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April 4, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Moving Indians to India

Our post-independent broods of politicians have rarely been misunderstood as being either sages or saints. Thankfully so. But rarely before too have just a few days brought, in one go, the revelation that a substantial lot of our massive politician class is petty and putrid, mischievous and malevolent, hollow and hypocritical -- with nary a thought for the consequences of their deeds on the nation's future.

That revelation came through in a cluster of days running up to the ides of March and before the month itself had gone without, fortunately, the slaying of a Caesar, real or fictional.

At the top of the unholy pack were four of our former prime ministers: V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H D Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral. Only the second of these "worthies" has a political job in hand -- as a Lok Sabha member of virtually a one-member political party.

The first-named carries a painter's brush or a poet's pen or a film camera during the time he's not busy milking the country for his unending medical treatment. The third created a world record of sorts when his entire family lost the recent Lok Sabha and state assembly elections. The fourth, who fancies himself as Mr India International, could not find a supporting party or even a safe constituency for the October general election. And yet these four have had the gumption to meet secretively and then publicly announce their decision to travel all over the country to mobilise public opinion on what they in their "wisdom" see as the issues facing the nation.

These forlorn four believe that the Vajpayee government is:

a.Wrong in initiating the Constitution's review.

b.Adopting anti-people economic policies.

c.Inept at handling national security issues.

d.Adopting the wrong policy towards agriculture.

e.Neglecting the social sectors.

f.Allowing budgetary deficits to balloon exponentially towards an economic crisis.

g.Encouraging the saffronisation of national institutions.

Now, common sense dictates that when a team of top physicians makes its diagnosis of a patient, it first prescribes a course of treatment. It is only when the patient disregards the medical advice that there is reason for his near and dear ones to be warned about the consequences of such neglect. But our four quacks have gone the other way around. How else could it have been each of the quartet had got his PM's degree through sheer divine intervention than through a mastery of socio-economic solutions available?

Consider V P Singh, 69, the first to hold the PM's degree That was in December 1989. The erstwhile courtier of the Gandhi family was expelled from the Congress in July 1987; in a hop, step and jump he became the president of the newly launched Janata Dal in October 1988 via the Jan Morcha and the National Front -- all because Rajiv Gandhi squandered his massive mandate of 1984.

Singh then struck a diabolic double-deal with seniors Devi Lal and Chandra Shekhar that left Chandra Shekhar seconding Lal's candidature as PM but finding the latter quickly propose Singh's name and becoming Deputy PM himself. That "double" role was patent of the way Singh ran his government for 11 months.

He allied with the Left as well as with the Right, with the "secularists" as well as with the Hindutva "fundamentalists". His strategy was to take no positions, keep everything vague and evasive. He did unleash the forgotten Mandal on the country though and ultimately showed how right his prophecy was about himself as PM: A national disaster.

Chandra Shekhar, 73, who became PM in November 1990 with just 25 MPs in support, was the second disaster in a row. Reared in socialist fervour, his entry into the Rajya Sabha in 1962 exposed him to the Delhi lifestyle of Congress MPs and changed his own course of life. From being the Baba of Bondsi in Ballia to shifting to an air-conditioned kutiya was proof of his double role in national life.

His patriotic socialist exterior belonged to one who openly admitted his connections with characters like Surya Deo Singh, the millionaire private contractor of the coalfields in Dhanbad. His reign of seven months as PM was only by remote control with buttons firmly held by Rajiv Gandhi. Yet, he had the audacity to unilaterally permit the US Air Force to refuel its transport planes in Mumbai in January 1991, thus indirectly involving India in the Indo-Gulf War.

He allowed the continuance of five ministers who had been disqualified by the Lok Sabha Speaker. He dismissed the Tamil Nadu government despite the state governor's opposition. He did not present his government's Budget during the first four months of the financial year. Any yet today he continues to deliver homilies to our people and our Parliament.

Deve Gowda was the one who chose a seat in the Lok Sabha backbenches when elected in 1991. By a sheer miracle, he became PM in June 1996 when Vajpayee resigned after 13 days leaving confusion confounded in the Congress and Communist ranks. When he got the most coveted but most difficult job in India, he did not know what the acronym CTBT stood for. He could not speak Hindi at all and his English was woefully short of grammar.

