Tuesday, August 23, 2022

‘Opposition for Opposition’ shouldn’t be the Opposition Dharma

‘Opposition for Opposition’ shouldn’t be the Opposition Dharma By Amba Charan Vashishth Intro The opposition is as much a vital element of a democracy as is the ruling party. A democracy without a strong and effective opposition is no democracy. Both are elected by the people. Both are not inimical to each other; they are complementary to each other. The opposition role needs to be constructive, positive, and honest in the realisation of the common goal of both: the welfare and prosperity of the country. But in India, the situation seems to be different. Putting hurdles in every plan and policy of the ruling party seems to be the main objective opposition. That, perhaps, is the main malady of the Indian democracy. Prices of essential commodities and some other things of daily common use are rising. So are the prices of petrol, diesel, and cooking gas going up every other day. Who can deny this fact? Nobody. But our opposition parties and critics do not wish to appreciate the reasons behind all this. They only criticise and don’t cooperate in pursuing the common goals for India. Even on the issue of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, some in the opposition have their ifs, buts, and whys when it comes to dealing with China and Pakistan. COVID-19, THE MAIN REASON Covid-19 is recognised as the main cause of economic downtrend all over the world. The way the Modi government handled the epidemic has won the appreciation from numerous countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Otherwise, the number of fatalities in the country would have been the highest, perhaps a little less than those in China. India became the first country to produce the anti-Covid vaccine to fight this menace. She also helped many countries and earned their gratitude. But the role of opposition had been anything but constructive. First, they cried hoarse that the government was not coming out with any medicine to combat Covid-19. When it did, they started finding fault with it. Some injected politics and called it Modi and BJP vaccine. They refused to get themselves vaccinated and exhorted people not to do so. Time has proved who was right. PRICE RISE UNHEARD OF? The opposition holds the present government in power at the Centre solely responsible for the misery of the people because of the rocketing prices. The States, too, have a major role because many subjects which affect the prices are State subjects, as per provisions in the Constitution. Before laying the blame on the Centre, the States should do what they should. They cannot be a silent spectator to the misery of the people. They also try to give the impression as if the phenomenon of price rise dawned with the dawn of the present NDA government at the Centre in 2014. Before that, the price rise was something people had never felt, seen, or heard of. If ever it was, it was only like the prick of an injection that sucked all the pain of the patient. WORLDWIDE MALADY It is also worth recalling that in 1973 the prices went beyond the control of the then Indira Gandhi government. Hard-pressed, she declared that this malady was not afflicting India alone; it had engulfed the whole world; it was a worldwide scenario. Needless to mention that the present rate of inflation in the USA is 8.5 percent while in India it is 7.00 percent. NO UNEMPLOYMENT BEFORE 2014? The same is true of unemployment. But is the unemployment rise a spectacle that also rose only with the rise of the BJP-led NDA government with Shri Narender Modi as the Prime Minister in May 2014? Did the Congress-led UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, when voted out of power, left behind a legacy of zero unemployment among every youth, man or woman, educated or illiterate, living in a village, a town, or a city? No. It was not. It cannot also be possible when a country was taking great leaps forward in development. UPA government had left behind a trail of 5.44% unemployment in the country. The employment rate for persons aged 15 years and above in urban areas, as per the report of the National Statistics Organisation (NSO), dipped to 8.2 percent in January-March 2022 from 9.3 percent in the quarter last year. Similarly, the unemployment rate among females in the same age group in urban areas declined to 10.1 percent in January-March, 2022 from 11.8 percent a year ago. Among the males too, it dipped to 7.7 percent in January-March 2022 compared to 8.6 percent a year ago. Joblessness was high in January-March in 2021 mainly due to the lockdown restrictions in the country imposed to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus. No country, not even the advanced ones, is free from the malady of unemployment. For example, in the USA the percentage of unemployment is 3.6%, in Russia 3.9 percent, and in China 5.9 percent. POVERTY Poverty too continues to give sleepless nights to those who are at the helm of affairs, not only in India but the world over with some countries worried less and some more. The late Prime Minister Mrs. India Gandhi in 1971 elections promised to the people to eradicate poverty from India. But the promise went topsy-turvy. It only resulted in inflating the number of