Dialogue  April-June 2009 , Volume 10 No. 4

Editorial Perspective

Who will answer the Maoist bullies of Nepal?

For Maoists, and for that matter for all other communists, the use of violence in politics is a legitimate proposition. They use violence as a part of their strategy to create political space and finally to capture power. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly called Prachanda, (Pranchanda, nom de guerre of Dahal, means “fierce one”), the then Maoist Prime Minster of Nepal, keeping this strategy in mind, attempted to infiltrate his Maoist cadres in the Nepalese Army and to give it a Maoist ideological orientation. Prachanda, who formed a coalition government in August 2008, keeping this strategy in mind, retired eight army officers of Brigadier General Rank without cabinet approval and in violation of the provisions of the Army Act, 2006 and that of Nepali Army regulations. The Supreme Court of Nepal, on hearing the petition of the army officers, reversed the government order in March 2009 and ordered the Defence Ministry to restore their services. The Nepali army withdrew from the National Games, organized in April 2009, when the organizers of the games allowed a contingent of the People’s Liberation Army to participate in the same a day after its inauguration.

Finally, the Maoist Government of Nepal wanted stoppage of general recruitment in Nepali Army and to take in the People’s Liberation Army cadres. As the army chief General Rukmangad Katuwal did not co-operate, he was sacked. The president Ram Baran Yadav countermanded his cabinet’s recommendation to sack him. Prachanda resigned in protest. Thus, an unprecedented crisis developed in our northern neighbourhood, Nepal. Of course, the crisis was of Maoists making, who wanted 19000 of their murderous companions in arms, who ravaged the country for 14 years, to be a part of the army and Katuwal rightly resisted the move. But that was not the end. As usual the blame game started against India.

Prachanda, while resigning, said: “I fired a missile through my resignation against the foreign masters who want to keep this country in their grip.” He also accused his opponents in Nepal of trying to indulge in horse trading at the behest of foreign power centres to forge a coalition government. In the meantime, the demonstrations shouting anti-India slogans continue in Nepal. The latest is false allegation of intrusion of Indian army personnel in Nepalese territory. The aim of the Maoists, as usual and as was the case earlier by the communists of Nepal, was to bully India to help them and to create Indophobia among the Nepali citizens.

 The point which is missed is that the recent development in Nepal is an intra-Communist and intra-Nepal affair and India does not come in the picture. It is obvious that when Katuwal was not helpful in the nefarious game of politicization of the army, he was sacked by Prachanda. Unfortunately for him, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-UML), a coalition partner of his government, distanced itself from his decision and the President had to act to save the army chief. India’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji rightly said: ‘it is the internal affair of Nepal’. He further said that India wished Nepal “well in its transition to fully democratic polity”. But such disclaimers and clarifications had no meaning for the Maoists of Nepal. Ignoring the reality, they continued to bully India to derive undue benefit. On its part its curious that India has not denied or responded to Maoists allegations of interference.

It is well-known fact that Maoists believe in drawing strength from the teaching of Mao that political power grows out of the barrel of the gun. Prachanda, by converting Nepali Army into People’s Liberation Army, wanted to monopolize that power and have undisturbed one party rule in Nepal. Naturally, that was not liked by other political parties. As desired by the President, the Constituent Assembly of Nepal elected Madhav Kumar Nepal, the veteran leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Maxist-Leninist), as the new prime minister. 56-year-old Nepal, a former bank clerk turned politician, has the backing of 351 members of a loose combination of 22 parties in the 601 member Assembly. The government is to oversee the drafting of a new Constitution within a year. As Maoist insurgents, who killed more than 13000 people, boycotted the Assembly during election, the return of chaos and violence can not be ruled out. But there is practically no way out than to face the situation. The question which remains unanswered is: who will answer the Maoist bullies of Nepal? And when?

