Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, August 17, 2009

ANOTHER Independence Day has come and gone and we are left with more of the same. From Red Fort, the prime minister made several announcements, among them a scheme for slum dwellers to be known as the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, and a new solar mission to be named after Jawaharlal Nehru. Their nomenclatures should have no bearing on their implementation, but Mayawati must be delighted. The Congress and the BSP chief are already engaged in fierce combat on several fronts.

Mayawati is being pilloried for her alleged obsession for parks and monuments and naming them after Babasaheb Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram or herself, and not necessarily in that order. She, in turn, points to the Congress obsession for naming anything and everything of any lasting value after members of one family. Now, the UPA government is said to be pressing ahead with plans to rename the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and several other schemes on the educational, health, employment and rural development sectors and name them after one of the members of the Gandhi family. This could happen on August 20, Rajiv’s birth anniversary, when the revamped NREGS is scheduled to be flagged off at a function, where Rahul Gandhi will be present.

The renaming is the brainwave of C.P. Joshi, the Union rural development minister and a Gandhi family loyalist, who seems convinced that since the Centre funds these schemes and the states merely administer them, the UPA government — which initiated the scheme — is justified in claiming full credit. Joshi’s eagerness to milk the scheme — currently operational in about 400 districts but soon to extend to all 604 — for electoral purposes is understandable considering that states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Jharkhand are all due for assembly elections between now and 2011. It’s a sound strategic move that is meant to convince voters that the states are up to no good and manage to stay afloat only because of central bounties.

Several chief ministers are already up in arms about some of the clauses expected in the new and revamped NREGS , particularly one that makes it mandatory for state governments to put up sign boards in every taluk that all ongoing projects are part of the centrally sponsored schemes. The ministry of information and broadcasting is also working in tandem with the rural development ministry on a scheme whereby henceforth, government advertisements of these schemes released by the Directorate of Advertising Visual Publicity — which will no doubt carry the pictures of Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and C. P. Joshi — will be directed to the moffusil press and not in the mainstream media. The aim is to make sure that villagers, even if they cannot read or write, will see the pictures and realise who they should be grateful to.

Most of the non- Congress CMs are agitated but Mayawati is not among them. I am told her aides have compiled, for submission to the courts, a list of all monuments, roads, parks, airports, rail stations, bus terminals et al all over the country named after the Nehru- Gandhi family. A close Mayawati aide told me the list is over 1,000. I am not surprised, nor would a firsttime visitor to the Capital.

Spend just five minutes on Google maps and you will realise why. If he is flying in, he will land at the Indira Gandhi international airport. Should he decide to take a day’s tour of this ancient Capital, he will drive down the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, drive by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Nehru Stadium, Nehru Yuva Kendra, Nehru Nagar, Nehru Place, Nehru Enclave, Nehru Park, Indira Chowk, Indira Colony, Indira Enclave, Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Indira Kala Kendra, Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Indira Tennis Stadium, Rajiv Chowk, Rajiv Colony, Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan and Rajiv Gandhi Road. All these are in Delhi alone.

This by no means is the complete list and you will probably need something as thick as the MTNL directory to list all of them. Mayawati’s aides may have miscalculated the actual numbers which, across the country, could be ten times or more. That’s why Mayawati seems least concerned by the rap on the knuckles from courts. I am sure she relishes this impending battle royale.

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