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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

A quick administrative and forensic inquiry by the UP government suggested that nothing like what was stated happened. The Congress response has been to argue that this was an expected whitewash.

Compounding Folly

Rabble rousing is not constructive politics. Rahul Gandhi is a not-so-young man in too much of a hurry. Congress should be wary of hollow politics.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 22 May, 2011

The past week was replete with the abounding folly of those who profess to lead and should know better. The Karnataka Governor, H.R Bhardwaj set the ball rolling by recommending President’s rule in the state following a Supreme Court order that reinstated 16 MLAs, including 11 BJP and five Independents, who had been disqualified by the Speaker some months earlier and thus saved the Yeddyurappa government from defeat in a straightforward vote of confidence.

Having lost the first round when the High Court upheld the disqualification, Bhardwaj now found it opportune to press ahead with his vendetta. Despite the fact that the “rebel” MLAs had returned to the fold and Yeddyurappa now commanded a firm majority, the Governor refused a floor test in the Assembly on the ground that the CM had been running an unconstitutional government in the interim and had no right to remain in office.

By instantly recommending President’s rule when the new ground realities did not warrant such action, the Governor embarrassed the Centre which is trying to find a way to get him to reconsider his report as Yeddyurappa has paraded a clear and comfortable majority of MLAs. Yes, Yeddyurappa has much to answer for and Speaker did act in a partisan manner, but two wrongs do not make a right and it ill behoves a head of state to behave in such a blatantly partisan manner.

Bhardwaj, former Law Minister, was dropped from the cabinet in UPA-II and appointed Governor of Karnataka where his effort has been to oust the BJP government under Yeddyurappa by any means. This is not to defend Yeddyurappa but to underline the point that governors as heads of state are expected to act in a non-partisan manner and not as hatchet men of the Centre. Unfortunately UPA-II, like its predecessors, has been prone to put failed politicians to pasture in Raj Bhavans or, more actively, to act as party loyalists who will do their bidding.

The Karnataka crisis is yet to be resolved but rather than find ways to rescue Bhardwaj, the man should be recalled for repeatedly overstepping the bounds of constitutional conduct. The country has enough problems without renegade Governors adding to them.

The same can be said for the controversy stirred by Rahul Gandhi in Bhatta-Parsaul in UP’s Gautam Buddha Nagar district. The ostensible issue was administrative and police highhandedness against innocent villagers protesting what they said was the meagre compensation being offered them for land acquisition for real estate builders along the Taj Expressway. The facts are fuzzy but Rahul Gandhi went on to charge the Mayawati Government with misgovernance and atrocities resulting in mass rape and the killing of up to 74 persons whose remains were allegedly burnt and buried in a 70 foot diameter ash mound. The episode, he said, made him “ashamed to be a Hindustani”. Strong stuff.

Having said his piece and staged some political theatre, Rahul Gandhi took a group of affected villagers to tell their tale of woe to the Prime Minister and seek a judicial inquiry. By now, however, the story had changed. Rape and burnt bones receded and police beatings and forcible land acquisition were pressed. No one quite knows who was raped, when and by whom and who and how many if any bodies are buried in the ashes. A quick administrative and forensic inquiry by the UP government suggested that nothing like what was stated happened. The Congress response has been to argue that this was an expected whitewash.

Quite clearly the Bhatta-Parasaul is the first broadside in the campaign to oust Mayawati in the UP elections due next year. Be that as it may, the manner in which the matter has been agitated is irresponsible. Serious allegations do call for proper investigation and punishment of those found guilty. But due process must be followed and not the technique of lynch mobs and kangaroo courts. Rabble rousing and provoking disorder on anybody’s say-so is not good or constructive politics. Rahul Gandhi is a not-so-young man in too much of a hurry. He has a long way to go to win his spurs before he can be touted as a political hero and “next prime minister”. Pride goeth before a fall. And the Congress should be wary of such hollow politics if it aspires to continue to lead the country. Competing in empty rhetoric and irresponsibility with the BJP, another confused party, is not the way forward.

Administratively, the Centre was guilty of successive faux pas in the list of 50 Most Wanted terror/criminal suspects given to Pakistan and said to be hiding or being hosted in that country, like Hafeez Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim. Two of the listed men were last week found in Thane and Bombay, in jail and on bail respectively. While this left Delhi with egg on its face and a loss of credibility in terms of its intelligence-investigative capability the episode does also betray a certain casualness and failure among agencies to coordinate on even the most sensitive issues. This used not to be the case and while errors are not uncommon anywhere, such bloomers reflect a pervasive chalta hai attitude in many matters that has come to be accepted as par for the course.

Little seems to have been learnt from the 26/11 public relations fiasco in Mumbai with different departments and agencies talking in different voices. The Government of India’s official spokesmen appear to have been reduced to relative silence and it is the spokespersons of political parties that we hear every evening entering into polemical debate with one another. Everything has been politicised and made a partisan issue with little attention to merit, principles and values. The institutional mechanisms of governmental publicity such as the Principal Information Officer, the head of the External Publicity Division and the Defence PRO have become muted and more often than not it is the party spokesperson or Minister who speaks. This is perfectly in order as far as it goes, but comes with the caveat “I only speak for the Party and not the Government. As an antidote, the Government is now reported considering naming a Group of Minister who can with political authority explain and defend official positions and decisions.

The scheme is yet to be formulated and its outlines are not clear. But this should not further diminish the institutional mechanism. which should indeed be considerably strengthened and upgraded, with Information Officers being part of the decision-making loop so that they are not the last and least informed as at present. They could then better advise their Minister’s when to intervene and what to say. Otherwise there is a danger of ministers acting like superior party spokespersons, and being polemical rather than shedding public information and light.

Everything said, however, good information and PR must rest on good policies and sound governance. Propaganda can be no substitute.

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