Parliamentary Election Verdict: Some Positive Signals

Recent Parliamentary Election verdict, in the prevailing political environment, is the most satisfactory one. The election results indicate people’s preference for two-party system. The verdict has thrown some positive signals. Comparatively stable and firm elements in Indian politics have been strengthened; unstable and fluid elements are marginalized. The process of gradual marginalization of national political parties is arrested; rather it is reversed in the case of Congress. For the first time in last 18 years, the Congress or any other political party has crossed the tally of 200 and a person has held the chair of prime minister for the first time consecutively for second term after Pt. Nehru. Of course, BJP suffered marginally. The opposite has happened to the destabilizing political combinations/parties. It is significant that the people have pushed any pre-poll alliance near majority after a gap of almost two decades. The Congress is free now from the cumbersome job of dealing with its fair-weather allies and the meddling Left and has to deal mainly with the DMK, Trinamool Congress and the internal matter, as the delay in allotment of portfolios indicate.

A further pattern of positive voting suggests that the voters were mostly untied to caste and religion; that they wanted governance and proper implementation of the policies enhancing growth and development. They also voted for efficient governance and stability. Of course, it was not only the positive factors and negative voting against the destabilizers and the parties seen to work against national interest which were responsible for desirable verdict. In many cases, vote-bank shift has also played a role in effecting the outcome. The voters, many a times, select a candidate from among the undeserving ones due to lack of alternative and the same is misexplained by the media. Performing Chief Ministers with clean image could deliver, as the people preferred their candidates. This happened, especially, in case of Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh. While some CMs like Nitish Kumar and Sheila Dixit bettered their performance this time in comparison to that of the last Assembly elections, Mayawati drastically failed to do so. People gave their verdict in her favour in last Assembly election (2007) hoping her to bring improvement in law and order situation in U.P. But contrary to what they hoped, she fielded dons in the last Parliament election. Allegations of widespread corruption alienated people. Moreover, she was with destabilizer ‘Third Front’. There was a feeling before the election that Jayalalitha shall perform better this time. But as she did not open her cards and was sitting on the fence, people were suspicious and took her as a destibilizer and, therefore, did not vote for her. She also could not keep her former allies with her.

The pre-poll scenario was gloomy. The parties and the individuals came out of the existing alliances – UPA and NDA, and new ones joined the same. The Left took lead in the formation of the “Third Front” with the objective of forming non-Congress, non-BJP government. Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan formed “Fourth Front” for bettering the scores of their respective parties aiming at improving their bargaining power. Many were fence-sitters. Such alliances were aimed at benefiting weak political formations and the individual politicians who had vested interests in the fragmentation of Indian polity. We witnessed fluid non-principled opportunistic alliance formations on the poll-eve where citizen-centric concerns become the last priority.

Every dangerous symptom of a diseased political culture, every syndrome of instability was visible during pre-poll days. The number of aspiring Prime Ministers in waiting, relying totally on borrowed legislative support, increased abnormally. It included even those politicians who could not manage the electoral score of ten. Needless to say that the people could visualize the dangers in promoting them, as it was to promote chronic instability. This election had witnessed all kinds of tricks – application of Defence of India Act, calling bad names to each other, abusive comments and naked postures.

The BJP has not done so badly if we glance through its overall weaknesses. The Left, while supporting the UPA government from outside, took full advantage of a ruling ally. At the same time, it acted as a real opposition. BJP, on the other hand, did not avail that opportunity; it failed to work as credible opposition during last five years. It also compromised its agenda so much so that it became a replica of Congress. The leadership was divided to the extent that it gave the impression of working against itself. The emphasis on policies and programmes fluctuated. There was an impression, many a times, of the Vajpeyization of Advaniji. Many of NDA’s allies deserted midway or at the election eve, as BJD did. One hopes, JD(U) will not do the same next time. In brief it indulged in negatives and failed to project an alternative political agenda. The BJP leadership, at a time, is arrogant; it ignores its cadres. Its organizational base is weak in many states and non-existent in many others and the party continues to ignore the fact. It tries to cover up its weaknesses by seeking strength from its allies.

None can deny that the Congress in Assam and the CPI(M) in West Bengal were responsible for the settlement of illegal aliens from Bangladesh. BJP, when there was opportunity to act, played rhetoric. The party lacks self-confidence. Even while taking a perfectly secular stand, e.g. in case of ‘common civil code’ and on ‘Article 370’, it continued to waver repeatedly and wanted certificate from those who themselves are involved deeply in the non-secular competitive politics of vote-bank.

