Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The Centre too fears a mighty cartoon attack. Maybe the Great Cartoon Threat will cement the establishment of a pro-federal National Centre for Counter-Terrorism!

The Time For Action Is Now

UPA-II faces a difficult two years ahead. But this is not the time to shrink back and drift. Crisis calls for bold action.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 27 May, 2012

The UPA-II gave itself another report card last week on completing three years in office. It pointed to international constraints and the internal compulsions of coalition and fractured politics in extenuation of its performance. The Opposition and independent critics slammed both assertions, not because they were wrong but because they extenuate failure to act. Critics paint themselves holier than thou. They block action in order to frustrate intent and score brownie points even if they harm the national interest.
Mamata Bannerjee has now uncovered a global Maoist conspiracy by students of Presidency College and Jadavpur University in Kolkata to assassinate her through paid assassins from Venezuela, Hungary and North Korea using deadly cartoons, loaded questions and other diabolical weapons too terrible to contemplate. The Centre too fears a mighty cartoon attack. Maybe the Great Cartoon Threat will cement the establishment of a pro-federal National Centre for Counter-Terrorism!

The outgoing Army Chief has done no service to the proud ethos and traditions of the Indian Army and national integrity by a flurry of statements on the very eve of his retirement. He has criticised and undermined his senior colleagues, both serving and retired, made scarcely-veiled charges of malfeasance against the Government, rubbished the PM on Siachen and spent time cultivating a lobby of ex-servicemen and others in furtherance of what his critics say could herald a possible post-retirement political role. The Government’s mishandling of the crisis encouraged the General to sound off like a loose cannon, endangering civil-military relations, command and control structures and morale.

The matter should not be swept under the carpet. A measured response would be in order. Merit must replace the automatic seniority principle for the highest level military appointments and selections made by a rigorous and credible process that commands all round confidence. The Naresh Chandra Committee has no doubt had something to say on reorganisation of the higher defence management system. Such long-pending reforms would be best implemented without delay on the basis of quiet bi-partisan consultations.
UPA-II faces a difficult two years ahead. But this is not the time to shrink back and drift. Crisis calls for bold action. The coalition partners, including the Trinamool and DMK, do not wish to force mid-term polls. The SP for its own reasons is extending support to the UPA. The BJP is riven with factions and the Left remains in disarray. The “Third Front” remains no more than a permanently good idea. So, if only for negative reasons, the UPA will stay and can afford to act decisively on its much needed and much postponed reform programme. It is well positioned to call the bluff of all who bluster.

Two bold decisions have been take. First, to refer the Lok Pal Bill to a select committee and build consensus, rather than be stampeded by another circus of born-again, never-die fast artists. Secondly, PSU Oil Companies have raised the price of petrol by around Rs8 per litre to recoup some of their accumulated and continuing losses from periodically rising though fluctuting oil prices and the currrent downward slide in rupee-dollar values. The populist view is that Government subsidies should forever support the “common man”. States should avoid taxation and call on the Centre to bail them out with fat packages. Such irresponsible economics of “social” pricing has brought ruin to the country. In the instant case, the real source of oil-price leakage and misdirected susbsidies, diesel, lpg and kerosense, have not been touched while auto companies increasingly switch to building huge diesel-guzzling SUVs for the well-heeled. Little has been done through pricing and tax mechanisms to discourage wasteful use of private automobiles, often with single-passeger loads, in favour of mass transit, cycle and pedestrian-friendly alternatives. And now the agitation is for more red beacon privileges. What a feudal world of fiery pseudo-socialism we live in!

Dissatisfied by the range and pace of anti-poverty programmes promised by Government after the Janadesh movement in 2007, when 250,000 landless farmers marched on Delhi from Gwalior, Bharat Nirman, led by a band of dedicated Gandhians, is planning a bigger Jana-Satyagraha in Delhi from October 2, demanding rights to land and livelihood and greater empowerment to the people, especially the rural masses. The Bharat Nirman organisers have sugggested a variety of land and employment based schemes, many of which are in fact covered by NAREGA and other rights-based programmes. Letters to the Prime Minister, fetched a response on March 22. Dr Manmohan Singh replied that a Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Tasks in Land Reforms, consituted in 2008, had submitted a report making 325 recommendations. These were examined by the National Land Reforms Council after preliminary examination by a Committee of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary. The National Council will now consider the Committee’s recommendations.

Agraian reforms and rural uplift are admittedly huge, complex issues largely falling in the purview of the States, but Governments of all hues have procrastinated for 60 years and have lacked the political will to combat feudal prejudice. Nitish Kumar stands out as an example of this general failure having pigeon-holed the recommendations of a land reforms committee appointed by him on first taking office. Even the Marxists compromised after the first flush of action through Operation Barga in West Bengal.

The meaning and content of “land reform” has changed over time with large landed estates being partitioned over successive generations. Tenurial issues, records of rights, access to credit and inputs and weak market and post-harvest linkages are the relevant issues today with tribal India facing another set of rights and dignity problems. Caste oppression continues, while a lot of foolish do-gooders arrogantly believe that tribal people properly wish to be left alone as noble savages. A recent survey of Andamanese opinion shows how wrong such assumptions can be. Tribal India too wants development but at its own pace and in accordance with its own genius and interests. Tribal people do not favour the status quo. The 5th Schedule and PESA offer them a framework and safeguards for development and the Courts have been helpful in ensuring fair play as for instance when corporates come forward to exploit the minerals and other natural resources found in tribal homelands. However, this safety net has been discarded by the State with the silent connivance of many of those who shout the loudest in favour of tribal rights.

The Prime Minister also told Bharat Nirman that the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resttlement Bill currently before Parliament “will help us to move forward substantially in this area. This will not happen unless the instrumentality of the Fifth Schedule is brougnt into play, on which there is total silence. Few have even read the Schedule. However, another massive dharna at Rajghat by Bharat Nirman is unlikely to resolve anything. All manner of busybodies will also join it. But like the first Anna Hazare mobilisation, it will disperse in futility unless the energy and even anger that it represents is translated into work programmes at State andf district levels through schemes like NAREGA that need revitalisastion and new directions.

Act now.

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