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 kind of language used by the Indian Government, let alone our war-mongering chatterati, was in striking contrast to the triumphalism evident in the hastily-planned and unprepared invitation to Nawaz Sharif and SAARC leaders for Mr Modi’s swearing in.

The Peace Prize

For a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to jointly receive a Nobel when the two sides have been warring brings an inspiring message.

By B G Verghese

13 October, 2014

The Award of the Nobel Peace Prize this year is especially symbolic. Kailash Satyarthi, a quiet but dedicated Indian worker for child rights and the well-known Malala Yusufzai , the plucky Pakistani education and child rights activist, are both well-deserving. But for a Hindu and a Muslim and an Indian and a Pakistani jointly to receive this prize for a common cause when the two sides have been warring on the border and jingoism prevails has an inspiring message. Peace matters, especially for children, our future, and both sides can join hands to accomplish this task.

Malala, alas, is still a refugee, studying in the UK as she remains a target of mad men in Pakistan. How pathetic, especially when these same medieval forces have campaigned against babies getting polio drops. The result: the incidence of polio has sharply risen in Pakistan so much so as to have got Rajasthan to declare an alert lest the disease spread there on account of cross-border movement.

The guns went silent across the LOC and international border in J&K for some days last weekend, after many civilians were killed and border villages evacuated for safety. The kind of language used by the Indian Government, let alone our war-mongering chatterati, was in striking contrast to the triumphalism evident in the hastily-planned and unprepared invitation to Nawaz Sharif and SAARC leaders for Mr Modi’s swearing in. That was not smart diplomacy but gamesmanship that went awry and now lies in tatters.

Nothing is gained by refusing to hold local flag or commander-level meetings on the LOC, even if Pakistan is unresponsive. Ultimately there must be talks to rebuild confidence and set the stage for a resumed dialogue. Back channels have been used effectively in the past and here is no reason to shun this route. The Opposition too must resist the temptation of paying back the BJP in its own coin.

It is evident that the RSS-driven rhetoric on J&K, Muslims and minorities generally, has displaced more rational and sober talk and that even Mr Modi’s round-the-clock election campaign in Maharashtra was perhaps partly electorally motivated to rally the nation behind the Leader. Communal incidents have mounted and Christian persecution continues unabated, spawned by “love-jihad” nonsense, especially in Madhya Pradesh. In one instance, an annual Christian gathering was banned in view of public “anger” over a recent “love-jihad” episode which was proven to be pure fabrication. The police stand is that it dare not face riotous behaviour by irate mobs if the convention is held. What is this other than gutless caving in by authority to blackmail by partisan rowdies.

One of the urgent and important tasks the nation faces is to get J&K back on its feet after the devastating floods. The effort must not be to restore the status quo based on past shady permits to do the wrong things, but to plan to build anew. Srinagar should be decongested and its drainage improved. This calls for a non-partisan and, indeed, a collective approach. Can the Centre give a lead? This is the time to plan to reconstruct the Valley and create new employment opportunities based on emerging connectivities and energy generation. Postponement of the J&K general elections has not been announced as yet, which means that polling my take place, barring in flood-affected constituencies. This could interfere in rehabilitation and reconstruction and fracture the unity of purpose that disaster sometimes creates.

Om Prakash Chautala, the former Haryana chief minister jailed on criminal charges, was ordered back to prison after it was found that he was misusing his bail, granted on health grounds, in order to electioneer. What is one to say about the morality of some of the low characters who rule us.

Jayalalitha offers no better example. Sentenced to imprisonment by a Karnataka court after a long-drawn corruption case, she has quite legitimately gone on appeal. But the AIDMK has been in “mourning” over this “injustice”. The mob’s opinion was that Amma had been wronged both by the judgement and denial of bail by the Karnataka High Court. Kannadigas living in Tamil Nadu were roughed up and buses from that state targeted. Chennai shut down and the new government was reluctant to govern.

This unholy drama was again no more than exhibition of misplaced political pique and defiance of morality and justice. Here was an effort to browbeat the law. This sort of misconduct, basically extolling wrong-doing by “leaders”, must be strongly condemned.

The former CAG, Vinod Rai’s book “Not Just an Accountant” has been out for some weeks. Mr Rai is an honourable man as much as Dr Manmohan Singh is a most honourable man. Mr Rai perhaps assumed a role larger than that of a mere accountant to sit in judgement not merely on performance, which is legitimate, but on policy based on hindsight. His estimate of “presumptive losses” on the allocation of 2-G licences spectrum was based on four different sets of assumptions and ranged from Rs2,645 crore to Rs1,76,379 crore.

The political class and media were quick to latch on to the figure of Rs1,76, 379 cores, which became the accepted talking figure that hugely sensationalised the deal. The figure was stupendous and unheard of and from this “base” it is no surprise that the coal mines allocation loss was later estimated at over Rs2 lakh crore. Losses in thousands of crore had become the currency of politics and headline-grabbers.

No one recalled that an earlier auction had failed and the over-bidders had subsequently come crawling to the government for relief. Nor was sufficient weightage given to the enormous social gain with tele-density increasing exponentially, way above the targeted figures, and actual phone connections soaring to 500 million and then to over 800 million, by far the highest in the world. The social empowerment, connectivity, impetus to commerce and sense of unity this gave was phenomenal by any calculus. What value was placed on this social gain? Apparently none.

Go now to how the CAG sometimes reports merely as an accountant. Allegations of huge procurement losses were made after the Kargil war, causing the then Defence Minister, to seek a special audit by the CAG. The report, “Review of Procurement for OP Vijay (Army) was tabled in Parliament on December 11, 2001. This “highlighted the fact that nearly all supplies were received, or contracted and received, well after the cessation of hostilities and therefore in no way supported the operation”. The absurdity is palpable.

Here was a dastardly, clandestine operation for which India was utterly unprepared in terms of timing, terrain, weather and other conditions that no armed forces in the world had ever been called upon to confront anywhere, anytime in history. It called for an immediate response and was over in some cases even before contracts could be signed and deliveries made. But who knew how long the war would last and whether what was a localised conflict at the start might envelop the sub-continent – with China making noises on the side. What an utterly foolish accountant’s report that the media lapped up!

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