Debating India


How to win your political spurs

Thursday 26 January 2006, by NEHRU*Arun

We had the crisis in Karnataka festering over the past few months, but few in governance took the matter seriously. H.D. Deve Gowda and his family (the Gowda dynasty) were taken for granted and chief minister Dharam Singh (a nominee of H.D. Deve Gowda) was kept waiting for days before being given an audience with Sonia Gandhi. Clearly, the Congress with its 64 MLAs was throwing "dynastic" tantrums and resorting to powerplay by isolating the JD(S) in Cabinet portfolios and other appointments of importance. But few, if any, in the Congress realise that these tactics do not work with mass leaders who have won on their own charisma. The same thing happened in Bihar where Lalu Yadav conceded 80 seats to the Congress and lost his advantage (the latter won 10 seats) and the UPA head (Sonia Gandhi) did little to force an understanding between the RJD and LJP. And in Jharkhand, the Congress again neglected the interests of the JMM. In both elections, the Congress was humbled after a "clean sweep" in the Lok Sabha elections. The situation in Karnataka is no different, and the reality is that H.D. Deve Gowda and the JD(S) should have been allowed, like the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, to govern. And this may still happen as political gymnastics is natural in a game of numbers.

The BJP is the largest party in Karnataka and will gain from the decision in either direction.

The Congress is very much on the defensive and faces heavy electoral defeats in the coming elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Uttaranchal and Punjab and is relying more on "awards" and "surveys" by the friendly media to sustain the image of the Gandhi family. Leadership is determined by leaders who lead their troops into political battle and win electoral verdicts, and not by avoiding accountability and scrutiny to the voting public. As we see the chaos unfolding before us, the political forces will realign for the future.

The Congress Party cannot allow Karnataka to slip away and will perhaps do now what it should have done a long time ago and give effective control to the JD(S) apart from a Cabinet post at the Centre. The Cabinet reshuffle is overdue, and with the passage of time and the Congress position considerably weakened, it is time to induct ministers from the JMM (Shibu Soren), NCP (Tariq Anwar), PDP (Mufti Mohammed Sayeed) and RJD. Cabinet expansion, if it ignores the political reality, will lead to the emergence of a non-Left front within the UPA. And can anyone predict the future alliances of the NCP, the JMM, the RJD, the PDP and the TRS? Look at the immediate past for indications. The UPA and the Congress leadership can only be sustained if the leaders have the ability to lead, and naturally, the focus will be on Sonia Gandhi and Rahul in West Bengal and Kerala and then in Tamil Nadu where they will run into the AIADMK and its leader J. Jayalalithaa. And this will be a political battle to witness!

Clearly, we see great opportunities in the immediate future for all political leaders to win their political spurs. It is also time for many of our youthful leaders who will age in a little while, to migrate from "Page 3" to the political arena. Rahul Gandhi is the best judge of what he can and cannot do, and makes a sensible speech at the Congress’ Hyderabad session. He does the right thing but the political situation in the field will have to dictate his timing, and the bottom line is time is running out and events will overtake decisions.

We have several issues coming up within the week and the effects of this will linger on in the coming months. The Supreme Court’s detailed judgment on Bihar will have grave implications on the moral authority (if something like that exists) of the UPA government and the Prime Minister. Law minister H.R. Bharadwaj and the CBI will have much to answer for on the issue of "Q." If the material facts, as already leaked to the media, are true, then once again the high court orders may not hold, as, clearly, there is a deliberate attempt to close the case.

The Volcker issue is pushed into the background and I wonder what the Pathak commission is doing on it.

We will have a crisis a "week" and I think this will be a good time for the media as the government hurtles from one crisis to another. We have had the Amitabh Bachchan issue followed by the Mulayam Singh-Amar Singh episode, and now we have income tax raids on the AIADMK leader’s followers. Clearly, no one is learning anything from the past as retribution will come sooner than later for those who indulge in vendettas and the hunters become the hunted.

We have seen a great deal of legal intervention on sensitive issues, demolition of unauthorised buildings which can land everyone in a great deal of trouble. Sadly, a few will suffer, as you cannot demolish 80 per cent of Delhi city. The reality is that a similar situation exists in every town. Archaic and restrictive laws have resulted in massive corruption and extortion, so, clearly, we have a crisis in hand.

The government moving in to regularise all illegal structures in Maharashtra’s Ulhasnagar has negative implications for other areas, as there can be few justifications for those who have encroached upon government land or extended construction into public areas.

This is a very complex matter and the first matter before the government is to design laws for the present and the future. We cannot find fault with the law courts, for only a few years ago we were all suffering from pollution and political action was lacking when the law courts had to step in. And look at the situation today! We elect a government to govern and the law courts step in only when political initiative and decision making are lacking. Successive governments have simply ignored the issue of illegal construction and as economic growth and land prices escalate, we see the rise of criminal land mafia; and combined with corruption and extortion the decision making capacity of the elected representatives is very limited.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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