Ratna be awarded to people of impeccable integrity, extraordinary service towards advancement of art, literature and science, and in recognition of public service. They also advocated it be conferred sparingly for exceptional service to the country.

Since Independence, only 40 persons from various fields, mostly of high eminence, with some exceptions have been honoured. During the Nehru era there were no problems as eminent personalities with immense contributions were conferred the Bharat Ratna. Tall leaders like C Rajagopalachari, C V Raman and S Radhaksishnan were the first ones to be given the award.

The nation applauded them and next year it was given to Dr Bhawan Das, the 90-year-old engineer who had built the city of Mysore. However, on 13th July 1977, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai discontinued these honours, which were later restored by Indira Gandhi on 25th January 1980, during her second term.

Some of the latter recipients like Sir M.Visweswaraya, Mother Teresa, Vinobha Bhave, J.R.D.Tata, Satyajit Ray, M.S.Subbalakshmi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Amartya Sen, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela. Lata Mangeshkar and Ustad Bismillah Khan were the last to receive the award in 2001.

However, controversies cropped up when former cinema star and AIADMK supremo M.G.Ramachandran was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1988. Murmurs were also heard when former President V.V.Giri, Congress President K.Kamaraj former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were given the award. True, they had made contributions to the nation but it was felt that they were being awarded with political motives rather than for stellar credentials.

Unbelievable but true, the most important person, who befits this award is missing. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi! Interestingly, the Bharat Ratna was conferred on Subhash Chandra Bose posthumously in 1992, by the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s Government. But it regrettably got embroiled in a controversy over his death and had to be withdrawn.

Distressingly, the conferring of the Bharat Ratna stinks of populism and vote-bank politics at its crassiest best. Dalit stalwart BR Ambedkar was honoured by ‘Mandal’ Prime Minister V P Singh in 1990, Jayaprakash Narayan was conferred the Bharat Ratna in 1999 by Vajpayee and Mother Teresa by the Congress. Why now? To help our netagan and their parties to garner votes in subsequent elections.

The less said the better over the jostling for the other three awards --- Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri. There is no dearth of award-seekers. Like every year, already the Centre and State Governments have been besieged with self-recommendations for the three categories of the Padma awards and other State Governments award. The corridors of power are witness to people lugging their resumes to concerned Ministers and X, Y, Z’s who can help them get an award. All stops are being pulled out, favours called and relatives and friends pressed into service to put in a word.

Till date, the awards committee which shortlists the nominations for the three awards and forwards them to the Prime Minister, has received over 1,500 recommendations from Union Ministries, States, MPs, MLAs, individuals and private organizations over the last six months. The Bharat Ratna, however, is decided by the Prime Minister, who if he wishes may consult the President and the Leader of Opposition.

Sadly, over the years successive Governments have treated these awards as favours to be bestowed in exchange of personal loyalty while ignoring deserving people in civil society. Never mind that it lowers the value, prestige and dignity of the awards. Worse, the awards are trivialized to an extent whereby conmen and fortune-tellers too can boast about being the proud recipients.

Recall the 1960’s, when the then Defence Minister YB Chavan secured a Padma Bhushan for his professor N.S.Phadke, a popular Marathi writer of kitsch romances, even as senior and more deserving littérateurs were left out. The 2001 list of the Padma awards figured a relatively junior Mumbai vocalist whose sole claim to glory was her ‘singing’ Vajpayee’s poems. The politics of largesse continues unabated.

Given the notoriety these awards generate every year, some feel these should be "scrapped". The selection process is all wrong, merit is no longer the criteria and to top it all the people have lost faith. Especially when those honoured refuse the award on some pretext or the other. Instances include historian Romilla Thapar, Kathak exponent Sitara Devi and sarod maestro Vilayat Khan et al. Then there is the strange case of the Assamese litterateur Kanaksen Deka who refused the Padma Shri out of a respect for the highest Assamese State civil awards he had received.  His argument, it would discredit the State awards which were for the same achievements.

Despite controversies, many feel the awards are necessary as a form of national recognition for meaningful contribution to society. But changes need to be made and the flaws rectified in the basic selection process. Remember, last year the then President Kalam sent back the awardees file to the Prime Minister’s Office as there were grave irregularities in the selection. Three names had been included without the approval of the inter-ministerial committee and the final list had 12 names against which there were adverse reports of the Intelligence Bureau.

Also, a glance of last year’s awardees list shows that the awards are Delhi-centric. The majority of the awardees were from States where the ruling Party at the Centre was in power and there were only a handful from the Opposition-ruled States. Out of the 10 selected for the Padma Vibhushan, Delhi bagged 6, Haryana and Tamil Nadu one each and the rest to NRIs.

