Monday, August 26, 2013

Innovation and challenge in Goa. And a historic moment for CM Parrikar

Goa, like any other state in India, is overrun with negative forces that create apprehensions about the future. But, unlike most other states, a positive spark flickers in Goa now and again. The state is so completely identified with beaches and hippies that neither the gloomy side of politics nor the hopeful signs receive the attention they deserve. Goa is more than tourists.

How many of us realise, for example, that Goa has a university and that it performs more imaginatively than any other university in the country? We are told that the Presidency University of Kolkata is ready to introduce a course on "The Enigma of Love" with emphasis on the "theoretical aspects" of love. Compare this academic drollery with some half dozen Research Chairs Goa University has established. The Bandodkar Chair on Political Economy, the D.D.Kosambi Chair on Interdisciplinary Studies and the Borkar Chair on Comparative Literature may appear routine. But two factors make the Goa University's approach anything but routine.

First, it has also introduced unusual and innovative courses: One on Western music, another on traditional music and bhajan, a third on fine arts, painting and cartooning named after Goa's and India's beloved illustrator genius, Mario Miranda. Second -- and this is the crux of the matter -- in a country where appointments from peons to professors are made on the basis of caste, cash and ministerial interest, Goa University got for its Chairs the likes of Madhav Gadgil, Romila Thapar, Meghnad Desai and Shuba Mudgal.

A near miracle. How could integrity be honoured so openly and repeatedly? Evidently the University's authorities put professionalism above caste, cash, etc. But they would still have been thwarted if they had to face political interference of the kind that happens in almost every university in our country. In Goa University, some officers more loyal than the King in fact tried to curry favour by telling the BJP Chief Minister that a Leftwing anti-BJP intellectual like Romila Thapar was being invited at the University's expense. Apparently Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said this was an academic issue and he could not interfere.

This is what makes Parrikar different from the rest of his tribe. In an earlier stint, he had succumbed to Hindutva extremists and done what was unthinkable in Goa -- cancel the public holiday on Good Friday. That was a major reason for the BJP losing the election that followed. Parrikar won last year's election with Catholic support; the Catholics were sure that Parrikar had learned from his Good Friday blunder and, more importantly, they were disgusted by the criminalities and shamelessness of Catholic ministers in the Congress Government.

Not only did Congress ministers and their families get enmeshed in murders and rape cases; the corruption went beyond limits even by Congress standards. It is a surprise that the High Command never attempted to curb the open criminality of its flag-bearers in Goa. Or was it a case of collusion? Not that the BJP is clean. Curiously both the BJP and the Congress today have exactly 33.3 percent MLAs each with criminal cases pending against them. But no corruption is as vulgar as Congress corruption in Goa.

A year into his landslide victory, Parrikar is grappling with the realities of power. Some of his campaign promises were clearly unrealistic: He is unable to abolish casinos, or save Goa from miners as promised. His voters will accept such dilemmas if his honesty of purpose is transparent. Actually, Parrikar has an opportunity no post-liberation Chief Minister has had. His educational and technological background attracts the respect of even his opponents as does his relative austerity. He is recognised as an administrator. To be recognised as a visionary, he must accept that the governance of Goa has to be in tune with its historical and cultural uniqueness, not with the one-size-fits-all ideology of this political party or that. To do justice to his state, he will have to rise above partisanship. Manohar Parrikar, the leader of the BJP, today has the chance to become the leader of Goa. He should take the call.

Monday, August 19, 2013

On the surface they win and they lose, but in real terms, they all lose

Kerala has for long been the sick state of India, politics for the sake of politics dominating all of life, traditional strengths ebbing away and new strengths finding no avenues to develop. It is a state where the moment is mistaken for eternity. Last week the mother of all street protests created records even by Kerala's standards. The capital city of Trivandrum overflowed with crowds such as it had never seen before. They were responding to the Left parties' call to lay siege to the Secretariat until the Chief Minister resigned and faced a judicial inquiry into cheating scams centred round his office. The massive crowds were surprisingly disciplined, too. In so charged an atmosphere one little spark could have set off a conflagration. But the Left parties ensured that nothing untoward happened. The police did likewise. Then, 36 hours into the confrontation, the Left leadership called off the siege and asked its cadres to go home. What happened?

