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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 41, September 26, 2009

At Random

Saturday 26 September 2009, by K. Natwar Singh


The last two weeks have provided both mirth and melancholy. First melancholy. The aged and respected Minister of External Affairs, S.M. Krishna, and his junior colleague are unceremoniously asked to vacate their five-star abodes. That they were inflicting no burden on the taxpayer is besides the point. In our hypocritical political set-up ostentatious austerity has to be seen, not practised.

How were this Ministers dealt with? The Finance Minister, a man of wisdom, vast experience and the best man to defuse crises, was asked to tell these Ministers to move from their hotels to State Bhawans—Karnataka and Kerala. So far so good. The question must be asked: who gave the Finance Minister’s confidential telephone conversations with his ministerial colleagues to the print and electronic media? Someone should be asked to explain.

Surely the government did not wish to humiliate two decent Ministers and that too in public. This cannot be the Congress culture.

One other observation. Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister. He should have spoken to the Ministers. He would have done it in a gentle manner without any publicity.

Now, the mirth. Two worthy spokespersons of the All India Congress Committee breathed fire and brimstone, in staggering self-righteous tones. Action will be taken at the appropriate time, said one. The other pronounced that Shashi Tharoor’s language was not acceptable. These observations were made on TV. Is this the Congress culture?

The conclusion is that the AICC has one concept of Congress culture and the head of government another. The PM rightly treated Tharoor’s unbridled twittering as a joke and that was the end of it. Lot of upholders of the “Congress culture” had egg on their faces, including a Chief Minister who asked for Tharoor’s resignation. Is this a part of the Congress culture? Chief Ministers sitting on judgement on Central Ministers? It can’t be. Anyway he too has been rightly silenced.

A word about the brilliant, ebullient, witty, articulate, accident-prone, erratic, slightly irresponsible, Shashi Tharoor. I know him well. A period of silence on his part would be welcome. He can twitter but do so judiciously. He is fortunate to be inducted into the Council of Ministers immediately after winning his Lok Sabha election. Normally he would have had to wait for sometime before getting a ministerial berth. He should not push his luck beyond a point. He will have, I am confident, learnt his lesson. No wit please, we are Indians.

The 64th session of the UN General Assembly opened last Tuesday (September 15) with President Obama opening the debate on climate change. He was followed by President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China. The international arena now has the G-2. The G-5, the G-20 are junior members in the new and novel power game. What will this particular session achieve? Nothing substantial. Simply because the UN needs a drastic political climate change. The UN Security Council is the most undemocratic institution there is in the democratic world. The P-5 rule the roost. India, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Egypt, South Africa should be permanent members of the Security Council. Unless the USA and China agree, the Charter cannot be amended. When I was the Minister of External Affairs, Brazil, Germany and Japan plus India formed a group G-4, but we achieved no success. China against Japan, Nigeria against Egypt, Pakistan against India, Mexico against Brazil, Italy against Germany. Actually the Italian argument was disingenuous—“Damn it, Italy also lost the war. Why this special favour to two other losers!!” One can’t argue against that.

The political scene at home is depressing. Indian democracy needs a strong Opposition. At the moment there is none. The Bharatiya Janata Party is busy shooting itself in both feet. The Left has for the time being been left behind (from 63 to 28 in Parliament) thanks to the immensely popular and independent-minded Mamata Banerjee. The Samajwadi Party has lost its way and the Bahujan Samaj Party is not lagging far behind. The Laloo-Paswan team has yet to put its house in order. The Telugu Desam Party continues to be in a state of shock. The AIADMK is groping in the dark and also in the light. The result: the Congress party is having the political cake and eating it too. Not an inspiring state of affairs, by any means.

Every political party is looking to the Haryana and Maharashtra elections. Haryana will spring no surprise. The Maharashtra scene is as of now hazy and confusing. The Congress has been in office in Maharashtra for ten years. Are the winds of change visible? Let’s wait and see.

What is desperately needed is the raising of the level of our national political dialogue. For this to happen not only the political parties have to act, but also our ubiquitous media. Some of the TV channel anchors claim to speak on behalf of the people of India. This is a bit much.

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