Umno Information Chief Ahmad Maslan has vowed to do his best to bring PAS into Umno and Barisan Nasional to unite the Malays. In doing so he hopes to stop Malays from quarrelling among themselves. He said a merger would lead to peace that would benefit not only the Malays, but the other races as well. Ahmad also said that the Malays should regard the Chinese and other races as friends so that they could jointly develop the country.
From a street fighter to a change agent. And now an icon. Mamata Banerjee’s single-handed demolition of the Left Front in Bengal is the stuff legends are made of.
Over the years, the Trinamool Congress supremo has transformed herself from the mercurial, impulsive boss of a regional party to the responsible leader of a state. The metamorphosis has come through times that have been rough, tough and testing. Under her, the Trinamool can now boast of stronger national ambition. All because a hurt, humiliated woman refused to be cowed down.
The impulsive Mamata, who went into isolation after she quit the NDA ministry in early 2001, held her nerve after the Jnaneswari Express disaster in 2006. She carved out a tangible development model for West Bengal using the railway ministry, which helped her earn the confidence of the industry without comprising on her achievements in Singur and Nandigram.
This was not the case in 2001. At the end of polling in the 2001 assembly polls, Mamata flashed the ‘V’ sign, only to shut herself in her modest home at 30B Harish Chatterjee Street, a nondescript locality in south Kolkata, after the crushing defeat. Those were the days when the only ‘mantra’ of Mamata’s politics was blind opposition to CPM, when she would switch alliance without much thought so long as she was facing away from the Left. This was a time when Mamata liked to hog the limelight in her own party meetings by denying others present an opportunity to speak.
Not any more. “I am not going to resign. Even if there are accidents, I will not quit,” she had said after the Jnaneswari Express disaster. For, she had realized that the railway ministry was important for her to do something positive for Bengal before the all-important assembly elections in 2011.
Despite a now-bitter-now-bland relation with Congress and the breakdown in seat sharing arrangement in the municipal elections in 2010, she did not leave the UPA, nor did she throw tantrums, correctly assessing that the relationship with Congress would be necessary to prevent a split in Opposition votes. It would also help immensely if she was on the right side of the Centre in the run-up to the elections. She rejected all overtures by BJP, realizing the importance of retaining Muslim support.
Embracing Rizwanur Rahman’s family after the tragic death of the computer graphics engineer could have been part of a shrewd political strategy but the way she did it — with a humane touch — is remarkable and could be a lesson for leaders who would rather maintain a stiff upper lip.
Less obvious, but no less important, is the gradual shaping up of her political ideology. Those who admired Mamata for her raw courage against the CPM — that no other person in the Opposition could even remotely match — could find in her a mature politician who talked about “badal” (change), and not “badla” (revenge against CPM). “I am against CPM, but I am not against communists. There are good people among Left sympathizers, but they should leave the company of CPM which has lost its moorings and deviated from the path of socialism,” she keeps repeating in public meetings.
Sensing the depth of the sentiment against forcible land acquisition, she took up in Delhi the question of amending the Land Acquisition Act 1894, a relic of the British era.
Her detractors are often sarcastic about the lack of sophistication in her speeches in public meetings, but this possibly builds a bridge with the poor and the uneducated who still comprise the multitude in Bengal. Her slogan — Ma Mati Manush — could touch hearts more than the Left jargons could.
There have been occasions when her supporters, some from Left background, would sing songs of the IPTA or lyrics from Salil Chowdhury during the anti-land acquisition stir. Mamata would sit in the audience and encourage speakers and singers to harp on the Left cause that the CPM party managers have unlearnt.
In an effort to build mass contact, she would walk tirelessly for miles on ‘padyatras’, something rarely done these days by politicians used to air-conditioned SUVs or bulletproof Ambassador cars. Mamata took meticulous care to prepare herself for these hardships — insiders say it would not have been possible without regular physical exercise. What is remarkable is her disregard for danger, as she does undergo considerable personal risk in such mass contact programmes.
The change has not come suddenly. The successive reverses in 2001 and 2006 assembly elections and 2004 Lok Sabha election gave Mamata time to reflect. “I would sit alone in Parliament and think,” she had said on one occasion. She must have understood that with her brand of impulsive politics it would not be possible to achieve her goal of unseating the Left Front government. Then came Singur and Nandigram and she grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The maltreatment she had received when being brought from Singur to Kolkata in a police vehicle — which she recounted on occasions — must have steeled her resolve to fight till the last. It would have brought back memories of the brutal beating at Hazra crossing.