Again when it came to the Padma Bhushan, Congress-ruled Delhi got 6, Communist Kerala and West Bengal got 6 each, NCP dominated Maharashtra three and one each was bagged by Assam, Mizoram, U.P. and Tamil Nadu. Of the Padma Shri, Delhi again bagged 17, Maharashtra 9 and Tamil Nadu 8. Similarly the Gandhi family fiefdom U. P got 5 along with Congress-ruled Andhra. Uttarakhand again Congress-ruled got 4 whereas Kerala and Karnataka three each.

Questionably, does the Government want us to believe that only Centre-ruled States have deserving people? This is unacceptable, untenable and anti-people. Also, is there a curriculum in Padma scheme on fulfillment of which one qualifies for higher degree? Orissa’s Kelucharan Mohapatra bagged the Padma Shree in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 1989 and Padma Vibhushan in 2000.

Scandalously, religion and castes too are being taken into consideration while entertaining nominations for these titles. The columns that are required to be filled up in the nomination Form clearly include “Religion” and another “Category”, asking whether the person belongs to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or Other backward Castes or General Castes. This goes against the tenets of national integration.

What next? Clearly, the cesspool of awards needs to be cleansed. Greater transparency and accountability should get precedence over politicians’ personal whims and Ministers should be kept out of the selection process. Two, the committee should include people with unimpeachable credentials and the awards should be weighed carefully on the scale of creative freedom and professional integrity. Three, there should be uniformity in the selection from the States and religion and caste should find no place.

In sum, the time has come to cry a halt to competitive ‘awardmanship.’ Specially when our national pride, honour and self-respect is at stake. Awards or nominations must be in keeping with their laudable objective of acknowledging the truly distinguished service to the nation. Not given to those who live for the moment and revel in the glory of yesteryears. Nor to the politricking darbaris! ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)            

Affectionately Yours...: MAYA REWRITES ‘CORRUPT’ RULES’, By Poonam I Kaushish; New Delhi, 12 January Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 12 January 2008 

Affectionately Yours….

MAYA REWRITES ‘CORRUPT’ RULES

By Poonam I Kaushish

 “The element of love and affection relate to emotions of a man. One may be impelled by his conscience or may be moved by emotions to part with his wealth or property and to give the same to a particular person for whom he has developed love and affection. Such a desire can be developed any time and on any ground.” Pearls of wisdom from Freud? A chapter on the intricacies of the human mind? Or, perhaps a psychiatrist’s verbose on love? Neither. These pearly gems flow from none less than the pen of the aam aadmi’s moral and ethical conscience keeper: the income tax officer.

The foregoing “maya” of love and affection was showered last week on the BSP supremo and UP Chief Minister Mayawati by the IT Appellate Tribunal. In one fell stroke, the Tribunal affixed a legal stamp of legitimacy on the Dalit icon and her clan’s huge wealth of properties and cash not commensurate with their known sources of income in various cases of disproportionate assets pending before the IT department.

Shockingly, it whitewashed Mayawati’s sins of commissions and omission as “gifts” received from supporters just out of “veneration and personal esteem” for her. Incredibly, it accepted in toto that her chelas’ love for her transcended new heights wherein they even inflicted heavy financial burdens on themselves by taking massive loans only to buy properties for presenting them as ‘offerings of love’ to their living Goddess. Sic.

In a land where political and public morality is virtually non-existent, it needs no guesses to know that only a politician could be wallowing in the sunshine of the IT man’s largesse. Certainly not the aam janata, which is treated with increasing contempt or as culprits. Aren’t we now accustomed to paying bribes for everything --- from getting a ration card to a driving licence. Never mind that it continues to burn a hole in our aam pocket. Clearly, when gold speaks, all tongues are silent!

In this swirling eddy of corruption, la affaire Mayawati has once again conclusively shown the depth to which India’s democracy and its leaders have sunk. Wherein our polity has not only legalized corruption and put a seal of approval on the culture of plunder but continue to be a law unto itself! In the bargain, the lion-sized corruption continues to gorge itself on the vitals of the nation.

Look, its raining scandals for our netagan. Why only Mayawati? How is she any different from Mulayam Singh, Jayalalitha, Laloo, Sukhram, Ju Dev etc? Remember Suraj Mandal, who blew the whistle in the JMM case in 1996 in the Lok Sabha. He asserted: “Paisa boriyon main ata hai, gathriyon main nahin.” Not one MP present protested.

Why should they? After all, haven’t our leaders reduced graft to a farcical political pantomime. So easy to blame everything on the “system”. Wherein India’s brand equity has been xeroxed as corrupt. Now naked, unashamed, public and brazen. Sanjiva Reddy’s words haunt and taunt us. Prior to his retirement as the President of India, he had told INFA candidly: “Anyone who has the opportunity to make money but doesn’t do so is a bloody fool.” How true.

