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Coming soon: Quota Raj
June 18, 2004
THE good news for corporates is that the UPA government's plan to introduce reservations in the private sector won't take effect tomorrow morning. The bad news is it will the day after tomorrow. Or the day after the day after tomorrow. Much as the fat-cats of industry might wail about its pernicious ill-effects, the truth is that a greater role for the private sector in paving the way for social justice is inescapable with the government ceasing to be the primary generator of jobs in post-liberalised India.
A good indication of how guilt-free minds are ticking on the subject was provided by N R Narayana Murthy three years ago. At the Indian CEO High Tech Council meet in Washington, DC, the Infosys chief mentor scoffed at suggestions for State-imposed diversity at the workplace. But the moment then Karnataka chief minister S M Krishna spoke his mind in its favour, Murthy did a complete about-turn. Yes, he said, reservations could be considered, but the criterion should be economic, not caste.
Those are merely details, but it is the repugnant belief that it is solely the government's responsibility to tow the social engine, even at the risk of losses, while it is the private sector's prerogative to reap profits, even at the risk of social injustice, that should be contested. The new, improved Bombay Club is talking of a 'flight of capital' if the Maharashtra government carries out its poll-eve threat to set aside over half the jobs. But how much further will the capital fly when every state does ditto?
In the end, a balancing act is inevitable. If industrialists seek subsidised land snatched by the State from farmers for peanuts; if they seek subsidised water and power that they so stoutly oppose being doled out to the needy; and if they seek corporate income-tax holidays, duty-free imports, sales tax and excise exemptions from the State, their unwillingness to shoulder a part of the State's social burden will become as untenable as aided educational institutions refusing to part with seats to professional courses.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE
WHETHER Manmohan Singh himself picked the 'tainted ministers; or whether his hand was forced by the puppet-masters is not difficult to guess given the squeaky-clean image the prime minister arrives with. But what the misstep has done is to deny him the mandatory honeymoon period incumbents of 7, Race Course Road, have come upon to expect after a coalition marriage. And it has handed the BJP a legitimate issue, en passant, after Sonia Gandhi played the queen pawn sacrifice.
While the nation is entertained with some sophisticated hair-splitting by lawyers on both sides on what exactly constitutes 'tainted,' one can only wonder why it has become so difficult to admit that a mistake was made and move on. But the UPA's defence that the NDA government too had 'tainted ministers' shows that our politics is now firmly predicated on the perverse logic that it's OK for a government to do anything it pleases because the government before it, or the one before that, did the same.
Tehelka? Don't forget Bofors. Gujarat, 2002? Don't forget Delhi, 1984. So, after four-and-a-half years of being reminded of 45 years of Congress rule, the boot is on the other foot. And, as the UPA response to the 'tainted ministers' issue shows, the 'regime-change' has only changed the players, not the blame-game. But if pointing at the past ends up becoming the only arrow left in our politicians' quiver, can there ever be respite from the cycle of revenge and retribution our politics has plunged into?
On the other hand, could Laloo have eased the burden on 'The Turbanator' by offering to resign in the wake of the derailment of the Matsyagandha Express on Wednesday, a la Lal Bahadur?
DOCTOR, HEAL THYSELF
THE Telugu film industry might be looking a little sheepish after two of its denizens conveniently developed amnesia over just who had picked up the revolver and shot at them in the home of NTR's son, Nandamuri Balakrishna, in Hyderabad. But if there is any other industry that must be looking even more suspect in the eyes of the people, it must be India's flourishing healthcare business.
Rarely does a celebrity accused of complicity in a crime proceed to the slammer these days without passing through the ultra-clean environs of a high-tech hospital. The pity is US-returned doctors with three or more degrees against their name so willingly play along.
Blame it all on Rajan Pillai. The biscuit king's death, allegedly due to the lack of adequate medical attention in Tihar jail, has provided a ready excuse to those desperate to avoid the ignominy of a night (or a fortnight) in a cold, stony cell. Result: the first thing that happens to our celebrities when the sirens start screaming is that they conveniently develop 'chest pain.' Or, as in Balakrishna's case, 'severe depression.'
Since prison conditions will only improve the day pigs fly, the entrepreneur who has the vision to set up a nationwide chain of well-equipped clinics in jails and prisons has a killing to make. Pun unintended.
ANIL Ambani's mysterious decision to stand for the Rajya Sabha elections proves two things at the outset. One, how different he is from his elder brother, Mukesh. And two, that money cannot buy everything as Anil's late father once told him. That the Reliance MD with Rs 334 crore in stocks and other investments, Rs 72 crore in jewels, and Rs 4.13 lakh in cash has felt the need to plunge into the cesspool that his late father so deftly avoided shows that power politics with all its impurities still has something pure wealth doesn't.
Just what it is is difficult to see if you ignore the boiler-plate cliches about taking on a more hands-on role in nation-building. But the fact that he has stood as an independent, not from Maharashtra, where he lives, or Gujarat, where most of his current business interests are, but from Uttar Pradesh, where his future business interests lie, tells a small story. Whether his late father would have endorsed this open involvement in politics or an open alignment with any one party, we do not know. As the late Times of India editor Girilal Jain would have written, 'he might have, or then again, he might have not.'
But at least one prominent BJP leader must be feeling threatened already. If the Ambanis themselves start doing what they have had people like him doing for them, then what happens to people like him?
THIS columnist offers an unconditional apology to all those incensed over last week's item on Atal Bihari Vajpayee's poetry. The Jnanpith Award-winning Kannada writer U R Anantha Murthy did not call ABV a 'kalpe kavi' ('poor if not pathetic poet') just like that. He added V P Singh was a better kavi than Atal Bihari.Krishna Prasad