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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 47, November 13, 2010

An Open Letter to Sonia Gandhi

Tuesday 16 November 2010, by Shree Shankar Sharan

Dear Madam Gandhi,

It did not behove you to rubbish the Bihar Government in your election campaign there by flying in the face of facts. While to play up your party and play down others is both permissible and the done thing in election campaigns, a responsible leader of a responsible national party should not engage in Orwellian untruths and bad-mouth the government it wishes to replace.

The last five years out of the 20 that you have branded as the time of misgovernance in Bihar bears no comparison with the 15-year sterile and moribund government of the RJD. Nitish has been nationally and internationally acclaimed as having turned Bihar around by his new accent on development. His linking of rural and urban areas by a vast network of roads and bridges is the talk of all sections, castes and communities in Bihar, because they have all benefited from it. Thanks to infrastructure development Bihar’s rate of growth has hovered around 10 per cent, among the best in the country.

His contributions to the social sector have been positive; education and health programmes have shot up with improved teacher-pupil ratio and a fall in dropouts, and better hospital services provided with more medicines and doctors as universally acknowledged.

His most outstanding achievement has been in enlarging gender justice. His 50 per cent reservation for women in the offices of grassroot institutions like panchayats has impacted the rural mental landscape in Bihar like a typhoon. Similarly by the innovative policy of providing bicycles to all school-going girls he has wrought a revolution in gender relations in conservative rural India and Bihar.

His relief work in the Kosi floods, although it took time to start as it does with all governments, was meticulous and all-embracing in the accessible areas and gradually with Army and NGO help spread to others. His rehabilitation programme suffered heavily not because of lack of plan or effort but the unjust denial of funds worth Rs 3500 crores to him by the Government of India for rebuilding houses of the displaced, and other reconstruction funds leaving them homeless and obstructing land development from the heavy cover of Kosi sand and repair of flood damages. As chairperson of the UPA surely you should not have been unaware of the grave injustice done to the flood victims of Bihar by piling distresss on distress by the penny-pinching accountants in the UPA Government. Or was it to punish Bihar for not voting the way the Centre would have wanted?

As regards underachievement in NREGA and Indira Awas, the Bihar Government has taken time to design houses that can withstand both flood and earthquakes, north Bihar being both in the flood prone zone and the seismic zone. Similarly it has taken time to compile the list of BPL families to rule out fake claimants whose number in Bihar is legion. Still despite floods and drought and general election Bihar has utilised 75 per cent of its financial allocation under both NREGA and Indira Awas projects. It hopes to raise the NREGA target to Rs 2000 crores and build seven to eight lakhs of Indira Awas’ since 2007-08 and add more in 2010-11. Surely to cover a still larger number of poor and not as an election ploy, Bihar should do even better.

The JD(U)’s most dramatic and universally acknowledged improvement has been in restoring law and order to Bihar which his predecessor government had brought to rack and ruin, with a notorious record of kidnapping and extortion that had discouraged new investments in the State and caused some capital flights. Their memories lingered even in the changed dispensation to see if the RJD will again come back to power. It is only if the JD(U) wins convincingly that Bihar will start her industrial spurt provided the Government of India does not put more spokes in their wheel in an unfortunate spirit of negative competitive politics.

THE UPA makes a huge grouse of the JD(U) being an ally of the BJP and is consequently communal. The confusion needs to be cleared and the allegation refuted. It is the JD(U) which leads the government and the BJP is an ally.The Congress Government, when it had allies in Kerala like the Muslim League, did not become a League Government. The JD(U), both in thought and deed, is a wholly secular party. Repeatedly it has demonstrated its secular credentials, in the support to pasmada (lower order) Muslims, in granting compensation to the Bhagalpur riot victims that started under a Congress Government and steps to revive the riot damaged silk industry, in making a huge land allocation to a branch of the Aligarh Muslim University in Kishanganj and refusing consent to extremist BJP leaders from campaigning in Bihar, to the extent of cancelling a dinner to the BJP leaders. It has gone a long way in winning over the Muslims’ confidence.

An alliance with both the Right and the Left was an accepted policy of Socialists to defeat the Congress because of disapproving its pro-rich policies and they did that both in 1967 under Lohia and in 1977 under JP. The latter even merged them in the umbrella Janata Party with Socialists and Congress(O) as the other constituents with a view to putting an end to communal politics by exposing them to the liberals. Alas, this project failed later.

Mrs Gandhi should make herself aware of the history and driving force of alliances of many groups with the BJP out of electoral compulsion. They include her current allies in the south. The way to win over allies is not to bad-mouth them but to treat them better and more justly.

The misgovernance that Mrs Gandhi has talked about in Bihar was the doing of two Chief Ministers, one a Congressman and the other of the RJD, an off-shoot of the JD/JP. They were two errant men who by luck and scheming got into power, grossly mused it and sank Bihar in corruption and crime. However, not only the first but also the second were blue-eyed boys of the Congress party/alliance till recently The ally parted on the issue of seat adjustments and not on good governance in Bihar.

Mrs Gandhi as a tall national leader should refrain from the blame game which will also hurt her. A vaulting ambition to rule both the Centre and the States will weaken the federal structure, the guarantor of the country’s integrity, by threatening to convert the federal into a de facto unitary government.
Delhi Shree Shankar Sharan

Shree Shankar Sharan is the Convener, Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi.

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