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 agitations and appeals to courts to stay the screening of Prakash Jha’s film “Aarakshan” (Reservations), after clearance by the Film Certification Board, is another case of agitators threatening mob violence and muzzling freedom of expression

A Governance Deficit

The country's fundamentals are good but there are still too many "buts". It's time to tackle these gremlins once and for all.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 13 August, 2011

Whenever there is a little economic wobble, the RBI informs us that the country’s “fundamentals” are good, but… The same must be said of the current state of governance, a term that is wider than just government per se. The Democratic ethos is well rooted despite flaws and distortions; the country is more united and stable than before; poverty and disparities remain but we are a somewhat better off and less inegalitarian society than before. We are trailing many other nations that took the road to development and modernisation after us. True, but exclude China, and India is at 1220 million and with its myriad diversities, larger than and as or more complex than all of Asia, Africa or Europe or the Americas.

However, the “but” remains and, like a virus, must be eliminated from the system before it consumes the body-politic. A random listing of negative reports over the past fortnight illustrates the point.

False encounter killings have been declared cold blooded murder by the Courts which would punish these with death as “rarest of rare cases”. Rajiv Gandhi’s killers’ mercy pleas have been rejected by the President, 20 years after his assassination and a decade after death sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court. The Home Ministry has now advised the President to reject the mercy petition of Afzal Guru, involved in the 2002 attack on Parliament House. Why mercy petitions should take many long years to decide and allowed to become a political football defies understanding. The so-called queuing system for disposal of mercy petitions seems very bureaucratic and the notion that it is for the Government to dispose of petitions and for the President only to announce that verdict appears perverse. The Government may advise, but surely the final decision should rest with the President in her discretion. Disposal should not take more than a few months at most.

The agitations and appeals to courts to stay the screening of Prakash Jha’s film “Aarakshan” (Reservations), after clearance by the Film Certification Board, is another case of agitators threatening mob violence and muzzling freedom of expression – films, books, art, anything. Protest is one thing, violence quite another. Should the State cow down to thugs and bullies? The film is not anti-reservation and arguments that there are no dalit actors and actresses in Bollywood are no defence to extra-constitutional behaviour even by avowedly disadvantaged and oppressed communities. The SC Commission, which raised some objections (that Jha has said he will address), is a pretty supine body that successive Governments have been content to keep that way. The dalits have a strong case and deserve every sympathy and public support, but censoring films does nobody any good.

Members of the Sachar Panel on the Muslim condition in India are fast losing heart that their salient recommendations – an Equal Opportunity Commission and the compilation of a Diversity Index, to target all backward communities with educational and other official promotional efforts – will be implemented any time soon. It appears to have got lost in crude vote-bank politics.

The lingering burden of vicarious “guilt” for the victimhood Hindutva groups still feel as a result of Mohamad Ghori’s invasion and Partition continues to weigh heavily on Muslim Indians in many part of the country. The prime victims of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 were Muslims who continue to be denied justice. The investigations and prosecution of post-Godhra cases were so biased that the NHRC and Supreme Court had repeatedly to intervene to secure a semblance of due process. But now that exposures are cutting too close to the bone, the Gujarat Government has begun a blatant administrative vendetta against honest officials who stood their ground, spoke the truth before the Nanavati Commission and SIT’s, and turned whistle-blowers.

Sanjay Bhatt, Rahul Sharma and other upright IPS officers are now being hounded on frivolous grounds to shield NarendraModi, around whom the net appears to be closing. The Home Minister has said that should these oficers approach the Centre, the Union has the power to intervene, as it is the cadre-controlling authority of all-India service personnel who are also against any underminingof States’ rights and federalism. This is an unsustainable argument. One only needs to recall Modi’s infamous official broadcast statement over Prasar Bharati days after the holocaust that those who seek peace, should not ask for justice. What a Faustian bargain!

Meanwhile, Surat police are reported conducting a census of masjids and madrassas in the city including information on maulvis, students and their denominations, affiliations, visitors and family connections. Hotels, restaurants and cyber cafes are being similarly surveyed. The city’s police commissioner says this data bank will enable the authorities swiftly to contact the appropriate person as and when required. This appears a sinister, community-selective survey. A similar survey of Christians was conducted by the BJP government in parts of Madhya Pradesh some time ago. None of these activities appear entirely innocent to the communities concerned.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati’s spending spree on refurbishing her residence matches her scandalous extravagance at State expense on memorials and mausoleums to Dalit heroes. She is now busy registering and withdrawing cases to wound or woe MLAs and others and ensure “loyalty”.

The BJP continues to pursue various scams – as it should – but is again back to disrupting Parliament and not allowing the two Houses to proceed with the business before them despite being promised time to air their particular grievances. This is gross abuse of privilege and an assault on parliamentary democracy no less than Afzal Guru’s. Worse, on an appeal by UPA floor leaders for cooperation, the BJP’s lofty response is that they will decide this issue by issue, day by day.

Having criticised all and sundry in turn, Congress MP’s have joined the rest in demanding restoration of red beacon lights atop their cars to gain right of way in Delhi in keeping with their exalted status and the urgency of their errands.The poet’s comment was that “If everybody got their deserts, then who should escape whipping”!

The mollycoddling and ruination of Air India is a sad finale to the story of the once-proud Maharaja. Officials and staff have battened on the airline and brought it to its knees. Air India is best wound up and started afresh under private auspices as a commercial carrier.

The tale of bungling, delays and infructuous expenditure on the Katra-Qazigund RailProject in J&K now coming out appears to be another case of lack of proper surveys and technical studies , coordination and oversight. LaluPrasad and MamtaBannerjee were too busy to notice or care.

As Anna Hazare readies to tilt with windmills in “India’s second war of independence”, India has got its comeuppance in cricket. Commerce, endorsements, hunts for Bharat Ratna’s and individual records and BCCI’s greed overwhelmed every other consideration. Media hype ensured disaster.

This is the time to cure those “buts”.

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