In the political theatre that is Kerala, what happens does not really happen sometimes, and what does not happen often happens. So both sides won and both sides lost. The Left won because the Chief Minister agreed to hold a judicial inquiry; they lost because he refused to resign. In reverse, the Chief Minister lost where the Left won, and won where they lost. The Chief Minister's victory was the sweeter. His resignation was the Left's primary demand and they didn't get it. On the other hand, given the story of judicial commissions in our country, what the Left won was a dubious victory. Oomen Chandy proved yet again that he was a master of political machinations with no one in his party or outside to match his cunning.

Victories won by cunning, however, lack substance. Underneath were deeper issues that mattered and an examination of these will show that both the Chief Minister and the Left coalition lost rather heavily. Major segments of the Congress party and almost all the coalition partners that sustain the Government came out in open criticism of the Chief Minister. They complained about his secretive, unilateral moves, about his calling central armed forces and putting them up in the city's colleges, about unseen hands in Government issuing notices to hotels, tourist homes and taxi cars not to serve visitors; even public toilets were ordered closed. The expression of coalition solidarity for public consumption did not hide the fact that his own party factions and coalition partners now saw Chandy as a political liability. The electoral prospects of the Congress have hit rock bottom. The High Command will eventually have to address the problem and take steps to salvage what it can.

The setback the Left suffered, especially the CPM as the lead partner, was more grievous. The abrupt termination of so massive a protest programme triggered the suspicion of a deal between the CPM and the Government. This was backed by a telltale puzzle here and purported taped conversations there. While the Left had declared from housetops that they would block all the four gates of the Secretariat and would not let a soul in, they in fact blocked only three gates. There was not even a pretension to lay siege to the fourth which remained under police control and through which ministers and Secretariat employees went to their offices without any trouble. To this day there has been no explanation for this convenient breach that defeated the very purpose of the siege. What happened?

The present condition of the state gives one answer. Once famous around the world for its health and educational services, Kerala is today deficit in both. Home to a flattering number of rivers, it now watches them die under the onslaught of sand-political mafia. Quarry-political mafia flattens hills causing land slides. Diseases are persisting. Agriculture is in shambles. Roads, always a shame, have now become so pathetic that bus companies are on strike in some places. In this historical procession of good turning bad and bad going worse, who really wins? In the sick state of India, all lose.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Netas punish Durga, Khemka. TV anchors punish China, Pak. Life is beautiful

Calamities are famous for coming in battalions, not singly. We are seeing this all over again, with our ruling parties and neighbours unleashing a cascade of calamities upon us. Is it the swan song of a dying government? Are vultures in the neighbourhood sensing mealtime ahead?

The aftermath of the Congress Party's cynical politics over Telangana is a case in point. Not a file is moving in the state Government. Ministers are away and nongazetted officers, suddenly divided by geography, are holding rival demonstrations, sometimes on the verge of fisticuffs. Telangana's chief agitator, Chandrasekhar Rao, asked people from other parts of the state to be ready to leave Hyderabad. Will he now set up a Raj Thackeray Sena to beat up outsiders? Ironically, it now looks as though the Congress may not reap any electoral benefits from its Telangana gamble after all. That would be poetic justice. Who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor's wrongs, the law's delay, the insolence of office, even if these come from the High Command?

The High Command herself is affected by the calamity wave. Her celebrated inner voice was initially a convenience because it gave her absolute power with absolutely no responsibility. But its underlying premise was that the handpicked Prime Minister would go through the motions of a Prime Minister. Once Manmohan Singh proved to be motionless, actionless and speechless, his usefulness as a buffer was lost and people began directly blaming Sonia Gandhi for the Government's failures and the great scams.

The Trainee High Command didn't help either. Despite repeated appeals and cajolings, Rahul Gandhi refused to give up his lifestyle. Quite right, too. Why would anyone want to give up the freedom to appear as national leader for some of the time and disappear for most of the time? Seen or unseen, he will get the credit for good rains anyway, while the blame for bad floods will go to party underlings. Life is beautiful.

Receiving no help from her son and heir, Sonia Gandhi has taken to writing letters, no doubt with the idea of producing a new book, A Further Bunch of Letters. The letters are addressed to the Prime Minister. That way she can be sure that there would be no replies to bother about. One letter put Pakistan in its place by telling the Prime Minister (ours of course) that India would not be cowed down by the dastardly Pakistanis killing our brave jawans. Jai Hind!

But her letter on Durga Shakti backfired for no fault of Durga, the IAS officer of UP who offended some of the ruling Yadav clan's sand mafia buddies and was punished for it. Of some 200 IAS officers punished for being upright, more than half are in UP. The Akhilesh-Mulayam Government has been unabashed in its collaboration with criminal elements. The voters who wanted to escape from Mayawati's frying pan landed in the Yadavs' fire.

