(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 19, 2001
PMS AUGUST 15 SPEECH
Not Much To Boast About
Harkishan Singh Surjeet
A BIG disappointment! This is what those hoping for something concrete from the prime ministers independence day speech received this year. It could well have amused a foreigner listening to an August 15 speech in India for the first time. But it certainly cannot enthuse the mass of Indians who have got fed up with the plethora of promises made to them year after year.
NOTHING NEW ABOUT SCHEMES
The reason is not too difficult to fathom. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, Shri Vajpayee announced a grand Rs 10,000 crore scheme to provide for additional and guaranteed employment in rural areas; this he ambitiously called "Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana." But his government has to date failed to give an account of why earlier schemes like the Swarna Jayanti Rozgar Yojana failed and who should be held responsible for that. The same can be said about the National Nutrition Mission that he said would be launched. Moreover, he did not think it necessary to enlighten us as to why these new schemes are needed if a number of schemes are already in operation.
In fact, on this independence day, Shri Vajpayee announced some one and a half dozen schemes covering areas like poverty eradication, literacy and education, rural development, panchayati raj, housing for the scheduled castes and tribes, khadi and village industries, health for all, formation of self-help groups for women, and many more things under the sun. But, yet, there is virtually nothing new about these schemes; many of these schemes were already there under different names. In fact, where we have been lacking is not about the number of schemes but about how they are being implemented. But Shri Vajpayee has said nothing about this aspect, except promising that 2002 will be observed as the "year of implementation."
Also, there are areas where a degree of ambiguity has been left. For instance, last year the prime minister announced an equally ambitious, Rs 60,000 crore "Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana" for constructing all-weather roads in rural areas. The centre gave Rs 5,000 crore last year for the project that is to be completed by 2007. But every other thing about the project has been left unexplained. Is one to suppose that the centre will give an equal amount (Rs 5,000 crore) every year in the remaining six years? And, if yes, who will bear the rest Rs 25,000 crore of the total cost?
Obviously, such simple questions do not bother the prime minister. He has demonstrated his generosity by obliquely accepting that disparities have grown during the last ten years, that the rate of industrial growth has come down of late, or that everything is not okay with our financial institutions. But all these things are too obvious in themselves, and the prime minister could avoid accepting them only at the cost of his own credibility. There is, otherwise, not much in his speech after these admissions. All the issues that have been rocking the current session of parliament, like the Tehelka exposure and UTI and various other scams, are conspicuously absent from the speech.
Oh no, there is also something about fighting corruption and creating a machinery to punish those harassing the people!
SPEECH OR POLL MANIFESTO!
All in all, the prime ministers independence day 2001 speech looks less like a solemn pledge for the countrys well-being and regeneration and more like an election manifesto. This is not something unnatural. Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir are to go to assembly polls within the next one year, and the BJPs prestige is at stake in all these states. In UP, the BJP is already in a desperate condition and is trying everything --- from wooing the OBCs, to creating communal strife --- to avoid its almost certain downfall. Properly speaking, the UP assembly polls should be held before October 2001, but the BJP is trying to postpone them till March 2002 on the spurious plea that a government was formed in the state only in March 1997. It conveniently seeks to gloss over the fact that all the MLAs had taken an oath in October 1996 and had started drawing their salaries and allowances from that very month. This itself is an indicator of the hopeless position the BJP finds itself in, in that state.
Nay more, a few days ago, the prime minister himself cautioned the BJP MPs to awaken and concentrate on winning the UP polls. There is nothing surprising in it. UP is the biggest state of the Indian Union, and it is widely believed that the BJPs downfall in UP will herald its fall at the all-India level. Moreover, the Samajwadi Party, a constituent of the Lok Morcha that has the potential of providing a third alternative to the country, is already posing a serious challenge to the BJP misrule in UP.
The reality of the prime ministers Red Fort speech alias election manifesto can be grasped only in this context.
It is therefore not surprising that the prime ministers speech failed to present the true state of affairs in the country. For example, communalism cannot but be an important aspect of this picture, but the speech was silent on this burning issue of the day. Only a few days ago, a hooligan crowd led by the RSS, VHP and BJP demolished a mosque at Asind in Bhilwara district, Rajasthan. Then, only two days ago, on August 13, another mosque in Bhilwara town was desecrated, the maulvi of the mosque was manhandled and the copies of Quran kept there were torn. (These were not the first instances of their kind; a large number of similar acts have been committed in various parts of the country since the BJP came to power.) But, on August 15, the prime minister behaved as if he was blissfully ignorant about these events. This too is not surprising for a person who behaves less as the prime minister of a country that has been proud of its tradition of unity in diversity, and more as a swayamsevak of the RSS.
