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DRAG AS NATIONAL CHARACTER By Prem Chandran Can it be a mere coincidence that the rail mishap this past week .....

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: Oct 2012
: Adur, Kerala, India
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Thumbs up Drag as national character


By Prem Chandran

Can it be a mere coincidence that the rail mishap this past week took place ironically in Odisha, the state of Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw? Or, was the epic tragedy on the tracks in Balasore a foreboding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who stepped in at this precise moment, the same week, to the last lap of his second five-year term and began the count-down for the Parliament polls?

Inquiries by the CBI and others are on into how the telescoping of three trains -- two express trains and a goods carrier -- took place shortly after the sun set over the western horizon. The Railway Board has said a system fault, not sabotage, led to the mishap. What's clear is that, symbolically, Modi is made to pay a price for the drag that personified his two terms as prime minister. There should be egg on his silver-grey, bearded face.

It was after a long drag of many years that, 15 months ago, the Railways experimented with an indigenously developed system to avoid collision between two trains. Known as Kavach (safety shield), the use of this system installed on running trains would sense obstructions on the tracks ahead, automatically apply brakes and stop trains set on a collision course. This is over and above the time-tested signal system. The decision came to introduce Kavach to a distance of 2000km of tracks as also on trains before April 2023, in the first phase, and continue the installation to the rest of the trains and tracks thereafter. Safety assured, its probability of error could be no more than once in 10,000 years, we had been told. The railway ministry has been allotted funds in the last budget to implement this system in stages.

Point to stress is, this could have been done much earlier. The system was developed between the years 2012 and 2016, but it took six years thereafter for a governmental nod and implementation. The implementation finally started after the middle of last year. This drag is not specific to the railway ministry alone but to all matters of governance. We as a nation suffer its consequences.

Modi is himself a slow-moving coach, his speed matching with the mental wavelength of the rest of the RSS breed. As Rahul Gandhi rightly stated during his present foreign jaunt, Modi (and more importantly the RSS brass) showed a fancy to keep looking at the rear-view mirror instead of looking forward. The Hindutva bogey is obsessed with the past even as they are concerned SELECTIVELY about the present and the future as well. Beyond Love Jihad and Ghar Vapsi, the RSS has little of worries. For instance, it has no word to say against the freewheeling corruption that is hurting the nation in multiple ways. Investors are running away because bureaucrats are seeking crores from them for the necessary permissions to set up units. The manufacturing sector has been hugely hit over the past many years because of such indulgences. Even we, the ordinary folks, suffer majorly at every turn when we need get a file processed from village panchayat office level up till the central secretariat. The Licence Raj that we thought would disappear after the Liberalization in the early 90s, is continuing in worse forms today. If investors do not set up units, the result is massive unemployment, hurting the youths and holding back the productive energy of the nation as a whole.

Neither Modi nor the RSS sees the wider canvas in such respects. This is not to ignore their concern for national security and national empowerment, which, to them, are simply offshoots of their wider Hindutva pride. The RSS has its good sides and bad sides. Modi too.

Similarly, India as a functional democracy has a mix of handicaps and admirable traits. The systems here as a whole function with the speed of a snail. The bureaucracy, by nature, is formed of a bunch of shirkers everywhere. Unless the political leadership whips them into high action, the culture of drag would continue. But, problem with our leaders, many of them old, ageing, past their prime, one leg in the grave, is that they have little of concern for speed. The systems are fashioned in a way that they hesitate to move forward. Scrutiny and controls at multiple levels help, but these also turn the situation worse. The last word often rests with none, unlike in China, where investors too have a smooth go.

Here, the elected leader of the nation or government crafts a law to deal with an unacceptable situation, but the courts are here to stop them in their tracks by citing rules and provisions. Where a Yes is possible, a No is the norm at all establishment levels. The result is, the decision-making process suffers. Administrative reforms and Constitutional changes are the way forward. What these require, first and foremost, is a leader with the right aptitude and the will to call the shots.

Take the case of Kavach. Why was its implementation delayed for seven years? If the Prime Minister was satisfied with the efficacy of the new system, it should have been implemented straight. If so, tragedies like the Balasore train mishap might perhaps not have happened. Kavach could have protected precious lives. But, drag is our national character.

Worse, take the case of our justice dispensation system. Cases are locked up in courts for, say, more than 20 years without the last word being pronounced by the judiciary. Judicial reforms, again, are the way forward, but those running governments do not have the courage to take matters forward. They do not want to rub the existing bigwigs in the judiciary the wrong way, or change the way they select judges, many of them virtually family successions with open patronage from within the system itself. Saying this is not to target the present Chief Justice of India, per se. We must look at things from the wider canvas.