Since he had too many bosses to serve in Delhi, he made countless trips to Bangalore, thus earning the label of being the PM of Karnataka. He tried hard enough at his position but, in sum total, his reign of nearly 11 months was as mundane as his personality, as somnolent as he himself was at meetings.

Then came Inder Gujral, 80, the man with the image of being a suave, sophisticated and principled politician. Neither his association as a back-room Emergency man of Indira Gandhi nor his dishonest pact with Laloo Yadav of entering the Rajya Sabha in 1992 from Bihar warrant that certificate. Though a good diplomat by and large and though he had held several ministerial portfolios, he never had political roots. He subsisted on his pseudo-intellectualism and non-controversial attitude. His one-month tenure as PM was as innocuous as his persona.

So, there you have it --- the four physicians who are once again advertising to the world what they really were and are: Genuine quacks!

Let us go to the other smaller fries in our politics who similarly bared their real selves and worth.

There are first those 140 Bihar MLAs, Congressmen included, whom Laloo Yadav bundled into 30 Tata Sumo and white Ambassador cars and whisked them away to his home. This was done a day prior to that when Nitish Kumar, the chief minister, was to prove his majority in the Bihar assembly. A newspaper account of the way those 140 MLAs were fed, bedded and herded by Laloo Yadav for 24 hours is not only hilarious but also a shameful commentary on the quality and conscience of our legislators.

That such 'imprisonment' of state legislators has become a necessity of our political life was demonstrated by the heavy cross voting in the recent Rajya Sabha elections from Karnataka, UP and West Bengal. Talk was of a million rupees and more for a legislator in UP to disobey the party whip. Was that a display of poverty or greed? Are legislators the representatives of people and parties or of their own selfish selves?

Then there is Madhya Pradesh. The BJP president lamented to the press the other day that most of his party's state MLAs did not have the foggiest idea of the country's defence initiatives or even an inkling of its foreign policy. What should one make of this abysmal ignorance of our elected representatives?

Next, there is the government of India's Cabinet Minister, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, distributing his beautifully designed, four-page curriculum vitae among American businessmen who accompanied President Clinton. That card apparently had everything -- from his VIP family connections to his keen interest in cricket, table tennis, computers and information technology.

Most disgraceful is the report that the card was printed at a cost of half a million rupees paid by the minister's Power Finance Corporation. There's just no word in the lexicon to describe such behaviour by a high profile minister of the Government of India. If Vajpayee has spine, the least he can do is to make Kumaramangalam pay back those half a million rupees to the Corporation and sack him from his council of ministers.

And then there is Maneka Gandhi, another of Vajpayee's ministers. Even otherwise known as headstrong and obsessed with preventing cruelty to animals, the madam has just the other day equated milk with the blood of animals and therefore pleaded that people should stop drinking milk. Are we as condemned and cursed a nation to have such an obscurantist as a member of Parliament and a minister as well?

Lastly are those MPs of ours who mobbed Clinton for a handshake, falling over each other in the process, like schoolboys pumping Tendulkar's back on his completing a century. One of those who dozens who forsook all sense of dignity and decorum as elected representatives of the people was a woman; after indulging in what was probably the longest handshake with Clinton, she was reported as saying 'I won't wash my hands for three months.' She is from Bihar, perhaps the most casteist State in India. Is there a more appropriate word than 'nauseating' to describe this self-deprecating Dalitist demeanour?

What then is wrong with the psyche of Indian politicians? What is to be done to put them on the path of responsibility, self-respect and rectitude? How does one instil national commitment and pride in them?

The only solution that strikes one is for the educated, dedicated people to take to politics in a really big way. For that to happen, our NRI community has perhaps a big role to play -- with physical and financial inputs, with management and mindset inputs, with hardware and software. As it is, there are hundreds of bright young people like Arvind Kumar in San Francisco, Atanu Dey in Berkeley University and Deepak Nautiyal in New York who have shown keen perception and interest in their motherland's eco- political developments.

Supplemented by their financial and other expertise picked up overseas, they could get units like the Indo-American Forum of Political Education and Chanchal Chatterjee's American Friends of India to take a serious enough drive in this direction. If one lot of these NRIs could move Clinton to undertake a happy-cum-historic yatra to move his countrymen closer to Indians than ever before, surely they can move Indians here to India?

Arvind Lavakare

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