Monday, October 11, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 11, 2010

IT WOULD be no exaggeration to say that if a list of all the buildings, roads, airports, stadia, colleges, universities and social welfare programmes across the country named after the Nehru- Gandhi family were to be compiled, it would be thicker than the Delhi telephone directory. A first time visitor to the capital could be forgiven if he is led to believe that the city belongs to one family. After all, he will land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, be driven past scores of buildings named after Nehru, Indira or Rajiv. As he scans the papers, he is likely to read stories about Rahul Gandhi spending the night in a Dalit hamlet in Uttar Pradesh or the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi advising cabinet ministers to closely monitor the implementation of centrally sponsored schemes, many of which are named after three generations of prime ministers from one family. The Indira Awas Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water mission, , Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, the Indira Gandhi Canal project, the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, to name just a few.
All that may now come to an end. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has issued a fiat to his cabinet ministers to exercise discretion while naming new programmes or schemes in the name of late former prime ministers Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi. The reason is not because he feels that there already are far too many programmes to honour them, but due to the manner in which these are implemented. Far from honouring them, they are insults to their memories, he thinks.

A letter dated October 6 sent by Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar on behalf of the prime minister states that henceforth the names of leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi should be used very sparingly as the practice has become rather “ widespread and indiscriminate.” It further admits that the purpose of identifying government schemes with national figures is undermined by the fact that many of these do not end up achieving the desired impact.

It is not known how 10 Janpath will react to this latest diktat: will the family concur with the prime minister’s assessment or do Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka believe there is scope for more?
I understand that the Manmohan missive followed periodic reviews of many of the major schemes and the mounting criticism from across the country, including non Congress leaders, to the endless naming of everything in memory of members of one family.

The Prime Minister’s directive may well be an attempt to prevent alliance partners from giving their regional leaders a larger than life image. Already Mayawati is carving a larger than life image for herself, literally and figuratively across Uttar Pradesh’s landscape.

The DMK is on an overdrive to replace the giant 80 ft cardboard cutouts of M Karunanidhi with permanent structures to be named after the Kalaignar so that, long after he moves on, his children and their children continue to benefit. Political dynasties are emerging in other states too.

With over half the states being ruled by the non- Congress parties, some of whom are coalition partners in the UPA government, there is increasing demand from regional parties that central schemes in their respective states be named in memory of their leaders.

The naming trend began after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in 1964 when some institutions were named after the late prime minster, with the JNU, which was set up five years after his death being among the biggest.

But the trend turned into a renaming frenzy after Indira’s assassination in 1984 when Delhi’s Palam airport was renamed the Indira Gandhi International airport.

Since then, there has been no stopping. The opposition however fears a flip side to Manmohan’s directive. Don’t be surprised therefore if some of the flop schemes are renamed after Deen Dayal Upadhyay or Veer Savarkar.

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