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

Foreign policy is increasingly being subject to blackmail by provincial satraps in West Bengal, Assam and elsewhere. This is a most dangerous trend

Empty Rhetoric on Non-Issues

Turning the PM's Independence Day speech into a gladiatorial contest, juxtaposing Modi rhetoric, trivialised the national day.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 10 November, 2013

With polling in the first round of elections in four states due to commence this coming week, the electorate has heard a lot of empty rhetoric on peripheral or non-issues. The campaign at the national level has been indecorous and even abusive with the public all too often being treated to cheap theatre rather than an analysis of matters of moment and the road forward.

The recent serial bomb blasts in Patna on the afternoon Narendra Modi was to address a rally at the maidan was prima facie a security lapse that is being vigorously investigated. Rather than focus on the follow-up, the BJP, which rightly did hold the rally, went on to allege that Modi was targeted and should henceforward be given “prime ministerial security” as the declared electoral leader of the BJP’s bid to form the national government in 2014. This is something of a non sequitur as the BJP has no hope of forming a government on its own but could perhaps do so at the head of a NDA coalition which will want to elect its own leader.

As a chief minister and ranking BJP leader and a possible terrorist target, Modi already enjoys the highest level Z-Plus security under NSG cover. The Minister of State for Home Affairs disclosed that Modi went to the Patna rally with 1000 police personnel, 100 Inspectors and 12 DSP/DIG level officers, several of these sent from Gujarat. This security army must cost a pretty penny. Even so, the BJP parliamentary board resolved to ask for SPG cover which is only accorded to the Prime Minister, former PMs and their immediate families.  As a wit wryly commented, Modi wishes to look prime ministerial without being a prime minister! With the Government having now decided to conduct advance security drills before Modi visits any place, the man, like so many VIP red-beacon pretenders, seems to be on an ego trip, anxious to gain PR points to enhance his electoral allure.

It is astonishing that the electronic and even the print media devoted so much time and space for this and other non-issues. Modi now accuses the Congress of using the CBI and Indian Mujahideen to counter him. He protests too much.

The latest issue to rile the media and political commentators is the so-called effort of the Government to “censor” the manner of reportage of the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address, with a threat of penal action if future violations occur. What are the facts? August 15 is a national day on which the Prime Minister unfurls the flag and addresses the nation, as chief ministers do in their respective capitals. Modi and the BJP have repeatedly challenged the PM to a televised election debate asbetween US presidential candidates. But in the US these are presidential candidates, unlike in the parliamentary system where several candidates, some of them coalitional leaders, are in the ring. Moreover, the next parliamentary election has yet to be announced and what we are witnessing today is electioneering for four State assembly polls.

Snubbed on his challenge to Dr Manmohan Singh to enter into a “prime ministerial” electoral debate with him, Modi took the opportunity to deliver his Independence Day speech in Ahmedabad on August 14 and then fly to Bhuj on August 15 to take on the Prime Minister who had delivered his Independence Day address to the nation from the Red Fort a couple of hours earlier. Taking note of the latter’s remarks he launched an electoral diatribe heaping scorn on Dr Singh and the record of the UPA. Was this the occasion for such a duel? More than Modi himself, some media outlets juxtaposed the two in subsequent reports and commentaries to suggest a gladiatorial contest. The national day was trivialised for petty sensation.

According to a TV channel website, “the Gujarat Chief Minister slammed the PM's speech as uninspiring, picked holes in Dr Singh's words and offered a lacerating comment on the Congress-led UPA government's policy on China and Pakistan”. This is not to suggest that the PM cannot or should not be criticised. But was this the occasion for an exercise in tasteless journalism? The speech and its reportage were objectionable and this is what theI&B Ministry alluded to in its admittedly belated press note. Those trumpeting freedom of expression and freedom of the press should ponder over the matter and reserve their ire for a worthier cause.

Close on this came coverage of Tendulkar’s last Ranji Trophy match against Haryana and his penultimate (199th)Test against the West Indies in Kolkata. Tendulkar got non-stop coverage of his life and career that crowded out everything else from national attention. It just went on and on with breathless animation, hyped beyond measure. He was not in the best of form and on the final day at Eden Gardens, when Shami, a new and youthful wonder bowler did India proud, one newspaper headline noted that cries of “Shami, Shami” took over from “Sachin, Sachin”.  Not altogether Sachin’s fault, but a bout of media madness.

The Mars Mission was well covered too but soon degenerated into another hyped and somewhat exaggerated controversy following the former ISRO chief’s comment that the effort should have focussed on developing the Geo-Stationary Launch Vehicle Mission, ISRO’s future and more powerful workhorse, instead of pursuing a less important mission to Mars with a progressively diminishing experimental payload.

This was a scientific argument that might have been left at that, although it was not necessary to denigrate the current effort for which the next optimal window of opportunity will not be available until after the elapse of another 26 months.Further, similar Mars probes by China and Japan having failed the success of the so-named Mangalayam mission will bring India on par with the US, Russia and Europe giving a huge boost to national morale and Indian science.

Unfortunately, the media debate revolved around the cost of the Mars Mission. The Rs 450 crores, critics said, could have been better devoted to wiping out poverty - illiteracy, malnutrition and poor health. That is a wholly mistaken argument.  The money spent on anti-poverty programmes is not small by any means but is not well spent, with many leakages and administrative impediments. The Rs 450 crore  expenditure on Mangalayam is affordable and  if “saved” could well have been misspent on some fraud or folly, examples of which abound.

Word is also now out that the Prime Minister will not attend the CHOGM summit in Colombo in deference to Tamil “sentiment”. This is an abject surrender to Tamil chauvinism that has time and again dictated India’s Sri Lanka policy to its detriment and shame. Foreign policy is increasingly being subject to blackmail by provincial satraps in West Bengal, Assam and elsewhere. This is a most dangerous trend.

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