Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Misgovernors

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar:The Misgovernors

Recognition of a mistake is the first step towards redemption. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have realised this, which is a sign of good sense. But good intentions are not good enough. There has to be accountability. That starts with replacing Jamir and Razi with men of known integrity.



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Here’s a headache for which aspirin is not going to be easily available in the misleading stores of Delhi. What is going to be Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren’s next job? The fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi share this headache does not make it less painful for either head. If the government does not watch out this could become the cause of a major migraine.

I am assuming of course that the Three Blunderbusses (I can’t quite get myself to call them Musketeers), misgovernor Syed Sibtey Razi and his two ATM cash dispensers Subodh Kant Sahay and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, do not succeed in the now limited time span at their disposal in buying out a couple of Arjun Munda’s MLAs and rig up a last-minute victory for Shibu Soren. Incidentally, they seem to be targeting the sole Muslim MLA with Munda. They’ve got it wrong. Life will be far better for this gentleman in a group where he has no competition in the minority quota.

Soren will need a job in the Union Cabinet if he is defeated in the state, since he hates the loneliness of neglect. He also wants the right sort of job. He insisted on coal and mines when sworn in last May. This was not because he had some grand vision in which India would be a leader of the ore-to-steel world by 2020. It was because mines are the most lucrative source of political and financial muscle in Jharkhand, both of which Shibu Soren needed for the just-concluded Assembly elections. Shibu Soren could not survive when he was forced to resign after a warrant in a murder case. The moment legal formalities had been taken care of he bullied his way back into the Cabinet. His mines portfolio was waiting for him. He refused to wait for a Cabinet reshuffle which is the normal means of reinduction.

In his calmer moments Shibu Soren must be wondering what the fuss is all about. In the good old days of Narasimha Rao, he saved the Union government in exchange for both hard and loose cash. Why should not he save his own government in the state through similar means? Did the political class berate Rao for immorality? Was it not true that the BJP paid perfunctory lip service to protest and the Congress admired Rao as a survivor of exceptional skills? Were such transactions an issue in the general elections of 1996? No. Has any political party been loath to buy wandering MLAs in a hung legislature? Isn’t it true that morality comes easily only to those who do not have the means to be immoral?

Where does this leave the two symbols of political virtue, one legislative and the other human? The written symbol is obviously the Anti Defection Act passed by Parliament with the conjugal consent of the Congress and BJP. Practice, and the authority given to governors and speakers, has made a mockery of the law.

There is prevalent fiction that a speaker is not partisan. A speaker is not nominated by the Supreme Court of India. A speaker is a politician elected on a party ticket and keeps on getting further rewards from the party that gave him the job. That is why a speaker so often has such poor mathematics. He even forgets how to count.

A bigger nonsense is that all governors are representatives of the President of India, guardians of the Constitution and models of propriety. If S.C. Jamir of Goa and Razi of Jharkhand are guardians of the Constitution then it is time for another Constituent Assembly.

The human face of political propriety is Dr Manmohan Singh. But every exercise in sleaze indulged by Congress politicians is going to leave one more faint scar on his visage. He has redeemed his image with the imposition of President’s Rule in Goa, and the President’s order to shorten the period in which Shibu Soren must prove his majority. But the irony could not have escaped his attention. The benefactor of President’s Rule in Goa is going to be the perpetrator of the mess, for the governor does actually rule during President’s Rule. If propriety had any place in our politics Jamir would have resigned. But this is expecting too much of a man who turned power into personal property (pun intended) when he was chief minister of Nagaland.

The Prime Minister consciously kept himself aloof from the skulduggery in Jharkhand, but he cannot keep himself aloof from correctives. There is far more at stake in Jharkhand than in Goa because in the case of Soren he has to restore democratic mores at the cost of a troublesome ally who could easily slip towards blackmail if he was thwarted. When the going is good, the good (like Manmohan Singh) look even better. But when the going gets tough, the good have to get tougher. This is what makes alliance politics a can of worms.

Three months ago the Congress was savouring the prospect of sweeping victories for either itself or its allies, to the point where voices urged that the momentum be carried forward into a snap general election. Victory was assured if the alliances of 2004 had been carried into 2005. Lalu Yadav would have won comfortably in Bihar and Jharkhand would have seen a sweep on the lines of Haryana. Instead, miscalculation led to a U-turn in Jharkhand, and an about-turn in Bihar. Throw in the fact that a frustrated Bhajan Lal has retreated into sulks and rage and you have a scenario that even the most optimistic BJP leader could never have envisaged.

Recognition of a mistake is the first step towards redemption. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have realised this, which is a sign of good sense. But good intentions are not good enough. There has to be accountability. That starts with replacing Jamir and Razi with men of known integrity.

