The way of all flesh

Nihal Chand has been accused of sexually abusing a poor woman, yet the government is not prepared to listen

However intense the hostility between them, all political parties in this country particularly, the two mainstream ones, the Congress, now battered humiliatingly, and the Bharatiya Janata Party that has become the first to attain a clear majority in the Lok Sabha in 30 years are alike. The decisive proof of this is that each of them says and does one thing when in power and exactly the opposite when out of it. The raucous row over the Modi government’s decision to increase railway fares and freight underscores this.

There are two crystal clear points about a hike in rail fares and freight: First, it is absolutely necessary to save the railways from grinding to a dismal halt; and second, it is bound to be hugely unpopular. One sensible railway minister in the Manmohan Singh government, Dinesh Trivedi, decided to revise the fares upwards and announced this in his speech on the Railway Budget, obviously with the then PM’s approval. But the luckless man belonged to the Trinamul Congress whose mercurial supreme leader, Mamata Banerjee, demanded his immediate dismissal and withdrawal of his proposal. The good doctor meekly complied on both counts.

Against this backdrop the Modi government must have known that by hiking rail fares it was inviting big trouble. Therefore, it should have manfully made the valid point that this “bitter pill” was necessary to save the health of the Indian economy. Instead, it claimed that the “decision had been taken” by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, and “we have only implemented it”. The Congress understandably hit back that if the BJP had to do something contrary to its election promises, it cannot shift the blame to the previous government. This seems to have fallen on deaf years. For as late as Sunday, Union minister Venkaiah Naidu was lamenting that the rail fare hike had been “thrust on us” by the UPA!

Much louder than its words are the Congress’ demonstrations, in addition to those by other political parties, including the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance. Something of a comic relief is also available amidst angry exchanges. The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s oldest ally, strongly endorses the BJP’s own Maharashtra leader, Vinod Tawde, who insists that the proposed hike is “too taxing for Mumbaikars and must therefore be rolled back or reduced”. The idea of “staggering” the increase in Mumbai’s suburban rail fares is under discussion.

There is a singularly laudable characteristic that makes all political parties pan-India or regional, big or small, recognised by the Election Commission or not — indistinguishable from one another. Each one of them pronounces anathema on politicians with a criminal record or those facing charges for crime a heinous nature, except those within its own ranks. To defend them parties go to any extreme. Evidently, Indian polity takes seriously Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dictum —to always make a distinction between “our sons of bitches” and “their sons of bitches”.

In 2004, after losing power to the Congress-led UPA, the BJP-led NDA disrupted the entire first session of the new House because there were several “tainted” ministers in the new government. The Budget for a billion-plus people was passed without any discussion. What is the situation today? Of the 543 newly-elected MPs, as many as 53 have serious criminal cases against them. Of them 24 are from the BJP and five from its ally, the Shiv Sena. More importantly, Union minister Uma Bharati and BJP patriarch L.K. Advani adorn the list.

Even this pales into insignificance compared with the most formidable ramparts of defence the entire Modi sarkar has built around one of its junior ministers, Nihal Chand, who is accused of the abominable crime of sexual abuse of a poor woman allegedly lasting a decade. A Rajasthan court has summoned him, together with 17 others, including the victim’s husband. What she is revealing to the media is stomach-wrenching. Yet the government is not prepared even to listen to the suggestion that the minister concerned should step down temporarily and return to office after he is cleared by the court. What has happened to “zero tolerance of violence against women”, as proclaimed in the President’s address to Parliament?

One would have liked to have allowed some more days to pass before subjecting the performance of the new government to close scrutiny. But it is impossible not to criticise it for its grievous and potentially explosive mistake over the language issue that was mercifully corrected in good time. The Union home ministry, headed by BJP president Rajnath Singh, issued a magisterial directive that everyone working for the government must use Hindi instead of English on the social media.

It reminded me of something similar Gulzarilal Nanda, Congress home minister in 1965, had done. Hindi was declared the official language along with English as an additional official language. The anti-Hindi agitation he thus triggered in the South, particularly in Tamil Nadu, nearly singed the entire country. Indira Gandhi, then information and broadcasting minister in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s government, was the only leader to go to ground zero and talk to the agitators. No one else, not even K. Kamaraj, then Congress president and a popular chief minister of Tamil Nadu earlier, dared to follow her.

This time around, prompt protests by the two mainstream Tamil parties, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which seldom agree, and four other Tamil parties allied to the BJP brought New Delhi to its senses. No wonder the junior home minister who had earlier extolled the directive suddenly announced that it was meant only for Hindi-speaking states. Decision-makers should note that India dominates the world’s IT industry because of its proficiency in English. Let that not be eroded. Moreover, the slogan “One nation, one language”, which some used, is reminiscent of “...ein Reich, ein Führer”.

( Source : dc )
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