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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

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The depths Indian democracy has
fallen to

January 08, 2009

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Gehlot is the chief minister of Rajasthan. And the finance minister. And the home minister. And the state excise minister. And the public works minister. And the urban development and housing minister. And the forest and environment minister. And the youth affairs and sports minister. And the mines minister. And the social justice and empowerment minister. And the waqf minister. And the information technology and communications minister. And the food and civil supplies minister. And, well, you get the picture!

Ashok Gehlot alone knows how he shall find the energy to juggle these responsibilities. Speaking of energy, did I mention that Gehlot is also the energy minister?

It is clear that the utter paucity of talent in the Congress ranks is so great that Gehlot and the few good MLAs at his disposal must take more than their fair share. Thus primary education and secondary education fall to the lot of Labour Minister Master Bhanwar Lal, higher education is the responsibility of Industries Minister Shanti Dhariwal, technical and engineering education is overseen by Tribal Area Development Minister Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya, and technical education (agriculture) is under, as you might have guessed, Ashok Gehlot.

May one hope that between them at least one of the four harassed education ministers finds the time to educate their colleague Golma Devi? When I say 'educate' I do not mean that they should introduce her to the intricacies of public administration, simply teaching her to read and write would be enough.

Literacy is apparently not one of the gifts possessed by the newly-elected MLA from Mahuwa (Dausa). This has not, however, prevented Ashok Gehlot from naming her as minister of state for khadi and gramodyog.

It has been reported that much hilarity ensued when the new ministers were taking their oaths of office, normally a fairly solemn ceremony. The poor lady could not read the oaths of office and confidentiality when given the paper with the prescribed words, and the governor then generously decided that the oath could be taken as read.

Let us put aside all the politically correct blathering and recognise the appointment of Golma Devi for exactly what it is -- a symbol of the depths that Indian democracy is plumbing today. Does anyone believe, seriously, for even a single minute, that an illiterate person is qualified to make head or tail of the innumerable files that every minister must read?

But Ashok Gehlot knew what he was doing when he named Golma Devi as one of his ministers, he was obeying the compulsions of caste politics. The Congress played the caste card to the hilt during the Vasundhara Raje era, pitting the Jats against the Gujjars and the Gujjars against the Meenas. When that was still not enough to propel the Congress to a simple majority in the Vidhan Sabha, Gehlot was forced to turn to independent MLAs.

The Meena leader Kirodi Lal, the MLA from Todabhim (Karauli), was once one of Vasundhara Raje's ministers, but then became one of the BJP rebels. He now leads a group of five independent MLAs that hold the balance of power. Kirodi Lal apparently refused the offer of a ministry for himself, but demanded a seat at the table for his wife, Golma Devi.

The fact that Kirodi Lal refused office indicates that he is unwilling to be associated too closely with the Gehlot administration, especially with Lok Sabha elections around the corner. After the oath ceremony, the beaming husband told the media that with Golma Devi in office he himself would take over household duties; the dutiful wife duly attested that her husband could make excellent gajar mattar, daal-baati. Ashok Gehlot must be hoping that Kirodi Mal's culinary talents do not extend to cooking up trouble!

There was a time when we in the south used to look up to politicians from the north in some awe. Those were the days when we had a Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi [Images] and a Gobind Ballabh Pant in Lucknow, today when we think of Hindi belt politics we are more likely to think that they are personified in Golma Devi, smugly assuring ourselves of the superiority of our own leaders.

If so, I recommend a reality check for my sniggering brethren from the south. Anyone who thinks that literacy by itself leads to a better class of politics should take a long hard look at Tamil Nadu's rural development and local administration minister.

There is no doubt whatsoever that M K Stalin, the 'Thalapathi' of the DMK, is not just literate but highly educated. He holds a bachelor's degree. He has dabbled in theatre, founded the Tamil magazine Ilaya Suryar, and wrote regularly in the DMK newspaper Murasoli. He is no stranger to public life, having addressed his first public meeting precisely forty years ago, on January 3, 1969.

So how did M K Stalin celebrate the ruby anniversary of his entry into politics? Assuming the now famous tapes of the incident are correct, the minister was busy breaking the law, distributing currency notes before the by-election in the Thirumangalam assembly constituency. The Election Commission has taken the case seriously enough that it ordered its officer to register a case against Stalin. (A Union minister escaped because he was only seen handing money to M K Stalin, not to the public at large!)

I understand that M K Stalin is pleading that he was distributing money while celebrating someone's son's birth. I am perfectly willing to believe that some DMK functionary in and around Madurai [Images] had a child but it beggars belief that currency notes were being flung around just like that for a newborn. Or is the DMK now so flush with funds that this is standard practice?

Whatever the truth, M K Stalin, a four-time MLA and a former mayor of Chennai, can scarcely plead ignorance of the election laws. What exactly is the point of having a literate MLA whose literacy apparently does not extend to reading the Model Code of Conduct?

There was a hue and cry against politicians immediately after the tragic attacks in Mumbai [Images]. But let us face it squarely, it is we who elected both the literate M K Stalin and the illiterate Golma Devi, and it is we who must endure the consequences of being swayed by the politics of language or of caste.

It is a gloomy January day in Delhi as I write this but no murkier and no more dismal than India's prospects if our politics continue to deteriorate like this. North or south, literate or illiterate, does it make a difference?

T V R Shenoy

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