poor people. Later, the government promised to vanish unemployment. One is reminded of a cartoon in an English newspaper at that time where a young unemployed asks a beggar, do you think the government will be able to exterminate unemployment from the country? The beggar replies, “Hundred percent. I am waiting for my poverty to be obliterated for the last over a decade”. FASTEST GROWING ECONOMY SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT On the other hand, as per the World Bank (WB) report, India is the fastest growing economy in the world. In response to the COVID-19 shock, it says, the government and the Reserve Bank of India took several monetary and fiscal policy measures to support vulnerable firms and households to expand service delivery (with increased spending on health and social protection) and cushion the impact of the crisis on the economy. Thanks, in part, to these proactive measures, India’s economy is expected to rebound — with a strong base effect materializing in Financial Year 22 — and growth is expected to stabilize at around 7 percent thereafter. Yet, for unexplained reasons, all these positive developments do not spread a ray of smile on the faces of the opposition. CONSTRUCTIVE OPPOSITION In a democracy, the opposition party is as vital as the ruling party. Both are representatives of the people, voted by the people. Both are complementary to each other. Opposition is not opposition for the sake of opposition. It must be positive and constructive. It has every right to be critical of the government but, at the same time, it must come out with positive and constructive suggestions to make any measure more useful to the country. ED & IT For the past some years, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income Tax (IT) Department had not been as active as they should have been to realise the objective for which these institutions were created. If the earlier governments turned the institutions like CBI to be a “caged parrot” and hampered ED and IT to perform their duty to unearth the black money stashed by individuals, companies, and firms, some of whom have turned out to be ministers, officials, and others, some with political connections too, NDA cannot be blamed. There are cases of Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Delhi ministers from whom hundreds of crores of rupees, gold in kilograms, and silver in tens of kilograms, houses, flats, plots of land etc., have been recovered. These are, perhaps, the highest-ever hauls of moveable and immoveable properties which have come to the hands of these agencies. Two ministers of Maharashtra, one of Delhi, two West Bengal, some bureaucrats, etc. are rubbing their heels in jails for the last many months. Last year, former Congress Union Minister P. Chidambaram had also to spend some months in jail. Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi are also under investigation in connection with the alleged National Herald case. All of them went to the highest court of the country for quashing the cases against them but of no avail. Much hue and cry is being raised because some politicians themselves or their relations, friends, and supporters have been found to be involved. They are terming the ED and IT action as a political vendetta against political opponents by the ruling party. They have held protest marches, bandhs, etc. in protest against the legal action against their leaders, colleagues, and supporters. Their conduct amounts to generating a lack of faith in the law of the land and the judiciary which amounts to the commission of the crime of sedition. The chief ministers and ministers condemning this action by the judiciary are working against the oath of office they took at the time of their swearing-in. LACKING WILL TO ACT The governments in the past did frame laws against violation of Income Tax laws, money laundering, and black money, but these remained on the statute books, never executed and implemented. Under the present dispensation, the ED and IT agencies have been given a free hand to act, it has put in trouble the individuals and units who thrived under political patronage and protection. A most surprising aspect is emerging in the present political scenario in the country. Jail terms for corruption to some leaders are proving to be a great glaring glue for political alliances while traits of nationalism and honesty are emerging as untouchables for the ‘secular and liberal’ political parties and leaders. Birds of the same feather flock together, it is also said. Any person or a group proceeded against under the law of the land, as a natural course, are a man or a woman, belonging to a certain caste, some faith, be a bureaucrat, a businessman, a politician owing allegiance to the ruling or the opposition party, from one or the other state of the country. In that case, can the action taken by any legal agency be called a vendetta against one of the sections of society and, therefore, not a crime? RAID ON TRUMP Just two days back, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) laid a raid on US former President Donald Trump’s home. What can India say? It is an internal matter of USA. But can we say that USA has taken a cue from India? *** The writer is a political analyst and commentator.