In people’s perception, Manmohan Singh is a likeable and respectable Prime Minster due to his integrity, modesty, simplicity and scholarship. His working in unison with his party president is an additional quality and not his weakness. Thus Advaniji attacking Manmohan Singh as the weakest prime minister seemed an unjustified statement.

The Left projected Mayawati as its Prime Ministerial candidate. The BSP declared pre-elections that it would be with a non-Congress, non-BJP combination. The same was the case with JD(S). But as soon as the results were out, Mayawati dumped defeated Karat for winner Congress. JD(S) also gave unsolicited support to the Congress. As a result, even CPI(M) admitted the third front to be a failure. While both BSP and JD(S) ditched the Left and decided to support UPA, TRS even did not wait for the election results to come out and joined NDA. Others giving unsolicited support to the UPA were: BSP (21 MPs), RJD (4 MPs), Bodo People’s Front, Nagaland People’s Front, Sikkim Democratic Front, AUDF of Assam and Independents (4MPs). Thus, total supporting MPs became 323. Of late, even BJD of Patnaik has also declared issue-based support to the government. This change in the attitude of the parties has only come due to unexpected success of the Congress and its allies. Otherwise, the scenario was to be just the opposite.

As for the Fourth Front, it took hardly two days for the “fourth Front” to crumble after the verdict. Their three leaders started talking only for themselves and not for the collectivity. After electoral debacle the doctrine of ‘collective leadership’ has given way to blame game in CPM. This clearly shows how fluid and unprincipled were the combinations.

 The verdict constitutes the worst electoral debacle for the CPI(M) after its formation in 1964 after the split of CPI due to so called revisionism. It won 19 seats in 1967 elections against 15 of the present one. With 15 seats as against 35 earlier, the CPI(M) is cut to size. The Left‘s strength has been reduced from 62 to 24. The destabilizing role of the Left, and its obsessive anti-Americanism is costing India heavily; its helping the cause of foreign countries at the cost of India, violence of the CPI(M) in Nandigram and Singur, tenacious flight against its policies and programmes by Mamata Baneji, Congress joining Mamata in the electoral battle and shift of the Muslim vote-bank cost the Left especially the CPI(M) heavily.

As political parties developed vested interests in fragile verdict and hung Parliament, the gap between aspirations and the strengths of the individual politicians widened. It may be interesting here to note the performance of the parties whose supremos either aspired or were projected to be the prime minister. Sharad Pawar led NCP got only nine seats; Lalu Prasad led RJD could win 4; JD(S) of former Prime Minister Deve Gowda only three; BSP got only 20 seats; Ram Vilas Paswan, about whom Lalu Prasad talked to be a deserving one for that post, got none. This reminds us of Madhu Koda, who was the lone independent MLA in Jharkhand and yet became CM. Thus, it seems, many of our politicians have started believing in Madhu Koda syndrome even at the Centre. This was not, however, the case earlier, as happened with Y.B. Chavan.

 Y.B. Chavan, after the fall of Morarji Desai government in 1979, wanted to be Prime Minister. The then President Sanjeeva Reddy enquired: what kind of Prime Minister he would make with only the support of Congress (O) MPs? But such question has lost its relevance now. The beginning was made soon after. Charan Singh became the only PM who quit before facing parliament. Chandra Shekhar, a decade later, was denied the honour of unfurling the Tricolour at the Red Fort and had to quit within few months. The other PMs, who could not survive on the gaddi even for a year, were VP Singh, Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral and AB Vajpayee. The last one, though representing the party with highest score in the parliament, survived only for 13 days. V.P. Singh, after the collapse of Vajpayee Ministry, was asked by the left and three CMs –Deve Gowda, Chandrababu Naidu and Lalu Prasad – to occupy the post which he wisely refused. Then Jyoti Basu’s name was proposed. After VP Singh’s refusal and Jyoti Basu’s exclusion, Deve Gowda became PM by default. It may be mentioned that he used to take scores of his family members and relatives to every international conference. He took 20 of them to the G-20. IK Gujral instructed R&AW to wind up its clandestine operations in Pakistan, a free field was provided to the ISI, resulting into terrorist attacks and the death of Indian citizens. H.S. Surjeet’s remarks about Gujral were that not even one out of 40 MPs of his party was personally loyal to him. He was harassed and defied even by his own party men. There were three Prime Ministers in two years (1996-98); only 40 MPs out of 545 and yet Janata Dal gave two Prime Ministers. This was the parody and tragedy of Indian democracy. The situation was to be more acute this time, as many aspiring candidates for PM’s post lacked the capacity to win even ten seats. In this context, the victory of the Congress, though unexpected and partly by default, was due to people’s wish for stability and their rejection of the old nefarious game.

