Saturday, January 3, 2009

Resolution 2009: Go for People's Government

Resolution 2009: Go for People's Government
By Seema Mustafa

It is election year and the political parties are frantically counting the eggs in their respective baskets. The Congress is particularly happy that it has emerged unscathed from the Mumbai terror attack, not through action, but through manipulation. The BJP is looking at the elections results in Jammu through the Amarnath prism and is now positive that communalism and divisiveness is the only agenda that works for it. The regional parties are working out the vagaries of the vote bank, sizing up their rivals, and talking to everybody for possible alliances.

The English media, electronic and print, has decided to recognize no other party but the Congress and the BJP. The regional leaders are either branded as corrupt and opportunistic or ridiculed or both. The Left is attacked from every quarter, and the third front as an option so scares the corporate owners of the media that it is not even mentioned as a desirable. On the other hand, the BJP and Congress top brass are treated with a reverence that is almost nauseating, more so when one or the other is in government. The BJP was lulled into thinking it would sweep the elections last time, and this time around it is the Congress that has popped the media pill for blissful hallucinations.

Interestingly, the regional parties are treated like dirt by the ruling elite surrounding the BJP or Congress governments until and unless they have found acceptance by allying with one or the other of the extreme right and right wing parties. RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav, at the height of his popularity with the people at one time, was the butt of deep ridicule with the media openly laughing at him for every word he spoke. But no sooner did the RJD join the Congress, that Lalu became a top favourite, his style hailed by the elite as "sooo cute", and overnight the rustic man became an urban hero. The corruption that he had been pilloried for became a non-issue and today when he is losing support in his state, he is portrayed as a highly successful leader.

Mayawati is the new kid on the block with the ruling elite in particular speaking of her corruption. Even a suggestion that she could become the Prime Minister is met with horrified, "has this country gone mad" as everyone in a Delhi drawing room starts sharing stories of her corruption. It took a hardened activist, working for years in the villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh, and definitely not a BSP loyalist to point out, "you see her corruption, I see Congress leaders who are even more corrupt. But I see that for the past one year there has not been a single lathi charge in UP against the SC's and ST's at any level, I see that UP is the only government to have appointed Advisasis in forest rights committees….all this to my mind are achievements. But you talk of Mayawati's corruption, and keep silent about the others ruling you today."

Bofors is a story that has not gone away. Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi has got away as have his benefactors in New Delhi. Those who wrote about it were even branded as anti-national, as there is this vested class (for want of another description) that has come into existence over the years and protects the elite in power. This comprises journalists, retired bureaucrats many of whom are passed as security experts, some professors, artistes and of course industrialists who work with and off the system and protect the politicians from the BJP or the Congress ---depending on who is in power---with a fervour and zeal that is really quite unique. In fact these are the votaries of a two party system and remain largely in place whether a Congress led government is in power, or one led by the BJP. What scares them, and drives them into panic mode, is talk of a third front as here their control does not exist. And then can see their hold over the system slipping. The regional parties are fine so long as they work under the BJP or the Congress, and do not make their presence felt beyond state considerations.

Corruption is eating into the vitals of our country. Bofors was just the first story where it was clear that kickbacks had been paid and that late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had used his clout to move, or stop, files. And that Quattrocchi, a close friend of Sonia Gandhi's from Italy, had grown in business from one little room to a huge office space in Connaught Place and had received a fairly handsome sum of the Bofors money. But since then corruption has hit us where it hurts several times over. In more recent years, Kargil was evidence to the fact that our soldiers were not even properly equipped for combat at the heights. And that ministers in power were instead more interested in the kickbacks they could get over a coffin contract for the soldiers killed in the conflict with Pakistan. Now again the Mumbai terror attack has exposed not just the inefficiency of the security apparatus, starting from the top in Delhi, but also the fact that our anti terror squads do not even have proper bullet proof jackets and helmets, and our NSG commandos do not have a dedicated aircraft. These are all small ticket items, and the ministers are more interested in the money that can be got from the huge deals in defence and civil aviation for instance.

It is well known that India, despite being one of the biggest defence buyers today, ends up paying through its teeth instead of getting good deals from Israel, Russia and others. Why? The answer from defence officials is categorical, "because we are so b….. dishonest, we will buy anything at any price so long as we are paid handsomely under the table." In Goa, the police is making the most of the terror threat to extort money from the young people who decided to spend their winter holidays there. This columnist knows of at least two young groups who ended up paying several thousand of rupees to the police, who followed them to their guest houses threatening to book them under stringent laws if they did not pay up.

The real issues are that of security…economic, political and strategic. Security from hunger, security from political exploitation, security from police victimisation. Today the main political parties being feted and back rubbed by the elite in Delhi have not even tried to ensure this, and over the past ten years in particular India has been virtually divided into two worlds, each disconnected from the other. There is one of the poor where food, education, health are wants that are not even addressed. There is another of the rich where black money is pouring out of the refrigerators. There is a world where religion and caste is used to terrorise and oppress, where the poor trying even to speak their rights are subjected to the worst kind of state terror and live in complete fear and darkness. And then there is another where the chattering classes pat each others backs, shop at the swanky malls and take holidays in Switzerland and Washington. In Delhi, for instance huge acres of land have been sold for hotels and shopping malls but not even a bigha has been provided for a government hospital, or a government school.

The New Year will be happy if the people---neglected and oppressed---exercise their franchise with care and are able to bring in a government that is responsive and sensitive to their aspirations, that provides them with dignity and respect, that makes them secure in their freedom and in their right to life. That believes in unity and not divisiveness, and that takes the focus away from war and conflict and caste and religion to unity and peace.

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