Compared to the histrionics elsewhere Bihar has been comparatively quiet. One reason is because all the players there, including the governor, Buta Singh, are men of many seasons, honed by sharp success and dramatic failure. They also know that the repercussions of any decision there could ripple towards Delhi. Lalu Yadav is an angry man just now, but he will not choose the Bhajan Lal option of sulk and sabotage. His anger is already direct. When he was asked to talk to the Congress his initial response was that there was nothing to talk about. The time to talk was two months ago. If the Congress had listened to him both would have gained. His compensation prize will probably be the right to make the first claim on government but even if he gets all the Independents on his side majority will elude him. That is why the others are calm. His only real hope is to split Ram Vilas Paswan’s MLAs, but if he is allowed to get away with that the alliance in Delhi will flounder and a Goa-like situation emerge in the state. In other words, a mess.

President’s Rule might be Lalu’s best alternative because at least it would mean governance by an ally pending another election or, although this is more unlikely, a government headed by Ram Vilas with participation by the JD(U) and support from the BJP.

When all options are open, hard facts rule. The hardest fact for Lalu is that he has lost. No one else may have won, but he has lost.

While all this may be bad news for the Congress, this could mean good news for Dr Manmohan Singh. Fragile partnerships are not the best option for a general election, and allies would have to be extremely foolish to commit suicide on a national level after breaking their backs in the states.

8 comments:

Alto said...

Dear Sir!
Following are few observations from what ever knowledge and experience I have about Indian Politics and from what I read or heard about you. It is possible you already know about these dynamics. My aim is not to underlie missing points but I request you to be little more careful while making political statements. One can do that with out explicitly or implicitly being seen as loyal to some political parties. I am aware and conscious of the fact, that no matter how much an individual tries to be neutral, is always seen as either supporting or opposing political party. In such circumstances, it is better that media personalities like you make a statement which will be appreciated by common citizen. I give you an example. I was startled to hear Terry's interview with you and what you were saying. I did not have courage to listen to it again. After a gap of six months I listened to it again, to see if I misunderstood anything. Yes! you were making neutral statements. But it was conveniently misused. But do you know Terry is specifically asking, " What kind of evidence would India like to see to justify Iraq War"? Your answer in the interview scares me even now. I do not have courage to listen to the interview. What I am trying to say here is, even though what you said in interview is sounding professional and clean guess from your side, before Iraq War, your views are being seen by interviewee as those felt by then Indian NDA government, you being famously close to several political personalities in BJP. I am not sure if I am able to explain here without aiming to hurt you or comment about your ideas, but this is what it is. Whether one likes it or not, one is seen as expressing the ideas of those in social or political circles one is moving in.
Here is the cue to turn things around and express what we think is right and beneficial to common citizen. One cannot change the pettiness of other's mind but such pettiness in other's mind can be used for good purposes, through one's own expression of what you want it to be. Your articles are read so attentively because people look for clues of expressions of what political and social circles you move in feel. Here lies the thin line. To express what we hear or to express what we think is best for India and its common citizen. I am sure you understood what I am getting at.
I am no judge of what you are aiming to write in your articles and I am not as experienced as you in Indian politics. But I feel, one has to say or do things what is best for common citizen. As long as that simple thumb rule is respected, no one will be attacking. Atleast that is what I think is right, not only to be safe but be respected for what one say or does.

Anonymous said...

Governance is serious business. One man cannot do the work of 50 ministers.
Advisors to the governor of Bihar should be swiftly appointed so that development work can start in earnestness.Bihar is dying for it.
Arvind Kumar

J N Iyer said...

UPA can survive ONLY if the PM is allowed to function more independently.
The Dynasty should be less interfering.
The anxiety to reward old loyalists should be curbed.
National rather than parochial schemes should get priority.
One can go on in this manner.
The country is fortunate that it has Dr Singh as PM and Dr Kalam as President.

J N Iyer said...

Mr Akbar is dicussing important subjects.
Why there are so few comments?

Anonymous said...

Akbar is like the Taj Mahal - our national treasure. Why aren't there more like him?

Anonymous said...

M. J. Akbar is like our own Taj Mahal - a national treasure!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Singh is a wise, honest and good man - just what India needed at this hour. But what can the poor man possibly do? He is a prisoner of (1) an obstructive Left, (2) a disparate alliance partners interested in promoting and protecting - no, not India's national interests, but their own narrow regional turf, and importantly, (3) a super PM - a foreign lady who understands neither India nor the Indians (see, how she bungled matters in two State elections and in a third State.
Good luck, nevertheless, good Doctor...

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