We’ve had a surfeit of scams and their number keeps growing. Starting from Mudgal accepting a bribe of just Rs.2,000 in the early fifties to the Bofors Rs.64-crore pay off in the eighties. Nothing changed in the nineties except the magnitude of the scams snow-balled. From the Rs.5,000 crore bank scandal down hawala, sugar to UTI, petrol and Tehalka, which exposed the underbelly of defence deals in 2000. To Telgi’s Rs.30,000 fraud in 2004. Followed by Natwar Singh’s Volcker UN food-for-cash, down to the MPs cash-for-question and cash-for-projects scams under the MP Local Area Development Scheme. Onward to the fake passport racket and the latest wheat import scam.  

Only political reactions have changed with the changing times. From 1951 to 2008. For Nehru corruption was “always distasteful” which he considered as “highly derogatory and highly objectionable.” In fact, so averse was he to money that once he urgently summoned the then AICC General Secretary Shriman Narain to take charge of Rs.500 given to him as Party donation.

On the other hand, his daughter Indira dismissed corruption as a “global phenomenon” in 1977. Narasimha Rao merely called it “a systems failure,” in 1993. Vajpayee asserted, “law will take its own course” in 2003. Culminating in Manmohan Singh helplessly dismissing it as “the compulsions of coalition politics”!

Any wonder that in the last 60 years not one politician has been convicted. Leave alone, jailed for corruption. With the result that with each passing year politicians have become increasingly brazen. Bringing things to such a pass that going to jail is not far from becoming a badge of honour! In fact, two MPs and a sprinkling of MLAs involved in criminal offences have fought elections from behind the bars and won. A ghotala of few thousand crores is not worthy of feeding the chara of morality.

Sadly, the principle of “sovereign immunity” continues to protect our netagan. Operating in our expended concept of “instrumentality of state”. Never mind that the principle itself is a contradiction of democracy. It was derived from the English Common Law wherein the king could do no wrong. But the principle should have been given a burial once we had abandoned the kings. However, trust our polity to continue to cling to this royal privilege. It was primarily intended to protect a public servant from liability, not prosecution. But today our rulers have extended this concept of prosecution to even investigation.

What is extremely disquieting is that Union Ministers and Chief Ministers accused of swindling crores of public money are all living in great comfort and merrily enjoying their high positions. Effectively exposing the fact that the crusade against corruption has shamefully failed in India. Think. We Indians pay over Rs 21,068 crores a year for ‘services rendered’ to our powers-that-be, according to the Transparency International’s Indian Corruption Study 2005.

Arguably, what is the future of society in such conditions? More frustration, more chaos, more unrest and even bloodshed. It needs to be remembered that corruption in the national polity can only survive by paying a very heavy price of increasing mayhem and violence in society. The tragedy of it all is that our polity continues to merrily wallow in corrupt self deception without a thought to the future and the inevitable damage to the larger national cause.

This in a nutshell epitomizes today’s political culture. New ideas are bandied about daily for eradicating the scourge of corruption and enforcing some morality. Which like a Jack-in-the-box surface each time a scandal breaks out. By Government after Government. All setting up Committee after Committee, each tom-toming more than the other. With what  net result? A big zero.

The problem of dealing with corruption is not merely due to a lack of legal powers or absence of any enforcement agency. We have had the Prevention of Corruption Act since 1947. The CBI was set up in 1963. Nevertheless, no amount of legal powers or creation of enforcement infrastructure will be of much help. Simply because there is a lack of political will, genuine desire to cleanse the political cesspool and courage of conviction to fight for honesty and accountability.

The question then is: how does one eradicate this scourge from public life? There are many remedies for what the people want: transparency and accountability. That is the crux of the problem of our polity, which has so far only preached, but seldom practiced. The top has to be clean for the lower levels to be clean. But the people at the top are just not keen on honest anti-corruption drives, the stench, which fills the political class, cannot be cleared by mere personal assertions, abuses or denials.

The harsh truth is that no politician till date has been able to overcome his greed to bell the big fat cat of corruption. To quote Vajpayee in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the hawala scam in 1996; “Politics has become a way of making money.” One living testimony to this is Mayawati, who extols her workers to fill her coffers --- openly, defiantly and shamelessly.

If the Government is serious about purging the malaise and reigning in the Dalit icon, now is the time to introduce probity and cry halt to the legitimizing of corruption, as implicitly in IT Tribunal’s bizarre decision. Galloping corruption and the lack of integrity at the higher levels needs to be curbed ruthlessly without further delay for the health of our democracy. Failing which we will at best end up letting Mayawati ‘affectionately’ continue to rewrite the ‘corrupt’ rules of a ramshackle corrupt democracy, where honesty  will no longer be viewed as the best policy! --- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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