A national judicial appointments commission had been attempted at during the Manmohan Singh period, a move that got stuck under the two long terms of Narendra Modi. His 56-inch chest is not used to confront such situations and restore health to the nation's systems. Can cases in courts be dragged for so long? For instance, a case against Kerala's chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in relation to corruption, was held back from hearing by the Supreme Court for the 36th time a month ago. For, it has other matters to attend to. Why not dispose a case of in a matter, say, of no more than three years? That is the ideal situation. Wen you run a system, you must run it for the good of the people; not to make them struggle or suffer for your faults. Justice delayed, as the adage goes, is justice DENIED. In sum and substance, such tendencies have within them the lethality to subvert the system of democracy itself over a long period of time. People have begun to lose their faith in the systems. Once we lose faith in the judiciary, the collapse of the system would be complete.

Under Modi's era, other than for the introduction of the GST, none of the serious ills of the nation has been addressed. The nation's corruption graph went further high at the levels of bureaucrats regional satraps. A Rs 1717crore bridge built in Bihar, across River Ganga, has collapsed in less than seven years of its erection. A total waste of precious funds! A moron who runs a government there for repeated terms, is still yapping over his "Sadak, Pani" initiative -- at a time when the rest of the world is talking about Artificial Intelligence -- and has kept Bihar in the dark ages. He's now angling for the PM post by crafting an alliance of regional parties. God forbid. When other states progressed, he took Bihar backward. It is here, set against such clowns, that the relevance of a Narendra Modi must be acknowledged and appreciated.

Our argument is simply that Modi could have done better. The PM might argue that his hands are tied by the systems and that in a federal structure he has no control over governance of states, or over the corrupt practices of the regional satraps and others. Can Modi, as the elected leader of the nation, afford to wash his hands of, if the scenario of loot of public exchequer or bribe-taking by bureaucrats right under his nose worsens by the day?
Which takes us to the central theme of the PM's image. Modi ensured stability to the nation for a decade even as he keeps erring on several fronts. For the BJP, Modi is the mascot in all elections. But, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and lately Karnataka proved that he's of no help to the party when it comes to state polls. People have acquired as much sense to differentiate between the rules of states and the Centre. His criss-crossing of Karnataka had little effect or impact through the weeks of the BJP's high-stakes campaign.

Curiously, BJP lost in areas where highways and big central installations came up in Karnataka. The people were more interested in what the Congress offered this time. In the end, BJP lost the only state that it ruled ever in the South. Lack of a charismatic leader was a part of the BJP's problem there. When BS Yeddiyurappa became old hat and lost his public esteem due to corruption on one side and foisting of his two sons on both his sides to run the state, BJP latched itself on to another Lingayat, Basavaraj Bommai, a family-prop and a colourless character at that. Modi by himself cannot sell BJP, and more so in the South where, in each state, strong regional leaders call the shots. Elections in the South are centered around the faces of these leaders -- be it KCR in Telangana, Jagan and Naidu in AP, Stalin in TN or Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala. Modi cannot tilt the balance there, as was also the case in West Bengal or even Himachal Pradesh.

Hindutva does not sell well in the South and it cannot be a vote-fetcher there. For, Dravidians are mostly outside of the Hindu framework, per se, as many of these communities had been treated in the past by the high priests of Hindus as outcasts. Old traditions are changing, yes, but the mental block remains on both sides -- namely the perpetrators of casteism on one side and the poor at the other (receiving) end. Hence, the poor in the South do not warm up to the BJP with its Hindutva plank. This is unlike the north, where faith in the religion is all-encompassing.

The Dravidian movement itself had a strong anti-Brahminical character to it. Its proponent, EV Ramaswamy Nayakar, was inspired to the cause after he was beaten black and blue by Brahmin priests in Varanasi, who kicked him out of a temple mess where he turned up for food, feigning himself as a Brahmin. The leadership profiles of all the southern states still reflect such underlying sentiments of hurt. In Kerala, where vote by the minorities who form 50 per cent of the population is crucial for electoral win; a mostly no-go area for the BJP.

The present Karnataka win for the Congress was facilitated by caste sentiments in its backdrop -- with Dalit-BC leader Siddaramaiah and Vokalika leader DK Sivakumar jointly working for the tricolour victory. The BJP's mostly exclusive reliance on Lingayats, a sect formed by a saint who preached against casteism and carries with it sections of forward and BC Hindus, failed to click. The BJP need not hope to have a good show in any of the southern states in the 2024 polls, making its reliance on the north and parts of the north-east the best bet. This has historical reasons.

As for polls, we shall wait for the next round in MP and Rajasthan as also Chhattisgarh. If the BJP fails to retain power in Madhya Pradesh, it would lose a lot of its esteem for sure. In Rajasthan too, Ashok Gehlot is bound to boost the Congress chances yet again as he's popular with the masses. How the Sachin Pilot factor would undercut the Congress chances there remains to be seen. Chhattisgarh has been a Congress stronghold though it was the BJP that pushed for the state's creation.

