Squandered goodwill

There is much to do in the remaining term to complement the anti-corruption architecture of which Lokpal law is the first step.

The assumption of office by the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, after some avoidable play-acting, was more important than its winning a vote of confidence which had been guaranteed by the Congress. This marks a historic milestone in India’s parliamentary evolution but the experiment could turn sour sooner than otherwise if Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues play populist rather than practical politics and indulge in giving away free water and electricity which are in short supply and being sold below cost. 

Jubilation could turn to grief as there are limits to cross-subsidies, and flagging maintenance for lack of funds could lead to system collapse, aggravated by wastage. The people do not seek subsidies but service and freedom from corruption. For the BJP to cry foul on account of Congress support to the AAP is absurd as that was the very basis of the promised issue-based support from outside. For the moment, two cheers, no more, for the AAP. 

The other event has been the ushering in of the New Year with a prime ministerial press conference, his third -- a tally that speaks of a terrible failure of communication in an era when citizens want to know and cannot be denied without all manner of weird and wrong conclusions being drawn. Manmohan Singh has squandered an enormous amount of goodwill and caused avoidable misunderstanding of his own position and that of his government through silence. The babble of tongues from his colleagues, far from compensating, has only further queered the pitch. 

The media speculation, silly as more often than not, was that a ‘weak’ prime minister would use his press conference to announce his resignation and the coronation of Rahul Gandhi. That this did not happen was not ‘news’ as it was simply not going to happen. On the contrary, the PM, who appears weaker than he actually is and has shown that he can be ‘strong,’ was content that history be the judge. He asserted he would remain in office but not seek a third term though he made bold to forecast that the next prime minister would assuredly be from the UPA. 

There is much work to do that can be well done within the remaining parliamentary term to complement the anti-corruption architecture of which the newly-enacted Lokpal law is the first step. Temporising on the Mumbai Adarsh Housing Society scandal will not do. Breaking the investment paralysis caused by an overzealous environmental and Luddite no-no-ism would help stimulate the economy given quick, sensible project clearances, critical debottlenecking, more FDI, liberalising more extensive BT research and field trials under rigorous controls. That should be the PM’s agenda and some of it is happening. 

Pathway forward

Manmohan Singh’s punch line was that ‘strength’ did not lie in presiding over a holocaust (Gujarat 2002) and that should Narendra Modi ever become prime minister it would be a ‘national disaster.’ The remark has got the BJP squealing. After a magistrate’s court in Ahmedabad exonerated him in the Zakhia Jafri case hearing last month, Modi had expressed relief over a terrible weight being lifted from his shoulders and went on to share with the world his immense pain and personal agony at the bestiality of the Gujarat carnage (presumably including the burning of the Sabarmati Express). 

The Modi government, VHP and Sangh Parivar did all they could to prevent or delay justice, humanitarian assistance and the restoration of trust, confidence and harmony. Every case of significance had virtually to be transferred out of Gujarat or taken out of the hands of his terrified and compromised administration. An Editor’s Guild fact-finding team grilled Modi and a panoply of senior officials. There was not a trace of agony or remorse in his words, only incoherent excuses. The government’s official press statements and broadcasts, all of which are on record, were more triumphalist than informative. 

The Nanavati Commission, appointed in March 2002, has been given a 21st ‘final’ extension and will now report, if ever it concludes the farce, by the end of June 2014 by when Modi expects to be prime minister and hopefully able to effect a judicial closure. Does the BJP-Hindutva lobby recall Vajpayee’s plaintive plea to Modi to remember his Raj dharma. 

The Gujarat drama is akin to what appears to be the farce unfolding in Pakistan. Last week Musharraf developed chest pains while being driven to court to be tried for treason for ousting a democratically elected government through a post-Kargil military coup. He had evaded two previous summonses and was now swiftly diverted to a military hospital where he is incommunicado, undergoing treatment for a severe ‘heart attack.’ The government and/or the army obviously believe that the trial of a former army chief could be politically destabilising and is best avoided. 

It would therefore be convenient if Musharraf could be sent abroad for quiet treatment and undisturbed recovery, possibly in Saudi Arabia, a staunch friend at any time of trouble. How things shape remains to be seen; but after the staged Abbottabad-Osama saga anything is possible. 

Manmohan Singh confirmed at his press conference that India and Pakistan had come very close to signing an agreement on Kashmir in 2007 when Musharraf found himself hoist with his own petard. The Manmohan-Musharraf formula envisaged the LOC metamorphosing into a sovereign soft frontier with internal autonomy on both sides and joint management of trade, exchange and even waters, developing into a loose J&K Confederation. Something on these lines remains the way forward. 

Pakistan faces an existential crisis. It has to find the courage and wisdom to accept that reconciliation with India is the pathway to its salvation. The political and ideological lie it has lived, with hatred of India its sole identity marker as some kind of Islamist champion has been its nemesis. It has no need to self-destruct.

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