Monday, August 15, 2022


ELECTION SCENE IN HIMACHAL Congress in Disarray, AAP Day-Dreaming RULING BJP SITTING PRETTY By Amba Charan Vashishth Till the 1972 assembly elections, it was only the Congress party which was repeatedly voted into power in Himachal Pradesh. Till that time if a person was able to get Congress party nomination, he/she was destined to win the next 3-4 elections. It was for the first time that in 1977 the invincible Congress was dethroned and the post-emergency newly formed Janata Party swept the State scoring 53 seats in the 68-member assembly. Congress strength was reduced to just 9. Earlier, in March 1977 elections to Parliament Congress Party lost in all the four seats to Janta Party. In the 1982 assembly elections, Congress fell short of the majority but was still able to form a government with the help of defectors and independents. After that, an electoral game of see-saw came into play. It has become a tradition in Himachal’s elections that if Congress is ruling this time, the next term was surely reserved for the BJP and vice versa. No ruling party has, so far, been able to bounce back to power for a successive second term in a row. This situation has made the work of psephologists much easier. In other words, it means that whichever may be the ruling party and whatever good or bad it may have done during its reign, it is destined to lose the next election. This also implies that in the State anti-incumbency rules the roost and nothing else matters. The electorate votes for the defeat of the incumbent ruling party which results in the opposition getting a chance to form the next government. If the incumbent ruling party, come what may, has to lose power, why should it work at all to serve the people who, it knows fully well, will dethrone it in the next election? It also means that the electorate doesn’t weigh and evaluate the performance of the ruling party government and of the individual MLAs/ministers. This situation, in a way, is not conducive to the evolution of a healthy democracy. The hunch of a sure defeat in the next election also generates a feeling of insecurity in the mind of the elected people. This inspires them to go by the well-known saying: Make hay while the sun shines. Many do follow this dictum. Following this example has also a political and electoral advantage. If the next government lays its hands on the wrongs committed by its predecessor, it provides them an opportunity to raise a hue and cry of “political vendetta”, an attempt at character assassination with false charges. Such acts by the ruling party also stand in good stead to the individual in the next election. A win in the election is interpreted as an honourable acquittal of the charges by the highest court of the people. The electoral scenario in Himachal Pradesh continues to be foggy at this time. The polling in the state is most likely to be conducted in the last week of October or the first week of November before the three tribal constituencies of Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Pangi-Bharmaur get covered with a thick blanket of snow. With elections just about 3 months away, the main opposition party, the Congress, is in disarray, because of deaths in recent months of three of its stalwarts and contenders for chief ministership. On the top is the passing away of six-time chief minister Shri Virbhadra Singh who had proved to be the unchallenged leader of the State in Congress Party since 1983. The party has yet to come out of a vacuum of leadership left by his death. In an effort to cash in the sympathy for the Congress generated by Virbhadra’s death, the party high command has nominated his widow and two-time MP Mrs. Pratibha Singh as the Himachal Congress President. Their son, Vikramaditya Singh MLA, 33, is too young to slip into his father’s shoes. The other veteran Congress leader worth reckoning is Mrs. Vidya Stokes, 94, belying her age, is blessed with a good health. She is a former minister and a former speaker of Vidhan Sabha. Though she had a good rapport with Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, yet Shri Virbhadra Singh proved a great stumbler in their plans to make her CM. Another loss to the Congress has been the demise of a veteran Congress leader and a former Union minister Pandit Sukh Ram who commanded a great following in Mandi and Kullu districts. The untimely death of former Minister Shri G. S. Bali about six months back is another setback to the party, in particular to the lower regions of the State, like Kangra, Hamirpur, Kullu, Una, Bilaspur etc. where he could command a good support. He also had a fair amount of clout in the central leadership of Congress too. Had he been alive he would have emerged as a great challenger for leadership of the Congress for the Vidhan Sabha elections. In these circumstances, projecting a chief ministerial candidate of the Congress party for the coming state assembly elections is not going to be an easy task. There