 As expected, hectic courtship and bargaining among the political parties ahead of the counting of votes to ensure the ruling combination was heightened and reached its climax and everybody was after extracting the biggest pound of flesh. In this context, the statement of Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar is significant. He said:

 “When every party and pre-poll alliance is claiming it would form the government in Delhi, I ask parties in Bihar to make it a pre-condition for support that whichever party or alliance comes to power will provide special category status to Bihar.”

Here the question is: Did Nitish Kumar make such condition known to his alliance partners and to the people of Bihar while making the alliance or before the poll? Was that the opportune moment for making such demand? Was it in national interest? Is Bihar’s rotten, corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy (of course, not a making of Nitish Kumar) capable enough to properly utilize huge central funding without leakage and fiscal mismanagement? Even while conceding the need of Bihar for economic package, the appeal/statement can not be justified as morally sound or in national interest, especially when the fear of hung-parliament was real. What was to happen to the country if there was a hung Parliament and all other regional political parties were to come out with similar claims for their respective states or to make other impossible demands? Ram Vilas Paswan asked some time back to give citizenship to Bangladeshis. The political parties with their eyes on vote-banks may even ask for the package for the beneficiary communities as a price for support or for dislodging duly elected state government(s). The Communists, as usual, were to promote political instability and to promote Chinese interests at the cost of India.

It is true that Nitish Kumar has started development work, especially the road construction and repair work in every corner of Bihar; there is improvement in law and order situation; none questioned his integrity; he lives a simple life. And therefore, people have voted for JD(U)-BJP alliance and the same could win 32 seats out of 40 in Bihar. But Nitish factor was not the only cause of their better performance. The other reason was the negative voting against the Lalu-Paswan combination due to their faults.

By acting as junior partner, the Congress was gradually becoming a leaders’ party; the number of its grass-root workers was diminishing. The party took calculated risk of going alone in UP and Bihar. It paid dividend in UP and in Bihar it was able to cut to size its unreliable allies, RJD and LJP. The party may revive with renewed faith in itself. With increased number of MPs with UPA, the congress may deal with negative compulsions of coalition politics with efficiency and confidence. It is not, however, difficult to imagine the difficulty of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if the score of the Congress was not so high to ensure unsolicited support from the parties aiming at his replacement, when we find two of its allies – DMK and Trinamool Congress – making impossible demands.

In spite of comfortable performance of the Congress (206 seats) and UPA (total 261 seats) only 11 less than the magic number 272, Manmohan Singh faced the difficulty in persuading the allies to accept the agreed formula of one post of cabinet and one minister of state for every seven MPs of the party. A day before the PM was to be sworn, the allies stepped up their demands and he had to postpone his meeting with the President. DMK with 18 MPs was offered three posts of Cabinet rank and three of MoS rank. DMK demanded four and three. Trinamool Congress with 19 MPs wanted one more berth than DMK. Not only that, these parties also wanted creamy ministries. The key ministries demanded by DMK included surface transport, railways, IT and communication and tourism. TMC, besides railways, wanted coal and mines and civil aviation. The NCP with only nine MPs wanted Agriculture and civil aviation; it preferred power, in case, civil aviation was given to it. Mamata was given Railways and she could be persuaded to maintain he calm. However, there is a feeling that she may trouble Manmohan Singh by asking for dislodging the CPI(M) led government of West Bengal. Mavericks like Mamata may also ask for a package for the minorities, although, crossing the limit shall bring opposition and backlash. The tally of other allies (National Conference 3; JMM 2; five MPs of the parties including Muslim league Kerala Congress combine 2; Kerala Congress (Mani) 1; All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimmeen 1; and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Kutch 1) was not considerable. But even then Farooq Abdullah was unhappy when his name did not figure in the first list. There was delay in even the expansion of the cabinet and announcement of the portfolios due to internal jockeying in the Congress party.

