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February 7, 1998


The Rediff Interview/C Subramaniam

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'India needs a generation revolution'

C Subramaniam C Subramaniam, the former Union finance minister and Maharashtra governor, now leads a retired life in Madras. But while he may have quit politics, he remains keenly aware of the political flux that the country finds itself in. Excerpts from an interview with Amberish K Diwanji:

What difference will Sonia Gandhi's presence have on the Congress campaign?

The crisis in the Congress is one of leadership, the lack of a leader who can appeal to the masses. The Congress needs a leader who can appeal to the electorate directly. Sonia entering the fray has definitely helped the Congress, but to what extent I cannot say. That only the election will tell. Sonia has clearly said she will not contest, so who will lead after the election?

That is a real problem. What is important is that there should be no backroom maneuvering in deciding the next leader. The need is for one who will appeal to the electorate. Today, most of the electorate is the younger generation, the 18 to 35 age group comprises 50 per cent of the voting population. We need someone who can appeal to them.

There does seem to be a difficulty with leadership in India today. All the parties have leaders well into their 70s and 80s, and most Indians are below 35. Yet, there don't seem to be young men around to lead India into the next millennium.

That is exactly what I have been saying all these years -- that India needs a generation revolution. Look at the United Kingdom, you have a prime minister who is only 42, and to match that, the Conservative Party has elected as its leader someone even younger! It is time for the various parties's leadership to raise a set of young leaders who have studied and understood today's specific problems and difficulties. We were brought up in a world where conditions were different from those that exist today.

Today's old leaders are unable to understand the problems facing India, and when you cannot even understand them, there is no way you can resolve them. That is why you find that today's leaders do not even know what to say to the electorate. I haven't heard one sensible statement from any of our leaders today about what his or her party will do after the election.

That does seem to be the problem with the Congress, of which you were once a part of. They have now turned to Sonia Gandhi to help them win. Yet, how relevant is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to today's youngsters?

I think Sonia Gandhi realises the shortcomings of the present Congress leadership and the limitations of a name, and that is why she is unwilling to take over the party leadership. In fact, I think her taking Priyanka along with her is perhaps to project her as a sort of future leader, who understand's today's problems. On the continuation of the Nehru-Gandhi generation, that is a question for the younger generation to answer.

What will be the scene after the election?

I think the scenario after the election will not be much better than the one existing today -- namely a hung Parliament. Then it will be up to the young parliamentarians to remedy the situation. Maybe they can all get together and form a sort of Yuva Bharat Congress (Young India Congress) and do something constructive.

Both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party will not get a majority. The Congress will probably get less than 200 seats, and I think the BJP will emerge as the single largest party. So it will be a coalition government once more.

Do you think the BJP will be able to form a government or will it be like the last time, when it was unable to get sufficient support to form a government?

In this regard a lot will depend upon the younger generation of people, and to what extent the BJP will attract the younger lot I am not able to say.

Many find the BJP an attractive party.

I am not too sure. The BJP has still not been able to resolve its internal problems, the minority-majority differences. Even on Ayodhya, there is a muted resentment among the party cadres at the present stand of not building a temple.

What about the other parties, such as the United Front, the BSP?

They are all in the same boat, all in trouble. But to the credit of the United Front government, whatever might be its weakness, there have been no complaints of corruption.

The Congress also appears to be in a bad shape notwithstanding Sonia Gandhi. What will happen to this party after the election?

I think the Congress will regenerate after the election. There is a younger generation within, men under the age of 50, who must get together and take a grip on the situation. The problems of today are getting more and more complex.

Recently, we saw MPs, especially of the Congress, stall proceedings in Parliament. Do we need a code of conduct for our MPs?

A code of behaviour exists, it needs to be enforced strictly. Earlier, the other Opposition parties would do disrupt Parliament, and now the Congress members did it.

It is really not clear what the MPs achieve, because they only manage to stall Question hour. The bills are passed, but without any discussion, which is why they are full of loopholes. So this whole attempt to disrupt proceedings in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is a farce.

We must remedy the situation by making sure that the persons who are sent to Parliament meet three requirements:

1. They are clean and not charged with corruption;
2. They have a vision of the future, because they are the ones making the laws, and understand the problems of today so that they can resolve them; and
3. They know how to function and behave in Parliament.

I sincerely believe that the President has to play a crucial role in this scenario. He should tell the MPs how to behave, and if necessary, what to do.

What role do you envisage for the President, especially since you and many others don't expect any single party to win a majority in the Lok Sabha?

The Constitution states that Parliament comprises the President and the two Houses of Parliament. So the President is a part of the Constitution, not apart from it. If no party wins a majority, the President should ask the Lok Sabha to elect its leader, who, in turn, should be asked to form the next government.

What do you think should be done to reform the present system?

If the next government is a national government, which I expect, then it must take advantage of its character and address certain reforms. I think three areas require immediate attention and change:

First, we need to reform the first-past-the-post system. This system is not truly representative and allows people to win elections with a minority vote in a constituency. This can be reformed in two ways:

1. If no person wins a majority, elections must be held again. People may criticise the idea of two elections so soon after, but that is what we are facing today. Moreover, this method will weed out the small parties. It may also be expensive but it will be worth it.
2. We can go in for proportional representation wherein persons vote for the party and not the individual, and the seats are distributed as per the percentage of votes won by the party.

3. Political parties must select candidates with care, and not just on their ability to win. They must realise that the candidates are the ones who will decide on the future of the country, and should be people with a vision for the future and an understanding of the present problems. Very often we have ministers who do not even know the subject of their ministry!

4. Our defection law is clearly weak and will have to be changed.

What about corruption?

We most certainly need clear rules and laws on that. It is indeed strange that while political parties are the backbone of parliamentary democracy, we have no rules regarding their functioning.

Anyone convicted should not be allowed to contest, or hold office. Even if someone has been chargesheeted, and the courts prima facie accept that there is a case of corruption against such a person, he too should be barred from contesting elections. After all, these are the person who will be making the laws, and while in general you can give someone the benefit of doubt, those in public life must be above suspicion.

Political parties too must play a role. They should avoid tainted candidates or even those charged with corruption. Hopefully, by the next polls, such people will not be allowed to contest elections.

Certainly, political parties have no shortage of corrupt leaders.

Yes, and tragically, India seems to be the one place where those with small cases of corruption against them are jailed, while those with big cases are treated as heroes. Look at Laloo Yadav in Bihar and Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu; this is clearly not a good sign for India.

The only hope is that the younger generation's reaction to all these corrupt people is still to be seen.

But some, like Laloo Yadav, continue to remain popular. Yadav's party is expected to win the next election in Bihar.

I doubt if Laloo Yadav will do as well this time as he did the last time. Moreover, I am not sure for how long the younger generation will tolerate such corruption. But Bihar is in a different boat, and it has been having major problems ever since my days in government. Ironically, it has the best resources in soil, minerals, water; it has industrial complexes such as Jamshedpur, Ranchi, Bokaro, etc.

Do your think Bihar will improve?

Yes, it will. It has to, it just cannot go on like this. It is India's most backward state -- not just feudal, but in a tribal stage.

What about the future of India?

I have great faith in the people of India. Even today, there are hundreds of thousands of people doing social and voluntary work, without any expectation of rewards. That is the root of the future. So regardless of what is happening in Delhi, as long as the roots are strong, India cannot go down, and surely someone will come up some day to save the nation.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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