was no love lost between Pandit Sukh Ram and Raja Virbhadra Singh, both Congress stalwarts since the Raja returned to state politics in 1983 and became the chief minister. In 1993, former Prime Minister PV Narashimha Rao made Sukh Ram minister of state (independent charge) for Communications. During this period, he worked so much in this field for the country, notably for Himachal, that he became invincible in elections in Mandi and Kullu districts. In 1997, Pandit Sukh Ram fell out with Virbhadra Singh and floated his own political party Himachal Vikas Congress. In 1998, his party contested the Himachal assembly elections as a third force and became the instrument of Congress defeat. His party held the balance of power winning 5 seats. Although late Virbhadra Singh managed to take oath as CM, yet he had to resign before proving his majority in the house. BJP under the leadership of Shri Prem Kumar Dhumal formed a government in alliance with Pandikt Sukh Ram’s party. Later, Pandit Sukh Ram again went back to the Congress fold. Himachal Pradesh has a very different electoral history. No political party, other than Congress and BJP, has been able to find its feet in this state. In the 2012 elections, the Trinamul Congress (TMC) of Ms Mamta Bannerjee did try to make a big thrust in this hilly state. She failed bitterly; all of her nominees lost their security deposits even. The same was the fate of the late Ram Vilas’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Ms Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Because of multi-party contests — Congress, Congress rebel, BJP and BJP rebel, and independents — one person won the Kangra seat as a BSP candidate and one of LJP from Nahan. But soon both joined the ruling BJP obliterating their existence in the State. Because of BJP helping Janta Dal (JD) in its government headed by late VP Singh at the Centre, BJP and JD entered into an electoral alliance to contest elections to the 68-member state assembly in 1990. As a result, BJP won 46 seats, JD 11, and the then ruling Congress just 9 seats. Having won Panjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal is toying with the idea to spread the party’s wings in the neighbouring Himachal Pradesh too. But Himachal is not Panjab. During the last five years, it has failed to bring up a formidable party structure in the state. It has swung into action only recently. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tried to present a good show with AAP Punjab CM Bhagwant Singh Mann in their rally at Mandi. But it proved to be a damp squib. No sooner had the CM duo left Himachal for their states, most of its senior office-holders left the AAP and joined BJP. An embarrassed Kejriwal dissolved its Himachal State unit. The party’s hope lies only in those who are denied tickets by Congress or BJP. It will be too willing to embrace them as its candidates. These tactics are hardly likely to prop it up into a party with an absolute majority, as is it dreaming. Its oft-repeated freebies of power and water and promise of doles to women and unemployed youth are hardly likely to cut much ice in the state. These failed to shower good luck to it in the recent Uttarakhand, Goa, and UP elections. AAP nominees are also not likely to cut much ice. Whatever votes they get are not likely to harm BJP in a significant manner. On the contrary, it may end up harming only the Congress because it will result only in dividing the anti-BJP vote which, otherwise, was to go to Congress alone. As the situation stands today, the BJP government does not look to have generated an anti-incumbency vote as much as to cost it power. Yet, it has to tread very cautiously. With not much chance, both Congress and AAP may compete in offering many freebies and other promises which may be as easy to make but as difficult to implement. BJP has already declared that it will go to the polls with Jai Ram Thakur as its chief ministerial candidate. To take on the Congress and BJP, AAP has, so far, not been able to have a political biggie of weightier stature who could take on the incumbent BJP CM Thakur or any Congress nominee as its chief ministerial candidate. For a party, like AAP, dreaming to strike big in elections just about three months away, a robust organisational unit is a must. It will not be easy for it to challenge the two well-established ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress without its own organisational unit. Planning to fight the election pinning on the hope of roping in those denied tickets by the BJP and the Congress may not work wonders to realize its dreams. Himachal may repeat the fate AAP met in Uttarakhand where it drew a blank with even its chief ministerial candidate failing to make it to the state assembly. Whatever it may be, as the situation stands today, the ruling BJP does not face much threat from any side. But that should not make it complacent. It is not a good strategy to take one’s rival as weak and humble. ***