BEING an open and free society with independent media, the scam-ridden India can absorb shocks and scandals. Yet this does not lessen the people’s anger against the rulers, civil servants and some from corporate sectors for swindling amounts running into lakhs of crores of rupees which could have made a further dent in poverty and unemployment.
The reported offer by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appoint the much evaded Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and his neither-here-nor-there press conference have somewhat eased the atmosphere, whatever the rhetoric of the opposition and the critics. Yet the government should not take people for granted. If one thing which the Egyptian revolution has underlined, it is that the determined nation does not rest until it has ousted the rulers who have misgoverned.
What comes out clearly after months of tension and the stalled parliament for the Winter Session is that the government has to face the demands squarely and announce the decision quickly. In his press conference, the Prime Minister has promised this. But he was still talking about procedures and rules which he alone can overcome because they are too cumbersome and unnecessarily delay things.
The appointment of JPC was justified from day one. It is a process which brings out in the open what the government and its limbs may be trying to hide. The good news is that the Prime Minister has announced his willingness to appear before the JPC or any other committee appointed to hold an inquiry.
The 2G Spectrum became like the Bofors guns which Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had brought after the reported kickbacks of Rs 64 crore he had received. Then the JPC failed because no government department cooperated with it. This may not happen this time because both left and the right are united to get at the truth. The public is also vigilant and watching every step.
In the series of scams, another relating to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has come to light, thanks again to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The government says that there was no deal. Then what has it scrapped after running the contract for two years? The affected firm has threatened to sue the ISRO. The Prime Minister has unnecessarily exonerated its office. But the fact remains that even after scrapping the deal, the firm and the PMO was discussing it.
The government took more or less on the same line as it did in the 2G spectrum case, causing a loss of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. Telecommunication Minister Kapil Sibal has claimed that there was no loss of revenue. The Prime Minister has also supported him by arguing that the loss was estimated from the point you began. But how do the two explain when even the government-controlled Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has said that the government has lost revenue.
The real point that blew up Egypt was the rulers’ insensitivity. They considered one eruption here and another there as isolated examples. But it indicated the lava beneath the surface. President Hosni Mubarak had not anticipated it.
The problems in any country, if allowed to fester for decades, assume such a proportion if a solution was not sought early. This is what is happening in India. Agitations and protests do not make much difference on New Delhi until people take to the streets.
Take the case of Kashmir. It could have been sorted out when the then Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah asked New Delhi to make good the letter and spirit behind Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status. Even if the Article were to be implemented fully today, it would fall short of the Valley’s demand. The insurgency in the state has cost the lives of some 40,000 Kashmiris. The mere Article 370, they argue, does not give them even a face saving formula. Still the BJP on the one hand and Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on the other go on aggravating the problem for electoral purposes. This should not deter New Delhi from finding a settlement, with Pakistan if necessary and without it if possible.
What the Gorkhas in the north of West Bengal are demanding is a state within India. They have tried the experiment of special powers within the state. But Kolkata has failed the Gorkhas. Today they are observing only hartal. Tomorrow things can go out of hand. New Delhi has to play a part to help the two sides arrive at a workable arrangement.
The Nagaland problem could have been sorted out when Phizo, the Nagas’ icon, was living in London. He had realised in the later half of the eighties that his demand for independence was not tenable. He was willing to accept a state within India. New Delhi did not rise to the occasion as it did in the case of Lal Denga, giving him the state of Mizoram, with concession within the constitution. Today, the government once again finds the Naga leaders asking for independence.
What India does not realise is that the problems apart from gathering moss are sucking the life out of the system. However strong the country’s economy, the governance has lost the élan it had enjoyed earlier. The credibility of even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone down and the reshuffle of the cabinet which he has reiterated will not do.
No doubt, the falling standards of governance in the states have impaired the image of New Delhi. With no law and order in UP, no honesty in Tamil Nadu, no morality in Haryana and no shame in Chattisgarh, where the police and terrorists come from the same basket, India can never shine or become incredible.
The exposure of industrialists and even that of the media houses through the Nira Radio tapes shows how our system can be manipulated through bribes and contacts. Values are trampled upon too often and too intentionally. Mafias have been allowed to take over.
Egypt’s upheaval should awaken all the countries that the long neglect of people’s basic demands can take an unexpected turn. All political parties have to correct their ways. The Maoists are not a one-day phenomenon. When lands of the tribals, who are happy in their own environment, are appropriated for industry they are bound to become desperate, however inhuman they may behave in their attitude.
I do see hope in the money-dazzled civil society. The manner in which it has expressed support to Dr Vinayak Sen, sentenced for life for “sedition”, indicates that the embers of idealism are not yet cold. The functioning of stalled parliament is also a proof of MPs’ faith in the consensus and democratic values. The budget session promises to be interesting.