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 latest results have delivered a body blow to the Left, especially in West Bengal where 34 years of rule and latter-day misrule has been justly punished. This is more than mere anti-incumbency.

Towards New Beginnings

With the Left trounced at the ballot, Congress can now demonstrate fresh leadership at home and abroad, renewing it’s peace talks with Pakistan.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 16 May, 2011

The mini general elections just concluded come as a salutary reminder of the health of India’s raucous democracy. It works. This is a huge and precious certificate at a time and when so much of the world around us is full of troubles. We tend to be blasé about this asset and some take too many liberties with it for personal gain, breeding unwarranted cynicism and gloom. This negativism about ourselves and faith in our future keeps us from realising our full potential sooner.

The latest results have delivered a body blow to the Left, especially in West Bengal where 34 years of rule and latter-day misrule has been justly punished. This is more than mere anti-incumbency. The ideological rigidity of the Marxists and local aggrandizement, with the gradual conflation of party and state, have brought nemesis. The feisty Mamata Bannerjee met fire with fire and must now show both magnanimity and wisdom in taking the state forward after years of slumber. Nor should she seek a pound of flesh at the Centre as that could prove counterproductive.

In Tamil Nadu, blatant corruption and naked family rule have earned popular disgust. The Congress has fared badly for keeping company with the DMK and being willing to be blackmailed by it. Kerala has seen the usual see-saw with the UDF squeaking in narrowly. It too needs positive government and development.

The one triumph of the Congress has been in Assam where terror and mindless agitation have been rejected. This is now a time for reconciliation and bold development, strides in cooperation with its northeastern partners and in fostering wider regional cooperation. Assam is the sheet anchor of and dynamo that can charge the entire Northeast. It has to perform that function for its own progress.

Like the Left, the BJP, barring some by-election victories, has done poorly. Its overweening rhetoric has not found favour with the people. Both the Left and Parivar are a house divided and need to introspect. Over the next few years it is entirely possible that the political spectrum will undergo change. Extremist elements at both ends are likely to move to the lunatic fringe, advocating fanaticism and violence, leaving the moderate elements to become nuclei of social democrat and liberal conservative parties. They will gain adherents from the Congress Parivar, which could morph into a centrist liberal democratic party.

Underpinning this would be a host of regional parties formed as a result of the constant upwelling of the underclass from below. This process could take another 20-30 years to play out even as these new formations form alliances and coalitions with the national players. This may seem an idealistic hope, but is more likely to occur than not.

Meanwhile, the Congress has the opportunity to learn and reform and get over a tendency to procrastinate (promising jam tomorrow). 125 years after its foundation, it must renew itself as the leading party of reform, fraternity and strategic leadership in a fast changing world. It is well placed as a centrist party to build a grand coalition as in 1992 for charting the future. Social reform is going to be even more important than economic reform though both obviously must march hand in hand. It has boldly to combat the nostalgia for the past by many breeds and brands and alliances of Luddites who still believe that the land was, is and shall remain India’s only salvation and whose understanding of the environment is static rather than dynamic.

A great opportunity for external leadership comes with the ludicrous farce played out in Abbottabad over the taking out of Osama bin Laden. Pakistan outdid itself in double speak with the punch line coming from its foreign secretary who declaimed within days of the event that bin Laden’s death was now history and it was time to “move on”- but from what to where? Pakistan’s inability to confront reality from the day of its birth has caused it to “move on” from one fantasy to another at the cost of its soul. Its so-called “ideology” is in shreds, with none able to define its concept of Islam, identity, education, khaki democracy, federalism, or on-off constitutionalism.

“Who was responsible for the birth of al Qaeda”, asks Raza Yusuf Gilani? Pakistan’s double speak is closely matched by that of the US and other Western mentors, who funded Pakistan to create and recreate the Qaeda and Taliban monster and build a nuclear arsenal through global pilferage and proliferation. The earlier and more recent Kerry-Lugar Amendments against nuclearisation and misuse of American military assistance by Pakistan have been observed in the breach only to be rewarded. The enormous “collateral damage” to India – far greater than anything the US has suffered - has been glossed over with gratuitous homilies urging it to make further “concessions” on Kashmir, Afghanistan and otherwise to Pakistan , which “ideologically” regards India as a hate object and prime enemy.

Mr Gilani protests too much. Yet this is no time to gloat over Pakistan’s misfortunes but once more to hold out a hand of friendship and solidarity by promoting the recently resumed peace process through frank dialogue, cross-border interactions, commerce. Any breakdown or, worse, break up of Pakistan would not be in India’s interest. The preceding recital of Pakistan’s many defaults is not intended to put it in the doghouse or stoke sentiments of revenge. It is, however, necessary to put the record straight so that everybody knows that this is not a sign of bravado or despair but of mature statesmanship aimed a recreating a new South Asian and wider regional future.

The US can assist by cutting military aid to Pakistan with the warning that a rogue Army and ISI must be firmly placed under civilian control. Further, if “Islamabad” objects, it should know that it will lose part or all of its civil aid as well. The Pakistan economy is on drip and military blackmail by a “frontline” ally-that-is-not-an-ally would soon be shown up as an empty threat. Would this be humane? Yes, more humane than allowing Pakistan’s military-mullah-feudal combine to operate lethally behind the equivalent of a national human shield to stifle both civil society and democracy.

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