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

At the UN, Pakistan has again played victim, saying no country has been harder hit by terror than itself. True, But this is like a man claiming clemency in court as an orphan after murdering his own parents! Pakistan’s terrorists are home-grown and state-sponsored

Low Signal to Noise Ratio

Political muddles persist at home and across the border Pakistani infiltrators continue to cross the LOC on murderous missions.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 2 October, 2011

The last has been a crowded week with number of domestic and external events of great moment. At home the 2-G scam continues to grind on in court, political platforms and round-the-mulberry-bush TV entertainment shows. Much, overmuch, was made of the so called Pranab Mukherjee-Chidambaram spat based on an after-the-event official resume of who said what, when and why about the much earlier UPA decision on the manner to allocate spectrum. This did not establish criminality but did show post-facto that there were divergent points of view on what had been done.

Notwithstanding, Yashwant Sinha, with rare political althleticism, demanded that the Home Minister be placed in Tihar with the former Telecom Minister, Raja. Others nodded righteously and called for the heads of the Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee. Anna Hazare added his twitter of wisdom. Every channel claimed a scoop and a stunning public “impact”. TRPs soared. The trial and investigations proceed.

When Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram “patched up”, the critics cried foul. This was not part of their script, which demanded blood on the stage. The BJP was, is and shall remain furious without being quite sure what the ruckus is about. Then somebody unearthed another piece of official paper that disclosed that the CAG had suppressed a Rs 2645 crore estimate of the probable 2-G loss as calculated by the DG (Audit, P&T) as against the CAG’s high estimate of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. This too puts a very different construction on the 2G matter than made out by documents, selectively leaked and then relentlessly propagated in an incestuous media-political blitzkrieg. The full facts and truth are yet to be established but premature trial by the media and certain political interests is selling the country short and revelling in self-flagellation.

The same critics then go on to lament the loss of investor confidence in India and the slowdown in growth, which is attributable in some part to factors well beyond the government’s control. They then come down heavily on the raising of petrol prices and any effort by the Government to address even some part of the problem.

The point being made is not that all is well and that there is no corruption or indecision or muddle, but that a vicious media-political nexus has cynically exacerbated the problem beyond measure, aggravating non-decision and incoherence at every level. One can be a strong votary of the right to information, transparency in governance and participative pre-legislative discourse and yet be deeply concerned at the growing clamour for governance in and by the market place, little regard for institutional due process, and full concurrent disclosure of every opinion and argument in full view of competing and hostile interests. This is not democracy and can only lead to anarchy with loud-mouthed busybodies ruling the roost.

Strangely, all those who clamour for “open-government” and transparency are themselves prone to insist on “Chatham House rules”, off the record, “between these four walls” proceedings. Why? Merely because they do not constitute government business? Many things leading to decisions can be stated and discussed privately but not necessarily in the open until sometime after the event. The right to information can be pushed too far, thereby driving real decision-making underground. Balance is required. Unbridled media freedom can become licence. Hence the need for judicious media regulation, with appellate remedies. This is not censorship and control.

The BJP protests too much over Sudheendra Kulkarni’s arrest for masterminding the Parliament cash-for-votes caper, with Advani’s full endorsement. How does a party that wants everybody in jail seek immunity for its “whistle blowers”, the Yeddyurappa’s and sundry ever-Reddy’s. On the other hand, in Gujarat, Narendra Modi wants all critics of the 2002 carnage in jail, Sanjiv Bhatt being the latest victim, while those who perpetrated the pogrom against Muslims continue to go scot free under official patronage. For all his staged bravado, Modi probably senses that the net is steadily closing in on him.

Still at home, Sachin Tendulkar has lost some of his sheen by the ostentatious construction of a Rs 40 crore mini-Ambani palace. This follows his selling off a prize Ferrari (was it ?) gifted to him some years ago, for which he sought and was granted customs exemption.

In Srinagar, the Hurriyat and even official voices are pleading for clemency to Afzal Guru else his execution spark more violence in J&K. A crime is a crime and public sentiment cannot be allowed to intrude and overturn due process.

Across the border, the fracas between Pakistan and the US has got worse. The gloves were off and Washington and Islamabad, having hurled some home-truths at one another, are seemingly drawing back from the brink. The State Department and Obama himself have retracted from the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen’s description of Pakistan’s perfidy, while Islamabad has, after an all-Party meeting, with the military and ISI in watchful attendance, reaffirmed its 2008 position that it will not let its territory be used for cross border terror. Its new stance, if it holds, is that it will fight its own war on terror but not America’s. This keeps open its option to cosy up to the Haqqani and other groups whom it backs to take control of Afghanistan and give it permanent “strategic depth” after the US withdrawal.

At the UN, Pakistan has again played victim, saying no country has been harder hit by terror than itself. True, But this is like a man claiming clemency in court as an orphan after murdering his own parents! Pakistan’s terrorists are home-grown and state-sponsored. Despite its latest proclamation, Pakistani infiltrators continue to cross the LOC on murderous missions. For Islamabad to keep repeating that terror is a response to India’s failure to address its concerns over J&K, water and so forth is to affirm that it retains terror as a prime instrument of state policy.

Yet Pakistan at one level does want better relations with India, especially trade and economic ties. This is welcome. But waiving possible grant of MNF status to India as a huge concession-in-waiting, is bogus. Under GATT/WHO rules, MNF is mandatory. India conceded MNF status to Pakistan decades back. Pakistan is yet to reciprocate.

A court decision to award the death penalty to the security guard who killed Salman Taseer, Punjab Governor, for defending a blasphemy law victim condemned to death is a blow against medieval barbarism. This is being protested by jihadis while another poor Christian school girl is being harassed on blasphemy charges for mis-spelling a word. The madness persists.

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