More ostrich sightings

Theres need to enforce better border control and stimulate two-way trade, transit and investment with Bangladesh.

The monsoon session of Parliament got off to its traditional noisy start with much ado about nothing. It was preceded by three events: a reshuffle of portfolios, with Chidambaram displaying a welcome new dynamic as finance minister and Sushil Kumar Shinde starting off on a clean slate as the new home minister. Prior to that, Advani made the very reasonable point that he did not expect either the BJP or Congress to lead the next government after the 2014 polls as neither was likely to win more than 100 seats in a highly fragmented result. He was met by sulking silence from his colleagues but got an earful from the Shiv Seva for faltering on giving a clarion call for a Hindutva platform, even as Keshubhai Patel and others formally cut loose from Modi’s BJP in Gujarat. 

Hindutva can never make much headway in plural India and the continuing upwelling of disadvantaged classes from below will continue to fragment the polity for another 20-30 years until all of Bharat joins India. So coalition politics is here to stay, with shifting formations contending for preference and power. This could be messy but should not be confused with federalism as such. More consensus building and cross-party consultation will be needed rather than unstructured, headlong decentralisation that could truly balkanise the country. Those who do not see this have clearly failed to understand India’s current social dynamics.   

Then there was Anna, who like Humpty Dumpty not only had a great fall but a jolly fallout with Team Anna,which he dissolved for deciding prematurely to go political. Not to speak of Baba Ramdev who, like Tweedledee,has stolen Anna’s not so nice nor new rattle. He has threatened indefinite protest unless the government concedes three demands – pass even a less than perfect Lokpal bill if necessary, bring back the black money salted away abroad, and have independent panels for the selection of the CEC, CVC, CAG and CBI heads. 

The sheer mendacity and overweening vanity of the Anna crowd was manifest in the charge that the coincidental countrywide grid-failure was staged to divert attention from the Kejriwal fast and that government’s refusal to negotiate further with Team Anna was a diabolical plot to let them die fasting!  Sad to see that the lead drummer at this charade was Gen V K Singh, (Retd), now poised to join Ramdev, having done great harm to the army by his unacceptable conduct in and out of uniform. 

The dismissal of the erstwhile chief of RAW’s Beijing bureau for allegedly threatening to reveal serious differences with headquarters on operational issues is another matter for great concern. This follows the dismissal of another joint secretary-level RAW officer who escaped the net and fled to the US some years ago even as he was under surveillance for working for the CIA – the subject matter of a recent tell-all fictionalised book by Amar Bhushan, himself a retired RAW officer.

Caught red handed

The suspect was tracked for months, caught red-handed for photo-copying top secret papers and carrying them home for transmission to his handler. The man was not immediately confronted and nabbed as the investigating officer felt that it would be desirable to discover his handler. However, sensing the net closing on him, the suspect fled to Nepal and made his way to the US with the help of his American handlers under the very nose of RAW which closed the chapter after some feeble protests.   

As far as RAW, the IB, Revenue Intelligence, CBI and other agencies are concerned, a review committee under L P Singh had long back recommended that they be placed under an oversight committee which might review their operations and programmes from time to time. This was never acted upon and remains one means of moderating incompetence and excesses and ensuring a measure of accountability. One does not know if the Naresh Chandra committee on higher security management addressed this issue; but it is disconcerting that that report is still under wraps.

Then just last week, all Nagaland MLAs and MPs called on the prime minister and new home minister under the leadership of the state chief minister with an offer to resign to pave the way for a partyless government including underground elements that might bring peace and resolve the Naga conflict. It is one thing to chafe at the seemingly interminable ‘peace talks’ in which the Centre has engaged, but all those sympathetic to their cause must realise that the Nagas are co-sharers of Indian sovereignty. No separate sovereignty is possible, though greater autonomy within the India commonwealth can be negotiated. Likewise, Nagalim or Greater Nagaland, is not possible at the cost of vivisecting old-established historical entities like Manipur and Assam. Yet there are creative non-territorial ways in which the underlying objective of economic, political and cultural togetherness can be largely achieved. 

The tragic Kokrajhar eruption again is in principle not a cut and dried India vs Bangladesh immigrant issue or a problem of rising Muslim numbers in Assam. The Muslim rate of growth in Kokrajhar district has declined during the last decade. As argued previously, the root problem is the persistent failure to promote development by neglecting floods that have immiserised Assam, resulting in high risk agriculture, low investment and poor infrastructure. We need to enforce better and more honest border management and stimulate two-way trade, transit and investment with Bangladesh to create jobs on both sides of the border in order to stem the tide of illicit immigration. A counter guarantee for investments in the northeast and bolder and more rapid opening up to Myanmar and the further east are also necessary.

How long shall we, ostrich-like, bury our heads in the sand?

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