The fact is that if Shri Vajpayee has ever opened his mouth on the issue, it has only been to inform us that he favours fulfilling the "national aspirations," that means building a temple at the Babri site. This was what he told us from the Straten Island and this he told us from Kerala. One must certainly be grateful to him that he avoided making a reference to this (RSS-VHP-BJPs) resolve while speaking from the Red Fort!
Similarly, the prime minister remained virtually silent on the burning issues of foreign policy; on this score, he mentioned only Pakistan that has been the BJPs bete noire. Shri Vajpayee had nothing to say about our achievements in world affairs in the past. And what he could say anyway when his government has given a burial to that very foreign policy that gave India a place of honour in the comity of nations!
Another question he avoided was that of centre-state relations. This has today become a crucial issue because of the central governments attempts to interfere in Tamil Nadu. Even the TDP, that is propping up the BJP-led regime from outside, criticised the centres moves in this regard. It was therefore futile to expect from Shri Vajpayee that he would have spoken on the issues of federalism which his own government is trying to undermine.
KASHMIR & TERRORISM
In his speech, Shri Vajpayee did come out against terrorism that is indeed posing a big threat to the countrys unity and integrity today. But like a true swayamsevak, here he chose to confine himself to Kashmir. This, again, was not unnatural. It was his own government that withdrew a large number of army and paramilitary battalions from Tripura, leaving the field wide open for terrorist depredations in that state. Moreover, to date, all the battalions have not been restored, despite the state governments repeated plea about it.
Also, the RSS has always been trying to pose as if terrorism is a handiwork of non-Hindu groups, and this is the real logic behind targeting Kashmir when talking about terrorism. From the Red Fort, Shri Vajpayee spoke on the issue in the same tone in which his colleague, home minister Shri L K Advani, had spoken a few days ago.
But, despite whatever has been said by other parties and forces including the CPI(M), Shri Vajpayee, like the RSS and BJP, is not prepared to think about the real reasons of terrorism in Kashmir. That the same people who rejected the two-nation theory and heroically fought to defend their decision to join the Indian Union, stand alienated today, has no meaning for this communal outfit. To them, Kashmir is not a political but only a law and order problem, and that is why they are trying to deal with it by pumping in more armed forces into the state --- the same mistake which the Congress government had committed. Despite its assurance to the allies that contentious issues like temple construction, common civil code and article 370 will be kept out of the governments functioning, the BJP has not given up is opposition to article 370. It is not prepared to restore the level of autonomy the state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed in the past. The prime minister has correctly rejected General Musharrafs claim that a jehad is going on in Kashmir. But he and his party are totally oblivious of the fact that there is only one way to fight terrorism and secessionism in the state, and that is by winning back the state peoples confidence.
NO SENSE OF PROPRIETY
In short, Shri Vajpayee had nothing much to boast about his governments performance when he delivered his speech from the Red Fort. What he could have as his government has failed on all fronts, heaped only miseries on the common man and lowered the nations prestige in the world.
This must have been the dilemma before the president Dr K R Narayanan as well, who broadcast an unusually short address to the nation on the eve of independence day. In the words of The Statesman, "Not too many substantive achievements to speak about, Mr Narayanan concentrated on generalities, choosing to gloss over the numerous non-achievements in the 54 years of independence." The president chose to speak about our tradition of unity in diversity, our democratic set-up and the need to defend the "poverty-stricken people in the face of the tidal wave of globalisation that is sweeping the world today." But this was perhaps no coincidence. It is our unity in diversity and our democracy that are under attack from the BJP-led regime and it is precisely the tidal wave of globalisation which the regime is assisting the imperialist powers to let loose against our people.
Two years ago, on this very occasion, Dr Narayanan had chosen not to read the address prepared by the government and had spoken out his own mind. Thus he dissociated, or was widely believed to have dissociated, from the BJP-led regime. Such a dissociation of the constitutional head of state from the government could have been a cause of introspection for any prime minister. But the BJP-led government is not perturbed a bit, and that only goes to show how it has given up all sense of propriety.
This is a situation that is quite appropriate for the Left and democratic forces to intervene and forge a third alternative on pro-people issues.