Gone were the histrionics — past acts like wrapping a shawl round her neck and threatening to hang herself in public or squatting in front of the chief minister’s chamber at Writers’ Buildings and being thrown out.
Instead, she stunned the government by the way she organized a ‘dharna’ outside the Nano factory gates at Singur and forced Tata Motors to withdraw, and at the same time garnered support of powerful people for her cause. Instead of trying to hang herself, she went on a life-threatening 26-day fast, knowing that in the land of Mahatma Gandhi fasting is more powerful a weapon than violence.
She also realized it would not be possible to fight this battle on her own along with the band of leaders who had left Congress to join Trinamool, particularly in a state where the Left ideology is deep-rooted.
She needed people who knew the agrarian scene, who could take on CPM on its own turf. Which made her turn to parties like SUCI, to former CPM leaders as well as Naxalites. Some of them played an important role in shaping Mamata’s political strategy, helped her in winning the support of farmers in rural Bengal. She became the messiah of all victims of forcible land acquisition in the state and the rallying point of the multitude of poor people who felt left out as they were not with the ruling CPM.
This has admittedly made Trinamool a broad spectrum political party, with people from different walks of life drawn to it. Critics may call it a hotchpotch set-up, but Mamata has made it clear she wants to take everyone along in the road to prosperity for Bengal.
Today, Mamata, too, harps on the need for industrialization. But, she wants to take the public sector route. With the railway ministry under her control, she wants to make railway projects the fulcrum of industry in Bengal. Where private industries are concerned, she wants them to buy land on their own, allowing the market mechanism to operate down the chain. The Left Front’s has been a mixture of laissez-faire and state intervention, allowing the private sector to do unfettered business, but the state acquiring land for them. It has paid the price for the confusion too.
Her plain saree, her hawai chappal, her ‘jhola bag’, her preference to travel in a non-air-conditioned small car, all these make Mamata a picture of plain living. Though her entire life revolves around politics, she is still an intensely private person, who likes to paint, write poems, take care of her mother, get up late but work till late in the night and eat ‘muri’ and ‘telebhaja’ over ‘adda’. Even during the height of poll campaigning, when Mamata was travelling the length and the breadth of the state, she took time off to return to her Kalighat home on ‘Nababarsha’, the Bengali New Year’s Day, to pay respects to her mother.
Administrative stints are not new to her, she has been railway minister and held other portfolios in the Union cabinet. Now one has to watch how she reconciles her
But that’s about it. Otherwise, the polls have not given Congress the 5-0 or 4-1 win that many expected. So, the shot in the arm for Congress is not exactly a potent revival tonic. While its troublesome ally, DMK, is on the backfoot after its Amma-wash, its other ally, Mamata Banerjee has scored a thumping win and could get more demanding in the coming days.
Mamata’s two-thirds victory on her own reduces Congress to a clapper boy in West Bengal although she may not rub it in because she will need central assistance in big doses to make an impact on her home ground.
The tsunami that buried DMK chief M Karunanidhi and his squabbling progeny in the wake of the 2G spectrum scam is expected to embolden voices calling for urgent anti-corruption initiatives to counter the government’s image deficit.
P Chidambaram on Friday acknowledged that there was a “perception of corruption in high places” and said the government needed to put the 2G scam behind quickly, indicating that there might be some action soon.
Although this might hurt DMK, specifically Karunanidhi’s youngest daughter Kanimozhi who has been charged in the 2G scam case, it will think twice before resorting to the muscle flexing that has been its trademark.
The Congress is not likely to dump DMK, though. Pranab Mukherjee said as much on Friday. The fact that UPA now has 273 seats in Lok Sabha, enough to scrape past the majority mark, will prevent it from courting Jayalalithaa at DMK’s cost. While DMK has 18 MPs, AIADMK has just 9 MPs.
Mamata is expected to be tempered by her need for central assistance. However, on issues like fuel price hike or the land acquisition bill, she will go by her Bengal-centric calculations — one of them being the danger of being dubbed anti-poor in a state where politics will continue to follow a left-of-centre political trajectory.
Mamata has also made it clear that TMC will retain the railway ministry. Mukul Roy is said to be the frontrunner for the portfolio. The Congress would also be worried by the fact that its prospects in TN and Andhra Pradesh don’t look encouraging in the next Lok Sabha elections; the two states have given the UPA-2 ruling coalition 60 seats. In AP, from where Congress won 33 seats, Congress rebel Jagan Reddy’s win in the Kadapa Lok Sabha bypoll by 5.5 lakh votes could leave the party with a sinking feeling. Even tiny Puducherry holds a mirror to Congress. A splinter group led by former Congress CM N Rangasamy has ended Congress’s 12-year rule. Ironically, Rangasamy is seen as an honest leader, a quality that saw a gang-up against him in mid-2008.
