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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)

Meeting the Challenge

Editorial

Friday 31 December 2010, by SC

Mainstream’s entry into its fortyninth year with this Annual Number has coincided with a crisis afflicting the Indian polity the dimensions of which are unprecedented even by the standards set by the unforeseen developments in our chequered post-independence history.

The proceedings of both Houses of Parliament were disrupted throughout the winter session by a unified Opposition spearheading the demand for setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G spectrum scam, something which the UPA Government was in no mood to concede. The Opposition’s argument was that this being the biggest scam since independence a JPC inquiry was most appropriate and the demand to that effect was completely in order. However, the Congress would not agree to it under any circumstance. Why? It feared the JPC would have the authority to summon the PM on the issue, and this it wanted to avoid at all costs because of the possibe negative fall-out in terms of the ruling party’s credibility before the public. There were two other reasons for the opposition from the Treasury Benches: it was felt that a JPC probe could continue for months at a stretch—at least till the Tamil Nadu State Assembly elections due in the first half of next year, and this could impact on the Congress-DMK relations in the State as well as at the Centre in the long min, thereby undermining UPA II’s stability. It was further pointed out by Congress leaders that since the Public Accounts Committee was already seized of the matter in Parliament, it could duplicate the work of the proposed JPC which was both undesirable and inappropriate. However, the Opposition tried to interpret the Congress’ resistance to the JPC demand as a desperate bid to prevent other skeletons from tumbling out of the UPA cupboard. This perception is not completely off-the-mark and could considerably influence public opinion in the days ahead.

However, the net result has been the persisting deadlock over parliamentary functioning. This marks a new low in the relations between the ruling coalition and the Opposition. Already there is talk that this deadlock would continue for long, even upto or during the Budget session next year. And in this scenario the Leader of the Lok Sabha has threatened to get this Parliament dissolved and call for a fresh mandate from the people in case the stalemate is not brought to an end in the foreseeable future. Needless to underline the negative implications of such a standoff for our parliamentary democracy.

Of late a spate of scams has hit the headlines and prominent among these today are the ones related to the Commonwealth Games, Mumbai’s Adarsh Housing Society (meant for the families of the Kargil martyrs but cornered by relatives of noted politicians as well as military officers including a former Chief of Army Staff) and 2G spectrum in which former Telecom Minister A. Raja is alleged to be directly connected. Such scams are nothing new in Indian polity but these have assumed significance precisely because of the astronomical sums associated with them—for example, in the 2G spectrum case the loss to the national exchequer is to the tune of Rs 1.76 lakh crores. Parliament having been in turmoil throughout the winter session, observers are drawing a parallel with the Bofors issue that too rocked Parliament in the eighties with the Opposition resigning from membership of both the Houses to register their protest against the then PM’s stonewalling tactics. Yet what cannot be overlooked is the quantum of money involved—in the 2G case it is far greater than what was stated to be in the Bofors issue. One can, of course, justifiably argue that this reveals the exponential growth of corruption over the years in the corridors of power. But even if the Congress leadership is not linked to this scam, the way it has handled it shows its lack of seriousness in the matter. At the same time the Congress President has asserted that the party has shown a high level of sensitivity to corruption charges against its leaders forcing the latter, notably the former Maharashtra CM on the Adarsh Society scam, to step down unlike the BJP which gave a clean chit to the Karnataka CM despite major corruption charges against him (for fear of losing the powerful Lingayat vote-bank since B.S. Yeddurappa belongs to that caste). She has at the Congress plenary making the 150th anniversary of the party also launched a five-fold attack on corruption. But all these are intended for public consumption. The fact is that the party has been caught on the backfoot in the face of such mega scandals as that linked to the Commonwealth Games.

But these scams apart, what has shocked dispassionate observers are the revelations by the Niira Radia tapes. As was underscored in these columns at the end of last month,

…in the midst of all this has come the Niira Radia tapes, revealed through a petition filed in the Supreme Court, embodying details of telephonic conversations between the lobbyist for the Tatas and the Mukesh Ambani group and a section of journalists and politicians, besides others, to help the DMK’s A. Raja get the telecom portfolio. The conversations expose the extraordinary clout the corporate celebrities enjoy and their overall influence on the government and governance of the country today (Ranjan Bhattacharya quoting Mukesh Ambani: “... ab to Congress apni dukaan hai”), making a mockery of the democracy we pride ourselves as our greatest asset.
This is definitely a far cry from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi who, with all their faults and limitations, never let the corporates have a field day as is the case at present (when the market is ‘genuinely free’ from the shackles of the licence-permit raj and the public sector emasculated beyond measure, thanks to the radical transformation of the domestic economic scene since the advent of the new economic policies based on the structural adjustment programme unveiled in 1991).

The enormity of the prevailing crisis comes out in bold relief through this development.

While all these happenings expose the face of India in all its ugliness, what is happening in Bharat representing the bulk of our people in the countryside? The latter continue to suffer various forms of indignity—destitution, deprivation, poverty—as also oppression that takes different shapes. No wonder the Maoist movement is not only sustaining itself despite the paramilitary operations in our tribal heartland, but in effect steadily growing. Here too it is our parliamentary system which is coming under siege.

India’s rising stature in the global arena is witnessed by the high-level visits undertaken by foreign dignitaries in the past few weeks. US President Obama, French President Sarkozy, Chinese PM Wen Jiabao have already come and held purposeful discussions and now Russian President Medvedev has just arrived to enhance our ties with that country. The US, French and Russians have conveyed their unequivocal support to India becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the Chinese PM’s talks here have given a further boost to the already robust Sino-Indian economic relations despite the sharp differences on the political front. These are doubtless positive features of the overall scene. But then what really matters is our internal strength. And it is here that our weaknesses are coming out in sharp focus as is manifest in the current crisis.

The problems of our populace in Central India, J&K, North-East are reflective of not just the difficulties the nation is experiencing at different levels but also the gradual enfeeblement of our parliamentary structure. This poses a grave danger particularly when terrorist depredations from across the border have not recorded any marked decline and present a constant threat to our security.

In such a situation it is for the forward looking forces of the country to come together and jointly meet the challenge before us. As it has done since its inception, Mainstream promises, in its fortyninth year, to unreservedly dedicate itself towards ensuring the unity of the progressive sections of our polity in order to carry out this onerous task.

December 20 S.C.