Where has this taken the BJP's dream of a Congress-mukht Bharat? Point to note is also that the BJP is not growing in any major ways across the country, which gives some hope to the Congress today for a revival of its own fortunes in a sea of hopelessness. Amit Shah had kept the BJP spirits up in matching with the goodwill that Modi generated for the party through his mature style of governance of the nation. But, the present BJP chief is of less use.

Modi failed to act on many fronts, true. Nor did he show any aggressiveness on any front, but he kept the nation's tempers low. Yet, other than for the roads and highways, or schemes like the Jan Oushadhi that helped the ordinary people get medicines at cheap rates, Modi failed to add many more feathers to his cap. Modi lacked the reformative zeal. He failed to shake India to re-energize it. Even when he tried, as in the farm bills, he cut and ran when he faced stiff resistance. In other words, even as Modi is fine with us, he fails to inspire. Such sentiments would reflect in the poll outcomes. Blah-blahs from the pulpit or courtesy the Mann Ki Baat by themselves will not make a lasting impact on the mind of the Indian voter.

However, to Modi's and BJP's advantage, he still does not have a strong rival as a challenger to his throne in the coming polls. Rahul Gandhi seems falling by the wayside due to court orders. That the regional satraps are no match to Modi is all too evident. They lack credibility, and several of them are steeped in corruption and carry with them the family baggage. But, they are smart politicians. They know how to play their cards at their regional levels even as they are zero in the national context. They keep the people on their side by pro-people governance while the BJP chief ministers are morons of a kind. Other than those like Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam, they have no individual image because they are below par, viewed from a national perspective. Other than Shivraj Singh Chouhan, they look up to Modi to come and rescue them or help them retain power. So with the colourless party leaders of the BJP in most states, an exception of late being Anna Malai in Tamil Nadu, making some waves in what's still a DMK stronghold. Chouhan has a base in Madhya Pradesh but whether he can retain power for the BJP this time is a big question.

The BJP won a landslide win in the Hindi belt in 2019 for the principal reason that Modi played the Pakistan card to his full advantage a la Balakot, weeks after the Pulwama terror attack on a CRPF convoy. The voters forgot about the Pulwama casualties and hailed the airshow in Balakot. True, Pakistan was shell-shocked by that courageous act of the Indian Air Force though the loss of Indian fighter jet(s) a day later tamed the euphoria here. The ultimate winner, significantly, was Modi at the political level. Had Balakot not happened, Modi and the BJP would not have won a comfortable majority in the 2019 polls. Question now is, what trick Modi has up his sleeves before Polls 2024?

Good governance means upkeep of the systems in a proper manner. In a nation where systems are weakening or their strengths eroding by the day due to corruption and malpractices, we cannot claim to have good governance. Giving people doles to please them and win votes is one way of keeping social strains under control. In the long term, if precious funds that the government mops up by way of tax are squandered this way, we might eventually be faced with situations of Venezuela. If the economy collapses sooner or later, a Sri Lanka kind of scenario can unfold as well. India with its weak leaderships may do well to guard against such possibilities. The Centre must act in manners that national well-being is taken care of, first and foremost.

The doles raj is set to spread, now that the Congress party has tasted blood in Karnataka with a Rs 2000 monthly dole announced to every housewife in a state that has a population of six crore plus. In the neighbourhood, a crook like Chandrababu Naidu has already copied it for his upcoming manifesto for May 2024 assembly polls. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is set to do this. After the last assembly polls in MP, Kamal Nath as chief minister wrote off all farm loans. Modi matched it soon with a Rs 6000 dole to every farmer every year. Government employees want to return to the Old Pension System and the Congress won the Himachal polls by promising this. This, even as the Planning Commission under the chairmanship of Manmohan Singh, while he was its chairman and PM, had said the OPS would lead to ?financial bankruptcy? for the nation.

When the AB Vajpayee government changed the OPS system to Contributory Pension Scheme, government employees made a hue and cry and the government obliged them with an increase in their salary matching with the "hurt" they claimed they experienced. Today, with help from the Congress party, employees are reviving the demand for a return to OPS. They want to have the best of both worlds. At what cost to the nation? The matter was before the Supreme Court and the Centre has set up a panel to study the case. The doles raj issue was also before the apex court with a plea from activists to effect curbs. A central government and the 'elected leader' of the nation are not ready to act, and act firmly, in national interest. This is the pity of our times and of our democracy. Pressure groups are holding their sway. Good governance is a thing of the past. As a Chinese proverb says, "Give a poor man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, you feed him for his life." Such wisdom is alien to our selfish breed of run-of-the-mill politicos who had their baptism in politics in the streets.

-- The writer is a senior journalist and former Editor / senior editor with various publications in India and abroad.

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Last edited by Premchandran; 06-06-2023 at 05:54 PM : snag in posting of new articles on this site...


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