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|August 14, 2002||
The BJP's blessing in disguise
The Opposition and media criticism on alleged favouritism by the ruling party in the allotment of petrol pumps, gas agencies and kerosene depots is, in fact, a blessing in disguise for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
It has provided him with an opportunity to take the historic decision of canceling all allotments since January 2000. If one ponders over it a little deeply and recalls the history of favouritism since the 1950s, it is not only an unprecedented decision, but a swift and bold one too. It may prove to be a turning point in the history of the malady called political favouritism.
The announcement by Vajpayee came as a pleasant surprise to the general masses as well as to the elite. During the last half century, governments of the day have been caught in similar situations but no prime minister dared to take a corrective measure like Vajpayee did.
Let me first concede that the general public is fed up of the monster of Congress culture, which has continuously tightened its grip over the polity like an octopus. Let me also admit that the Congress culture has been the most dominant guiding factor in Indian politics for decades. There has been a cultural amalgam at various levels and politicians of various parties have looked similar as far as the political culture is concerned. People generally came to the conclusion that all politicians are of the same genre. That is why, when the BJP led government came to power there were great expectations. Common folks thought these politicians belonged to different stock.
During the past decade-and-half, the BJP witnessed rapid growth and streams of people entered the rank and file of the party. The character of the BJP gradually started changing. There are whispers within the party that it has acquired a Congress-type culture. If you look at the number of BJP ministers, governors, MPs, MLAs and office-bearers who could not resist the temptation of having a petrol pump or a gas agency or a kerosene outlet in the name of their relatives, it may not amount to three figures out of the 3,100. If one includes ordinary BJP workers, even then it would be a few hundred or less than 20 per cent of the total allotment.
I think it is nobody's case that BJP workers or voters should not have the right to do business or get government allotment of any kind. Even in these allotments, there are hundreds belonging to the Congress, even important leaders got allotments for outlets. But what shocked the general public was that some BJP bigwigs had taken advantage of their political clout.
Had it been done by a non-BJP or Congress government, it wouldn't be surprising because these parties are known for corruption and nepotism. It is merely because the symptoms of a Congress-like culture surfaced in the BJP, that it created a political sensation.
If one thinks of broad sociological and political currents in the polity, absolute distinctiveness may be a tall demand but it is a desirable one if positive change in the political culture is the agenda. Against this background, I think the media and Opposition have done their duty by exposing the beneficiaries with high connections. The BJP should thank both for providing a golden opportunity to acquire a high moral ground once again.
The other aspect of the controversy is the ongoing image war in which reality doesn't matter or matters a little. The fact is that Ram Naik is a minister of sterling character and made his ministry a success story by his excellent managerial capacity. The corruption and waiting list for cooking gas connections have passed into history. Even MP's coupon books for gas connections are lying unused.
The system of allotment of outlets of petro-products devised by Naik was vastly improved. Unfortunately, it could not be absolutely foolproof, human weakness at some point made pass at the system successfully. Though the Opposition is demanding Naik's resignation nobody has alleged him of personal corruption. Those who know him and thousands do, believe he is honest to the pie.
Top BJP and government functionaries were worried about developments on this front. Under the chairmanship of Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the BJP MP from Delhi, the committee on public undertakings unanimously passed a resolution for cancelling the allotments and auctioning them to the highest bidder more than a year ago, of course, barring the allotments to the families of Kargil martyrs.
Almost 95 per cent of the MPs and 100 percent of the ministers were conscious enough not to favour any near ones. In fact, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan went to the extent of requesting the state selection board not to entertain the application of his sister's son who is unemployed, if at all he applied disregarding Mahajan's suggestion.
I know of hundreds of party MPs who did not look to this selection process as personal opportunity but as a future problem. But thanks to the determined leadership of Prime Minister Vajpayee and Deputy prime Minister L K Advani and the vigorous internal campaign of Arun Shourie, V K Malhotra, Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Balbir K Punj, and scores of others, the decision could be reversed.
The image war waged against the BJP has its origin right from the early days of the Jan Sangh. But it was intensified when Atal Bihari Vajpayee become the captain of the NDA ship. Since then, a combined Opposition and a section of the powerful media have not missed an opportunity to tarnish the image of BJP led government in particular and the Sangh Parivar in general.
The media court-martialed them even in the totally fabricated Jhabua nuns' rape case and in the murder of Graham Staines. But the latest campaign has at least a little truth in it and that is why the mega correction.
Outlook magazine recently reported that Dinanath Mishra, the well known commentator, was a member of Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani's inner circle.
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