Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The pandemonium in the House was unparliamentary but was invited by the unscrupulous and wholly mismanaged attempt by the Congress to introduce a Bill to form a separate Telengana in the face of an Andhra Assembly resolution opposing this move

Plumbing The Depths

Lok Sabha and Delhi politics hit a new low with pepper spray in Parliament and a rudderless capital as Aam Aadmi exits the stage.

By B G Verghese

15 February, 2014

The Lok Sabha truly plumbed the depths last week. The richest Member of Parliament, Lagadapati Rajagopal used pepper spray in the House to disrupt proceedings and, not satisfied by that gross misconduct, had the temerity to say he carries it around for “self-defence”. The House was adjourned and four Members hospitalised. The culprit has been expelled but should be barred for life from any elective or public office. Too harsh, some will exclaim. But a deep rot has set in in India because due process is constantly subverted to protect or extenuate the most criminalised elements that disfigure public life. Rajagopal is head of a bankrupt independent power production company who is being sustained by bank loans.

The pandemonium in the House was unparliamentary but was invited by the unscrupulous and wholly mismanaged attempt by the Congress to introduce a Bill to form a separate Telengana in the face of an Andhra Assembly resolution opposing this move. It is now Telengana versus Seemandhra and largely Congressmen versus Congressmen, with UPA Ministers opposing the Bill in the well of the House. The Congress must be strongly indicted for its deceitful and dishonest manoeuvres in this regard over the past five years, running with the Telengana hares while hunting with the Seemandhra hounds. Instead of building consensus, the UPA has created division and discord.

The “solutions” urged by various bodies, including the expert Sri Krishna Committee are misconceived. Prime among these is making Hyderabad (the plum prize) the twin capital of both prospective states) for ten years or a Union Territory for that period. Why? Yes, it is the business and real estate hub of united Andhra. But Seemandhra investors can surely continue to enjoy their returns on investment and property rights even if the city goes exclusively to Telengana? A fine new capital should be built for Seemandhra that could be planned as a well-connected commercial hub with air, road and rail connectivity befitting a major university, medical and science centre. Urbanisation is growing apace and planned new cities are required. A joint capital would only result in a permanent tug of war and bad blood, with Seemandhra 100 kms distant from its capital. The politics and economics of this would be just plain wrong.

If the fracas in Parliament was bad enough, what is one to say of the Aam Admi Party’s end game when common civility, constitutionality, rules of business and due process were all contemptuously set aside. The Chief Minister filed an FIR against the Union Oil Minister on the K-G Basin gas pricing on ignorant reasoning. Established norms of conduct of official and parliamentary business were flouted. The Lt, Governor was called a Congress Agent and then an Agent of Mukesh Ambani because he had once been Oil Secretary. Legal and administrative opinions from the Centre and Delhi officials were rudely brushed aside as irrelevant and wrong. And throughout, the refrain was that the AAP had been grievously wronged since its Jan Lok Pal Bill, not unveiled before the assembly or people of Delhi (whose opinion was otherwise sought on various issues through “referenda”), should have been debated even though leave to introduce it was refused by a majority of 49 votes to 29 in the Assembly.

Prior to that, the refrain was that a thwarted Kejriwal would resign. This sounded very much like the whining of Anna Hazare and Kejriwal earlier, threatening to “fast unto death” while ensuring fool-proof precautionary measures against any such eventuality. What is one to make of law-breakers who joined Kejriwal’s campaign against the previous Delhi administration to withhold payment of electricity bills and were now given a 50 per cent moratorium by the AAP administration at a cost of Rs 6 crores to the exchequer. And then a Swaraj Bill was promised to establish mohalla sabhas for below ward-level administration, with sweeping powers.

Delhi was headed towards anarchy, ever since Kejriwal sat and slept on dharna against the Union Home Minister on charges of police defiance of his Law Minister’s orders that they take unlawful action against alleged prostitution in a part of the city, by-passing due process. What has happened to the matter after that tamasha?

Inevitably the clowning had to stop sooner rather than later and this has now happened. Kejriwal’s advice to the LG to dissolve the Delhi Assembly and order fresh elections immediately had no validly, coming from a defeated chief minister. The LG has recommend President’s rule for Delhi while keeping the Assembly in suspended animation. Maybe dissolution would have been be better, with fresh polls when the country holds general elections some months from now.

AAP was, up to a point, a good idea – to mobilise the frustrations and anger of youth against corruption, unemployment, mis-governance and non-governance. But governance is more than permanent agitation. Nor can inexperience be pleaded if one bids to govern. While there is much systemic rot that must be excised, enforcement of due process can achieve a lot. One heard the police being abused by the AAP, but did the Party a say a word or lift a finger to ensure that Delhi implemented the full gamut of long-pending police reforms? It had time for trivia, and grandstanding, not for substance. Brashness is not tantamount to wisdom.

The Union Government too is at war with itself, rudderless and adrift. The peremptory transfer of a professionally qualified and well-regarded Union Health Secretary, Keshav Desiraju, has shocked the medical fraternity, eminent members of which have protested. The Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has offered no reason but the grapevine has it that Desiraju objected to a move to restore Ketan Desai as Chairman of the Medical Council of India from which he was removed and arrested some time back on charges of bribery and misuse of office. To bring him back before the current investigations against him are concluded cannot be justified. Ministers cannot treat civil servants like chattel. Such arbitrary action must demoralise the entire service. What is the Prime Minister doing about this matter?

Likewise, what is the deal the Maharashtra CM is cutting with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray for lowering or removing road tolls after a violent agitation. Sheer hooliganism must not be allowed to dictate policy. Abolition of toll collections will entail a pay-back by the exchequer of Rs 160 crore to the Maharashtra toll operators. The mob is taking over.

And what is one to say about the withdrawal and pulping of Wendy Doiniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, by Penguin on the basis of a compromise reached with a Hindu right-wing group, the Shiksha Bachao, Andolan Samiti that has been busy seeking the banning of books that are said to offend Hindu sentiment. The country is increasingly being pressurised by obscurantist groups of various hues to adopt illiberal policies. Rather than stoutly oppose this nonsense, the Government seems to go along with it.

Where are we headed?

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