Monday, November 3, 2008

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, November 3, 2008

THERE is something truly frightening about the goings on in Mumbai. We are, it appears, a nation of parochialminded people whose outlook couldn’t be narrower. But what’s even more frightening is that our leaders are worse. Five of the heaviest weights in the establishment are from Maharashtra but they cower at the mere mention of the name of one who is at best a bully, at worst a petty tyrant.

At the top of the pyramid, the state has a twin first: Pratibha Patil is not only India’s first woman president but the first Head of State from Maharashtra. Lower down, the representation is no less impressive and as India’s foremost state, it is entitled to the heavy presence it has in the Union Cabinet. Home Minister Shivraj Patil hails from the state; so does Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel.

And I am not even talking about the junior ministers, of whom, Prithivraj Chavan is from Maharashtra. What’s more, as a Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, you’d expect him to show some concern about the goings on back home and advise the PM about taking corrective measures that would nip in the bud what could turn out to be as lethal a scourge as terrorism, if not more. What do the worthies do? Maratha strongman Pawar displays the instincts of a straw man and keeps his fingers crossed hoping Raj Thackeray is a nuisance that will disappear with time; Patel, who had the cheek to ask the government to use taxpayers’ money to bail out the country’s profligate airline operators had sealed lips when a young man from Uttar Pradesh was pulled out of a railway compartment and lynched. The dapper Deora is similarly tongue- tied and keeps his fingers on the poll calculator because he has to ensure that both he and his son win re- election from the city where Raj, once written off as a paper tiger, is turning out to be something more ferocious; Shinde’s silence is an insult to the portfolio he holds; and Chavan, who is known for his off the record briefings to select journalists, has suddenly gone off the radar.

The same worthies looked so different just a month ago when Kandhamal and Mangalore dominated the news and Christians were under attack. Since both fell in states ruled by the BJP, central observers were sent, the members of the minorities commission got another all- expense paid trip and the Home Minister even invoked Article 355 and wrote to the respective chief ministers. Article 355 is the political equivalent of the yellow card, the last warning before dismissal.

Vilasrao Deshmukh who fiddled while Raj Thackeray turned India’s most cosmopolitan city into a jungle raj was also shown a symbolic card, but no visits by central observers, human rights lobbies etc took place. But why single out Patil? The rest of the political class is equally culpable.
Sonia Gandhi was, well, sphinxlike presumably because Margarat Alva, who is in charge of Maharashtra, had not kept her updated. Advani, Lalu, Paswan Amar Singh et al flexed their muscles from behind the shelter offered by the NSG commandoes but wouldn’t risk a flight to Mumbai to take on the tiger cub in his den. In short, they were running scared. In doing so, I feel they have humoured Raj Thackeray into attempting more adventurism.


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