Monday, October 24, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard /October 23, 2011


Even a great leader of high personal integrity who doesn’t practice what he preaches is bound to carry very little conviction and credibility with the people. On Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pleaded with 25-odd chief ministers to “guard against the mood of negativism that seems to have gripped the country”. For most of them, the sermon was salt on wounds inflicted by the Centre. Three of them took the UPA to task for its negative attitude towards their states and imposing “fascist legislation”. Manmohan queered the pitch. While UPA ministers and Congress chief ministers ignored his remarks, the rest were assertive in placing the blame on the UPA’s doorstep for being confrontationist and for targeting non-Congress governments and leaders.

Negativism begets negativism. For the past seven years, the UPA hasn’t built a consensus on any national issue. It has conceived and planned schemes and policies that have shaken the very foundation of Indian democracy’s federal character. Both fiscal and social sector policies involving MGNREGA, national highways, Value Added Tax, environment and forest clearances, higher education expansion, power generation projects, etc have been designed in such a way that state governments are finding it difficult to sustain their growth momentum. If a power project is cleared by a state, the coal ministry finds it extremely difficult to allocate coal. If a new airport is proposed, the Environment Ministry makes life miserable for the promoters with inane objections. Furthermore, most legislations adopted by state governments are held up for years either by governors or at the Centre. Some governors, in states like Gujarat, Orissa and Karnataka, have been needling their state governments on one pretext or the other, while encouraging dissidence. At the Centre, the UPA has been at war with the Opposition. Using technical objections, its members didn’t allow the Public Accounts Committee to finish its reports, a tactic also used by the Congress in Goa.

Approval for over a dozen laws, duly passed by the Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar Assemblies is pending with either the governor or the President. Instead of offering a sympathetic ear, the Centre hasn’t responded to numerous requests from various chief ministers for special packages. For example, even special resolutions passed by Orissa and Bihar, seeking special assistance, haven’t been properly considered. On the other hand, Manmohan and his ministers don’t take a minute to announce significant financial assistance to their regional allies. It is due to the Central leadership’s unresponsive attitude that most chief ministers have stopped visiting Delhi. Instead, they operate through their civil servants. Manmohan, who rarely visits the states, has hardly made any extra gesture to fly to any of the non-Congress ruled states to help resolve their problems.

If most states are peeved with the Centre for its negative vibes, so are the leaders of civil society and constitutional bodies. Recently, Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai was subjected to a vicious smear campaign for his bold reports on the 2G scam and other financial irregularities. This immediately prompted attempts to dig for dirt in his past record. Expecting a strong reaction, it was left to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to defend Rai. Most despicable is the vicious campaign against civil society leaders, from Baba Ramdev to Kiran Bedi. Various agencies were unleashed to snoop out every hole in their closets for hidden wealth and secret documents. It was the worst kind of political butchery of the civil society movement; instead of reading the message, the Government and its megaphones shot the messengers. But it failed miserably. If the corporate sector is unable to perform today, it is not due to negative feelings against the Government. Not one of them is sure of getting clearances on time. For one Union minister who helps the industry, there are at least two who are out to torpedo their colleagues. Legislation on both sports and manufacturing policy fell through because of the static of negativity within the Prime Minister’s office.

If Manmohan is determined to create a positive environment for better governance and healthy democracy, he and his colleagues have to be more tolerant and less abrasive. The might of the state may maim and incapacitate a few individuals, but this generates such a negative force that can lead to much more catastrophic results. Let the Prime Minister begin the charity of positivity from his own home. He may, then, find many others walking the extra mile.

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