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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 28, July 3, 2010

Is South Block Listening?


Saturday 10 July 2010, by SC

Last month it was written in these columns in Mainstream (June 19):
What is most amazing is that at a time when inflation reigns high, the government is thinking of deregulation of the pricing of such intermediaries as petroleum products.

Now the government has actually gone in for decontrol of petrol prices and this has been predictably hailed by the industry as a whole as a “welcome move”. As the FICCI Secretary-General has observed,
People tend to consume more fuel than necessary if prices do not reflect their inherent scarcity value. By linking fuel prices with international crude price, the government can bring in greater efficiency in fuel use.

Buoyed by such encomiums from those who have consistently and wholeheartedly backed his economic reforms, our economist PM has, on his way back from the G-20 summit at Toronto, declared that diesel prices would likewise be set free shortly. It needs to be noted that this time kerosene and LPG too have not been spared as their prices have gone up for the first time in eight years. And the PM himself has justified it by pointing to the high subsidy implicit in the pricing structure of these products. That is not all. Rejecting the Opposition criticism he has emphasised the necessity of reforms avoiding “excessive populism”. (Let us make no mistake—standing by the poor and the downtrodden is, according to the parlance borrowed from the West in today’s globalised world, ‘populism’ that must be shunned like plague!)

What do such statements signify? As has been aptly underscored by Opposition leaders planning joint mass programmes, including a Bharat bandh, against the government’s moves on this front, such pronouncements and the steps taken so far clearly indicate the UPA-II dispensation’s complete apathy and insensitivity to the plight of the common man or aam aadmi (whose interests it had pledged to uphold during election time) as in the present situation, when the corporates are calling the shots, the Nehruvian project is being systematically undermined in the interest of those in the higher rungs of the socio-economic ladder so much so that even the lip-service to “inclusive growth” is being sought to be abandoned to placate the wealthy segments of society. And this at a time when the public at large are groaning under the impact of abnormal price rise and runaway inflation. This will not only generate mass protests countrywide but also fuel public anger on a scale seldom witnessed in the past. (That is why judging the people’s mood the Congress’ allies like the Trinamul have voiced their unambiguous criticism of such a move.)

Meanwhile the Kashmir Valley is on the boil as never before and scenes of spontaneous public upsurge only heighten the magnitude of the people’s indignation over the way in which security forces are tackling the ground situation, killing people including young men and teenaged boys (in the latest incident a nine-year-old has been killed on June 28), the toll from the CRPF firing on protestors over the last fortnight now standing at eight. Newspapers are referring to “serious administrative lapses” while jingoist sections of the electronic media only see the spectre of jihadis from across the border in the stone-pelting youth even as the Union Home Minister highlights the presence of “anti-national elements clearly linked to the LeT” as the source of trouble. However, none of the personalities in charge of the Union and State governments speak of any “political lapses” that led to such a situation.

It is in this context that Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar has called for serious engagement with the people of Kashmir to help build an environment that would ensure a return to normalcy. This has been unequivocally welcomed by sections of the separatists who point out that this approach can genuinely assist in strengthening Kashmir’s ties with India severely weakened as a result of the recent events. Yet Mani’s views hardly carry any weight these days in the corridors of power.

The PM and other Union Ministers did visit the Valley of late but did not feel it necessary to meet the members of the bereaved families (as vividly brought out by Humra Quraishi in this issue), a task a Jawaharlal Nehru or an Indira Gandhi would never have forgotten to carry out whatever the impediments. It is that essential human touch which is missing in today’s desensitised, dehumanised atmosphere with the corporate lobby dominating the political scene. Unless we adopt a totally different and really humane approach to the problems of the Valley the unrest there would continue to grow causing untold misery for the local people whereas their alienation from mainland India would scale newer heights.

Is South Block listening?

July 1 S.C.

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