Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

A strike against President Assad in Syria, even before the UN inspectors complete their investigations and make a finding, would be to ignite West Asia with a huge destabilising ripple effect and a dangerously widening Sunni-Shia schism

Sad Days

Syria ripple effects, a new RBI governor in India and Zubin Mehta attempts to soothe the Kashmir divide with Bavarian harmonics.

By B G Verghese

7 September, 2013

It will an exceedingly sad day if and when President Obama goes ahead with his plan to strike Syria militarily for allegedly using chemical weapons in Damascus on unproven evidence. His certitudes are reminiscent of those of George Bush Jr who, with Tony Blair, pulverised Iraq on the basis of lies and wilful obstruction of the UN WMD monitors. Iraq remains in parlous straits after a decade of intervention. Libya was another misadventure. Afghanistan has bled even more and been Talibanised by the US War on Terror that has resulted in the proliferation of terror worldwide.

And now a strike against President Assad in Syria, even before the UN inspectors complete their investigations and make a finding, would be to ignite West Asia with a huge destabilising ripple effect and a dangerously widening Sunni-Shia schism among the probable outcomes. Obama believes “it would be wrong not to take a moral stand” – on what? That is still an open question. Morality cannot be wholly one-sided and self-regarding on the principle of might is right and victor’s justice, even if in defiance of the UN and international law. The coming week could be a turning point. Hopefully, Obama will turn away from unilateral war, attempted regime change and further turmoil in West Asia. Iran, Russia and others will surely react.

The turmoil will only exacerbate strains in the world economy. Further sanctions against Iran will collaterally aggravate the oil crisis for countries like India and further delay a global economic recovery.
At home, it is sad that those pushing for populist subsidies with huge leakages and wastage, are determined to continue playing electoral politics at the cost of the nation. Not allowing Parliament to function for days and weeks on the most unreasonable grounds and vilifying the Prime Minister’s office and person in the manner witnessed has demeaned India in the eyes of its own people and the world. In fairness, it must be admitted that the Government cannot escape its share of responsibility for the current impasse on account of its own administrative ineptitude, indecision and wilful obstruction in acting against corrupt and incompetent officers and enforcing accountability. The disgraceful muddle over the “missing” coal files is an instance in point. The PM may not be personally responsible but the buck stops with him as head of the government.

Fortunately the Government is moving forward, howsoever belatedly. The new RBI Governor has instilled a new sense of purpose and confidence in financial management that, hopefully, will hold. The Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill and the Pension Bill have been passed with some amendments sought by the Opposition and certain states. None of these may be ideal measures, but they constitute a distinct step forward in achieving better governance and stimulating investment.

The Land Bill remains conservative with onerous provisions requiring 70per cent of affected landholders’ consent to acquire land for public-private purposes, and going up to 80 per cent for private acquisitions. Hold-outs are not difficult to organise on the basis of questionable hypotheses and extravagant demands. The farmer must surely get a fair deal with a share in the future stream of benefits; but the nation too needs a fair deal to grow and prosper. Furthermore, the distinction drawn between public and private can be perverse. Private profit, as against profiteering, is no sin. What is required is not expensive entry barriers to entrepreneurshipbut a sound regulatory regime, transparency, strict accountability and optimal land use. And clearances must be swift, for delay is often denial.

Fortunately the proposed RTI amendment is being reviewed to uphold the Supreme Court ruling that convicted legislators should not be allowed to contest elections. MPs and MLAs cannot claim privileged status to remain above the law which many of them believe is their right. Many are trial court convicted criminals, though on appeal, and others have behaved with such depravity that they do not command respect and only tarnish the image of the vast majority of others who are truly honourable members. Political party and electoral funding are very murky and need cleansing if corruption is to be brought under control.

In the midst of all this, the BJP President, Rajnath Singh has touchingly said that Narendra Modi is “sad” about the “unfortunate” Gujarat riotsof 2002 and his facial expression reflects this every time the topic comes up! Advani too describes the day the Babri Masjid was demolished as his “saddest day”. So the top rung of the BJP consists of some very sad men – men who triggered the Ayodhya denouement and the holocaust that followed - Advani by his rathyatra and Modi who did not once utter a single word of remorse at the carnage over which he proudly presided as Chief Minister and Home Minister forgetting his “raj dharma” as Vajpayee put it. For Rajnath Singh the rage against Modi is a manifestation of “secularitis”! For Parrikar, Goa’s chief minister, Modi faltered, but only because he was “new to the job”. The VHP, as always, see all this as a conspiracy against Hinduism. These are sick minds, men scurrying for cover to hide a collective guilt.

The BJP is increasingly worried as the net closes on Modi’s dastardly record. Our would-be prime minister-in-a-hurry will be further embarrassed as rats desert a sinking ship. One such, D. G Vanzara, a suspended police officer, once Modi’s poster boy in his dirty-works department, is chargedwith fake encounter killings to still inconvenient voices. He has now written a letter confessing to illegalities committed for an “adored” political “god” that failed, namely, Modi, and his principal lieutenant, Amit Shah, also charged, but currently the BJP”s pointsman in U.P.

Vanzara’s revelations may not be proven. But they do have a ring of truth and fit in with the ugly course of events that are in the public domain. However, they need to be investigated to discover the truth and due process must be allowed to unfold unimpeded. This writer was part of a non-official team of inquiry constituted by the Editors Guild of India that confronted Modi with all his principal aides at Gandhinanger in 2002. It is no exaggeration to say that the man could not answer a single question and admitted lack of judgement in others. He had no defence whatsoever on any issue. His contemporary statements and broadcasts and the press notes put out officially by the Gujarat Information Department are on record and constitute a travesty of truth, justice and the rule of law. That whole episode remains a very sad time for India.

It was both a happy and sad day for J&K last Saturday. The Zubin Mehta concert at Srinagar’s Shalimar Gardenwith the Bavarian State Orchestra was an outstanding success. The world heard some great music from Kashmir even as some separatists and their henchmen held a “parallel” event of sorts elsewhere in the city. The contrast showed up the bankruptcy and futile fury of small, misguided minds that thrive on hate and dogma so far removed from the true tradition of humanist, sufi Kashmir.

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