In the penultimate year of nearly one-decade rule by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, I find the biggest casualty is the people’s confidence in political parties, particularly the ruling Congress. In fact, the public is so exasperated that it has come to believe that dishonesty and politics are synonymous and those who have come to politics have done so only to make money.
I was aghast to find that many well-placed people have not contributed to the prime minister’s Relief Fund because they suspect that the money given for the Uttarakhand victims would be used by the Congress in elections. I can understand the argument that the assistance is mismanaged, but the suspicion about the PM’s Fund should awaken the rulers to the extent that the people have lost faith in them.
Scandals like the 2G Spectrum and the allotment of coal blocks to unknown persons have, no doubt, damaged the credibility of the Congress.
Consequently, there is a question mark against any report or probe conducted by the government. Even a judicial verdict is taken with a pinch of salt. The fault is not that of the people, but the manner in which the affairs have been conducted since the 1970s. Very little has been done to restore confidence. In fact, the official machinery is in disarray.
Take the case of the Ishrat Jahan encounter. The Home Ministry at the Centre and the state government had taken the stand that Ishrat, along with her three accomplices, were terrorists who were killed in an encounter with the police suspecting them to have a plan to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said that it was a cold-blooded murder. The agency found no evidence to involve Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Toiba which the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had done.
Who does the public believe? Both the CBI and the IB are parts of the same government. The public is further confused because the CBI has alleged that Ishrat and her accomplices were picked up from different places and shot dead. The weapons they had on them were allegedly planted by the police and none of those had been used for days.
Assume that Ishrat and the others were terrorists. Does the police force have the right to kill them without proving in a law court that they were terrorists? If this rule is to apply, the killers of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi should have been shot dead in encounters instead of proceedings even in the Supreme Court. We should not have spent crores of rupees on the trial of Mohammad Kasab, who was hanged, and done away with him for the attacks on Mumbai.
The food security bill which will subsidise food for 65 per cent of the population is a prey to suspicion. The government is to be blamed for introducing the measure through an ordinance when the parliament session is only three weeks away. (It has now been postponed to mid-August after the ordinance). Most political parties are in favour of the bill, but want a legitimate discussion in parliament before it is enacted. The Congress prefers the route of ordinance on the plea that political parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have not allowed parliament to function. This is true. But the ordinance too has to be passed by parliament. For that a consensus would be required. Why could not the government bring about it before the ordinance?
There is something in the allegation that the Congress eyes are fixed on the parliamentary elections due in May 2014. It is possible that a mid-term poll may take place in November or December. Such are the suspicions which have nullified the food security ordinance which would enable roughly 850 million people of limited means to buy rice at Rs3 (18 fils) per kilo, wheat at Rs2 and bajra for Re1.
The case of CBI’s autonomy is yet another example worth dwelling on. People have no faith in the supervision by the three retired High Court judges. The suspicion is that the government will appoint pliable judges. Since the CBI will be under the government, any measure it takes fails to evoke faith.
The other main political party, the BJP, is suspect because it is selling the Modi thesis of Hindutva. The latest is the building of the Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition. The party should realise that the religious card cannot be played again and again. The demand for temple and a uniform civil code are supposed to be parts of development, a camouflage for Hindutva. The party is as much engaged in power politics as the Congress is.
That the leftist parties have social justice and federalism on their agenda is to the liking of a preponderant majority. To their admiration, a convention of the leftist parties in Delhi last week reiterated the two points. Indeed, the Manmohan Singh government has made the rich richer and has made a mockery of political autonomy. Yet, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was found wanting during their rule of 34 years in West Bengal. The Sachar Committee had said that the Muslim community in the state was the most backward in education (only 2.7 per cent). The Communist Party of India (CPI) supported the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi during the emergency. Janata Dal (United) evokes hope to be a third alternative because its chief, Sharad Yadav, has said that his party will fight totalitarianism of communists and communalism of the BJP. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has shown in his rule that a government can rise above gimmicks. Rightly Nitish has tasked the National Investigation Agency to probe the Bodh Gaya bomb blasts.
The nation’s problem is how to reignite the spirit of confidence and idealism. Alas, no political party, even in the states, comes up to that standard. Will the next election throw up such people is in the realm of conjecture. Persons like me are still optimistic that India will return to the path of values which it adopted after winning independence.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.