The problem with Karunanidhi was that he wanted his family and folk to be accommodated in the council of ministers. It may be mentioned that he has large family from his three wives. He demanded four cabinet berths for his son Azhagiri, grand -nephhew Dayanidhi Maran, Raja and Baalu. The berths for Ministers of State included one for his daughter Kanimozhi. Baalu and Raja of DMK were tied by controversy. Manmohan Singh did not want to take them in his cabinet, but he had to reconcile to their inclusion. Later on, sulking Karunanidhi reconciled and agreed to have three Cabinet berths for Azhagiri, Maran and Raja. Thus, even after this kind of electoral verdict, the Prime Minister’s task is not easy.

An unhappy trend in Indian politics has been the reliance of the political parties on muscle power and the criminals for improving their election tally. Practically, no party is an exception and all of them continue with the nexus with the criminals. Naturally, the number of the MPs facing serious criminal charges is considerable this time also. As reported, the MPs of such background this time is 12 out of 206 for Congress; 19 out of 116 for BJP, 8 out of 23 in SP; 6 out of 21 in BSP; 3 out of 20 in JDU; one out of 14 in BJD; one out of 15 in CPI (M). Although 23 dons like Atiq Ahmed, Vinay Shukla, D.P. Yadav and Mukhtar Ansari have lost elections; the number of MPs with criminal record has increased from 128 in 2004 to 153 in 2009. Similarly, the number of MPs with serious criminal charges, such as murder and abduction, has increased from 55 to 74. The people, as usual, expect the Central and the state governments, the political parties and Election Commission to initiate action to eradicate crime from electoral politics. It is heartening that almost all the musclemen, dons and their family members were defeated in Bihar, although that was not the case at all India level.

Inspite of its unexpected success in the election, the shortcomings of the congress are real and many. The Congress has set bad example this time in giving tickets to defectors. Its organizational base is poor in many states. Due to dominance of political families, the party lacks inner party democracy, promotes sycophancy and myth-making. Its slogan of youth empowerment may lead to empowering young MPs below 35 who are mostly from political families; sons, daughters and nephews of established politicians. The party has the tendency to thrust ill-experienced young leaders who commit costly errors. The party should be educated about the dangers of Youth-non-Youth divide in Indian leadership frame work.

The political parties, following the principle of ‘catch them young’, select enthusiastic young ones for their youth wings. Many of them grow in politics, pursue their political ends without any concern for the means, and ultimately turn out to be arrogant bullies with neither the capacity, nor the willingness to learn and develop proper understanding of the complexities of the nation and the society, the sense of belonging, integrity, intellectual rigour, experience and proper mix of the self and society-centric dash. Many media men absurdly believe that a combination of charm, charisma, appearance, intelligence and presence is enough.

The people have given Congress a second chance. But there is a danger that the party may not be able to avail it properly. It may thrust ill-experienced ones on the name of youth empowerment; indulge in populism and competitive politics of vote bank. It may also be a victim to its old ailment of arrogance. The Government could reach at the grassroots through National Rural employment Guarantee Act, Sarva Shiksa Aviyan, Bharat Niramn and similar other programmes, provided these programmes are properly implemented; there is fiscal management and leakage is plugged. These schemes need imaginative handling which the Central and the State bureaucracies lack. Take the case of NREGA, it is implemented when there is acute labour shortage in rural areas. The farmers in many parts of the country are going for massive plantation due to government’s inadequacies and there is going to be acute shortage of food-stuff in not a too distant future.

                                                                                                                                                      - B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati