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 new Parliament session has seen the Congress adopting the old disruptive tactics of the BJP to block proceedings. This is childish petulance and the Congress, which has a case to have a Leader of the Opposition formally named from its ranks, must display more maturity if it claims this responsibility

Reality Bites

The Finance and Railway Ministers present realistic budgets as Congress stalls in Parliament.

By B G Verghese

Tribune, 13 July, 2014

After all the posturing and post-electoral rhetoric, the Finance and Railway Ministers have presented realistic and sensible budgets. One may quibble over minutiae, but the overall framework is basically cautious at a difficult time. As for the reactions, one has only to reverse the BJP and Congress earlier roles, each singing the other’s previous chant. This epitomises the humbug that pervades our politics, with the Government embracing its predecessors policies in many respects and finding cogent justification for so doing.

Looking for private-public investment in railway consolidation, station upgrading, and so forth and stepping up FDI in defence production from 26 to 49 per cent are steps in the right direction. Populism has been eschewed. Mamata Bannerjee and her sorry ilk should be ignored. These measures could be the beginning of acche din with political prudence and careful management not outrunning fiscal responsibility. The Adhaar project has been properly restored and must henceforward be dovetailed with the National Population Register to avoid duplication and ambiguity.

The Government has also accepted the new poverty index complied under Dr C. Rangarajan, placing the poverty line at a daily income of under Rs 47 and Rs 32 per day for urban and rural residents respectively, multiplied by five for a family of five. This would cagtegorise 30 per cent Indian’s as poor. Public expenditure on services such as education and health are excluded. Some have scoffed at these figures, as before, arguing that Rangarajan cannot live on Rs 47 per day. The comparison is absurd and obfuscates the fact that the poverty index is intended primarily to serve as a comparative yardstick to measure poverty trends over time.

The latest Forest Survey of India, 2013, encouragingly marks a marginal increase in the country’s forest cover to 21.33 per cent despite substantial losses owing to over-grazing and jhum cultivation. The national carbon stock has also gone up by 4.07 per cent. Eight per cent of the forest cover is degraded, which suggest considerable opportunities for providing land for livelihoods as well as for productive forestry. The notion therefore that “development” has devastated forest cover needs to be reviewed in proper perspective and environmental norms for development projects suitably relaxed. Over-grazing by scrub cattle remains a national curse. But Hindutva sentiment comes in the way of rational decision making to permit scientific culling and the establishment of rendering plants to process the hides, meat, bones and bristle.

The new Parliament session has seen the Congress adopting the old disruptive tactics of the BJP to block proceedings. This is childish petulance and the Congress, which has a case to have a Leader of the Opposition formally named from its ranks, must display more maturity if it claims this responsibility. The BJP too must cease being churlish and vindictive. If nothing else, the Congress, as the largest single Opposition party, though short of numbering a tenth of the House, should be recognised as entitled to name a de facto if not de jure Leader of the Opposition who has many institutional duties to perform, such as in the selection of key appointees.

Unfortunately the Party is moving in the wrong direction despite Modi’s promise of moderation and accommodation. RSS men have been “loaned” to the BJP to assist it. This is a dangerous trend and out of step with the RSS pledge to Sardar Patel after Gandhiji’s assassination to remain a “cultural body” and keep aloof from politics. The RSS was massively involved in the last general election and has since been indulging in back-seat driving and pushing its agenda. Remote control from Nagpur is strenuously denied but is plainly manifest and must stop.

The Government has been pushing Governors around and is now sharpening its attack on NGOs in what looks like turning into a witch hunt. Nonsense spouted by its membersis being treated with kid gloves and double standards can be discerned in treating corruption and crime. Giriraj Singh, MP from Bihar, has been caught red handed with unaccounted money. O.P Dhankar from Haryana has promised Haryanvi youth Bihari brides to make good the shortage of women in Haryana on account of female foeticide. Women are not chattel and Giriraj’s remarks are insulting and derogatory. Besides, the real issue to be addressed is foeticide. What is being done about that?

Another worrying trend is the rise of communal incidents and provocations and attacks on Christians. In Bastar, the VHP has “banned” non-Hindu, especially Christian, missionaries in some 50 villages through a panchayat decree. This is illegal.

And now comes the anointment as BJP President of Amit Shah who master-minded the BJP’s UP election campaign. He is a dubious character, out on bail on charges of murder in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case while Minister of State for Home Affairs in Gujarat in 2004-05. He is very close to Mr Modi who now is in total control of the Government and Party, barring Parivar diktats and pressures.

Finally, there is reason to be gratified that the Supreme Court has opined that the fatwa “has no place in independent India” and has restrained Shariat courts from unilaterally passing diktats that affect the rights of Muslims. However, Shariat Courts may remain as informal channels of amicable dispute resolution. Their status is akin to that of khappanchayats that enjoy no formal jurisdiction. Yet tradition vests these bodies with authority which is why it is important to move forward with legislating a uniform civil code.

Regrettably, progress on a UCC has been blocked by conservatives who fear the loss of the traditional power of the clergy and the institutions they control across faiths. Here will be another test for the BJP and all secularists as there is no real impediment to an optional civil code of which the Special Marriage is a part.

It is a matter for satisfaction that the UN has settled the Indio-Bangla Maritime boundary. Both sides must accept this and go ahead with oil exploration possibilities. Mamata Bannerjee’s protests, if any, notwithstanding, the Centre must ratify the land boundary settlement as well and move forward on a Teesta sharing agreement. The stakes are too high and the national interest too great to tolerate more unreasonable obstruction from that lady.

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