For all that, Sonia Gandhi's bonafides were suspect and Mulayam Singh seized on that. Why didn't she write to the PM, he asked, when Haryana's Congress Government gave two punishment transfers to Ashok Khemka? Fair question. Khemka had taken action against what he considered illegal land deals that favoured Robert Vadra, the nation's son-in-law. The Haryana Government went to the extent of arranging a "clean chit" to the in-law. Sonia Gandhi's letter on Durga Shakti exposed a double standard for which the Congress had no explanation.

When criminality and hypocrisy rule the domestic scene, do we need calamities from beyond the borders? Our perennial tormentors are not the type to miss an opportunity when they see one. The Chinese loiter into Ladakh whenever the mood seizes them. The Pakistanis, disguised to fool only our Defence Ministry, behead or shoot some jawans whenever the mood seizes them. We destroy the Chinese and Pakistanis by opening fire from our news-channel studios and parliamentary benches. No TV anchor in the world and no MP in the world is more lethal in bravado than ours. Or more counterproductive. So, will we go the way our rupee goes?

Monday, August 5, 2013

We can do with structured new States, but not ad-hoc partitions of India

The usual doublespeak accompanied the Congress Party's green signal to Telangana. The party's entire rank and file in Andhra was "solidly behind the decision", they said. The decision was not politically motivated, they said. The truth is exactly the opposite. The state's Congress Chief Minister and five Telugu ministers in the Union Cabinet were solidly against the party's decision and several MLAs have resigned. And the party was motivated entirely by political considerations.

First, with Jaganmohan Reddy's YSR Congress capturing hearts and minds in the Rayalaseema and coastal areas, the Congress was left with the choice of either gambling for Telangana or losing the whole state. Secondly, the BJP was committed to Telangana and if it were to come anywhere near power after the next election, they would announce Telangana state anyway. Again, the only option for the Congress was to deny the BJP any chance of claiming credit. Telangana has 17 parliamentary seats (out of Andhra's total of 42) and 119 Assembly seats in a house of 294. With the Congress suddenly becoming the darling of Telangana, this is no small catch.

History provides an ironic background to the Congress' opportunistic coup. In 1920 when the Congress was a national movement as distinct from a political party, its venerated leaders formulated a policy of linguistic restructuring of India. This seemed logical at the time because of the artificiality of colonial Britain's division of the country into "presidencies" and the suppression of all local cultures.

After independence, however, the same venerated leaders recognised a potentially disruptive side to the idea of promoting linguistic identities. On the initiative of Dr Rajendra Prasad, who would become India's first President, a Linguistic Provinces Commission was set up in 1948. Concluding that language-based division of India would "not be in the larger interests of the Indian nation", the Commission recommended the restructuring of Bombay, Madras and Central Provinces on the basis of "geographical continuity, financial self-sufficiency and ease of administration".

If this scheme had been implemented in time, "Bombay" would have made way for Maharashtra and Gujarat, and "Madras" for Andhra peacefully. But the Nehru Government sat on the report until Potti Sriramulu fasted until death and rioting spread in 1952. The very next year the Government appointed the States Reorganisation Commission and Andhra became the first linguistic state of India. Even then decisions on Gujarat and especially Bombay city were delayed until death and destruction went out of control -- and the Government yielded. Are we seeing a repeat of the same shortsightedness of the past?

There is a good case for scientifically conceptualised smaller states in a country of baffling diversities. Such a set up can help the advancement of areas far removed from the capitals of big states and therefore neglected. But this is a matter that needs to be handled with the utmost care and wisdom, keeping in mind the country's long-term interests and not the short-term advantages of this party or that. It is the latter approach that saw the birth of Andhra in violence and now the death of Andhra in violence.

If the cynicism of the present ruling class holds, our 29-state country may soon become a 35- or 40-state country. That many more Governors, Chief Ministers, MLAs, limousines and bungalows will literally make it "the more the merrier" for the beneficiaries although for the people it will be a case of "the more the messier". Demands for Gorkhaland, Bodoland and Karbi Anglong (Assam) are already erupting into violence. Vidarbha and as many as five regions of UP are sizzling. A responsible Government and responsible opposition parties would agree on a common approach to so complex a problem. The prudent course would be to appoint a second States Reorganisation Commission so that the issues involved can be studied in a holistic, controlled and systematic manner. What the country needs is a unified policy in handling regional demands with a national perspective. If, on the contrary, selfishness persists, the ultimate victor will Winston Churchill who predicted that India would disintegrate into small nations.