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Mainstream, VOL L, No 32, July 28, 2012

President Pranab as South Assam Burns


Tuesday 31 July 2012, by SC


As was only expected, Pranab Mukherjee, who left no stone unturned to win the Congress’ nomination as the UPA candidate for the office of the President, has won the presidential contest defeating his rival, former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma, convincingly—he secured 68.12 per cent of the total 10,47,971 value votes cast by 4659 Members of the State/Territorial Assemblies and Parliament while Sangma could garner a mere 30.15 per cent of the votes.

Pranab’s support cut across party lines—from the Shiv Sena to CPM (a bizarre combination)—while there was heavy cross-voting in Karnataka in the BJP ranks with B.S. Yeddyurappa’s supporters backing the former Finance Minister and not Sangma. This is being interpreted as reflective of the influence of corporate power behind Pranab though the importance of the Shiv Sena and sections of the BJP’s intense hatred for a Christian tribal having played a major role in tilting the scales in favour of a Rahri Brahmin should not be under-estimated.

However, whatever one’s opinion of Pranab Mukherjee, there can be no two opinions that his acceptance speech after being sworn in as the 13th President of the Republic by the Chief Justice of India was among the best one has heard from heads of state in recent years. Not only because he brought the issue of poverty alongside those of corruption and terrorism to the centre-stage. But precisely because he underlined something which goes against the basis of the reforms process launched in 1991 and carried forward by successive governments at the Centre regardless of their political complexion. While warning that “trickle-down theories do not address the legitimate aspirations of the poor”, he underlined: “We must lift those at the bottom so that poverty is erased from the dictionary of modern India.” Excellent words indeed (reminiscent of what Indira Gandhi, Pranab’s mentor, had declared in her rousing Garibi Hatao slogan more than forty years ago). But one is tempted to ask: what did he do in the last eight years (of UPA-I and UPA-II till date) to ensure that poverty is obliterated? After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if one goes by that yardstick the reality is that poverty today has become entrenched not just in the rural areas but the urban conglomerates as well, and with the rise in the number of billionaires disparities in the country have widened as never before.

Meanwhile Team Anna has hit the streets once again. On July 25, the day Pranab Mukherjee took oath of office and secrecy as the nation’s President, Team Anna members went on an indefinite fast while Anna Hazare himself was on dharna to force the government take a decision on their demands. They are demanding the setting up of (i) a special investigation team (SIT) headed by three retired judges of the Apex Court to probe corruption charges against 15 Union Ministers, including the PM, and (ii) a fast-track court to try criminal cases against MPs. Significantly, the new President too is not being let off the hook: Pranab is one of those against whom the evidence of corruption is to be laid out. As prominent Team Anna leader Arvind Kejriwal declared before the crowd gathered at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar (the venue of the fast), “If Lokpal was there (Pranab) Mukherjee would not have been the President. The Constitution provides immunity to the President from any investigation. Now the Congress has put a ‘chadar’ of the Constitution on the President.”

The recent horrific violence at the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar (Gurgaon, Haryana), that culminated in the death of the company’s manager has evoked allround condemnation. The workers went on rampage in a manner that can only be denounced for this type of violence plays into the hands of those seeking to ban unionisation. Nonetheless, it must also be pointed out, as The Hindu has correctly underscored,

...workers have been frustrated and this has to be seen in the context of the consumer culture that has taken hold of the country. The attempt by some companies, especially multinationals, to discourage unionisation has added to the volatility of industrial relations, and their preferred tactic is to employ workers on contract so as to have a hold over them.

To reverse this trend it is necessary for all stakeholders to jointly find out ways and means to overcome the problems besetting industrial relations in the current scenario. For this exercise to succeed, it is essential to eschew one-upmanship by each of the concerned parties.

Against this backdrop what is most alarming is that ethnic clashes have once again claimed more than 40 lives (as of now) in South Assam. Flag marches by the Army has helped to bring back some semblance of normalcy no doubt but the affected people on all sides continue to remain traumatised. The reasons behind such violence have been analysed in depth in the following article but as of now little has been done towards finding a lasting solution to the complex problem. True, at this stage restoration of order is of prime necessity in the districts of Dhubri, Chirang, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon. But if one does not think of evolving a long-term approach to the problem, the situation would not only turn worse but also pose a serious danger to the country’s unity since Kokrajhar, the worst affected region, is landlocked North-East’s narrow passage to mainland India through the so-called “chicken’s neck”. Thus the authorities have to be extremely vigilant and not allow the conditions to deteriorate at any cost. And the humanitarian issue must be tackled with the sense of urgency that it demands.

July 26 S.C.

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