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 usually unshaven middle-aged Youth Congress leader, smartly shaven for the occasion, did not go beyond familiar generalisations. These have been more elaborately stated in the 12th Five Year Plan document and other official pronouncements.

Studies in Contrast

Rahul Gandhi’s “coming out” speech fails to rise beyond rhetoric.

By B G Verghese

6 April, 2013

If ten years after his anointment as the future hope of the Party, last week’s CII address was to mark the new Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s political coming-out, it was a sorry piece of tired rhetoric. The usually unshaven middle-aged Youth Congress leader, smartly shaven for the occasion, did not go beyond familiar generalisations. These have been more elaborately stated in the 12th Five Year Plan document and other official pronouncements.

This after the Prime Minister, speaking at the same forum the previous day, had said there was no need for national cynicism or pessimism and affirmed that with renewed reform eight per cent growth was realisable. In the time he has been in politics, Rahul has strutted around like an angry young man, but has failed to come out with any great vision or grand strategy of national relevance. He has been sensible enough to understand that he is where he is not on merit but on account of bearing a certain family name. But surrounded as he is by flatterers and abject courtiers he has locked himself into a world of make-believe. He dismissed China lightly and likened India not to the slow but sturdy elephant but rather to a bee-hive, humming with energy, a strange analogy. Bee-hives are built for and around a short-lived Queen bee. Who or what was he thinking of?

All this augurs ill for the Congress. The unseemly scramble for an early succession has hopefully been put to rest by the Party, which has denied that there are two power centres and said that Dr Manmohan Singh is not quitting office and may continue beyond 2014. Any attempt to put the Party above the Government, by courtiers and unaccountable advisers, will be undemocratic and simply will not work. Power and responsibility must go hand in hand.

The push for naming “successors” has partly come from the BJP, where clashing ambitions have led to the projection of a stop-gap third person, Narendra Modi, as some sort of magic figure who will deliver “development”. Modi’s development record is indeed good in part but his social and human record is appalling and the events of Gujarat-2002 remain a huge blot on India and its core values. He is anxious to redeem his “debt” to India he says by nobly taking on the crushing burden of prime ministerial office. But the justice he has steadfastly denied is slowly but surely closing on him. The West’s “rediscovery” of Modi merely indicates a desire to exploit market opportunities in India more than anything else and cater to the Hindutva lobby within the Indian diaspora, especially in the United States.

Meanwhile, Third Fronts will be conjured up by sundry leaders in a bid to blackmail the UPA. But none wants an early poll and most are seeking largesse as “special category states” after stalling investment, reform and growth on unsustainable ecological and ideological grounds for narrow political gain.

The Government still displays a lack of consistency and persistence in its decision-making process, going back and forth on brave commitments, and unwilling to cut out systemic rot. Yet some things are moving. The Supreme Court rejected, the pharma giant, Novartis’s bid to get a renewed product patent for a marginally tweaked cancer drug formulation, something that merit s huge hurrah from the world’s poor who nee cheap, life-saving drugs. The Cabinet Committee on Investment has in two months cleared Rs 45,000 crores of stalled investment by cutting through ill-conceived environmental obstructions. Sugar has been partially decontrolled. In the political arena, the President has expedited clearance of mercy petitions of those languishing on death row. Subsequent Supreme Court stays for further review represent a powerful muddle that cries out for prompt resolution to end fatuously going around the mulberry bush for ever.

The commissioning of the Kudankulam nuclear plant and clearance for the first four-million tonne phase of the inordinately delayed POSCO steel plant appear to be in sight though mindless opposition continues unabated. Odisha, which now wants special category status, is losing a Rs 11,000 crore, 1600 MW NTPC coal-fired thermal power plant to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh due to unconscionable delays in land and environmental clearances. Poverty is the worst enemy of the environment and who will take responsibility for the loss of direct and indirect employment and the large, accompanying multiplier effect?

Again in Orissa, Vedanta was hounded out of Niyamgiri where it was readying to set up a bauxite mine in partnership with the Orissa mining corporation on a site proximate to its on-going Lingaraj alumina project, mistakenly certified as sacred to the Dongria Khonds, a primitive tribe. The result: the Dongria Khonds have been deprived of development and the chance for a better life on untenable environmental grounds. Vedanta has backed off and the tribal people who have been thus “saved” have been forgotten by their doughty champions who led from the front when the cameras were whirring. This includes Rahul Gandhi, who jumped on this bandwagon and now talks of skill formation and capacity building to make people employable.

Other forms of rot continue. In Congress-ruled Haryana, a dogged and upright IAS officer, Ashok Khemka, is being hounded because he has exposed allegedly corrupt land deals by Robert Vadra. Investigation has been stalled and the State Government has “cleared” Vadra.

Meanwhile, a high court has recently made a case for a milder sentence to a “highly placed” banker as he had already faced sufficient “humiliation”. This is an astonishing plea. The higher the alleged rank and status of offenders the harsher should the punishment be! The Supreme Court has fortunately come down heavily on the VIP red and blue beacon and security syndrome that entails huge public cost and inconvenience. Why should one take a lenient view of the Olympic gold medallist boxer, Vijinder Singh. If a national icon has taken drugs and disgraced India he cannot be let off the hook because of “status”.

Illegalities are all too easily condoned or covered up by sections of corrupt police-bureaucratic-political rings or mafia elements out to subvert the law. The Supreme Court has come down heavily on a Tarn Taran magisterial inquiry into an incident caught on camera where a girl and her father were mercilessly beaten up by the local police for no reason. The Court dismissed it a mere scrap of paper whose proper place was the dust bin. Such cover-ups merit condign punishment, including of supervisory personnel. Equally reprehensible is the reverse case of honest law enforcers being framed by the powers that be. A Maharashtra police officer was recently suspended because he stood up to some misbehaving MLAs who assaulted him. This kind of misconduct is unconscionable. The Mumbra mafia-land building collapse that has taken 74 lives, is the latest instance in point.

And sadly, Prasar Bharati’s brief honeymoon with limited news autonomy has disappeared although a Committee to look at autonomy under Sam Pitroda has just assembled to commence its labours. If anybody has read the Prasar Bharati Act, they will find that most official and bureaucratic premises on which autonomy has been consistently scuttled are indeed contrary to the law.

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