The PM is expected to carry out a rejig of the cabinet with efficiency and integrity being the buzzwords. He had promised a larger cabinet shuffle after a limited exercise in January and it is said he might seize the opportunity within a fortnight or so. Inefficient ministers, as well as those with a dodgy record on integrity, could face the axe. Kapil Sibal said the elections were a warning that people will not tolerate corruption.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has assured Anna Hazare that she favours a strong Lokpal Bill to curb corruption. But some members of her own party have been left free to attack the civil society members of the joint committee formed to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill. They have also raised questions over the efficacy of the Lokpal in checking corruption. And, after causing the damage, Pranab Mukherjee, who is also co-chairman of the drafting committee, is sent to issue a statement that the work of the committee will continue despite controversies. The attempt seems to be to show the people that “nobody is clean” but in the process Congress leaders have also made their frustration evident – the frustration of being defeated by the Gandhian ideology to which Congress claims to have a copyright but rarely exhibits in its character.
On April 21, 2011, when the Madhya Pradesh High Court was directing the Economic Offences Wing to file a chargesheet by June 30 against former chief minister Digvijay Singh in connection with the alleged irregularities committed in the construction of a shopping mall during Singh’s rule in the state, Singh was addressing a press conference in Lucknow, passing judgment on the efficacy of the Lokpal in curbing corruption. Targeting Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde , Singh said that despite being a strong Lokayukta, Hegde has not been able to curb corruption in Karnataka ruled by the BJP. Singh apologised later when Hegde threatened to quit the joint committee formed for drafting of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Through his statement, however, he not only attacked BJP government in Karnataka and Hegde to scuttle the endeavor but also tried to mislead people by arguing that an institution like Jan Lokpal is useless.
Nobody can believe that Singh is unaware of what Justice Hegde has done in Karnataka. The institution of Lokayukta has been deliberately kept weak by politicians and government in power so that they can get away with their misdeeds. But despite the limitations, Hegde cracked the whip on corruption. He became Lokayukta in 2006 and since he has exposed over 350 cases of corruption in the state and unearthed disproportionate assets of scores of officials and politicians, including mining giants Reddy brothers. But the state government has not taken appropriate action in any of the cases. The powers of Lokayukta are limited, hence he cannot move court to prosecute the corrupt. The law has been made by politicians like Singh. Naturally, no matter how strong a Lokayukta is, the results are not going to be up to the mark. But this does not mean that the Lokayukta or the Lokpal is a useless institution. Give it the power and the institution will definitely deliver.
Digvijay Singh seems to be against a strong Jan Lokpal because as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, he locked horns with the state Lokayukta several times. The most talked about case was the allegations of corruption against two ministers of his cabinet in a land deal. After conducting an inquiry, the Lokayukta in 1998 sought the governor’s permission for prosecution. The governor sought advice from the council of ministers headed by Singh. The latter refused to accord sanction saying there was no material available against the ministers in the case. But the governor gave the sanction. The ministers challenged the order in the High Court which ruled in their favour. The High Court order was challenged in the Supreme Court, where a five-member Constitution Bench on November 5, 2004, in a landmark verdict ruled that the governor can grant prosecution against the advice of the council of ministers, if the latter is biased.
Significantly, Justice Santosh Hedge, then a Supreme Court judge, was also in the five-member Bench, which in its judgment observed: “The democracy will be at stake, if the government refuses to accord sanction for prosecution against ministers in matters where prima facie a clear case for a prosecution was made out. It would lead to a situation where people in power may break law with impunity, safe in knowledge that they will not be prosecuted as requisite sanction for prosecution will not be granted.” Though by that time the two ministers had resigned, it led to a huge embarrassment for Digvijay Singh. Clearly, a Lokayukta with appropriate legal powers would have been fatal for Singh’s government. This explains why politicians like Singh and bureaucrats are against a strong Lokpal. Such an institution would make it difficult for the corrupt to evade prosecution after being caught looting the wealth of the country.
Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal has raised questions that a Jan Lokpal will not be able to bring children to school or provide safe drinking water. As a loyal follower of Gandhi family, Sibal would be aware that former Congress prime minister the late Rajiv Gandhi had said (later reiterated by his son Rahul) that out of Re 1sent from the Centre for development, less than 15 paise reaches the grassroots, the rest is siphoned off by the corrupt. That’s the reason why India continues to suffer despite trillions being sanctioned for the welfare schemes for poor. The Congress has been ruling the country for over 55 years after independence and takes credit of the development done in the country after 1947, hence the responsibility of corrupting the system also lies with it. From 1966 Jeep scam to 2011 2G scam, 100-odd big scams have taken place in India, of which the majority occurred during Congress regimes.
Another argument being given by Congress leaders as well as some members of the civil society that a Jan Lokpal cannot be placed above a government elected by 120 crore people of India. The argument holds no ground because democracy will be under threat if a government refuses to grant sanction for prosecution of ministers or chief minister or prime minister. One cannot be a judge of his/her cause. Further, there is no democracy within the political parties. Sycophancy rules and individuals have become important than ideologies. Also, if one goes by the head count, khap panchayats enjoy majority support in their area of jurisdiction but their decisions taken by majority votes do not become legal if they are against the law of the land. Today winning elections has become the only aim of political parties and in the process, money, mafia, muscle, mandir and masjid have been introduced in the system to influence voters.
Further, no political party can claim to have majority support in the democratic set-up we have. As per the data of the Election Commission, total votes polled in the country in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections were over 41.71 crore, of which the Congress got only 11.91 crore, which was 28.55% of the total votes polled and 16.61% of the total electors in India. The party contested 440 seats and won 206. It gained majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha with the help of alliance partners. The BJP got 18.80% of total votes polled. Total votes secured by all the seven national political parties in the country was 63.58% of the total polled and 36.99% of the total electors. Of total 543 candidates, only 95 got more than 50% votes in their constituencies. A person can become prime minister without contesting any direct elections as a back-door entry, as in the case of Manmohan Singh, through the Rajya Sabha.
The political arithmetic to win elections is not about getting majority votes but how to get maximum votes by applying various caste and community combinations, by fielding dummy candidates, by using muscle to prevent weaker sections from voting, by using money to buy floating votes etc. Ideally, the democracy should be about entire population and not majority alone. The corrupt regimes have been overthrown in the past but their replacements were equally corrupt. People have been forced to accept corruption as an inseparable part of life. Those who deliver after taking bribe are considered `honest’. A section of `disenchanted’ people have stopped voting because they know that money speaks whosoever is in power. For poor, who constitute 80% of population, survival is a bigger issue than corruption. A dialogue from the movie Rajneeti aptly defines compulsions of poor in elections: “Bus do roti ka asra de do, kisi bhi rang ka jhanda utha lenge,” .
In such a situation, a strong Jan Lokpal is required to save democracy from politicians who have made `politics a business’. According to an study conducted by National Election Watch, the total assets of all the 543 MPs is over Rs 3,000 crore. The number of crorepati MPs in 2004 was 154, which has increased to 300 in 2009. Of 430 candidates fielded by the Congress, 261 were crorepatis, of which 138 won. The average worth of a Congress MP was Rs 3.38 crore in 2004, which increased to Rs 6.86 crore in 2009. The BJP gave ticktes to 177 crorepatis, of which 58 won. The average assets per BJP MP in 2004 were 1.20 crore which increased to Rs 3.06 crore. Among top 10 crorepatis MPs, five are from Congress, three from Nationalist Congress Party and one each from ShiromanI Akali Dal and Telgu Desham Party. Notably, the average assests have doubled between 2004-2009 despite the great economic recession of 2008-09.
All the major scams — 2G, CWG, Radia Tapes, Cash for votes July 2008 UPA I trust vote – have taken place between 2004-09. Politicians take vote from people and work for corporate. Is this democracy? And, why not bring corporate and media (which helped A Raja to become minister) also under Lokpal?
The election centric politics (instead of people-centric) with an aim to grab power at any cost has been then main cause of corruption. Hundreds work for a party but few become MP or MLA. Rest survive on `cuts and commissions’ in transfers and postings of officers or by grabbing government contracts. The elections are mostly funded through illegal means. After winning, the office is used to earn several times than investment. The rule of the BJP and other political parties at the Centre and in states have also been no better than Congress on the issue of corruption. Though parties say that they support Anna, they will try every trick to scuttle or dilute it the institution of the proposed jan lokpal. It’s not without a reason that the Bill is pending since 1968. Only public pressure can make a strong Jan Lokpal a reality. And, thereafter, as Anna says, we will have to fight a long battle do decentralisation of power and adopt a village-centric Gandhian and Jai Prakash Narain’s model of democracy wherein every individual will have say in the governance.
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