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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 14, March 27, 2010

The Valley of Incongruities

Saturday 27 March 2010, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Whatever may be the substance of the much-advertised point of difference between Peking and Washington over the question of détente, it may be safely assumed that Gerald Ford’s talks with Mao Tse-tung and his cohorts explored the further potentialities of Sino-American collusion, particularly in the countries of the Third World. Angola shows the enormity of this entente while the happenings in Bangladesh underscores this danger in our immediate neighbourhood.

The Sino-American understanding is thus no longer a matter of remote contingency but a fact of life in international affairs. In our country, this is admitted on the propaganda level, but mostly on that level alone. The fact that Washington has had to resort to such a strategy is a sign of its weakness—the weakness that has been exposed by the magnificent triumph of the Vietnamese people. For Peking, too, the emergence of Vietnam as a major power on its soft under-belly could hardly be a matter of rejoicing, so engrossed are Mao’s men today in the game of power-politics.

If the Ford-Kissinger diplomacy has been to bolster up America’s global designs with the help of China, then the best antidote for any country in the Third World is to strengthen its own economy in a manner that it is not compelled to stretch the begging bowl to the US, and plug all possible inlets of neocolonialist penetration. It is on this score that there is much that has to be done by New Delhi if it has to effectively ward off this new offensive from outside.

Much has been and is being said by many leaders from the Prime Minister downward, about the danger of internal destabilisation and external encirclement. The campaign is on to make our masses aware of the danger of Fasciam. But the breeding ground of Fasciam in today’s context is provided by the entrenched vested interests in agrarian and industrial spheres which, in the final analysis, prop up Right reaction. If the Emergency is justified on the ground of its necessity to put down the frontal challenge of reactionary forces on the political plane, the Twenty-point Programme, it was claimed, would cripple the economic base of Reaction.

In the five months since its announcement, has the Twenty-point Programme undermined the entrenched hold of reactionary vested interests in urban and rural life? True, bonded labour has been abolished by Ordinance, but has the bonded labourer been rehabilitated in economic life? When rural unemployment shows no sign of decreasing, how can we claim in all honesty that effective agrarian reforms are in the going? On the industrial front, the trade unions are agitated over the bonus cut. But this is not an isolated phenomenon: concessions to private enterprise have come in shoals in these five months of the Emergency. From the old slogan of sugar nationalisation, we have now gone on to cut in sugar excise. Who is afraid of the Twenty-point Programme? Not certainly the FICCI.

Political life in the last few days has been marked by displacement and emplacement of Ministers. Bahuguna’s removal from the office of the UP Chief Minister should not have come as a surprise. What was surprising was that he could survive so long even after annoying Yashpal Kapur for having refused to reserve a Rajya Sabha seat for K.K. Birla last year. That day his fate was sealed, and with all the land distribution and house-sites for the Harijan and fair treatment and security for the Muslim minority, there was obviously no escape from the wrath of the Birlas and the sugar barons.

K.R. Ganesh was obdurate in clutching to the Hathi Report calling for action against foreign pharmaceutical firms, when their con-men have been so affectionately generous to a Congress bigwig in Bombay. And so, if Ganesh had to quit his ministerial post, should it be a matter of surprise?

Bansi Lal brings the Jat muscle to strengthen the Indian Cabinet and Dhillon will now on deal with truck-owners instead of having to pacify law-makers. Umashankar Dikshit’s superannuation into Governership is touchingly thoughtful, but one wonders if Sardar Swaran Singh has had to retire because he found it difficult to master the alphabet of the present dispensation.

Editorial commentators, friendly and loyal to the Government, have called the Prime Minister’s exercise in Cabinet reshuffle as a job half-done and are despaired of finding in her latest team of Ministers an improved team of implementers of the Twenty-point Programme. What is missed in this assumption is that there seems to be hardly any compulsion, in the inner consciousness of the Congress leadership, for defying the time-honoured practice of keeping platform promises sacrosanct, not to be defiled by the din and dust likely to be raised by any effort at seriously implementing them. Why go in for the bother when the kharif crop has been so good and rabi is expected to be equally so? Would these not carry the Congress through the election, if there is one?

It is not that the Government lacks the will to exercise authority. Before the dawn broke on the day the two new entrants into the Central Cabinet were sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Naxalite Bhoomaiah and Kista Gowd were hanged in the distant Secunderabad prison for having done to death two landlords for no personal gains. No doubt the law has meted out justice—an eye for an eye—lex talionis. On that very morning and many before it, one saw Government advertisement plastered all over, announcing “Voluntary Disclosure Scheme Gives You the Best Chance to declare your Undisclosed Income and Wealth: No Penalty, No Prosecution, Reasonable Tax Rates.” No penalty for the black moneymaker, —as for many a landlord guilty of fleecing and even torturing the kisan—certainly no lex talionis in his case. Just a touch of grotesque incongruity.

If President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed has twice rejected the mercy petitions of the two—perhaps the first to be executed in our Republic for political offence—whose life was not spared, it is not because he is personality insensitive; for, has he not opened only the other day, an exhibition of women artists by himself drawing a sketch of abstract art? In withholding clemency from Bhoomaiah and Kista Gowd, he, as the constitutional President, has only asserted the Authority, that is, the Government of India.

Authority tempered with mercy is the prerogative of a far-seeing democracy.

(Mainstream, December 6, 1975)

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