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India is in a mess

July 23, 2012 11:55 IST

I worry about India. It is in a mess. We do not need President Obama to tell us that, nor Time, nor The Independent, says TVR Shenoy. 

We realise this when we go to the market, only to recoil in shock from the ever-rising prices. Or possibly from the very moment that we step out of our electricity-starved houses on to the pockmarked roads. These speak whole volumes for themselves, of fiscal mismanagement, of lack of investment in infrastructure, and much, much more.

The Manmohan Singh ministry's apologists offer two lines of defence. First, they say that the prime minister cannot be blamed for adverse global conditions. Second, it is argued that nobody could do better given the limitations of coalition government.

To the first, Dr Manmohan Singh was never shy about taking credit for the times when the Indian economy was lifted by a rising tide worldwide. If he accepted -- or at any rate did not reject -- the bouquetsf, he can take his share of the brickbats today.

As for the second, there is some truth to it. Large sections of the UPA sincerely believe that genuine economic reform is political suicide, that it cost PV Narasimha Rao his office in 1996, and that it was only by doling out goodies such as NREGA that the UPA came back to power in the 2009 polls. But when exactly did the prime minister ever make the effort to sell reform to the Indian public?

Is there any alternative? There are 22 months or so before the next general election is due, and some wonder if it would not be better to summon them sooner. But would even a decisive mandate in favour of any single party end the drift in policy?

There are only two parties with a realistic hope of winning the simplest of majorities, meaning 272 seats in the Lok Sabha, namely the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. But there are several states where one or the other won a majority in the Vidhan Sabha -- and that still has made little or no difference.

Honestly, I have never seen Delhi as woeful as it is today, plagued by a stuttering water supply, power cuts that extend for hours, and dug-up roads that were to have been repaired before the Commonwealth Games (which ended on October 14, 2010).

 

Tarun Gogoi's Assam is one where a teenage girl might be molested in Guwahati itself with the police twiddling its thumbs for half an hour. I shall say nothing of Andhra Pradesh, which is truly a sorry epic in itself.

But is the BJP one whit better? As the old adage goes, 'no chain is stronger than its weakest link'. And so we turn to Karnataka -- the BJP's southern bastion and where it won 119 seats in a 225-strong House. What exactly has the BJP done after four years in power?

Here is a list of the BJP government's 'achievements' in Karnataka:

First, it has destroyed the party's reputation for discipline. There have been three chief ministers in the four years since the 2008 assembly polls -- BS Yeddyurappa, Sadananda Gowda, and now Jagdish Shettar. The removal of the first two was marked by displays of massive indiscipline, with challenges to the BJP's leadership in Delhi before a sulky and utterly unconvincing compromise for the benefit of the television cameras.

The BJP mocks poor Dr Manmohan Singh when he is criticised or belittled by his coalition partners or by his own partymen. Was Sadananda Gowda treated any better?

Second, while the BJP is always painted as 'communal' by its (supposedly) secular foes, the party generally enjoyed a reputation for rising above caste. In Karnataka the BJP has not just embraced caste but enthroned it as a governing concept.

 

Seeming completely oblivious to the degradation of politics, the BJP's apologists spoke of the manner in which they had bought peace with the Lingayats, the Vokkaligas, and the OBCs (Other Backward Castes) by making one of them the chief minister, while representatives from the other two became deputy chief ministers.

The BJP mocked the Congress when the news was leaked that Congress candidates for the Uttar Pradesh polls were chosen on the basis of caste, and laughed again when Rahul Gandhi introduced Sam Pitroda as an 'OBC' man. Has it acted differently in Karnataka?

Third, the BJP's Karnataka unit has somehow thrown the halo of a crusader against corruption around Governor Bhardwaj. Hansraj Bhardwaj was law minister in Dr Manmohan Singh's first Cabinet, at the time when Ottavio Quattrocchi -- he of Bofors fame -- had two hitherto-frozen bank accounts reactivated, when President's rule was imposed in Bihar by sending a fax to the President when he was in Moscow, and so forth. How does Governor Bhardwaj suddenly gain anti-corruption credentials?

By the simple expedient of warning Chief Minister Shettar -- publicly of course -- that he must not take 'tainted' men into his ministry. Jagdish Shettar went ahead anyhow. The list of ministers with cases against their names now includes Housing Minister V Somanna, Industry Minister Murugesh Nirani, Forest Minister C P Yogeshwar, and Education Minister C T Ravi. 

Nobody is pretending that Jagdish Shettar took in these ministers voluntarily, and everyone accepts that there was enormous pressure on him, from Delhi and by the various factions in the party's state unit. The BJP mocks Dr Manmohan Singh for having no say in the formation of his own ministry; how is the Shettar ministry any different?

Do you notice anything missing from this list of achievements? Where are the infrastructure projects that the state -- not least Bengaluru -- desperately needs? Where are the attempts at administrative reform? (The mayor of New York City appoints the police commissioner in that metropolis; can you imagine such a devolution of power in India?)

The BJP would rather point to, say, a Gujarat or a Goa to demonstrate its commitment to development and equity. But there have been just too many missteps recently, not just in Karnataka but demonstrated in the embracing of Babu Singh Kushwaha in Uttar Pradesh and the nomination of Anshuman Mishra to a Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand. 

As I said, no chain can be stronger than its weakest links -- and there are just far too many weak links to believe that the BJP would govern any more effectively than the Congress would in Delhi. To say that there are degrees of dishonesty is no consolation!

I worry about India, I truly do.

TVR Shenoy