Sustaining the Centre's myth We have heard the jarring notes from Assam to Maharashtra.
These are timely reminders of the precariousness that continues to define the Centre's myth. "GHAV ITNA gehra na ho jaye ki bharne na paye. Desh tutne ke kagar par hai. Hum sab ko miljul ke ise bachana hoga." (Do not inflict such a deep wound that it cannot be healed. The nation is on the verge of disintegration. All of us together will have to save it.") These wise words were spoken in Guwahati by a man the smart aleck anchors and the clever journalists love to deride as a buffoon, if not worse. Laloo Prasad Yadav, generally referred to as the Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo. Not only did he display unusual physical courage in visiting the troubled spots in Assam, he also exhibited an understanding that a cornered community, the Biharis in Assam, needed to be reassured that the political leadership was sensitive to its plight. In one inspired moment, he justified the "rashtriya" (national) tag in his party's nomenclature. On the other hand, those who like to market themselves as pan Indian leaders were not to be heard from. Advani nor Sonia Gandhi has found the time or the inclination to make a similar gesture. Partisan battles in the election bound States of north India have first claim on them. The eruption of an anti Bihar sentiment in Assam and a similar response against the Assamese in Bihar are new and troublesome notes. For decades, Assam has cultivated an antipathy towards the Bengalis; that habit of collective mind has now manifested itself against the Biharis. Similar disagreeable notes were heard in Maharashtra also, where the vendors of super nationalism, anchored in a hatred of Muslims, have revived their anti "outsider" slogans. The same song of "us versus them" was recently heard, though in a different metre, in Jharkhand when the "domicile" Pandora's box was reopened. The same song continues to be sung, again in a strident voice, in Gujarat where "Gujarati ashmita" is supposed to be under siege from those who want to stress the primacy of rule of law, pluralism, and decency in public life. These notes are all the more jarring because they are being heard at a time when we have become visibly more integrated than ever before. Market, movies, cricket, communications and advertisers have combined to manufacture a new sense of a unified India, a collective entity that is hospitable to one and all and one that is capable of sharing the joys and pains in any corner of this ancient land. In this new India of connectivity, regional concerns and fears are deemed to have happily dissolved themselves in the national prosperity; we have moved beyond the age of scarcity, poverty has declined dramatically, and there is enough for all to have a share in the much enlarged national pie. What is more, the National Democratic Alliance's approach to regional parties is deemed to have introduced a new cooperative federalism; in this new scheme of things, the Centre is not allowed to get weakened, but the States are now encouraged to become strong. A "strong Centre" can happily co exist with "strong States." Thus both politically and economically, the polity is better managed to take care of any fissiparous tendencies. Yet we have shop pandora charms heard the jarring notes from Assam to Maharashtra. These are timely reminders of the precariousness that continues to define the Centre's myth. To be sure, this precariousness is not a new phenomenon but what is new is the itch to pretend that the myth has been converted into a reality by the simple device of putting a group of presumably honest and self assertive deshbhakts in charge of the affairs. Premature and unwise. There are, in fact, four elements that sustain the Centre and its myth of omnipotence and omnipresence. First, the Centre's ruttaba (legitimate and effective suzerainty) depends on the efficiency and competence of bureaucratic instruments available to the rulers in Delhi. Besides the huge army (which is rarely called in to help sort out matters of internal control), the Centre has to rely on the all India services, especially the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service. Despite all the political interfering and internal organisational machinations, these services remain the most useful and, more often than not, the most effective bulwark against the narrow minded. These two all India services provide the experienced hands which man the other key instruments such as the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, the Central Bureau of Investigation, besides silver and gold pandora bracelet most other Central institutions such as the UPSC, the Central Election Commission, and the Central Vigilance Commission. These are not just instruments of control but also of integration, designed as they are to draw talent on an all India basis. Since these services are anchored in the pan Indian ethos, most of the senior IAS and IPS officers have managed to grow out of their regional identity into servants of the Indian state. Of late, however, there has been an unfortunate itch to introduce regional strain; Central Ministers want to staff their Ministries with officers from their State. These unhealthy tendencies can still be corrected in time. But what is most essential is that the all India services are preserved and persisted with as pan Indian instrument; only then would the Centre be able to have available to it the best of talented men and women in governing this vast continental polity. The second element is of leadership. There are two requirements on this count. First, the leaders should be seen enforcing and sustaining the legitimacy of constitutional institutions. It is here that the greatest erosion has taken place in the last five years. As a political party, the BJP still smarts under an "outsider's" mindset, unwilling to concede to constitutional institutions the deference and legitimacy that sustain the larger process of rule of law and democratic governances. For instance, after the National Human Rights Commission american pandora charms intervened to ensure that there was not a total miscarriage of justice in the investigation into the Gujarat violence, the BJP denounced the commission as "anti Hindu". Cabinet Ministers wrote articles against the judiciary when the apex court intervened to ensure procedural correctness in the disinvestment process. Similarly the Comptroller and Auditor General was sought to be belittled when its auditors found that the Defence Ministry's books were not properly kept. The second requirement of leadership is a minimum demonstrable respect for moral values. The Centre cannot hope to earn the respect and allegiance of the citizens on the periphery when its principal functionaries display a calculated disregard for moral and ethical conduct. For example, whatever be the Deputy Prime Minister's partisan compulsions, his stout defence of the "bribe taking" in Chhattisgarh has lowered him in the eyes of every constable from Srinagar to Kanyakumari. If the Prime Minister and his deputy keep insisting on striking extremely partisan stance in Chhattisgarh, how can they hope to sustain people's faith that the CBI will be able to perform its investigation freely and autonomously in the Judev affair? The third element that sustains the Centre is the political skills of those who man the Centre. Here the foremost skill lies in the ability to understand the limits to what can be achieved and what cannot be; and to understand that what can be achieved must be sought in a reasonable manner and what cannot be achieved should not be pushed to the extent that it invites retaliation. Only those who understand the limits of power can produce reconciliation. And the need for reconciliation has never been more obvious and never in such short supply. This pandora bracelet cost is the responsibility of all political parties, including those labelled as regional parties. But it would be unfair to suggest that a regional leader like Chandrababu Naidu or Parkash Singh Badal or Laloo Prasad Yadav would be less national in their approach to public affairs. Those who man the Centre have the responsibility of bringing to their job skills of striking a harmonious balance between political partisanship and national wellbeing. Lastly, the Centre must be seen as producing and promoting ideas, rhetoric and images of equality, inclusion and participation.
In order to survive, "India" has to remain a fair and reasonable project. That is why the Centre's failure to intervene in Gujarat was as unwelcome as was the violence. A different kind of response and sensitivity is now needed in the wake of the Bihar Assam eruption.
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